Leg 1 complete, just in time to make our own Brexit from Europe.
Once again it has been a while since we wrote a blog, and as in the past an apology is due. Discipline has been a hot topic of conversation between the saddles and when it comes to taking time out to write on this blog, certainly more discipline is needed.
Just two weeks a go we were crossing the Danube and leaving it for the last time, it had acted as our guide from Vienna, through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and finally Romania. Though we would not be seeing it to the sea, but instead leaving its banks in search of the flattest route across the Balkans, the vast range of mountains tearing across mid Bulgaria.
Romania had proved tough, not just another country we spouted off on our ever extensive list of European countries we had to cover before the excitement of Asia began, but a challenge we had not prepared well for. Crossing the Serb-Romanian border was pleasant and easy, welcome back into the European Union.
A privilege we take for granted in Western Europe is the ease and freedom we have to withdraw cash in almost every town and village we pass, Romania was a far cry from this and 25 miles without an ATM and only Euros, Dollars and Dinar in our wallets meant we had to dig in, battling the heat and hunger of the afternoon. Our grace came in the form of 5 fine gentleman of Pristol, congregated around the vine sheltered entrance of the village shop. Their kindness was refreshing, and so was the water they bought us. 2 loafs of bread and a half a kilo of pâté later, we were rejuvenated and it wasn't long until we were able to extract some fine Romanian Leu.
Apart from the night time hazardous occupation of burning fields close to polyester tents, Romania remained trouble free; desolate but trouble free. We learnt our lessons and stocked up on money, food and water, not much could stop us, not even the enthusiastic dogs.
A short ferry brought us across the Danube and into Bulgaria, a country we had been warned about a few times in Romania, one remarking it was "full of mafia, don't go there", but isn't that what everyone says about their neighbours!? I for one wouldn't trust a Welshman as far as I could throw him!
The first 15 minutes disproved their worry, as we bared witness to a rather casual affair. No more than a scuffle in a lunchtime cafe left one man bleeding at the gut and another wielding a machete. At least the Mafia would have done a cleaner job. Onwards we went, passing through the old Tsar strong hold of Veliko Tărnovo. Perched at the foot of the Balkans, a grand city still holding onto its splendour amongst the valley entrance. Climbs awaited us, our first serious vertical challenge, heads down and feet pumping we made the summit ready for a cruising descent to the Turkish border.
Jumping the queues we crossed the border to Turkey and celebrated in Edirne with the most pleasant pigs intestine sandwich one has ever unknowingly had (Kokoreç if you would like to google it). We camped up and enjoyed a warm evening in the tent. Blissfully unaware we enjoyed breakfast the next day, just grabbing wifi to feed our narcissism and see how many likes our last Facebook post received. This is when we became aware of our unpleasant situation, without knowing we had been lucky to cross the border last night before an attempted military coup took place in Istanbul and Ankara. It seemed like not a soul cared in Edirne, but following the advice of the FCO and to keep our mothers happy, we booked ourselves into the nearest hotel.
24 hours passed, and it was like nothing had happened, even the television stations were showing repeats of the scenes from two nights before as they struggled to make any sense of this peculiar situation. We couldn't wait like lemons and had to crack on, no news is good news right? We jostled the frantic roads of Istanbul and made it safely to the Galata region of the city, business was as usual, but unfortunately for the punters the tourists weren't. This left us with the keys to the city and we fell in love, Istanbul we shall return, but first we have to tackle the Black Sea Coast.
nb. We have been attempting to acquire an Iranian visa through the planning process and during the ride but have come thus far empty handed. Therefore we have had to change our route and we now head to Georgia, via an adjusted route to avoid Ankarra as advised and take a route planned with the team at the bike shop in Istanbul.
All the best,