Saturday 17 August 2013

Day 34: Bob and Mark join forces in Journey's End in Istanbul and cross into Asia

The final day, when Bob rode into Istanbul and met up with Mark, before the boys crossed the Bosphorous into Asia for a celebration meal and just a few beers.  During his final 25 miles, Bob repeated Mark's experience with the traffic and gradient of the hills into the former city of Constantinople.  However, they disagreed as to who exactly were the worst drivers they had encountered over more than 2,500 miles.  For Mark (and despite strong competition from Serbian White Man) Turkish taxi and small bus drivers won the competition by a large margin.  Their capacity to deliberately cut you up was a perverse splendour to behold.  And similarly, the use of indicators as optional extras would bring a smile to the face of any executive German made car owner, back in the UK.

Meeting at the Galata Bridge on the European side of Istanbul, the boys toured the most famous sights of the city: the Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.  Thereafter, they took one of the many ferries across the Bosphorous and tucked into that meal

And that's about it folks.  Mark is hoping to fly back to England on Monday.  Whilst Bob is planning to spend a week in Istanbul, before catching a train to Budapest in Hungary and then cycling all the way back to Britain.  Between them, they have cycled more than 5,000 miles across Europe to the edge of Asia.  And despite Mark's diversion along the Danube, Bob's total mileage has come in at only 50 miles less.

Finally, if you have already sponsored Bob and Mark in their efforts to raise money for the new Marie Curie West Midlands Hospice in Solihull, many thanks for doing so.  And if not, can you please consider doing so via the JustGiving link on this blog.  Thank you for reading and your support.  Over and out!

Friday 16 August 2013

Day 33: Silivri to Istanbul and Luleburgas to Buyukcekmece, Turkey

This should have been an easy final day for Mark - with just 50 miles to cover before journey's end in Istanbul.  Nevertheless, a number of factors conspired to delay his arrival: late departure from the Park Hotel in Silivri; poor signage; lack of a hard shoulder, steep hills; horrendous traffic; and the worst drivers in Europe.  Oh yes, the aforementioned Serbian White Van Man is a mere amateur compared to Turkish drivers in the Istanbul metropolis and its region.

During the final 10 mile leg into the otherwise signless Istanbul, fellow cyclist Ismail (returning home after a day's work as an aircraft technician at Istanbul Airport), demonstrated how it should be done.  Cyclists are required to dominate the road in the same manner that motor vehicles do.  The trouble with that philosophy is how in the event of a 'bump', the cyclist will inevitably come off worse.  And as Ismail reported his cycling helmet had been stolen...

The net result was that instead of arriving in Istanbul at the projected 4 pm, Mark was photographed on the Golden Horn Bridge at 7.30 and made it to Taksin Square (yes, the one that's been in the news in recent months) 30 minutes later.  Bob has since reported that his stint from Luleburgas was marred by the same headwind coming off the Black Sea.  He is now overnighting it in the 'seaside resort' of Buyukcekmece, before his final ride into Istanbul.

Two words describe the landscape covering the 50 miles between Silivri and Istanbul: urban sprawl.  Some fields and farming remain, but for the most part this land is one of light industry and residential development.  Much of the latter consists of guarded communities - although for the most part the pill-boxes contained no security guards.  Moreover, any attempt to enter these new villages to find a coastal route to Istanbul, was met with failure. 

Day 32: Havsa to Silivri/Erdine to Luleburgaz with 2,500 miles now covered

Bob made the sensible decision to spend the morning and early afternoon surveying the mosques and sights of antiquity in the city of Erdine.  Meanwhile, Mark escaped soon after 7am from his no star hotel with the cunning plan of beating the headwind - which to date has always arisen in the late morning.  But not today.  Because after passing the 4,000 Kms/2,500 miles point before 8 o'clock, half an hour later a ferocious and unrelenting headwind came back with a vengeance.  Locals informed him that it was coming directly off the Black Sea - now less than 50 miles to the east.

At least Route 100 is a recently upgraded dual carriageway with a substantial hard shoulder on which to cycle safely.  And there are frequent fuel stations with air conditioned shops selling water and fruit drinks.  However, 10 miles short of the city of Silivri the hard shoulder disappears and Mark found himself fighting with HGV's once again.  Indeed, one such lorry, its horn blaring, forced him off the road - a nightmare last experienced in Chile almost 20 years ago.

With the Muezzin (correction of yesterday's spelling) wailing from the minarets, Mark made it into Silivri - a coastal city on the Sea of Marma (the northern right-hand tip of the Mediterranean) just as the sun was setting.  Bob later texted to say that he too had done battle with the mighty headwind and had called it a day in the city of Luleburgaz - some 60 miles back along Route 100.

One of the great features of today's cycling has been the hundreds of roadside stalls selling fruit and vegetables - primarily watermelons and tomatoes.  Travelling through the city of Corlu, Mark had stumbled across its market - still in full swing in the late afternoon.  More than a dozen different types of melon were on sale, together with every other form of fruit and vegetable imaginable.  He counted ten different types of sultana and once again bought a juicy and enormous peach for the equivalent of 7p

Thursday 15 August 2013

Day 31 Topolovgrad/Jambol in Bulgaria to Havsa/Edirne in Turkey

The boys have at long last reached their final country: Turkey.  Bob continued down the Red Route 7 and entered Turkey en route to Edirne.  Whilst Mark left Topolovgrad and via Svilengrad and Kapitan Andreevo, left Bulgaria at a border crossing where enormous (yet similarly sized) flags of Bulgaria, Turkey and the EU were flying.

Edirne is the first major city in Turkey the traveller from Bulgaria or Greece will pass through and might be described as one of Mosques and Minarets.  Indeed, it is especially beautiful and contains the 'finest mosque in Turkey' - according to Bob.  As Mark cycled out soon after 5pm, the calls to prayer of repeated Mujhuaddin could be heard.

Back in Topolovgrad, Mark had met Archie the pet Macaw.  Now in old age he has lost most of the feathers on his chest - something of a metaphor for the Imperial Hotel whose green coloured swimming pool looked less than inviting than it did last night.  The steak that tasted like 'veal substitute' should have been a clue.  And what's the betting that this place used to be a 'People's Rest and Recuperation Centre' back in the Communist days.  But last night it was a true haven in a country where the past is mouldering away. 

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Day 30: Veliko Tarnovo to Topolovgrad & Popovo to Jambol - in Bulgaria

Bob reports that he had a long (93 miles) ride to Jambol, Bulgaria, on good roads and that the mountains were easier than expected.   Whereas Mark's 97 mile route through the Stara Planina was marred by HGV's using the minor road as a short-cut between motorways.  Later in the day he found himself in the back of Bulgarian beyond, cycling on the worst roads anywhere in Europe to date.  The EU's writ does not appear to have reached some parts of Bulgaria's hinterland.

Anyway, by this evening Bob is in Jambol and Mark in Topolovgrad, both close to the border with Turkey - into which final country they will each cross tomorrow.  Discussions have taken place as to the crossing point they will use.  Strangely enough, there are not that many to choose from and one Dutch cyclist travelling in the opposite direction reported that he had entered the northern tip of Greece from Turkey, before cycling into Bulgaria.

On the subject of other cyclists whose paths the boys have crossed, Mark was cycling through the mountains this morning when he was passed by a road bike who said he was a contestant in the London to Istanbul Bike Race.  Quite apart from the fact that road bike tyres are not best suited for this terrain (a 4 kilometre section of cobbled road marks the route south of Nova Zagora), he is the only competitor encountered as yet.

And finally, if you want to send an email of support to Bob and Mark, please do so via

Monday 12 August 2013

Day 29: Turno Magurele in Romaia to Veliko Tarnovo/Popovo in Bulgaria

Both the boys are now inside Bulgaria, heading south-east towards the border with Turkey.  Having photographed the Catedrala Sfantul Haralambie in Turno Magurale, Mark diced with death over 3 miles of cobbles to the Dunarea/Dunav and caught the 9am ferry across to Nikopol in Bulgaria. 

The unusual spiral towers at the Catedrala Sfantul Haralambie in Turnu Magurele, Romania

Indeed, after following the course of the river for more than two weeks, it was like saying goodbye to an old, lugubrious friend.  No time on this trip to see the Pelicans and Flamingos in the Danube Delta on the edge of the Black Sea.  Perhaps in the future?

A final goodbye to the Danube

Click here to listen to The wonderful 'Blue Danube' by Johann Strauss

Thereafter it was the now usual arduous slog along poorly maintained country roads in intense heat and humidity - especially by mid-afternoon.  Thankfully, the roadside rubbish of Serbia and to a lesser extent Romania, was now absent.  And the flag of the European Union, festooned at every town and village you entered in Romania, was in Bulgaria largely absent.

Roadside memorial to a Bulgarian Airforce Pilot

One interesting experience.  Mark tried to change his Hungarian Forints, Croatian Kuna and Serbian Dinara at a Bulgarian bank in the town of Levski.  They weren't interested.  Sterling and Euros yes: anything else, certainly not!

Echinops/Globe Thistle growing wild in Bulgaria

Sunday 11 August 2013

Day 28: From Calafat to Turnu Magurele in Romania and Corabia to Svistov in Bulgaria

At long last the temperatures have cooled.  It has even been raining this morning!  Bob caught the ferry from Corabia in Romania and is now overnighting it in the Bulgarian city of Svistov.  Whilst Mark undertook a 108 mile stint eastwards from Calafat and is staying in the town of Turnu Magurele.  By tomorrow morning both will be in Bulgaria - country no. 11 for Mark, 9 for Bob.

Cycling along this southern edge of Romania, the overwhelming sense is of an agrarian landscape that has changed little in centuries.  Linseed and Maize (corn-on-the-cob) are supreme, but hundreds of roadside stalls selling watermelons and tomatoes are indicative of the agricultural heritage of this region.  As are the horse-drawn carts that are constantly in view.  Here it is the norm to wave at everyone and shout "Hello!"  Indeed, if you don't respond accordingly, the natives get upset.  And on the sad side, too many children (and on occasion adults) have been tutored to ask for cash as a default response.

Bringing in the Hay

The Danube has rarely been in sight today - or indeed since leaving Austria.  The guidebooks claim this to be a 'Danube Bike Ride' but in reality, once 20 miles east of Bratislava in Slovakia, the route simply follows ordinary roads.  Some of these are extremely dangerous, with jugernauts and massive lorries of every European nationality sharing the route.  A bit naughty that and in Romania, even the Bike Ride signs have disappeared. 

And the road goes straight for 20 miles