After 6 weeks of hibernation, filled with knitting and crafting and tipi constructing, along with not doing much at all besides sitting next to the wood stove, we finally waved good-bye to Kromidovo, it’s wonderful eco-camp and friendly hosts.
We pedaled off in good spirits. Happy to be back on the road and rolling once more. It was somewhat of a false start however as 5 km later my back wheel suddenly jammed and we were back to bike mechanics with my bike on its head, stopped on the side of the road.
The axis was a bit shifty and needed tightening up. A not-quite-right replacement cone nut was the suspect. Wheel reassembled as best we could, we waved goodbye to the nice old lady whose house we had stopped next to, and cautiously proceeded hoping that further mechanicals would hold off until we were closer to a bike shop.
We weren’t really sure where we would get that day, as the goal was simply to finally leave at last, but we ended up next to Pirin, with great views of the sunsetting behind the mountains, next to all the horse poo in the field where we camped.
The days were definitely warmer than pre-hibernation: toes no longer resembled blocks of ice and often shortly after starting cycling uphill, we would soon be peeling off our layers – but this was somewhat deceptive. At nighttime the temperatures plummeted and we often found ourselves not quite sleeping, being not quite warm but not quite cold.
Above 1000m there was still lots of snow on the ground. We had to plan our days carefully to either stop before we would get too high or to be sure that we would have time to pedal up, over and then below the snow line before sunset. Camping on snow didn’t seem like it would be much fun.
On several nights as dusk fell, we’d hear howling echoing throughout the hills. Some creatures communicating with one another. As the evening drew onwards the location of the howls would change, one night ending up right by our tent. We had many a debate as to what said creature was: I was in wolf camp, Pedro in fox. We’re still don’t know, but we did see quite a few deceased foxes by the side of the road… Which makes me think that the howling must have been from wolves, as all the foxes were dead.
Eventually after a few too chilly nights, we changed our route for lower ground. We wiggled our way down through low lying Bulgarian villages. The country seemed so sparsely populated though, it was always easy to find a quiet corner for the night. We mostly camped in amongst vineyards, fruit trees and at the edges of fields. Often, as we found our way back to the road, along muddy tracks, we shared a grin with some early-rising locals as they tended to their fields.
At first our legs were sluggish, not used to hawling us and our bikes up hill and down dale. But slowly but surely our legs acclimatised, with each day we unconsciously added 10km to our daily pedal until one day, before we knew it, we had cycled 85 km and were just a day away from the Turkish border.
We spent our remaining Bulgarian Lev on two cups of coffee and a snickers bar and overtook all the trucks queuing for customs. The border crossing was as confusing as ever, with most of the buildings not in use, never being sure where you have to stop and always feeling like naughty kids who have done something wrong.
For the first time we were made to open our bags as they were very unthoroughly searched. The border guard didn’t even find the cheese we were inadvertently smuggling in.
Soon, us and our Bulgarian cheese were freewheeling down towards Edirne, where we would be staying with our first warmshowers host in Turkey. Waiting outside their apartment we realised my back wheel was loose again. Taking off the cassette, the freehub came off in our hands. Not what it was meant to do. We diagnosed that the hub was dead. D’oh! Atleast we would soon be in a big city where we could get it fixed….
Without much thought, our next big stop was going to be Istanbul (not Constantinople). It seemed an important place on our journey, bridging Europe and Asia. Despite the fact that we normally avoid cities where we can, and despite reading nothing but horror stories about people trying to cycle into Istanbul, and planning to catch the train in as a result, we hadn’t acknowledged the sheer size of Istanbul. Not only does Istanbul have a bigger population than London, it has 50% more people living in its realms than the whole of Portugal. One and a half Portugals in a single city. What the hell were we letting ourselves in for?!