Stoikite (Bulgaria) to the Black Sea (via Turkey)

Day 93 – Stoikite to Slatograd (Bulgaria)

We rolled out of bed at the Kris Hotel (actually Vanessa took some time over this due to a mysterious muscle spasm) soon after sunrise. Jon was fortunate enough to spot 3 small deer grazing in the meadow outside our room.

We were keen to get going early, as we were high in the mountains (in fact we were staying in a ski-lodge) and rain was forecast for later in the day; although neither of us was looking forward to the first 5km of the day, which were all uphill.
We set off shortly before 9am in our low gears. Before too long we had removed a couple of layers, even though the temperature was still in single figures. After around 30 minutes and 370 vertical metres of climbing, we reached the crest at 1720m. There we took a photo or two (apparently there were brown bears and wolves in the area, although we didn’t see any) and put our layers back o for a 12km descent into the provincial capital city of Smolyan. 

Sign at top of the climb
The ride down was exhilarating, with long smooth descents on good road surfaces, combined with the odd sharp bend to keep us on our toes. 4km before Smolyan we stopped beside the first of two beautiful lakes with a majestic mountain backdrop, before carrying on downhill.
Arriving in the city centre, we pulled over and sat in the mid-morning sunlight for a few minutes, whilst Vanessa thawed out her extremities and then we headed off eastward and in the direction of a town called Madan, around 25km away…but before leaving Smolyan, we were approached by a pedestrian (later identifying himself as Bill), who heard us speaking and remarked in a broad Lancastrian accent ‘how rare it is to hear someone speaking English in this part of the world’. It turns out that Bill is a recent NHS retiree, whose Bulgarian daughter-in-law persuaded him to try his hand in Southern Bulgaria. We exchanged stories (but not emails as Bill wasn’t very tech-savvy) and continued on our way.
Bill, a Brit in Bulgaria

Leaving the city suburbs, we first used a very modern-looking dual carriageway on the south of the river ‘Cherna’ (Black), which luckily had next to no traffic, then the route took us across the river and through a very well lit 450m long tunnel, before looping back down to follow the valley on the north side of the river (we think this was done to divert through traffic away from the suburbs but judging by the lack of traffic it looks like a very expensive diversion). Anyway, the ride along the valley had some picturesque scenery and was either flat or slightly downhill (a welcome change from the previous few days), so we sped along through the odd village, past horses and solar-panel-lined hillsides, and arrived in Madan, with its central mosque overlooking the town square, at around 1pm. 
We broke with recent tradition here and ate lunch on a bench nearby, rather than in, a children’s playground and then made plans for the rest of the day. 
We had only 25km further until Zlatograd (Bulgaria’s most southerly city with a population of 9000) and, looking at the profile, it was flat for 10km, then up 320m for 6km, then downhill for the remaining 9km. We were rested, so didn’t mind the idea of the incline too much and also wanted to get there before the weather turned to sh##, as it was forecast to.
As it turned out, the climb was gradual and easier than we expected. At the top we ‘rugged-up’ again ready for the descent. Whilst we did this, a police patrol van pulled up next to us. Two officers stepped out of the van, with ‘Queen’s’ “I want to break free” blaring out from the radio and asked us something in Bulgarian. We shrugged our shoulders and simply said “English”, which prompted them to get back in the van and drive away!?
The descent into Zlatograd was even steeper than the one we had ‘enjoyed’ (this word depends on perspective…Jon loved it but was frustrated at having to brake behind a slow moving truck on the tight bends, whilst Vanessa referred to it as Bulgaria’s ‘Death Road’) earlier in the day. We rolled into the city (more of a town if you ask us) shortly after 3pm, having covered 75km for the day (Ok…20km of that was downhill) and earlier than expected.
We grabbed ourselves a drink and some wifi at a cafe and found ourselves a very well priced guesthouse (the ‘Stanchaveta Chata’) for the night, only 100m away…Perfect! Whilst we were doing this, the rain started and we were very glad we had managed to finish our day’s ride early, as those steep descents would have been treacherous in the wet.

Days 94 & 95 Zlatograd (Bulgaria) 

The not so accurate weather app on our phones had predicted rain continuously for the entire day and as we had already been riding (or should we say climbing) for the past three days, we decided to take the day off and chill out in our room.

The rain unfortunately never appeared (the sun even came out at one point) and we wished we had gone. 

Day 95 Zlatograd to Momchilgrad (Bulgaria) 

We were determined to make a go of it today, even if the weather forecast still predicted rain, although not as heavy. 

We set off at around 9am, (after making a phone call home). The roads were quiet and fairly flat, so we were making good progress. 

An hour into our ride, the weather turned for the worse, as dark menacing clouds rolled in. It drizzled at first then got slightly heavier as time went past. We stopped in a bus shelter to check directions and luckily we did, as the heavens opened and it poured! 

A nice local man with his dog and an axe came over to chat to us, but unfortunately after trying to converse in German, Russian and Turkish he gave up. 

We sheltered for 20 minutes, then headed off. This pattern continued for most of the day. At around 11.30am, it started getting heavier, so again we sheltered in a metal bus shelter. This proved to be the right decision, as it didn’t stop pouring for several hours. We kicked back, layered up, ate lunch and had rubics cube off’s, just saying Vanessa’s best time was 3 minutes and 26 seconds! 

After waiting for a few hours in the bus shelter, Vanessa spotted a bus heading in the right direction and popped her thumb out (not really expected anything) and to our surprise it stopped and the kind Bulgarian driver offered us (and bikes) a lift to the next town 15km away. He had an abundance of space for our bikes. 

This meant that we hadn’t lost any time. He kindly dropped us off in Dzhebel, near the road we needed. When we tried to pay him, he refused and wished us well! 

Our free ride heading off into the distance

We knew that we had another 17km ahead of us but were determined to not let the weather beat us. The rain at this point had settled to a continuous drizzle, so we went for it. The roads were kind too, with good surfaces, little traffic and next to no hills. 

We arrived in Momchilgrad, just after 5.30pm and searched for a reasonably priced guest house. 

In all, we covered 62km which included 47km cycling and a 15km lift. Not bad for a rainy day really! 

Day 96 – Momchilgrad to Ivaylovgrad (Bulgaria)

What a difference a day makes! 

After yesterday’s rain interrupted cycling we looked at today’s profile and noted 2 climbs of over 400m, so we weren’t expecting to cover much distance. As it turned out, we surprised ourselves.

Waking up in a chilly Momchilgrad the weather was predicted to be dry all day. We set off at around 9am and within 5 minutes we had already stopped 3 times; first for Vanessa to put on her thick gloves, next to put on our lights, as it was misty and then to take off a layer of clothes as we had an incline out of town.
The mist soon cleared and we had a couple of hours of gradual climbing but we didn’t mind this too much because it kept us a little warm. To be honest, it was pretty much perfect conditions, with sunny skies, no wind and terrific views over the Bulgarian countryside as we climbed. 

Shortly before the top, in a heavily wooded and very quiet area, Jon was pretty sure he saw a wolf on the roadside. At around 100 metres away, it stood and watched Jon approach for a few seconds, before disappearing into the forest. Jon wrestled with whether to share this information with Vanessa and decided to tell her once the forest had opened up into green pastures.

Reaching the top of the morning’s climb, we put the extra layer back on and enjoyed a slow, winding descent through green and auburn valleys, past many, cows, goats and sheep (thankfully no wolves), towards the town of Krumovgrad. The only downside was that, somewhere along the way the Bulgarian road surfacing budget ran out and the perfect sealed road started developing potholes. This kept us on our toes for the rest of the day’s cycle.

In Krumovgrad we found a cafe and stopped for a mug of hot chocolate to warm our hands which were still a little cold. They were so good we both had a second cup. 

We then popped across the road, and found a sweet sunny spot in the town’s communal park/public plaza(ish) area to eat our lunch.

Lunch spot in Krumovgrad

At this stage we had cycled around 40km and had no idea where we would be sleeping the night, with another 400+meter ascent to look forward to and the next town of Ivaylovgrad 50km away, we were thinking that wild camping was likely.

As it turned out, we did really well. We have obviously become more adept at climbing, particularly if it’s not too steep and by shortly after 3pm had covered 30km and pretty much all of the up. We had a quick look at our phones and figured that with the remaining 20km to Ivaylovgrad being mostly either flat or downhill, we could knock that off in not much more than an hour. So we did.

In Ivaylovgrad the first place we asked had a free room at a descent price so things worked out very well for us. 90km covered making up for yesterday’s rain delays. We also treated ourselves to eating out in the cafe below our accommodation (mainly as we were low on gas). Always nice to have someone else do the dishes!

Day 97 Ivaylovgrad (Bulgaria) to Edirne (Turkey) via Greece

Breakfast in Bulgaria, lunch in Greece and dinner in Turkey. We knew we didn’t have far to ride today and that the weather was supposed to be cloudy with sunny intervals, so we slowly got our mobile homes  ready, ate breakfast in Bulgaria and headed towards Greece. 

We only had a short distance of 2km before reaching border control. We thanked the officers and cycled into Greece, briefly snapping a photo at the large billboard welcoming us to ‘The region of East Macedonia and Thrace’. 

Welcome to Greece (again).
As we were cycling along Vanessa noticed what she thought was tissue paper all over the road and bushes, then the unusual looking fields of plants with, what looked like white flowers. Jon took a closer look at the plants. They turned out to be cotton plants, nature is absolutely incredible! From there on we saw trucks full of cotton, cages and generally cotton wool everywhere! 

We could see ahead of us there was mist and low clouds. The further we rode, the poorer the visibility got. We stopped to switch on our lights, but we weren’t too concerned as the roads were fairly quiet. 

Once out of the dense mist, the first thing that stood out for us was the abundance of fruit trees and vegetable patches. Vanessa got a bit excited when she saw a large field of aubergines (eggplants) and nabbed one, whilst Jon collected a few apples . 

Cycling in Greece felt familiar and we were enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. The smooth roads helped make this section enjoyable. We continued for 35km in Greece, before reaching the border town with Turkey and stopped for two hot chocolates, as it was still cold. By the time we’d finished our hot chocolates, the sun had come out and things were finally warming up as predicted. We ate lunch at an outside picnic bench. Jon put his leg warmers on and Vanessa her long sleeves and leg warmers to make sure we were modestly dressed, as Turkey is a Muslim country. 

We had ridden 37km already and had only 8km to go until we reached Edirne in Turkey. We could hardly contain our excitement, hitting country number 18 of our European cycle tour.

Reaching the border of Greece/Turkey, we thanked the border control guards and waved goodbye to Greece for the final time this trip. Then cycled along no mans land to border control in Turkey. We had been organised and had paid the 20 pound each for a 90 day multiple entry e-visa already, so we hoped things wouldn’t take too long. 

We waved at the heavy armed army guards, who were very friendly and hinted that we could just cycle past the long cue of traffic waiting for border control, so we cheekily did. This saved so much time! The area had cameras everywhere and very heavily armed soldiers. At one point a huge army truck squeezed past us, almost running Vanessa down. 

Safely through into Turkey, there was little traffic, as it takes so long for vehicles to get through border control, so we were happy We were even happier when we noticed a bike path, as the road was indeed quiet but full of cobbles, which makes things a little bumpy. 

Arriving in the city, we were staggered by the beauty of the huge mosque with its 4 minarets soaring into the sky. Simply mesmerising, with the river in the foreground and mosque in the distance. We snapped a photo or two then headed to our pre-booked hostel ‘Limon’. 

Arriving, we padlocked our bikes, sorted our beds, then went into the city to explore. We went to both the oldest Mosque and to the largest. Selimiye Mosque, which is a monumental work of Ottoman art and world’s architecture history with its width, technical perfection and esthetic features. Simply phenomenal work and a great symbol of ottoman empire’s art with the sheer size, intricate details and very well looked after. We walked around, watching traditional custom of people washing their extremities such as face, neck, hands and feet before entering the prayer area. Foreigners were also able to enter but with respect, taking shoes off, no cameras, covering up and women wearing something over their heads. Unfortunately, Vanessa hadn’t seen the sign and yes she took her shoes off and sat in the women’s only section (which was very small, whilst the men seemed to have an enormous area to pray in) and took photos, plus wasn’t wearing a head scarf. Which wasn’t the done thing really. Leaving the mosque, Jon pointed out the sign and Vanessa felt extremely bad for not being respectful and observing the rules. 

Praying is an integral part of the Koran, each person should pray five times a day, this in turn would make their lives easier, with good fortune. We really enjoyed the sounds of the prayers, blaring out of the speakers, each prayer time.

We walked around the Bazzaars (which are lots of stools selling various objects) then had a traditional Turkish tea and sweet Bukalar. They were both delicious ! 

After doing a shop for dinner, we headed back to our hostel, where we spotted two other bikes. This excited us, as we hadn’t seen any other bike tourers for weeks. Plus one bike was a top of the range ‘Tout Terrain’…very expensive! 

We chatted to the Swiss and English/Aussie fellow bike tourers until late in the evening! Lorenzo (Swiss) was cycling to Nepal and Osmand (Aussie/English) was heading to Istanbul with him but on a racer and without panniers! 

A greet first day had in Turkey! 

Day 98 – Edirne (Turkey)

With the weather forecast to rain most of the day, we decided early in the morning to stay in Edirne and sample the city. Our newly acquainted cycle touring roommates, Lorenzo and Osmand, were on a different schedule to us and, after a brief discussion on the likely rainfall, they opted to head off and chance their luck.

We bid them farewell and settled back down to sleep for a half hour or so. When we eventually got up, Vanessa had developed a swollen eye due to a mosquito bite and it had already started raining. It didn’t let up the whole day and, with the temperature struggling to get above single figures, we were glad to have made the right choice for a change, whilst being a little concerned over the welfare of the 2 lads.

As far as we were concerned, having already visited both of the spectacular city mosques and with the oil wrestling championships only taking place in July, we had only one real objective whilst in this part of the world, which was to take a visit to a Turkish bath.

We establish from our hostel manager that there were 2 ‘Hamami’ within walking distance. The first, at least externally, appeared to be the more upmarket one (possibly aimed more at visitors). However, they had 2 baths; each exclusively for either men or women. Due to a combination of wanting to share the experience and perhaps concern for individual safety, we opted for the second, more modest looking, Hamani, which had been in operation since 1422 (according to the sign above the door), as the proprietor indicated that it was ok for the 2 of us to use the bath together.

For the second time today, we made the right choice. The bath, whilst definitely not aimed at tourists, felt very authentic and the antique building really impressed us. After being shown to the dimly lit changing rooms and given a towel each to wear, we were ushered through a door into what was evidently the drying off area and then via a second doorway into the main baths, which consisted of a main circular chamber, with mosaic tiled floors, pillared walls and domed roof, containing a single massage table. On the table, adorned in only his towel and covered in soap suds, lay the sole customer apart from the two of us (a rather generously sized middle-aged gentleman), who was receiving his full body massage, complete with more soap suds than we have ever seen, from the proprietor. 

Off to the sides of the main room, entered via 2 low archways, were 2 square rooms, each with high domed roofs. Along each wall of theses rooms ran a low tiled stone ledge on which to sit and in the middle of each ledge was a deep circular stone sink with 2 taps (it took us a while to figure out that blue was hot and red cold) and a plastic bowl.

We stepped into one of the two rooms and proceeded to douse ourselves with warm water. Before long we were throwing bowls of water over each other and, with the temperature in the bath hugely greater than outside, eventually we resorted to poring the cold water over our heads.

Anyway, after an our or so at the Hamani, we both left, a lot warmer than we arrived and very much happier for the experience. It was still raining, so we headed back to our hostel, after buying 3 days worth of shopping for our (if all went to plan) last 3 days cycling on the Eurovelo 13. 

After a carb-loading dinner we went to bed pretty early, hoping for good weather and a reasonably early start the next day.

Day 99 Edirne to Wild camp near Karahamza (Turkey)

Vanessa woke up hoping her right eye lid had reduced in size, after being bitten by a mosquito, but to her horror, the mosquito had had a go at her left eye lid this time, giving her another swollen eye. 

Luckily for us, Turkey had some sort of commemoration day for a past ruler, which meant several (usually busy) roads were closed to vehicles…but not for cyclist. 

What we should have done was stick to the main road but for some reason we decided to follow Mapsme on minor roads to exit the city. We should have known better!At first the roads were paved and very interesting too, with narrow streets and lots of locals sitting outside enjoying their Turkish tea. Unfortunately, the paved but bumpy road ended and we were introduced to Turkey’s many dirt/rocky roads with the bonus inclines to add to the adventure. At first we cycled but then it turned muddy and rocky, which it was impossible to ride. We got off our bikes and pushed the remaining few hundred metres to the main road. 

were extremely fortunate to find that the main road was very quiet, plus it had a large hard shoulder, our Eurovelo book indicated that this section was busy, we were glad it was wrong. 

We cycled for 21km on smooth road passing the odd factory and small town until we reached Lalapasa. We turned off following a road less travelled with some potholes but still rideable, heading towards Vaysal. This section leads you through desolate barren land with interesting rock formations and scattered farms. The Eurovelo described it to be like ‘The surface of the moon’ (not that we’ve been their but it could be right). 

We stopped for a snack in a little town with a rather large mosque with it’s impressive minaret reaching to the sky. What stood out was the elaborate mosques but rather shabby looking buildings around it. 

We continued on, hoping to reach Vaysal for lunch, but first we had a few hills to conquer. After another hour or so, Jon spotted a nice looking body of water, with picnic benches, bins and even a toilet. “Ideal lunch spot” we hear you say. Unfortunately we had a cold wind whistling through the valley and not much protection, so we didn’t stop for long. So much for the tranquility! 

Shortly before our lunch break, we had stopped briefly at a rock formation, which looked a little like a mini stonehenge. 

Once at Vaysal, the road surface changed from sealed to compact dirt, making it that little bit more of a challenge. The next 25km was undulating, with the odd rocky section. The wind picked up too and was unfortunately in our faces. The spectacular scenery of mountain ranges and meadows helped to ease the pain. The only stressful thing was the packs of wild dogs. We had to keep on high alert most of the way, as they just appeared from nowhere and would chase you and bark furiously! Vanessa tried to contain her fear but completely relied on Jon’s braveness to get her through the next 25km. 

Reaching Karahamza, the road surface improved. This meant we could make more progress. However, it was getting late and we were both feeling a little tired. Jon’s phone for some reason changed to Bulgarian time zone, whilst Vanessa’s was on Turkish time, for a few kilometres we didn’t really know what time it was. We cleared things up, when we asked a local, who confirmed Vanessa’s was correct. 

For the next few kilometres we searched for a good spot to wild camp, away from the road, wild dogs and protecting us from the now strong winds. We stopped at a dirt road and Jon had a look around, finding us a little spot behind some trees/bushes. 

We set up camp, started cooking (trying to protect the flame from the breeze), ate our meal and started nibbling on biscuits, when we heard some bells and whistling. We then spotted several sheep heading our way. Luckily the sheep were more scared of us and avoided our campground. The sheep herder waved and the sheep dog didn’t bat an eyelid. We wondered if he would mind us camping but he didn’t seem too bothered by our presence. 

At 7pm it got dark, so in the tent we went, playing rubic’s cube offs, then fell asleep, hoping that the wild dogs would leave us alone. 

Day 100 – Wild camp nr. Karahamza (Turkey) to Malko Tarnovo (Bulgaria)

Considering the distant howling of wild dogs and sprinkling of overnight rain, we slept remarkably well in our woodland camp spot. Only when the overtures of the nearby village mosque kicked in at around 6am, followed almost immediately by the same from another village in the other direction, did we stir. 

We waited around an hour until the sun came up, then stuck our heads out of the tent. All was fine, and the wind had dried the tent, so we set about making breakfast and packing up before the shepherd returned with his flock of sheep. 

Sure enough, just as we were ready to set off, we heard the clanking of bells around the sheep’s necks and the whistle of the shepherd, as a flock of 50 plus sheep moved hesitantly towards us
We waved at the shepherd and started to walk our bikes past the sheep, towards the dirt road. All was fine until we mounted our bikes, when one of the sheepdogs barked and the other two quickly joined it. Vanessa froze temporarily, whilst the shepherd waved his stick and shouted at the dogs to calm down. After a short while they did and we were able to cycle off.

We then headed in a South-Westerly direction, through a moon-scape looking countryside, on rolling, quiet road, splattered with the odd small village. The Eurovelo book had seen fit to mention that packs of wild dogs might be an issue on this stretch of the route, and we did encounter stray dogs of all shapes and sizes but generally sped past them with no issues. Perhaps it was the assisting wind from the west or possibly Vanessa’s wish to avoid being dog food but we covered the 40km to the provincial city of Kirklareli in next to no time, despite one or two steep but short climbs towards the end.

In Kirklareli we stopped briefly and shopped for one or two essentials (principally water as the tap water in the area is unsafe for drinking) and then headed through the city towards to main road North towards Bulgaria. 

Reaching the dual carriageway, we crossed towards the hard shoulder but encountered a number of stray dogs (including one particularly large alpha male) who seemed intent on barking very loudly and chasing our bikes. Vanessa immediately dismounted and started to push. Jon did likewise but after walking our bikes a 100 metres or so, the dogs were still on our heels and weren’t backing off.

Jon, as is usually the case with aggressive dogs, lost patience and, with some vocal encouragement, persuaded Vanessa to remount and cycle off, whilst he dropped his bike and chased off the dogs with the aid of some equally aggressive shouting and half a dozen well directed stone throws. He then cycled up the road to catch Vanessa, who was by now in the relative sanctity of the dual carriageway, with barriers and traffic whizzing by.

A little shaken and with adrenaline still pumping, we continued northward on the main road, thankful for a decent sized hard shoulder but now struggling with the wind that had helped us earlier in the day (only at the end of the day when we had wifi did we realise it was gusting to 44kmh).

The next couple of hours were tough, as the main road weaved its way north through several valleys and we did a lot of long climbs, with the odd descent…all the while with a strong sidewind or occasional headwind. At one point, halfway up a long ascent, we stopped to catch our collective breath and discuss where best to have lunch. A good hearted truck driver pulled over and offered us (and bikes) a lift. Had it not been our penultimate day on the Eurovelo 13, at least one of us would have accepted the offer but we both figured we could nut out this last tough day and then rest in a couple of days time, so we thanked him for the kind gesture and carried on cycling uphill.

Towards the top of a long uphill section, we got some protection from the wind as the road had been cut through the hillside. Vanessa decided that the absence of wind was a good enough reason to stop for lunch, so we set about eating in the concrete verge beside the road, which turned out to be not too bad, as the traffic had by then died down quite a bit.

Heading off after refuelling we had around 25km to the border of Bulgaristan (as the Turks refer to Bulgaria). This prompted a momentous occasion as we turned to the final map (F13) in our Eurovelo 13 ‘The Iron Curtain Trail’ booklet…Time flies.

We ploughed on over more hills, as the wind continued to blow (at the end of the day we were both windburned, having only applied sunscreen in the morning) 10km before the border the road turned in an easterly direction into a dense forest of auburn coloured deciduous trees. This meant we had a much needed helping hand from the wind as the last few km to border control were uphill.

We eventually reached the border checkpoint having avoided any more encounters with stray dogs (and wild bores for that matter).  After having our passports stamped and putting on an extra layer or two, set about covering the last 6km downhill to the town of Malko Tarnovo, where we planned to stay the night. 

The ride down was pretty sweet, if a little cold. About 2km before Malko Tarnovo we spotted a posh looking hotel/motel on the hill overlooking town. We decided to ask the price but felt it was a bit expensive for our budget and carried on down to town. 

Reaching the town we were pretty tired but found that, of the two possible places to stay, one was no longer taking guests and the other was full…darn it! This left us with no alternative but to cycle back up to the posh hotel on the hill (not funny!)

Vanessa was ready to down tools and sleep where she stood, rather than cycle 2km back up the hill, when Jon suggested that if we walked up an alternative steeper path indicated on the walk was only 800 metres. We walked together up the steep path to the hotel, with Jon pushing Vanessa’s bike. He then walked back down and cycled his own bike up the longer but less steep main route.

Needless to say, we were both very tired. We had covered 90km with lots of climbs and some tough winds but we had the consolation of a warm shower, a very comfortable bed for the night, the promise of an all inclusive breakfast (we intended to eat very heartily) and a relatively short final day’s cycle to our destination of the Black Sea the following day.

Day 101 Malko Tarnovo to Tsarevo (Bulgaria) 

Knowing that we only had 55km to go until reaching the Black Sea, (where our bike touring would end) meant that we could take our time getting ourselves ready. Breakfast was included in the overpriced, only available, accommodation, so we went to the dining area with huge appetites and two pannier bags, hoping to score some extra food. The breakfast was on the average side, but we did get a few boiled eggs and sachets of jam to take away, not as much as we had anticipated but at least it’s something. 

The temperature was in single figures and we knew we had a little downhill section, so we wrapped up warm. All you could see of Vanessa was her nose. 

Descending took no time at all, before we started climbing again. Vanessa was glad of the climb, as it gave her a chance to warm her extremities up. 

The wind was mainly behind us today, which helped somewhat but the road surface was atrocious and even brutal at times! We spent most of the time focusing on avoiding the large pothole/craters (big enough to swallow a car wheel) and aiming more for the smaller cavities. 

Our brakes were again being tested, as we had to use them frequently. On the positive side there was little to no traffic and the lush autumnal tree colours brightened our path with the sun trying it’s very best to warm things up. Plus no wild dogs!!! 

As we were ascending, we came across another cyclist from France ????????, who had been following the Eurovelo 6 and was now heading to Istanbul. It was the first on the road tourer we’d spotted in weeks. We exchanged stories, wished each other well and kept on going. 

 We descended to a rustic old bridge, which opened up the views of the river and surrounding mountain ranges. Snapped a few photos then kept going. 

We continued for a short while but then started feeling Mr tummy monster calling. We rounded a few more bumpy bends and dropped downhill to a little town called Balgari, where we spotted a table and chairs, set up outside a locked building in the sun. Perfect! As we were about to get stuck into lunch preparations, two more cycle tourers rounded the corner. We were dumbfounded, as we hadn’t seen any for so long. This couple had started in Poland and were heading to Iran and possibly further, as they didn’t seem to have a fixed schedule. We also noticed they had different pannier brands, Crosso (which are a Polish brand) which look identical to the Ortleibs. Again, we exchanged stories and then wished each other well. We then got stuck into lunch, with an extra canine friend (a puppy), who was actually quite cute, so we shared a few pieces of bread. 

We were told by the cycle tourers that we had 5km of sh** road, then it got better. 

We had a few undulations before reaching our final 8km descent. We wrapped up again and whizzed down, cautiously as there were still lots of potholes. The road from here on kept teasing us with the occasional smooth section to be abruptly interrupted with rough patches. We needed to keep our wits about us, which meant crunching those brakes. 

Arriving in Tsarevo, we headed straight for the Black Sea port/beach area, where Jon whipped off his clothes (but kept his bike shorts on) and jumped in but not for long as it was pretty cold, whilst Vanessa opted to keep warm, as she had already spent so much energy trying to keep warm up all day. 

 Yay to  us!! The overwhelming sense of accomplishment took us both by surprise. We did it! We had cycled over 7,000 km through 18 Eastern European countries with sun, wind, rain and even snow. What an incredible adventure these last four months have been. We are now both hooked on the freedom and untraveled roads that bike touring takes you on. The only thing left to do now, is start planning for the next episode of our bike touring adventures!