Sunday, August 17, 2008

So here is the first attempt at making a movie. There is no sound and the picture maybe move too fast but it is just over 16 minutes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inside Istanbul

Day 51 Istanbul

Boy was it ever great to not have to crawl out of a tent this morning, or not have to pull riding shorts on, or have your bag down at the van by 6:30, or anything else for that matter. This is how conditioned we have been come. Get up, stand in line, pack your bags, ride 100 kms.

So instead I got up and had a nice long hot shower, and a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant beside the pool. The Turkish tour guide had arranged a city bus tour for our group so we jumped on the bus and headed off. There are so many sights to see in Istanbul but we headed right down to the old town to see the most famous. The guide on the bus tour talked continuously about the history of Istanbul. In summary just about every civilization has ruled here, and everyone has left their mark on the city. The first stop was the underground cisterns build in 534 AD by the Romans. Totally amazing! Next stop was the Hagia Sophia built in 537 AD. It has been a mosque and a cathedral and is now a museum. Unfortunately it was closed as it was Monday. However we did get to walk around it. It is truly unbelievable. It is really big. Next stop was the Blue Mosque. It is called the blue mosque because of the blue tile interior. It was built in 1603 by one of the Ottoman sultans. We were allowed in even though we were not Muslims. It is incredibly beautiful inside and big too. Then on to the rug factory tour for tea. I understand that it is mandatory that all Turkish tours must include a tour to the father in-laws’ rug factory. There we were entertained by our hosts for a cup of Turkish tea and shown the many different rug styles and how they are made. Sticker shock is the only words to describe the rugs we were shown. Beautiful but ouch! Finally on to the Grand Bazaar. Here there are over 4000 shops selling everything imaginable. Now you must understand that these shops are small and are not department stores. Each shop is maybe 20 sq feet. A larger shop maybe 100 sq ft. We were told to haggle our hardest and to start at about 50% of the asking price. So I set off looking for the ultimate Turkish souvenir. An Aladdin lamp! There were thousands of them; big, small, brass, plastic, fancy, plain, made in China, you name it they had it. I must have rubbed hundreds and no genie. I was so disappointed I wound up walking out of the Grand Bazaar an hour later without an Aladdin’s lamp. We were told that they had every thing imaginable in the Grand Bazaar. Not to belittle the place as they did have an unbelievable array of goods, however I thought that the selection of NASCAR goods was poor. It was a pretty exciting place and it would be fun to spend more time there. However we had to get back on the bus and my cash had been depleted even though I didn’t get the ultimate souvenir.

Back at the hotel Jim and I spent the afternoon by the pool, reading and relaxing. It was great having a little down time. For supper Jim, Jaco, Jeurg and I went out to a local restaurant where we had a feast for 27.5 lira ($22 cdn)

Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your great comments

See you soon


Monday, July 21, 2008

Yahoo! We made it!

Day 50 Takayadin to Istanbul

The ride today was only 51 kms from camp. Breakfast wasn’t until 7:00 am however that didn’t stop the early risers from getting up at 4:45 and starting with the zippers and walking around making sure that every one was at least awake. I lay in bed until 6:45 before crawling out. Everyone has squeezed themselves into the too small Orient Express jerseys and walking around as proud as anything. Saying we should have had these 7 weeks ago to have more team days. I agree it would have been great.

We rode about 25 kms south towards Istanbul before turning almost due East and the closer we got to the Bosporus the steeper the hills got. We passed though a couple of small towns and in this one little town made this left turn up this road which was so steep I didn’t think I was going to be able to climb it. However in the very lowest gear I made it up. At the top was a pretty little town square where several riders had stopped for tea.

After a relaxing tea we were on the road again with only 15 kms to go. We rode under a roman aqueduct, down a lane lined with eucalyptus trees, down country lanes, and past several beautiful parks. It was really hard to believe we were at Istanbul one of the world’s largest cities. Then we came out of this forested lane and there was the Bosporus. We were standing on the very edge of Europe. Across the Bosporus was Asia.
We had done it! We had ridden our bicycles across a continent.

Just think about that statement for a second. What an accomplishment to ride one’s bike across an entire continent. There are millions of bicyles in the world. How many get ridden 10 kms? How many 100 kms? How many 1000 kms? My bike has crossed 2 continents! Just 5 more continents to go. Ok! Sorry I got carried away.

So here we are standing on the banks of the Bosporus. It is beautiful! Sunny and warm. We are laughing and congratulating each other. Clapping each other on the back and taking pictures. People must have thought we had gone nuts. Of course we are all dressed alike with the same jersey and black riding shorts.

Our Turkish guide had arranged for a ferry to take us down the Bosporus to our hotel. So we had a quick snack on the pier and set sail. Out came the beers and the celebration was in full swing. What a marvellous way to get to the hotel. No crazy ride through insane traffic in a mad house group convoy. Every one is so happy and we are dancing around taking pictures, and joking. The ferry let us of two blocks from the hotel and we walked up to the hotel.

Bike boxes were here and after check in everyone set to breaking there bike down and stuffing their bike into their box. Later we all took taxis to this fancy restaurant for a celebration which Tour d’Afrique was hosting. It was a great meal which culminated with a slide show, which Theresa one of the tour staff had put together of the photos we had taken. It must have been twenty minutes and had hundreds of photos in it. I knew she was putting a lot of effort into it as every waking moment she was pounding a way at the keyboard organizing photos which the riders were downloading into her computer. Theresa, you are truly amazing. The taxi ride to and from the restaurant rivalled any Disneyland thrill ride. The roads are so twisty and hilly and the taxis race along them at break neck speed.

Well, I could go on and on but it is time to thank you for visiting my blog and for your comments.

Stay tuned for further Istanbul adventures as I am here for a couple of days


Hot and Hilly

Day 49 Saray to Takayadin

Today’s ride was really kind of a non event. However that may only be because we are so jaded and are now at the point where unless something is so spectacular we don’t even slow down. I think that most of the group are just grinding it out. Two short rides, so let’s get it over with.

The first 25 kms was quite hilly with several longer hills of greater than a one kms in length. Hills are fine with me because you get the down hill glide, but not here as you can’t trust the road surface and so you have to ride the brakes. The road surface was pretty good with only intermittent rough patches. It was mostly scrub oak along the road sides so there was no scenery. So this was just a grind it out section which I was in hurry to do as it was going to be hot day.

The road got steadily worse, got much hillier and the traffic increased as the day wore on. Lunch was at the 45 km mark so we were there by 10:00 AM. It was in a weed infested turn out beside a radio tower. Of course all the weeds had thorns and or burrs which scratched at your legs. The best part of the ride so far has been that we are seeing signs which give the distance to Istanbul.

After lunch the road surface deteriorated to what I am calling asphalt cobble stones. I am sure you know what I mean. When the road is heaved it brakes into 2 to 6 inch pieces. Generally we only see this condition at the top of a heave or in the bottom of a collapse. When the pieces are missing you have a pot hole. But here the entire road surface is that way and we had 15 kms of it. My arms and back where just throbbing after that stretch, of road. The woods had given way to open country side so there were some nice vistas. The last stretch into camp was much better but there were a number of steep climbs, with some pretty vistas. On the last ridge before we arrived at camp you could see the Black Sea off to the north. I was providing us with a cool breeze which I was grateful for.

Tonight was the camp was in a little park just on the out side of this little town. There were no showers so Randy fixed a place where you could have a bucket wash. There were lots of trees so it was nice and shady. We covered the total 70 kms well before lunch so I had a good afternoon nap. Being the last night to cook John put on a real feast of shish kabobs, potatoes and marinated vegetable salad. After super we were given our Orient Express jerseys, only to fine that the sizing was tiny. Thankfully I had ordered a large and I have lost about 15 pounds so I was able to squeeze into mine.

Well thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for all your great comments

See you soon.


Friday, July 18, 2008

An Easy Day

Day 48 Kırkırlı to Saray 78 Kms

What an easy day! As we rolled out of town ın a group rıde thıs mornıng the weather was perfect. We had been told that the mayor was comıng and the polıce were comıng to escort us. However no show on both accounts. However no bıg deal as the group rıde was only about 2km and we were off.

I was at the very back of the lıne as I had forgotten to re-attach my rear brakes after I changed my tıre on the rest day, and had to stop to reattaqch them. No more rıdıng on the tıre that dumped me ın the mud. I am goıng for somethıngth a bıt more aggressıver tread. So as I rode up though the lıne of rıders they each got a taste from my water pıstol. It was a total hoot. However as there was a lot of hılls the rıders were workıng hard and the day was already warm so I got more thanks than yells.

I cruısed ınto a lıttle town and had a Turkısh tea and sat around for about 30 mınutes and watched the other rıders saıl past. It was just plaın relaxıng.

The country sıde here ıs mostly larger fıelds and has low rollınglls. So the rıde was really pleasent. I could rıde here forever. However ıt was soon over and I was ın town by 12:00 noon. Wıth nothıng to do I wandered the town however as there ıs only 20,000 people ıt dıdn,t take long to explore.

If you recall from a week or so ago I put a saftey flag on my bıke to get a few more precıus ınches on the road. Well new ıdea! I took the red survey rıbbon off the pole and replaced ıt wıth the Turkısh flag. I found a flag ın a shop three doors from the hotel, and put ıt on my bıke. As you rıde though these small towns the locals cheer and wave to you. Waıt untıl they see the flag. Kurt and Jaco are also replacıng the rıbbonth flags.

Sorry for the lack of pıctures the last few days. On the last posts the ınternet was so slow ıt wouldn´t take pıctures and today I am ın an ınternet cafe and have no access to my pıctures. I wıll get everyone some pıctures ın a few days. Spell check doesn´t work here as ıt thınks thıs ıs ın Turkısh. So pardon the bad spellıng.

Well thanks for vısıtıng my blog and thanks for your comments.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

First Run in a while

Day 47 Kirklareli Rest Day

We are just 200 kms out of Istanbul. Three short ride days. This has been an unbelievable journey for me and I still cannot really get my head around all the different things that I have seen over the last 7 weeks.

But that isn’t what you want to hear. You want to know what is going on. Ok this morning I got up and went for a run. I hadn’t run since my crash a few weeks ago so this was kind of a test. It worked out ok and although I felt stiff it was good to get out and do it. When I put my water bottle belt of it confirmed that I have lost a fair amount of weight on this trip as I had to take it in about 1.5 inches.

The town is very different from Bulgaria where it is much more open. No liquor in the sidewalk cafes. Women are very conservatively dressed. Buildings look much poorer. The vehicles on the road are much older and much poorer condition. There is a much bigger police and military presence. The military base which is along side of the main pedestrian mall has lots of signs saying no photographs. There are guards with machine guns in front of the police station and military buildings. Beer and wine is much more expensive and on par with Canadian prices.

However the Baklava is very inexpensive and is just dripping with honey. Speaking of which I think I better go get some more.

See you all soon

Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your comments.


Hello Turkey

Day 46 Malko Turnovo to Kirkareli Turkey

After a night of listening to barking dogs, a 3:00 Am thunder storm, and the worlds hardest beds, we crawled out of our soviet era apartment slum to have breakfast under a cold cloudly sky. The riders were stamping their feet to keep warm and there was a mist in the air. I was wishing that I had put my arm and leg warmers on.

Soon we were off towards the boarder of Turkey. It was an 11 km climb up a very steep back road which lead to the Turkish boarder which was right at the summit. Although I had been cold I was soon sweating. When we reached the boarder there turned out to quite a few vehicles including a couple of tour buses. At the boarder into Turkey you have to go inside to purchase a visa. For Canadians it was $60.00 USD. Finally after a interminably long time processing people in front of me, it is my turn where my passport is stamped in less than 20 seconds and I am on my way.

From the boarder it is down hill through 6 kms of construction. The construction equipment has spread mud and oil on the road and it is extremely slippery. Well before you know it I am laying on my back in the mud. My rear wheel just spun out and my bike came out from under me laying me down into the mud. I jumped up right away but too late I am covered in mud. I walked my bike for about 200 feet though the worst of it and then got on and rode down the hill to lunch where I took plenty of teasing.

It was threatening rain again so Jim and I didn’t hang around lunch we were only a few kilometres out of town and we didn’t want to get wet. The highway turned into this brand new freeway with 12 foot shoulders and lots of really steep hills. I hit my record speed, for this trip, of 58 kms/hr on one of the down hills.

As we approached town we were greeted by the police who directed us to our hotel. I had seen the police and the military along the road but hadn’t thought anything of it. When we got to the hotel we learned that our Turkish guide had arranged for the police and the military to watch over us during our stay in Turkey.

Later the guide took us on a walking tour of the town’s historic district and then out to a supper which was hosted in a very fancy restaurant by the town’s mayor. It was a wonderful five course meal. There was a live band which was playing traditional Gypsy music. Well let’s just say that it wasn’t AC/DC.

A very short, but muddy day of only 50kms.

Well thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your great comments


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shaken down by the Boarder police

Day 45 Aheloy to Malko Turnovo

I was sorry to leave our wonderful little hotel with the great food and people this morning, but headed off for what was promised to be a hot hill day.

The first 40 kms took us down the coast and though the busy harbour city of Burgas. Even though it was early traffic was nerve wracking. Always having big heavy trucks passing you less than a few feet away just makes it scary. At last we turned off on to a secondary road and although the surface wasn’t as good there was very little traffic.

Lunch was a total none event beside a microwave tower in a burned out field of weeds full of spines. By time I got to the 75 km I hadn’t taken one picture, and didn’t have one story to tell you. Then I spotted an old truck which didn’t have wheels but had treads instead. So I took its’ picture. At least I would have something.

At the 90 km mark was a little town with a store and a number of riders had pulled in for refreshments. So I rode on in as well. While we were sitting at a table in front of the store a local came out and played his accordion. He thought we were French so he played the French national anthem. We emptied all our coins on to the table for him. He made out great that day as every group of riders stopped and he came out and played for them.

Then about 5 km out of town I get pulled over by the Bulgarian boarder police. They want to see my passport. Thankfully I have it with me. A lot of the riders don't carry thier passport. This is apparently highly unusual. Randy one of the tour leaders says he had never heard of such a thing.

Tonight’s hotel is an old soviet apartment building which is no a dormitory. There is no place to stay in the town so we are staying here. It is a total dump. To think I rode 106 kms in hot sun to get here!

Tomorrow Turkey!

Well thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your comments


A busy busy day

Day 44 Varna to Aheloy

Just like the old saying it never rains but it pours. Today was one of those types of days. So, this is going to be a long story and I just hope that you have the patient to get though it all. If you don’t, well that’s ok I understand.

With that disclaimer out of the way we started out of Varna with a group ride cross the big bridge which connects one side of the harbour with the other. These group rides are sure great for ensuring that everyone gets out of or into the city ok. After we reached the out skirts of Varna we were cut loose and started the big climb out of the harbour area to the surrounding highlands. It was about 12 kms to the top of the hill and I had drunk one of my bottles of water by time I reached the main highway south. After turning south the main highway was good but no shoulders and with a huge amount of traffic. Jim is about 200 m in front of me and Jaco is about 100 m behind me. Then this old Dacia (Romanian version of Renault 12) which is travelling in our direction decided to do a u-turn in the middle of the road and was nailed by an on coming Jetta. The Dacia’s rear end is totally collapsed and it is punched across the road and into this deep ditch. The Jetta winds up in the opposite ditch with it’s nose punched in. There are two loose propane bottles in the Dacia one of which is on the road blowing propane up the other is under the Dacia in the ditch blowing propane. Jim never hears any of this and rides on. I hear the wreck and turn around and Jaco jams on his brakes to avoid the flying wreckage. Juerg rides up and he and I try to get the driver of the Dacia out but the door is jammed and he isn’t moving. The propane is so thick you can’t breathe in the hole the Dacia is in, so we bail out. About 20 minutes later the driver of the Dacia comes around and releases the door lock and Glen climbs down and helps the driver out. Five seconds earlier and I would have been in the wreck, five seconds later and Jaco would have been in the wreck. Clearly the Gods were smiling on Jaco and I.

After lunch we started the big climb of the day which took us across this big head land. The climb is suppose to be 12 kms long but I thought that it was more like 17 because there were two good climbs before we got to the main assent. At any rate I am not quite half way up when I spot this family of wild pigs eating figs. The figs have fallen from the wild fig tree trees which line the highway. Bulgarian wild pigs are extremely rare and are never seen, as they are very reclusive. However there they are two adults and two infants. They are so intent on eating the figs I was able to get right up and get some pictures. I was the only rider to see the pigs. What a great treat.

At the half way point is a tiny town which had a store which sold ice cold water. I purchase a huge bottle drank half and poured half over myself as it was 35+ C and the sun was beating down. After I reached the summit and began the ride down the view of the next set of harbours and the ancient city of Nesebar were unbelievable. I stopped at this view point were there were some German kids on holidays and we talked and took pictures was really fun. The Black Sea was so pretty and the development along the sea stretched for miles. They are developing the coast as fast as they can and there are hundreds of billboards (in English) advertizing ocean side condos from 350 euros/sq meter (something less than $50/sqft)

Nesebar was constructed on this little isthmus by the Greeks/Phoencians a couple of thousand years ago and just about everyone else since then. It is 3 kms off the highway so I elected to ride out to see the ruins. The 3 kms out is nothing but vendors selling stuff to the tourists and the city itself has some ruins and a museum which I didn’t go into as there was no place to lock my bike, and thousands of vendors selling everything under the sun. Very touristy and fun.

By time I get back to the highway the afternoon traffic is over the top and totally nerve wracking. Thankfully I have only 5 kms to go. I was glad to get to the hotel which is brand new. I don’t think any one had ever slept in the room. The remote for the TV and air conditioner were still in plastic. It was a glorious place. Fred and I sat on the patio and ordered hot appetizers off the menu. We had beef tongue, chicken hearts, plate of olives, humus, mushrooms and bead all for less than 14.00 lev ($11.00) total. Besides being dirt cheap it was really excellent.

Later at supper Olivia is dishing up supper to the riders. He puts one slice of sausage and a bunch of sauce on my pasta. So, I said can I have some more, so he puts one cube of chicken which is about 1” square and more sauce on my plate. I said come on how about a decent serving. John says its’ ok there is lots. Olivia puts one mushroom slice on my plate and more sauce. In disgust I dumped my plate into the pot and headed for the restaurant. Six others followed my lead.

The patio restaurant was filling with locals and while we were eating, a guy with a keyboard and a lady sing showed up and started to play. We get up and start to dance, well now the party is on. We are ordering beers and food and the whole place is just jumping. The band didn’t speak a word of English but were doing all these American rock songs. The hotel owner is out dancing with us and telling everyone welcome our Canadian visitors. The party goes until 11:00 when the restaurant closes. It was a total blast.

So ended a long hot day of 114 kms.

Thanks for sticking with me, thanks for visiting, and thanks for your comments.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Black Sea Holiday

Day 43 A Rest Day In Varna Bulgaria

I am really in shock over this whole affair. There is the cycling across Europe thing which totally blows me away, and that I am doing it is even more unbelievable. Then here we are in Bulgaria, part of the Empire of Evil which has transformed itself into a modern vibrant country. Unbelievable! And most unbelievable is that we are nearly all the way to Istanbul. Just six more ride days totaling a mere 481 kms.

Today however is a rest day in a beautiful resort. We are staying in a beautiful hotel which is right on the main pedestrian mall. It is a short stroll down to the beach. So naturally I slept in, got up and did blogs for the last few days, went for a two hour walk, came back for a nap, went to the beach, had a splash in the Black sea, ate fast food, and had a beer. The total definition of a lazy day. It is smoking hot here at 30+ C and 100% humidity.

I walked past this maritime museum which seems to be permanently closed. They had a lot of interesting things on the grounds, some of which are in today's, pictures.

After a survey of who went where last night for supper, I think that we will go back to the same place we went last night. But then I told you all about it already so I won't go in to how good the chicken livers were or the beef kabob.

Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your comments


Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Black Sea!

Day 42 Sumen to Varna

Yes that is right the famous resort on the Black sea. The holiday spot of Eastern Europe. It is really hard to believe that we are here.

However before I get to that let me bring up up to date on the day. After yesterdays brutal day in the sun I was feeling a little tired, and my legs just didn't have much go to them. Duncan lead a group ride out of town for about 5 k before cutting us lose. I was glad of that as I didn't need any more riding around Sumen. The route was 5 km down the freeway to some back roads. When we got to the turn off Jaco and Jim said hey lets continue down the freeway. There was a 12 foot shoulder and the pavement was the smoothest I had ever ridden on. So it took me less than a second to agree to that proposal. We sailed at 30+kms/hr down the freeway for 22 kms before we hit the secondary highway where we turned off. This put us way out in front of all the other riders and were into lunch before it was out on the tables.

A quick lunch a we sped off. There was just 50 km to go however at the 70 km mark I was exhausted. So Jim and Jaco rode on ahead and I did as best I could. The sun was blazing down and the temperature was at least 35 C. Not a cloud in the sky and not a speck of shade any where. I was sure glad I had refilled all my water bottles at lunch time. Finally I came to a tree and stopped under it for about 10 minutes to gather myself up. Later I learned that Fred who is one of the strongest riders stopped under that same tree and had a half hour nap. So I don't feel so bad. About 15 kms out of Varna the road had this pebbling on it which is sort of a chip coat but the pebbles are about 0.5 inches in diameter so it just shakes you to pieces. There were these apple trees along the side of the road and I saw some locals picking them and I needed something to eat. They were so sour it was torture getting one down. It did the trick of giving me enough energy to get into town.

After getting a little food into me and a nice cool shower I felt very much improved and went for a stroll around the town. I found a call center and phoned home. I was so good to here Agnes' voice. Scouted a place for supper, and found a souvenir for Kurt. The beach is really pretty here. The hotel is great. I joking said we should just stay here and take the ferry down to Istanbul, and was then surprised at how many people thought that was a great idea.

For supper we went out to this Turkish place. It was all out doors and the cook was standing over a huge wood fired grill. We had cucumber salad, olive dish, mushrooms in butter, grilled chicken livers, lamb liver, lamb ribs, beef kabob and this Turkish bread which was kind of like a huge pita. It came straight out of the oven and was all puffed up in the center. It was a fabulous feast. The price including 2 half liter beers was 17 lev ($13.00). A stray dog came and sat under my chair. Being the big softy that I am for puppy dog eyes, a few pieces fell from my plate. Actually he was pretty old as he had quite a bit of silver around his mussel.

Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your comments.



Day 41 Ruse to Sumen

I left camp with the usual group of riders just after 7:00 am. The route was tremendously complicated with dozens of turns down country lanes. However Randy one of our tour leaders had flagged the route. The roads were in pretty good shape with just a few rough patches, a few steep hills and very little traffic. The scenery was the show stopper. Beautiful vistas of the huge fields and sweeping valleys.

There is a real contrast here. In Romania it was all small farm plots with horses and ancient tractors and most of the work in the fields done by hand. Here in Bulgaria the farms are huge even by North American standards, with modern farm equipment. Grain is being harvested by huge brand new Case and John Deere harvesters. There are still lots of horse drawn wagons loaded with hay and even a few donkey carts. Grandma is still walking the family cow in the ditches or out with a flock of ducks or geese.

We hit lunch early and cruised on to snack in good time. I had made a map of the route in case I got lost but Jim didn't so I gave mine to Jim. Then I stopped to take a picture and Jim rode on ahead. I guess there was a turn at the bottom of this long down hill and I missed it. As I rode on I realized that I had missed a turn because I had run out of flags. No map and I didn't even know the name of the hotel. All the signs are in Cyrillic so navigation is impossible. I knew that Sumen was east so I just started heading that way. I stopped and asked directions several times and with lots of hand waving and guessing at what was being told to me, I finally wound up in Sumen. However Sumen is a city of 500,000 so how do you find a hotel you don't even know the name of? I rode around looking for what would be the downtown and then I spotted a police radar trap. So I cruised up to the police and got them to phone Randy and got the name of the hotel. I was just 5 kms from the hotel. I finally rolled in exhausted at 5:00 pm with 162 kms on the speedometer. So I had spent and extra 30 kms wandering the country side. Surprisingly there were still a number of bags in the lobby. I guess other people had a hard day as well.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and thanks for your wonderful comments.


Hello Bulgaria

Day 40 Bucharest to Ruse

I had run around and organized a tip for Sebastian our Romanian guide. There are approximately 45 riders and I collected 116 lei ($29.00 CDN) of which Jim and I contributed ($9.00). A real big tipping group we have here. I guess in fairness I may have missed asking a couple of riders however I did stand up at breakfast the day before and announce that I was collecting a tip. I hope that Tour d'Afrique paid him well, because Sebastian was fabulous.

After breakfast in the hotel, we enjoyed a police escort by the same officer out of Bucharest. He was terrific. Traffic was stopped at all the intersections and we just sailed out of town. I have really enjoyed the guided group rides into and out of towns. The tour guides get top marks in my book for this.

With the group ride over we only had 30 kms to lunch, down a very good but very busy road. Lunch was beside this field of sunflowers and we had fun taking pictures in the sunflowers which were putting on a beautiful show. They were about 4.5 feet high so you could see over them as you walked down the rows. Theresa, one of the tour guides, organized all the riders and we stood in the sunflowers and she climbed a step ladder and took a group photo. I can hardly wait to see it. We were being held at lunch as Randy one of the tour guides was out organizing a new campground. Last years campsite was very bad and was a long way out of the way as this year we are on a different route. Word came the new campsite had been selected and we had the directions and off we went.
The Danube is the boarder between Romania and Bulgaria so just before we got to the boarder check point, we crossed this huge old iron bridge. This bridge was probably close to 2 kms long and was easily 100 m above the water. The bridge was constructed in 1952. Or at least so proclaimed these two gigantic pedestals on either side of the bridge. The pedestals had been erected to glorify the workers revolution. However the communist symbols which had once topped the pedestals had been removed. The bridge deck was in terrible condition with huge ruts and big chunks of deck surface had been spalled off. The bridge itself must of had a dozen coats of paint which had been applied one right over the next, with no surface preparation as it was in terrible condition as well. As we rolled off the bridge we went to the boarder crossing where you handed your passport into the Romanian side and it came out on the Bulgarian side. Both sides stamped my passport but neither side looked at me to see if it was my picture in the passport.

The city of Ruse is just inside the Bulgarian boarder so Jim and I headed downtown to hit a bank machine to get some Bulgarian money ( 1 lev = $0.81 cdn). The downtown square was very pretty but the majority of the town is old soviet apartment slums. I heard some riders saying we should have had our rest day in Ruse rather than Bucharest. I think the 4 square blocks would not have been as interesting as the day in Bucharest. That business taken care of Jim and I headed off to the new campground. Just before we got to the campground we met a bunch of riders coming back from the campground. As it turns out the new campground was brothel! So we are going to ride up to this lake which is 15 kms up the road.

The campsite is on a very pretty little lake. There were rolling hills surrounding it and the north shore had a small village on it. There were no showers, however there was a spring where you could wash. To say that it was cold is the understatement of the year. I rode into town and got two, 2.5 liter bottles of beer for 4.6 lev which I shared around to the other riders. After supper was the second talent show. Berenice and Mike made popcorn on the camp stove for the talent show. It was a wonderful treat! There were several great acts however Curt really stole the show. He got up and sang this song which he had written as a tribute to all the wonderful people that he meet in Romania. It was very touching.

And so ends a 105 kms day. Off to bed to listen to the sound of a few hundred dogs barking all night long.

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PS. Julian that wasn't some passed out Romanian, that was my roommate.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Versailles of Romania

Day 39 A Rest day in Bucharest

Today we have a rest day in Bucharest the capital of Romania. It is a city in transition. One end of the spectrum crowded and dirty very third world and on the other modern and busy. It is also the home to the imperial palace of the late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Work was started in 1984 and continued though 1989 with a work force of 20,000 working 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Sebastian our Romania guide took on a walk though the palace. It is the largest government build in the world next to the Pentagon. It was totally fascinating. The huge court yard in the front of the palace was build to hold 250,000 chanting supported. He never made it. He was executed during the revolution which over threw the communists. It was made to resemble Versaille, and it does. However the workmanship isn't as good and even though it is less than 20 years old it has fallen in to disrepair.

So that is today's high light.

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A Short Day

Day 38 Dragdona to Buchurest

This day was short. There was to be a 70 km ride down to lunch just out side of Bucharest where we would have lunch and the we were to be given a police escort to our hotel. The total ride was only 85 kms.

Yesterday's serious traffic prompted Curt, Jaco and I to fashion safety flags out of some aluminum conduit that I scrounged out of a junk yard next to out campsite. Last year's ride convinced me that safety flags look totally dorky but drivers give you a precious few extra inches. I guess who cares the extra 10 inches or so is lots when you are talking about being passed by a semi-trailer going 100 kms/hr with less than 18 inches to spare. It also give on coming cars extra visibility when they pull out to pass right in front of you. As an example of how aggressive drivers are, yesterday there was a left hand corner and a car pulled out to past a truck low on the inside. The second car back then dove for the inside of the other two. And this was a blind corner! As they say in NASCAR four wide in the corners don't work so I hit the binders and let them go.

The ride down to lunch passed the local potato harvest. There were hundreds of horse and tractor drown wagons piled high with sacks of potatoes. It was really quite a sight. Soon we at lunch and were fully snacked and awaiting the police escort. When the police arrived it was a single motorcycle policeman but he was great. He put his lights and siren on and we rolled straight though red lights and intersections like we were on parade. I was a real hoot, people stopping to wave and cheer.

Tomorrow is a rest day.

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Birth place of dragons

Day 37 Ramnicu Valcea to Dragdona

I had read extensively the popular literature on Dragdona as this is the birthplace of the Romania Ridgeback. Unlike in Harry Potter books where they are simply hatched the Romania Ridgeback actually spends the first 2 years in the sulphurous water pools which are formed high in the limestone mountains surrounding the town. So the first thing I did is head into town to arrange a tour. There was one leaving almost right away but it was in Romainia so I didn't get all the details and you weren't allowed to take photos. So you will just have to take my word when I tell you that it was totally fascinating seeing the baby dragons swimming around in the hot sulphur pools. Some of them were quite large and were almost ready to leave. They live for a very long time and only return to the limestone pools to mate every few years.

However before I get too far into that story let me brief you on the days ride. If you recall we were camped next to a zoo. So in the morning we were greeted by the sounds of lions and elephants calling for their breakfast. To say that it was interesting is a total understatement. It was going to be a longer day and we were going to be on a busy road so breakfast at 6:30 and down the road by 7:00. However the early start didn't seem to make much difference as the road was already crowded by trucks. There was no shoulder to speak of so the only way down the road was to pick a line and go for it. There were two long hills of approximately 10 k each. they both had passing lanes so most of the traffic gave you lots of room. However to say that it wasn't nerve wracking would be a total lie. Most of the riders were totally cover come by the amount and proximity to the traffic. During the morning I was chased by dogs twice, fortunately it was on the flats and I quickly sped a way. About 3 k before lunch there was some construction on the road and traffic was stopped. All you could do was carefully pick your way down the long line of cars and trucks.
After lunch we headed into Petesi and the traffic continued on to the freeway. So we lost the traffic. However Petesti is a large industrial city and navigating though it was hair raising. At this one point I hit this hole in the pavement which was about 2 feet across. As my front wheel fell into the hole and I looked down I could see these fellows caring pitch forks and dancing around what looked like lava. Then just as my back wheel was about to enter the hole and the front wheel hit the other side. Jim who was in front yells "Hole"

On the other side of Petesti we fell into a long line of riders, which is too many. So Jos and I broke away and cruised a 30-40 kms/hour for about an 30 kms, before stopping for ice cream. knocking off a bunch of mileage put us close to camp and we bumped down this terrible road to Dragdona. The camp was in this beat up old hotel grounds sort of. There was room for about 9 tents, rooms for about 8 people and the rest floor flopped in this room off the lobby. Tomorrow we have to ride back down that same road to get back to the highway. So apart from the previously mentioned tour and I was the only one who took it what was the point of going up there? The road was noisy and camping terrible.
Before I sign off for the day I should mention that several of the riders have been taking advantage of the cheap booze and drinking quite a bit. Today's picture attests to this fact.

Not a bad day of 110 km.
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Making a hard day easy

Day 36 Targu Jui to Ramnicu Valcea

To understand this day you need to know a little of the background. There a are two roads to Ramnicu Valcea. The main highway which is a brand new road, which goes to the south of the foothills to the Carpathian mountains, and the back road which goes to the north though the foothills. However as the rivers run north south and you are headed east it is climb one hill after another. The back road is also longer and much rougher. The blog Jim has from last years ride and all the tour leaders agreed that this was the toughest day of the tour. The 137 kms of bone jarring roads made my sore old bones quake just thinking about it. So when Jim, Jaco, and I arrived at the turn off on the main road to the back road it took Jaco and I about half a second to decide that we were taking the main highway. It was Sunday and there was no traffic, the road was brand new and there were no hills. Jim decided to head north.

Jaco and I cruised along looking north to the foothills happy in our decision to go by the main route. Since lunch was on the the back roads we missed lunch so we stopped and had omelets for 3lei ($1.25), bread and an extra large orange juice brought it to 7.5 Lei ($3.00).

We cruised though a bunch of really poor looking rural towns. There was a water well about every ten or so houses. The only thing that happened all day of note is that something came off an on coming car and landed about 10 feet in front and to my left. Whatever it was it never bounced but skidded between my wheels and went into the ditch. I was going about 25 kms and so I didn't stop to see what it was.

I rolled into camp second right behind Luc who had also taken the main highway. Camp was in this Pension yard. It was next to this huge water park and a zoo. The grass was thin and the ground rutted and lumpy. There were no trees so were set our tents up in the sun. It was 35 C so it was hot. Fortunately it cooled off at night.

About 2 to 3 hours later the first of the riders who took the north road started to roll in. They looked beat. Boy did we ever make the right decision. My day was only 105 kms.

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Day 35 Băile Herculane to Targu Jui

As I rolled out of the hotel this mroning I was stiff and sore. The culpret was the bed it was too soft and had a serious sag in the middle, and this was a four star hotel. The place was quite nice bed not with standing.

We rode up the valley from Băile Herculane following the river. It was very heavily wooded with large hard wood trees, and steep limestone cliffs on both sides of the valley. At the end of the valley we started the climb out of the valley which was not real steep but was 15 kms long. Someone reported a 500 m gain on the hill. The views at the top of the summit were gorgeous in both directions. The decent was another story however. The road was quite rough and steep so you had seriously lean on the brakes. The leaning on the brakes and all the pounding made my arms and shoulders throb.

I was glad to roll into lunch at the 45 km mark. It was a beautiful spot overlooking the valley. There was a delicious mushroom in cream sauce salad and lots of fresh fruit. However a cold wind blew up and chased me on down the road, to the second stop where there was lots of fresh fruit which I gobbled down. The last of the ride was all down hill on pretty good roads.

We arrived in the the 2 star Hotel Goji in downtown Targu Jui at around 1:00. There was a huge old cement plant on the outskirts on the outskirts of the city. However the downtown is all soviet apartment slums.

An afternoon nap seemed like a great way to end the 105 kms.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

A Day At the Spa

Day 34 Băile Herculane

Băile Herculane is a spa town which has been around since roman times. During the soviet era it was a vacation destination for which was given as a reward to special workers whose service to the state was beyond the call of duty. After the soviet era the place fell into ruin and the huge old spas and baths became dilapidated and were closed. Now there are few here but local Romanians who have come for the mineral waters.

We had a great breakfast in the hotel. Jos, Garis and I set off to explore the hotel spa and found that we could get a twenty minute massage and swim in the hot pool for the equivalent of $5.00. A lot of people had tried to get appointments but confusion over how to book kept most people away. However we got our massage right away. It was really nice.

I cleaned my bike and worked on my broken water bottle cages. I got a spare from Olivia the bike mechanic and put a wire tie on the other one. A little computer work on the blog and e-mails and then down town for lunch. I had hoped to purchase a souvenir but there wasn’t much to purchase. In the afternoon a nap seemed in order.

This evening Jim and I have arranged to take our Romanian guide out for supper. Sebastian has been absolutely super and we figured that we would like to show appreciation for his work. On my trip downtown I scouted a play called Café Hercules. It looked very authentic.

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Over Hill and Dale

Day 33 Resita to Băile Herculane

Breakfast in the hotel Semenic wasn’t the gourmet delight of other hotels, but John our cook brought out the Muscili and we filled up and were off. The ride started with a 25 km hill climb into the Carpathian Mountains, which as you know was home to Count Dracula. Being early morning he wasn’t out. However the scenery was out in full force. One minute there would breath taking vistas, the next into thick forests with a lovely green canopy over the road.

I was glad we had an early start (7:00 Am) as it was 17 C when we started with a totally cloudless day. The road was great and there were only a few rough patches where they were doing road work. Riding steadily for three hours we had covered 45 km and were at lunch. We passed though only one town, Anina, it was the only place where I have seen any communist symbols. The sign to the town was beautifully cared for and displayed on it was the crossed hammers.

After lunch was all down hill and Jim, Joco and I cruised the 40 kms to a special snack break that was set up for us. It was a great spread of fresh fruit. There seems to be a lot of locally grown fresh fruit in the area, which is very in-expensive. We wolfed it down as the temperature was now in the 30’s C.

The last 43 kms to our hotel was more down hill except for the “short cut”. The “short cut” was this local road which cut about 10 km off the route. It was 2 kms up this impossibly steep hill and 2 kms down. The kicker however is that it was a poured concrete road that was so broken up and caved in that riding was a major challenge. On the down hill there was a section, which was just concrete rubble, so Jim and I walked it.

Less than one km from the hotel Jim picked up a wire in his tire and got a flat. So rather than change it in the sweltering heat we pumped it up and Jim rode in. Tomorrow is rest day so Jim can fix his tire. I am going to look for water bottle cages. The rough roads have broken two of my three cages.

I need to get out and do a run as I am going to wind up at home without doing any running. I will have to worry about that some other time as I am NOT setting the alarm.

I have been on some pretty rides before, however at the moment I just can’t think when. It was a totally wonderful 128 kms.

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