Month 2 has come to an end and the month of June saw the Ride2Rescue team travel from Budapest, Hungary through Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and arrive in Istanbul, Turkey. We’ve continued our bad habits of wrong turns, punctures and trusting Aaron’s navigational abilities and have had run ins with Fishing Resort and Hotel managers, Highway Police and many stray dogs.
However as a whole it has been an enjoyable 4379 kilometres in Eastern Europe where we’ve met loads of great people, been cheered on by locals, joined arms with protesting farmers and enjoyed the strength of the dollar against the Eastern European economy. Quite simply we are at a time of our lives where the direction of the wind, UNO results and finding a place to sleep at night determine our enjoyment of life.
We’ve arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, we have crossed and conquered Europe and just a short walk from our Hostel we have a view across the Bosphorus where our Asian mission will begin. Our next month may not see us cross a country border but from our short time in this friendly country that sits fine with the whole team. We have been warned that there’s many steep climbs ahead on our route, more heat and much more arid and barren areas but we are ready to take it on – Bring on Asia!
I’ve broken down the days again below, sorry it’s so long – enjoy the read!
Day 31 Day off in Budapest, Hungary
After a little sleep in we enjoyed our first hot breakfast prepared on our camping stoves and the French toast with bacon was the perfect fuel for our first of two days off in Budapest. Aaron, Daniel and I went for a massive walk around the city with a plan to meet Tim – who went in search of a Doctor – in the evening for our second Hard Rock Cafe dinner. Aaron had been to Budapest before and walked in front of Daniel and I chest out and acting as if he had grown up in the Hungarian capital until he realised he had confused the city with Warsaw and the square he was supposedly leading us to didn’t actually exist (in Budapest). During the afternoon our hearts were shattered as we unfortunately found out there wasn’t a Hard Rock Cafe in Budapest, the menu needs updating in Munich!
Instead we visited the Rucas Baths. Budapest has over 130 natural springs underneath the city and relaxing in public baths is quite a popular past time. The Rucas Baths are very traditional, however we didn’t know this before visiting, when you walk through the turnstiles the men are separated from the women, as you walk into the changerooms you are provided with a 30cm x 30cm piece of white cotton with a string you tie around your hips and then you enter the bathing area. The average age of the bathing crowd was probably 60 and I don’t think too many had wives at home, while we were in the 36 degree bath Aaron made friends with a German man and later he watched Aaron taking a nap in a silent room through the window, it was quite disturbing! The way the baths are laid out though was really cool. There were 5 main baths all at different temperatures; 28, 30, 32, 35 and 42 and the idea was to work your way around the circuit, after which you felt very relaxed and it was a perfect recovery session for our muscles after our 211km the previous day.
That night we went out for a traditional Hungarian meal and then went for a walk down the Danube River where we bumped into a Texan girl, Julia, who we had met in Vienna. She told us she was paying only 5 Euro per night at a really nice Hostel in the city centre. I was really dirty to hear this as we were paying about 10 Euro each to stay at a run down campsite miles from the city centre.
Day 32 Day off in Budapest, Hungary
I was up early this morning and stood waiting for reception to open so I could arrange a refund for our third night accommodation. The campsite manager was a little confused that we were leaving and it was unfortunate she didn’t speak better English as I would have enjoyed explaining why we were moving on one day earlier.
Daniel and I packed up all of our gear and set off for the city with the plan to take part in a bike tour however when we arrived in the city centre he stumbled upon a free walking tour so we left our bikes at a Bike Hire shop and took part in the tour.
After the tour Daniel and I tracked down the Mandarin Hostel and checked in. The Hostel was fantastic and was so much cheaper than the campsite and included so much more; a bed, internet, TV and a full kitchen which Tim cooked up a fantastic stir fry.
That night we played cards on comfortable couches and the evening was topped off when we met Jan and Kerri from Canada who after a 5 month stint studying in France had mastered the art of cooking up Crepes. Daniel, Julia and I were only too obliging to sample some for ourselves.
Day 33 Budapest, Hungary to Akaszto, Hungary – 117km
After two days off we were eager to hit the road again with our plan to reach Belgrade, Serbia in three days. I took advantage of the kitchen facilities and cooked up another hot breakfast, we then said our farewells to our new friends and we were off.
After a google map study session Aaron took control this morning and after proving his lack of local knowledge two days earlier the team wasn’t too confident. However despite almost turning right along the river (towards Vienna) instead of left he led us to our lunch stop after about 60km.
After a problem free morning where we enjoyed a slight tailwind and clear weather things took a massive turn after lunch when we were drenched and blown about by a huge electrical thunderstorm. There were bolts of lightening, cracks of thunder and the rain was so fat it hurt when it ricocheted off your skin. To make things worse Daniel got a puncture but let the three of us carry on as it was obvious we could ride out of the storm which after about 10km we managed to do so. Daniel however who was now in catch up mode copped the storm practically the whole way to our stop to buy dinner.
This evening we rode into a fishing resort and after a three way conversation where Hungarian was translated to German and then back to us in English we were shown a spot to camp and a bathroom and shower we could use. I cooked up dinner which was a variation of the Kase Spatzel we tried in Germany however I added tuna, mushrooms and olives, it was awesome.
Day 33 Akaszto, Hungary to Backa Topola, Serbia – 124km
This day will be remembered for punctures. Just after we got the bikes all packed up Tim realised he had a puncture, he replaced the punctured tube with a tube he had supposedly repaired but after pumping the tube up, two minutes later it was flat again so he was forced into using a new inner tube. While he was vigorously pumping this new tube up he managed to snap the valve which makes the tube useless, then he tried tube number four for the day and it worked!
Then, just as we thought we were on the road the resort manager stopped us and asked for payment for a nights accommodation. We were certain it was free, as no price was discussed the previous evening however it was probably lost in translation. We eventually got off for free on the condition that we never come back to the resort, not the worst punishment really.
Finally we were on the road enjoying another tailwind and more blue skies and then Tim got another puncture so we decided to stop for lunch after a miserly 20km. Then in bid to continue the theme for the day 2kms after lunch Daniel got a puncture so I stopped with him and Aaron and Tim carried on. Daniel and I then set ourselves the challenge of catching Tim and Aaron, so sitting on speeds of 33-36km/h we took turns leading, changing every 2.5km and eventually we caught them after about 45 minutes, it was pretty gruelling but good fun.
We pushed on as four and crossed the border into Serbia problem free and headed for a town called Backa Topola. With only 10km left to ride another electrical storm decided to join Ride2Rescue and led to an entertaining finish to the day. The storm was crazy; trees on the roadside had caught alight and the smoke was billowing across the road. As cars and trucks past by we would be covered in their spray, however most of them slowed down and gave a few honks in support.
We set up camp tonight on a small patch of grass next to a service station, easily our strangest campsite yet however the amenities and short walk to the shops in the morning were very convenient.
My first impressions of Serbia are very good, everyone we met today was extremely friendly and those who could speak English were very impressed with our ride and very supportive. We also received a lot of attention as we rode through towns – children running up to the roadside to give two thumbs up, farmers waving from tractors and cheers as you pass crowded bus stops.
Day 35 Backa Topola, Serbia to Novi Sad, Serbia – 70km
Thankfully there were no more storms and the ride today was puncture free. Aaron made sure we were fed in the morning after visiting the bakery to purchase Boreks, a heavy pastry which he had spoke of since leaving London.
The most eventful element of the day was the Tractor road blokes. We passed through five today and each group of protestors gave us a big cheer as we made our way through the roadblocks. We stopped for a photo with the larger of the five protests into Novi Sad. I am yet to research the reason for the protest however their tactic was certainly a nuisance to other vehicles on the road. It worked well for us as for long stints as there wasn’t any other traffic about which made dodging the pot holes on the poor Serbian roads much safer. Pot holes have certainly become worse and we refer to them as Darren Potters after our good friend Darren Potter. It’s pretty funny as when the person leading sees a pot hole coming up they yell out “Boys! Darren Potter’s up here!!”.
We arrived into Novi Sad which is Serbia’s second largest city and hosts the famous Exit Festival each year in July. The town centre is really impressive with loads of restaurants, bars and large gardens and squares. It was also very clean which was a big contrast to the city’s outskirts that were very run down. Tonight we stayed at a hostel which was on the fourth floor, and the manager insisted we brought our bikes up the stairs as they would be in a much more secure.
Day 36 Novi Sad, Serbia to Belgrade, Serbia – 83km
We all woke late due to the late night and we were all carrying sore heads as we packed our bikes up and carried them down the stairs. Aaron and Daniel both had things taken from their bikes – so much for our bikes being safer! It was quite petty and as there was no body else staying at the Hostel, the manager was looking pretty guilty. I asked him to attend Kangaroo Court but he didn’t understand. Daniel lost his bike computer, multi tool set and pocket knife. Aaron lost his multi tool set, tyre levers puncture repair kit.
We were eventually heading for Serbia’s capital until Tim somehow managed to take a wrong turn which kept Aaron, Daniel and I waiting for 10 minutes while he found his way back on track. Turns out Tim confused us with another group of cyclists and decided to follow them – Classic Holman. Daniel and I decided we would just meet the other two at the hostel in Serbia and took off.
The temperature was soaring at 35-37 degrees and with a hangover I struggled to stay hydrated up the longest and steepest hill climb of the whole trip so far. Thankfully after reaching the top you could look out over what seemed like the whole of the country and there wasn’t another hill in sight.
We reached the Hostel after a self guided bike tour through Belgrade and I literally dumped my bags took off my shoes and slept through to 7am.
Day 37 Day off in Belgrade, Serbia
After a decent 12 hour recovery sleep I was up early and decided to head out for a walk. Directly around our hostel there wasn’t much about however I came across a bakery so I bought breakfast for the four of us – more Boreks!
We all then headed out around town. We strolled up Skadarska street which is Belgrade’s oldest street which is evident from all the cobble stones that proved difficult for women to negotiate in their high heels. Next we walked down Knez Mihailova, which is the centre of Belgrade. We had a coffee here and after speaking with our waiter had a plan for the rest of the day.
We started by visiting the Fortress which after a gruelling climb up (on our rest day) offered great views of the city and the Danube. It was also home to the Military museum so we decided to escape the hot sun and take the opportunity to learn about Serbia’s troubled history. In the evening the fortress was also hosting a David Guetta concert and we saw the crew making the final preparations to the stage.
From here we crossed the river in search of the old town however this ended up being too far to walk so we decided to put our feet up at a riverside café for lunch and then return to the Hostel for some much needed admin!
In the evening we ate out in town and then Aaron, Daniel and I decided to walk to the fortress look out again to see the view at night. The place was absolutely packed with locals, however this may have been due to the fact David Guetta’s stage had collapsed! So we assumed all the ticket holders decided to hang around to have a party anyway.
Day 38 Belgrade, Serbia to Veliko Gradiste, Serbia – 130km
After hours of research Aaron confidently told us to follow him out of the city and before long his trusty navigational nose led us into an industrial estate and then down two dead end streets. After riding around in what seemed like circles for 20kms Daniel and I decided to tell him to stop and we asked at a Pharmacy for directions, and then we were finally on the way.
Our exit out of Belgrade was also marred by our first spate of dog attacks! Luckily no one was bitten but my fear of what I’m sure is inevitable is growing day by day!
It was an extremely hot day and perhaps due to lack of water or food Aaron really struggled early. The hills out of the city were steep and very long however we all pulled together and reached a town called Smederevo where we nestled into a riverside restaurant for lunch. The menu was completely in Serbian and no body there spoke a word of English so we all decided to order something at random and hope for the best. I lucked out as a heart jerking meal of a plate sized meat patty with a side of raw onions was placed in front of me!
We reached the town of Veliko Gradiste which was a town that appeared to have had its day but we still enjoyed a swim in the Danube and I cooked up another variation of Kasespatzel, we then cycled 3kms out of town and set up camp amongst small trees just off the main road.
Day 39 Veliko Gradiste, Serbia to Tekija, Serbia – 116km
With the opportunity to support the Socceroos playing against Serbia while being in Serbia I was up early and ensured we were on the road so we could get plenty of kilometres out of the way before watching the game.
The weather was certainly against this idea. All morning we fought against extremely heavy head winds however the surroundings were breathtaking. The road was literally on the water’s edge and cut into the cliffs. In some parts the cliff actually arched over road as we pushed our way around the widest part of the Danube River. As the river slowly began to narrow we past through a cliff side Castle and also made our way through several tunnels. Now in fairness to Aaron these tunnels were very dark however he was terrified and before a particular tunnel he made us all pull over and put our lights on. We all complied and began to follow Aaron through the 292m tunnel. With about 100m to go he got his front wheel caught in a groove in the road and went crashing down, this is becoming a familiar sight. He picked himself up fast and began to ride off without a pannier!
We finally reached a town called D. Milanovac and found a bar playing the game and sat through the scoreless draw. After the game I visited a tourist information centre, the lady behind the counter gave me a run down of what was ahead of us – Steep hills for 5km and the narrowest section of the river.
We made a plan to ride 10km more for the day and to set up camp just before the 5km hill climb. However after arriving at the selected town we decided to press on as it didn’t offer much. This proved a great decision, as the hill climb took us to the most scenic section of the Danube we had experienced. I was certain I would have said that about a section in Austria, but this was truly incredible. The hill climb took us to the summit of the cliffs that ran along side the narrowest point of the river and the timer photo at the top was the pick of the trip so far.
After 40km we came across the welcoming town of Tekija. We set up camp on a little beach on the Danube and went to a local restaurant for dinner. I was a little concerned as the menu was in Serbian again and I was fearful of repeating my lunchtime order. Luckily though we met Rodney, from Sydney, who was visiting his sister in law. He gladly translated the menu for us and we happily sampled fish soup – a local speciality.
Day 40 Tekija, Serbia to Strehaia, Romania – 98km
With two days to reach Craiova today should have only been about 70km however are track record of wrong turns and bad decisions at intersections continued.
We set off after Tim served up Bananas and Sour Cream for breakfast which didn’t sit too well with any members of the team, however this must have been his secret weapon as he really found his form today. From Tekija we were aiming for the border crossing however we rode past it and luckily stopped for a coffee in Kaldovo where on an inspection of the map we realised we had ridden too far. The town was really pretty however and it was nice to have our last taste of Serbia which we all thoroughly enjoyed.
We rode the 10km back to the border crossing and upon entering passport control we were under attack from a stray Labrador. I took off in a sprint, selfishly leaving Tim alone at the back and before he knew it the disobedient hound got a strong grip of his front pannier and ripped it to the tarmac! Luckily it wasn’t his calf muscle…
After recovering from the ordeal we were heading across the Danube River to the Romanian passport control. We scurried past a long line of vehicles that were awaiting a thorough search from the border police. We were thankfully not made to wait and more thankful that we were not subjected to the thorough body search we witnessed in the line adjacent to ours. We were asked however if we were carrying pistols.
Straight from the border crossing (pistol free) there was a massive drop in class from Serbia. The roadside nature strips and trees were all really dry and the buildings, roads and recreational facilities were all falling apart.
We eventually stumbled across the rural, dull town of Strehaia that appeared to be the half way point between Tekija and Craiova so we decided to seek out a restaurant that would let us camp. Instead we struck gold! At the chosen restaurant we met an off duty police officer who arranged a room with 4 beds for us for a pocket lightening 5 Euro for all four of us!
Later that evening Daniel and Tim had a few beers with the policeman and his DJ mate who gave them both loads of free beer and pizza but also a very interesting insight into the sex trade and corruption in Romania.
Day 41 Strehaia, Romania to Craiova, Romania – 73km
Today things went our way with a massive tailwind and clear skies… until 15km out of Craiova where we were greeted with heavy rain and thunder. The timing of the storm was incredible as it started just as we reached the sad, decrepit ex-industrial area of Craiova which would suit a permanent grey cloud sitting above it.
Once we were in town, on first impression we were all unimpressed and just keen to get to the Hotel and warm ourselves up as the weather had turned quite cold by now. Aaron again leading the way to the Hotel took us the most indirect route possible but did get us there after adding a rain drenched 13km to the journey. At one point we passed a prison just as a bus load of what appeared to be new prisoners were arriving. I caught a look in the bus at the men all shackled up and on later reflection have thought about the contrast between the freedom of the four of us, having the time of our lives riding through the rain worry free to them at their lowest point entering a correctional facility.
The Sydney Hotel, Craiova was fantastic and gave us a 50% discount for two rooms and 25% discount for laundry. The comfy rooms also provided the opportunity for all of us to enjoy an actual rest day and the remainder of the afternoon was spent watching movies until we headed into town for dinner.
Day 42 Day off in Craiova
None of us were very impressed with Craiova from the day earlier so the idea of a lazy day of internet and watching movies was a popular choice. However with only two computers and a poor line up on HBO Aaron and I decided to give this town one more shot, and I’m glad we did.
It didn’t take long for me to change my view on the town. The walking only town centre was like most towns with modern restaurants lining both sides however Craiova has an impressive town hall at one end and at the other narrow streets that offer loads of local produce that Aaron and I just had to sample. The selection of fresh fruit was great, I bought heaps of cherries, Aaron went for a watermelon and then we were off to one of the many patisseries where we enjoyed pizza and an Apple strudel. From here we walked aimlessly in a big circle where we came across Churches and Museums that were surrounded by well watered, landscaped gardens that added much needed to colour to an otherwise dull city.
After our self guided tour we headed back to the Hotel – without being attacked by any of the hundreds of stray dogs – and did some work on the website and watched a few movies.
Day 43 Craiova, Romania to Calinesti, Romania – 131km
Once again we took advantage of the Hotel breakfast and filled our pockets with bread rolls and headed out of Craiova with a great tailwind pushing us further into Romania. After an incredibly quick 30km we decided to stop for a quick coffee however Aaron declared he would prefer some alone time and rode on alone. Dan, Tim and I all thought this was fine although it was the first time living in each others pockets or more correctly riding in each others pockets had got to one of us.
Before long the peloton began its chase to catch Aaron however any attempts were voided when Daniel continued his bad habit of getting punctures and got his first of two for the day bringing his tally to an extraordinary 10 for the trip. During our repair stop we were greeted by an Romanian man with a big friendly grin amongst a worn out face that had obviously seen a lot of sun over the years. He was more than happy to help out as I pumped up the tyres and continued to explain intricacies about Romanian road surfaces – at least that’s what I think he was talking about as he blabbered on and on in Romanian.
We eventually reached the large regional centre of Pitesti where we managed to get hold of Aaron who had incidentally managed to make his way onto a motorway and add 8km onto his lonely ride but had still manage to arrive at a Guest House about 15km out of Pitesti well before the chasing group. We arrived shortly after and were shown our rooms and then just as we were ready to hit the hay for a big sleep the manager thought it would be appropriate to inform us that the top floor becomes a Disco after 11pm. Without further a do we got changed hit the dance floor and after exchanging two T-Shirts with an ex Romanian Rugby player and a local eighteen year old who translated for me all evening I got to sleep around 4am for a quick power nap.
Day 44 Calinesti, Romania to Bucharest, Romania – 109km
With sore eyes and a heavy head I got on the bike at 8am and sat in the slip stream of the other well rested guys and headed towards the capital where two rest days were scheduled. Thankfully the actually riding today was simple, nice and flat and a helpful tailwind once again and quicker than any of us thought my hangover was gone and I led the boys into down town Bucharest in search of our Hostel.
Our general strategy is to arrive into a town, head to a wifi hotspot and then once we’ve already spent an hour or so on the internet we then navigate our way around the city making several wrong turns and just end up asking people all the way to the front door – and today was champagne Ride2Rescue. After 3 hours!! We found the hostel just as the pouring rain started and of course in this time Daniel had managed to pop another tube!
We checked in, Aaron and I had our showers while Tim jumped online to check the Ride2Rescue emails. As I arrived back into the room the others had re-packed all their things and excitedly explained that the owner of the 4 Star Hotel Christina had replied to our email and had offered us free accommodation, with breakfast and one dinner during our stay in Bucharest! I quickly got a refund from the Hostel who couldn’t believe my reasoning and then as the other Hostel guests watched on in shock we took off (walking with Daniel) in torrential rain to Hotel Christina which was a brand new, boutique Hotel in the best location in Bucharest.
Soaked, cold but warm with the thought of the most comfortable accommodation yet we arrived at Hotel Christina, checked into our luxurious loft suites and showered underneath LED illuminated shower heads and walked about the room in white robes and slippers.
This evening we got in touch with Ana, a local Bucharester who had promised to show us the good nights spots of the Old Town area. She brought along a friend, Diana, and both of them shared with us their knowledge of the city, country and local night spots. We ended up at a bar called Bordello – but please don’t be alarmed – which was a converted brothel which was actually a really great bar full of locals. Most young people in Romania can speak English quite well and this evening we all met loads of people and by the morning we had a huge Romanian following on Facebook.
Day 45 Day off in Bucharest, Romania
After a nice lay in and a fantastic breakfast Aaron, Daniel and I met up with Ana who had planned out a personalised Bucharest bike tour. She showed us all the main tourist sights however we were most impressed with the small tucked away cafés and restaurants she led us to. On route we came across an older lady who hailed us down asking if we had a pump – you could say we rescued her – and we gladly pumped her tyres up until I was cheeky and explained for this service we require an ice-cream each and she happily went into her house and brought out a serve of Vanilla and Caramel ice-cream each.
At 6pm we punctually arrived at the lobby of Hotel Christina and met the owner of the Hotel and his son.
The owner was an incredible man who was obviously generous and had grown his success since the fall of communism when he moved into the hospitality industry after working as engineer for many years. He arranged a three course dinner, wine and a strong liquor derived from apple which we all struggled to sip on – Aaron wasted no time and necked two. The food was incredible however some of his fine words made the evening, especially when he explained that he was smoking ‘healthy cigarettes’ and that the reason we don’t have stray dogs in Australia was due to crocodiles.
Day 46 Day off – Road trip to Brasov and Bran, Romania
Today we decided to take the advice from many Romanians and head north to Transylvania and visit the mountain town of Brasov and venture through the surrounding castles including the most popular Bran Castle which was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula story.
We hired a car for the day and I jumped behind the wheel and was successfully navigating the Romanian roads until I was pulled over for travelling 31km/h over the speed limit. The Police officer thankfully let me off which I was amazed by considering if the same situation arose in Melbourne I would have automatically lost my licence and paid a massive fine! Moments later I almost obliterated a dog with the front bumper however I would have just been doing a favour for any touring cyclists in the area.
While in Brasov we met up with Mark, who was one of Tim’s good friends from Melbourne who had family in the area. It was a great coincidence that they could catch up and it was great to meet him. He was also able to suggest some local foods to try which was a good treat.
Day 47 Bucharest, Romania to Tudor Vladiniresco, Romania – 129km
We were sad to leave the fantastic Hotel Christina however their friendly service, comfortable beds and wholesome buffet breakfast meant we left full of energy as we headed towards Constanta and our first sight of the Black Sea.
We decided to take the motorway again to save loads of kilometres and this time we didn’t chicken out and dealt with disapproving honks as we rode under the NO BICYCLES sign. After 40km of absolute boredom we decided we would prefer to do a little extra kilometres and ride through villages and past communities than stay on the dead straight motorway where cars buzzed past our left shoulders at 130km/h.
We arrived into Tudor Vladiniresco which was the first town with a restaurant and happened to be around the half way point between Bucharest and Constanta. We all guessed at the menu again and Daniel knowingly chose Cow Stomach soup which he was quite impressed with.
After dinner we rode out of the small town to find an appropriate camping spot. Our choice was so poor. Two metres off a main road, next to train tracks and under what sounded like hundreds of crow’s nests it was easily the noisiest camp site yet however after a big day on the bike I some how managed to fall straight to sleep.
Day 48 Tudor Vladiniresco, Romania to Constanta, Romania – 122km
We woke to the screeching of a cargo train passing by and then packed our bags to the chorus of the feeding crows and managed to get a huge 10 metres under our belts before Tim got a puncture. Aaron’s tired face was shattered as he realised he could have had ten minutes extra sleep and Tim and I repaired the flat under the hot morning sun as a heard of cattle was directed through our pit stop.
We once again jumped on the motorway and reluctantly rode through the a toll booth however instead of being asked to get off the motorway we were happily told “no charge for bikes” by the worn out toll guard whose hut must have been a sauna under the sunshine.
Before we knew it the motorway took us over the Danube River and we all soaked up our last glimpses of the healthy waterway which we had followed for the past three weeks. We winded our way into Constanta and enjoyed the first view across the Black Sea, a moment we had talked about since the start of the trip. We had literally ridden across Europe!
We checked into the Flag Constanta Hostel and met easily the best Hostel owner ever, Dave, from Kent, England. He joyfully bounced around the kitchen introducing himself and regurgitated all his funny material (I say this as he did repeat himself to everyone that arrived) but more importantly poured us a welcome beer and made us feel completely welcome. All you have to do is visit hostelworld.com and read the reviews and everyone that stays here loves him.
That night Dave (as he does nightly) got all the guests together and we headed out for 3 lei (80 cent) beers with Rob, a Canadian who is aiming to travel through 100 countries before returning home, Thierry, a strange guy from Holland who none of us really clicked with. We ended up in the resort area of Mamaia at a club called Crush where there was a lingerie fashion evening and after the cat walk finished we joined the models in the pool and subsequently got removed from the establishment for doing so.
Day 49 Day off in Constanta, Romania
After being seduced by the warm weather, great beaches and the hospitality shown by Dave we just had to have 2 full days off in Constanta. Another factor was that five French girls were due to arrive and it would have been rude not to hang around to meet them. We spent the whole day on the beach, playing UNO and having a kick of the football I had lugged from London and the in the evening met up with a larger contingent of Hostel guest for another night out in Constanta.
Day 50 Day off in Constanta, Romania
Today was much the same as the day earlier however we got to know our new French friends better and they taught us some ‘French’ UNO rules including the now famous ‘Interception’ rule which we actually only allowed as it sounded incredibly the way they pronounced it.
The French girls also adopted a kitten the night earlier and the stupid thing took a poo in my bed which caused some over time for Dave – Sorry mate…
Day 51 Constanta, Romania to Vama Veche, Romania – 56km
We headed off late after another big Constanta night and said our farewells to our new friends including Dave who qualified for ‘Awesome personalities’ after the great times, free beer and free t-shirts!
Wise old Aaron kept his head during a confrontation on the street while walking to the shops when he was stopped by two shifty guys asking him for “Documents”. He promptly told them where to go, laughed and came back to the Hostel!
Shortly after all the excitement we headed towards Vama Veche which was not far away however the cross winds made for a challenging ride. The French girls decided to join us as they had heard good things about the small beach town. The best way I can explain Vama Veche is that it reminded me of South East Asia with a vibe not unlike Byron Bay or perhaps more accurately Nimbin. We enjoyed yet another French influenced UNO game on the beach and had dinner and then said goodbye to the Frenchies as they headed back to Constanta for the night.
Day 52 Vama Veche, Romania to Balgarevo, Bulgaria – 66km
After what turned out to be another very late night after attending a great beach party Daniel, Aaron and I woke around 11am and watched Robin Hood with Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman while trying to recover from 4 big nights to celebrate our arrival to the Black Sea.
Once we dragged ourselves out of the Hostel and after a greasy English Breakfast and an intellectual debate over who was the best Robin Hood between Patrick Bergin, Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe we were on the road towards Bulgaria and moments away from the execution on a prank on Tim.
Tim irresponsibly left his passport at the Constanta Hostel and if I hadn’t of noticed it myself would have been left behind. I discussed with Aaron and Daniel and it was decided we should try and teach him a little lesson and watched him go through all of his bags twice, call Dave in Constanta and then check all of our bags. We eventually told him and gave it back to him just before he was about to start riding back towards Bucharest to visit an Australian Embassy!
We rode along a windy and winding coastal road all day enjoying the view out across the Bulgarian coastline until we reached a small town called Balgarevo where we had come across a restaurant with a pool. I jumped in to freshen up and ‘clean’, we all enjoyed our dinner and then rode another 2km to a small camp site/ guest house where we enjoyed our first sleep pre sunrise for 5 days!
Day 53 Balgarevo, Bulgaria to Varna, Bulgaria – 72km
The owner of the small camp site sent us off with a free coffee and croissant which tied us over until Kavarna where we had a bigger feed at the appropriately named Kakadu Hotel. Despite not having much for breakfast himself, Aaron was feeling great and led us all the way to Varna. The road took us over 3 very big climbs and at one point we enjoyed a 10km descent where we sat on 60km/h most the way which was very enjoyable.
We found our Hostel – after following our strategy once again – in record time and we were greet by yet another friendly, welcoming Hostel owner, Chris who was originally from the US and fell in love with Bulgaria while working in the country during his time at in the US Peace Corp. He was also able to provide us with an in sight into Child Trafficking in Bulgaria which was great for the Documentary and also offered us accommodation free of charge.
Chris also loved to party and made sure he directed us in the right direction which happened to be a Foam Party in the party area of Varna, Gloden Sands. We all lost portions of clothing and arriving back at the Hostel freezing but it was a great night out.
Day 54 Day off in Varna, Bulgaria
Today was an unscheduled day off and it is becoming very easy for Hostel owners and other guests to twist our arms in to staying “just one more night”. It’s so hard to say no when you’re in a town like this, so we politely stayed and enjoyed a day at the beach, and a massive Bulgarian BBQ which ironically was cooked up by Dan an Australian member of staff.
Day 55 Varna, Bulgaria to Nessebar, Bulgaria – 113km
The day started off with Tim interviewing Chris, the X-Hostel owner about child trafficking and then we made our way to the winding and mountainous road number 9 towards Bulgaria’s oldest port town, Nessebar. From 10km into the incredibly beautiful coastal town we enjoyed a great descent that offered a fantastic view over the town where we stopped for a photo and also gave Tim a chance to collect himself after almost being knocked of the road by an overtaking car.
However we safely arrived and wasted no time exploring, we rode around the World Heritage listed Old Town area and then went for a swim close by which was the perfect rehab after the day’s hilly ride.
This evening we decided we would rough it and rural camp and we found possibly the most scenic spot yet. The downside was that our manicured lawn was situated amongst 5 star resorts upon a cliff overlooking the Black Sea next to fairly busy walking path. We were a bit hesitant at first as this was a location we’d never get away with in Australia but it didn’t stop us and we took the risk. We were eventually in bed and then the cover band at the resort behind us started up, and then following this was the Jamaican drumming act so it’s obvious to say it took a while to get to sleep and then when we eventually did, the automated sprinkler system came on and soaked all our gear!!
Day 56 Nessebar, Bulgaria to Malko Tanovo, Bulgaria – 112km
Thankfully our trusty tents held up against the sprinklers over night and we did manage to get some sleep before waking at 7.30am. We began to pack up all of our things and then out of no where the second watering session began – Aaron was stoked as he scored ten minutes longer in bed – and we were left rolling up wet tents in front of the morning beach goers and then we set off on our wet bikes towards our breakfast stop in the resort city of Burgas.
While in Burgas we met Rolf, a Norwegian cyclist, who had just ridden into town from the north of Germany. He said he was so happy to see some fellow touring cyclists and also just to speak to someone after a lonely four weeks on the road.
The time came though and we reluctantly said our farewell to the Bulgarian coast line and rolled our way in land towards the Turkish border.
Aaron had been complaining of not being able to get to sleep the last week or two and through this lack of sleep had become generally worn out and decided he would take it easy today. Tim kept him company as Daniel and I challenged ourselves in the heat on the extremely hilly terrain. At one point neither Daniel or I had any water left and with dehydration setting in as temperatures soared above 40 degrees in the sun we thankfully came across a small hillside town where we re-cooperated and then continued on for the last 20km into Malko Tanovo.
Once Daniel and I arrived we kicked back in a café with Wifi and completed some work on the website and then an hour or so later Tim and Aaron arrived hungry and exhausted. We decided to stay in a small guest house with a pool, Aaron bought some sleeping tablets and we just relaxed on our last evening in Bulgaria.
Day 57 Malko Tanovo, Bulgaria to Luleburgaz, Turkey – 110km
After quickly inhaling our miniature inclusive breakfast we were on the road in the scorching heat tackling the 9km hill climb to the Turkish border, once we arrived I had sweated so much I could wring out my gloves of sweat!
We said our goodbyes to Bulgaria or more accurately to the border police and then entered the Turkish visa office to be extremely disappointed with our first interaction with Turkish people. The place was completely disorganised and the border police had a complete lack of interest as they sat there reading the sports section of the newspaper despite we stood patiently in front of them for 5 minutes.
Eventually though we were riding into Turkey and our first impression quickly swung as we were welcomed with great road surfaces, steep descents and a great tailwind – all of which assisted Daniel and I setting a new top speed of 90.25km/h.
Well into Turkey we crossed paths with a touring cyclist named Phil, from California, who had been on the road since March 1st and was completing an interesting loop where he started and finished in Spain. He passed on some advise for Turkey – “The roads have great shoulders” “in Turkey there’s water everywhere” – in his confident and know it all accent. We’ve imitated his quotes hourly when there’s no hard shoulder or when someone runs out of water, which proves quite entertaining on the road.
From lunch we really noticed how high up we must have been as we smashed out 40km in an hour which for any level of cyclist is ridiculously quick and this brought us to our destination of Luleburgaz much faster than expected.
We booked into a Hotel after negotiating the price and got a good price for two rooms despite one of the rooms not having a toilet or shower and then checked out the town that really didn’t have much to offer except for the friendliness of its inhabitants. We were continuously approached by locals who welcomed us to there town and country and earlier on the bike we were continuously encouraged by pedestrians and other vehicles on the road.
Day 58 Luleburgaz, Turkey to Silivri, Turkey – 92km
The day began, unfortunately, in a familiar fashion as there was an argument over the agreed price for the Hotel rooms however we stood our ground, paid the agreed price and got on the way towards the beach side town of Silivri. We were really disappointed with the argument as everyone we had met in the town was so welcoming and friendly and just when our view of Turkish people had been tainted it was quickly resurrected when we were given free cans of Fanta at a service station while we were pumping up our tyres.
We worked our way south east and had that rewarding feeling of reaching another coastline, this time seeing the blue waters of the Sea of Marmara. We decided to head straight to the beach as we had really worked up a sweat and also really missed the beach after our stint off the Black Sea coast. This was probably our first case of culture shock as there was zero females on the beach – for some reason we didn’t hang around after the swim. Instead we nestled into a great waterside cafe/lounge that had loads of bean bags spread out over a large lawn, we stayed hear for about 5 hours playing UNO and drinking Chai.
About 9pm we decided we would get back on the highway towards Istanbul and find a rural camp site. We luckily came across a small café which had a grass seating area. The family that ran the café was closing up so we asked if we could camp on there lawn which they had no problem with. Just before they left to go home they kindly brought us some watermelon which was a perfect way to finish the day.
Day 59 Silivri, Turkey to Istanbul, Turkey – 85km
We woke with that excited feeling, today we would reach the finish line of our Europe leg. We packed up the tents quicker than ever and we jumped back on the D100 towards the capital.
Today was simple – follow the D100 into Istanbul, take one right turn and then one left and we would arrive at the Hostel where we could put up our feet for 4 whole days off. Although, we are Ride2Rescue and that’s just not our style! Instead, as Daniel, Tim and I cruised quickly through the congested Monday morning traffic we lost Aaron when we turned right off the D100. After waiting for 30 minutes hoping he would realise and come back we decided to press on without him. We then missed the simple left turn and rode an extra 5km into central Istanbul which was great for sightseeing but we would prefer to have done this on a day off. We then asked two local guys who pointed us further the wrong way, asked at a tourist info who gave us a map and pointed us back the opposite way. We were finally within 1km of the Hostel but still we managed to lose Tim, who managed to find the Hostel, and then Daniel and I rode in circles, went to every number 22 we could find and then after an hour found Tim standing out the front of a our pink, weatherboard Hostel proud as anything. We quickly Skyped Aaron who sensibly made his way to the Blue Mosque and after receiving the address found the Hostel quicker than any of us, finally proving his navigational skills!
We all congratulated each other, we had made it across Europe our biggest milestone yet. We all feel like we have gone so far (which of course we have) but after looking at a world map we all know there’s so much further to go.
In the afternoon we dropped off all of our clothes to the laundry and I got my first haircut for the trip which also included a close shave and then Aaron, Daniel and I visit the famous Pudding Shop and then got lost in the Grand Bazaar followed by a Pub Crawl to celebrate crossing Europe.
Day 60 Day off in Istanbul, Turkey
Today was the first of 4 days in Istanbul. The reason for our extended stay is that we are required to sort out our visas for Iran which we made our first priority. Unfortunately after completing the forms, getting passport photos and paying the visa office had closed and we couldn’t submit the application until tomorrow! We didn’t worry too much as we are under the impression it only takes one day for the visa to be approved so we should be on the road on Saturday as planned.
Later that day I met up with my parents who had flown over from the UK. It was great to see the folks and we all went out for dinner that night after a walk around the town.
Day 61 Day off in Istanbul, Turkey
After a traditional breakfast of boiled eggs, cheese, olives and bread we submitted our forms at the Iranian consulate where we were informed that due to a public holiday our visas wouldn’t be ready until Monday. With mixed feelings we left the consulate knowing that we know would be spending an extra 2 days in the capital.
For lunch we met up with my folks and took a ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul.
This afternoon we decided to just relax to prepare ourselves for the early start tomorrow where we will visit Gallipoli.
Day 62 Day off – Day tour to Gallipoli
After a early 6.30am start Aaron, Mum, Dad and I boarded the bus to the Gallipoli Peninsula- without Daniel or Tim who were impossible to wake up after returning home from Taksim Square, Istanbul’s party district, at about 5am – and visited Anzac Cove and the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish memorial sites.
It was moving experience to see the site where so many Australians fell in battle however it was great to learn the stories of the individuals involved. I was mostly touched when I stood at the Lone Pine cemetery where hundreds of young soldiers lost their lives in an area not larger than a soccer pitch.
The actual area was stunning with pristine beaches and impressive seaside views from the higher points of the ridge.
The bus arrived back at the Hostel at 10.30pm and we were finally able to enjoy a shower after the Hostel not having any water for 2 days!
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