Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

Drums of Ramadan

6 September 2010

What a night. Mosquitoes, dogs, high-powered muezzin for last-light and first light calls to prayer and then at 3:30 am rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat… (RD: it was more like an extraordinarily loud boom, boom as I heard it). What now? Oh, that’s the man who thoughtfully goes through town making a racket to stir the faithful early enough to give them time to have breakfast during Ramadan! A bit annoying for infidels living here for any length of time (I’m sure the faithful have alternative ways of organising their lives in Ramadan) but quite nice for one or two nights. A lot nicer than the amplified Muezzin.

Malko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) – Babaeski (Turkey)

5 September 2010

That was our last day in Bulgaria! We rode into Turkey today – our last country and language.

It rained overnight leaving us with wet helmets and gloves (but not a wet Brooks leather saddle because I always put the cover on – smugness of a Brooks saddle owner who hasn’t yet lost the cover). The rain had faded to drizzle by the time we got up. We bought breakfast at the only place open early on a Sunday (where we had dinner the night before) and it was OK once they worked out we wanted some bread (we would have preferred toast and something to spread on it – serves us right for not learning Bulgarian better). We also had a delicious omelet garnished with paprika, feta cheese and tomato.

And so off we rode up the hill, into the clouds and to the Border Crossing Control Point. There were about 100 people employed there this morning and they were achieving a throughput of about 2 cars/hour. Unlike the other BCCPs we’ve used there were separate Bulgarian & Turkish passport controls – suspicions run deep and long here. From the Turkish side, Bulgaria is called Bulgaristan. We briefly met Denis here, a French cyclist of mature years with a Bob trailer. We had spotted him in Malko Tarnovo the previous evening. He was feeling tired of leg.

Here we are in Turkey

We enjoyed almost deserted freeways in Turkey – smooth surface, no traffic, mainly downhill and a tailwind. Happy days!

We made it to Kırklareli (note the lack of a dot on the first i but dot on last one) for lunch but got none except for some fresh pretzel-styled bread bought from man carrying a carefully arranged stack on a wooden board. Things are looking up. We also joined the mass of worry-beaded men in the park drinking sweet black tea (cai) and then off to Babaeski after failed attempts to find a map.

We spied a ukulele-bearing, German hitchhiker – Armi – outside Babaeski. Rosalie had a jam with him (Let it be) that was interrupted by a possible lift and some local children.

We found a satisfactory hotel with a smarmy owner in Babaeski. Rosalie beat him down 20 lira but still says we paid too much. She’s going to offer 50% of the first price in future. Shades of the Life of Brian! One noteworthy feature of the hotel is a padded toilet seat – who wants that?

While officially secular, alcohol drinking seems to be an off-the-street affair confined to discreet, dark and dingy bars not very conducive to a late afternoon aperitif. šŸ˜¦ Nevertheless Babaeski is a nice place – busy streets – commerce-oriented shop-keepers. They don’t bother you as you walk by unless you hesitate or show any sign of weakness and then they greet you in a friendly fashion and start extolling the virtues of their wares. It’s a lot better than the sulky staff we’ve had lately.

There are several mosques in town all equipped with high-power PA systems. I quite like the muezzin’s call to prayer when delivered acoustically but this is too pushy, unpleasant and unlikely to win over any converts. I didn’t see many locals dropping everything in response.

Small mosque in Babaeski

Off to the Marmara coast tomorrow. I think we have about 400 km left to ride.

Cycle route:
Malko Tarnovo – Babaeski

Sredets to Malko Tarnovo

5 September 2010

This is probably our last night in Bulgaria. We rode from the resort near Sredets to Malko Tarnovo, 5km from the Turkish border, on almost deserted roads through oak and beech forests. We’re staying in a doss house, discouraged by grottiness from showering this evening.

A breakfast highlight was the sulky resort staff who were more interested in their early morning cigarettes (smoked in the restaurant) than supplying customers with breakfast. We persisted and were ultimately successful. One waitress was on our side and made an effort to help us.

On the road, at a spring in the heart of the forest, two Bulgarian guys offered us a lift to Burgas, ‘One bike in the boot and one on the roof – no problem! Big kilometres.’ We thanked them kindly and continued on our way after filling our bottles.

The feature of the day were the flies. Who said Australian flies are bad? They haven’t experienced these little blighters. Strangely, they don’t settle or bite, but hover in dense clouds within centimetres of one’s face and hands – very aggravating and a great incentive to keep riding. We could drop them if we could achieve an air speed of about 15 km/h which proved a hard ask on the many hills. The slightest head wind was welcome assistance.

Tea time in the forest

We did manage to find a place to stop to brew a cup of tea. There was shade but it was in a clearing on the top of a hill with enough breeze to keep the insects at bay. Ah tea! We’ve been suffering from severe tea deprivation on our trip and it was a pleasure to stop and sip, slurp and gulp some – partial compensation for not getting lunch (no stopping and no opportunities).

We met a young Dutch woman, Suzanne, who left Holland 3 months ago. She’s cycling alone (with tent) and had got this far on her way to Istanbul. She had come via Serbia, Croatia and other countries that were formerly Yugoslavia. She admitted to having had a miserable night camping in the forest with the flies.

We’re now just 160 km from Istanbul as the crow flies but, STOP PRESS, we’ve decided not to ride there. In order to beat the traffic we’re heading south to the Gallipoli Peninsula. From there we’ll take a ferry across the Hellespont/Dardanelles (Rosalie’s tempted to follow Byron’s example and swim) and then another ferry across the Marmara from Lapseki (hopefully) or Bandirma to Istanbul. That’ll probably mean an extra 100 kms of riding but it increases the chance of survival compared to braving Turkish traffic into Istanbul.

Cycle route:
Sredets – Malko Tarnovo