Our ride to Turkey was definitely eventful. First off, the 133 km from Varvara, Bulgaria to Kirklareli, Turkey included four extra km of climbing because we took a road that, according to the map, went through to the highway – but didn’t in reality. So we had a nice little warm up to add to our overall grand total of 2404 m of climbing.
We climbed up from the Black Sea through the Nature Reserve in SE Bulgaria. The riding was beautiful minus the hills, pot-holes, steamy humidity and the freaking flies. There is nothing worse than riding at the speed of the flies. In our experience, as long as we are going greater than 10 km/hour we can out run the flies.
We cranked very slowly up the hills at speeds less than the threshold of flies, sweat pouring down our face, in our eyes and down our arms and flies swarming around our heads impeding our vision. Then the flies got brave and started landing on our sweaty arms or crawling on our glasses or worse, behind the lenses. We were pretty sure there was a fly hotline as more and more showed up. We swat and swat, but then would lose control of our steering, which is precarious as it is – because we are going so slow up very steep and long (10 km) hills. The only relief is the occasional breeze (of course it has to be greater than 10 km/hour) or a sweet downhill.
We stayed the night in Malko Tornovo which turned out to be a bit of a rundown pit. In the morning, we headed for the Turkish border. Not sure what to expect but excited to be moving east. The ride to the border continued our fly infested hill climbs along a narrow pot holed almost two lane highway.
Passing through the Turkish border control check point was effortless – except for the $30 charge for visas.
As soon as we left the border check point we were suddenly cycling on a newly paved road. Although it is dubbed an “autobahn” – there are four lanes (two in each direction) with a wicked shoulder almost the size of an additional lane. There was no traffic – what a difference from the Bulgarian and Romanian roads.
The other difference we have noted in Turkey is that everyone is so nice. No joke. All the drivers gently tap their horns and wave as they pass. Although some of the drivers are as impatient as those in Bulgaria, Romania and Germany – and drive way too fast- most are courteous.
As we headed down the desolate road towards Kirklareli we noticed the sky getting rapidly darker. And then, all of the sudden the down pour began. We were 10 km away from town, heading down a deep gully when the skies opened up. Not only did it start to dump rain, the winds picked up to what felt like gale force. Rain pelted and stung every bit of exposed skin. We both had our rain jackets on but did not have time to put on rain pants or booties and were instantly soaked. As we reached the bottom of the gully, the wind and rain whipped so hard that it blew us both into the traffic lanes. Then the wind swirled around and blew us to a dead stop. We had to laugh as we wondered what the hell we were doing out there.
We decided to abandon the ride and find a place to take cover. Except, there was nothing. No cover. No buildings, bushes or trees. Nothing. We thought about crossing the drainage gully on the side of the road and taking cover under our tarp. But decided that the water was rising too fast and too much water was spilling into the drainage ditches – we did not want to be at the bottom of the hill anymore. I kept thinking of flash floods and how fast water can rise. So we put our heads down and started pushing the bikes up the hill. At one point a pick-up truck passed us – slowed and then sped away. Such a tease.
Once we crested the hill, we were able to put on our rain gear – over our soaked clothes – just to keep warm. The rain began to slow and the wind gusts became less severe. We pedaled into Kirklareli to find that they too had been hit by the storm: roofs were blown off, trees were down and water flowed down the middle of streets.
We were cold, wet and not quite prepared for the chaos that is found in a Turkish town. Traffic rules are merely suggestions. There are people everywhere. The call to prayer blasting on the load speakers, wild dogs barking and howling– for a moment it was pure chaos. Without thinking, we leaned our bikes against a shop window. Whilst Jay called our hosts, I stepped inside the shop to escape the bitter wind and was immediately overwhelmed with smells so good. Hot, yummy food. Fresh Kebabs, bread, garlic and onions. We were invited to sit down and enjoyed our first Turkish meal. Soaked to the bone but at least we weren’t hungry anymore.
We had to wait a few hours before we could meet with our hosts for the night . So we took care of some business and found ourselves seated in a bakery drying out, eating baked goods and drinking cup after cup of Chai. The owner of the bakery wanted us to try everything and even tried to give us directions to Istanbul.
We are loving Turkey. The people are so welcoming and friendly, the food is fabulous and the national drink is chai! How can you go wrong.