About riding on freeways, headwind and çay

Riding out of Sofia is a real challenge. There are neither dedicated bicycle lanes nor roads with little traffic. The only way in my direction that made sense was the A1, the freeway to Istanbul. Riding on a freeway isn’t actually that problematic. I had the hard shoulder to myself - a three meter wide strip of perfect tarmac. The other drivers on the road could see me from far away and the new rich in their fancy cars were on the left lane.

I was surprised that nobody honked. Moreover, multiple police cars went by me without stopping me. I knew that it was common to see bicycles on the freeway but I learned only later that this is de facto legal. A group of local cyclists spotted me on a bridge leading over the freeway and made me come off the next exit to talk with me. They told me there exists the old road parallel to the freeway without cars because of the many potholes.

Since riding on the freeway is not that much fun and a road without traffic sounded tempting I decided to continue on the old main road #8. There were potholes indeed - up to 20 m long, 2 m wide and 20 cm deep. Even downhill my average speed dropped drastically since it was too dangerous to ride fast. My panniers came off from time to time due to the shock when I could not avoid a hole.

I switched back to the freeway but there I had to realise that a strong head wind was pushing me back. On the old main road I took at least profit from the lee of old trees. It became a miserable day on the bicycle. I ended up in Pazardzhik were I enjoyed watching people dancing to traditional Bulgarian music. It is very common to see people gathering to dance on a Sunday night.

From Pazardzhik I followed the old main road. I rode through Plovdiv the second largest city in Bulgaria towards Turkey. Again this head wind - but this time no sheltering trees. It was exhausting. There were downhill parts where I had to paddle to keep moving. There was one good moment that day though.

I met another long distance cyclist. He is on the road for two years already and came all the way from Osaka, Japan. We had a good road side chat. It resembled two dogs walking around each other to sniff at their behinds. We looked over every screw of the other bike and made some technical small talk. There was also an exchange of country information and places to sleep. We both ended up enjoying this small break and were happy to see some other "normal" person on the road.

After another long day I stayed in Haskovo. Here I saw the first road signs that pointed towards Greece and Turkey. I had to be close to the borders. I was sick of this part of Bulgaria - I wanted to go on. The scenery did not change much. Discouraging headwind and bad roads did the rest.

Still on the old main road #8 I pedaled slowly - headwind you guessed it - towards Turkey. The sign of the border I finally saw was a bigger than usual amount of trash beside the road. Truckers that often need to wait for days to cross the border just throw their trash out of the window. This leads to some grotesque looking road sides. The other sign of the border was the road mosque on the Turkish side. It took me over an hour to get there. The stop at this mosque is for many truckers a must.

The Bulgarian side - five minutes. But to get over the Turkish boarder you have to go through a three stage process. The border was meant for a lot of traffic. On each stage there were ten lanes but only one was attended at any one time. The young police officer at the police check point did not know that I was allowed to enter Turkey based on my identification card only (no passport). At the customs I had to open every bag but the official didn’t check them after I helped him to push start the car in front of me. At the last stage - I don’t know what it was for - the guy in front of me had some paper missing.

I finally made it and was welcomed by a thunderstorm which made me flee to the next pump station where I was offered some çay, the first of many to come. At Edirne I met a totally new world. The muezzin told me I should pray now, the architecture of the old town was more elegant and the smell was definitely different - difficult to describe. I felt as if I had arrived at the place I wanted to go such a long time. In short - I felt happy.

Edirne is famous for three things. The Selimiye Mosque, ciğer tava (breaded and fried liver) and Kırkpınar (oil wrestling). With the exception of the last one I tasted it.

The evening I arrived in Edirne a local told me where I could get the best liver in town so I had to try it. It was good and plentiful. After that meal I was too tired to visit the mosque and I decided to go early in the morning. This proved to be a good decision. I got up early and had the whole mosque to myself. It is an imposing building, famous for its dome that is bigger than the one of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. There are many small patches of really fine artwork that stands in contrast to the plain but massive building.

After this - my first ever - visit to a mosque I rode on. Headwind… I started to stop at every pump station. There was always free çay and the people began to teach me some Turkish. With this I survived the day. I felt still sick and decided to sleep in a cheap Motel along the D-100 road. After 16 hours I awoke to the sound of silence. Yes indeed. I hadn’t realized it the day before. The wind had been audible and now it was gone.

So I rode into the day and enjoyed life. This was also the day I arrived at the Sea of Marmara. I camped next to the beach and went for a swim - but it’s still out of season.