After cycling for 3 days we arrived at the town of Ruse, which is the town bordering Bulgaria and Romania. When we reached Ruse it was already dark so we went around looking for a hotel and the cheapest we could find without having to cycle too far into the city center was a 1 star hotel which cost Rm80 per night. While Ruse is quite a big town, people there were not so friendly and most of them were glum- looking, maybe because it was a big city so everyone was just minding their own business. We didn’t do anything much while in Ruse, but we did go to the Freedom Square which was a huge square something similar to Dataran Merdeka, with people just relaxing and enjoying the sun. We also did a little cycling along the banks of the Danube River which was quite nice.
After 2 days of resting in Ruse we proceeded to cross the bridge connecting Bulgaria and Romania. The bridge was built in 1952 and it is very narrow with just 2 lanes. There were a lot of trailers and lorries on the bridge, so for safety reasons we decided to just push our bikes on the pedestrian walkway. Clearing immigration was fast and easy. We then pedalled our way to Bucharest which was about 60km away. The highway leading to Bucharest was very good as it had a shoulder so we felt safe, even though the cars were going quite fast. The terrain was flat all the way and it was just a perfect day for cycling. We checked into a hostel, which is called Happy Hostel. It has all the facilities that a modern hostel should have, clean wash- rooms, kitchen, TV lounge and of course free WiFi. The staff working there are also very helpful and friendly (Christina, Eugem & Daniel). The hostel is owned by George who is a wonderful person and he is also a big joker.
The one thing that really impresses me is that Bucharest has quite a large number of cyclists and the city has cycling lanes on both sides of the walkway. The cycling community in Bucharest are a mixed bunch, while there are some serious cyclists who commute to work and do their daily chores around the city, the young kids and young adults ride around town in their full spec Downhill bikes. It’s like a status symbol who has the ‘baddest’ and ‘meanest’ looking bike :p but the most important thing is that the cycling community is rising in numbers. In Bucharest alone there are 25 bicycle shops. We were told that only in Bucharest, cycling is the in -thing, the rest of Romania hasn’t adopted the idea yet. I really hope the Malaysian government takes some initiative and proactive steps to promote cycling to work and also to educate the public regarding safety and sharing the road with cyclists and to ensure the safety of everyone using the road.
With Cristian owner of Bicishop.ro – Cristian used to be the head mechanic of Scott bicycles in Belgium. He then came back to Romania to open his own bike shop. Super friendly person. I got a free side mirror from him. Thanks Cristian
It was a bright and sunny day with clear skies which was a welcome change from the gloomy and rainy conditions from the previous day. We left Haskovo feeling very relaxed as the next town (Stara Zagora) was just 65km away, so there was no rush for us. While cycling out of Haskovo we bumped into a local cyclist, Lazar. He stopped us to take some photographs. He was really happy to see us, even though we could not communicate well, as he spoke very little English, so we just had to use sign language. Only after a few kilometres we realised that he was going in the same direction to visit his friends in the next town (Dimitrovgrad), 15km away. On the way he also noticed that my father’s rear wheel was warped and he signaled for us to follow him into Dimitrovgrad to have it fixed. About 3 km from Dimitrovgrad, we were greeted by Lazar’s friend, Nikolai,who is an expert in wheel repairs. We rode into town and stopped outside Nikolai’s apartment, where he did the repairs. While waiting for the repairs to be finished two more cyclists came to join us. Once the repairs were done they invited us for tea at a local tea/coffee joint. Although none of them could speak English very well, we did manage to understand what they were saying. Lazar and Nikolai are also cycling – enthusiasts who have so far toured Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Maybe there are not many cycling- tourists who pass through Bulgaria, that is why they were amazed and happy that we were in their town. After taking some pictures and exchanging Facebook and E-mail addresses we said our goodbyes . We pedalled on and by that time the sun was at its full strength. It was about 20c and for the first time in 3 months I was cycling in my T-shirt. Very soon I would be able to ride using my shorts again 🙂
I left Istanbul with a heavy heart. I really wish I will be able to go back one day, as I didn’t get to fully explore the city as we had limited time. The journey has to go on so we pedalled towards Edirne, the last town in Turkey. The first 15 km was mostly flat ground, but there were massive hills that we had to climb after that, some even stretching for 1-2 km. The hills in Bangsar and Bukit Gasing, where I trained, were nothing, compared to these killer hills and to make it worse we were sharing the road ( no shoulder) with buses and lorries, that were just a few inches away from grazing our bikes. But there were also some nice downhills once we got to the top. There was a nice downhill section where we could enjoy the beauty of the coastline. That was the upside, even though we couldn’t fully enjoy the view of the coast, as we were cycling on the right side of the road. We were a bit slow in our cycling due to all the hill- climbing, that we only got to Silivri. As it was getting dark we decided to stop at a petrol pump to inquire if there was a budget hotel that we could put up for the night. As there were none, we then asked the staff for permission if we could spend the night at the petrol pump, instead. They, then, ushered us into a small cabin which had 2 chairs, a small TV and a portable heater. We then spent the night there. We were very grateful to the staff that we had a place to spend the night, without freezing to death :p even if we had to spend the night sleeping on chairs.
We reached Edirne without much problems except for the usual headwinds and rolling hills. Most of the landscape after Istanbul were farmlands, with very few crops, as it is still winter. I can imagine how pleasant it would really be to cycle in Turkey during late spring and summer. While Edirne isn’t a big town, it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire before they shifted to Istanbul. There are a few mosques such as the Selimiye Mosque (Unesco world heritage site) and the ‘Old Mosque’ which are even older than the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The mosques built during the Ottoman Empire are really magnificent works of architecture. It really makes one wonder how they managed to build such beautiful structures.
After Edirne, we cycled towards the Kapikule border of Turkey/Bulgaria and once we were done with immigration & customs, we cycled towards the border town of Svilengrad. It is a very small town with a lot of hotels with casinos. I guess a lot of people from Turkey cross over to Svilengrad to gamble. We didn’t go out much as there were gypsies around the town giving us strange looking stares, some would even come up to ask for cigarettes or money. Gypsies are also known for robbing people of their valuables.
The next day we proceeded towards Stara Zagora, but after battling massive headwinds and crosswinds which slowed us down a lot, we decided to detour to Haskovo. After that it started to rain, where we were once again slowed down as we had to stop until the rain subsided. It was a tiring day and to top it off, it started to snow a few kilometres from Haskovo. Well,that is why I signed up for this trip in the first place, to experience the adventures and challenges of bicycle-touring 😀
Before I embarked on this journey, I had always dreamed of visiting Turkey, so I was very excited when I knew that we would be passing through Turkey. But it was just unfortunate that we entered Turkey while it was still winter. It would have been great to cycle most of the way but as we went further the conditions were really bad in a lot of places of the Anatolian region, as it was covered in snow. So after Agri we had no choice but to take a coach towards Ankara as we thought it would be better there and that we could cycle towards Istanbul. But when we got to Ankara it was still snowing heavily, that we couldn’t even get out of the bus terminal. We then had to make a tough decision to just take another coach to Istanbul.
I am truly blessed to be here in Istanbul. It is a really magnificent city with a lot of beautiful historical buildings from the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. You really have to be here to fully appreciate the beauty of Istanbul. We only visited the Blue Mosque as the entry was free. We just can’t afford to pay to enter museums and the other places of interest, but there are still many interesting relics and things to look at and take pictures of. Most of the tourist sites are located in the Sultanahmet area and are just jam- packed with tourists, even in winter! As with all tourist sites, there will be people trying to sell you something from Turkish carpets to locally made porcelain products, small trinkets and also guide books. Sometimes the sellers can be pushy, which can be quite annoying. Looking for affordable food can be quite a challenge, too. You will have to venture out from the Sultanahmet area and in to some quiet alley to look for a Lokantasi (restaurant) or a shack like cafe which sells ‘Doner kebab’.
While we were travelling from Dogubeyazit, towards Ankara, I received some very sad and shocking news. 2 of my friends Kathrine and Suleman whom we had befriended while in Pakistan(Lahore Backpakers) were shot dead in Peshawar, while they were out shopping at the local bazaar. The motive was unclear at first but after a few days, a local Taliban outfit admitted to the shooting and it was a revenge killing to what was going on in China with the killing of Uighur Muslims. I was truly shocked as she had left a comment on my facebook album the day we left for Ankara and that was the day they were shot. It just sent chills down my spine. It was just unfortunate as they were very nice people and we had good times together while in Lahore. May they R.I.P. Thinking back, we were really lucky that nothing untoward happened to us while we were in Peshawar. There are bombings and killings going on there everyday.
Today is the last day we are going to be in Istanbul. Since it is no longer snowing we will start cycling towards Edirne and the Bulgarian border, and just hope and pray that the weather will be fine.