So, it’s been a while since my previous blog, and the majority of the days actually weren’t spent on the bike. So, I’m going to do away with the daily write up format, which was getting a bit dull anyway, and focus on a few chronological points of interest from my final weeks on the road.
My Transylvanian Nightmare
My last blog covered my cycling in Transylvania, but before I left the region I headed up into the Carpathian Mountains on foot for the day- and it all went horribly wrong.
I won’t go into detail- you’ll have to ask me personally sometime if you want to hear the whole sorry story!- but, basically, I made a pig’s ear of my journey down a mountain, and ended up stuck in a dried up stream. I found myself stranded between two dry waterfalls too tall to pass, between valley walls too steep too escape. I had no food, no warm clothes, no functioning phone- and it was already just about dark. I yelled for help but no one came. So, resigned to my fate, I curled myself into a ball and spent a cold night up at 1,400m above sea level.
When daylight returned after a miserable night, I resumed my yelling. A couple of Romanian climbers heard me and fought there way through the forest from the trail to help. As it happened, it turned out I was able to climb out of the valley unaided, and my situation wasn’t quite as dire as I’d thought, but I was still unbelievably grateful.
So, with my tail between my legs, off I went. It was a pretty damn unpleasant experience and I can only hope I’ll not be so reckless- or feckless- on mountains in the future. But, as one of the climbers said to me, at least I’ve now got an interesting story to tell for the rest of my life!
The Black Sea Coast: Ronania
After two long months inland, I finally made it to the Black Sea at the city of Constanta. The fact I had just taken a train for 200km rather than cycling rather ruined the sense of achievement of completing my European coast-to-coast, but hey, I cycled most of the way. I’m happy to give my ego a little rub regardless.
Aside from that, it was just nice to arrive at the coast after two months inland. What is it about the sea that makes us all like being next to it, anyway? It’s just a big blue vat of brine, and yet its presence is always good for the soul somehow.
After being blighted with annoying dogs ever since I arrived in Romania, I had came to conclusion that they were all bark and no bite- but no. On my penultimate day in the country, one of the little buggers bit me on the heel as I was innocently cycling past. It wasn’t particularly painful and it’s teeth scratched my skin rather than pierced it, but it wasn’t very nice regardless. I was in a mood with the species as a whole for an hour until I came across three adorable puppies frolicking in a garden together, and thus my love of dogs was restored.
That afternoon, I realised I had punctured my front tyre. That was my first puncture since the day I left London about 70 days earlier. Within a few minutes, I realised my rear tyre was punctured too. London buses etc etc. Still, I ought to appreciate having gone so long without any flats.
The Black Sea Coast: Bulgaria
Next, I travelled down the east coast of Bulgaria for a few days. My first night in the country was spent camped on the edge of a windswept cliff above the sea. It was undoubtedly the most special place I’d camped on the trip up til then- it was deserted, with a fantastic view of the night sky and the spectacular sunrise that followed.
I spent a couple of nights in a town just outside the major port city Varna, before continuing my journey south. The route from there to the city of Burgas was one of the toughest days of cycling of the whole trip. There were lots of kilometres to cover, and the road was constantly undulating- one hill went from sea level to 450m, and over the whole distance there was 1,600m of climbing.
The route took me inland, so it gave me a chance to see a more authentic version of Bulgaria away from the tourist resorts on the coast. The countryside was more arid than any I’d seen in previous countries, while the towns and villages lacked the rustic charm of their counterparts over the border in Romania.
As in Romania, there were more horses and carts, roadside prostitutes, crumbling roads and occasionally dangerous driving. I came across the aftermath of a collision near Varna, and it wasn’t that surprising. There were a couple of worryingly close passes by lorries, and more drivers driving straight at me to overtake someone. Fortunately, when I headed inland to tackle the hills and make a slight shortcut, I was able to escape the traffic for a few pleasant hours.
Arriving in Burgas felt a bit like the end of the road. I decided a while ago that I would take a bus rather than cycling on to Istanbul, since all the roads annoyingly veer inland into the hills rather than following the coast. I also didn’t fancy spending several more days battling with heavy traffic, and the bus was too tempting an option to turn down.
Why You Should Visit Cappadocia
From Bulgaria, a couple of buses took me straight to Cappadocia in central Turkey, where I spent a happy week exploring both on two wheels and two feet. It is one of the most spectacular place I’ve ever visited, and yet I sometimes feel people aren’t that familiar with it, that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. So here are a few reasons why you should consider visiting someday!
The valleys have been inhabited for millenia, and there are thousands of caves carved into the rock. Most of them are available to be explored; get lucky and you might find one with ancient Christian murals painted on the walls.
There’s a big volcano nearby.
Cappadocia is right in the centre of Turkey, one of the best countries in the world to visit. A few hours of travel in any direction will take you to some other amazing place.
There are some spectacular, steep walled valleys- some looked a bit like miniature Grand Canyons.
It’s excellent value. Accommodation, restaurants and tours all cost a fraction of what you’d expect to pay in Western Europe.
It’s not quite a desert, but the landscape certainly has that look about it.
Every morning the hot air balloons swarm about in the sky. They’re pretty affordable, but watching them all from below costs nothing at all!
If you’re immature, you’ll enjoy Love Valley.
That Time I Fell Off My Bike
I spent a couple of days on the bike in and around Cappadocia- my final two days of cycling on the trip. The sun was relentless and the road was constantly undulating, but overall it was a brilliant experience. It gave me a chance to see some amazing scenery, visit little towns and villages well off the tourist trail, and camp for a night in the middle of nowhere.
Less positively, after 40-odd days and over 4,000km, the moment I’d always feared finally occurred: I feel off my bike.
To be honest, it was entirely my own fault. As I went down a big hill with amazing views stretching far into the distance, I decided I ought to capture the experience on my camera. So I started videoing, until I learnt that controlling a bike downhill around a corner with only one hand is actually quite difficult.
I drifted wide into a big pile of rocks, travelling at perhaps 25- 30kph, at which point I bade farewell to the bike, vaulted over the handlebars, and soared through the air like a lanky exocet missile. I landed on another pile of rocks, thoroughly cutting and bruising myself all down the right side of my body. And yet, despite my stupidity, both myself and the bike were otherwise undamaged. So I dusted myself off and went on my way.
And so to Istanbul, the end of the road. And hey, look, I already wrote a brief blog about Istanbul two years ago, so if you’re interested just go and read that*. My opinion that it is a contender for the the mantle of World’s Greatest City remains unchanged- it’s a special place.
* Except I just checked and all the photos have gone, rendering it essentially useless. Bit of advice to the world: never use fucking WordPress…
Well, that’s just about it. I’m not going to conclude with some pretentious paragraph- oh, you know what, that actually sounds like fun, so let’s give it a go:
“After three gruelling months of courage and determination, sweat, blood and tears, I rolled into Istanbul to a hero’s welcome. Locals gazed with adoring eyes as I cruised down the avenues, showering me with flowers as though I were a victorious Ottoman general returning from the battlefield.”
“As I stood at the water’s edge and surveyed the gleaming Bosphorus, a solitary tear rolled down my cheek. It tasted of pure victory. I considered everything I had achieved. Europe behind me lay vanquished, no match for me and my trusty companion Darren the Bicycle. I had stormed through countries as though they weren’t there. Germany? Pah! Serbia? Why, I could’ve cycled that with my little finger!”
“A young boy, pure admiration gleaming in his bright eyes, ventured forward. ‘Oh heroic Englishman!’ he gushed, ‘whatever next for you? How much more can you achieve?’
“Smiling, I patted the child on the head, and spoke from the heart. ‘Young man’, I proclaimed, pointing upwards, ‘the sky’s the limit.’ And, with that, I raised my hand in triumphant salute, and rode off into the sunset, never to return.”