Balkans 2016 – Day 10 : Svilengrad to Haskovo, Bulgaria

I was invited over to Nikolais house this morning before I push off to meet his family and have breakfast.  And what a breakfast indeed. Homemade tomato spread on mixed grained toast and homemade cheese. After awhile Nikolai’s mom brought some porridge as well. Even though it’s carb central I really cannot not eat it after they took so much trouble to host me. What a fantastic introduction to Bulgarian hospitality. 

Before I left I was give 2 huge slabs of homemade cheese, some meatballs for lunch and also a jar of honey. 

Fortunately I found a Warmshowers host in the next town called Haskovo. Thanks to Teri who accommodated me even though she is hosting another cyclist from Canada. I told her I don’t mind to take the couch. The condition is that I must arrive at her place before 530pm as they are going for a free jazz concert in town. 

So with meatballs and cheese in tow, I started my journey towards Haskovo.  I stopped at a town called Harmanli for lunch finishing the delicious meatballs. 

I finally reach Teri’s apartment in time for a quick shower before heading out with them to town to enjoy the free jazz concert. 

Lions Project : RM 37.48

Arriving for breakfast at Nikolai’s home.
Fantastic Bulgarian breakfast spread
What a fantastically hospitable family
Nice quiet open roads
Harmanli
Abandon builidings are common sight all around Bulgaria
Meatball lunch
Safe bike storage at my warmshower host in Haskovo.
My bed for the night.
Down town Haskovo
Concert hall where the jazz concert is held.

Balkans 2016 – Day 9 : A new country 

Today will be the day I will head off to Bulgaria.  Engin was convincing me to stay one more day but I told him the weather was very good and I didn’t want to miss riding in these conditions.

By the time we said our goodbyes and photo taking, it was pass noon before I headed out. This was ok as I do not plan to ride too far as I anticipate the immigration and customs check at the border will take time.  

When I am around 8km from the first checkpoint I saw the last truck in queue. It was the first time I had seen such a long queue of any sort. I learned from someone later that the queue can be as long as 15km!  I was really feeling for the truckers and also admire their patience. They all appeared calm as the are probably used to it. I am not sure really how long a wait for them. 

Checking out of the Turk immigration was uneventful and quick but I was held back by a lady customs officer yelling something about paper. I thought what paper and said no paper. It went on for awhile until they gave up and another officer just wave me through. I am guessing it must be the customs declaration form or something. 

Anyway onward to Bulgarian clearance and the queue for cars was longer but the motorist just waved me to the front seeing me on a bicycle. How nice. And I cleared immigration quickly  without a hitch and finally set foot on Bulgarian soil. The landscape is quite similar to Turkey except there were no mosque in sight. Bulgaria is around 83% Orthodox Christian and 12% Muslim and the rest others. 

The town that I intended to stay for the night is called Svilengrad. A charming small border town with more than 6 casinos and more being built. Seems like a lot of Turks and Greeks come over here to gamble. 

After going to the ATM and getting a prepaid sim data plan card ( 5 Euros for 100 mins call and 1GB data for 20 days) I had a quick bite before riding around town to have a look see and also scan for places to stay. 

As I was riding around I was hailed down by a young Bulgarian in a car for a chat. He introduced himself as Nikolai and seemed very curious about what I am doing and we chatted awhile. Turns out he saw my Malaysian  flag and since he knows a few things about Malaysia he wanted to have a chat with me. He had told he has seen many cyclist before and hosted some. But it seems he is not able to host me because of some personal issues at home. 

We decided to exchange phone numbers so we could meet later and he would show me around town and tell me more about this place. 

After a few circling back and forth the town ,I found a hostel for 10 Euros for a huge room with 3 beds. 

Had a quick shower want quick bite to eat and meet up with Nikolai. We walked around the town for close to 2 hours and he chatted with me about Bulgarian and its history and politics and just about everything else. 

Tomorrow I am asked to swing by Nikolais moms cheese and jam shop as they wanted to gift me something to take on my journey. How nice. Day 1 in Bulgaria and I am impressed already with their hospitality. 

Lions Project : RM 30.49

Engin and the Yusuf GaJah card I gave him
All geared up ready to push off to Bulgaria
Thanks guys for a great time.
The long queue Turkey side
The long queue Bulgarian side
Bulgaria!
This place just after the checkpoint is way too expensive. Skipped it and headed to Svilengrad
Hello Svilengrad
Old Ottoman built bridge
My hostel for the night
Dinner 3 Euros

Balkans 2016 – Day 8 : Rest day at Edirne 

Another day to chill and rest at Engins place. Just as well as we had one superb night riding out to Greece for a bit of eating and a lot of drinking. Engin is really the super host. Anyway today I decided to go visit one museum on the outskirts of the town. It’s a very interesting museum about Ottoman health care system and medicine. It seemed to have won several world museum awards. 

Headed back to do some grocery shopping to cook dinner for Engin and friends. After a wonderful dinner with them Engin and I cap the night off with a visit to a local bar to hear some live local Turkish band play. 

It was another great day spent at Edirne. 

This was what happened the night before. 

A small shot to get us started
Immigration check point
Greek restaurant that we dine in.
Superb grilled lamb
BBQ octopus and sardine
Dip for starters

A drink stop selfie.

My special lamb curry
It was an instant hit

Balkans 2016 – Day 7 : Playing tourist at Edirne

As a former Ottoman Empire capital, Edirne is full of historic sites and culture. The city is replete with its architectural works like inns, mosques, historic bazaars and historic hammams. The city also borders with Greece and Bulgaria and these countries can be reached within minutes. You could have breakfast in Turkey, lunch in Bulgaria and dinner in Greeece all in one day !

I will stay here for two days to enjoy what Edirne and its friendly and welcoming people has to offer. 

Today I will spend sometime visiting the city center where most of the historical sites are at.  I started my sight seeing first at the magnificent Selimiye Mosque a UNESCO heritage site built in 1575. It is one of the most important Ottoman architecture. Amazingly this huge complex took only 6 years to build. 

After a quick bite of fried liver which Edirne is famous for, I headed for the next gem which just across the road. The Eski Mosque is even older. Built in 1414 although smaller in comparison with Selimiye it’s no less stunning. After that I moved on to the covered bazaar around there for a look see. The stuff they sell doesn’t really interest me.

After that I decided to goto a Turkish bath and give it a try. The one that I went to is one of the oldest one called Sokullu bathhouse. It was built in 1435 and is operational since then. As I approached the entrance I was hailed by an elderly man and invited me to sit with him for tea. as I sat down the man was joined by the owner and we started our banter in all sorts of language just to communicate. The gentlemen that hailed me spoke some German as he worked there before. He showed me a missing finger due to an industrial accident he experienced while working in Gerrmany. S0 with my mono syllable juvenile German I tried my best to communicate with them. I guess it was ok and all had a great chat and enjoyed each other’s company. 

The bathhouse experience was also just as great. It s really something walking into something so ancient and also experience what folks in those times experienced. The masseur that was taking care of me had a huge scar on his chest in what look like a by pass operation. I found out from our non verbal gestures that the he had a triple bypass with veins taken from his leg and hands. 

After that I completed the city tour with a visit to the third historic mosque in the city. I am actually quite puzzled why these huge mosques are built so close to each other.

I headed back to rest after a fullfiling day in the city and get ready for the next activity. Engin and I will cycle into Greece which is just 8KM away and have dinner there and back. Thank you Engin for a fantastic and unforgettable nite out in Greece. The food was fantastic and the company was super. It was a great closing to a superpacked day. 

Taking the bus to city center. 2.5TL
The magnificent Selimiye Mosque.

Inside Selimiye Mosque
Central courtyard of Selimiye
Central courtyard of Selimiye
Inside Selimiye Mosque
Beautiful dome of Selimiye
Inside Eski Mosque
Inside Eski Mosque
Exterior Eski Mosque
Eski Mosque
Had a wonderful encounter with these gentlemen at the emtrance of the Soluku Hamam
Your personal cabin for changing and relaxing.
Edirne’s oldest bathhouse

Balkans 2016 – Day 6 : Kirklareli to Edirne 

What another great day of riding and enjoying the Turkish experience. Upon reaching Edirne I will rest and spend a few days here before crossing the border to Bulgaria. 

The day went on from good to better and ending at best so I thought I start the sharing in reverse for a change. 

Upon waking up in a comfy bed provided by Engin my Warmshowers host I started to write this blog. 

Yesterday I was riding into Edirne and onwards to Migros supermarket where I am suppose to be greeted by someone to bring me over to Engins place. Before that I notice road signs that says that way to Yunanistan. Turns out that’s what Turk call Greece. It seems Turks name countries mostly ending with Stan which means land of or home of in ancient Farsi. 

I was met by a 14 year old boy with a big smile on a bike and he waved at me and said “this way to Engins place “. I followed and reached Engins bike shop and met with the man himself. Immediately he greeted me ala Turkish style meaning kiss on both cheeks and that completely made me feel welcome already.  

Engin had hosted many cycle tourers before me an so many have mentioned about this warmness and generosity and I can immediately feel why. After later he showed me his guest book and also wall where many have written great comments about this hospitality. I am really looking forward to this experience. 

I was settled in a comfy room and have a much needed shower, stop by Engins bike shop which is just across the road and had some chit chat with him and his partner Tamir and all sort of folks. After that we went back to Engins apartment and had a wonderful dinner on his balcony with delicious grilled Black Sea fish called Palamut and off course plenty rounds of Raki. It was also dinner that I learn how to drink Raki like the Turkish do. After that it was bedtime and I can tell you I had my best sleep in a week. 

The ride from Havsa a small village about 25km outside of Erdine was interesting. After having a nice lunch and rest I noticed that my route plan that I copied from Pheobe Tan seem to go off D020 here and going somewhere else. So I decided to check it out but soon found out to that it leads to a large highway which I decided to not take and instead road back and followed the D020 instead. Well I am happy I did that as I went through the country roads that was still broken up and rough but the traffic was really sparse. The terrain was the usual with open farm fields far and wide. Interestingly I have seen only a few road kills so far.  Perhaps one dog, one porcupine, one bird and a pigeon. 

Before arrive to Havsa I started off from Kirklareli. Camped at the open park last night. Well the camping at the park did not go as planned and I got very little sleep.  First the pesky dogs that keeps barking randomly and then the park sprinkler system came on sharp at 12 midnight. At first I thought someone was trying to spray me water to get off the park. Again primitive brain talking. In the end I found out that it was actually the sprinkler turning on to water the lawn. Lucky my MSR tent was able to take the full force of the spray for at least 20 minutes. 

Fortunately I woke up to a beautiful morning and took my time to make coffee and enjoy the sunrise before packing and making my way to Erdine. 

Lions Project : RM 26.72

Good Morning ! Time for a coffee!
Its because of nothingness I find beauty
Picking grapes for 2 Liras per kilo.
 

Turkish Donner lunch at Harvas
Nice place to have lunch at Harvas before pushing on to Edirne
Egin my host for a few days bicycle shop. It s a fairly big and well stocked shop.
Engin’s place where I will be putting up a few days.
Supposed to be my room but someone has taken it so i switch to another one. LOL
Fantastic dinner at Engins balcony We had grilled Palamut fish from the Black Sea and plentj of Raki

Balkans 2016 – Day 5 : Saray to Kirklareli

Another fantastic day of sunshine and warm weather. Perfect for riding. After packing my stuff I headed for a Turkish breakfast ie soup and bread. Nice warm up before heading out. 

Borh Warmshowers host at Vize and Kirklareli did not reply so I guess I have to find my own accommodation. Maybe wild camping. Anyway headed towards Vize for a coffee break. 

Had a wonderful encounter at the coffee place first with a customer who told me was a butcher via goggle translate and then bought me a cup of coffee. After he left order a Turkish coffee and the owner of the shop offered me FOC. What a great stop. 

Head off to direction of Kirklareli and had a lunch stop at Pinarhisar. Took a break from standard Turkish fare and had a burger instead. Ate half the bun of course still watching my carbs consumption. The owner there was also very chatty and mentioned that last year he host 2 German cyclist. I was tempted to ask if he could host me but it’s only 2pm and I still like to do some more cycling. So did not ask la. 

I was making good time so I decided to push through to Kirklareli and start to look for accommodation options there. First stop to buy water and had a good chat with the owner. I asked where I should sleep or camp. Well no offer lot he says sleep either at the cemetery or a corner which he pointed that looks kinda crappy. In the end I said my goodbyes and left looking for other options. Next up a petrol station with a big car wash. Also cannot so push forward somemore and then saw what look like 2 police officer having a break at a small park and I asked where I could camp. They said I could camp here. Ok the place is small but there is a part that looks very discrete so I found my camping stop for the night. Tent set up. Raki sipped , a small bite ala cold cuts and now getting ready for bed. Hopefully everything will turn out ok. Sweet dreams. See you tomorrow. 

Lions Project : RM 20.38

Breakfast soup place. Seems like a popular place in town with a steady stream of crowd.
Center of Saray town
Several water stops. Drinkable it seems but I did not try.
Nice and wide open roads.
Strange structure in middle of the highway.
Probably overpaid for the fruits and egg i bought from her but i guess it pays for the selfie.
Coffee time with owner Ugur Salm
This farmer was crossing the road. Almost ram in to me
Bald but scenic with nice colors.

A old fort at Panirhisar

Campsite at last

Balkans 2016 – Day 4 : Örcünlü to Saray, Turkey

A complete contrast to yesterday. From the sunrise it looks certain it will be a bright and sunny day. After having a couple of Turkish coffees, some peanuts and a peach for breakfast, I was ready to start packing. The plan was to finish packing and be ready to ride out at 9am. Turns out packing was not all easy and took longer that I thought.  I was all packed and ready to roll by 930 am.  

The initial part of the road comes with large emergency lanes. The second part the roads are not as good and shoulder almost non existent. Thankfully as I edged further and further away from Istanbul, traffic became much  lesser. 

The road condition was also quite good until around 30km to Saray when the Tarmac was quite broken up making it a very rough ride. Combined with the relentless dragon backs up until the last 3 km the ride was one of the more challenging 68KM ride. Maybe because I have a hauling a 40 kilo bike or maybe I did not have enough food. I ran out of Turkish Lira and was trying to get more from ATM along the way. Turns out none to be found in smaller towns. Luckily I had plenty of water and peanuts to sustain me until Saray. Well a passerby in a car did stop to ask if I needed water food or money. I should have said yes. But I say no because I did have Euros and peanuts and water. What a kind gesture anyway. 

I was elated to finally come out of the dragon backs and into the flat. And with Saray city in sight I was energize immediately and push hard to reach my end point of the day. 

All the time I was eyeing potential place to camp or to ask for permission go camp but I saw nothing really works for me. 

Saray looks like a busy town but it’s so dusty and chaotic. I went to the first bank I saw and notice that their ATM did not have any PLUS or Cirrus signs so maybe cannot use. Oh Oh. Panic No Money. That’s my primitive brain speaking. Anyway I went inside the bank to ask to exchange my Euros instead. I was give a number by a security guard and waited my turn. Turns out that the system allow them to only change money with locals as a local passport is needed. Very weird. No matter after a few Turkish chatter here and there, the lady type something on my google translator which said Jeweller. Huh ? Yes they saw the jewelry shop will change for me. So the security guard escorted me to the jewellery shop and got me the exchange. I was thankful. Actually as I ventured further there was plenty of ATM with PLUS and Cirrus. 

Now that is sorted my next task is to look for a place to stay. I really didn’t want to camp or ride around anymore to ask people if I could camp at their place so decided to ask the town folks where is the cheapest hotel. I was always hoping when asking where to stay someone would offer to host me. But no such luck but another luck appeared as I found a nice little hotel for a fair deal of 35Liras. It had twin beds shower tv and free internet access. So I grabbed it and was happy. 

I am not fully set up to have a shower , dinner and some rest to prepare for my ride tomorrow. Till then goodnight. 

Lions Project : RM 12.45

A wonderdul day ahead from the looks of it.
Thanks for a great camping experience. The journey continues.
First part looks like a highway but with wide shoulders its very safe. Although the branch out where a tad dangerous but thankfully not many.
Great country roads ahead and this is where the dragon backs starts.
Time for a break
Yeehaaaa but on the other side another climb I will eventually pass 3 of such
  
Another rest and peanut break.
Saray city busy dusty and chaotic.
Dinner starter. Cant resist the wonderful fresh out of the oven bread. served with goat cheese , butter and a spicy dip.

Main dish of grilled lamb kofta. Fantastic flavors.
The friendly folks at Sanluifra Iskender restaurant. They even gave me a 4Lira discount of the meal and free chai.
My home for the night.
Very acceptable room. Now time for rest.