I have been on the road for about 4 months now and ever since we left Turkey, it has gotten a little tougher. Gone are the days where we could enjoy delicious Briyani and Tandoori in Pakistan which is similar to the food back in Malaysia to the middle eastern fare of Iran and Turkey, like Doner kebabs, Shwarmas and other home style cooking found in Lokantas.
So after a day’s journey of riding and as soon as we are done sorting our lodging, my first task is to scout the area for the nearest supermarket or mini- market to get the basic items for our meals. So far it has been bread, cheese, eggs, canned tuna, spaghetti, instant noodles(Maggi) also snacks like chips, lots of chocolates and muesli bars/cereals. Yup, it is very basic food items but with not much choice in the supermarkets and the difficulty of finding halal meat,that is the best we can do for the moment 😦 But once we start to camp, we can start buying some rice and vegetables and start making fried rice or stir- fry veggie’s. For now it’s just the easy- to- cook food that won’t take up so much time to prepare. So a lot of my time is actually spent at the aisles of supermarkets scouting and comparing prices of food stuff among the supermarket chains and also prices back in KL 🙂
Life on the road can be quite boring so we are very lucky to be living in the digital age! If we were doing this trip 10 years ago it would not have been possible to be blogging like this and keep up with current events and also I will probably be bored out of my mind without the Internet. Most of my time in the room is spent browsing Facebook or talking with family members on Skype. There are also days when I am just feeling down and demotivated mainly due to tiredness or lack of nutrition :p so the only pick -me up I have is listening to music on my phone and also watching videos on Youtube/Vimeo to keep me motivated 🙂 Also if we are in big cities I would make an effort to check out the shopping malls or shopping districts.
This video was shared and posted by my cousin, Yvonne. Just makes me wanna ride my bike all day long 🙂 Thanks for sharing Yvonne!
This is what I would really love to do either solo or with a couple of friends 😀
We crossed into Hungary 2 days back and is now in the quiet but beautiful town of Berettyoujfalu (pronounced as Berettyou-wi-falu) which means New River Village. And already we have experienced the warmth of Hungarian hospitality. The hotel/restaurant(Molo Panzio) we are staying at, is owned by a kind gentleman by the name of George. He has had a few bicycle -tourists staying at his hotel, so he is very sympathetic when he comes across them. He was very impressed with our endeavour, maybe we are the first Asian bicycle – tourists he has come across 🙂 When we were about to move on today it started to rain, so George told us to stay another day free, as his guests! Hopefully we can move on tomorrow but according to the weatherman it will continue to rain 😦
So this is seventh country for me and it has been quite a roller- coaster ride with all the moving about, experiencing all the different weather, landscapes, cities, cultures and all the wonderful people we have met along the way that really makes this kind of travel, fun and exciting! I would also like to thank my Father for giving me the opportunity to tag along on this wonderful adventure 🙂 and also family and friends for the words of encouragement, it really keeps us going.
Our next planned route was to head towards Brasov which is located in the region of Transylvania surrounded by the Carpathian mountains. The weather was a bit cloudy but thankfully there was no rain when we left Bucharest. The first town we stopped at was Ploesti, which was 60km away, to rest and gather our strength before starting to climb the Carpathian Highlands. We found a really cheap hostel which just cost us RM45 for 2 people which was a real bargain but of course there was no WiFi or internet. When we moved on the next day we were caught completely off- guard by massive headwinds which lasted most of the day. My cycling computer was showing an average of 4-7kmh which was really burning us out. We managed to cover only 40km before we decided to call it a day. In the small village of Breaza we found a small restaurant & motel- stop, which was the cheapest we could find at RM 50 a night. Most of these cheap motels or hostels do not have internet services but are very pleasant for just a good night’s rest. The following morning when we were about to start, we were approached by Daniel Bujoreanu, who was on his way back to Brasov with his daughter (Iulia), who had decided to stop at the restaurant for breakfast. He was interested to know where we were from and our destination. When we told him we were heading for Brasov, he told us to come and visit and stay with him in Prejmer which was located about 15km from Brasov. We took down his details and told him we would give him call before we headed to his place.
After a few kilometers from Breaza we started to climb the Carpathian Highlands. We were told that there were a few challenging sections that would be really tough, but as we started climbing we found out the climb wasn’t that difficult and was much easier than expected. We then decided to stop and relax at Busteni just because it had a spectacular view of the mountains. Busteni is a popular winter retreat with activites like mountain – climbing and skiing. The following day was an easy day as it was only 30km to Brasov and it was mostly downhill for about 20km.
Instead of going in to Brasov we headed for Pejmer. Prejmer is small village with a population of about 7000. The main attraction of the village is the Tartlau Fortress which was built in 1212 by the Teutonic Knights. Daniel gave us a very warm welcome when we got to his place and he then showed us where we would be spending the night. What he showed us was one of the best places that I have stayed in, on this trip. He provided us with a cosy cabin all to ourselves which has its own fireplace, bathroom and complete with a home entertainment system. At first he built the cabin just for fun and for the family to have a place to relax, but now he has plans to rent it out as a summer retreat and also run something like a guesthouse. He is also working on a second cabin which is about 70% complete. For a full countryside experience Daniel also rear his own poultry and the chickens give him an unlimited supply of fresh farm eggs 🙂 (btw eggs are really expensive in Romania as it can go as high as RM1.50 per egg depending on the grade). He also grows his own potatoes and other crops just enough for personal consumption for the whole year. Daniel’s life story is truly amazing. He was an active big biker and stuntman. He is also a ski and para-gliding instructor but he has slowed down a lot due to injuries (he has broken more than 20 bones) and also with the arrival of his son Dan who is now 4 years old.
As we only planned to stay in Prejmer for 2 nights, we were ready to leave on the 3rd day but the weather turned on us and it started to rain and there were very strong winds. On the following day there was also a bit of snow falling and so we were held up for an extra 3 days, so it was like an unexpected mini – holiday. We spent 3 days just watching Dvd’s 🙂
Fate really played a big part on us meeting Daniel and we had a really good time at his place, and with his family. It was also my first countryside experience and is by far the best experience I’ve had so far on this trip. We are truly grateful and thankful for his kind and warm hospitality, something which we are not likely to forget. It really touches me to know that strangers, like Daniel, can show so much warmth and kind hospitality, in a turbulent world that we live in today. Thank you! May God bless you and your family.
Been wanting to watch this dvd ever since I found out about Ewan’s trip years back. Finally had the chance since Dan had the dvd. Super inspirational and very tough journey they had & very touching. Wish I could do something like that in the future :p
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.
When we were done with the Iranian customs they assigned us a policeman to escort us to the bus terminal in Zahedan. Once we exited the immigration complex we were swarmed by taxi drivers wanting to take us to the bus terminal. Since there was only one guy who spoke English, he told us that we could not cycle as we were still in Balochistan (Iran side) and it is very dangerous for tourists as there are also kidnappings and the policeman will ensure that we get safely onto the bus to where ever we wanted to go. At the Zahedan terminal the police officer even escorted us to the loo and even paid for it. He wouldn’t let us out of his sight until he handed us over to the police personnel at the bus terminal. People in Zahedan were not so friendly and just gave us odd stares and communication really was a problem as they only speak Farsi. Even the sign-boards and menus are in Farsi so when ordering food we just used hand signals to show what we wanted to eat.
Being in Iran was a bit odd at first. With the country being an Islamic republic, I had imagined that Iran would be like Pakistan where there were no women on the streets, but it was completely the opposite. The women were doing their shopping, walking around hand in hand with their husbands or boyfriends and everyone was so fashionable with their winter wear/ overcoats and the women in their knee-high boots. After a few days in Tehran I began to understand that most Iranians are very liberal especially the younger generation. After speaking to a few people, a lot of Iranians have a strong dislike for the government, but they can’t express or say it aloud. They even showed me the hand gesture that they would be slaughtered like chickens if anyone from the government found out. In Tehran looking for a WiFi connection was impossible. Internet cafes are also hard to find. The internet is controlled and monitored. Most US websites and social networking services are blocked such as Facebook, Gmail, Blogger and WordPress but most people can get around it by using VPN. We were disconnected from the outside world for a week in Tehran.
After getting a bit bored, we decided to visit Karaj, a town about 45km from Tehran, where we met up with my friend Milad. I met Milad while he was on holiday in KL. We actually met by chance on the busy street of Bukit Bintang. My friends and I were on our bicycles when Milad approached us, asking where he could buy cross -country mountain bikes and if there were any races that he could join in Malaysia. We exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch through sms. Two weeks before I was to depart on this journey, he came back to KL again to take part in a DH (downhill race) in Kuantan and he got 3rd place. When he came to KL I told him about the journey that I was going to do and told him I would be passing by Karaj and he told me to just give him a call once I was in Tehran.
In Karaj, Milad introduced us to this Manager & friend, Afshin, and told us we would be staying with him. Afshin is a multi- talented sportsman. He does a lot of outdoor and extreme sports such as skiing, mountain climbing, cross country mountain biking and also big wall climbing. He also manages his own MTB club called Ofogh mountain bike club, Afshin also gets many tourists who come to ‘couch surf’ at his place and he brings them on skiing or mountain trekking trips.
We also had the opportunity to tag along with Milad to watch him train. He took us to his usual training ground. The mountain was quite high and it took us about 30 minutes to climb up to his starting point. From up there we could get a bird’s eye- view of Karaj, but the view wasn’t so clear as the town was covered in smog. On weekends the mountain can get quite busy with many people enjoying the multiple- treks to the summit. Milad also introduced us to his family and hosted a dinner for us at his home. His family was very happy to see us. I guess most Iranian families do not get the opportunity to meet up with foreigners as they are mostly disconnected from the rest of the world.
While we were having a real good time in Karaj, we had to leave for Turkey as our visa was expiring, so we headed for the border town of Maku in Iran. From there on, the landscape began to change with snow everywhere. There were huge snow-capped mountains. It was such an eye opener for me, as this was my first time seeing snow up close 🙂 Crossing into Turkey was no hassle as the police/immigration officers were very friendly and happy to know that we were from Malaysia. We then proceeded to cycle to the town of Dogubeyazit which was 45 km away. We got a taste of cycling in sub zero temperatures which was really torturous and to top it off there was a headwind of at least 20-25kph which really slowed us down. We cycled for 15 km before we decided that it was too cold and maybe dangerous to continue.It must have been at least -5 degrees. We tried to flag down a few vehicles but none of them would stop but finally a mini van with 3 people in it decided to stop and we loaded our bikes into the van. None of them could speak English, but one of them gestured to us that we were crazy to try and cycle in this weather :p lesson learned!
Dogubeyazit is a small town with mainly Kurdish people and most of them are very friendly. People on the streets would greet us with a smile. As it is winter now, there are not many tourists in town. The main attraction in Dogubeyazit is Mount Ararat (5,137m). The mountain is said to be where ‘Noah’s Ark’ landed and it really is quite a sight. Many tourists come here to climb the mountain during the summer. Another attraction is the Ishak Pasha Palace which was built during the Ottoman empire.