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15 May 1998

Note:You can see most of the places that are mentioned in this letter, and the next three, by going to Bulgaria Map and then use zoom plus drag navigation.

A quote from John Ciardi, “If you can succeed at a thing you didn’t set out to do much. The only thing worth trying is the impossible. We’re all going to end up as some sort of failure, but at least take a big bite.” My TAB was such a bite! I think I will tell the story directly from the notes that I made during the trip because I can get something off to you quickly but also because when I read them they conveyed a feeling that I hope comes across to you the reader. The text that I have inserted within [] is clarifying information or things that I have looked up after completing the trip. The rest of the text is generally as I wrote it including the random thoughts.

9 April:
Did an interview on the telephone with Bulgarian National Radio, Program Horizon, about 3:00 this afternoon. Was unexpected and may be a precursor of things to come. Tod Sword [a former Volunteer now living in Los Angles] told me via e-mail through PC-Sofia that an article was written about my trip in Demokratsia newspaper and was posted on their Internet homepage.
[An American will take a cycling tour around Bulgaria.
An American Peace Corps Volunteer, Edward Frey is going to spend his vacation on his bike, touring the roads of Bulgaria. The expert has been working for two years in the development Center in Zlatograd, where he consulted the local business people. Since October Mr. Frey has reserved the hotel rooms in each of the places, included in his itinerary (all the rooms are facing south). The PCV intends to visit his colleagues all around Bulgaria during his journey. The American will make this unique tour around Bulgaria on a specially delivered bike from Italy.]
It is interesting that I am probably least prepared for any tour that I have ever been on and I am the most relaxed I have ever been. Is this a sign of maturity; or am I simply a fool for trying such a thing. [The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it. A quote from Doug Bradbury.]

10 April:
Rina [a part time worker in our office] received a call from Smolyan radio late yesterday asking about my bike tour. She was afraid to tell them anything. They called again today and she gave them the information and my itinerary. I talked to a representative of the Bulgarian News agency about meeting journalist and a photographer in Varna and Sofia. Did a 11 Km shake down ride with the full loaded panniers. It felt good on the road but a little rougher ride; also slower response. Watch lean angle! Keep speeds down on turns!! I guess I’m ready; the Bulgarian media is going to force me into doing this even if I didn’t want to.

11 April:
Zlatograd – Kardjali: 55.7 Km, 640 Meters, 3:36 Hours
Woke at about 5:00 and waited to start. Left at 8:11 (perhaps 7:11 would have given me more luck). Do not feel 55 years old today but do feel the lack of training. Stopped and saw Sherry [Teacher Volunteer] in Jebel for a few minutes. Photo #1 of two cows hitched to plow was taken in Pripek; a good photo opportunity village. Walked about 2 Km of the 4 and 220 meters of the 330 climb out of the Verbitsa valley to go through Jebel to Kardjali.

12 April:
Kardjali – Haskovo: 52.9 Km, 560 Meters, 3:20 Hours
It is Easter; photo #2 of stork in village of Chiflik. Climbed almost everything in 28×2 only a short distance in 28×1 [not sure of the number of teeth on the freewheel cogs; 1 is lowest with maybe 32 and 2 is maybe 28]. Dinner with the Federoff’s [a married couple of Teacher Volunteers] and Annalise [Business Volunteer].

Pripek is in the eastern Rhodopes and this is the rule rather than the exception. I never saw any motor driven farm equipment anywhere in the Rhodopes while I was here; I did see a cow and a mule yoked together but did not have my camera. If I had still been wearing my Martinista I could have taken it off now that I have seen a stork. This is not only my first stork of the year it is the first one that I have ever seen.
13 April:
Haskovo – Stara Zagora: 65.6 Km, 352 Meters, 4:11 Hours
Wandered around town for almost an hour looking for Maureen’s [Business Volunteer] work site and home. Got close in both cases and then Maureen came home and found me outside her apartment block entrance. No photos; very rolling plains now being plowed with equipment versus cows and mules although there are some of them also. Took a break at Sredets, small village, about 20 Km from Stara Zagora. Was almost dead flat from there into Stara with a cold side/head wind from the west. Did most of the climbs in 38×1 and 38×2.

14 April:
Stara Zagora – Sliven: 72.1 Km, 312 Meters, 4:24 Hours

A mural in Sliven as you enter town.

The map that Elisabeth [Business Volunteer] gave me was not bad; however, I was not able to see a statue and was confused but found the Municipality building easily enough. Photo #3 of an electric switching station wall; a historic mural. [Very typical of the many murals that are present on buildings throughout Bulgaria]. My muscles are sore and I am very saddle sore; good that I have a rest day tomorrow.

15 April:
Rest Day in Sliven
Muscles are sore! Talked to Nelly [my counterpart/interpreter in the office] and she told me that there was an article about my trip in the April 11th issue of Trud [a national newspaper]. [An American Touring Bulgaria By Bike Today Edward Frey, US Peace Corps Volunteer set off from Zlatograd on a bike-tour of Bulgaria. The tour will end up on May 1st in Vidin, North Bulgaria. On May 11 Frey will come back to Zlatograd. His route includes over 25 Bulgarian towns and villages, among them former Bulgarian capitals of Veliki Preslav and Veliko Turnovo. Especially for this event, Frey purchased a state-of-the-art bike from Italy.] While I was in the Sliven office the local newspaper was doing an interview with Kathryn [Ecology Volunteer] and proceeded to interview me about my trip also. Had lunch with Elisabeth and Teressa [Business Volunteer]; Teressa picking up my check for helping her prepare her income taxes. In the late afternoon Kathryn called to tell me that the journalists had called her and told her that a Bulgarian cyclist, Volodya Forokin, was in the local hotel. He apparently has done a lot of long distance cycling; around the world perhaps, and they thought I would like to meet him. I went to the hotel and the desk clerk said there was no one there by that name – a mystery.

16 April:
Sliven – Karnobat: 58.8 Km, 224 Meters, 3:22 Hours
The first half of the days ride was at 20+ Km/Hr, the last 10 Km was a slog uphill into the wind. At the first traffic light in Karnobat is a wide walking street with narrow roads on each side that goes to the town square and Center [every Bulgarian town has a Center and signs are almost always present that point the way]. Also at this first light is an old Balkan Tourist hotel with a pleasant staff. A good restaurant to the left of the square and a good bar with conversation stations past the square and turn right when the shops quit. Had a Burgaska, the local beer of Burgas – I’m, getting close. On the climb into Karnobat I was run off the road by an oncoming trucker that gave me the finger while he was doing it. About 10 minutes later the same thing, sans finger, from either a police car or one of the government Minister cars. Continue to hear “frog songs” from the various ponds along the road since day 1. Today was a little like the east side of the coastal mountains into Livermore but not as high. Rolling hills with wheat, barley or just freshly plowed. Only a few of the vineyards seem to be taken care of. Those being pruned sound like the chirping of crickets as 20 or more workers are cutting. It was a good ride, even with the wind in my face and I am enjoying the idea of no Volunteer to entertain or them me. Today is a free day. Photos #4 & #5 from hotel room looking north over part of Karnobat.

17 April:
Karnobat – Borgas: 62.1 Km, 372 Meters, 3:46 Hours
A great ride until entering Borgas then it was “bumper” bike with the traffic. However, only one driver gave me a nasty horn in town. Photo #6 is at the junction with the main road just out of town; very bright yellow flowering plants were being harvested (I am only guessing it may have been saffron). The first climb of the day out of Karnobat was not as high as my trip sheets indicated [this data was provided by a Bulgarian friend of my former counterpart, Milka] but I did 172 meters more during the day than he had identified. It seems that his climbing information is not very accurate on days that have a lot of smaller climbs. This day was small valley country with the road following along the ridge line but there was usually a drop into each village and a subsequent climb back out of town. I found the Pottle’s [a married couple of Teacher Volunteers] apartment OK by asking about six times; just keep asking and asking as you close in on it. Watched Will [Business Volunteer] play basketball with the Borgas “A” League team, because they are in the cellar of the league they will play “B” League next year. The Sliven team beat them badly. Had dinner with Pottle’s, John [Business Volunteer from Pershanitsa], Hidi [Ecology], Will, and Jeremy [Teacher Volunteer from Krumovgrad]. I had left my shaving brush at the Federoff’s in Haskavo and they being the helpful souls that they are mailed it to Will in Borgas. I had already bought a replacement for not much more than they spent on postage; I must say thanks when I see them – but really, come on guys.

These two pictures are of the park to the north of the hotel I stayed in at Karnobat. A field of something (?) near Borgas. I didn’t identify what the plants were but it made a nice picture.

18 April:
Borgas – Obzor: 72.1 Km, 820 Meters, 4:45 Hours
The big climb that starts 38 Km out of Borgas I am now calling the “wall”; it is almost 7% for the first 4.5 Km then 5% for the remaining 3 Km, a total of 448 Meters. As the total climbing for the day shows, that was not the end of climbs and even the smaller ones became very tough by days end. Was in the 28×1 almost the entire day! As I was doing the big climb I could hear cuckoos calling in the woods. Telling me something? The forest is like that in Zlatograd; oak in leaf, and all the lilac bushes are in bloom. Traffic thins out a lot after Nesebar. There is a large hotel in Obzor but it doesn’t open until about 1 June [the Black Sea owned hotels have a season and are only open 4-5 months; can you imagine trying to make a profit under such conditions]. By asking, asking, asking I found out that the Mehena [a traditional Bulgarian tavern] in town also had rooms. When I found it I got a Bulgarian rate quoted without presenting a letter in Bulgarian that explains that I should not be charged the tourist rate. There were two rooms with three beds each, they served a good lunch and service was very friendly. Still hearing frog songs among the cat tails that line the road between Borgas and the “wall”. A lot of vineyards out of Borgas that look maintained, also on the Obzor side (but just small ridge line plantings). Obzor still a fishing village with the 3-4 months tourist trade. Short rain showers at 6:00 this evening that blew in and out like the dark clouds at 5:00. No photos because trees line the road almost all the way from the start of the climbing with boring stuff before that. A lot of good Balkan mountain stuff on the down hill side into Obzor but clouds and haze cut off any good sea shots.

19 April:
Obzor – Varna: 71.6 Km, 728 Meters, 4:54 Hours
Today is BELIKI DEN, Orthodox Easter. The first climb of the day out of Obzor was higher than my trip sheets indicated plus there was another 100 meter climb that was not on the trip sheet; did 388 meters more for the day than trip sheet indicated. Stopped at about 11:00 because of rain; waited it out for approximately an hour and thought it was through. Within 3 Km I got drowned but the “Bulgarian suit” coat is not bad for water protection. When getting ready to start riding again from the rain stop I discovered that the bike rack front support to the bike had broken. A metal strip broke across where the bolt hole was. This is a problem! I can do nothing now, probably nothing tomorrow, maybe in Dobrich on my rest day. Need to get it fixed before it does serious damage to the rear brake cable. The hotel Sandrovo was not open [not the season]; asked Bulgarian Army gate guards [hotel is on the grounds of the former Communist Party’s villas] what was open and they sent me to the Sana. After trying to talk to the girl at the reception desk in my bad Bulgarian she asked me if I spoke English (hers was excellent). Photos #7 & #8 of Black Sea south of Obzor, #9 & #10 north of Obzor: #11 from Varna Bridge; got the eagle eye from soldiers in a jeep while taking them. Photos #12 & #13 are of the Sana hotel – very strange construction. Journalist from Bulgarian National Radio and a photo journalist found me at the Sana [on the 10th I had told BNR that I would be at the Sandrovo]; did an interview and had pictures taken. Had dinner at the Ludo Mexican Restaurant to the right if going toward the Grand Hotel-Varna (there is a complex of hotels in the area plus a private hotel that I wish I had found earlier). Denita Petrova, daughter of the Ludo’s owner had excellent English with an American accent. She was an exchange student in Maryland for 2 years. Try to get back to her with name of Teacher Volunteer in Varna. Plus, give her the recipe for flour tortillas from the PC Cookbook; tell her to experiment a little.

In the rows above the pictures show that I rode through hills high above the Black Sea south of Obzor with only occasional views of it. That is Obzor in the distance, historically a fishing village on the Black Sea now a sometime tourist stop in the summer. I’m not sure that the owner understands the subtle meaning of “a Micky Mouse Garage”. Two pictures of Varna Harbor from a bridge on the south side of town. I didn’t make a journal note of the second picture. The Sana Hotel was built on a very steep hill, almost a cliff, with the lobby at the top of the hill and you went down to the floors. This is a hallway on one floor that the rooms are entered from. Then this is the stairwell that goes from floor to floor – I think that is three floors down. I hazard to guess what an OSHA Inspector might have to say about this (note the slick marble floors).
To be continued: