Reports of Scotish Bob
BaltiCCycle 2007 from Brussels to Istanbul and onto Cyprus through 11 countries has started. The t-shirts have been distributed and the start-of-tour photographs taken One is on the website already.
On Thursday 21st June 39 people from 8 countries started BC2007 from Brussels. As usual the largest contingent is from Poland followed almost equally from Germany and Lithuania with 3 each from Belarus & New Zealand plus one from Italy and one from Scotland.
The trip kicked-off with an eve-of-tour of Brussels by bike finished off with a beer for everyone courtesy of Maria for everyone in the main square.
The group is a mix of former BaltiCCycle participants from previous years plus many people for the first time.
On only the second morning of the trip the Polish hooligans plus contributions from Belarus and Lithuania had to be warned about making too much noise the night before.
In the first report I forgot to mention the weather. It doesn’t matter – it has been the same for the first 15 days from the start; very, very, very changeable! That means almost every day is some rain, some sunshine and many heavy showers. The waterproofs are on and off many times each day. It is some consolation to learn that the same mid Atlantic depression is giving the same terrible weather over most of Northern Europe. Extremes such as day 11 of BC2007 (1/7/07) we thought summer had arrived when the temperature reached 24 degrees. But on 5/7/07 at 11am it was only 11 degrees and very wet, very cold and very windy = rather miserable. Bet Hey! we are BaltiCCyclists although some people have opted for cabins when available rather than tents. And we still want to know when summer will arrive for BalticCycle 2007.
The scenery for the first couple of days through Belgium was not that interesting. Rather flat although the first good climb of the tour was up to a point where the borders of 3 countries meet (Belgium, Netherlands & Germany). The scenery became more interesting as we cycled along the River Rhine.
The rest day in Cologne seemed to be mostly spent shopping for camping and bike stuff. At Cologne I also found out that my tent problems continue from last year. Despite treating with NikWax, special seam sealant and tenacious tape – it did not withstand a thunderstorm. Fortunately Peter from Germany came to the rescue and sold me an excellent tent at half price although it has yet to be tested in a thunderstorm. Peter also continues to be the source of knowledge for all things cycling, including repairing bikes, taking Maria’s new bike back and forth to various bike shops, and chalking the route in advance through Germany thus saving us a lot of map reading.
Already several people have left and others have joined the group. Ewa from Poland came for only the 2 nights in Belgium but will rejoin us later. The rowdy Poles of the first few nights have also gone and it is now possible to sleep after midnight.
Alix from Belarus caught up with us on day 1 having had his passport stolen in Brussels. He has had to leave BC early as not allowed to enter Czech Republic without a passport. He will be missed. Alix was an organiser. At the Bamberg party night he had us singing, dancing and playing silly party games. Celine joined during the first few days to increase the New Zealand contingent from 2 to 3.
The 6-person team from Latvia plus their own van left us after just over a week. Many will remember Olegs and his wife from previous BaltiCCycles through the Baltic States.
Many others from previous years are also here again including: Ralph & Heike; Mikhail & Renata; Hermann & Maria; all from Germany. Plus Peter and his new squeeze Christina from Italy. Italy now has 2 representatives as we have been joined by Julia from near Venice.
At present entering the Czech Rep. we are around 40 people with forecast to rise to 60 in Poland.
Highlight so far seems to have been Bamberg. Charming town. One of those places where something different is around every corner. Oh – and it also produces the most delicious smoke beer. Ever so slight liquorice taste if not quite as strong as last year’s orgasmic ice creams in Estonia. Most also seem to have enjoyed meandering along the rivers Rhine and Main and swapping from bank to bank by bridge and ferry. Although a couple were overheard to say it was becoming rather boring. A typical BaltiCCycle off-road SNAFU across corn fields and through a forest and some rather thick mud provided some variation. And now we are in Czech Republic the route is best described as undulating.
Around 1st July (Day 11) we had cycled 1000km depending on whose cycle computer is to be believed.
Stop Press: Day 17 (7/7/07) We have arrived in Praha and summer does seem to have arrived with us.
Sunday, 8/7/07 (Day 18) Prague – Saturday 14/7/07 (Day 24) Wroclaw
Apologies to all those looking for more reports of the tour. We have been so busy having a good time that there is little time for reports.
The last report ended with us arriving in Prague for 2 rest days. On the first rest day the weather was excellent and enabled us to wash and dry our clothes which seemed to be getting increasingly damp and smelly. Most people took advantage of the good weather to go sightseeing: Wencelas Square, Astrological Clock, Royal Palace, or just wandering around the Old Town and across Charles/Carlos Bridge which leads nicely to an Irish Bar and a glass of Guinness! On that day we also managed a BaltiCCycle cruise on the river. And in the evening a party to welcome many new people from Poland. The second rest day in Prague was unfortunately rather wet and miserable. That did not stop a few of us taking the Soviet-times walking tour. The tour was supposed to last only one-and-a-half hours but our guide was so enthusiastic it ended up taking nearly 4 hours! It was interesting to see the places connected with actual historical events of the Velvet Revolution such as where students were clubbed by police at the beginning, and where the student burned himself to death. Our guide also produced an interesting photograph of himself at 5 years old sitting on a Russian tank when Prague was liberated at the end of WW2.
After two-and-a-half days of a very crowded and touristic Prague most of us were glad to be back on the road and cycling. The city, however, seemed reluctant to let us go easily. The usual nightmare in leaving a big city ensued with it taking nearly 3 hours to get clear of the place. One person who shall remain nameless but is our leader did not find his way out of Prague until 4.30! First overnight stop after P was Bohemian Paradise. More rain was complemented by improving scenery – although rather lumpy, ie hilly! Coldest night of the tour so far but 3 Becharovkas each helped some of us get a good night’s sleep! After that some of the girls were dreading a night at Spindleruv Mlyn which is a ski resort and therefore rather high up a mountain and expected to be even colder. Fortunately we slept inside a school and no-one got frostbite.
After that on Thursday 12 July (Day 22) we crossed the border from Czech Republic into Poland. The climb to the border was cold, wet and windy but the sun came out almost as soon as we crossed into Poland. So it was goodbye to wet, cold Czech Rep with its grumpy poor service and Hello to Poland with sunshine, downhill all the way (at least for many kms), and more friendly relaxed people.
Thanks to the lovely Agnieszka from Poznan arrival in Poland was celebrated with my first Zwiec pivo of the tour and pierogi z kapusta i grzybami (sauerkraut & mushroom dumplings). Agnieszka was also useful in helping me choose the best Polish vodka and avoid the Polish wine at 3 zloty a bottle (reckoned to be the equivalent of Buckfast in the UK). And she was also responsible for leading several of us on a couple of interesting off-road routes.
In the last report I listeded some of the people from previous years who have joined BaltiCCycle this year. I did not mention the Polish people because so there are so many. Some come for only a few days and are gone again before I have even learned how to pronounce and spell their names. The 4 of us who went all the way round the Baltic Sea from Copenhagen to Copenhagen last year are here again; Sigitas (of course), Witek, Monika and myself.Just before Wroclaw the giggling Olgas from Belarus left the group. We will miss them. Nothing seemed to faze them. They giggled their way through the days from breakfast to bedtime up the steepest hills and through the worst of the rain. And can Olga #2 climb hills!!
Culture on this section included a visit to a Uranium mine which never actually produced any uranium. Also several wooden churches. And the scenery became more interesting for a few days in the mountains.
Arrival in Wroclaw was easy for us as Ewa and Ula came to meet us and led us to the camp-site through some parks mostly free of traffic. Ula also organised a group meal in the evening in the square at Wroclaw followed by a pub crawl for those of us with energy left. On a very hot rest day in Wroclaw Ula led a group around the sights including the Japanese Garden, beer garden by the lake, and finishing with the Raclawice panoramic painting commemorating the famous Polish victory over the Russians in 1794 a few months before the final division of Poland which saw the country disappear from the map of Europe for the next 120 years.
Special Hooligan Report
There seems to be some misunderstanding regarding the use of the word “hooligan” in Report #1. This is a JOKE! The word “hooligan” was used on BaltiCCycle 2004 to describe those of us who were given a red card warning for drinking and making much noise after 11pm. The word was used again in last year’s reports when some of us received a yellow card warning during a rather noisy Russian vodka party in Kaliningrad. And it was used as a joke again this year when some people had to be reminded about the 11pm quiet time after only the first night! Most people who were on BaltiCCycle 2004 & 2006 regarded the word as a joke and accepted it in that context. BaltiCCycle hooligans are nice people – even if rather noisy at times! I have made many Polish friends on BaltiCCycle and I have no wish to offend them. Advice to anyone writing reports for BaltiCCycle: be careful using the H-word!!!
Szkocki Bob, Report Writer & Scottish Hooligan
Wroclaw, Monday 16/7/07 (Day 26) – Krakow, Saturday 21/7/07 (Day 31)
Thanks to Andrej of “Na Przelaj” Bikers Club from Brzeg, getting out of Wroclaw was easy. Easy, that is, for everyone except me. Somewhere along the way on the rough tracks my suspect seat-post finally broke. Not very comfortable cycling 10km standing on the pedals without a saddle. Fortunately we passed the distribution headquarters of Kelley’s bikes in Poland. My stuck seat-post which the local bike shop in Cardiff told me would need to be sent back to the factory to be removed was removed by the Polish bike mechanic in 10 minutes. At the same time they fixed a problem with Eva’s back wheel and Adam got a new pair of thumb rests for his handlebars. All for free. Real Polish hospitality.
Later that days we experienced more Polish hospitality with a super dinner at the small village of Krzyzowice with its wooden church. Another scorching day finished with a swim in a gravel pit and the sleeping place was in the garden of a museum at Glebocko. In the evening we were entertained by the owner playing the keyboard and singing to us. Also supplying us with beer and cakes of which I estimate a certain Lithuanian woman ate 6! A day full of Polish hospitality. The following day was more Polish hospitality by way of a free tea and sandwiches in the palace at Moszna. And along the route several times we have been offered free apples and apricots.
This section of the route has seen lots of cycling through forest tracks where it is nice and cool, now that summer has at last arrived. No-one is actually complaining as I think most of us prefer it hot rather than the cold, wet, windy, miserable weather of the first 3 weeks.
Culture included a visit to a palace at Kopice. Some connection with the tale of Cinderella but I heard so many different stories I’m not sure which version is correct.
I wouldn’t quite class it as culture but many took the opportunity to visit Oswiecim (Auschwich). Some of us did not need to go to know what happened there. Before Krakow we visited John Paul II birthplace at Wadowice. Also the venue for Sigitas’ birthday party.
Now we are in Krakow and most people are doing the touristy things visiting the castle or just sitting in the square drinking beer. Or writing reports!
Report # 5
Krakow (Monday 23/7/07; Day 38) – Ukraine Border (Friday 27/7/07, Day 37)
Apologies to all BaltiCCycle report readers for the length of time since getting up to date with reports in Krakow. And that was after the pub in the Jewish Quarter closed at 5.30am. My excuse then was that I was with a couple of the original hooligans from BaltiCCycle 2004! The last report. Since then we have been continuing to have such a good time that reports are the last thing to think of. Also some long hot days in the mountains resulting in some rather late finishes, ie in the dark!
At Krakow it was goodbye to Gary & Dana (USA) and Herman & Maria (Germany) who had been with us from the start and Hello to Horst a BaltiCCycle veteran.
This is my 5th visit to Poland so I can claim to have seen something of the country but the route eastwards after Krakow once we got into the mountain was the most beautiful I have seen so far. Almost as beautiful as Scotland and just as hilly! So hilly that even the young ladies from Zielona Góra were heard to mutter “K Góra” (F-ing hills)!
Much of this section of the route was quite demanding with several off-road sections to rival the best in Wales. For Daria & Marta it was their first time cycling off-road on forest tracks. And they found out the hard way how to ride on rough ground and through streams while collecting a few bruises along the way. But Hey! They are BaltiCCycle Babes so they simply got back on their bikes and carried on regardless.
In last year’s reports cycling around the Baltic Sea I wrote of how the driving seemed to get worse the further east we traveled. It has been a similar experience this year. In Belgium & Germany the car drivers respect cyclists and give way to them. In Czech Rep the drivers were a little impatient and pass rather fast and close. But in Poland the drivers behave as if we should not be on the road. They carve us up and pass even faster and closer than Czech drivers. One favourite trick seems to be to come up quietly behind then rev the engine as loud as possible to scare the s**t out of us and zoom past as fast as possible while shouting abuse out the window. And watch out if you cycle side-by-side; this seems to make them even angrier.
Despite the drivers behaviour none of the accidents so far have caused by bad driving. Carolina was cycling in a group when she skidded on some gravel. Brian was looking the other way when a post jumped out in front of him. And Alison got stuck in the tram-lines in Krakow. Daria by her own admission was in dreamland when she took a slow speed tumble and grazed her shoulder, bruised her arm and hip to add to the clicking knee she started with. And Oliver was unluckiest of being bitten by a snake!
Another thing which changes as we travel further east is the condition of the roads. In Belgium they have large sections of cobble-stones. Not very pleasant for cycling. In Germany the surface was generally excellent. In Czech Rep rather rough. But in Poland reminds me that I really must get a bike with suspension!
The parties continue. At Krakow it was farewell to some and hello to others. A couple od days later Łucasz and his father left us some farewell beers when they departed. More hellos and farewells on the last night in Poland party. No red or yellow card warnings so far but this could change as we were met at the Ukraine border by #1 Polish hooligan – Janek from Hrubieszow – complete with sausages and some very strong drink.
Ukraine, Friday 27/7/07 (Day 37) – Tuesday 31/7/07 (Day 41)
On the last day in Poland it was farewell to Daria & Marta and others and hello to Maryla – ace BaltiCCycle organiser. Also thought it was farewell to Zwiec Porter black beer and pierogi. But no. Upon arrival in Ukraine with completely incomprehensible Cyrillic alphabet the only word I could vaguely recognise on the menu was pierogi. Next meal I hade to resort to international sign language ie, clucking like a chicken, flapping my wings (arms), make like laying an egg, then breaking it open, mixing and frying. Result = one omelette.
Rest day in Ukraine was Uzhorod – a small sleepy town with just enough facilities for chilling out; some culture in the form of a castle and some museums, nice riverside walks and cool air-conditioned internet cafes. And, of course, plenty of restaurants and bars, one of which was displaying both Scottish flags on the wall – the Saltire (that’s the blue & white one as on my bike), and the Lion Rampant (should need no explanation). Found myself next to a Hearts supporter – my team from Edinburgh. Seems there is a group of Scottish people working locally and, as they were on company expenses, I didn’t have to pay for a drink all night. As Uzhorod is a bit of a tourist town it was possible eventually to find menus in English. I tried “Chicken for a Queen” and “Potatoes Pesto”. Delicious.
The spectacular scenery of Magurski Park in Poland continued as passed through Uzhansky National Park in Ukraine. At the Uzhotska Pass we passed a board informing us that Leonid Brezhnev served there.
Weather has been rather mixed. After the heat of the rest day in Uzhorod we experienced some heavy rain. So, instead of camping at Kvasove, Sigitas & Maryla negotiated that we could sleep inside the school. Whilst in the bar waiting on the school to open Yannick started up a spontaneous vodka party. Somewhere there should be photos showing at least 6 empty bottles, one of which was my contribution of Kljukovka (Cranberry vodka). Six bottles is not as bad as it sounds. The Kljukovka is only 21% ABV and the bottles were shared amongst many. But it was an early night with no tent to put up.
Roads in Ukraine were the usual East European mix ranging from smooth asphalt to extremely rough pot-holed roads. And leaving a Uzhorod a new hazard; many of the manhole covers were missing. A major drama if anyone hits one of those! But the traffic was very light and everyone very friendly, always waving and laughing as we cycle past.
Next report Romania.
Romania from Tuesday 31/7/07 (Day 41) – Friday 3/8/07 (Day 44)
Apologies to all those waiting on latest BC news from Romania. My excuse this time is NOISE! Everywhere you go there is noise and no quiet place to write and type reports. I’m one of those guys who needs a soundproof box to enable me to concentrate. Romanians don’t seem to understand the concept of peace and quiet. Everywhere seems loud music, dogs barking & fighting and traffic noise. And when wild camping there is sometimes no light to see by, beer and other distractions.
The last day in Ukraine was a rather slow start following Janek’s vodka session. We arrived in the first town in Romania hungry and thirsty to find the only Banc-o-mat in town out-of-order. Fortunately the local office of Western Union came to the rescue and we were able to have lunch and enjoy our first Romanian beers.
Camp-sites were the usual mix of ordinary, rough, scenic, questionable, with and without showers. The camp-site in Borsa was up a rough quaint winding track with a couple of bars and all appeared rather quiet and peaceful. I hesitate to call it a sleeping place. By day there was loud music from a couple of nearby houses plus cockerels crowing throughout the day. At night there was a party going somewhere until 3am (not BC hooligans), plus the local dog choir barking intermittently through the night. Not a very restful place for our rest day! The camp-site at Ocna Sugatag had a swimming pool which was so salty it was impossible to sink. Unfortunately it was also the colour of the thickest pea soup. I guess one mouthful of that soup would result in a nasty dose of gastro-enteritis!
Borsa is the longest city in Romania with a main street alleged to be 25km long. Yes, that’s twenty-five kilometres! Fortunately we entered from the #1 end and as our street turned off at #9 we didn’t have to go far. Although supposed to be a rest day in Borsa some people took the opportunity to get up at 5am and trek to the Prislop Pass (1414m) that links Maramures to Bucovina (the northern part of Moldova).
Culture included lots of villages of wooden house and the most valuable wooden church in Romania at Leud; the pearl of Maramures made in 1364. Paintings on the wooden walls and a one-piece wooden ladder carved from a single log (photo to appear sometime). These wooden churches were very small inside – women to stand outside if the service gets too crowded with men!
Also the Merry Graveyard. Crosses sculpted in oak and painted blue (colour that represents hope and freedom), and painted with words and pictures about the deceased.
In Sigetu Marmatiel many of us visited The Memorial to the Victims of Communism and the Resistance. The Memorial is set up as a museum located in the former political prison. Its purpose is to initiate the process of cleansing the false history created during the “Gold Epoch of Communism”. In the communist era the prison was well known as the final destination for political prisoners. The penitentiary was considered a “special work unit” known under the name of “Danube Colony” but in reality was a place of extermination for the country’s elite. The Council of Europe designated the Sighet Memorial as one of the main memorial sites of the continent alongside Auschwitz Museum and the Peace Memorial in Normandy. The museum houses the statuary group “The Convoy of Martyrs”. It comprises 18 human figures going towards a wall which closes their horizon, very much as communism limited the lives of millions of people.
Saturday 4/8/07 (Day 45) Borsa – Tuesday 7/8/07 (Day 48) Sighisoara
You might think 2 rest days close together would allow plenty time to catch up with reports. Wrong – this is BaltiCCycle! So much to do cycling, sightseeing, sampling Romanian beers, and chilling out just doing nothing means too busy for boring things like washing clothes and report writing.
Not such a highlight but memorable for other reasons was the campsite at Unirea. We arrived in pouring rain cold, wet and miserable and not looking forward to having to put up tents in such conditions. But BaltiCCycle good luck – the place had villas and cabins and almost enough spaces to give dry space for everyone – even if 3 people to a cabin intended for only 2 persons. The restaurant was rather dark inside but when eyes accustomed to the dim light we noticed poles and mirrors. Sure enough when the place warmed up with local people out came the girls in bikinis and less for some pole-dancing.
Other (real) culture included the famous heliotherm lake Ursu near Sovata. Due to the condensed chlorosodic and sapropelic mud it seems to be the cure for almost everything.
Highlight of this section of BC route has to be Sighisoara – birthplace of Dracula. Nice old town with church, clock tower, internet cafes, plus lots of bars and restaurants and associated tourists. Perfect for chilling out. And a woman at the campsite to wash the clothes. Lazy time. Sighisoara also the place to celebrate Horst’s birthday for which he ordered a whole barrel of beer. Very generous.
Also at Sighisoara Sigitas gave a presentation about next year’s possible trip to China. Many problems still to solve and sense of realism beginning to creep into discussions. But Sigitas seems determined.
Wednesday 8/8/07 (Day 49) Sighisoara – Sunday 12/8/07 (Day 53) Bucharest
Moving deeper into Transylvania. According to local legend the lost children of Hamelyn when looking for a way out of cave prison surfaced and found themselves here. This is the explanation for presence in these parts of a German speaking blond blue eyed population.
Highlight of this section of the tour and possibly of the whole trip was the BIG climb on the Transfagarasan route up to 2042 metres. The road was built in the 70s by dictator Ceausescu after he heard of the invasion of Prague by Soviet tanks. He thought that it would be practical defence strategy to create a road linking the north of the country with the depot at Pitesti where he kept his tanks and army in case the roads were taken by a hostile army. The result is the impressive road that crosses the Fagaras mountains. The road now has enormous tourist appeal with its spectacular views. There was much anticipation and speculation with the BaltiCCycle rumour machine working overtime. It was suggested the temperature at the top might be 8 degrees (plus or minus?), and maybe even snow! So I took full waterproof and winter gear – and didn’t need any of it! After a cool and dull start about halfway up the sun came out and a beautiful clear blue sky perfect for photos of the twisting road and landscapes. Four and a half hours of solid climbing on the granny gear (that’s the small chainwheel at the front). But we did it!! Well most of. Out of the 3 person New Zealand contingent the women managed it but the Kiwi male took the cable car. BaltiCCycle wimp! Later on the same day there was the opportunity to visit Poienari Castle used by Vlad Tepes, better known to the western world as Vlad The Impaler or Dracula. Unfortunately to reach the castle involved climbing 1426 steps. After cycling to 2042m I don’t think anyone had the strength for all those steps.
Also on this section of route we passed through Pitesti (City of Tulips). This gave us some practice of what to expect from Romanian drivers on the way into Bucuresti. It was hellish! So much so that many of us took the safe and sensible option of the train. An experience in itself with more than a dozen of us with bikes squeezed on to the train with the locals and the guard trying to charge us extra. Kiwi male redeemed himself by braving the traffic and cycling that part. As a result I will not be able to claim that I cycled every inch or centimetre of the way. But I am alive. In the end cycling into and out of Bucuresti was not that bad an experience as we had a police escort on both occasions.
The rest day in Bucuresti was spent seeing the sights including many palaces. The Royal Palace formerly the official royal residence until the monarchy was abolished in 1947. Colroceni Palace – residence of the Romanian President. And the Palace of Parliament – the world’s second largest building after the US Pentagon. And a big surprise – a replica of the Arc de Triumf in Paris honouring Romania’s WW1 dead. Also lots of parks including one with a Brass band playing contemporary pop tunes.
Monday 13/8/07 (Day 54) Bucuresti – Thursday 16/8/07 (Day 57) The Black Sea
At Bucuresti around a dozen people left and were replaced by others bringing the group number to around 55 people. The first couple of days out of Bucuresti we were kept amused by the progress – or lack of it – of the 2 cars and trailer taking people and bikes back to Poland. After a puncture we then heard they had a mechanical breakdown and were sitting in a motel drinking beer while waiting on a replacement part. They eventually arrived in Krakow after 48 hours travelling.
Meanwhile the rest of us carried on cycling crossing the River Danube by ferry near Silistra on 15th August. This is vineyard country with gentle rolling hills and pleasant views of the Danube with blue misty mountains in the distance. On this day we also passed Ion Corvin – the Romanian Bethlehem where Christianity was born in Romania. Also – on a big day of culture – at Adamclisi, Topaeum Tajani, a rather impressive monument commemorating the victory of Trajanus in 106AD.
Rough camping near Adamclisti was an interesting experience. As it got dark the local children amused themselves by trying to scare us by making howling wolf-like noises from the nearby woods and we were advised not to leave anything outside our tents. We also had a visit from the local monks telling us we were camped on monastery land. In the morning some people thought that among the weeds they noticed what looked suspiciously like marihuana plants. No wonder the monks could afford the new monastery being built nearby.
Next day 16/8/07 we arrived at the Black Sea for a rest day in Mamaia, a seaside resort north of Constanta. Mamaia is reputed to have the finest sand and smoothest beaches along the entire Romanian sea coast which, according to the marketing blurb, could compete with the beaches of Cannes or St Tropez. Except that here it is much less expensive!
The locals (except those driving cars), are mostly friendly and curious why so many of us are mad enough to want to cycle through Romania and think we are crazy when we tell them we are going on to Istanbul. In one bar, having wandered slightly off-course, I met 2 men wearing collar and tie – most unusual in the heat. One of them turned out to be the Mayor of the village and when I enquired about internet he took me to the local school next door and sat me down at the headmaster’s computer and would not even accept a bottle of beer.
The cold, wet, windy weather of the first few weeks through Germany and the Czech Republic seems long ago and far away. Now the problems are how to keep cool, keep the sunscreen topped up and drink enough fluids to pre vent dehydration. And get a hot shower hotter than what has now become known as BaltiCCycle hot shower; that is, something between cold and lukewarm. Or wash in the sea.
Saturday 18/8/07 (Day 59) Mamaia – Tuesday 21/8/07 (Day 62) Kamchiya (near Varna)
Upon leaving the campsite at Mamaia someone’s bike computer recorded 4000 kms since starting Brussels.
This section of the route will be remembered for introducing us to the E87 road. From the map it gives the impression it could be a gentle meander along the Black Sea coast. It was a nightmare! Much traffic and all seemed to want to pass us at 200kph. The favourite tactic of oncoming overtaking drivers is to pull out, drive towards you and expect cyclists to get out of the way. Some sections of the E87 considered so dangerous that cyclists are prohibited. We were diverted onto a rather tranquil and pleasant dirt road through fields of peppers and water melons.
This year instead of celebrating my on BaltiCCycle in expensive Finland I celebrated in cheap Romania. As it was last day in Romania I spent all my money on beer and wine. No food at my party – just booze! A good party with 55 BaltiCCyclists – most of whom seemed to be thirsty Poles.
Next day was cross border into Bulgaria. We were met with welcoming smiles and no problems when people asked for a stamp on their passport. And 50m later money changing office so we had cash for food and beer right away. Quick, easy and efficient – a pleasant change from our experiences at some other border crossings.
The campsite at Kamchiya was unfortunately around 20km from Varna (named Stalin for a short time before 1956), along the dreaded E87 and a particularly long dangerous bridge crossing. So, on the rest day I got the thumb going instead of the legs and hitched a lift into town. Nice city with nice wide pedestrian areas.
The campsite at Kamchiya was memorable for parties 2 nights in a row and one night with 2 parties; one after each other with the latter having Polish music and lots of dancing.
Wednesday 22/8/07 (Day 63) Kamcija – Tuesday 28/8/07 (Day 68) Istanbul
This part of the route again included horrible sections of E87 but with opportunities to avoid some of it.
On 22/8/07 Brian & Alison from New Zealand celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary. Rather subdued affair as 2 late nights in succession seemed too much even for Polish partygoers.
On 23/8/07 another rest day at Aheloy near Nessebar – old city on a hill with causeway to mainland. Could be pretty but rather spoiled with cafes, restaurants, souvenir and craft shops covering almost every available space in town.
On Sunday 26/8/07 we crossed into Turkey after a long hard slog on one of those days which seemed to be all uphill. Fortunately as the E87 at this part is rather mountainous the cars prefer the coast road so for once the E87 was actually rather peaceful with very little traffic. First night in Turkey was wild camp close to the border. Too close in fact because within an hour we had a visit from the army. Seems we were camped on some military land. As ever Sigitas managed to talk our way out of what seemed for a time a rather difficult situation. Particularly when some mean looking soldiers were patrolling around the place with guns. As a precaution we hid the bottles of Campari and red wine and made it look as if we were drinking cola – just in case they were religious or booze police or something.
First full day in Turkey we said goodbye to the mountains and THAT road then via another hilly rough but picturesque route back to the coast. Before entering we had a little talk from Sigitas when he warned us about some of the possible dangers of cycling in Turkey – especially blond women. I got some idea of what he was getting at when I arrived at a small village café with Judita (Lithuanian blonde), and were stared at by about 20 men as we attempted to buy a cup of tea. After about 10 minutes a woman approached and asked if we would like to join her for tea or coffee in her garden. We both hesitated. Sigitas had also told us a story of being invited for tea only to find that the real reason was to buy the women. Anyway we took a chance and as we followed the woman I found myself wondering how many horses, camels or goats Judita might be worth. Or would I just trade her for a hot shower! We need not have worried. Our hostess and her family were absolutely charming. We enjoyed a super lunch of white and yellow cheese, home-grown tomatoes, peppers, olives, tea & coffee, and bread so fresh it could have come from the local Tesco! This was followed by a tour of the garden and tasting session of various fruits including one something like a blackberry but white and tasting slightly vanilla. Then photos and swapping of email addresses. True Turkish hospitality and think what we might have missed if we had been too suspicious.
Next day along the coast from Kryikoy to Karaburun was one of the toughest of the trip so far. Very lumpy rough track and a coupler of wrong turns not helped by the usual BC black & white photocopied maps saw a group of us only 30km out of 90km by 3.30pm. Kxxxa! In the next village we got some confusing advice about the road being blocked and the locals kept pointing at the sky which was going through various stages of colour from grey to a rather dark blue. All the signs of a big storm brewing as the wind got up and the temperature dropped. Thanks to Julia who managed to negotiate in French to hire a truck for the 6 of us. Also thanks to the driver who gave me a very large plastic sack – almost tent size – on the only day I did not take my waterproof. We had no sooner started than the thunderstorm started. Torrential rain with us sat in the back of an open lorry. Unfortunately that driver could only take us about 30km and at the next town the choice was cycle another 30km along the coast road which by this time was flooded and we were told impassable, or hire another truck to take us the long way round about 60km inland. Another memorable journey as we started with 6 and by the time we picked up other stragglers along the way arrived with 11 people and bikes. And the odd sensation of watching the sunset start as a watery yellow and then change to brilliant orange while watching flashes of lightning in another part of the sky and a full moon rise in another part of the sky. Weird! Not everyone was so lucky with half a dozen ending up back where they started. BaltiCCycle adventures!
On Tuesday 28/8/07, after 68 days from Brussels on 21/6/07, we finally arrived in Istanbul. But not before we had to sit out another 2-hour thunderstorm before leaving the campsite in the morning. Fortunately, as on the day before, we could see the storm coming and most people managed to pack up their tents and get into shelter before the rain started.
Istanbul exotic and fascinating but very very hot. Two rest days here so we were able to take our time in the heat visiting mosques, the Topkapi Palace or just chilling out. Those who where on BC2007 in Serbia may remember Milan, our guide to Belgrade. Seems he was in Istanbul the same time as us attending a Car Free Day (CFD) conference. The conference attendees were having a party aboard a ship and with the aid of Sigitas’ silver tongue it quickly became a joint booze & cruise with BaltiCCycle! A memorable evening. Cruising on the sea between Europe and Asia watching the lights twinkling on either shore, eating possibly the best food of the tour to the accompaniment of the roar of the crowd watching Ferenbace play a qualifying round of the Champions Cup in the nearby stadium and a group of Turkish musicians. A grrrreat night. Well done Sigi and Milan for organising that.
Friday 31/8/08 (Day 71) it was time for many goodbyes as most people finished at Istanbul leaving 14 of us to catch the ferry to Bodrum to carry on cycling in Turkey. My apologies to anyone reading this for not being there to say goodbye to BaltiCCycle friends old and new. I’m afraid BaltiCCycle Chinese whispers told me everyone leaving around 11am and by the time I arrived you were all gone! Sorry about that but maybe see some of at the reunion in Augustow or BaltiCCycle next year.
Saturday 1/9/07 (Day 72) Istanbul/Bodrum Ferry – Sunday 9/9/07 (Day 80) Olympos.
September already! The start on 21st June from Brussels seems a long time ago. Summer is almost over – at least in UK & Poland according to the reports I get. But not here in Turkey where it has been reckoned to be 47 Celsius at 1pm and 31 at 10pm.
Ferry from Istanbul to Bodrum was one of best night’s sleep of whole trip. Probably because cabin was in complete darkness with no-one getting up very early making noise rustling packaging, cooking on stove or packing tents for early start. Or talking loudly in Polish! There was not much time in Bodrum to do other than cycle through to catch another ferry to the Dacta peninsula as suggested by Mikhail from Germany. It turned out to be a good recommendation. As the ferry approached the harbour Sigitas was already busy looking for a sleeping place. We simply cycled off thee boat and to the campsite within about 300m. Easy! After the hustle and bustle of Istanbul several of us spent an idyllic evening sitting in a restaurant by the harbour containing just out ferry and a few yachts watching the sun go down while dining and sipping many beers. Bliss!
Camping places have been a mix. Near Marmaris we camped within 2m of the sea shore (photo from front door of my tent to come sometime). And in Mugla we camped on the grass surrounding the local swimming pool and had the place to ourselves (again – photo sometime). Next day after another hot ride we took a boat across a large lake (name unknown), and stepped off the boat right onto our campsite.
Out of all the countries on this year’s BaltiCCycle Turkey is probably the one I knew least about. But I had heard plenty of stories – most of them bad about attitudes to women, no alcohol, possible Muslim hostility, etc, etc. These stories could not have been more wrong. What makes a country is its people. And, after the Polish people the Turks have been the next most friendly people of the tour. Almost everyone is friendly and smiling and in many places we are offered free tea, and sometimes figs and water melon. At one café I left my map-case and maps behind and one of the guys drove 8km on his motorbike to return them. And all that nonsense that it might be difficult to obtain alcohol. Forget it. The Turks like their beer. And Raki (Turkish equivalent of Pastis/Ouzo). And, apart from having to cover my bare legs with a skirt-like piece of cloth to visit a mosque, no great issues with religious rules.
Problems?? As mentioned earlier Turkey is hot. Very, very, very hot. And mountainous. Very, very, very mountainous. Put the two together and believe me it is necessary to drink 4 litres of water a day, and maybe the same amount of beer in the evening. The gradients are not all that steep (around 10%), but it can be a long slow grind in the granny gear (small chainwheel), for most of us. We wonder why we do it but at the top we get our reward with some spectacular views and long freewheels downhill.
Culture on this section included a turtle sanctuary at Patara and some Roman ruins. And at Kale the birthplace of St Nicholas with many statues of Santa Claus. (Doesn’t seem quite right to me going around in that red suit with big boots in this heat but no time to check it out.)
Rest day at Olympos was very restful. Small place claiming to have one of the best beaches on the Mediterranean full of Turkish families on holiday and backpackers staying in tree-houses. Good place for doing nothing.