The rain and thunder howled around our tents at night, but left in the day as we cycled along our own private freeway – almost car-free – towards Istanbul. Its great to see my friends in Istanbul and have a lovely evening in front of the fireplace.

Our own private freeway

Our own private freeway

The roads were still wet, and the clouds looming, as we cycled off into the day. A crack opened in the clouds, which finally opened out into blue sky.

A crack in the clouds

A crack in the clouds

The freeway is nearly finished. It is meant to link Europe with Asia across an, as-yet, unbuilt bridge across the Bosphorus. It seems to be Turkey’s best kept secret. There were minutes on end without a single car in sight, and we did loops and stunts on our own private freeway. In the end we needed to leave the freeway due to the traffic, and onto a muddy road with lots of factories and aggressive dogs.

Our own private freeway

Our own private freeway

The road was muddy

The road was muddy

And then, after 5147km, I was standing on the shores of the Bosphorus – the border between Europe and Asia. It was grim, and wet, but, I still had to jump for joy – what an amazing and fun trip it has been. And why not even let my stomach hang out for the shot?

Arrival at the Bosphorus

Arrival at the Bosphorus

Thanks Diederik and Wendelin for your great hospitality, and letting me store my bike here over the winter! I really appreciate it!!

Diederik and Wendelien

Diederik and Wendelien


The end is nigh – at least for the European leg of my trip before my winter pause. James needs to be in Istanbul on November 20 and Istanbul is still a long way away. Long kilometres on the main road before we branched off on the smaller road approach into Istanbul. Oh. And I passed 5000km.

The 5000km mark

The 5000km mark

We aimed at 100km for today. On my North Cape trip, 100km was the minimum goal for a day. Here, with the hilly roads, and little daylight, it is an achievement. We just cycled along fairly uninteresting roads until dusk. No lamb slaughters tonight. Lots of rain and thunder in the night, though. Tomorrow Istanbul.

The D100 towards Istanbul

The D100 towards Istanbul

Istanbul 100km

Istanbul 100km


My head is spinning. This evening was crazy. ‘Don’t turn around’, whispered James as we left the car and walked up the steps of the hotel. Behind us they removed the freshly slaughtered lamb from the boot. What a man’s night out it was.

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In the quest for a cheap hotel in Lüleburgaz, we were introduced to ‘the Boss’ – a middle-aged man in a smart suit, who arranged a room for us in the teacher’s accommodation. And then he invited us for a drive to a country village to see friends.

After 45 minute tobacco-rich drive through the dark Turkish countryside, passing villages with vicious dogs the size of bears, we pulled in to a small farm, and stepped out of the car. We shook hands with the farmer, and then watched as he went into the shed in front of the car where a sheep was lying, struggling, its legs tied together. We were not there 30 seconds and the throat was slit, blood gushed out, and the head was severed, to be inspected by a little dog, its tail wagging furiously. The sheep spasmed for about a minute after the slaughter, at which point we were ushered back into the car and drove on.

The next stop was a tea-house in the little village. We were brought in from the dark and introduced to everyone – all middle-aged or old men. The words Australia and New Zealand were used, causing some comments and laughter. We took a seat at one of the tables near the wooden stove in the middle of the brightly lit room. People stared at us, chatted, and watched the football playing on the television behind us as they drank one glass of tea after the next, and smoked one cigarette after the next. ‘Where are the women?’ ‘At home. Only men come here.’

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I asked for the toilet, and was brought outside by the sheep slaughterer. In the dark, away from the lights of the central intersection of the village, I made out a little wooden shed, much like an Australian ‘dunny’ (toilet). My friend indicated to piss in the grass next to the shed.

Time to move on, and we were ushered back into the car. Next stop was a little ‘holiday house’ where a group of men were sitting out on the verandah barbecuing fish. We were introduced to them all by the Boss, before they returned to their conversation in Turkish. There was a lot of laughter and cheer. The points of entertainment were us, or ‘men’ jokes. It was a really friendly bunch. A lot of delicious fish was cooked for us, and the salad, bread and nuts were pushed in our direction. A lot of Facebook photos were taken before returning to the car where we returned to the town.

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We were taken to the best dessert place in town, where people were moved by the dessert café owner, so we could take a seat. The dessert was superb. James pointed out that I am lucky that my pancreas is working..

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The evening ended with a stroll through the town. Everyone greeted the Boss, and shook our hands, the guys from Australia and New Zealand. Back at the hotel, where the car was parked – ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning at breakfast.’ The Boss waited and watched as we turned and returned to the hotel. ‘Don’t turn back,’ whispered James. I knew what there was to see, and snuck a peek, even through I may have turned into a pillar of salt. The plastic bags with hooves sticking into the air were rushed inside.

Well. That trumped our day’s cycling down a freeway-like road for 76km in the undulating misty landscape, rising 50m and dropping 50m, and rising 50m again. It was a big road, but not busy, no mad drivers, and a big strip for slow vehicles (us).

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We leave the main road tomorrow as we approach Istanbul. Who knows what crazy things this country will bring us tomorrow. I’m enjoying every minute of it!


What a day of experiences! Not much cycling, but a lot of excitement and lumps in throats crossing the border into Turkey (at least a lump in my throat). It feels kind of like a coming-of-age as a world cycler. We have left the ‘west’ and are in TURKEY, having cycled here from our European homes – Holland for me and England for James!

Entering into Turkey

Entering into Turkey

But first into Greece. Our passports were thoroughly checked. I was asked where the stamp from Blato was from. I couldn’t remember. James started to say Macedon…, saw the border guard’s ashen face, and then bit is tongue. FYROM – The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. We got our passports back.

Entering Greece

Entering Greece

More long, straight, flat roads in Greece

More long, straight, flat roads in Greece

I may be entering the realm of world cyclers, but, I still scream like a baby receiving a turkish massage. James and I went to the local hamman for a thorough clean and massage. Lying on the marble podium, I stared up at the domed ceiling with the patterns of stars and hexagons letting the light in from outside. There were drips of water which reverberated across the dome. I was called first for the massage. Man it hurt, but if felt good afterwards. I screamed, and also giggled. The masseur also snickered – in a fun way. I felt wonderfully clean and relaxed. James didn’t utter a whimper.

After the hamman

After the hamman

Our kind warm-showers host owns a bike shop, and it is a hive of activity in the shop, and the neighbouring restaurant. People passed by constantly and welcomed us to Turkey. We also met a Croatian couple that have just cycled from China. Lots of stories to hear. Not many to tell – yet. It feels like a different world we are entering, and I am very excited.

The mosque at Edirne

The mosque at Edirne

At our warm showers host in Edirne

At our warm showers host in Edirne

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Everything according to schedule. From 250m, up to 630m, down to 200m, up to 800m, down to 200m. Home, done and dusted, and ready for dinner by 4. James had 3, or maybe 4 courses, depending on how you count. It’s good to have some hills. We felt overfed and under-exerted yesterday. :-)

At 800m, our highest point today - Popsko

At 800m, our highest point today – Popsko

I am amazed how many people speak German here. English is less useful than German. I was told that the reason for this is that many have been in Germany for work. This morning, I even conversed in Dutch. The guy at our hotel in Momchilgrad was wearing a jumper from Albert Heijn (a Dutch supermarket chain) Pijnacker (a tiny village near Delft where I lived for a year). At dinner this evening I was told that all the villages in this part of Bulgaria are empty, as people have all moved to work in western Europe. Ivaylovgrad, once a town with 15000 inhabitants, now has a population of only 4000. They do have a nice hotel which makes good Creme Caramels though. :-)

Breakfast was bought at the local market. Seeing a milk-looking drink, I had to try it – even though I was warned it was not milk.

Not a milk drink

Not a milk drink

Not a milk drink

Not a milk drink

The first climb was uneventful as it was grey and misty. The second because we were in the balding forest with no views the whole time. We did see a donkey pulled cart, though.

The views are hidden by the balding forest

The views are hidden by the balding forest

Donkey and cart

Donkey and cart

From our humble abode in Ivaylovgrad, we are a mere 5km from Greece, and only 50km from Edirne – one of the gems of Turkey. Turkey sounds so distant from good ol’ Eindhoven, and we are both very excited. Turkey, here we come!!


Lying on my bed in the bridal hotel in Momchilgrad, listening to the chill out music James is playing on his laptop, I ponder on the day. Wonderful, friendly people in a bleak landscape, penetrated by a shiny bright new EU road that, one day, will connect Bulgaria to Greece.

Momchilgrad

Momchilgrad

Today was bleak partly due to the grey, cold (but dry) weather, and partly due to the run-down towns and villages. The landscape is littered with empty bottles, wrappers, and other random rubbish. Coming from the west, it seems a small effort to put rubbish in the bin, but, it seems not to be done so widely here.

Rubbish at a drinking spring

Rubbish at a drinking spring

The Bulgarian people have all been lovely. Rather than aggressive horns from annoyed drivers, we were constantly greeted with drivers waving, giving us the thumbs-up or a salute. The lovely owners of Hotel Flora in Zlatograd gave us each a pair of hand-knitted woollen socks. These will be treasured on the cold nights ahead.

Our lovely warm socks

Our lovely warm socks

We finished early in Momchilgrad. There is a high-pass between us and the next town, and not enough daylight. We spent some time looking for a hotel, cycling through high-rise apartment buildings before we spotted the hotel we were looking for.

Momchilgrad

Momchilgrad

Momchilgrad

Momchilgrad

Momchilgrad

Momchilgrad

On seeing the hotel sign, James dropped to my feet and asked for my hand in marriage.

Hotel Konak

Hotel Konak

There is a wedding reception here tonight. Maybe I will catch the flowers thrown by the bride, and James might have a chance.


Take the road to Drama (a town in northern Greece) and turn right – into the mountains. We left the coastal plains, the factories, trucks, straight roads and the stress, and curved our way into a different part of Greece. Muslim. Rural. Beautiful.

Climbing to the Bulgarian border

Climbing to the Bulgarian border

Today was always going to be wet. The question was: where did we want to cycle in the nice weather after today? Along straight busy roads in Greece, or on the narrow, mountainous Bulgarian roads. An easy decision. We left the coast, and left the noise, hectic and traffic stress. The scenery, villages and people changed. We saw more mosques, and it became more rural, and much more mountainous. Granted, we were bathed in cloud, and rained on. And it was steep. But we breathed a sigh of relief. It was not just going from A to B. It was the journey again.

Before the first big climb. Filling up with some pastries.

Before the first big climb. Filling up with some pastries.

Echinos was a muslim town. We were welcomed with 4 simultaneous calls to prayer.

Echinos was a muslim town. We were welcomed with 4 simultaneous calls to prayer.

What better way to celebrate a climb than with the famous Xanthian sweets? Luckily we were able to find a lovely little gazebo offering shelter from the rain, so that we could cherish these Xanthian delicacies.

The blissful moment is imminent

The blissful moment is imminent

Hehe. Calories. Here we come!

Hehe. Calories. Here we come!

The view from our snack gazebo

The view from our snack gazebo

The final climb to Bulgaria was up a small, innocuous road, garnished with a little sign ‘Bulgaria’, that went almost vertically upwards from the turnoff. Entering Bulgaria we took the high road. We are now in Zlatograd, which I think is lovely name. I just love saying it, over and over. Zlatograd. Zlatograd. Zlatograd. Hehe.

Hello Bulgaria

Hello Bulgaria