Biking with Bill
Biking With Bill

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA TO ISTANBUL, TURKEY

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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

Journal Entries:


Posted: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 10:53:15 -0400

DAY 45 KILYOS TO ISTANBUL,TURKEY

  

                                    AT  LAST,  ISTANBUL   

 

 

   This is it!  Today we completed our final day’s ride into Istanbul.

 

 

   We were up early, excited, and anxious to get to Istanbul by mid-afternoon.

 

 

   The bike ride was brief, only 14 km to Sariyer, where we waited to board our private ferry boat to Istanbul.  The 1 ½  hour boat ride on the Bosphorus to the Golden Horn area in the heart of the city was an experience that vastly exceeded our expectations.

 

 

 

   “Chai”, or Turkish tea, was served on the open deck as we marveled at the water side mansions, villas, and homes in the Bosphorus Straits.  We saw the opening to the Sea of Marmara, which joins the Mediterranean Sea.  We passed under the Bosphorus Bridge that actually links Europe and Asia.

 

 

   When we docked in center city, we rode our bikes (and walked in some areas) through wildly disorganized and jammed traffic, across tram tracks, and on cobblestones to our hotel (whew!).

 

 

   Our hotel, the Ottoman Hotel Imperial, is located only steps from the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace—all of which we will visit tomorrow.

 

 

   Our “Celebration Dinner” was held in a grand Turkish restaurant with a full moon lighted view of the Bosphorus.  We walked there as a group, wandering in amazement through the sights and sounds and odors of the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar.

 

 

   To me, and perhaps to other cyclists, it was a day in which I had, in some respects, the sense and emotion of a kind of graduation day. I felt personally rewarded for a period of hard work and determination to go the distance.  I am proud to have accomplished the goals and met the aspirations I set as reasons for taking this trip.

·        I wanted to ride a bicycle from one end of Europe to the other; from St Petersburg, Russia to Istanbul, Turkey….4100 km in 45 days.

·        Staying SAFE and HEALTHY was paramount.

·        I wanted to visit, see, feel, taste and meet the people and experience the culture of 11 Central and Eastern European countries—all of which were new to me.

·        Most of all, I wanted to ENJOY the experience totally; with old and new friends.

 

 

   I did ALL these things with a wonderful group of people while supported by a very competent staff from ExpeditionPLUS.

 

   It was all I wanted—and much more than I expected!  It was an enlightening and incredible journey!

 

 

                 
      A sincere THANK YOU to all who followed along on this web site.  I appreciate your interest and comments!
 
                                 Ciao!
                                 -Bill

 

  

 

 

Posted: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 10:53:15 -0400


Posted: Fri, 27 Jul 2007 23:17:47 -0400

DAY 44 VIZE TO KILYOS, TURKEY

 

                                 ON  THE  BLACK  SEA         

 

 

   I was a little apprehensive about today’s ride.  It was listed as 165 km/103 miles to Kilyos, Turkey, located on the Black Sea.  We would have similar winds to yesterday, a greater distance and some serious climbs.  It would be a difficult ride.  It was our last big ride of the trip, as tomorrow we ride only briefly before taking a ferry on the Bosphorus into the city center.  I wanted to do it all…finish this trip having completed the full ride every day. I did, but not as I expected.

 

 

   I rode early with Rick and then Chantal and I rode together the balance of the way.  She too was determined to complete every mile of the long tour.  We were careful to pace ourselves for the long day, we stopped to eat something regularly, and we drafted against the head winds to save strength.

 

 

   At the 62 km mark we saw the sign in chalk on the road; Hooray!  4000 km!  We had passed a milestone distance in our trip from St Petersburg, Russia to Istanbul, Turkey.

 

 

   The wind was strong. It whistled through the grooves in our helmets all day.  The flags were blown straight out in the Northeast wind.  We kept moving.  At 103 km, as we came over the crest of a hill, we could finally see it…the Black Sea.  From the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea; “It is a LONG way”, as Chantal understated.

 

 

   We reached 120km (only 45 km to go) and it was early afternoon when we saw the van coming from the other direction.  Michele yelled for us to stop.  He had Polo, John, and Fritz in the van.  Something was wrong. He told us the road ahead was unsafe for cyclists; too many trucks from a busy construction project underway.  The road was also too narrow with blind curves…dangerous!  He was stopping all bikers at that point.  It was non-negotiable, the day’s ride was over.

 

 

   Riding in the van for the last 45 k proved to all of us that the decision  was, without question, the correct one.  Polo, the lead rider every day and a veteran of 14 ExperiencePLUS  tours, had never been in the van before.  He concurred with the decision by the staff.  It was the right call.

 

   Our hotel is in the little tourist town of Kilyos sitting high on a hill right on the Black Sea.  The views are terrific.  The pool was active and the beach crowded with families.

 

   I walked around town a bit looking at the shops and kabob restaurants and the tea cafes (as beer and alcohol are not served in the vicinity of the Mosque).

 

 

   Tomorrow we enter Istanbul!  It will be a short biking day----and our last.  We will then begin a 3 day extension to explore this former seat of the Ottoman Empire.

 

                    -Bill

 

 

  

Posted: Fri, 27 Jul 2007 23:17:47 -0400


Posted: Thu, 26 Jul 2007 12:00:28 -0400

DAY 43 EDIRNE TO VIZE, TURKEY

 

 

 

 

                                 TOURING  “TURKIYE”    

 

 

   We moved easily on the bike in the 7:00 am traffic leaving Edirne this morning.  Without the teeming masses and roaring traffic we were able to observe some things that were lost in the distractions of city life yesterday.  Our destination today is the city of Vize, 118 km/71 miles to the East.

 

 

   Promptly, we moved into continual rolling hills—up and down, up and down.  It made those of us on across America bike trips think of the “land of 1000 hills” in Missouri.  Hills wear you down, but the wind can be worse. 

 

 

   Before we hit 40 k we were caught in a steady 30 mph wind from the Northeast (we were heading directly East).  The wind came at us from about the 11:00 o’clock position and stayed with us all day.  Gusts of 35-40 mph would actually move our bikes, and often we rode leaning into the wind to stay balanced. It was tough going.  We had feared the HEAT today, but instead we got the WIND!

 

 

   First it was the hills reminding us of Missouri and then the winds like the winds of South Dakota last summer that bent the prairie grass to half its height.  The corn fields whipped in the wind.  I did not expect this in “Turkiye”.

 

 

   Turkish tobacco growing in the fields on our route demonstrated what we had learned yesterday from Sahli, our guide, that its leaves are much smaller than the Virginia variety.

 

 

 

   We stopped in the small towns we passed through to get water or a coke.  Our van always spots our bikes and stops to provide what’s needed.  Sometimes we have to wait for the locals to fill up first at the town wells.

 

 

   Before we reached the town of Pinarhisar we passed through a large military area where we were asked to not take photos.  Rick, my riding -buddy all day, and I then stopped in Pinarhisar for a coke.  Into town rolled “Martin from Estonia” on his bike loaded with his gear and flying a small Estonian flag.  He is a recent law school graduate, who is biking from the Ukraine to Istanbul.  He too was headed to Vize, so we invited him to follow us (and the chalk arrows).  The gear on his bike gave the effect of a sail in the wind, so it had to be hard for him.  He showed up later at the hotel for a beer and some biking stories.  He is an out going young man, and his Estonian heritage added to his popularity with the group.  We still remember Tallinn!

 

 

   Vize, population 10,000, appears similar to the other towns we rode through. The view from my hotel window will confirm that it is no vacation spot. The people are helpful and friendly and we notice now that the village folks wave to us FIRST, rather than sometimes in response to our greeting.  The local newspaper reporter came for a group photo this afternoon.  We may be the most noticed and intriguing group in Vize on this windy summer day.

 

          
 
 
                              -Bill

Posted: Thu, 26 Jul 2007 12:00:28 -0400


Posted: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 08:31:23 -0400

DAY 42 REST DAY IN EDIRNE, TURKEY

 

 

 

             EXPLORING  EDIRNE, TURKEY     

 

 

  

Salih, our Turkish guide, took us on a most interesting walking tour in the city this morning.  The city of Edirne is more than just the quintessential border town located 230 km northwest of Istanbul.  It is one of the best preserved Ottoman cities with the famous Selimiye Mosque designed by Sinan who built the Red and Blue Mosques in Istanbul.

 

 

   We walked through one of the covered bazaars, which are owned by, and provide income to the Mosque. Turkish goods of all kinds are available here.

 

 

    The Selimiye Mosque entryway provided the stage for our “briefing’ before removing our shoes and entering the Mosque, built in 1574.  

 

 

 

    Turkey proves to be an intriguing and fascinating country as we begin our 6 day visit to the country.

 

             
 
                       
 
                                   -Bill

Posted: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 08:31:23 -0400


Posted: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 07:56:02 -0400

DAY 41 KARDZHALI TO EDIRNE,TURKEY

 

 

 

                  THREE  COUNTRIES  IN ONE  DAY!    

 

 

 

   IMAGINE… biking in three countries in one day.  We had two border crossings, a visa purchase, breakfast, lunch and dinner in separate nations, and a great route to ride.  What a day on a bike!

 

 

   Chantal and I rode out of town high on a ridge overlooking Lake Kardzhali.  The coolness of the morning air we knew would not last.  The forecast called for 108 degrees in our destination city of Edirne, Turkey.  The route took us 145 km/90 miles east to the Bulgarian border with Greece, and then 40 km through Greece into Turkey (or Turkiye, as they spell it).

 

 

   Stephania, our Italian guide, who was marking the roads this morning with chalk arrows had a problem with her bike and was slowed.  When we got ahead of the arrow markings we would stop and wait for her in order to be confident of staying on course.  We wanted no EXTRA miles on this long high mileage, HOT day.

 

 

   The southeast corner of Bulgaria is hilly, poor farm country with an ethnic mix of Turks, Bulgarians, and Roma.  In the roads in these small villages we encountered dogs, chickens, donkeys, horses, cattle and people. Rising high above the Bulgarian landscape, we spotted our first mosque mineret in one of those villages reflecting the Muslim contingency here.

 

 

   After riding 90 km through rolling hills and rough roads, we entered Greece way up in the northwest corner and began the short 40 km trek across the country.  The highway was new and without traffic, but SHADELESS in the noontime heat.  Elizabeth’s GPS recorded 111 degrees.  We learned today that the Romanian and Bulgarian rail system had been shut down due to tracks buckling in the heat.  It was HOT!

 

 

   Customs/Immigration stations in Kastanies, Greece and Pozarkule, Turkey marked our entrance into our 11th and last country of our incredible trip.  We are just a few days away from the jewel of Europe/Asia; Istanbul.

 

 

   Our entrance into Edirne, Turkey presented us with the jolt of a new and different culture.  It is a city of 120,000 people with teeming bazaars, jammed one-way streets, open markets, and crowded sidewalks with women in burkas and long coats in the sweltering heat.  To me it has a Middle East component mixed with the European. The mosque speakers blast chants 5 times per day, including the 5:00 am call to morning prayer.

 

 

   Our hotel is a (slightly) renovated 16th century former caravan stop on the road connecting the East and West.  The cool, cave-like rooms are tiny with thick stone walls.  The open courtyard is an appealing feature.

 

 

   We dined this evening at an open-air restaurant overlooking the Meric River Bridge that we had crossed on our bikes earlier in the day. We have a rest day in Edirne tomorrow.

 

 

 

   I have mentioned that we have seen many storks and their nests since the Baltic States. Initially, in the North the storks were seen (and photographed) feeding their young.  Further South—and as time passed—the chicks grew and appeared ready to fly…but not quite yet.  Yesterday the circle was completed.  I saw three young, but full sized storks leave the nest, fly a large loop and return to the nest.  Today several empty nests were seen.  A lot happens in 42 days on the road! 

 

 

         -Bill

 

Posted: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 07:56:02 -0400


Posted: Mon, 23 Jul 2007 11:25:11 -0400

DAY 40 PLOVDIV TO KARDZHALI, BULGARIA

 

 

 

   IN  THE  FOOTHILLS  OF  THE  BALKAN  MOUNTAINS   

 

 

 

   Led by our comical Bulgarian guide Alek on his bicycle, we exited the city of Plovdiv together this morning in a single file line.  Alek was in front in his civilian clothes (as opposed to spandex) waving his roll-up floppy hat in the manner of a true tour guide, who would normally be waving a flag.  He left us at the edge of town. 

 

 

   I mentioned to the boys that Alek could be the star of a Saturday Night Live skit called “The Tour Guide.”  As he passed us a few kilometers later in the van, he was still waving his hat out of the window.

 

 

   The van is loaded each morning with the luggage of 20 people.  The duffle bags and suit cases come in all shapes and sizes.  I marvel at the staff’s ability to master the formula of space divided by volume (of luggage), and make everything “just fit”.

 

 

   The “Tour de Bulgarie” is underway currently here in country.  We have met some of the competing cyclists from Turkey on our rest day.  Our group could certainly NOT be confused with the junior pros racing here, but we are told that we are biking some of the same roads.  Cool!

 

 

   I, for one, think that Bulgaria has provided the most challenging cycling of our tour.  We continue to have long hours on the bike and tough riding days due to the combination of longer distances, a great deal of climbing, and very hot temperatures.  HOWEVER, I and NOT complaining!  I have loved the physical challenges of biking Bulgaria—and have come to appreciate its vistas and its people.

 

 

   After last night’s group dinner in a restaurant located in the old town of Plovdiv, we enjoyed the post-dinner entertainment of native Bulgarian folk dancing and singing—all in costume. It was a nice touch to a fun evening get-together.

 

 

   Today’s 116 km/70 mile ride to Kardzhali, Bulgaria took us into the foothills of the Balkan Mountains and through a number of farm towns and villages.  We had big panoramas of country scenery today.

 

 

   By the time we got to the 30 km mark we could see this BIG Balkan Mountain ahead of us, and we knew it was coming.  We began the long climb at 53 km, and as we ascended, we began the long period of what I call the “silence of the climb”.  Very little is said while climbing—we focus on the road, cadence and breathing.  As I have said; “Climbing is an individual sport”.  We climbed another 4200 feet today…and had some of great, long downhills.

 

 

   I rode with Fritz (WI), my West Point hockey player buddy who can “spin” with the best, and who tucks and lets it fly on every descent.  We got in early because we pushed hard.  It was 105 degrees in Kardzhali when we got to the hotel shortly after 1:00 pm.  The artesian wells at roadside locations save us on hot days.  The cool spring water is a lifesaver.

 

       -Bill

 

   Question:  What 3 countries will we be cycling in tomorrow?

Posted: Mon, 23 Jul 2007 11:25:11 -0400


Posted: Sun, 22 Jul 2007 10:03:14 -0400

DAY 39 KOPRIVSHTITSA TO PLOVDIV, BULGARIA

                                      SUNDAY  SUNSHINE      

 

 

   We rode out of K-town under clear blue skies on a Sunday morning ride to the city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria.  We began at higher altitudes, so we had some great views initially as we looked down into the valleys below and off into the countryside stretching as far as we could see. It was a very peaceful setting.

 

 

 

   We then began an 18 km downhill with a 2000 feet drop in elevation that was OUT OF THIS WORLD!  Dave (MD), a veteran of many organized bike tours around the world, said to me that it may have been the best downhill of his life; high praise for a great descent.

 

 

   We had been warned of some rough spots and big pot holes on this long descent.  Unfortunately, Dan, who travels “in the fast lane” when descending, hit one of these holes and bent both wheels.  He stayed up—and received 2 new wheels from the van and continued the course.

 

 

   Apricot orchards and vineyards, sunflower fields and wheat fields were observed during our ride today.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these rides.  We had 63 miles of Sunday sunshine in a country that is always interesting and has surprised me with its natural beauty.

 

 

 

   In a small village at the central fountain we drew a local crowd watching our cooling-off antics.  Nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool drink of water and a little “dunking”.

 

 

   Given the short 63 mile route, we were in early in the afternoon and had time to walk around the city of Plovdiv after a big plate of pasta.  Searching for an internet café, Dan and I walked past the old Roman stadium intended for 30,000 spectators. A mosque and a church were also located in this old town area.

 

 

   Plovdiv is situated in south central Bulgaria and has a population of 340,000.  Its central square with fountain and surrounded by cafes was a relaxing spot on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

 

       -Bill

Posted: Sun, 22 Jul 2007 10:03:14 -0400


Posted: Sat, 21 Jul 2007 09:48:31 -0400

DAY 38 SOFIA TO KOPRIVSHTITSA, BULGARIA

                                                     K-TOWN  

 

 

   The streets of Sofia were relatively quiet on this Saturday morning.  Our biking group departed the city early and together and headed East directly into the rising sun.  Our destination today was the historic city of Koprivshtitsa, 115 km/71 miles down the road.

 

 

   We biked on a busy highway initially, but got off onto less traveled roads for the balance of the ride.  I rode with Dan and Rick all day.  It was good to have our group back together again—like old times.

 

 

   We had plenty of rolling hills today on good roads.  The down hills were therefore excellent, as we did not have the concerns of hitting potholes or rough pavement at high speeds. 

 

 

   We again passed several shepherds and their sheep. It is now a common sight in our daily travel.

 

   The weather was not a big factor today.  It was hot, but not 100 degrees as we have seen recently.  However, when we saw a waterfall in the roadside rock cliff and a pipe from a spring-fed well spewing cold water, it looked pretty inviting to the 3 of us.  Rick and Dan took turns under the pipe to cool off.  It was for them an afternoon refreshing dip on a hot summer afternoon.

 

 

  Located at the bottom of a good downhill run today was a grand monument to Vassir Levski, a hero who helped gain the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks in 1878.  I stood with Fritz and Rick for a photo there.

 

 

   Dan, Rick and I kept rolling at a quick pace today, getting to the “bicycle barn” right behind Polo, who is first-in everyday.  We had several factors going our way today including; less heat, less distance, and less climbing than we have experienced in recent days.

 

 

 

   Our hotel in K-town is just a short walk to the center square.  There are many tourists here not only for the cooler temperatures at this elevation, but also for the architecture. In town there are 5 preserved houses from the 1850”s that demonstrate early traditional Bulgarian architecture.  These homes survived because several wealthy town people paid the Turks to not set them on fire as they departed.

 

 

   The central square filled up with music and Bulgarian folk dancing in the evening. We could hear the guitar and accordion music clearly from our hilltop restaurant patio during our very inexpensive but delicious grilled chicken dinner.  The Saturday night crowd was obviously enjoying the entertainment as the energetic young dancers put on quite a show.  The folk dancing was somewhat like our square dancing, but with its own traditional music and choreography.  The town’s people joined the dancers in the finale number that went on and on. These people know how to have a good time.  I enjoyed their festivities and shared their enthusiasm. K-town was a wonderful stop on our journey to Istanbul.

 

           -Bill   

 

 

      

Posted: Sat, 21 Jul 2007 09:48:31 -0400


Posted: Fri, 20 Jul 2007 09:14:40 -0400

DAY 37 REST DAY IN SOFIA, BULGARIA

                                THE SIGHTS OF SOFIA  

 

 

   The gold domed Aleksander Nevski Orthodox Church is the biggest church in Bulgaria and the premier focal point of Sofia.

 

 

   Our guide book describes Sofia as “an urban smear compared to its capital city neighbors to the North”, that is, Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest.  That is too harsh.  It may not be the shining star in Eastern Europe, but as we saw on our guided tour of the city today it is quite a pleasant city of over one million people.

 

 

   Have a look at some of the highlights we saw:

 

 

   Alek and Monica giving us a tour of the city.

 

 

   Fountain at the Bulgarian National Theater

 

 

   Elizabeth, Monica and Nancy with their version.

 

 

   National Theater and fountain/  

 

 

   Orthodox Church and a building façade.

 

 

   Office of the President of Bulgaria.

 

 

      Enjoying the day and relaxing,

                

                  -Bill

Posted: Fri, 20 Jul 2007 09:14:40 -0400


Posted: Thu, 19 Jul 2007 07:54:52 -0400

DAY 36 MONTANA TO SOFIA, BULGARIA

                          GORGE…OUS   BULGARIA   

 

 

   Another day, another magnificent gorge was on our route today.  It was a similar ride in many respects to the previous 4 days; long, hot and a lot of climbing.  We were headed directly south to the Capital city of Sofia at a distance of 138 km/ 85 miles.  It turned out to be the second toughest climb day of our trip with 5200 feet of elevation gain over the course of our 8 ½ hour ride.  We drank water constantly to minimize the effects of 100 degree temperatures.  Less than half of our group of cyclists completed the entire route today due to a combination of factors: sickness, injury, or the symptoms of heat exhaustion or dehydration.

 

 

   The climbing came by way of numerous rolling hills early, then a major 7 km climb to the top of the gorge, and finally 60 km of up and down topography as we traveled parallel to a river on a road cut into the side of a mountain.  Of course we had as an offset the cooling pleasure of all the descents. In the gorge we soared downhill through several cut-backs in the mountain.  Man, what a great ride!

 

 

   Before the gorge, near the 50 km mark, we observed vineyards and rolling hills in the wide open countryside.

 

 

   The peaks of the Balkan Mountains were visible off in the distance in the blue haze of the morning sun.

 

 

   Coming through an obviously impoverished village, we stopped to look at a group of men butchering a lamb hanging from a tree limb just off the road.  Always the unexpected!

 

 

  

 

 

  

 

 

      It was here in the same village that I saw the little old lady on the bench.  I gestured to her for permission to take a photo.  She was talking and asking questions of me in Bulgarian the whole time.  I answered her simply by saying, “We are Americans”.  She broke into a big toothless smile and yelled joyfully; America” and reached out her hand to shake mine.  She was clapping her hands repeating; “America, America”.  She pointed to her window above saying “dom”, to show me where she lived.

 

 

   We met a young family in a horse drawn wagon at a point where a dirt road merged into ours.  We pulled ahead.  Suddenly, from behind we heard yelling and the increasingly loud and fast hoof beats from the horse.  They were RACING us!  We were just too fast for that old steed on this day.

 

  

   At a town spring water fountain several of us stopped to fill our water bottles.  The small group of old men gestured “NO!”, and one held out his cane to stop us from filling up.  He told us to follow another man who took us to the back of his modest home where we filled up with water from an old sink faucet.  One good thing about these country roads, which are often in poor repair, is that you get the opportunity to meet the people and see how they live.

 

 

   My impression of Bulgaria so far is that this is not a “little Russia", as I had perceived it to be.  Bulgaria is indeed poor, decades behind the West and its European neighbors, but they are friendly, hard workers, and have a good attitude towards us.

 

 

   The final segment of the ride brought us into the city of Sofia where we were to enjoy a much needed rest day.  We pushed to finish the ride, dodging pot holes on the outskirts, junk yard dogs in chase, and heavy city traffic.  Our 4 star Best Western Hotel Europe is like an OASIS!

 

            -Bill

 

 

  

 

 

  

Posted: Thu, 19 Jul 2007 07:54:52 -0400