– Gurkan I’ll accompany you on your travel through North Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova till Ukraine. Then we’ll see how it comes.
– Wow. And I was so pleased to be a solo cyclist.
– I won’t come if you don’t want me!
– I know you so well. I bet we’ll be riding on our own anyway. You know that I would be glad if you would come with me.
Guess what, this news would make my mother happy. She was worried about me “My son is traveling on his own. He may not eat enough, may not be able to see after himself” Look mum Nathan is coming with me. It is a happy coincidence that such a professional tourer like Nathan is going to accompany me. He had pedaled in Eastern Europe during the hardest winter period. I would definitely benefit from his experiences. By the way, when Angelina said: “I also would like to come with you till the border” we didn’t say no.
During the time we spent in Velingrad, we left our bicycles at the hotel and made a train trip for three hours. The train passed Yokoruda, Belitsa, Bansko and arrived in Kresna where Pomaks live. Well who are Pomaks? They are Slavic Muslims native to Bulgaria. This region and the cities, even the apparel of the inhabitants resemble our Black Sea coast but with a significant difference, the Bulgarian protected the green environment during urbanization process. Wow! Buddy! What an abundantly green region? Since we entered we were cycling in a verdant country. The autumn colors of vegetation are incredibly beautiful. In my country, the fast growing poplar tree is commonly planted to have some greenness. I noticed that there aren’t any poplar trees here. Even in the cities, there are plenty of oak and pine trees.
While I was watching TV at the hotel we were staying in Velingrad, there was news about the Istanbul 1453 construction project of Agaoglu Company. You are mentioning that this is your dream, whom are you fooling Ali Agaoglu? It’s impossible for you to have such a dream. You were born and grown up in a small village you cannot change where you come… This is the dream of the youngsters born and grown up in a metropolis. Well, you would fill your pockets by realizing their dreams. Those youth had never traveled to other places but big cities. Then a man comes and creates such centers where you can live a prisoner life all inclusive next to the forest. Ali Abi (elderly brother in Turkish) how many trees have to be cut to construct this center? Just let me know. Well then, you would go there to fool around in the forest, to relax yourself in your center instead of relaxing under the mighty trees next to your cottage in silence. Words fail me! J
The trek to the highest peak (2914 m) of the Pirin Mountain range was amazing. Some of my friends thought that I biked to the top. I mentioned the highest vehicle passages in Europe I’ll pass through with my bicycle on my web page under the heading world tour route. I may find a higher altitude route, who knows. Then I would post a photo with my bicycle and won’t just mention that I passed there for sure. J There is a spot in Spain 3600 m high but the road ends at the top, you have to go down all what you have climbed up. I really hate to return the same way I had pedaled. Therefore, I only prefer the highest vehicle passes on the world, ascending from one side and descending from the other. THAT SOUNDS GOOD! By the way, we met an unusual family at Pirin traveling with their children in a camper van. Six children are at the ages around 2 to 15. Well, being on the road, they told us that their father being a teacher educated his children in the van.They were working for six months to travel for the rest of the year. Wow! (They are traveling in Turkey for the time being)
Trekking is not for me,especially climbing to the summits. As a one who climbed several times up to 4000 meters with the bicycle, trekking to 3000 m and shooting photos, watching the panoramic view of the mountain range is not my thing. But I do have respect for the others climbing higher levels. Let’s give it to my laziness. Well, the pass at 6060 m that I’ll going to climb in China comes in my mind J (Dude, don’t say how come you climb. Two of my Chinese cyclist friends climbed that pass although it was ass cold. Well, no pain no gain.)If they had crossed the pass I’ll also do it. For sure! No doubt! The next day turned out to be very tiring for me since trekking let different muscles to work other than that used for biking. For good and all I do not like to trek or climb.
The Velingrad-Sofia stage of the tour started with a descent of the slope Angelina had let us climb for the half day. We descended exactly 24.7 km. And winter had just begun. I was wearing a wind-stopper jacket but nevertheless felt the cold. My fingers started to itch. Wuhuuu, how I screamed in Japan due to cold bite! I pedaled for days under rain, everything wetted, the weather minus 10 degrees cold, had to fasten the panniers with bare hands. It was raining and I had to descent for 10 km. I still remember how I screamed due my cold bitten fingers at the end of the descent. I’ll never forget that pain. The lesson I’ve learned that day is unforgettable. I was going to tell this Ayca but then left her to learn by herself. For example she might be wearing just a short sleeved T-shirt and ordinary biker gloves, plus shorts when she is climbing up a slope at 0 °C. I mentioned a lot about the clothes to be worn during my Turkey-Japan tour. If you wear only thick clothes and not layer wise, than you are going to sweat during a slope climb and freeze during descent. And then you are forced to rest for days in your tent. Unless you are choosing layer clothing you will get cold for sure. The best thing is to change your wet clothing with the dry ones when you reach the top.
Of course, all my clothes were wet, reaching the top with that heavy load on my bike. I don’t give a shit to anybody nor the cars passing by or my mates. If I only sweat even a bit I change my clothes, that’s it. Angelina:
– Gurkan, are you stripping?
– Yeaa! J
I would never descent any slope as sweaty as I am. So, I put my North Face jacket on. Let’s ride down the hill. At the first couple of kilometers Ayca initially didn’t feel her fingers then started to shiver all over. As I told you, I always change my clothes when descending a hill especially at cold weather. I don’t need get a cold in this journey at least have to minimize the risk.
You can find a restaurant and a store in almost every small village in Bulgaria so that you need not to carry much provision when you bike through this country. Also you might find fountains in every settlement and in mountain villages, having usually good tasting water which we used both for cooking and drinking.
(For the people who are responsible for the wars in this century…)
The night before we arrived in Sofia we camped in a town where a jet plane and a tank is exhibited in the city center. As I asked Angelina what the specialty of this town is she answered me as “nothing” “How come? Then why there are jet plane and tank in the middle of the town placed?” “Just so” Really strange people, just so…
In general I camp somewhere suitable while on the road and don’t seek for a special camping place. I may change my route if there are historical artifacts or a special event ahead. In that town there was a river which we decided to camp at but along another road. I checked from GPS and saw that the road was diverting from the river. Angelina spoke to some inhabitants who mentioned a suitable camping place about 100 m ahead. We arrived there and found out we had go for another 500 m. Poffff!
The road is incredibly terrible. My bike weighs about 70 kg including the food we bought from the store. Dude, I don’t want to climb this f…g road. Ayca started to push her bicycle, so did Angelina. Humm.. Let’s try to pedal on this stony dirt path with a 70 kg heavy bicycle. First trial: unsuccessful. Second trial: F…k, I almost had fallen down. Don’t use SPD. Third trial: The front wheel rises into the air with this load. Fourth trial: I’ll climb this slope. I will for sure. Come onnnn. Speed up, speed up! Hehehe… If I say I climb, I do. Yes, I managed to climb up till the camping area.
– Gurkan, I thought to take a photo of you while I really wished to see the moment you were pushing your bike. But then saw that you were breathing like a toro climbing with that load. I’m lost for words! If I had worn a hat I would have taken it off.
The camping area is quite nice. There is plenty of water and a nearby forest for used as a toilet. It is really a pleasureto camp at such places. One of the most challenging issues of camping is the toilet issue (not for me anymore). Since I’m the one who pies right in front of the tent just unzipping the door or empty my bowel under any tree I encounter, I don’t have any problems. But this is not the case for Ayca.
The next morning we started to pedal little late. I’m not the one who needs 30 minutes to drink a cup of tea and then another half an hour to tidy his tent up. Even, I neither drink tea nor coffee. On my previous tour Terry kept asking me “would you like a cup of tea?” “No” “A cup of coffee?” “No”. At the end he said: “Gurkan, you couldn’t be a Turk, how come.”
This also caught Nathan and Angelina’s attention. They both asked us how we could get ready in such a short time. Everything has its place and order in my tent. I like to get ready easily to make use of day light as much as possible. Dude, another climb at the cockcrow! Poffff. That was a real climb Ayca pedaling at the front and what’s more, with her panniers attached. She arrives to the top as the first (Good enough, though with reduced load)
My “Thank goodness!” photo (hahahahaha)
We arrived in Sofia during day time giving only a couple of brakes. After a marvelous 15 days filled with nice conversations, entertainment and some tiredness we deserved a photo taken in front of the Sofia signboard. Hehehe!
We were in close connection with Fatma Hanim from the Turkish Embassy since I entered Bulgaria. Besides helping me in terms of accommodation she kept in touch in case of emergency. I’m sending her my best wishes from here once more. Thank you very much Fatma Hanim. By the way, Turkish embassy is in the building where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had worked as the Sofia Military Attache. I was astonished when I heard that the grandmother of a friend of Angelina was the beloved of Ataturk. Angelina’s words “Ataturk was the most handsome man refined in his choice of apparel among the leaders” surprised me.
We have arrived in Sofia. Now, it is time to explore Sofia with Ayca. The Bulgarian restaurant next to our hotel was praised but we didn’t like what we ate and it was expensive. I always say, the best way is to explore by your own where and what to eat. We paid a lot for nothing.
There are bicycle lanes, trams, trolleybuses and no overpasses in the city. Even, there aren’t any traffic lambs. On crosswalks drivers stop immediately as soon as you step on the street. There are slopes suitable for bicycles and baby cars at exits of underpasses. Everything what a citizen needs but Sofia was not prized for being the best European capital. Dude, how come Ankara was prized for? Or why and how? Could never understand. Send me the address of the institution written underneath the award placed at Kizilay square, if it is on my route I’ll go and check. I’ll ask whether they really acquainted with our mayor.
I also had the opportunity to attend the October 29th celebrations (On this day in 1923 Ataturk declared that Turkey would be a republic and officially renamed as the Republic of Turkey) held by our embassy. I attended the reception but had to leave early because I had to see Ayca off. When you arrive to Bulgaria over Turkey nobody cares. Remember, in my previous tour they didn’t even let me enter the embassy in Georgia. Fortunately, this was not the case in the first country of my world tour. But if you go to China, our ambassador Murat Abi would invite you for a meal. Our Mongolia ambassador Asım Abi even sent an invitation letter on behalf of me. He also entertained me with his family. Our Japan ambassador offered his official car for sightseeing. J We’ll see what happens in this tour. Let’s say at our Portuguese embassy.
While visiting the touristic attractions in Sofia a museum caught my attention. A mosque was turned into an archeological museum. From inside you cannot observe the motives on the domes all painted over. I went to the director of the museum together with Angelina to find out what happened. The minaret was broken down during an earthquake and the motives were plastered during the communism era. It is thought that this mosque was built by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Unfortunately, since this museum does not have budget those motives remain covered. He mentions that the ambiance of the interior would change tremendously and even increase the number of visitors if these motives would have been uncovered. By the way, German and Japanese companies had given some financial support to the restoration efforts of this museum. J
“Drag Store” is the best bicycle store in the city. I would say that they sell really high quality products. I was surprised about the prices being almost the same as that in Turkey. Probably, this store was taking the advantage of being the only onein the city.
Angelina arranged her friend Sasho’s place for me and Nathan to hold our presentations during our stay in Sofia. We went to meet Sasho. As I mentioned that I went to Japan, he said: “I know you. You had a friend Caner traveling in Spain with his bicycle. He had told me about you!” How come? Dude, my friend Caner! I had met with him in Trabzon at Cihad’s house. Afterwards, he followed us for a while and after a couple of months he started to his own journey. Now he is in Nevsehir taking culinary education. Wow, I made the world shrink once more! I guess such things happen to anyone on this type of journey. This is the base of such a journey. A voyager makes the world shrink.
I couldn’t go to Kardzhali but received walnuts from there. Ergin was following me since my Japan tour. He came to the hotel I stayed in Sofia. “Abi, I brought walnuts for you. Eat them while on the road, you will power up”. Honestly, while pedaling between Sofia and Ruse I ate a handful of these walnuts whenever I got tired.
It started to rain at the day we planned to depart. Angelina:
– Gurkan it is raining. Will we depart anyway?
Actually, this question was asked in a mood “better to stay here”. The answer was: “Of course we are departing” I didn’t buy all that stuff for no reason but to remain mobile under every weather condition. We used our GPS to get out of the city.
While strolling to get out of the city a car just stopped in front me. The driver ran towards me. He asked whether we need any help first in English then in French. I said no unwillingly but heard a heart breaking noise from the rear derailleur! Turned backward to look what happened…
Let me see! Oh no! What on earth! One of the screws connecting the back rack to the frame had broken and a part of it stuck in the frame. Dude! We had just departed. Poffff. Nathan just took a look and said: “I can fix it but will take time”. He showed me how. You really can take the broken part of the screw out of the frame by this method but will take some time. By the way, the driver who stopped us was a cyclist. How come, dude? Cometh the hour cometh the man. He brought us to a welder. It took only two minutes to fix.
By the way, I had fallen down with my bicycle on that side of the rack and was dragged along a few meters in Edirne.. J I had a couple of black and blue marks and scratches but the rack suffered some damage.
I’m not going to mention the details of our 8 days tour with Angelina and Nathan. This was completely dedicated to Angelina and I got really tired. During these 8 days, we pedaled about 100 km with a total ascent of 1500 m per day and sleeping in tents every night. This made me exhausted. I wished to arrive to Ruse in the shortest time and to cross to Romania. She kept saying: “Gurkan, you carry too much load”. Dude! I’m not on a two week or two months trip. I’m on a 7 years tour. Even though, as time passed on the road I reduced my weight drastically. Even, I have limited number of spare capscrews, two pairs from each. I reduced the total weight of the bicycle down to 52 kg (15 kg bicycle, 32 kg rear and front bags, 2 kg attachments on the bicycle). For the time being the thing that bothers me is the spare XT chain that I carry with me. I’m wondering how long the XTR chain would last. It has got 2000 km on it and with this heavy load works quite well on slopes. Let’s see for how long it will last. J
Anyway, at the end we also visited very nice places with Nathan and Angelina. Especially the Devetashka cave and its interior covered with drawings made me astonish. I had encountered at interesting places and had looked into researched such drawings or figures during my previous tours. It is really interesting how populations migrated and how the civilizations resemble each other. If I come to a conclusion I would share with you. The drawings in the cave date back more than 70 000 years. There are also other traces of human presence dating to that time. The cave is 13 km long which you can pass through but only a part of cave is open for visitors. To come to the cave you need to cross a newly built bridge financed by Sylvester Stallone. How come? Then I remember his movie “The Expandable 2”. This cave was chosen as the location for a scene in that movie. Since it was not easy to get to the cave he let a bridge built. J
Well, what kind of a country is Bulgaria… First of all was impressed by its abundant verdancy. I didn’t see a single spot void of trees accept cropland. The highly fertile soil results in exceptionally delicious fruits and vegetables. Since there are too many Muslims living in this country, they pay attention on pork meat issue. There are differences in all terms between the villages and towns in the north and that in the south.The cities I liked most were Velingrad, Sofia and Veliko Trinova.Sofia is the most expensive city compared to the others in Bulgaria. You can find a room in a 2 or 3 stars hotel for 30 Lari per night in every town, even for 20 Lari if you bargain, except in Sofia. Askind to old and young you’ll hear all saying: “Things were better under communist regime” A shepherd I met in a village immigrated to Bursa in Turkey at 90s but couldn’t fit in and returned to his village. He said: “We are people of communist era. We can’t do it in Turkey”. Even the poverty of rural got your attention you can see the fire of ovens from each house. After the end of Soviet era the cropland was shared among the inhabitants but since the villagers didn’t have enough money for gasoline and other equipments things are being regulated by agricultural land mafia nowadays. They plough the land, pay the owner monthly and grab the rest.
Meanwhile, we were hosted by a Bulgarian family. They were very hospital and saw us off till the exit of the town. We had great time with their baby girl like always I do.
In almost every city you may encounter Gypsy or Romany peopleall knowing Turkish. If situation is okay they said “We are Turk.” if it is not they said “We are not Turk.” While we were seeing off Angelina, they were talking among themselves:
– See me! How I fill my pockets by those stupid tourists?
He was saying this loudly. My response was:
– Whom you are calling stupid?
– Aaabii abii abii are you Turk.. Well, we don’t have money.
– F..k you. You look physically sound and strong, go to work.
That is the situation….
The distances between the cities I had pedaled in Bulgaria: J
Edirne Kapikule – Svilengrad: 15 km
Svilengrad – Mezek – Harmanli: 56 km
Kardzhali (Karagozler) – Asenovgrad: 61km
Asenovgrad – Pazardzhik: 66 km
Pazardzhik – Velingrad: 50 km
Velingrad – Bayaman: 79 km
Bayaman – Sofia: 87 km
Sofya – A village near Iskar river: 39 km
Iskar river – Roman: 100 km
Roman – Devetashka Cave: 104 km
Devetaki – Dobromirka: 55 km
Dobromirka – Veliko Tarnovo: 40 km
Veliko Tarnovo – Byala: 57 km
Byala – Ruse: 78 km
Together with the strolls in the cities I pedaled 963 km on the total in Bulgaria.
NOW THE NEXT COUNTRY IS ROMANIA… Carpathia wait for me, I’m coming