Balkans 2016 – Day 20 : Delchevo to Shtip, Macedonia 

As I awoke from another great rest, looking out of the window I noticed that the sun is rising visibly and that’s good news as it looks promising that it would be a great day for riding.  After a fantastic breakfast of homemade biscuits, eggs and cheese made by Andrea and Jared, I was ready to set off for the day. With goodbyes said and selfies taken, I started my journey. The weather was still cool but not cold.

The first half of the ride is a bit of a climb but I am rewarded by spectacular views especially around the area of Makedonska Kamenica town which overlooks a huge dam. At first I thought I was looking at a spectacular valley but later I realized that it was a very dry dam. I wonder what happened to it.

After passing dam it was all  mostly downhill from here to Kochani. I stopped at Kochani for lunch before pushing on to Shtip.

Took a quick detour to have a look at Shtip and also to look for a place to stay. It appears that there is only one hotel in town. It was too expensive for me so I asked the reception if there are other options. He said I could go check out a petrol station around 1 km away as there is a motel there.

It is quite typical in these region to find petrol stations that are also motels and restaurants.

It was getting dark and I found the motel and decided to check in for the night. That would give me an opportunity to do some light washing and also charge my devices.

Overall although one of the longer ride days I enjoyed the ride today. I hope tomorrow’s weather would be equally great for riding.

Lions Project : RM 91.72

breakfast time
Goodbye slefie for memory
taking a break
Beautiful but empty
there are still bodies of water but very low.

yeehaa downhill
Lunch time !
Rice fields of Kochani.
Church in Shtip

Balkans 2016 – Day 19 : Blagoevgrad to Delchevo, Macedonia

The apples started dropping almost in tandem with the rain drops as I woke for a great night of sleep. I was hoping it would be a dry day but it was not to be. 

I waited for awhile in hope that the rain would stop and it did eventually at around 930 am. 

Trying to get on track was a challenge as I have to find the connections out of the city. After  going back and forth on several occasions , I finally found the connection and was soon on the way heading towards Macedonia.

The climb started maybe around 3km out of town and it continued for what felt like eternity.  The beautiful scene and cold weather helped motivating me on. I stopped many times to take photos and to rest.  As I climb higher and higher the skies became cloudier and darker and rain seem to be wanting to show itself.  

It was a long and tough climb of around 25km reaching a height of around 1,300 m. That’s massive since I started at around 350m. In the distance towards Macedonia I was encouraged to see blue skies peeping out of the darkened clouds. It as as if Macedonia is calling me to come to the bright side.  Spurred on with this and with renewed energy I edge myself forward to the control which I am certain is at the peak. True enough it was and clearing immigration was very fast and soon I was in Macedonia. The skies opened up to bright sunshine. What a fantastic welcome. The temperature oddly enough dropped to around 6C. 

Without wasting time I began to speed downhill towards Delchevo which is around 10km from the peak. What ! Almost 30km of climbing and only 10km of downhill ? 

Anyway the downhill was thrilling and it was a blast as usual and very soon I was at the edge of my big first town in Macedonia. 

And what an introduction. I decided to stop for a while to orientate myself as the immediate plan was to go get myself connected and buy a prepaid SIM card and then to have something to eat before moving on. As I was busy trying to look for directions a friendly young couple approached me and we chatted. Turns out Jared and Andrea are Americans teaching English in Delchevo and they have been living here for more than 2 years. They will soon leave Macedonia sometime in November. Jared mentioned that it was his birthday and they are going for a birthday lunch and they could show me the T Mobile store on the way and help me buy a SIM card.  With that done Jared invited me to have lunch with them together with their host family at a local restaurant nearby. What a fantastic welcome to Macedonia. I am already liking it here. 

At lunch I was introduced to the Stojanovski family, Ljubinka the grandma and Alexander the grandpa and Alexnder the grandson. Ljubinka’s son and daughter lives overseas. Alexander is a retired truck driver and Ljubinka is a former bookkeeper. Together I experienced a fantatsic Macedonian family lunch and also had great conversations together.  I had a fantastic time.  To top it off I was invited to stay the night with them! 

After dropping off the stuff at the house Jared, Andrea and me headed to town to a local pub to have a drink and met with some of their friends. We had a fantatsic time. We ended the day at the Stojnovski’s home to celebrate Jared’s birthday and a delicious apple pie baked by Andrea and some sing song with the Ukele and guitar. 

Today couldn’t have been better and I experienced what we cycle tourers seek most on our journies. Warm hospitalities, kindness, friendliness and most of all connections with fellow humans. 

Lions Project : RM 82.48

Dark skies but fantastic vista all round.
Smiles all round
Can almost touch the clouds
Views like these keeps me going
Border crossing. Soon I will be in Macedonia.
Fantastic family luncheon with Jared, Andrea and thr Stojanivskis
A huge plate of salad to start
The meat platter was very very delicious.
The garage that my trusty would sleep tonight.
The beuatiful anf lush home of the Stojanovskis
Grapes everywhere
More grapes
A very bountiful apple tree in the garden
Apples

Balkans 2016 – Day 18 : Bansko to Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

Fiona and Colin have to leave their home at 915 am to take their cats to the vet in Blagoevgrad and so I have to also be ready to leave by then. It’s not really a problem because I usually try to push off by 930am anyways.

Fiona mentioned that it’s downhill all the way to Blagoevgrad which puts a big smile on me. However I was a bit skeptical as my Garmin shows climbing.

Anyway Day 18 started very cold and overcast. As I rode out of Bansko the road was relatively flat and then I started feeling the climb. So Garmin was right.

However the climb was gradual and long at around 15km. I took a break at the peak of the climb. After that it would be one of the longest downhill so far. I peaked at 1150m and went downhill for at least 20km until around 350m. So making it to Blagoevgrad which is around 59km from Bansko relatively quick. I was already in Blagoevgrad in time for lunch. With time on my hands I explored the city and started to find for places to stay.

Came across a hostel but the owner  said it was fully booked. They had only 2 rooms ! Anyway he asked me to wait and he called his daughter to come over as she spoke English.

Since the sky is opening up and started to drizzle I was not too keen to look for other places. So I suggested to the daughter that I just need a space to sleep and I don’t need a room as I have camping gear. So I asked if they have a space that is available. The daughter showed me the hostel’s kitchen and dinning area which was very spacious and said if this would do. I said I will take it. The cost ? 5 Euros ! Great deal especially unlimited coffee and free use of kitchen and toilet. And not forgetting free apples as the tree is bearing fruits now and they are dropping as I am typing this.

Had a simple dinner and bought a bottle of wine for 3 Euros to reward myself.

Macedonia border is 28km away and tomorrow I hope to cross over and continue the journey into a new country while bidding Bulgaria a fond farewell.

Lions Project : RM 78.10

 

Balkans 2016 – Day 17 : Gotse Delchev to Bansko, Bulgaria

Today I woke up to very grey skies and some rain. Should I ride or wait it out. I really prefer to ride out to instead of waiting. After the usual packing I headed out towards Bansko. Fortunately I found a host via Couchsurfing at Bnsko so I don’t have to worry about camping in the rain. The rain started as a drizzle and later got heavier. So the first half of the ride although scenic was not very fun. The route was mostly along the Mesta River so winding roads and not too tough.

At some point I stopped to take shelter to wait it out a bit. Once the rain subsided somewhat I continued and tried to find the next town to take a break and possibly lunch. It will also be a great opportunity to warm up and wait out the rain as well. I finally came across a town called Mesta which must have something to do with the river of the same name.

Anyway, went into the first restaurant and had coffee and lunch and waited the rain out. After about an hour or so the rain stopped and I continued towards Bansko.

The area around Bansko seems dry and I later found out that there was little rain today. Managed to meet up with the host Fiona easily at a predetermined location and she brought me to her home.

Fiona and her husband is British and have been living in Bansko for around 3 years. They have around 7 cats and they are property managers in Bansko. They also do dog and cat rescue work here in Bansko.  There are quite a number of British expats in Bansko , as it is a popular holiday resort town for many Brits some chose to buy a place here to stay or as a holiday home.

We had a fantastic home cooked dinner and some local Bulgarian wine and topping up with selection of cheese and home made Chutneys made by Fiona.

Finally it was time for bed, tomorrow I will ride to Blagoevgrad to stay the night before crossing the Macedonian border the next day.

Lions Project : RM 72.33

 

Balkans 2016 – Day 16 : Satrovcha to Gotse Delchev, Bulgaria

A relative good sleep last night out camping near Satrovcha. Not too cold and it was very peaceful. Woke up at my usual time and hang out the tent to dry a bit before pushing off. 

I was not very sure where I would end up as Bansko at 89 km seems a bit daunting with expected hill climbs. Gotse Delchev on the other hand is around 45km away.  In between there was really nothing interesting.  So I just play by ear and go and see how I end up.

Fortunately it was a relatively easy ride to Gotse Delchev as there was more downhill than uphill. I arrive Gotse Delchev at around 130pm just in time for lunch. 

Some of the downhills were exhilarating and downright spectacular. So it was a real joy cycling today. 

Gotse Delchev is a relative big town and I found a perfect spot to have lunch near the park. After lunch I was mulling if I should carry on or stay. I was thinking of the need for the use of a proper bathroom for “big business” and shower and that tip the scale for me. The other factor of me staying is that I managed to get a coach surfing host to host me tomorrow at Bansko. 

So I went on a hunt for cheap stay and after awhile found one. There was no one at the place but there was a number I could call. Initially the lady said on the phone 22 Lev but I said too expensive and wanted to leave. Just as I was about to leave, the husband came out and I spoke to him and asked him and he started babbling something in Bulgarian and finally said 15 Lev and I said ok.  Hmmmm what does tell you ? Women are hard bargainers and men are terrible at it?

Anyway happy that I got a good deal. The room is ok not as good as the one in Yagodina. In any case have some time on my hands and so I went on a quick city tour. Nothing too interesting except I had a kick out of watching the locals. 

Tomorrow I expect a hard 49km to Bansko. 

Good Morning Satrovcha
Pasar pagi at Satrovcha
This nice lady gave me a bunch of fresh prunes.
Hello mountains
Approach to Gotse Delchev
Hello Mountain again

Delicious cabbage and meat dish for lunch 1.5 Euros
There told you it was delicious or I was very hungry
My homestay for the night 7.5 Euros
Church downtown Gotse Delchev
Museum
These coffee machines are everywhere in Bulgaria. cheap coffee only 0.20 Euros per cup

 

Balkans 2016 – Day 15 : Yagodina to Satrovcha, Bulgaria

What a nice 2 days spent resting and enjoying the beautiful Yagodina. Eventually I had to leave. I already anticipated that there will be more climbs today. And I was right. It was slow going but I was bent on getting to at least Satrovcha.

However I am low on cash and out of data plan. So I need to get to a town that has a bank and I could get prepaid top up.

The touristic lake town Dospat was the place I need to be. Although around 30km or so away getting there took me at least 3 hours. When I arrived if took me awhile to search for the place for the prepaid top up. After finding it I had a great lunch of chicken and stew cabbage.  Very cheap . With a drink included it costed only 1.75 Euros.

Since I am at the lake town, I checked out the lakeside and I am happy I did as it was very scenic.

As I am short of time to reach Satrovcha , I did not spend too much time here and started riding or rather climbing.  More relentless climbing until almost 10km to Satrovcha it was downhill all the way . I decided to stop around 5km from town and started to look for a camping spot and I spotted a restaurant with ample land and I stopped to ask the owner if I could camp and have food at his place. He says ok.

After setting camp I went to dinner and then headed back to my tent to tuck in around 830pm . It started to drizzle, I hope it won’t be too cold  Good night folks.

Lions Project: RM 62.60

 

Balkans 2016 – Day 14 : Yagodina, Bulgaria

Today it is day for laundry, charging equipment and resting. I spend half the day basically walking around Yagodia and Yagodina. It was a wonderful walk to and fro the Yogadina cave.  It is so peaceful and scenic here. 

The stroll to the cave entrance was around 6km back and forth. It was a joy to walk and savor the wonderful scene and quietness. 

I took the cave tour that lasted 45 mins. I happen to join the Russian group and thus the explanation was entirely in Russian. However in the end the tour guide pitied me and did an quick summary in English. It seems that this cave is among more that 10,000 marble caves in Bulgaria. He made it very clear that these are marble caves and not like limestone caves in Asia. Well lucky for that as I already thought we have bigger and lor impressive caves in Malaysia. Anyway he told me 2 unique feature of the cave. One is called the leopard skin which apparantley only happens in marble caves and the other one cave pearls which are naturally formed. Interesting. 

After the tour. I had a quick lunch and headed back to rest and check on my laundry and also dry my tent. 

The sky turned dark and it drizzled slightly before stopping.  You can hear thundering in the distance and the looming dark clouds bent on staying. I hope it clear up or at worst remain cloudy tomorrow as I head out. 

I plan to head out to the next big town called Dospat to withdraw some money and top up my prepaid card.

Lions Project : RM 57.53

Early morning already working
Good morning Yagodia
The view upon arriving the village of Yagodia.
One of the many drinking stations. water is cool , clean and fresh
Nice colors greets you all along the road
More fantastic colors
May I present to you the beautiful Yagodina, Bulgaria
Double wow !
Yagodina Cave
Yagodina Caves
Leopard skin effect. Seems only happen in marble caves
Scenic
Dark clouds looming but it seemed to have passed
Till the cows come home.

Balkans 2016 – Day 13: Chepelare to Yogida, Bulgaria

This morning I decided to decamp at soon as there is sunlight. This might reduce the chance of being detected. But there was still no one.  Last evening though there was someone hearding his cows in the distance. 

The hills continued till I reached Pamporovo a touristic ski resort. I stop for lunch and decided to continue on to head towards Yagodina where the interesting cave was. I had noticed that I so far have climbed to more than 1500m and upon checking my GPS for the forward elevation I was thrilled that this would be the peak and it will be downhill to 750m for 15km! Yahoooooooo! 

And what a joy the downhill was you get to cruise the distances and you get to see the incredibly beautiful vista of autumn colors of hues of orange and yellow interrupted by green and brown in the surrounding mountains and also very scenic villages along the way mostly ancient that seeming to be calling you out to hear their story. 

Initially I thought of stopping at Tresel about 8km from Yagodina to stay the night and make day trips to the cave. Upon reaching a place that look like a hostel I asked if there was room available. They waved me away and said no. I am not sure if they did not want to give me a room or the place is closed. In any case I had no choice but to move on to Yagodina. 

What a great decision as the route to Yagodina was very interesting and visually arresting. The road is a small and winding country road sometimes broken up but mainly in good conditions. I meanders along the river and on both your sides you will have the gorges. 

Upon reaching Yagodina I did not see any apparent hotel. So I asked a lady if there was a hotel nearby and see said not here but in Yagodia which is 3km away. I say great how much and they say nice room at 15Lev a night. Deal on. But I have to cycle anything uphill to Yagodia to reach the villa ( I am told in this area they are called this as if usually a small family run place ) 

After what seemed to be a incredibly long cranking uphill session I finally reached the villa. 

I will spend the next 2 days here to do some laundry, power my devices, have a look see and rest if I can get some.  Yagodina means Strawberry in Bulgarian but there is no strawberries in sight at all. Hmm I wonder why this place is called such. 

Lions Project : RM 57.53

Good Morning Time to decamp
Morning has broken
Typical breakfast in this region
City Square in Cheperale
Lunch stop at Pomporovo
My first Bulgarian beer. Its a tad bitter for me.
The many ancient bridges you will pass
Another view of the bridge
Another old village Orthodox church, Shiroka Laka
Shiroka Laka
Fantastic road through the gorges leading to Yogadina
Another ancient bridge
Fantastic mountain views around Yagodina
The climb is well worth it. Just look at this
The pain replaced with joy instantly
I am in heaven.
Yagodia village. An prominent church. It seems there are only 6 muslims out of 400 in this village and they are older folks. I am sure there is a story behind this.
My homestay for two days
Fantastic room at only 7.5 Euros per night.
My dinner . Fresh river fish , salad and home grown fried potatoes. Delicious. 5 Euros!

Balkan 2016 – Day 12 : Bachkovo Monastery to Chepelare, Bulgaria. 

Planned for a late start today and spent some time walking around and exploring the historic monastery. I would have loved to experience more the way of live of the monks and Preist but did not managed to find someone I could interact with. The priests were quite distance so was very difficult to ask about what things I could experience. The museum and all other attraction was closed. Someone mentioned you could buy their homemade wine and raki but that too is not available. So I decided to leave soon after and hit the hills.

It was a wonderful day of riding with temperatures warm and sunny and blue skies. The autumn colors were amazing. 

The ride up from 300m to 1000m was actually not that hard and the climb was very gradual. 

I wanted to reach the Ski resort of Chepelare but decided to wild camp around 5km before. I found a perfect spot and decided to pitch my tent. There is a farm house in the distance and does not appear to be anyone there. I hope it is ok for me to camp. Well let’s see what happen tomorrow. 

Temperature is dropping like crazy as the night sets in. It started around 25c when I stopped riding and now is almost 10c and dropping.  Brrrrr I am going to tuck in now. 

Connection is poor so that’s all the photo I can upload. Will upload more when I have better connection

Lions Peoject : RM 50.75

Monastery dinning hall
Another view of Bachkovo Monastery
Meat patty and kofte. Cheap breakfast only 1.80 Lev

Hello and Good Morning Bachkovo

Rock falls are common all along the route
The journey continues.

Balkans 2016 : Day 11 : Haskovo to Bachkovo Monastery

Day 11 is by far my best day of riding and also longest. I was planing to ride around 60K but ended up 89K. That because I was having trouble navigating out of Haskovo and also going back to get my helmet which I left behind at a shop. 
Earlier I had a nice breakfast with Teri and Ivan before saying our goodbyes. Steve, the Canadian tourer left earlier for Erdine.

The intended ride towards Asenovgrad was more or less the same. Flattish with a few rolling hills. The road condition varies from good to ok to bad. 
Just outside of Asenovgrad I took a detour to visit the Arapovsky Monastery. A small but very interesting monastery. The inside of the church was beautiful but I was not allowed to take any photos. The monastery was built in 1800s. One of my aim is to stay in a monastery so I asked if I could stay and if they offer any accommodation. They said no and I moved on. 

Once reaching Asenovgrad I starting looking for a suitable place to stay. I didn’t find any and decided to head to the hills and see if I can find some wild camping spots. It was already 530 pm getting dark  soon and I have little time left. Luckily I met a leisure cyclist on the road call Dimitre and he told me that I could stay at Bachkovo Monastery. Oh joy that’s what I was hoping for. 

Bachkovo Monastery was founded in 1083 so it’s really ancient and claimed to be one of the oldest Orthodox monastery in Europe. 

I had to wait about 1 hour before speaking to the Preist in charge to register me. I had to pay 15 Lev which is equivalent to around 7.5 Euros for a room. What a bargain ! The room is very large with 3 beds attached bathroom and beautiful view of the mountains. 

I was happily settled in for the night and had a simple dinner of Cheese and tomatoes before turning in early. 

Lions Project : RM 46.41

Teri and Ivan my host in Haskovo
Thats a lot of melon
The nice old lady in charge
Rest stop for a drinkb and snack at a petrol station
Lunch of tomatoes salad an homemade cheese from Nikolais mom
Nice spot for lunch break.
One of the several churches i passed today
Araprovsky Monastery
The hills have arrived !
Entrance of Bachkovo Monastery
The church inside Bachkovo Monastery
Central courtyard at Bachkovo Monastery
My fantastic room at Bachkovo Monastery all for 7. 5 Euros only