The rest of Uzbekistan

I am running a bit late, the blog is 2 countries behind me so I will try to summarize Uzbekistan in this post. Pictures will come later. Tomorrow is another long riding day but there will be shorter days later in China.

August 9th, 2012 – Bukhara-Nurata-Samarkand
Leaving
Cedric left the same day I did

I tried to leave Bukhara the next day as planned and after turning around for a long time, I did. I had planned to go to Aidar Kul and camp for a night there so I needed a big 5L bottle of water, then I turned some more looking for the road to Navoiy, my first waypoint and when I finally found it, I left. And came back after 30km because I still hadn’t found decent fuel for the bike. The only gas station that had some, didn’t have electricity to run the pumps.

Around 12:30, I was finally on the road to Nurata in a strange mood. After an hour and a half I overtook an odd looking vehicle, it had “Ambulancia” written on the back and a Spanish licence plate. I honked and the driver turned on the siren. Later, while I was resting in the shade and rehydrating myself, they passed by and turned the siren on again so when I rode off and found them putting some Diesel into their engine, I pulled over and talked to them. Two Basques driving an ambulance to Mongolia, taking part of Charity Rallies, a bit like Mongol Rally but more serious (according to them anyway). They said it was lunch time and that they were going to stop and eat at the next shade they could find. I rarely have lunch when I ride but I accepted their invitation. It was a proper Spanish lunch: it took 2 hours but I enjoyed their company, I don’t have many opportunities of speaking Spanish in this trip. By the time we set off again it was 4pm and when I got to Nurata, I felt it was too late to ride to Aidar Kul so I retraced my way back to the main road and decided to go directly to Samarkand.

Ambulance going to Mongolia
Ambulancia vasca

Bad decision. The main road to Samarkand has many little towns, which makes it very unsuitable for wild camping when it becomes dark so I rode more than 1 hour in the dark to get to Samarkand. When I finally found the hostel I wanted to stay at, the entrance was full of bikes (Neil and Iain were there plus another biker on an XT660R, at first I thought it was Chris but he’d left that morning) and the hostel was full so I was sent to the annex, a bit more expensive but with wi-fi. The SPOT stopped working when I arrived to the Bahodir hostel.

August 10th, 2012 – Lazy day in Samarkand

It was a lazy day, I rested most of the day, had lunch with some Mongol Rally guys and a cyclist, Mark Wright who is going to Hong Kong on his bicycle. Before the end of the day, we did Neil’s oil change. He did most of it because I was late but I helped by producing a makeshift funnel to pour the oil into the bike and getting my hands dirty when the funnel didn’t work quite right. There’s no bike oil in Uzbekistan so we put car oil in it and scheduled my bike’s oil change for the next day at the same hour in the same place. Once finished, we had dinner with Tina (remember her from Bukhara?), the Mongol Rally guys (Andy and Toby) and Mark again. Truly, it was a very lazy day.

August 11th, 2012 – Playing tourist in Samarkand

Today, I did go out to play tourist. At Bukhara, Cédric and others that had already been to Samarkand had told me that all monuments in Samarkand had a secondary entrance where you don’t pay if you are brave enough to take it. Apparently it’s a well-known bit of tourist lore that gets passed on from tourist to tourist at guesthouses around Uzbekistan. I tried to apply it in the Registan but the secondary entrance was being watched so I just went around it, snapped a bunch of pictures and went on my way to the Bibi Khanim mosque where I did use the side entrance, totally worth it :P. After that I went on a 5km walk around a not so interesting part of town just trying to find Shah-i-zinda. It’s not that difficult, I was just lost and too stubborn to turn back. Once I got there, I was so tired that I didn’t feel like trying to find the secondary entrance so I paid my ticked and visited the famed necropolis on my own. Finally, I went back to the Bahodir B&B to do my oil change and enjoy another home made dinner with Tina, Neil and the Mongol Rally guys. Marion (from Bukhara) was there too but she didn’t have dinner with us this time.

Samarkand is very different to Bukhara and Khiva. Although the monuments are all similar: grandiose mosques and madrasas covered in blue tiles, not always respectful of the Islamic ban on imagery of live creatures; the disposition and level of restoration are quite different. In Khiva, all is concentrated in the Ichan-qala citadel, in Bukhara the monuments are a bit further apart but you can still see a sort of coherence and it’s very easy to cross into the new part of town. Finally, in Samarkand old and new mix everywhere, the sights are far apart from each other and the entrance tickets are expensive for foreigners (locals pay 10% of what we pay). I liked the three of them but Bukhara I liked most.

August 12th, 2012 – To Tashkent

On the 12th we (Neil and I) set off not so early on our way to Tashkent. I hadn’t planned to visit Tashkent, the long road to Kyrgyzstan had started and that’s what I did. On the way to Tashkent a couple of unusual things happened. We were overtaken at the speed of light by an Uzbek biker. Yes, a local biker, member of the illustrious Tashkent Steel Scorpions. Two minutes later he was on the side of the road, he had run out of fuel. I pulled over and siphoned 3 liters from my tank (I’m becoming quite good at this) to give him and he gave me some money in exchange. I was going to give them for free but he insisted. Then he started gesticulating about not being able to start his bike so we pushed him around a bit. After a while I got tired of sweating behind a bike that wouldn’t start and grabbed my hammock’s rope from my top case, tied it to the back of my bike, looped the other end around the center of his steering and gave him the loose end to hold against his left grip. I towed him for 30 or 40 meters and his bike started but he didn’t understand that he had to release the rope once it started working so I had to stop. With his bike running, he left at the speed of light again only to turn around 1km down the road into a gas station. Later on the road we saw 2 Italian GSs with their panniers in a sorry shape and the riders nowhere to be seen, police all around and a couple of locals filling declarations. Apparently one of the Italian guys had broken his leg. Poor guy, such a bad ending for his trip.

Nurata fortress
Alexandrian fortress in Nurata

When I got to Tashkent, I took the last bed at the Gulnara guesthouse and discovered that Tarik and Ryo were here too (I had met Ryo in Bukhara and again in Samarkand). While I was lazing at one of the tea beds and eating the last of the pistachios Tzveti had given me when I left Metz, I heard someone ask someone else if he was Nacho. It was Chris talking to a random bearded guy at the guesthouse. I quickly made my presence known and we chatted about the plans for the coming days and his trip so far.

After a Russian cheeseburger dinner I went to bed early, we were riding to Fergana the next day, making our way to Kyrgyzstan via Osh.

August 13th, 2012 – Leaving Uzbekistan

So at 10:30 we met Neil at his hotel and started towards Fergana. Not without first topping up with 80 octane fuel for the first time. The road went on uneventfully except for Chris’ frequent stops to top up his radiator with water (his water pump was leaking) until we reached a mountain section that is very close to the Tajik border. As usual with this kind of places in the region, there was a police checkpoint and all the foreigners had to be registered. But we were not the only foreigners arriving there at the same time, a huge group of Italian bikers (11 bikes?) was there too and we chatted a bit with them while we waited to get registered. The two bikes that we had seen the day before belonged to this group. It has been more than one month since I arrived to Istanbul and it was time the bike got washed so we were splashed by some rain while crossing the valley. One month, two rains, quite a score.

U-lock
Finally ditched my U-lock

At the other end of the checkpoint, I finally ditched my U-lock, it was too heavy and I hadn’t used it since Romania. Just in case I ever come back to this valley, I attached it to a fence and kept the key (quite a silly thing to do but I’m sentimental that way). Also, at some random spot where we had stopped to top up Chris’ radiator, a bottle of water was thrown at my ankle by a passing truck. There was two Uzbeks with a broken down car there and they had been signaling truckers for water, it seems to be a common thing for truckers to throw water at people in need, very nice of them.

Quite late, almost at sunset, we arrived to Fergana and started looking for the guesthouses described in Lonely Planet with little luck, none were there to be found except the last one we tried, Valentina guesthouse, actually an apartment for rent for the night. Not too cheap, not too expensive, not too clean, not too dirty but quite big and comfortable.

My stay in Uzbekistan was coming to an end. I had a great time, met awesome people and rode some tough roads. A new country was ahead of me and I knew very little about it. I had a map though, thanks to a map exchange I had done with Cédric before leaving Bukhara, and some dirt tracks were marked on it as interesting (interesting to Cédric anyway)…

Aksu/Akesu, Aksu City, PRC

Desert rides

We got up early to start the desert ride while the weather was still bearable. Fail. At 9am it’s already 30 degrees. And we were off. Bye bye Beyneu, hello desert!

From Beyneu, the last proper town before the Uzbek border there is a 90km stretch of very bad road. Not the worst I would see on this trip but

Peace
Peace camel

pretty bad. Dirt, corrugations, camels, sand patches, all the guest stars were there. And there I was gliding over the sand at 70kph, desperate to regain control of my trajectory and to stay vertical. I am not of the kind that rides the sand fast, I prefer the other riding technique: slow and both feet down, I know it’s not the best but I feel safer. But this particular sand patch, I didn’t see it coming and had to cope with it the best I could. I did quite well actually, I didn’t come off and that’s the most important. Now I would be more on the lookout for sandy patches.

The road was so bad that it took us 3 hours to get to the border. Around the second hour we saw a lone cyclist and stopped for a chat and to check if he needed anything. Leo, English. Here’s a what a cyclist looks like:

An English cyclist
Leo, the English cyclist

He had camped near a small hamlet by the side of the road and was on this way to the border too. With all the time the border took us, we thought we would see him again there but that was the only time we ran into him so far.

We spent two hours at the border and were finally admitted into Uzbekistan where the road turned “better”: instead of being good dirt, it was bad tarmac. A big change and we could ride much faster. It’s such a featureless road that there’s not much to say about it.

We did meet people on the road, other travellers like Jyri, Artur (Finns) and Christian (French). Christian was riding with another French guy, both on Africa Twins but they had split and he was now riding through the desert with the Finns for security. Days later I met his road companion in Bukhara but that’s a story I’ll tell later. We were riding this lone road and after 257km since the last fuel top up, I was starting to wonder if we would find a gas station on the way or just run out of fuel in the middle of the desert when I spotted what looked like one on the left side of the road. I pulled over and when I was getting closer I saw 3 bikes parked a bit further. Not only there was a gas station but also a little shop selling sodas and cold fizzy water. If felt like finding water in the desert. Wait, that’s exactly what it was 😉

KTMs and oasis
Getting ready to leave

We rested, we exchanged tips about the road and the fuel availability each way, we also exchanged some money, mostly to help Christian get rid of all his Uzbek money, we had our drinks. I tried to use the filthy toilet that probably hadn’t been cleaned once since the last century and decided against it. After a while we wished each other good roads and went on our opposite ways.

Africa Twin
Christian leaving on his Africa Twin

The road went on straight, featureless and potholed but the landscape was not completely devoid of a certain beauty. On our way to the end of the day we met some more English cyclists and after some fast riding, I had to convince Neil that we wouldn’t get to civilization that day and that we had to start looking for a camping spot. It wasn’t very hard, he was tired too and the sun was setting, soon it would be dark so we set up camp some 50m away from the road behind a little dune. That night I used my stove for the first time to cook rice with a beef sausage I had been carrying since Sinop in Turkey. The best meal on the menu that evening. The other dishes were stuff only Bear Grylls would eat like sand and insects.

The silence of the desert at night is, quite appropriately, very hard to describe in words. It is just beautiful. And peaceful.

Desert camp
A beautiful sunset on our camp in the desert

You may notice the tent doesn’t have the rain cover, you may also realize there’s no use in explaining why it doesn’t. Plus, that way you can enjoy the beautiful night, take advantage of any wind that could refresh you and wake up at dawn to ride again.

After an instant noodles breakfast (I think I had bought them in Kazakhstan by chance), we set off on our way to civilization.

Bike, stove, tent, breakfast
Noodles and coffee, the breakfast of champions

As the bad tarmac turned into an excellent road as I have never seen on this trip, the desert also turned to green and we had a second breakfast at a trucker’s stop. Soup, bread and tea, the taste of civilization.

Desert turns to green
The desert just ended abruptly
Me and Z
The end of that desert

We were in Kungrad and would soon arrive to Khiva where we expected to spend a couple of days visiting the ancient city of Ichan-qala.

 

 

Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Russian plains

3 hours the Russian border took me. My two passports make a lot of things easier but they also make some other things take more time. Usually it’s not a problem. At the Georgian border I explained that I had two of them, one Argentine and one French and that the blue one didn’t need a visa for Russia. I wasn’t even asked to show it. But the Russian border is special, everyone needs a visa. Except the ones who don’t but no one knows exactly who those people are and by the way, where is your Georgian stamp? I have none, I have just parachuted into your border crossing, you ape! No, really, I never understood why border officials care so much about the other country’s decision to stamp you or not. That part actually went smoothly once they called up the guy who knows.
Come the bike declaration part. See, this is Russia, we speak Russian and all our forms are only in Russian, mind you it is a beautiful language so why should we stain our forms with ugly little gibberish in English? There was this (sort of) nice guy in a military uniform who could parrot some English to help foreigners fill the form. The only problems is that he had stubby fingers and every time he pointed at a yes/no question, I got the wrong answer and he would scrap my form and yell “Answer my question” (can you guess what his job would have been were he in the KGB?). I filled it 5 times until I got it right and then had to make a duplicate. He did say sorry when he was making a golf ball with my 4th form and made a face as if to say “it needs to be flawless, sorry”. I managed to hide from him the small mistake I had made on the duplicate and was off to the counter were the lady fill the computer version of the form and stamps the paper version without even looking at it. The truckers were a happy bunch and one of them was trying to sort us out in Russian while allocated order numbers to us in Turkish. I was lucky, he gave me the only number I actually know in Turkish: beş (5).
Once I had crossed the border the landscape started changing fast, from mountains to plains and very soon I was in Vladikavkaz where it took me some time to find a hotel. Didn’t feel like camping in a militarized area :S.
The next day I set off on my way to Astrakhan where my new tyres would be waiting for me while trying to avoid riding into Chechnya so instead of going East, I had to go West through Pyatigorsk. It was around Pyatigorsk that it became completely flat and a vicious crosswind started blowing. I stopped for the night in Budyonnovsk, feeling it had been enough for the day with the wind and the many hours I had been riding.

Russian road in the plain
The trees didn’t really stop the vicious sidewind

The next day I left from Buddyonnovsk at my usual “early” hour, 11AM and took the road that Google Maps had suggested as the shortest one to Astrakhan while asking the locals for confirmation. At some point, Google’s road made a sharp right and so did I, into a dirt road. No problems, I kept asking locals for confirmation and it seemed to be the right road and besides, it was a good dirt road, I could almost ride it at 100kph. Until it wasn’t. Potholes, deep ruts and sandy patches started to appear but it wasn’t so bad. At a small bridge (over a dry stream?), I noticed the landscape was becoming more and more bleak and I started thinking I was riding into a desert. I stopped by a Lada whose occupants were waiting for the engine to cool and chatted with the guys in it. One of them was from Astrakhan and they confirmed that it was the right road and that it would become a lot better in 30km, that there was an oasis and a shop and that the road became tarmac. So I rode on but after what seemed like an eternity of sand, I decided to turn back.

Russian dirt road
The road while it was still good

While turning back I realized there was a bit of a harder trail and decided to go on but when it became pure sand again, I just had to turn back. I didn’t have actually, but I did. That was a road mistake, there will be others but this was the first big one. It cost me two days and big dent in my pride. When I finally turned back, I dropped the bike. Twice. In the desert that means that you have just “lost” four liters of your water reserve because, I tell you, you are going to sweat them. That said, the rest of the ride out to the little bridge was alright and I didn’t drop the bike again. At the little bridge I ran into the guys in the Lada who couldn’t understand that I was turning back without getting to the beautiful tarmac road or the oasis. I said I was too tired and didn’t care. Later on the road a couple on a Mitsubishi almost insulted me because I was turning back but I repeated that I was too tired and would like to ride on asphalt. They couldn’t understand and so I continued all the way to the tarmac and tried to reach Elista, the road Neil had taken the day before. Everyone was saying that I should go back to Budyonnovsk to get to that road but at a gas station they told me that there was another way and that they would show me, through Arzgir, and we set off. It turned out that the guy guiding me had something else in mind, another road. A dirt road! He was really nice and really wanted to show me the shortest road and so left me on another dirt track and told me to ride by the canal until I saw a farm (I understood silo) and then ask but the tarmac would be really close.

Whilst on the way there, I hit a pothole so hard that my top case flew off the bike. I went back to pick it up and realized why it had flown off, it weighed like 20 kilos. Not only that but the attachments were all broken and I couldn’t put it back in place so I tied it to the bike the best I could and went on my way. The farm was there, the asphalt road was there… but it was barred. There was a farm and I asked the people about and they confirmed that I couldn’t ride it.

Sunset at the dam
The sunset view from the farm was amazing

After some hesitation (including going back 1km to try to take the other road), I asked them if I could rest there, camp somewhere and sleep. Luckily they said yes and they showed me a room at the back of their house with a mattress and a quilt. They also gave me melon, watermelon and tomato. Yummy! Later, they shared dinner with me and we talked what we could about my trip and their lives. They were a Muslim family from Daguestan who had moved to this farm by a dam 12 years ago. Dinner was pasta with fresh tomato sauce and more watermelon, melon and tomato. While we were finishing dinner they sent me to bed on account of how tired I looked. I didn’t have such a great night because it was very hot but I won’t complain. The next day I woke up with the sun and rode off very early after having some breakfast. Coffee and melon that Ruslan, one of the kids had shared with me.

Ruslan with the bike
In the morning, I left very early

I doubt they will ever read this but thanks Maria and husband, Ruslan, Jamal and Aya, you were great!

After 20 or so km I finally arrived to the tarmac road, police check on the way by a guy wearing khakis, a knife and a police t-shirt. My road just changed from dirt to tarmac in the middle of (almost) nowhere. From there it was a breeze, albeit a very long one, to get to Astrakhan. I got there around 2 or 3pm and I was just about to relax in my hotel room when I discovered that I should to the tyre change that day or I would have to stay 2 nights in Astrakhan. On the bike again to the bike shop where they were very nice and changed my tyres but took like 3 hours to do it, especially since they were missing the tool to remove my front wheel (and me too btw).

Finally, around 7 or 8 I was free and went to look for some dinner. Two very special days that had left me with very mixed feelings about Russia had just ended happily.

Dirt to tarmac
The dirt is behind me, but not forever

Khiva, Khiva, Uzbekistan

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

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

Wake up in Slovakia, have breakfast in Hungary…

…then buy some food in Hungary and picnic in Slovakia, only to finish the day 30km from Budapest.

That was pretty much the summary of our day yesterday. We woke up where we had camped, in the nice camping by the lake in the north of Bratislava. I woke up after a night in the hammock, there was no mosquitoes and I took the chance. It was pretty nice.

Bike and hammock in Prague
I didn’t sleep on it in Prague

Without further ado (save a shower of course, with boiling water though) we set off on the road to Budapest by the highway. Yes, the highway, but not for long. We stopped for breakfast at a gas station just past the border of Hungary where I bought the most useful piece of kit so far and instantly realized why I had been taking so many highways: because I didn’t know were the other roads were!!

From then on, the day was completely different to the previous days, we took the national roads following the Danube along the Slovakian-Hungarian border. Stopped at a supermarket on the road to buy some food for lunch that we would eat later on the road. When we arrived to Komárom, we wanted to have lunch and decided to cross the river into Slovakia again and set up our picnic in a nice park in Komárno, Slovakia. I enjoy crossing borders with the bike, it gives me a feeling of the distance I’ve travelled.

A long way from home
So far from home…

I especially enjoy these European borders, which are just lines on the ground with no one to stamp your passport even if you wanted to. Although here in Hungary you are supposed to buy a vignette for your vehicle to pay for road use. I’m not so sure if I had to buy it if I’m not using the highways but I bought it anyway, just to be on the safe side. By the end of the day, we had stopped for a couple of pictures in Ezstergom, visited Kisoroszi where we wanted to camp but decided against it, mainly because we didn’t have cash and it looked like a party camping. Back to the mainland and with some cash in my pocket, I was so tired of riding that we stopped at the first camping sign we saw just across the river in Tahitótfalu. It turned out to be a nice camping managed by a  very nice Hungarian guy who had hung a French flag in his house as decoration. So we offloaded the bike and went for a pizza in the surroundings.

Although the hammock was there too, it slept on its own that night because it was full of mosquitoes and I didn’t want to wake up itching everywhere. Today, I am writing this from a hotel room in Budapest (I needed to sleep on a bed) as I am about to leave for Debrecen or maybe further. Alice has just left to take her bus back to Prague. She’s such a great friend has helped me so much with all the preparations that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay her. Thank you again, Alice!

Alice and a new friend
Alice and her new friend

Now, off to the bike before it’s too hot to ride again!

Budapest, Budapest, Hungary

Liberating liters

Ever since I’ve started planning this trip, the most used unit of measure has not been, as one could expect, the kilometer. It’s been the liter.

At first it was all about the gas tank on the bike. The more liters the better, it would mean more autonomy for the bike. More kilometers until I have to push it to the next gas station. So that’s all good.

Then came the luggage choices. Here the liters appear again. Pannier volume here, tankbag size there. And the top case. I’m up to 155 liters of luggage. A tough decision because the more you carry, the heavier the bike and also more gas consumption. But I opted for the biggest panniers thinking that at some point I may become reasonable and throw most of the contents away. I’m not saying it has happened, but it might.

And then came the trash bags. Yes, trash bags. When you are leaving for one year, you want to make sure that you leave as little as possible behind because everything you want to keep goes into storage, paid storage. If you keep this book, you may not be able to afford that meal at the end of your trip that you’ve been longing for kilometers and kilometers. So, with that magic stop at the 5 & Diner in Tulsa, OK along Route 66 in mind I set off on the impossible task of emptying my apartment of all non-essencial. So far, with the help of my wonderful friend Alice, I’ve given 350 liters of clothes and 50 liters of shoes to charity, I’ve thrown away 300 liters of paper and other useless stuff and have prepared 60 more liters of various bags and old backpacks to give to charity tomorrow. And it’s quite liberating.

Liters in the tank are freedom to roam for a longer time, liters in the luggage mean I can carry more stuff. But the liters and liters of things I’m getting rid of are liberating. They are as important at the moment as the books that are in the boxes that you can see in the picture. Those I’m keeping!

Paris, Île-de-France, France