Posted: Wed, 18 July 2007
DAY 35 VIDIN TO MONTANA, BULGARIA
Zdravey ! (Hello!
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
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
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.
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!
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.
Posted: Tue, 17 July 2007
DAY 34 GURA VAI, ROMANIA TO VIDIN, 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
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.
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.
Posted: Mon, 16 July 2007
DAY 33 RADIMNA TO GURA VAI, ROMANIA
“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.
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
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.
Posted: Sun, 15 July 2007
DAY 32 TIMISOARA TO RADIMNA, ROMANIA
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.
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
Posted: Sat, 14 July 2007
DAY 31 REST DAY IN 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
tomorrow---I’ll have some photos of this historic city for you.
Posted: Thu, 12 July 2007
DAY 29 CSONGRAD TO MAKO, HUNGARY
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
be a better biking day,
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
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: