18 May 1998

Dear Shirley,

Touring around Bulgaria - Part II

20 April:
Varna - Dobrich: 77.7 Km, 852 Meters, 6:38 Hours
A killer of a day! It was 500 meters into Balchik and another 100 meters looking for Bob [Ecology Volunteer]; only to find that he was not at home. Having a Volunteer's address is almost worthless; you need to get close to their apartment and keep asking where does the American live [Bulgarians don't know the street names of their town any better than Americans do]. A strong left side (south) or head wind from climb out of Balchik to Dobrich. A real pain! Photos #14 & #15 (I must have lost these. from top of climb from Albana to the farm land that stretches to the west [the Dubian plains, the grain belt of Bulgaria]. You then drop from about 250 meters elevation to less than 100 into the south part of Balchik. It was a mistake to schedule this but I have done it. Last but not least I had a rear flat about 1 Km from the Dobrich town entry sign (maybe 4 Km from Mary's [Business Volunteer]. Pumped it four times and got within 5-10 minutes walk of the apartment and called Greg [Business Volunteer] who had the key. A big thanks to him! Also, a lot of thanks to Mary for the washer!

21 April:
Rest Day in Dobrich:
Tanya, Greg's counterpart, found a bike repair shop for me near the bus station about 1 Km from Mary's. The guy told Tanya and me the bike would be ready in one hour; I couldn't believe it was when I returned [my experience with Bulgarians providing things when they say they will has been less than positive]. The rack was brought closer to the front because of his repairs and I convinced him that a slot in the metal needed to be cut out more so the rack could be pushed toward the rear as much as possible. Now I will hope for the best and see if I hit the panniers with my feet tomorrow. Today is cold a wind continues to blow from the west. If that continues tomorrow I will have a problem doing 80 Km into Novi Pazar; can only hope. Send message for Tanya; many thanks for her help!

22 April:
Dobrich - Novi Pazar: 83.3 Km, 724 Meters, 5:09 Hours
As I left Dobrich it was cold, cloudy and a wind blowing. It had rained during the night and looked like it would again at any minute. Helmet mirror fell off as I was adjusting it - didn't break when it hit the street - then a car ran over it but missed it with its wheels. Tanya's PATUVAPUT VUYATAR [loosely translated as travel with the wind] was also working; I reached the flat farm lands again and picked up a slight tailwind. It got stronger as the day went by and I motored into Novi Pazar at over 16 Km/Hr. Photos #16 & #17 are of the rollers, farms and the uncommon popular trees lining the road. Usually it was walnut or fruit trees or more commonly it was no trees. The hotel in Novi Pazar is a dump but the girl on the front desk was very friendly and did the best she could for me. The center walking street is very typical of Bulgarian towns; there is also still in place the speaker system that we have in Zlatograd [a hold over from the Communist years to make public announcements to the populace]. Saw another stork near Momchilovo and heard, maybe saw, a cuckoo earlier in the day. I seem to hear them on the climbs and they are taunting me! After dinner I stopped in the hotel bar restaurant for a beer and the hotel manager bought me a second one. Also, the desk clerk (and a student at the university) sat down with me for about an hour and practiced her English as well as asking some insightful questions.

23 April:
Novi Pazar - Veliki Preslav: 49.3 km, 376 Meters, 3:36 Hours
Rained in the afternoon after I got into Novi Pazar; rained on me when I went to dinner and then more during the night. Photos #18  are of flowering trees on Novi Pazar walking street. Left at about 8:15 and road to first town west where I had a front flat after crossing railroad overpass. Walked about 1 Km back into the small town asking, asking, asking for "autoservice" for tire repair. I patched the old tube while the shop worker installed a spare that I was carrying. Was a very cold wind from the north northeast that was not much help until I turned south at Shumen. There was a road that skirted the east side of Shumen and I was able to avoid going through town; avoided a climb and the town traffic! Stopped at an autoservice on the edge of Veliki Preslav for more air in the front tire (note: Should carry a converter for Schroder to Presta valves). [Veliki Preslav was the second capital of Bulgaria; built during the 10th century under King Simeon, the Golden Age of Bulgarian culture].

 

 

 

The popular lined roads across the Dubian Plains west of Dobrich. This is the "walking street" in the center of Novi Pazar with a grand display of spring flowering trees.

24 April:
Veliki Preslav - Omurtak: 50.2 Km, 648 Meters, 3:50 Hours
Sunshine this morning! However, it clouded up by noon and was getting colder rather than warmer. Made more inquiries about a hotel in Antonovo and have been told there is none. Therefore, I decided to stay overnight in Omurtak about 50 Km from Veliki Preslav. The hotel room is better than others but there is no private bath. No blankets or towels in the room; only a light coverlet. Got towels before the desk clerk got away but the lack of blankets became apparent only when I laid down to rest for the afternoon. Photos #20 & #21 of a rider and white horse monument near Razboyna in a very scenic canyon that begins in Turdovishta and climbs some 300 meters in 23 Km. There is the White Horse Motel and Complex Paradise near the mouth of the canyon that were suggested to me a places to stay by Tanya's colleagues. Yesterday, when entering Veliki Preslav I saw my first swineheard [have read about them in medieval novels but now have actually seen one; they also have turkeyherds here in Bulgaria which I had never even read about]. Today the frog songs continued and cuckoos were calling again as I climbed the canyon. I also got the impression that Turdovishta and Omurtak were very much Bulgarian-Turkish towns.

This is what we look like upon leaving Veliki Preslav. Then two pictures of the large sculpture at the mouth of a canyon that will take me up into the Balkan Mountains.

25 April:
Omurtak - Veliko Turnovo: 82.9 Km, 672 Meters, 5:21 Hours
I asked again at a gas station at the turn to Antonovo and again was told that there is no hotel. There is a complex near there that appears to be for school kids; maybe a place to stay but probably not a place for any number of tour participants. Also, the climb from Omurtak to Antonovo is 280 meters; wouldn't want to add that to yesterdays ride. I was also told that there were private hotels in Omurtak but saw no signs. If you knew that they were there I guess that you could ask where is there a private hotel but when I arrived in town I did ask if there was another hotel and was told no - maybe I'm asking the wrong question or maybe there are no others? I called Graig [Ecology Volunteer] when I got into Veliko Turnovo and was somewhat relieved that I didn't find him at home.
[After a time, habituated to spending so many hours a day on my bike, I became less and less interested in my friends. My wheel had now become my one and only friend. I could rely on it, which is more than I can say about my buddies. It's to bad that no one ever photographed me with my friend. I would give anything to know what we looked like. By Henry Miller from his My Bike and Other Friends].
Light sprinkles as I came into town and then rained while I was at lunch at 3:00. The two star hotel that I am staying at here and the one in Omurtak have no relation to the same scale. There is a nice room, clean bathroom, have blankets, towels and the promise of hot water at 5:00! Photos #22 & #23 of Veliko Turnovo as coming into town from east; #24 & 25 are from the hotel window shooting toward the east. Raining again and gray with low clouds at 4:15; hope it gets it out of it's system before tomorrow. [Veliko Turnovo was established as the capital of Bulgaria in 1185 under King Peter IV; the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. It has very interesting fortifications remaining and worth a stop!]

Two pictures of the old fort at Veliko Tirnovo. and two pictures of Veliko Tirnovo of today.

26 April:
Veliko Turnovo - Selievo: 77.2 Km, 640 Meters, 6:02 Hours
I saw a two star hotel on the square here but did not check it out; I guess it's not much from external appearances. Started the day in Veliko Turnovo in a light sprinkle that turned into a downpour at the top of the climb into Gabrovo. I put on the Bulgarian suit jacket at the top to keep from freezing on the downhill. Stopped only briefly on the way out of Gabrovo to eat a banitsa [Bulgarian breakfast pastry, kind off] and take pictures #26 & #27 of the Lady Godiva of Gabrovo [a huge naked lady riding a horse side saddle that stands on a pedestal with the town name on it. If the Communist had spent the money they put into monuments on the roads in Bulgaria it would be a much better place today.] Had a lot of trouble finding Sara's [Teacher Volunteer] apartment because of many confusing entries to the town and the town center [this was also the only town where it appeared to have a sign on every corner pointing to Sofia but was pointing in a different direction]. Spotted another stork near Sevlievo and heard cuckoos in the forest on the climb into Gabrovo; rain doesn't seem to keep them from calling. Sara cooked up spaghetti for lunch and I joined a farewell party for dinner. Colin, a British teacher, was returning home after his year of volunteer service [a program similar to the Peace Corps]. Also at the dinner were the British counterparts and one of their husbands, Ivan. He was insistent that I should take the main road to Lovech and Pleven rather than the "gold roads" [the secondary roads are colored gold/yellow on Bulgarian maps].

Two pictures of the Sculpture at the entrance to Gabrovo on a very rainy day.

27 April:
Sevlievo - Pleven: 75.3 Km, 788 Meters, 5:18 Hours
Took the "gold road" to Lovech. The day trip sheet that I had was apparently also based on the main road. The distances are virtually the same but the climbing on the secondary road is about 100 meters more with some short sections of it being very steep. A very steep downhill into Lovech also; it is doubtful that I could ride the route in the opposite direction. Trip total exceeded 1,000 Km today! Photo #28 was from near the summit before Lovech.The sun came out finally around 11:30 and a cropduster was spraying the wheat/barley fields in the foreground; the Balkan Mountains fade away in the distance. Best view of the Balkans that I have had because of the weather and usually in a canyon with trees blocking the view [my bet is that the main road would also be this way]. Pleven is a pretty town with a big Center walking street shopping area near my hotel, but is scarce on restaurants. There is a strange overhead gondola/buckets affair that travels from east to west about 4 Km outside of Pleven. There seems to be some kind of material carried in the buckets: What, from where, to where, why? Need to know this to satisfy my curiosity! [Went under it again and past the plant that it is carry material to. It is a cement plant, and the materials are mined about 5 Km away and carried via this cable way from the quarry to the plant]. Clouds rolled in and wind picked up after I got in today. Wind is from north northwest; I think. That would help tomorrow! Hotel staff very helpful and nice. Restaurant staff does not have the same attitude! The hotel side seems to be influenced directly by the hotel manager - reading my letter and giving directions to help me. They need the same management on the restaurant side of the operation.

A picture of the Balkans in the far distance. I have been riding in them but rain has kept me from getting any pictures.

28 April:
Pleven - Cherven Bryag: 59.5 Km, 348 Meters, 3:53 Hours
Woke to a clear sky and sunshine! First day since leaving Borgas that has been so nice and even that morning was hazy. Today was blue skies and cool breezes. A short day also made it very enjoyable; stayed in the middle chainring all day. A man near the Pazar that I asked for directions asked me my name and said that he had read about me when I told him. In trying to find Karen's [Teacher volunteer] I stumbled upon her former tutor and the owner of the local cable TV company; he spoke perfect English. They lead me to the school and to her apartment. Got washing done in a very strange agitator tub type of thing and then hand rinse. Karen has a small apartment and has had it tougher here than any other Volunteer I have visited so far [that was true for the entire trip]. The route from Sevielo to Cherven Bryag is from the Balkan foothills back onto the plains. However, the plains are cut with many water channels and therefore not flat but very much up and down, 30-50 meters at a time.

29 April:
Rest Day in Cherven Bryag:
Rest Day!!I got my washing done yesterday so it is truly a day of rest. Will go to Karen's school to talk to her Prep [preparation for the university] class about my trip and other questions. Then we will do a walk about in town and Karen will cook dinner; she made French Toast for breakfast and it was wonderful [how long has it been since I had French Toast?]. The class question session was typical Bulgarian: Do you like...? Which do you like best...? What town do you like...? Do you think Bulgarian women a beautiful? However, I had fun and they seemed to enjoy the time spent; it was good English practice for them if nothing else.
[You ride a bicycle because it feels good. The air feels good on your body; even the rain feels good. The blood starts moving around your body, and pretty soon it gets to your head, and glory be, your head feels good. You start noticing things. You look until you really see. You hear things, and smell smells you never knew were there. By Nicholas Johnson from Test Pattern for Living]

To be continued: