Update 5 - Bulgarian Belly and
From Sofia to Istanbul
We finally tore ourselves away from Tony and Sabina's
generous hospitality in Sofia and got back on the road.
Our Bulgarian friend, Nadia, had changed our plans for
us and told us to visit her parents and brother in Velingrad
- "they are expecting you". Unfortunately
we didn't leave Sofia until after midday and it was
well over 130km to Velingrad with a long 20km climb
into the Rodopi mountains at the end. Plus the fact
that we were all feeling dodgy and the route we took
was sadly not "flat all the way" as we had
been told, this was one of the hardest days of the trip
so far. We finally arrived in Velingrad just as it was
was well worth the suffering though - Nadia's parents
were fantastic hosts and we were persuaded to spend
an extra day in Velingrad. To be honest, we needed a
rest day too, because we were all suffering from the
dreaded Bulgarian Belly by now. The next day Nadia's
father gave us a guided tour of Velingrad, it's hot
and cold springs, the surrounding hills and his very
own carpet factory in the neighbouring village (www.hemus.bg).
He makes high quality kilim rugs and carpets for stately
homes and palaces all over the world.
The next day was the easiest of the trip. After Nino
had fed us a huge lunch we headed for Plovdiv with a
strong tailwind or downhill all the way. We found a
campsite just outside Plovdiv and collapsed. Unfortunately
it turned out that our campsite also operated as a brothel
and the comings and goings of the night combined with
our sorry health state made for an uncomfortable nights
The next morning we made it into Plovdiv and were pleasantly
surprised - the old town had a distinctly Mediterranean
feel to it, especially when viewed from one of the three
steep hills in the city that gave the city it's Roman
name, Trimontium. Bulgarian Belly was certainly making
it's presence known by now, and Adrian was suffering
particularly badly. We struggled on however across the
dry arid rolling hills just south of the Thracian Plain,
and the next day we reached the Turkish border.
Things changed considerably as soon as we crossed the
border - despite the mosques everywhere, the first city
we arrived at, Edirne, felt like Western Europe again
and everybody seemed much livelier - people seemed more
busy and happier, and virtually everybody that passed
us honked their horn and waved, even more than the Bulgarians!
(However the prize for loudest honk so far goes to a
Bulgarian train near Velingrad! Both the driver and
passengers waved as it passed us.) Not only that, but
we all felt a lot happier too - Bulgarian Belly seemed
to disappear as soon as we crossed the border.
next day we cycled together with two Belgian cyclists,
Ronny and Bart, who we had met the night before in Edirne.
They had already been on the road for six months (cycling
through Eastern Europe and Russia) and accompanied us
all the way in to Istanbul). The weather was incredibly
hot and the road was pretty dull and frustratingly undulating.
The Turkish drivers continued to be the friendliest
yet, and the honks soon began to get a bit tiresome
and annoying. After 4pm, however, we wished the overfriendly
drivers would return - suddenly everybody started driving
faster and more aggressively as they all wanted to get
home from working at the textile factories that lined
the Edirne-Çorlu road. Fortunately we had a gravel
side road to escape into whenever the trucks and buses
got too close.
following day we made it into the outskirts of Istanbul,
but couldn't face the mad traffic to get to the centre
so we found a campsite and relaxed for the afternoon.
Unfortunately the campsite was directly underneath the
flight path for Istanbul's Atatürk airport, a fact
that became more worrying when we witnessed the shocking
terrorist attacks on the US on Turkish CNN that night
- I don't think any of us slept particularly well that
So now we are in Istanbul waiting for visas and news
on the growing crisis and which appears to be occurring
directly on our intended route in Eastern Iran and Pakistan
- the bordering areas of Afghanistan. Oh dear. It seems
foolish to continue East of Iran as potential war in
that area seems imminent. We are currently trying to
figure out some alternative plans, knowing that we'll
cycle further into Turkey and wait for further developments.
Well, actually that's a lie - we are in fact just sitting
around drinking çay, playing backgammon and eating
Turkish Delight. It's a hard life, this overland travelling!
Total distance to Istanbul: 3562km. Click here
to see the Progress Chart.