Day 48: Out of Bulgaristan, briefly in Yunanistan and then Turkiye.
Tuesday August 13 - Day 48 - 66miles - 1909miles
We set the alarm for 6.00am and packed everything up to bring bags downstairs for 7am. It is so darn hot here... We have to start early if we are going to cycle over 60miles today without frying in the afternoon swelter.
Breakfast starts at 7am (or so we were told...) but it was empty when we got there. We pulled off the plastic wrap from the obligatory platters of tomatoes, cucumbers, and white cheese and helped ourselves. We were joined by some business men and watched them go to the lobby for coffee so we copied that behavior and were rewarded with our morning caffeine fix! And it was fresh Lavazza!
We had to take photos with the biggest key in the world so we left the hotel by about 7.45am.
We cycled out of town, found the post office by asking the locals and following the finger pointing, and posted postcards to friends and family back home. We wound our way out of town, avoiding the street washers and foul smelling garbage trucks. Our way out of town included a small section on dirt before rejoining main road. We went south on Route 554 to Simeonovgrad. Sneakily we took the old bridge (closed to traffic) across the river rather than go another 3km to the new bridge built for vehicle traffic. We rejoined the main road easily on the other side. The road surface was delightfully smooth all day with varying sizes of shoulder. The road stayed good even up a pretty big hill after Simeonovgrad. We passed a motorway construction site... so anyone passing through here in the next couple of years will have a smoother and flatter route, since they were making a large overpass connecting two hills. Andrea got stung by something under her arm on the way down the hill. We think that a wasp got stuck in Andrea's pigtails... so not cool...
A nice downhill to the city of Harmanli and a Billa grocery store made for a nice break in the shade and a good way to get rid of the rest of our Bulgarian Lev.
We left town on the old road to Lyubimets, which was pretty quiet now that the new motorway has been built in this area (which is good, since there is no shoulder on this road and the hedges are about 12 feet high) We saw two cyclists on the side of the road with all of their wheels off. They were from France and traveling from Sofia to Istanbul. They had wild camped the night before and got many flat tires from those dastardly thorns that had given Andrea and Stefan flat tires earlier in our trip. We asked them if they needed help... or water... or food... which they refused. There were two more in their party who had gone on ahead whom we saw in the next town at the local auto store getting their tires fixed. We chatted a little and let them know that their friends were fine. So... onwards to Novo Selo, where we took a right turn to head to the Greek border. We reached the Bulgarian border post and got stamped out after waiting for some Russians to get processed... On the road to the actual borderline there are still some remnants of old barbed wire border fencing... a little rusty... a little freaky...
In no mans land between the border posts we joked about how we should camp here... and then we saw the uphill to the Greek border post... they make you work for it to get to Greece... We got stamped into Greece easily and then we were in our second to last country of the TRIP!!!
The highway from the border post is new, big, smooth, and hilly... It started getting really hot and there was no shade on this big empty highway in Greece. We were so hungry and tired... and we really wanted a break from the heat, so we coasted down an onramp the wrong way (there was no off ramp at this exit) and had lunch under a bridge in the shade... thankfully the "fridge" worked, so we had some cold grapes, pre-made sandwiches, hummus and chips, iced tea, and a Bounty bar from the Billa. A bit rested, we started off again and hit the Big Hill of the day which was 2miles long... so not cool.
We continued along in Greece and then about 20km in there is a gas station with a cafe and small store. It feels like an oasis away from the heat and the hot headwind. It also feels really weird to be spending Euros again! We went into to enjoy the air conditioning and buy some cold water to replace our depleted supply.
As we were leaving the flags on the forecourt briefly stuttered on their flagpoles and then miraculously started flapping away in the opposite direction....a tailwind? But it was not to be, as by the time that Andrea had come out of the bathroom, the flags were firmly flying right in our faces again.....darn.....
We continued onto Kastanies, which was the exit after Kanadas and Marasia. We looked around to see if there was a small hotel or B&B in town, but we didn't see anything. We proceeded onto the far end of the small town and got stamped out of Greece after only about 20miles in the country! We did go into the Duty Free shop to enjoy their air conditioning though. It was a proper Duty Free shop with perfumes, high end booze and cigarettes. The staff was a little snooty, although probably with good reason as I am sure that we looked and smelled pretty bad. Bruce bought a big bar of Cadbury's Fruit & Nut, which made him very happy!
We entered the No-Man's land between Greece and Turkey. The road to the actual border was an asphalt corridor with barbed wire on either side. We passed a Greek military barracks and then the actual borderline was painted on the road, with two heavily armed Greek soldiers with big guns at the ready. There was lots of razor wire and camouflaged bunkers.....all a little disconcerting. The soldiers did smile and say hello as we cycled past though, which was pleasant!
Once over the line, the Turkish side was a little different. There were still soldiers with guns at the ready, but there were also peacocks and fountains in the border area. These people really don't like each other. Definitely the most militarized border that we have crossed on this trip.
We knew we needed a visa for Turkey, but we also knew that it was available on arrival at the border station. All the websites we had looked at said that it would cost either 15EUR or 20USD and they don't take their own currency (Lira). Armed with two crisp $20 bills, Bruce went to get the visas. He was promptly told that they only accepted Euros...darn..We didn't have any more Euros after buying the Fruit & Nut, so Bruce had to go into the Duty Free shop on the Turkish side (not a real Duty Free shop), wake the guy up from his afternoon nap, and then persuade him to change USD to Euro so we could our Turkish visas even though website said that they accepted USD. To be fair to the guy, he gave a decent exchange rate and now armed with 30Euros, Bruce succeeded in getting the two visa stamps. After queuing in a different line to now get the visa stamps stamped, we were free to travel about the country! We were in our last country, Turkey!!
Andrea sneaked a couple of photos as we left the border area, even though there were big signs everywhere saying not to. But when you put pretty peacocks, fountains and big triumphal arches around your border area, what do you expect?
We had only 5 miles to go into the city of Edirne. Not too bad, however the last couple were on cobblestones, which is not what your body needs after 60 odd miles already. We entered the city over two very old stone bridges and pretty quickly found a hotel that met our needs, the Hotel Saray.
After showering, we heard the call for prayer from many minarets around town - we are definitely not in Kansas anymore! We went walking around the town. It is a huge bustle of activity in very narrow streets filled with tiny vendor shops. There are lots of mopeds trying to run you over. Luckily since this isn't really a touristy town, there weren't many touts trying to get you to come into their shops or restaurants.
The city is quite beautiful though, with ancient mosques and markets from the 15th century. The skyline is dotted with minarets. We did find a couple of bike shops and they even had tubes with French/Presta valves but not in our size of course!
We saw a road sign saying that Bulgaristan (Bulgaria) was 20km away and Yunanistan (Greece) was 7km away. Good job we are not relying on these, as we would have had no idea that Turkish for Greece is Yunanistan.......
We had dinner at a restaurant on the main drag. We tried Kofte, which are little patties and mamzana, which is a eggplant dish that is very tasty. We went to one of the local kebab shops and finished dinner with a kebab! For dessert we found a little baklava-erie and bought a half kilo of pistachio and honey filled deliciousness for about $3....score! The little honey drenched donut ones were the best!
We took them back to our hotel to enjoy and replenish the calories we had burned today!
The World is Ours!