Meanings

Some things lose their meaning as you travel East, other radically change their meaning. Take this roadsign for example:

In Western Europe it usually means that there is some kind of roadworks ahead, probably taking one lane of the road you are riding. From Romania tu Turkey it means that you are in for some traffic jam and alternate circulation for probably a hundred km. I don’t really know what it could mean in Georgia because I have never seen it. Up to now, the meaning is about the same but when you get to Russia, it starts getting more difficult to decode. So far, I think it means “some time ago, this road has been worked on and there may be a better bit ahead” whereas in Kazakhstan it gets more philosophical. In Kazakhstan, the presence of this sign just means that there is a red triangular sign with a black worker holding a black shovel drawn on it by the side of the road. It gives absolutely no indication about the future characteristics of the road.

Another sign that completely lost its meaning after the Russian border is this one:

Even when it is accompanied by a “15 km” panel.

Other signs that are usually useless in Western Europe should actually be put at the entrance of the country together with the ones announcing the local top speeds. I’m talking about this one:

It starts in Romania but then in Georgia, they’ve just given up using it.

Cows on the road
Sharing the road in Georgia

By the time you get to Kazakhstan, it’s a whole different thing…

Camels on the road
Kazakh road users

 

Atyrau, Атырау Г.А., Kazakhstan

What happens in Georgia

Doesn’t really have to stay in Georgia. So much so that I am writing this from my hotel bed in Astrakhan. These last few days I’ve been really very tired, exhausted even to write anything. Sometimes I even start downloading the pictures or videos to the computer and fall asleep while it happens. I’ve been tired because of the long rides and the bad roads but my Russian adventures are something I’ll tell later, maybe from Kazakhstan. I just want to put into pixels and truetype fonts things that happened in Georgia because I had such a good time there and I don’t want to forget. There won’t be a lot of details, I hope you understand. So here it is, in no particular order.

  • At the border, I met Neil. As I was getting ready to leave Hopa, I saw a biker zoom past on the main road. White helmet is the only thing I saw. As I arrived to Sarp (the border), I made a point of pulling up right next to the other bike. The other Yamaha Ténéré. Wait, what? Yes, same bike, this has to be Neil. We chatted a bit, had a caffeine soda in a red can and we were off to Batumi. The border was a breeze and buying insurance too. Because none was sold.
Two Teneres
Neil wearing his spare helmet
  • I had planned to go to Svaneti but decided against it while I was on the road. There will be other beautiful mountains on the road and right now I feel like going straight to Tbilisi, I thought. There was other beautiful mountains in Kazbegi but little did I know of the Chinese crisis that was brewing (more to come later, not now). On the road I met this other biker on a 650GS. Victor is a Spanish soldier and he’s been to Afghanistan. He had problems with his bike, presumably a Friday afternoon bike at the BMW factory, so I offered to escort him to Tbilisi just in case his bike would die on the way. It did, 300m away from our hostel. The next day he decided to turn back Europe-side to get it repaired under warranty. Too bad, he was planning to go to Azerbaijan, he even had the visa. He was also very generous with me and when he heard I had no mosquito net, he gave me his. That’s going to be useful sooner or later!
With Victor
Glad to see I’m not the only one wearing black pants around the Caucasus
  • On my way to the homestay after Batumi, I left the main road to take a trail because a sign indicated a historical site, a fortress. Tired of the trail I wanted to stop and pulled the brake at the wrong spot, lost my footing and the bike fell. After struggling to lift it for 3 or 5 minutes, the guy at whose doorstep I had dropped the bike took his car to travel the 20 meters that separated him from the gate, helped me lift the bike, gave me cold water and then invited me to come into the house to have lunch. Wait, what? Yes, as soon as he got in, his wife started putting dishes in front of me: ham, salad, mashed potatoes, watermelon, hachapuri and other Georgian specialties I couldn’t recognize (lubia?). When I had finished eating, he took the car and showed me around the sites of the village: an old Ottoman bridge, a fortress and then went off to get some mineral water from a source nearby and sent me on my way to Khulo.
  • Georgians wave at you when you pass by and if you stop they want to know where you’ve come from. Probably invite you home and give you lunch too.
  • Kazbegi is a beautiful place
Kazbegi
Beautiful road in Kazbegi
  • At the hostel in Tbilisi I met more cyclists (2 Finnish women). I’m very fond of cyclists. They remind me of my cycling trips. These two ladies where going to cycle around Georgia and then back to Finland. One of them suffered coeliac disease and had the guys at the hostel write her a sign in Russian and Georgian saying “I’m highly allergic to all wheat and flour products”. I hope she’s alright, with all the bread Georgians eat she could have a difficult time. There was also Andres, Polish guy working at the hostel. Spoke flawless English, no Polish accent whatsoever and gave me good tips about Russian roads and the border. And Eriko, the Japanese girl who used to work at the hostel, who had travelled through Iran on her own and found Georgian hospitality almost rude compared to Iranian hospitality and who now wants to move somewhere else, possibly Ukraine to improve her (non-existent) Russian. Is everything connected in this part of the world or is it me?
  • While randomly strolling around old Tbilisi I ran into Russian Nina and Swiss Matthieu whom I had met at the Eiffel Tower Hostel 2 days before and spent the rest of the afternoon with them on their free guided tour of the old city. Nice.
Oldest church in Tbilisi
Oldest church in Tbilisi

All these and many other things happened in Georgia but now I have to go to sleep. Tomorrow, the road to Kazakhstan awaits and she is a hard mistress, the road.

UPDATE:

  • And Georgia is just such a place for travelers that at some corner on a bad road leading to Goderdzi pass where I spent the night (homestay, Gela, Anastasiya and Maxim, remember?) I saw a bike, an Aprilia parked and 4 people and 2 kids around it. You can’t ride an Aprilia 6-up, or any other bike fwiw, unless you are in Vietnam of course. I hadn’t seen it before stopping but there was also a 4WD with a Lithuanian plate on the other side of the road. It turned out that the bike had intercepted the car because the 2 riders were Danish Erik and Lithuanian Marija who just wanted to talk to the Lithuanian drivers, Janka and Dovydas who are going to Bangkok by car and crossing China in August with a different, better tour company than ours. They were all very nice and we had a short chat and exchanged email addresses before getting on the road again. The kids were just Georgian kids interested in the strange meeting.
Road meetings
Met nice people at a random curve on a bad road in Georgia

Сударь, Astrakhan, Astrakhan, Russia

If you are in Batumi

… chances are you are doing something pretty cool, told me Dan from the Eiffel Tower Hostel when I started telling him about the number of amazing people I had met only by getting out to the streets of Batumi.

This quiet beach city only 14km away from Turkey seems to be a mandatory stop for world travelers. I’ve met Iranians going around the world on bicycles, a Belarusian journalist going around the world with a backpack and a laptop, a young Ukrainian couple just starting their hike around the world, a French woman going around the Black Sea on her boat and her Spanish boathiker (or is it hitchboater?). It must be its position by the sea and so close to the Turkish border.

So, I went out on the afternoon of my rest day with the intention of resting at the beach with my book but it was too hot and the beach is a cobblestone beach so I took refuge at the little park behind the beach, which has benches and palm trees. There I was in that blissful state that is somewhere between reading a good book and taking a nap when I spotted a little group of cyclists that were laying their clothes on the benches and I decided it would be good to talk to them. I like cyclists, they remind me of when I used to travel by bicycle and make me want to do it again. We started talking and a very nice conversation followed, they were Iranians on their long way to Canada, two of them at least. The third one spoke little English. If I have ever complained about any visa issue, forget about it. These guys are Iranians, that’s about as bad as a passport can get and they had just been refused their Schengen visa, bummer. They were also having money problems and selling bracelets to get some money to survive for the weekend until their bank would respond to their message and unblock some funds. They have a nice Unicef flag on one of the bicycles and they are riding the world to remind people that dreams do come true when you get up and work on them. Something I can really relate to, if you know what I mean. They call themselves Dream Makers. Here’s a picture of us where they were selling bracelets and I was eating döner kebap.

with Soma and Soha
Selling bracelets with Soma and Soha

They were taught how to make the bracelets and the basics of street selling by Roman, a Belarusian journalist also traveling around the world but as a backpacker, hitchhiker and general purpose freeloader. A pretty cool guy too but I think I have no picture of him.

I spent the whole afternoon and evening with them, sharing hachapuri and talks with police about the legality of street selling. Actually that last bit was handled by a Georgian teenager who had taken to himself (after buying a bracelet of course) to help them with police. Towards midnight, Roman suggested I should go to the port and meet this cool French woman that lives on a boat, that I wouldn’t be bored if I talked to her. And so I met Maguelonne and she invited me to share some Georgian wine on her boat with her and Xavi, her Spanish freeloader. Maguelonne works a few months a year for humanitarian projects (mostly in Africa) and then goes back to wherever she left her boat the last time and lives for as long as she can on the boat. It’s her home. Xavi, on the other hand is traveling with an undefined route to the East, preferring Muslim countries above others and makes documentaries about his travels. They didn’t give me any website address to share.

Back at the hostel, other world travelers were also to be met. Enter Anastasiya and Maxim, two young (very young) Ukrainians hitchhiking around the world and supporting themselves with their online businesses. They had just started their trip when we met and arrived by ferry to Batumi from Ukraine. As if they knew already that Batumi is such a place. They left the Ukraine with only 130 dollars in their pockets but I’m sure their industriousness will serve them well and their online businesses will support them during their trip. The last night in Batumi they also decided (like me) to go spend the night at Dan’s host family’s summer farm in the mountains, here:

Sunset in Goderdzi
Sunset in Goderdzi

At the farm we shared some tasty home-made food: vegetables, cheese, cream, hachapuri, bread. All of it home-made and delicious. Nastya and Maxim are raw vegans in normal time but they could not refuse the delicious food that we were being served. And it would have been impolite to refuse it too. The family that received us is a Muslim family so they ate after sunset while we had eaten just before. They were all extremely nice, albeit the difficulties in communicating: my Russian plus their English put together are not even at the level of baby talk.

Our hosts in Goderdzi
The family, Nastya and Maxim and I

And here’s a couple of bonus pictures until I upload the album.

With the bike
Gela and his neighbor wanted a pic with the bike
Bike and truck
The Z leaning against one of the immortal Soviet trucks

Bertha and Arthur Suttner's House, Tbilisi, Tbilisi, Georgia

Staring at the language barrier in the face

Let’s have tea at the gas station.

Tea is big in Turkey. We’ve all heard about Turkish coffee but let me tell you, the real deal here is tea. It is everywhere. The first days it was a bit strange. I stopped close to a gas station to buy a salad to eat with my Bulgarian ham and some guy sitting at a table uttered in my direction: “Chai?”. I didn’t get it and said no. The following time it was easier. I stopped at a gas station, bought my usual Coke shaped caffeine dose and when I was leaving the cashier said “Chai!” and pointed with an open hand at the sort of tea dispenser you see at conferences and hotel breakfasts, a big metal cylinder with two taps at the bottom. One pours water, the other one tea. And it’s not mint tea like the Arabs, it’s plain black tea. So I poured myself some tea and wondered what the other tap was for. Yay! Double dose of caffeine!

Needless to say, I’m not the only tea drinker. Everywhere you look there’s people drinking tea, they have roadside stall serving tea and some bars advertise their tea price to attract customers (it’s usually 1 lira). But the day before yesterday it went a bit further. I had stopped for some gas and a rest at a one of the big brand gas stations here. Rest routine is always similar: get a cola drink (sometimes it’s Pepsi), ask for the wifi password if available and just sit there sipping the drink. Everyone leaves me alone if I’m looking at the phone, everyone tries to talk to me if I’m not. Either way it works for me. This time, there was wifi so I was left alone. Until I stopped looking at the phone and stood up. The eldest of the pump guys came to me and said… He said what? Yes! “Chai?”. I couldn’t say no. It was a special moment, the guy who pumped my fuel was now pouring me tea from the employee office. We couldn’t talk much, some other guy came and I heard them exchange the usual Q&A that is usually addressed to me: “Almanya?”, “Fransa”. I waited for him to finish his tea and left. By now, I was getting used to their tea and starting to like it.

In the evening, after checkin myself in at a hotel in Persembe, I decided to go for dinner. I must be missing something because when I go out for dinner everything is closed and no one is having dinner but I found this little place close to the hotel and Mehmet was happy to serve me some tavuk with pilau (or chicken with rice for those of you who are not as fluent in Turkish as I am).

My dinner buddies
My dinner buddies Mehmet and Ekrem

Did I say his name was Mehmet? Yes, this guy was really determined to have a conversation with me. When someone, probably his wife, mentioned the language barrier he played deaf and just kept talking to me not caring the least in the world that my Turkish vocabulary totals 20 words and most of them are food and roadsigns and that his English vocabulary comprised not more than 5 words. He grabbed my book and started to ask me about China and Henry Kissinger. Who is he? Where is he from? What did he do? Obviously this is what I think he asked me since I have no idea what he was saying but I answered anyway and the conversation was there. I explained my trip to him and called up on his friend Ekrem and soon we were having a lively chat, probably about different subjects but we didn’t care, it was fun. At some point his son came by, he spoke English and we clarified some points that weren’t quite clear on the previous conversation but he couldn’t stay so we went back to baby talk and scribbling stuff in pieces of paper to try to understand each other. They asked me many questions about myself: my age, the trip’s budget, my job, whether I was married. They advised about the beauty of the women from different countries I would find on the road. Really, it’s amazing the things you can talk about when you can’t talk.

And in the jumble of mimicking and scribbling they told me I should absolutely visit the Sümela monastery and the Uzungöl lake. The former for the history and the latter for the nature. This resulted in the most beautiful road I’ve ridden so far and the visit to a beautiful monastery perched on the side of a cliff for the first day and on stunningly beautiful lake with a little mosque on one side for this morning.

All in all, excellent advise.

Sümela Monastery
Sümela Monastery on its cliff-face

PS: There is also a video of the road. This time I have removed the nasty wind sound and replaced it with some Andean music to make it easier to the ears

Hopa, Hopa, Turkey

Diogenes

Diogenes' statue
Diogenes and his dog

That guy there, the stone one, is Diogenes, the great philosopher and founder of Cynic philosophy. He was born here in Sinop, where I’ve been lazing at the beach since yesterday. The sign at the bottom of the statue says something in Turkish that I don’t completely (or even start to) understand and then gives in English his most famous quote, something in the lines of “would you mind stepping a bit to the left, you are blocking the sun”.

Not bad for a great philosopher, who said they spent all their time thinking about the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything? (the answer is 42, btw). No, they also spent time working their suntan. And when Alexandre the Great met Diogenes, he was so thrilled that he asked what, in his all-powerful greatness, he could do for Diogenes. Guess what the philosopher’s answer was? Right!

I also went into town this evening. Now I can confirme it, Turkish people really love to go out. It’s only Tuesday and admittedly we are at the seaside but the town was full of people walking around and sitting at bars having dinner and drinks. There was even a “game” bar where everyone was playing a game with numbered tiles (like rummy, burako or mahjong).

Game bar
People playing at the game bar

Sinop, Turkey

Into Asia

I heard the muezzin’s call and I knew I was somewhere else. The muezzin was calling for the Maghrib prayer just when I was arriving to María José and Gabriel’s apartment. It was a good sign, I like cities with muezzin calls.

There’s is so much to say about Istanbul and so little words, maybe the stupendous welcome from Gabriel and María José helped me perceive this city as I did (Thank you María José and Gabriel!!!). Maybe the city is just magnificent on its own. For a fan of maps, a city that spans over two continents is already something worthy of attention. You arrive on one side, let’s say Europe and you can leave from the other side into Asia.

The bridge to the other side
Bridge to Asia

The first day I stayed on the European side. No particular reason other than that the most well-known attractions are on that side, in that part of the city that is Istanbul proper. I visited, among other attractions, the blue mosque and Ayasofya. Amazing! In the evening we went to a local restaurant to taste the local specialties and it was very good but the shock was yet to come: we went for a walk after dinner into the crowded Istikal street. On a Thursday! It wasn’t even Friday. On the next day I went on my own only to be confronted with hordes of people walking on the same street. This city has such a vibe, there is parties everywhere, bars everywhere, restaurants, it’s just amazing.

The next day I decided to take the bike because I wanted to buy some Scottoiler oil. After the failure to do so in Bulgaria, I was hoping I had better luck in Istanbul. I did, in a way. The city’s road network is huge and there are urban highways connecting the neighborhoods all around and if you don’t know which to take or where to get out, you can ride for a long time and end up very far from where you intended to be. That’s exactly what happened and it took me at least 45 minutes to do what google says should take 14 minutes at most. I didn’t record it so you won’t see how I got lost and lost and lost all over again. There was also the traffic, manic as Neil accurately describes it on his blog. In the end I found the shop, got the oil, talked to the shop guys about bikes and travel and they sold me one more useful piece of kit. I was sort of looking for a new jacket because the one I have is too hot for this weather and they wanted to show me the cheapest one the had but they also showed me this, an air mattress for the bike seat. For having been already almost three weeks on the bike, I know it’s a much more important piece of kit than a summer jacket.

The third day I went on my own with the bike to the Grand Bazaar and managed to not get lost while getting there and to do get lost after 2 minutes inside. It’s almost a miracle I managed to exit through the same entrance and find the place where I had left the bike. That place is a maze! Whatever landmark you try to remember, you will find it somewhere else and realize it was a useless landmark. On the other hand, the secret to not getting lost while getting there is simple: I didn’t aim for the Grand Bazaar, I aimed for the Grand Bazaar OR Hagia Sophia. That way, when I got to one of them, I could say I didn’t get lost and got to my original destination. One of them at least.

Me and some flags
Me and some flags

This third day was also the extra day, it was July 14th and Gabriel had invited me, as soon as I got to Istanbul to the consulate party for Bastille day and since I am a good citizen, I accepted joyfully. That and the free wine, the free dinner (including pork cold cuts) and the chance to see where my tax money goes. If you are a French taxpayer and wonder where your money goes, now I can tell you: Into big awesome parties!

But I digress, better leave you with the Turkey photo album to see what I’m talking about.

Sinop, Sinop, Turkey

Bye bye Bulgaristan, hello Turtsiya

My day at the beach turned out to be a rainy day. And that’s an overstatement. It rained for 10 minutes, then it was covered for 1 hour, then it rained for 10 more minutes and then it was finally sunny until the end of the day. I read Kissinger’s book on China throughout the day and I’m loving it. Not much to say about a day at the beach so let’s skip to the road.

The next day, I left as shortly after breakfast as I could because I knew it was going to be a long day. And it was! The roads were beautiful mountain roads. The border crossing I had chosen was at the summit so I enjoyed the Bulgarian road to get there and the Turkish road to get into the country. Both were really beautiful, albeit the Turkish one being of much better quality. And that was where I learnt that I had entered the ‘stans much earlier than expected. It seems that in Turkish, many countries are ‘stans and that includes Bulgaria, my first ‘stan. :-D.

Another Turkish quirk is that gas stations don’t sell road maps but even without a map I took the small roads, confident that I would find my way and not counting with the hurricane level winds that slowed me down to 80kph and with my first real rain on the road that slowed me down to 50kph. It doesn’t matter, when you plan 1 full year of travel, you expect rain. It was refreshing but as soon as it stopped I started cooking again.

It was as uneventful as roads can be aside from an interesting form of road toll I experienced when I took the highway for the last bit into Istanbul. It looks like a toll, everybody behaves as if it is a toll but there’s no barrier and the booths don’t even cover the whole width of the road. Also, there are no humans to interact with and no credit card slots, only prepaid Turkish road toll card slots. What to do? Did I mention there was no barrier? And I skipped while hoping this was the usual way for foreigners to treat a road toll in Turkey.

It wasn’t. The next toll was the city entrance one and this one had real barriers and occupied the whole width of the road. Still no humans though. Well, no official humans anyway. Enter the guy selling “used” cards. He wanted to charge me 100TL (50 euro) for a card. In the end he ripped me off only 50TL for a card that had enough charge for a total of 3 road tolls. Not so bad since that is exactly how many times I plan to pay tolls while in Turkey. Let’s see how that works out.

I arrived in Istanbul right on time to the address I was given. I’m staying at a friend of my father’s house and they have welcomed me in their home with open arms. The days in Istanbul are supposed to be  my rest days, I’ll tell more of my great stay in this amazing city in a future post.

No pictures this time, I need to go to sleep. I made a couple of videos of the road though, they will be available when they are available.At the time of posting, one of the is being uploaded to Youtube and will be available here (cut the sound if you don’t care for listening to the wind):

Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey

In Bulgaria, all the roads lead to

the highway!

Here’s the road I took from Sofia to Sunny Beach. I’m posting it here so that you can zoom in as I tell you what happened.

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I pleaded not to take highways anymore and with that in mind I set off. After trying and failing to get Scottoiler oil in Bulgaria (the official dealer seems to think that selling the thing is enough and doesn’t stock oil), I went to Tatiana’s workplace to give her back the keys of the appartment (Thanks Tatiana!). That’s where it all starts. I had said before (to Tatiana, btw) that it is easier to get lost in cities than outside of cities. Silly me! It’s just as easy.

She gave me a couple of indications on how to get to the road from the center but I wasn’t worried: the signs saying “tsentar” had taken me to the center and to her office and I was sure that other signs, hopefully blue ones, would take me out of the city. And yes, I said blue ones. See, contrarily to France, in Bulgaria the highway signs are green and the national roads signs are blue. I knew that already when I came from Romania so no confusion there, thought I. There are two roads leading to Burgas, roads 6 and 8, pretty much of the same length. I had decided to take road 8 and see Plovdiv and Stara Zagora on the way so I went on to leave the city by the highway. I knew I had to use the highway to get out of the city quickly, I glanced at the map and decided that I would ditch it as soon as I saw signs for Novi Han and I did… only to find myself in the midst of (amateur?) road blocks made of piled up dirt in the middle of the road. This is what you see on the map when it look like I took two roads at the same time. I went there, tried to continue and finally turned myself around after going around the 5th or 6th road block.

And I turned back so inexpertly that I ended up on road 6. But I didn’t want to take road 6. I lost some time buy finally managed to be on my way again. It was highway until Ihtiman then. At Ihtiman I tried to ditch the highway again, got lost in the town, found a kebab shop, asked some guy who directed me to his friend who did speak English who finally told me how to get out of the town and take the small road to Plovdiv. And I had my kebab of course. I followed that road happily for a short while until I saw a blue sign (Blue, national road!) indicating Plovdiv to the right. Where did I end up? On the highway again! Arghhh!!!

Ok, ok, calm down, it’s not so bad. After all you are already late, a little highway won’t hurt. You’ll ditch it again in Plovdiv. That’s what I was telling myself all the way to Plovdiv and I did. At Plovdiv I managed to enter the town, go through the center and leave the town without taking the highway. Only I wasn’t on the road I wanted to be. At the first town I looked at the map and saw I was on a much smaller road than the one I wanted to take. I slowed down so abruptly that the car behind me thought that I had a problem and stopped some 20 meters ahead of me. Some guy came out of the car and I couldn’t hear what he wanted. Instead of keeping telling myself that he was pissed off by my sudden stop, I turned off the engine and finally could hear him say “Vous parlez français ?”. Together we figured out where I was and I decided to stay on that road.

It was an interesting experience for a couple of kilometers, the road was excellent in the surroundings of some towns and immediately became pothole paradise in the surroundings of other towns. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t run absolutely parallel to the highway. I took the highway. No use being on the highway without the benefits of the highway.

Finally, in Chirpan, I actually managed to take road 66 or 6 and not end up on the highway. I got lost in Stara Zagora but still managed to stay on road 8 and not the highway. If you look at the map now you will see why it was so easy: there is no more highway after Stara Zagora. Until there is. And you join it automatically and have no other option near Karnobat.

By then, it was 7pm, I was tired and had decided it was time to rest. Bad luck, there was no gas station or rest area at all for at least 40 minutes. Finally rested, I undertook the final stretch to Burgas and Sunny Beach and got to the hostel safely.

That, dear friends is what the road feels like. On a bad day.

Nesebar, Burgas, Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Glass of rakia
A glass of Pomoriska a day…
Shopska salata
…just keeps the salad good company

Now that I’ve had my Shopska salata with a glass of rakia, I can say I’m officially in Bulgaria. Ah! Such good memoires!

A short explanation is in order. This is rakia, R-A-K-I-A. It is Bulgarian and has nothing to do with Turkish raki, that’s the next country I’ll visit, I’m not there yet. Rakia is not anise flavored. That’s why I like it so much :).

When in Rome, do as the Romans and when in Bulgaria… well, drink rakia with your salad at the beginning of the meal. I learnt that on my first trip to Bulgaria in 2007. I love rakia so much I might as well buy a bottle for the road.

Oh, and how could I forget the main dish, Meshana skara, the typical Bulgarian mixed grill. Made mainly of pork meat, it sort of reminds me of home in Argentina where a barbecue always includes a bit of everything.

Meshana Skara
Just about everything that was on the grill goes on the plate
 UPDATE:

That was dinner but my lunch was also interesting. A bit lost (post to come), I stopped at a small village and had the awesomest döner kebab ever (dyuner in Bulgarian). All the more awesome because it cost me 1.5 leva (0.75€). When I decided to take a picture, I realized they had a promo of 2 döners for 2 leva. I wasn’t that hungry anyway. It was here:

Kebab shop
2 döner for 2 leva

Nesebar, Burgas, Bulgaria

Kronstadt

Brasov's fortress
Brasov’s fortress

Three days are not enough to know Romania but they may be just enough to fall in love with the country. Romanians are so kind that when you pull out your map, before you even finish unfolding it, there is already someone asking you “Unde something something?” or event better if they speak English: “Where are you going?”. Always ready to point you in the right direction. Not always ready to admit that they don’t know the place you are trying to reach, though.

That last “morning” in Brașov was an interesting experience. Needless to say I didn’t wake up early, after finishing that last post so late, I could only wake up later than before. It’s ok, I wasn’t in any hurry, the road to Bucharest is not very long. Only I didn’t count on the total randomness of life to slow me down to the point I didn’t have time to visit Bucharest at all. I did take a better look at beautiful Brașov though.

German couple
The first Germans of the day

I set off at noon, a good time to set off if you are looking forward to melting inside your riding jacket and you know I’m always looking forward to that! I wanted to take a closer look at the Black Church and was hesitating to go into the sidewalk with the bike to get closer to the entrance when I saw another travel bike with its bikers right by the church’s entrance. That was my cue so I got closer. It turned out to be a very nice German couple travelling around Eastern Europe. We talked for a while and they recommended me a monastery to visit in the Turkish border. I might just go if I leave early from Sunny Beach. I took a regular I-ve-been-here pic of the church and left for the other church in Brașov and the first Romanian school. There I was, lazy me trying to figure out how to get closer to the church without leaving the bike when the usual Romanian kindness pushed some guy on a bike to ask me where I was trying to get to and where I came from. He spoke French and was happy to speak French with me. t turned out to be a German-Romanian whose claims to fame were many, one I can remember was to have founded the Romanian ski school.

Nicolae Chibac
Nicolae Chibac on his smallest bike (he had at least 2 more in the garage)

His name is Nikki Chibac and he invited me to this house on the hill. Little did I know that it would mean my first fall with the bike, and the second one too. See, I said house on the hill and conveniently omitted to mention that to get to it the only way was a little dirt trail ending in a very steep curve. Yes, that was my cue to touch the floor. No harm to me or the bike apart from a scratch on the left pannier. In no time I was surrounded by 3 of his gipsy workers that were helping me to pick up the bike and asking me in broken English if I had ran out of gas. Shame on me, I answered “no, no, bad driver”, countering his broken English with my own brew of broken English. After showing me the property and taking me on a hike up the hill to show me the road to Poiana Brașov that I should take if I wanted to go to Bran before leaving for Bucharest, he invited me to soup but I had to refuse. It was already 3pm and with my proverbial slowness, I was never going to get to the capital before nightfall if I stayed for the soup. Pity, it would have been my first home cooked Romanian meal. On the way out, I fell again and this time, 4 of the gipsies and Nikki himself took me down the ramp carrying the bike with small steps of clutch release and brake. After a brief reminder by Nikki of how I should ride a trail, I was off on my way to Bran. The rest of the road was uneventful, beautiful but uneventful. The only thing to say is that I ran into a lot of bikers. With these roads, there had to be bikers. I got to Bucharest very late as expected. It was still day but not for long, time to go for dinner at a Romanian restaurant, my first since I hit the Romanian roads.

View from a hill
The view of Brasov from Nikki’s hill

PS: Kronstadt is the German name of Brașov

Sofia, Sofia-grad, Bulgaria