If I knew cycling in Bulgaria (and to a lesser extent Turkey) was going to be like this, we could have just stayed home. The similarities to the two areas are just so strange. It feels like you are riding through the hills of Iowa but looking at the fields of Kansas. That’s my best and easiest explanation of the terrain. The only difference and it’s a big one, is that the people are twice as cranky, and I’m not exactly sure why? Bulgarians just seem to live under a large dark cloud. Most of the people we have had any interaction with are short tempered, dismissive, or worse temperamental and with no readily apparent reason? We visit so many places on this trip that aren’t really worth stopping and checking out the area because there isn’t anything to actually see. So people are the main reason a place is enjoyable to visit. There may be a tiny town with nothing going on but if the people are friendly, that can make all the difference. (“People make the place.” Brian is fond of saying.) Bulgaria was the first country we visited that I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there!
Strangely enough the actual cycling was pretty fantastic! I have to at least mention that bicycle touring in Bulgaria was a dream. There are quiet alternative roads that are not exactly maintained but easily passed by bike and not by car. The Bulgarians in the drivers seat were some of the most courteous we have encountered, they give you the right of way and plenty of space on the road when passing. Wild camping was also extremely easy to do, there are loads of areas to pitch your tent and no one will mess with you. They might spy on you to see what you are doing. But no one ever bothered to come up to us and tell us that we couldn’t camp some where. I just feel that Bulgaria is a strange place, maybe it was all those years living under a strong armed communist government that ruined everyone’s attitude?
The unfortunate reality is as hard as we tried to cycle out of Bulgaria, Turkey was more or the same boring scenery to cycle in only more hills. The biggest difference though was again is it’s inhabitants. The Turkish people are the nicest we have encountered thus far. So the cycling is kind of boring through Thrace / European Turkey (I have also realized that I hate rolling hills) but the people are completely opposite of those in Bulgaria. I’m not sure if you need to check the attitude at the border but it has been a welcomed change. Everyone is so nice! People are excited to see you they wave, they smile, the honk their car horns, invite you in for tea, and luckily for us they fill your belly full of fresh cherries. They are in season right now and are everywhere. Turkey feels to welcome you into the country.
Turkey is country number twelve on this bike trip (and we are 12 for 12 with getting down poured on too) and we have about 3 weeks planed for riding the Black Sea Coast. It is also were we need to do any of the last minute shopping and stocking up on bicycle parts. Things might get a bit harder to come by as we press further east? I’m not exactly sure, that’s just what I have been told. The biggest issue now is the taxes. They are incredibly high on everything here in Turkey from food, to clothing, alcohol, and electronics. There is even a hefty fee to use an imported cell phone here in Turkey and you have to register it with the government. It’s so expensive that we won’t be paying, we’ll just do without local phone service for the 3 weeks that it takes us to ride through. I find this law and registration quite absurd considering Istanbul is a contender city for the 2020 Olympics. Strange way to promote tourism?
I also feel the need to mention that we are visiting Istanbul during the Taksim square protests. It’s a bit hard to explain what the problem is but from what I have gathered is that a large minority of the people in Turkey are tired of the conservative government and all the changes they are making. (This sentiment is fairly typical for people all over the world.) This latest protest is over the redevelopment of a large park in the center of Istanbul, they want to tear it down and turn it into a shopping mall. It’s one of those over blown situations of the proverbial “Straw that broke the camels back”. We haven’t been down to see the ruckus yet and we probably won’t either, the last thing I need it to get caught up in a protest in Turkey. This affair is none of my business and we have been told to just stay clear of that area and everything should be just fine. The rest of the city is pretty much unaffected.
Right now Brian and I have decided to take as much time in Istanbul as we need. In order to have some real relaxation and still give us ample time to get all of our chores done before we need to be moving on. Lately both of us have started to get a bit homesick and this bicycle travel and exotic locals has begun to lose a bit of it’s luster. Cycling has been rather tedious as of late and the enthusiasm has waned. Neither one of us wants to go home right now, I think we just need to sprinkle the rests days in a little more often then we have been doing.