Bill Weidenfeller

Home: Naples, FL

Hobbies: Biking, Tennis

 

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ExpeditionPLUS

Rails to Trails Conservancy

America by Bike

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA TO ISTANBUL, TURKEY

The summer of 2007 brings a new and extraordinary cycling adventure: "ExpeditionPLUS", a fully supported bicycle trip between two of Europe's most exotic cities; St Petersburg, Russia and Istanbul, Turkey. This is truly a continental-scale bicycle tour offering cyclists a physically challenging opportunity to venture into new and interesting territory.

Over the course of 7 weeks, 2600 miles and 11 countries, I will join a group of 20 experienced cyclists as we bike through the historic and culturally rich countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Highlights will include visits to not only the famous cities of St Petersburg and Istanbul, but also Tallinn, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, the Danube Gorge and so much more!.

Join me in St Petersburg on June 10 as we begin our journey from Russia to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad (an exclave of Russia), Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and finally Turkey. WOW!

Come along for the ride,
- Bill

  • Posted: Wed, 18 July 2007

    DAY 35 VIDIN TO MONTANA, BULGARIA

                                   Bikingwithbill.bulgaria.com

     

     

       Zdravey ! (Hello! in Bulgarian)

     

       It was really a biker’s day today.  I loved the ride! It was like a Sunday ride, there was no traffic.  We may have seen as many horses and donkeys on the roads as cars.  The scenery was terrific, and the fact that we were biking in Bulgaria was exciting!

     

       There was not a cloud in the sky on this bright sunny day.  It was HOT!  The 100 degree mark was reached again, as we endured the heat for nearly 9 hours of biking.  It was a long 156 km/97 mile ride to the city of Montana, Bulgaria.

     

     

       The highlight had to be the magnificent gorge in Belogradchik.  We had to earn the views that finally came our way after a long, tough climb.  The rock formations in the deep gorge were spectacular (think Utah!).  We seldom stopped for photo-ops, as it was a heads down climb followed by a swift descent that required FULL ATTENTION to the road.

     

       It was a demanding day on the bike due to the distance, the heat, and 4700 feet of climbing.  It was exciting, nevertheless, because we had a bit of everything as we progressed: rolling hills, small villages, and surprising sights around every bend.

     

     

       The poor rural homes, the kids in the towns, the animals, the landscape, and just seeing how these rural Bulgarians live their everyday lives is fascinating to me.

     

     

     

       There are often unexpected obstacles in the road.  Today was no exception-except- the nature of the obstacles.  We were stopped by horses, a lady walking her geese, and cows of course.  The rural road is the only avenue for moving anything anywhere.

     

     

       Europe is wonderful to cyclists on a hot day.  Each town-and even along the road between towns- we can find a spring fed well with running, COOL WATER.  We fill our water bottles, dunk our heads, and even get to meet some local folks on these water stops.  Chantal and I stopped at almost every opportunity today.

     

     

       I think we all came to understand the poverty and backwardness of Bulgaria today.  We also saw 97 miles of its natural beauty!

     

     

     

       Our destination city of Montana is a small city of 55,000, located in Northwest Bulgaria. It appears to be a nice place to live today, but it is a town that was once devastated by the raids of the Huns under Attila and the Goths.

     

              -Bill

                                    

  • Posted: Tue, 17 July 2007

    DAY 34 GURA VAI, ROMANIA TO VIDIN, BULGARIA

                         DANUBE  FERRY  TO  BULGARIA    

     

     

       We pulled out of our Danube waterfront hotel at 7:30 am today after having had a fish dinner last night of carp, which may have left some of the boys not feeling so well this morning.  Fritz (WI) was one of them, but he rode all the way with us despite his stomach problems.  I guess West Pointers always want to complete “the mission”.

     

       We continued our ride along the Danube River on the same road that brought us to Gura Vei yesterday. Our day began and ended with views of this great river flowing to the Black Sea.  We were headed directly South 115 km /70 miles to the town of Calafat, Romania, where we would catch a ferry across the Danube into Bulgaria (our 10th country of the trip!), and then bike on to our hotel.

     

       Early on, after biking through the busy—though not very attractive—commercial city of Hinova, we turned onto the road to our destination.  It was under constructive in parts—and needed re-construction in other parts—the entire way.  Romanian roads can be “taxing” on a bicycle…and its rider!

     

     

       We saw terraced hills and grape vineyards , numerous horse drawn wagons in poor rural villages, and kids who waved excitedly as we passed.  Unfortunately, this is the same Romania as it was in the past, not able to catch up: poor, rural, almost 3rd world, and primitive in farming and construction methods.  Admission to the EU and leadership espousing capitalism and entrepreneurship will certainly help this nation, but it is decades behind Western Europe in terms of infrastructure, finances and education.  It is a country with a sad recent history, but one with apparent hope for the future.

     

       It was again near 100 degrees in the afternoon, so we stopped on a couple of occasions to get fresh water and a snack.  The locals in the bars/cafes look at us as if we are from Mars.  Spandex, biking shoes and a new Cannondale bike are certainly not house hold items here. Fritz tried to make a friend of a work horse parked outside.

     

     

       We hit the metric century mark in the town of Colete, and as we came up over the hill in Calafat, there was the Danube again.  We passed through Romanian customs here without delay. (We are good at biking right up to the head of the line).

     

       The ferry to Bulgaria had some mechanical problem, so we waited at the terminal for our river crossing on a very over loaded ferry boat.  It was chock-a-block full with trucks, cars, and several bikers.  The photo was a gag to show how little room we had on board.

     

       On the Bulgaria side we had only a few kilometers to bike to our hotel in Vidin, population 68,500, located in the Northwestern  section of Bulgaria.

     

       Still unimpressed with the ever present Soviet big block architecture, I took a photo of the complex across from the hotel.

     

       In the few hours we have been in town we have ATMed some Bulgarian currency, gone for a walk, washed our bike clothes, and sampled a Zagorka, a local beer.

     

       Having fun!

     

           -Bill     

     

     

      

     

     

      

  • Posted: Mon, 16 July 2007

    DAY 33 RADIMNA TO GURA VAI, ROMANIA

               THE  “IRON GATES”  OF  THE  DANUBE

     

     

       Today’s ride took us along the Danube River for almost every mile of our 135 km/ 85 mile route.  We cycled through the famous “Iron Gates” of the Danube, which were formed by the west end of the Transylvanian Alps and the small mountain range that connects with the Balkan Mountains to the south. 

     

     

       It is breath-takingly beautiful scenery with more photo-ops available to us today than we have had on any other cycling day.  As Kathie said so well; “This is what we came for!” 

     

     

       We left the farm (and the pigs) at 7:30 this morning.  We had the Danube in view within a few kilometers.  It was a sunny, clear day in which the temperature would reach 100 degrees by early afternoon.  Early on, we had a cool channeled wind through the gorge blowing quite strongly in our direction. 

     

       The road went right along the river bank, very close to the water’s edge.  There were sections of the road that had obviously been washed away in a flood and were under repair—presenting us with several stretches of gravel road.

     

     

     

       We saw many scenes of typical rural Romanian life along the route: an old lady walking her sheep and goats in the road, many horse drawn wagons, fishermen on the river bank, and primitive construction techniques from the road workers.

     

       The Danube forms the border between Romania and Serbia, so we looked across to Serbian villages and mountains all day.

     

       There was very little barge or commercial traffic on the river.   The road traffic through this magnificent gorge was also quite light.  There were NO BRIDGES across the Danube for the entire route. It was almost as if this beautiful gorge was undiscovered.

     

     

       It was great day to be on a bike!  We rode what has to be one of the most scenic routes is all of Europe, and enjoyed all 8 hours of our journey!

     

       Tomorrow we ride 118 km in Romania before we ferry across the Danube into Bulgaria.

     

               -Bill

     

      

                 

     

      

  • Posted: Sun, 15 July 2007

    DAY 32 TIMISOARA TO RADIMNA, ROMANIA

                        RUSTIC  RADIMNA          

     

     

     

       We left the city of Tamisoara on a beautiful Sunday morning with the only traffic being the buses on their mandatory routes.  We passed many factories in the outskirts of Timisoara.  Many Italian companies have set up manufacturing operations here.

     

     

       At the 25 km mark we passed through the town of Jebel and at 42 km the town of Deta, Romania.  In between were fields of rolled hay and wheat ready for harvest.  All these small towns are poor and in need of repair with piles of dirt or debris here and there, but they all have dissimilarities too.  The one thing they all have in common is the big yellow church in the middle of town.  It is the one landmark we can always see from afar—the church steeples of Romania.

     

     

       I felt good on the bike today.  Maybe it was the benefit of pasta loading in advance of a high mileage day.  Last night , after a relaxing and enjoyable rest day, I had a large plate of linguine for dinner with the Myerburgs and Dan at a café on Unity Square as we listened to music from a bandstand at one end of the busy square.

     

       We had a long, hot, 7 hour day on the bikes today as we rode 146 km/90 miles to Radimna, Romania , situated 4 km from the Danube River in the forest land of the Locvei Mountains.  We climbed 2600 feet, with the longest climb occurring at the 133 km mark.

     

     

       We climbed, switched back, and climbed some more before completing the 6 km uphill ride. The downhill took us to the chalk arrows in front of our hotel.  Three roaming pigs met Chantal and me at the entrance and scattered as we came in the dirt driveway.  We had finally arrived at the “rustic”, knotty pine paneled hotel that is often home to groups of boys attending soccer camp here.  (I can’t explain the numerous pigs grazing freely at the farm).

     

     

       We had rolling hills in the country and torn up roads with rough pavement to deal with most of the ride.  Many sections of the highway had poplar trees lining both sides of the road providing some shade.

     

     

       The stork nests we have seen starting in the Baltic States are still with us in Romania.  The nests here have young storks who appear full size, but do not yet leave the nest.  Any day now these youngsters will have their freedom… and soar.

     

     

       With today’s ride we have begun a series of long mileage days continuing up to our arrival in Sofia, Bulgaria. We are also departing earlier in the morning to minimize the time in the afternoon sun.

      

           -Bill

     

      

     

     

      

  • Posted: Sat, 14 July 2007

    DAY 31 REST DAY IN TIMISOARA, ROMANIA

                                  TIMISOARA, ROMANIA

     

     

     

    Timisoara, located on the banks of the Bega River, is considered Romania’s most cosmopolitan city, and is called “Little Vienna” due to its architectural remnants and voluminous parks and squares from the Hapsburg era.  It is very multi-cultural with a diverse population of Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Italians and Romanian citizens. 

     

     

       It is quite a beautiful place with its Victory Square at the center.  The successful revolution against the rule of Ceausescu began here in 1989 at the Opera House.

     

     

       The Romanian Orthodox Cathedral at the end of Victory Square is the symbol of Timisoara.  We visited several churches this morning on a walking tour with our new guide Alex, including a Serbian Orthodox church, an old synagogue, and a Roman Catholic church, all in the vicinity of Unity Square.

     

       There are excellent ethnic restaurants in the city and fine examples of Baroque architecture.

     

     

       It is another sunny day and we are all enjoying a rest day off the bike.

     

               -Bill

     

    PS  We have a long bike ride tomorrow and will be staying at a small motel in the forest that has no internet.  I will publish when I am able. Stay tuned!   

  • Posted: Fri, 13 July 2007

    DAY 30 MAKO, HUNGARY TO TIMISOARA, ROMANIA

                              BOUND  FOR  ROMANIA    

     

       We cycled out of Mako crossing over the Tisza River bridge and onto a bike path that led to the countryside.  We were bound for the city of Timisoara, Romania 93 km/ 58 miles down the road.

     

     

       At the 10 km mark we reached the border checkpoint and processed into Romania (our 9th country of the trip!).  I moved my watch ahead 1 hour to reflect the time zone change-we are now 7 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time.  The obligatory photo was taken at the Hungary/Romanian border. It was great weather for cycling, it was a short day’s ride, and we were headed into a rest day.  That is a positive combination of factors that increased the day’s enjoyment for all of us.

     

     

       We rode quickly, stopping first at an ATM machine to pick up some Romanian currency—the LEI (or lion) at 2.38 to the dollar and made of a plastic material—and then for a coke and snack in the town of Sandra.  In the town of Lovrin the utility poles along the entire length of the main street were adorned with the flags of Romania and the EU to celebrate their acceptance into the European Union.  Off on a dirt road, at the edge of this small town which obviously needs an economic boost, stands an ornate church built in another era.

     

       The main roads in Romania (to our surprise) are so far in very good shape—if not a little too narrow.  Many of the roads off the main highway are of dirt.  There is obviously lesser economic growth and development in this country than in any we have witnessed thus far on our trip.  We were biking through the small country villages where mainly bicycles or old vintage cars were the source of transportation, and farm equipment was often powered by 4 hooves pulling an old wooden wagon.  The people were friendly, many waving to us as we passed.

     

     

       Watermelon stands abounded along the highway route until we neared the city of Timisoara, the 4th largest city of Romania with a population of 400,000, located in the western most region, near the border with Serbia.

     

     

     

       Following the entry (never pleasant for me) through the heavy traffic in the city streets to our centrally located and modern hotel, we had the opportunity to explore a little and relax at a café on the square.  Staying true to my American cultural heritage—and needing to gain back some weight—I had a chocolate milk shake from McDonalds.

     

     

       Chantal (FL) celebrated her birthday today with much fanfare.  The “girls” decorated her bike, she hosted a small party in her room, and then gifted us with wine at our “Traditional Romanian” dinner in the evening in town.  She is a remarkable woman: a medical doctor practicing emergency room medicine at 4 hospitals in Jacksonville, FL, and she is a 2 time “Ironman” athlete!  She is originally from Belgium, where she was one of the founders of the Belgian branch of “Les Medecins sans Frontieres” (Doctors without Borders), an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999!  She allows me to practice my French conversation with her from time to time.

     

       Rest Day tomorrow---I’ll have some photos of this historic city for you.

     

               -Bill   

  • Posted: Thu, 12 July 2007

    DAY 29 CSONGRAD TO MAKO, HUNGARY

                   THE  PULITZER  AWARDS     

     

     

       Last night’s homemade lamb goulash dinner at the Hotel Tisza in Csongrad was not only an outstanding meal, but a real cultural experience and demonstration of hospitality by the elderly yet energetic owners of the hotel.  It was for me and our cycling group also a joyous party with jokes and laughs galore.

     

     

       Franz, the 75 year old owner, and his wife spent over 4 hours preparing the goulash in the traditional way.  He cooked the meat slowly in a large pot over an open flame, shaking (NOT stirring!) the lamb chunks often.

     

     

       He added his two special paprikas late in the afternoon. At that point we had a tasting “ceremony” , complete with local red wine.  To enhance the party atmosphere he continued the free flow of wine all evening—what was he thinking!  Let me just say that we were a very receptive group!

     

     

       This photo from the hotel courtyard demonstrates the appearance of all our hotels after our arrival; hand-washed laundry and bike clothes hanging from windows and railings and strung on clotheslines in the rooms and hallways.

     

     

       It was a beautiful morning in Csongrad as we departed town on a paved bike path on the levee above the Tisza River.  We were up high and could see the fields of sunflowers and corn planted in the flood plains.

     

       We left the bike path at the 17 km mark of today’s 86 km/54 mile route to Mako, Hungary.  We passed through Szentes, Mindszent, and the city of Hodmezovasarhely (I kid you not!) with its corner church and market area.  It is the season for watermelon and cantaloupe, so we saw many vendors along the road.

     

     

       In the town of Martely we stopped for a coke and snack and tried to converse with the man on his bike with a watermelon, and 2 old ladies.   They understood we were on our way to Mako and tried to help with unneeded directions in incomprehensible Hungarian accompanied by major hand gestures.

     

       Peppers must be grown everywhere in Hungary because they are abundantly available in markets and in restaurant dishes.  Today near Mako we biked through the onion and garlic growing region.  The smell of garlic was evident as we passed by. 

     

     

       We also observed two farms raising GEESE—large white geese the size of turkeys.  Goose is a traditional dinner item in Hungary we were told.

     

     

     

       In Mako, an inviting city only 6 km from the Romanian border, we are occupying the 4th floor of a clean and new youth hostel—the Pulitzer Jozsef Kollegium.  It is just like my freshman year dorm room at Bucknell University.

     

     

       Having arrived in town early, a group of us had lunch in a café in town.  We watched a line of trucks from Romania drive through town having just crossed the border into Hungary.

     

     

       Elizabeth (OR), a good friend from the ABB Great Mississippi River Ride, publishes a blog with photos each day, as I do.  We both comment on our individual impressions and experiences of the trip (see www.bikelizabeth.blogspot.com) . We joke often about “winning a Pulitzer for best photo”, or about consulting with our staffs, and copy editors before publishing.  When we heard that Jozsef Pulitzer, namesake of the prestigious journalism and literature awards, was born in Mako, Hungary and that we would be visiting the town the jokes intensified.  I told her that I had ordered my tuxedo for tonight’s “Pulitzer Award Dinner” for Best Website.  She informed me that she was “writing her acceptance speech”.   Just having fun!

        Elizabeth and I were photographed in front of a John Singer Sargent painting of Jozsef Pulitzer in our hostel.

                  -Bill

      

     

      

  • Posted: Wed, 11 July 2007

    DAY 28 SZOLNOK TO CSONGRAD, HUNGARY

                                   CROSSING  THE  TISZA

     

     

     

        This great big sunflower basking in the morning sun reflected our spirits today as we rode 76 km/53 miles to our destination city: Csongrad.  It is located in the south of  Hungary close to the Hungarian border with both Serbia and Romania.

     

     

       It was great to see the sun today.  Even what I called “nondescript countryside” yesterday in the rain looks a whole lot better today under blue skies.  Dan was also back on the bike today after his ankle injury and a case of the flu. Rick, Dan and Bill were teamed up again.

     

       We saw a great deal of agricultural land with corn, wheat, and sunflower crops, but also some variety with some orchards and vineyards along the way.

     

     

       In the towns we saw evidence that biking is a major means of transportation outside the bigger cities.  There were lots of bikes parked at places of work and many bicycles on the paths and roads.

     

     

       Many of the homes showed the care and attention of their proud owners.

     

     

       The Tisza River, one of Hungary’s major waterways, merges with the Danube before it flows into the Black Sea.  We crossed the Tisza twice today on our journey south.  They were not normal river crossings!

     

     

       Our road came to the water’s edge at the 34 km mark today.  We waited for the small ferry to take us across.  It was a kick watching the old man attendant start up the “9.8 horse power Evinrude long stem used on a sailboat”, as described by sailor/cyclist Rick.  The GPS on Rick’s bike clocked our “speedy’ crossing at 1.1 mph.

     

     

       The second crossing of the Tisza was on a single lane wooden bridge (careful of the horse droppings!)  We again waited our turn and rode across the rickety boards into Csongrad.

     

     

       It was a fun ride today.  I am looking forward to our lamb goulash dinner/party out in our small hotel’s courtyard this evening, but first I’ve got to run off to the internet café for posting of today’s website.

      

       -Bill.....   Remembering  7/11/70

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Posted: Tue, 10 July 2007

    DAY 27 GODOLLO TO SZOLNOK, POLAND

                                             T   TOWNS

     

     

       Tapioszecso, Tapiosag, Tapiobicske, Tapioszentmartin, Tapioszele, and Tapiogyorgye were their names.  These are six of the perhaps 10 towns we passed through today on our 115 km/71 mile bike ride to Szolnok, Hungary.  The names saved us because they kept us on course.  We follow chalk arrows on the road, and today they were hard to find because of the heavy RAIN. When we came to a crossroads or intersection and could not find the washed out arrow, we knew that if we took the direction of a “T” town we would probably be on the right route.  We successfully came into Szolnok this afternoon without a wrong turn, thanks to the T-towns in Hungary.  (I learned later that “tapio” means “creek” in Hungarian, and that we had been following a creek for many of the miles on today’s route.)

     

     

       Oh, and YES it did rain almost the whole way today. Let me be factual; it was a miserable day to be on a 70 mile bicycle ride (bicikli, in Hungarian).  We all come in looking like ducks—cold, wet, ducks.  It was a day that Dan has termed a “mileage day”; that is a ride day that we must make just to get to the next hotel.  It was not a scenic ride, and it was certainly not a day anyone would be on a bike for 5 plus hours in the cold rain unless he needed to get to the next destination. So we did it.  We did it as fast as we could.  Rick was a rabbit today.  He was out in front by 100 meters all day long, head down and pedaling fast.

     

     

       We began the day with a bus ride from our hotel in Budapest to the suburb of Godollo, where we had left the bikes and gear following our hotel flap of 2 days ago.  We headed southeast through nondescript countryside and unattractive towns on mostly rough roads. We focused on the pot holes and the cracks ahead and rode as fast as we could under the conditions.

     

       

       We stopped for lunch on the porch of a convenience store in one of the T towns to eat our sandwich.  The sun tried to come through on occasion, but the rain won out.

     

       At the 4 star Garden Hotel in Szolnok, where several Hungarian politicians including perhaps the next Prime Minister were having a meeting, we were doing our laundry and the bikes were being worked on and cleaned by Damiano and Michele.

     

       The hotel served us a great dinner outside on the patio on a chilly, but dry evening.

     

           Tomorrow will be a better biking day,

     

                        -Bill

  • Posted: Mon, 9 July 2007

    DAY 26 REST DAY IN BUDAPEST

                          BUDA  AND  PEST

     

     

     

       We bused into the city of Budapest from Godollo this morning with our Hungarian guide Adrianne.  She explained briefly the “conquer, destroy, rebuild” history of this nation over centuries.  The 1956 chapter of brave revolt against communist rule was inspiring! 

        

       We arrived in Pest to tour the Parliament Building dating back to the rule of the Hapsburgs.  It is perhaps the most ornate and beautiful Parliament building in the world.

     

     

      We walked the streets of Buda, where our hotel is located.  I took a picture of the Danube River separating the two cities of Buda and Pest. It is exciting to be in this world capital with its history and elegance.

     

     

       Our “Rest Day” biking group took a dinner cruise on the Danube this evening to conclude our adventure in Budapest.  We are so lucky to be here and to be a part of this great adventure.

     

       I have included a few photos few photos I hope you will enjoy:

     

                           -Bill