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Monday, 8 October 2012

New Stuff

A new adventure a new kind of blog.
Not sure what form it's going to take yet.
I just know the name is right.
see you on the other side and don't forget to bring a cape.

Friday, 18 November 2011

PT 2 - Summer 2012

Things are afoot for Pt 2. Probably leaving in Summer 2012.

Looking like August/September now.
I've also got a new bike for a new adventure.

Watch this space....

Monday, 10 October 2011

Day 70: Monday 10th October 2011. Sobhia Gokcen Airport to Apsley

And you thought it was all over. After being taken away in men by white coats at the airport, because of repetitive strain injury to my brain because of listening to the announcements non stop The morning finally came and after much debarcle at the check in desk was eventually allowed to check in. The plane was grounded for 40 minutes and the flight had the most turbulence I have ever experienced. At Luton, My arrival airport in England the fun just kept on coming. The bike was supposed to arrive through that blue door over there. After 30 minutes of sitting at an empty carousel I went for a wander and found it sat at that blue door over there. Exiting Luton Airport I had the enjoyable task of cycling home in some of the strongest winds I have ever cycled in..ever. A lot of screaming and laughing hysterically got me home and when Maddy said have you seen the text I sent you, I almost cried. It said, I'm home early. Would you like me to come and pick you up?!

I bet you can't wait for some post trip analysis and recommendations on what gear to buy or not buy?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Day 69: Sunday 9th October 2011. Buyukcekmece to Istanbul.

A combination of the wind when putting the tent up, not being able to use tent pegs and perhaps a little bit of Austrian lager may have contributed to the state of it this morning, that and the fact that it rained and blew all night. Apart from a quick dash to the on site toilets I just tried to pretend it wasn't happening and hid under the foil bubble wrap, but the Security Guard came a knocking and wanted to know when I was going. I gave the signal of 5 minutes and hid back under my blanket and closed my eyes and hoped it would all get better on its own, it didn't. The guard went off on his motorbike and when I checked the gate I was locked in. It was a Sunday, would I be here until Monday? Oops. Rather than worry about such trivial matters I just packed up best I could in the weather. The rocks I had used to secure the tent where not rocks but a really weak, sand heavy cement mixture and just crumbled in the rain. My tent pegs through the fence method had worked really well though, must remember that one. By the time everything got packed up, I was wet but a new guard had appeared and let me out. Off into the miserable morning blowing a gale and chucking it down. The hill I thought I had avoided was now before me and I had to scale it for myself. I forgot to charge the GPS and had no idea how far I had gone or even how long but stopped, looking rather pathetic and got some food and tea. My hopes to warm up a bit where rather scuppered by the back door of the establishment being permanently open and creating a fantastic through draft. Wet, miserable and cold I dragged myself back outside into the rain which had now got worse and set off for Istanbul. With having to catch the plane tomorrow I wasn't looking forward to a rain soaked quick look round the tourist fuelled and money driven big city after experiencing so much genuine hospitality from genuine people. The ride into Istanbul took for ever in driving rain and four lanes of traffic. The pot holes got you by hiding under puddles and the water poured down the hills onto the roads and brakes were virtually useless . My hands became numb from being a permanent fixture holding the brakes as tight as I could whilst careering down hill at about 30mph. A glint of sun came through the clouds about 12 and I started to feel a glimmer of hope. A quick kebab and a coffee at Istanbul prices got me ready and when I reached Sultanhamet I went looking for a cheap hotel. The first one I tried was the best because he assured me the transfer to the airport for 10 Euros would take a bicycle. No one else would. The easyjet airport I was using for the plane home is about 50km from central Istanbul and I needed to check in around 11:00. This meant a really early start and hoping nothing would go wrong and crossing my fingers for half decent weather. It was just too much to ask so 10 Euros seemed the perfect solution and I could relax and stay here for the rest of the evening. I went back to the hostel and double checked about the bicycle. The guy at reception seemed offended by me asking this and he kept saying no problem no problem but he would phone them, just to make me happy. They wouldn't take bicycles! Even for extra money. The guy gave me two other options: a private taxi, about £40 and an airport bus from a different part of town, 10km away. The private taxi was out so that left the bus, hitch-hike or pedal my way to nearer the airport tonight. The cycling tonight would mean I couldn't spend any time in Istanbul the weather was still not great and it was going to be dark before I got there. I would also still have to find somewhere to stay and get to the airport in the morning. Whilst deciding on the options a guy comes up to me and asks where I have been etc after seeing the bike. At first I dont sport his Ortlieb bar bag he is carrying and don't realise he is a cyclist too. When I mention Thomas Stevens his eyes light up. Have you heard of him I say. Yes he says, do you know another French guy called Roman I am his friend. A little Thomas Stevens moment for me as someone knows Who I am without having met them before. We arrange to meet back at this spot at 7pm to have dinner if I'm still in Istanbul. I cycle off to Taksim Square to find out about the airport buses. I end up climbing ridiculous side streets of anything up to 15% and decide this might be a ridiculous idea but I persevere and find the bus. 12TL gets me to the airport, bicycles no problem and they leave every half an hour. It's started to rain again now and I really just want to pay my 12 lira and get on the bus now. Romans friend had suggested sleeping at the airport which hadn't even occurred to me, too easy you see. No building sites or dogs or burning corn fields to worry about. I decide with all the hassle of packing the bike up for the plane, this is unfortunately going to be the option I am going to take....So what should of happened was: I got on the bus, didn't see much of Istanbul and enjoyed the coach ride in the warm and slept at the airport. A relaxed end to the end of the adventure. Istanbul will have to be the start of the next part rather than the end of this part. EPIC WRONG of massive size. What actually happened was...I'm outside the coach talking to the driver who asks me if I'm getting on, and something comes to me that I hadn't thought of. If I get on the coach now it means I will not be cycling into Asia when I go across the bridge. I will be on a coach.
Even though its been a miserable day and the thought of sitting on that warm coach eating something nice and just having a chill for the next hour and a half is so nice I decide not. The plan is I will cycle over the bridge, take the picture of me with the Welcome to Asia sign and cycle back and then get the coach to the airport. I've come too far to not finish a continent. I can live with not having much time in Istanbul as I have been here a couple of times before and crap weather is not the way to see it. So off I go into the damp evening, its rush hour and I encounter the most traffic I've seen in 69 days. I take a wrong turn to the other bridge by mistake and have to do some barrier hopping with the aid of a Traffic policeman. If this policeman had told me what the next one told me the evening may worked out quite differently. I weave my way through the three lanes of traffic which is chock-a-block going out to the Asian side of Istanbul at 6pm. I can see the traffic snaking out towards and over the bridge, I'm nearly there, I'm getting quite excited even with the rain and traffic to negotiate. What happens next certainly changes the feel of the whole trip. Two Police on the hard shoulder stop me. They say I can't go over the bridge on a bicycle. I try to explain I'm going to the airport but they think I mean the other airport ad point back the way I've come. Airport mix up resolved the answer is still no. I ask how do I get to the airport with only two bridges being the way across. Needless to say I'm getting a bit upset and what a time to encounter some Police authority of which I've had none on the whole adventure. A minibus driver on the hard shoulder in front of me is gesticulating at the police and at me. I think he has been pulled over for something and is getting irate that they are not dealing with him rather than me but what transpires is just plain Turkey. The Police have commanded this guy to stop seeing that he has an empty bus and is stuck in the traffic and commanded/asked him to take me across the bridge. This then puts me in a right fluster as this is not what I set out to do at all. I get whipped up in the moment and go along with it. I quickly form a plan that I can get out near the other side and cycle back and do some photos. This is not quite what happens though. My free private driver doesn't speak English so I have to wait for my opportunity to tell him to stop. Before this opportunity happens he keeps asking if I'm going to the airport. I say no, but then say yes as I think this will be an easier answer. I think he is asking me this as he is going to the airport as well. So perhaps the best solution to this whole sorry day is just to sit tight, miss out on a photo and a few km's of cycling and go to the airport. I can treat myself with the money I've saved. Yes yes airport I say enthusiastically and off we go. I relax and enjoy the ride. UNTIL.....30km from the airport he drops me off and explains he is getting off the motorway here. Bloody hell, could today get any more fucked up. Off I get dejected, 7pm dark, motorway, rain. So what would any other ordinary human being do in this situation. Of course. I start singing chirpy chirpy cheep cheep for some unknown reason at the top of my voice and get on with it. I saw signs turning off to the airport ages ago on the bus so I don;'t know the way. My map of Turkey is next to useless because it covers the whole country. I come off the motorway find a garage and ask someone. The magic of the iPhone comes into its element and someone shows me the way on googlemaps. Back on the road I go trudging along in the dark on the hard shoulder. I see a small kebab shop on the side of a road parallel and head off for the best meal I've had so far. A chat with the owner who is also a cyclist, a warm up, a few chais and back on it. A while later I see a parade of shops and decide to stock up for the night and spend the last of my Turkish cash. I would do this anyway but spending the night in airport and buying from there will cost a fortune so you know me. I visit various shops to get what I want including a few beers, one of which is a new Efes I havent sampled which makes the cycle a little easier. Pretty soon I see a sign for the airport and I start to relax knowing that I am at least heading in the right direction. The call to prayer wails out in the darkness and I peel off for the long airport road. Although I spend about 10km on this I'm rather amused and distracted by the thousands of little snails that have come off the grassy slopes in the wet and for some reason want to try and cross the road. I cant imagine many are successful. I must of crunched at least a couple of hundred of them. I try my best to weave in between them but there are so many it's unavoidable. Soon I see the planes fly over head taking off from the runway. Before you know it I'm at the airport and warm and cosy inside.....WRONG. I get to the airport and a rather common feature of airports near the middle east is they have x-ray machines before you get into the airport. I had this nightmare when I went to Egypt. Rolling up on a bicycle loaded with stuff is not on the menu of the airport staff. No one knows what to do and they just point you off in different directions till you leave your bike behind or cycle off. Problem 1. Bike does not go through x-ray machine so has to have all luggage taken off it. Problem 2. Bike needs to go one place, luggage another. Does any body help or offer advice. Course not. Do they get upset when you leave one of them unattended. Of course they do. Luggage is through, now bike. The policewoman is dealing with this and when satisfied will let me through the side. PROBLEM. I'm called back to luggage. One of my bags needs to be emptied. You just knew it would come back to haunt me. Its the used bullet I found in Austria. Souvenir I say. Not any more they say. But nothing happens so I go back to dealing with the bike. In the massive hilarity that has been today I have plain forgot to empty my fuel bottle of petrol. I make sure I get in first and tell them this, offering to take it outside and tip It away. No NO, you cant do that. Thrice in one day Turkish law suddenly springs into action. The customs man who found the bullet and the policewoman have a conversation with lots of pointing. p and a bullet, I have to be a terrorist. I persuade them both that me going outside and getting rid of the 100ml of petrol is the shortest happiest ending to all this for all of us and they agree but I have to be escorted and shown where to pour it, the nearest drain. So bike and luggage finally through x-ray machine No. 1 I can finally relax (ish). I now have to repack the bike to move it all. I find a little spot as out of the way as possible, crack open a beer and give the biggest sigh I have ever given. Adventure, Shenanigans and Ridiculousness right up to the very last second.
I have been Richard Turner following Thomas Stevens. Thank you for reading. GOOD NIGHT!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Day 68: Saturday 8th October 2011. Mavi Yelken to Buyukcekmece, TURKEY. The hunt for a spindle.

Not having been shot or wounded in the night I get up grab a welcome shower as my foot bandage came off in the sea and with all the shenanigans I hadn't even realised. A big flap of skin is opening the cut and all sorts of nasties are working their way in. Mehmet was most kind/odd/drunk in the night. He came back rather late, crept into my room and put a blanket on me. Later on he came back and tucked it in. Go with the flow I did and I here I am. Mehmet was still asleep when I woke up so I eat what I have in my bag for breakfast and pack up. Still no stirrings in the other room but the telly is on and the phone is off the hook with the message repeating over and over every five minutes. I give the guy a knock and wake him up to say goodbye and thanks at the least. He stirs a bit but nothing is registering, then he looks me straight in the eyes and straight through me. It's like he hasn't even seen me and rolls back over. I call his name a few more times and nothing, a bit louder and he grunts and I look at him until he focuses. I'm a bit worried he doesn't know who I am but when I mention the bicycle he jumps into life has a quick wash and we're off looking for the local bicycle shop which may or may not be open as it is a Saturday. We find the shop which is a shed with less spare parts than my garage. He does have a spindle but is too big. He says to Mehmet that I will have to go to Istanbul but I'm sure a city of Silivri size will have something I can use even if not the proper part for the job. On the way back to somewhere for coffee I go back to the cafe where I met the guy from Hackney to see if they are about and say thank you and explain what happened to me last night. They are closed but opposite is a hardware shop. I know exactly what I want, march in, ask if they speak English (no) and go looking around the shelves for a piece of long threaded metal to use instead of a spindle. I manage to get the message across by pointing at various bits, and lo and behold out he pops with exactly what I'm after, only not. Because it's 2mm too big in diameter. He has no smaller but I take a photo and get the name of it for future reference. I meet up with Mehmet who has forgotten about coffee so I say my thank yous and wave goolay goolay. On the way to the main road to Silivri with my 1mm of nut holding the wheel on I pass the cafe again and this time there is life. I explain what happened but there's no translator here this time to help. I'm invited in for tea, we work out how to use the internet and I'm also invited for breakfast with the family. They are Kurds who have moved here from a town called Oflar in the south east of Turkey. They play some Kurdish wedding music and do a little dance linking their little fingers together. Sedir pulls a face that I know well, whilst listening to the music. He's just in a state of bliss. On the road to Silivri a van pulls along side me and starts to chat. It happens all the time but it's normally locals. It takes me a little while to realise they aren't. They are two guys from Austria. I notice a cycling sticker on the back of their van. They are off to Istanbul too. I limp into Silivri and have no problem finding the part for my bike. Even though I know they've charged me more for the part than it should normally cost it still only costs about £3. In order to redress the balance I ask them to wash the bike, which they do with the jetwash and they give me a coffee so all in all we are both happy. Now the bike is roadworthy I'm ready for Istanbul. It's about40km away.
I get some miles done and pull down into a small town to ride along the coast. It's dotted with picnic tables and two guys sat at one beckon me over for a coffee. They ask if I have eaten and
and I say yes not long ago, but they still go off and get me food and insist I take it with me if I'm not hungry now. I say ok as long as I can give them some Serbian raki in return. This gets a strange reaction but I insist. About 5pm I find a little village and go looking for a good place to camp by the sea. As I'm looking someone puts their head out of a window and shouts Liverpool. It's the two Austrians. They are looking for somewhere to camp too. They invite me to have a cold beer, which naturlich I do and we have a good old chat about all sorts. Then we decide to chuck my bike in the van and go looking for a camp together. This doesn't go very well as it's too built up and we stop in Buyukcekmece. They decide the car park is fine for them tonight and so they buy me a fish sandwich and then I go off looking for a camp. I find a building site that is locked and the head of security has decided to let me camp inside the compound. I say I'll be back in a bit and go back to the Austrians who ply me with Austrian beer they have brought with them and it turns out one of the guy's wives is a Steiner Teacher the same as Maddy's mum. We chat about the virtues of this particular educational idea and they head off to bed. Luckily they have parked next to a five aside football pitch which has showers and toilets so we make use of the facilities. I go off to the building site but the guard has changed and is a bit surprised at my request to camp and says no. Can't blame him. Then I bump into the other guy, who has a word and I'm let in. Before this though it's chai time, the small kiosk selling beers, cigarettes and food has an extension specifically for chai. I think it's for the people working on the site. It's blowing a gale and rain is due. The ground is too hard to get the pegs in so I have to tie some of the tent to the fence and use some rocks. The tent is a bit pathetic but a few beers have enabled me not to worry and I creep in and disappear.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Day 67: Friday 07th October 2011 Lulebergas to Silivri, almost. Sublime to the Ridiculous

As I write this I am currently sat in someone's living room, which doubles as their bedroom. I do not know this man's name and he speaks not one solitary word of English and he is mainly drunk. I have the spare room. How did I get here? Well....
I woke up where I went to sleep just outside Lulebergas, took forever to get going, managed 10km before stopping at a petrol station for biscuits and got chatting to some guy over a chai about dieting, sugar intake and balconies whilst he was waiting for his friend who was over the road negotiating something? I arrived in Chorlu 40km later and at about lunchtime. A kebab was found which was a sandwich which lead to another kebabwhich and a chai of which payment for both was refused. The next stop was Silivri but was never reached. I found the sea and went to investigate instead. I dipped my toe in the water but got frightened by children telling me of an electric fish which was actually dead, not asleep. One of the children chased after me up the hill shouting at me and when I looked round he had a biscuit for me, which I ate. This lead to looking for a camp by the sea which I found but was unable to reach as the whole area was a ghost town of derelict holiday homes that were not that old but the streets had gates guarded by dogs. I took a short cut to a German holiday village but ended up in a sewer and got a puncture. I repaired the puncture outside the gate of the village with the help of the security guard who said I could use the shop but his superior said no. Then the spindle on the wheel I had fixed broke and now I was in shit. But the shit came off 'cos the spindle was just long enough by 1mm to do up as long as I didn't go over any bumps. So I cycled down the motorway with 1mm of spindle nut holding the wheel on and the security guard appeared and guided me to a shop. The shop had no kebabs but it had beer and yoghurt but it was dark. So a 10 year old guided me to the kebab shop but I didn't have enough money so I just had a Turkish pizza thing. I didn't have any money after this but they gave me a coke but then a man from Hackney who was staying upstairs came in and this meant I got more pizza and chai for free and a lift to the bike shop if I wanted, which I might well do. They said to camp on the beach so I did, but three men I had said hello to earlier said don't camp here, camp up here instead, so I did, but they talked to a man in a beach side cafe and he said don't camp where they said, camp here, so I did. He said have a cup of chai so I did. He spoke German so so did I and a little man in the corner made jokes in the corner in Turkish so I laughed. Then the man who could speak German said I should sleep in a house, so I said yes. And me and the man who spoke German and the little man and another man walked up a road in the dark and I put my bicycle and me in a room with 2 beds and all the men went away and I stayed in the room. Then the little man came back. It's his house, so I got up. He put the telly on and we watched Turkey play Germany at the football. He said I must drink his beer which is in the fridge, so I did. I offered him some of my Serbian Raki but he thought this was a bad idea and I agreed. Then he said something in Turkish so I nodded then he pulled the mattress up off his bed and showed me his gun! Then he said something about three/four which I understood because I can now count up to ten in Turkish. Then he did a stabbing action. Then he phoned his wife/girlfriend/daughter/escort/chatline ??? in Istanbul and then he went out smoking a cigar and a bit drunk. So you see this is how today went.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Day 66: Thursday 6th October 2011. Havsa to Luleburgas, TURKEY

We all walk back to the cafe and I discover I have a puncture in the front wheel.
I fix this while the other two set up shop for the day. By the time I've got the puncture fixed about an hour later (there are many distractions) it's reached 27 degrees. Three cheeky school girls walk past and spy a stranger and immediately guess that I am English. I think they are 10 years old. They try out some English on me, which I try to help with. When they get stuck they reach for their text books and try out some other phrases. I think it has to be one of the highlights of the trip. I don't know if I can think of any other lesson where kids might get out their school work and say, oh hello! Let's try out what we learnt at school today in a real world situation. Yes that's a fantastic idea do you have the book???? They were so confident and so cheeky it put a massive smile on my face all day. This also reminds me that Turkey is the first place I have seen kids wearing school uniform since England. A combination of circumstances, place, education facilities and school holidays are probably the reason for this. It's a bit of a reality check as it reminds me of normal life back home. I manage to tear myself away from Havsa just before 12, my admirer makes an appearance so I think this is a good idea. On the road I am accosted by three old men who I resist but I'm had by a 4th man on a motorbike in a pincer movement. This results in much eating of various melons, because the melon man had arrived. One man couldn't stand up, another couldn't see and Tarzan, the owner of Tarzan's restaurant has one leg, or half of one leg, I can't quite tell.
Melons tested I head for Baba Eski and find a locals' eatery. I test the kofte and vanilla pudding and head out of town . 5pm finds me in Lulebargas and whilst I debate the price of figs here compared to Edirne with a greengrocer, an elder gentleman introduces himself and declares he has visited Reading. Put on my guard by the higher fig prices I instantly take him as some sort of cad and when he asks me where I am sleeping tonight I think he is angling for his brother's hotel,ncarpet shop, fez boutique etc. I couldn't have been more wrong for Gengis offers me a guided tour of the market. He gets his bicycle and I follow him closely, negotiating the busy streets. We find somewhere safe to park the bikes and we walk around the market with him answering all my questions about the various products. When we return to the bikes I buy some yoghurt and am duly furnished with some free bread to boot. I say goolay goolay to Genghis and his rather cool bike: a Bianchi with a double top tube and a rear centre stand and head out of town for Chorlu. It's just starting to get a little bit dark and I'm joined by a spotty yute at my side. After a few unsuccessful attempts at finding a shop that sells beer he points me in the right direction. His name is Cesar and he is so helpful. He rides with me to the edge of town before heading back. He teaches me to ignore the traffic lights. Not far out of town I find a little track heading off into the fields and follow it. As I get out of sight and sound of the road the track winds towards some derelict buildings. A car comes out from behind them and says meharba in a (are you lost) kind of tone. He has slots from his bee hives on the back seat. I acknowledge the bees with the worldwide recognised bee sound of buzz buzz and he nods and then points to the buildings and says buzz buzz. So I camp under a tree instead. Hopefully the stubble in the fields I can see burning in the distance wont burn this far and I will see the morning. I take all the bags off the bike and realise I have beer, yoghurt and dinner but no water. I leave all the bags where they are and drive back up the track to the road. I go the wrong way up the hard shoulder for a bit until I reach a university halls. I ask if I can get some water and the guard directs me to the canteen but I have to leave the bike. I chat to some students who guide me in to the kitchen to fill up my bottles. Some students are comparing their soft drinks and chinking their bottles. I think to myself that surely students who don't drink alcohol must do better at uni. If not, why not? I get back to where I put the bags and you can guess what's happened can't you? Yep nothing. Still all there.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Day 65: Wednesday 5th October 2011: Edirne to Havsa, TURKEY

 It's cold outside when I wake up around 7am but I'm toasty warm. I've found that my silver blanket works better over the top of me than underneath. Because of this it's rather difficult to drag myself out of my pit.
Next stop Havsa and the road is under construction. My side is shiny, new and finished. The other side is still having the finishing touches done and is not yet open to traffic. For all I know this has been done on purpose to aid the farmers. They are utilising the lovely smooth black tarmac to dry some seeds of one kind of another. Huge swathes of road are coloured light brown with the drying seeds. The farmers walk up and down the 100s of metres long strips with a big wooden rake turning over the seeds and thinning them out. Further along in my travels I see people bagging them up once dried and shipping them onto big lorries. Twenty five km up the D100 I come to Havsa. Although it's only 11am I stop for a kebab and a well needed coffee. No coffee at this establishment but they send out for chai. I love the fact that restaurants in a certain area rely on a central chai maker who arrives from no where with steaming hot red brown chai tea in a small glass on a silver tray. Usually accompanied by some sugar lumps. Kebab and chain dealt with, I do the rounds in search of some history. A lot of places I've visited in the last week or so seem to have very few reminders of the past 130 years. Old fortresses from long before but most architecture and buildings have been from 1930 onwards. Whilst investigating I come across a cafe selling ice cream and I enquire if they do coffee. Yes they do and that is the end of that day. By pure coincidence Burak the owner is a cyclist and is on couch surfing. Once I've been there for about an hour it beomes apparent that a couch is available upstairs and although I've only done a paltry 25k and it's only lunchtime, I decide to stay. Lovely people, cyclists, decent amount of English. A no brainer.
It's a lovely afternoon, 27 degrees and I while away the hours chatting to various people, learning Turkish and drinking heaps of chai and coke, with various kebabs thrown in here and there for good measure. Although I arrived as a paying customer, once the invitation has been made I am made to feel as welcome as any guest and Burac refuses to take a copper coin for anything. Upstairs in the cafe are some sofas and a small bar selling soft drinks. I'm expecting I will end up sleeping here. Chatting away to a local lady who after a while I realise may have designs on me, (sometimes things get lost in translation and I dont think my pittance of Turkish has helped at all) I ask her what time the cafe closes and she explains it is 24hrs. Umm. Could be interesting. So could the fact that she has started to tell me that her boyfriend is getting jealous of her being with me but it's ok because he is at work!! My host has been absent for the last few hours so I decide the best plan is to just stay put, drink tea and chill. When he arrives back it's time for my admirer to head home to her boyfriend and me, Burak and a few other lads have a beer. We have to go to the shop to buy it and when some customers come in, girls around 16 years old, the beer has to disappear. When he closes up for the night, I go with him and and his friend who works for him to his friends house who lodges with a family close by. The family are all in Istanbul so it has been arranged that all 3 of us will sleep there for the night. I also take the chance to grab a well needed shower. Burac prepares some pasta before bedtime and I have a lovely snooze in my Sponge Bob duvet.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Day 64: Tuesday 4th October 2011. 10km past Harmanli to Edirne TURKEY

More rave up action this morning in my field. This time its Top Buzz at Fantazia. The easy start to the morning is to get back on the motorway where I came off and get on with it, but you know me. I've seen a road running parellel with the motorway since Harmanli and I reckon it might be a tad more interetsing than Mr M. So I follow the dirt track under the bridge in the hope of ending up on said road. All goes swimmingly and I jump on the road without any fuss at all. Trouble is the road is fast going in opposite directions to Mr M and a quick peep at the map reveals why. It also says this road it eventually a dead end. I go in search of a local to seek the truth. A man says problem. No problem I say. He points to the bottom of his field and the motorway and then to his gate. I get th picture and bump off down the field chasing after the lorries like a sick dog. Sick as in well sick, yeah. The gate is locked. I spy a shepherd and am just starting over towards him when I see the loveliest of sites: an open gate. Up I pop and before you can say Michael Jackson I'm on the M. By lunchtime I cruise into Svelingrad but it's still 10k to the border crossing to Turkey, the point is called Kapitan Andreevo. Then a small chink in the armour reveals itself to me. The sign to Svelingrad peels off the M, Istanbul is straight on. No problem there. However the road to Svelingrad is also the road to Greece, it's only 8km away and a plan hatches. I stop at a shop that takes credit cards and find the beer I've been searching for for the last 3 days. I saw it in Plovdiv and haven't seen it since. It's by Kamenitza, one of the big breweries and it's an unfiltered beer. Right up my street. I have this on the table outside with last night's extra pasta I made. And crazy luck, they have wifi too. I decide to have lunch and a bit of a rest then go to Greece for the afternoon, which is not on the route and head back across the Turkish border at Edirne which is the first Town Stevens stopped at in Turkey. Well why not, it's not everyday you can cycle to Greece at the drop of a hat. It turns out not to be today you can either, some people outside of the supermarket give me lots of advice, most of which I'm nbot sure I understand. They keep pointing to their watches. I take this as a bad sign with time against me and decide that this little holiday will have to happen another time. I head back on the highway to Edirne and Turkey. Kapatan Andreevo soon comes around and it certainly feels like a border town with petrol stations, cafes and change offices lining the street on both sides.
Arriving on a bicycle seems to tickle the border guards as they ask the usual questions. At the Turkish side I have to present my passport which has no visa and then go to another office on the other side of the compound to buy one. Why they dont make the visa office at the start of the compound I will never know. I have three ways to pay. £10, E15 or $20 dollars. I knew this in advance and changed up some Bulgarian Lev into Pounds for just such an occasion. Without so much as a look through my handlebar bag I'm through customs and into Turkey. 4000 or so km since leaving Liverpool and I'm in bloody Turkey. Well I'll be. I'll be honest with you I really had no idea if I could do it, but I stuck to my mantra which I think can enable anyone to do it which is: Stop when you're worn out, eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're tired.
Things do change when you enter Turkey. A big mosque greets you for a start. The roads are a bit dustier but cleaner. The car horns have a different tone to them and are heard more often, normally as a sign of overtaking. As I'm on the hard shoulder this happens lot to me. Lots of waving from pedestrians to acknowledge my travels. They somehow know I've travelled from further afield than Bulgaria. Edirne is the first city Stevens visited, and so it will be for me too. I don't make it. About 2km out of town I run out of steam, wobbly legs all that business. I roll down a dirt track to some shady trees, put the bike down and fall asleep. About an hour later I wake up to find I'm in somebodies driveway about 50 metres from their front door. No one is around. I get up and head on to Edirne. It's about 5pm when I reach here and first thing on my mind is food. I have a kebap in the main pedestrian area and devour it. When I look up the staff of the kebab place are laughing at me, gesturing that I must have been really hungry. I was. A few days ago I had told Maddy that the trip had been the perfect length and that I thought it would be perfect timing to come home soon. But as I'm sure a lot of travellers find, when you reach a new Country as different as Turkey with the cultural, religious, food, music fashions and what not. It's hard not to get swept along on the crest of an adventurous wave and the feelings of why you departed on your trip in the first place all come flooding back. The wanderlust. The sights sounds and smells of Edirne are an instant pick me up. I buy some figs from a fruit barrow, darker here than in Serbia. Delicious. I buy some more. Some Yoghurt from the milk, cheese and yoghurt shop and an Efes, Turkeys only beer as far as I know. By the time I negotiate the difficult task of finding a toilet it's dark. I just head out of town on the main road and keep the eyes squinted looking for a break in the houses somehwere. The houses turn to fields but they are fenced off until a fortunate/unfortunate car crash has steamrollered the fence and in I go. This field is right next to the road but there are more further into the distance, a small ditch seperates me from it. I reach the end of the field and thankfully a little path takes me over the ditch and into the further field. Away from the traffic and the eyes I whip the tent and everything up super-quick in the moonlight without the need for a torch. And I enjoy my Efes, Figs and some Turkish sweets I bought from a confectioner. Marhaba Turkey.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Day 63: Monday 3rd October 2011. 30km before Haskovo to 10km past Harmanli, BULGARIA

Although chilly a fantastic nights sleep is had and I wake up and dance around my cornfield with the sun coming up like it's 1989. By placing your phone in a small coffee saucepan with the speaker facing down into said pan you can double the volume. The first song that comes on shuffle is The Guillemots: Annie, Let's Not Wait. In the first verse of this song comes the line..I woke up in a field of corn. Things like this can't help but set you up for a good day can they. The stove is too choked up with soot from using petrol to make coffee and so I down a can of red bull courtesy of the Hotel fiasco yesterday. Add some early 90's raving tunes courtesy of the telepathic shuffle on the iphone and all I'm missing is a few thousand other people. When the tiny/tinny DJ inside the garage tent starts to mix it up with some more peculiar choices I lay on my back with sun warming the day and I realise that I'm raving in a field on my own to a phone less than 50 miles away from having cycled to Turkey, fooking hell, what a laugh. Not wanting to lose the vibe man, I put the phone on its litle holder on the handlebars and leave the tunes pumping (minus coffee pot) and bump my way out of the field, down through the dried up but muddy stream and back onto the E80 towards Istanbul. When I pull up in the next town with the fat beats pumping out like a wasp in a baked bean tin the local ladies who are fitting a new pavement outside their house give me a warm reception but with a roll of the eyes thrown in for good measure. The anthems keep me rolling well today and I hit Haskovo for Lunchtime. The road here is littered with shops displaying three gold coins outside. When I drove this way three years ago I thought it was some kind of lottery. Now blessed with the perfect speed of the bicycle I realise its the sign for cheese. Doh!
I change up my 50 lev note from the hotel and get 63 turkish lira in return. I have a gigantic although only officialy medium kebab and a small savory doughnut covered in garlic sauce. I go to the local square and have a rest on a bench whilst the sun does its worst and remark on the majority of old men sat in the square. 9 out of 10 sport the Haskovo gentlemans uniform of: Baseball cap or Beret, an acrylic knitted jumper or suit jacket, suit trousers and most important of all, a pair of slip on deck type shoe of a knitted cord type material so you can see the socks through them. These shoes are usually in cream but I did see blue and white and a blue pair too.
Refreshed fed and watered I rejoin the E80 towards Svelingrad: the final town before the Turkish border. Half way and 40km from Svelingrad I reach Harmanli where I set about spending the last of my Bulgarian Levs. I still have a few coins left and instruct the lady behind the prepared food counter to dish me out some pork and rice. I pour the contents of my purse onto the counter and say that much worth please. The lady points at some of my coins laughing and says super! Then another lady points at them and says these and these pointing out the 1c and 2c coins and just says No! Soemone else had mentioned 1c and 2c coins are no longer valid but otherwise everyone is taking them. Whatever the situation I get my pork and rice and I'm a happy bunny. The signs out of Harmanli are a little confusing as two roads both point to Svelingrad. One is the motorway the other the road I have been on. Then the sign for the local road is crossed out and the motorway sign has both colour roads on it. I'm not worried about the motorway so head that way. The motorway has been built to a higher standard than most of the roads in Bulgaria and is nice and smooth with a nice wide shoulder for cyclists. The last motorway I went on had little roads and escape routes quite regularly for me to disappear on. Typically now the sun is starting to go down I can't find a way of getting off. A fence about 6 feet high runs the entire length keeping the animals off the road. After 5km I spy a small gate and wade through the undergrowth to see where it goes. It is welded shut along with all the other gates I try. Sticky buds like synthetic cycling clothes and I look like I have been paintballing, covered in little green and yellow splats. I'm resigning myself to staying on the motorway 'til Svelingrad and having a bit of a ride in the dark, when lo and behold an open gate, off I pop and meet a shepherd on the way home with his sheep and goats. I drop down from the raised motorway and into the field below. Its just scrub in between crops of squash and I here I stay.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Day 62: Sunday 02nd October 2011. Polvdiv to 40km before Haskovo. BULGARIA.

I go down stairs to tell them about the toe and enquire about a chemist. The receptionists has to ring around because it's Sunday and they don't open today. She finds one that's open. The hotel does not have a first aid kit rather annoyingly. This is not a cheapy place by the way, but the sort where business people and indeed some of the musicians from last night are staying. I go and practice the art of miming a cut toe at the chemist and acquire some antiseptic cream. Having only sandals I think this is one injury worth taking care of. I cycle to the chemists to see if the foot is ok and it appears to be, I'm lucky. When I get back the manager is called to see me about the foot debarcle, apologises for the sharp step, the lack of first aid and offers to refund the money on the room. Unfortunately it's her first day as manager, and refunding my credit card on a sunday is well out of her league at the moment. In the end I just take cash. All this takes so long to sort out I wish I'd said dont worry about it. It's 12:30 when I leave and the sun is spanking me. I stop at a supermarket for some food as everywhere else seems to be shut and head on out to Haskovo, 100km East. The road is busy all day and I have a very tiny hard shoulder to cycle in or none at all. The lorries whizz past my ear. I decide if I'm gonna go this way I'll have a smile on my face when it happens so I plug in some tunes and dance half of the day away. It is possible to dance while cycling but needs a particularly jiggy move to pull this off. Something I happen to be quite good at. I stop at a town whose name escapes me and get some supplies and at 5 o clock I disappear into a corn field and get a fair distance from the road. Apart from the hum of the traffic not a single dog or other noise is heard all night, although I do now own a zoo of insects, some of which like to jump. I will be bringing them back to England and charging admission.  

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Day 61: Saturday 1st October 2011. Chiminovo to Plod Did

I decide to make the most of being up early and go across the road to get a coffee and make an early start. When I see the price and the quality and the size of the coffee I order another. This causes a bit of a mix up and I end up with three. It just seems easier to take all three and I neck em down one after the other. What happens next must to an onlooker resemble a cartoon fight when the furious ball of bodies whirrs around with various legs and arms poking out at all angles. I tear through the packing and before I know it, I'm washing some clothes in a tap and I'm off. With the extra caffeine and no sleep my plan is to ride as fast as I can for as long as I can then stop at the next town or collapse in a heap. I end up doing both at Pazardzhik. Thankfully I take refuge in a cake shop with wifi and do some computery things until I start to nap. The nap is a pretend one cos I'm wired with coffee and I go in search of food. A chips and meat kebab is ordered and I feel a bit more alive. I plod on to Plovdiv. Around 5.30 I reach the outskirts. The road here has been quite uneventful save for the vineyards. The owners (presumably) are selling grapes in huge bin bags by the side of the road. What looks to be happening is someone will come along, try the grapes, strike up a deal and buy a whole load. I'm assuming to sell on or make wine from.
Utterly exhausted and making no logical sense I decide to try and explore Plovdiv; Bulgaria's second biggest city. Then I'll get out the other side and find a camp. UTTER FAIL! After 5 minutes I ask in a hotel the cost for the night: too dear. The next one says 50lev about £22 and they show me the room. No dogs, no clubs, a big bed and for once the most important thing: a lovely bathroom. A proper shower or wash has not been had since Belgrade and my clothes could do with a proper wash too. I whip the bike and all the luggage up one flight of stairs and jump in the shower. I'm magically revived and head off into town without the bike. The receptionist has suggested a concert to go to, so after a few travellers and another kebab I find the church and take a pew (literally). Apparently the musicians are all Bulgarians who have done well for themselves getting together for a bit of a bash. It's mainly classical faves rather than Bulgarian music and whilst the setting is nice, I leave half way through in search of some gypo music. I dont find any and retire to the hotel nicely tired. Then disaster strikes. In 2 months of cycling, rabid dogs, dodgy roads, worse tracks and camping in woods, rubble, roads and rivers I give myself the worst injury so far. I cut myself on the step into the bathroom. The edging they have used is razor sharp and splits my big toe wide open, blood gushing everywhere. HOTELS ARE DANGEROUS! Dont use them:)
I mop up the blood and for the first time most of the contents of my small first aid kit are actually needed. I fall asleep watching Bulgarian folk music MTV.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Day 60: Friday 30th September 2011. A Forest Novi Hen to Semchinovo

When morning comes around it's light and cold again, a disadvantage of being hidden by the trees. Wearing every item of clothing I have except my trunks and cycling shorts I make breakfast with my legs poking out the bottom of the sleeping bag. For a change I put some music on and wait for the coffee and food to work its magic. As the sun peeps over the top of the trees I feel able to remove the sleeping bag and spend the next hour writing up the blog and gradually defrosting. It's not that the temperature ever gets that low, just that my sleeping bag is the equivalent of sleeping under a newspaper. I head off out of the forest back the way I came and back onto the road.
Ten km later I find out why Bulgaria has a reputation bandied about by people who have experinced its roads as the worst roads in Europe. Your writer finds no reason to disagree with this. Some countries have dirt tracks and a dirt track should be viewed as such. I don't think they can be compared to a road. Bulgaria however, seems to have a knack of taking a macadamised road and then digging parts of it up and leaving it like that. I think the thought process behind this is two fold. A pothole will form and get deeper and deeper then larger and larger. By scraping off a few levels of tarmac to about the width and length of a lorry it turns a small annoying pothole into a sort of kerb which you can go down and then come back up again a bit later. You could of course also argue that they dig the road up to make you go on the new motorway that you have to pay for. This 10km stretch of road, although fine for bicycling because you can find a strip of road most of the time, is by far the worst road I have ever seen or been on. Therefore making the road outside of my house the 2nd worst. Are you listening Mike Penning, MP for my constituency and also Roads Minister!!!!!!!!!! A letter is on its way.
The roads are also noticed by Stevens, and if I look carefully in some of the deeper holes, which reveal 6 or 7 previous layers of road before it, I'm sure I can see his wheel tracks in there from 1885. At Ihitiman I have what could be considered my most unpleasant experience yet. Two gypsy kids aged about 13 consistantly badger me for about five minutes about the bike, the shop keeper comes out and shoos them off. Yes this is the worst experience I have had so far. I'm either lucky or the rumours you hear about these parts are grossly exaggerated.  I know what I think. Out of Ihtiman the road gets better as I edge ever closer to Pazardzhik. It's too big a place for me to try and camp near so I start going about camping spot hunting duties. I find a little shelf of grass just off the road and overlooking the plains towards the hills. It's perfect; near the road but out of sight. Living on a main road myself the traffic doesn't worry me too much. Trouble is I have neither water nor beer. One or the other is just about bearable but not both. I head off East and come across a overpriced bar come club and although not much in £'s I decide it doesn't need my money and carry on. I see a village perched up towards the Balkans with an even better view than I had before and climb the 2km of 5% hill towards it. As I get closer various loads of horse and carts filled with gypsies pass me by. It looks like they have a little enclave here attatched to the village. I keep going into the main part of town and find a neat square with a couple of bars around it. I bounce up the kerb and cycle straight across the square to much pointing waving and staring from the outside tables occupied by the men drinking at them. The hill has worn me out a bit and I've got a sweat and a pant on. I motion to the nearest table that I'm out of breath and they laugh. I ask if I can get a beer here and before I've sat down, an old boy has jumped up and gone and got me one. He wont except any money or a round in return and says in German/Bulgarian that this is Bulgaria not London. I ask if this is a pub to which one of the other two guys drinking at the table makes an imaginary twirl of his imaginary moustache. I find this most intriguing, what he is trying to say is that this is an old mans club, not really a pub, but I am most welcome. I'm then offered what I think is a chicken leg, being told its homemade. It's pieces of pork mashed up with spices and breadcrumbs but cold. It's delicious. I ask what it's called and this causes quite a stir. Eventually the owner of said food just says “schwine” I ask about camping and they decide it will be alright to camp up on the green behind us. But it's better to wait until everybody has left the club, which wont be long. I do this and set up tent in the now half light. What I hadn't realised, sat with the old gents was that music was playing from behind the building. It transpires at Midnight that there must be some sort of club behind there. When this finishes another load of music starts up somewhere else continuosly until about 5am, then dogs bark until it's light. I get no sleep whatsoever. I also don't get my view in the morning.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Day 59: Thursday 29th September 2011. A Field to A Forest, BULGARIA

As I watch the sun come up far across the plain and behind the hills, I realise it's still bloody cold as I've got all my clothes on still. Whilst packing up a few tractors come past and wave and then a bus full of people all happy to see something new on their way to work. I pop into the petrol station I visited the night before and fill up with water. It's the same woman, still on her own. Destination today Bulgaristan's capital: Sofia. With 15km to go I stop off at yet another petrol station and get myself the best map they have. I also garner a few words of Bulgarian off the cashier. My world phrasebook I downloaded does not see fit to have Bulgarian and I feel very rude/lost without at least a few words. Merci is thank you so at least I can remember that. As I reach the outskirts of Sofia I see a hill of rubbish and perched on top some shacks made out of waste material. This time the gypsy camp is much bigger than those I have seen in Serbia and a few of its occupants are sitting around chatting at the entrance. In a Stevens style I have notice that the Gypsy woman has a tendency to wear her cleavage to its maximum unveiling, sometimes I'm sure even more than maximum. Whilst this could be seen to be part of the uniform requirements for certain occupations, this level of chest exposure can be seen in the streets and around camp on a regular basis. As poor off as the poor Gypsy folk are I find it difficult to believe that the elastic has gone in ALL of their tops! I am most surprised when I arrive in Sofia central as in the space of less than 60km I have gone from gathering water out of a well from a hole in the ground with a plastic bottle to being sat in a modern city. The street I have chosen to rest on is a tram way and closed to cars, making it a favourite cafe hangout. Whilst I jump on some free wifi on a bench and eat some bread and cheese I suddenly feel very aware of how civilised and glamorous everybody is and I feel quite out of place. I have a mooch around the sights and nearly get roped into appearing on Bulgarian TV. Four or five large outside broadcast vans are parked in a square all adorned with the face of the presenter. He is sat at a chat show style bench being filmed. The crew see my cycle past with my headcam on and beckon me over. Any other time I would have jumped at the chance but other urgent matters need to be attended to a la urban trowel. Later on I stop at a small cafe for some food. I order what I think to be a sweet pastry of some sort but it turns out to be a savory goats cheese and spinach kind of affair, dripping in oil, delicious. In for a penny, in for a pound I see three different drink bottles of the same liquid on the counter and get a small one, having no idea what it is. How can I describe this drink called Basu. Ummm. Cold, Milky, Yoghurty a bit like cold tea yoghurt, with a hint of meat and plants??
I ask the lady if it's Yoghurt. She replies naturlich, meaning its natural rather than of course. It makes me feel a bit queezy. I cant finish it, try as I might. This Bulgarian delight will have to be passed on on this trip. I decide to take the motorway out of Sofia towards my next destination. Just as the road out of town turns into three lanes of motorway proper a string of bars appear on the side of the road, just so you can have a quick pint to get you in the mood for some serious driving. A police car is staioned at one of the bars with 2 cops sat leaning on the car. They wave as I pass, presumably bicycles are not a problem on the motorway here. The hard shoulder is nice and wide and free of too much debris so it actually makes for quite a nice ride. What happens next is probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Typically I don't have the camera on and my mouth is left planted on the floor for the longest time since open mouthed records of disbelief began. A full size truck goes past on the inside lane doing approx 60mph/100kmh less than 2 feet behind it is a road cyclist in its slipstream. Every few seconds he pedals like crazy to stay locked in behind the truck. My mouth is planted on the tarmac as he disappears into the distance. I have seen this done on the tour de france with the team cars, but this is behind a lorry so he can't see anything except the back of the damn thing.
Then to bring me down to earth I see a small puppy in the grass at the side of the motorway. As I get nearer he tries to bark at me, but he's so tiny and timid it makes for a very pitiful sight. I stop and have a look at the little fella and he's all skin and bones. I pull off the hard shoulder and get out some bread and give it to him. He devours it, clearly very hungry. I give him half a loaf and all my cooked sausage. I'm really tempted to pick him up and put him in my pannier and take him with me, he would at least keep me warm at night. I guess the little chap wont last long living on the side of the motorway, but hopefully he can at least have a good feed in the mean time.
Twenty km later I pull off the motorway feeling I'm missing out on real life going on in the villages and follow an unmarked road towards some houses off in the distance. Straight away I come to a tap with a woman of at least a hundred years old filling up some water bottles. She acknowledges me but that's it. She clearly has no time for fancy pants cyclists and their foreign ways. After filling up I ask three lads the way to my next place on the map and they point me back to the motorway. I say I want to keep off it and point to the road running parallel with it. They laugh and shrug their shoulders. The road takes me through a forest for quite a while and I decide to disappear up a track and make camp there. Another cold night looms and I decide that trees will keep me warmer?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Day 58: Wednesday 28th September 2011. Dimitrovgrad to A Field past Dragoman., BULGARIA. Pocket Shower.

The night before has not been kind to me and I reach for the Nurofen for only the second time on the adventure, the other time too was for similar purposes. It's still cold but light outside. I look at the time and find it's 10:30. I crawl outside and the sunshine breathes new life into me. I shake an apple off the tree for breakfast and lay down on my matress on my silver foil blanket basking in the sun like a cat. During my sunbathing session, the first since I've been away really, if you don't count drying off after a swim, various people and animals use the garden as a thoroughfare. They all give me a cheery hello or handshake as they pass the half white Engleski half dead on the floor. Dian appears from nowhere, he has been to Sofia this morning to sort out his residency. He says he will be back later with some friends. It's been a while since I have had a proper wash, Belgrade to be precise, and the sun bathing, cycling, hangover and lack of a shower do not make very good bedfellows. I make the most of having access to a tap and try out one of the only things I brought with me that I haven't used yet: my pocket shower. It's a black waterproof bag with a tap come shower attachment on the bottom with some thin rope attatched. Fill it with water, let it warm in the sun hang it up and you have seven minutes of shower. I do all this and change into my trunks so as not scare any through walkers too much and have a well deserved wash. Drying off in the sun I feel alive again, and slowly pack up. I wait until 13:30 for Dian, in the mean time I'm entertained by a gang of 8 year olds who have come to the garden to get apples from the tree. They shimmy up, shake a branch and the others catch. They have high standards though and discard everything that comes down. No sign of D Man and I enquire at both sets of shops, but my pronouciation of his name isn't good enough and they think I'm a jibbering idiot. I head off for the border. It's pretty dead and I sail through, even with my bottle of schnapps that Dian has somehow secreted on my person. Bulgaristan is not very inviting as far looks go in this part of the world but a whole coach load of Bulgaristanis wave at me as I go through the border. 10kms up the road I stop at a super retro roadside cafe and have the worst cup of coffee in a very long time. The clocks have gone forward an hour as I cross the border and the sun does not set until 7.30pm, but it starts to get a bit chilly at 6ish so I stop at petrol station and fill up with water. A track leads into a field over the road and I head down it. Making sure to pitch the tent in direct view of the sun in the morning, the reasoning being that it will dry out and warm up quicker. The view is beautiful looking across the plain towards the mountains. It's also bloody freezing and this time I make a concious effort to wear my clothes in the most effective way to stay warm. I also put my blanket under my matress and up over the sides. In my summer sleeping bag with a massive hole in I feel like a hotdog in a bun. I know I know a sausage in a bun. You know what I mean. Hotdog style yeah. Still freezing cold though. I made the decision when leaving that I could manage with my summer sleeping bag rather than my warm one. This would save room and weight. I dont think I appreciated how good my thermal underwear is though, which I did not bring. Brrrrrrr. Good stars though.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Day 57: Tuesday 27th September 2011. Pirot to Zatibrod, Trouble at the Bulgarian border.

The bodge on the tent has not aided the morning wakeup. The inside of the tent is dripping and the pole is protruding through the canvas, or whatever crazy hitech stuff they use on tents these days. Apart from the gentle sound of the Serbian orthodox top 100 Iv'e hardly heard another sound all night which is a first. My relative seclusion on the edge of town makes for a peaceful, slow packing and then I venture into the delights of Pirot in the daylight. I spend the remainder of my Serbian dinars on a coffee but the owner refuses to take the coins, but insists I have a large one anyway. I sit here a while genereally taking in the scene agog at the damage the falling conkers are doing to a car parked underneath a tree. One coffee is not enough and like a junkie I go looking for a cashpoint to get just one more hit. Fate decrees I leave town cold turkey as the ATM spits out my card, it not likee. Pirot is interesting,but not enough to contain me. I have a squizz at the fort on the way out and had there not been a large gathering of yute I would have liked to camp in it. Dimitrovgrad or some close spelling is the last Serbian town mentioned in the book and the last before heading into what the Turks like to call Bulgaristan. It's hard work on the autoput and the head wind and lorries battle against me to see who will be first to make me give up. I seek shelter from both and the sun in a small square shelter with a tiled roof, open sides and three benches set inside it. A traveller's rest if ever I saw one. There is a hole in the ground finished square with cement and a plastic bottle tied to one of the supports with a pice of shrink wrap doubling as a rope. The hole is a well. The bottle has been cut through at the top but left attatched by about an inch of plastic to give the rope something to tie on to. I deliver the bottle into the watery depths and pull up sparkling clear cold water. I have a well deserved wash and sit down for some lunch. Whilst getting out my tuck various thoughts go through my head about leaving heavy things here for others to collect when they come by. As if Derren Brown has worked his magic on me, I look into one corner and find a pile of money. I check it aginst the coins left in my purse and come to the conclusion it's not Serbian or Hungarian, therefore it must be Bulgarian. I consider this for a while. Has someone left it here? If so when and would they come back? Has it been left on purpose after crossing from Bulgaristan and the owner has thought exactly the same as me and just lightened the load? In amongst the cash is a Bulgarian Mcdonalds receipt. I decide the money was meant for one such as I and in return at this good fortune I leave a small bottle of homemade whiskey I have aquired on the way and have no need to drink as I keep getting supplied at every available opportunity. I leave a note explaining what it is and the date I left it just in case it is discarded as water or night time tent juice.
Just off the road at Dimtrovgrad I stop at a small shop to spend my last 17 dinars hoping it will be enough for a small pot of yoghurt. I'm one dinar short but the woman waves this away as a matter of course. Outside the shop two burly women are chopping wood. Autumn has sprung and with it all through Serbia I have seen a frenzied need to chop as much wood as possible by all and sundry, age and sex make no difference for this job. Small children with axes bigger than them and old ladies with axes heavier than them, all chopping away getting in the supplies before winter. The outsides of peoples plots are brimming with woodpiles, either cut to shape or big piles of logs freshly delivered or brought down from the forest. I wave at the burly woman and take a few snaps for which they are more than happy to pose. When I walk back to the bike a voice shouts out from behind a fence, come in here. Naturally I go. Two lads are sat round a table drinking beer. It's about 3.30pm. One of the lads; Sasha, has cut his leg open recently with a chainsaw. His mate Dian is sitting round with him, shooting the breeze. They ask me if I want a beer, they both speak good English. Naturlich I say. Three more beers arrive out of the shop I've just bought the Yoghurt from. The lads reel off complete sketches from Only Fools and Horses, it's hilarious. I've seen them all Dian says. The complete box set, I love it. An old man walks in, apparently its his yard we are sitting in. The boys and the man have a conversation and although I'm hardly fluent in Serbian, it sounds a bit odd. The lads see me straining to listen and laugh. They are talking Shopski, Shopski is a mix of Serbain, Bulgarian Macedonian and bit of whatever takes your fancy. This being a border town it's the norm. Apparently someone from Belgrade wouldn't be able to understand them. Another beer is suggested and I say no thanks as I have to be on my way and negotiate the border. I'm not quite sure what happened next but I've invented a word for it none the less. I was beernapped. Without a seconds loss of memory I now have a second beer in my hand. We chat about all sorts and have a good laugh. Dian has applied to work on the cruise ships and is off to Sofia tomorrow to try and get a permanent Bulgarian passport. The benefits of belonging to an EU country are enormous. When you see guys like this you can see that coming to work in another country is a big deal, its not a free ride they are looking for, just some work that actually pays them something to do something different to just sitting here drinking beer. Another guy turns up, Bobin. Another round of beers are produced without them even asking if I'd like one. How rude! I realise the way this is going and give in for the time being but have to explain I have no Serbian money but I do have a pile of what I think is Bulgarian cash. We count it out and they discard some of the coins explaining they are no longer valid. It's worth about 4 euros. Dian who is definitely the ring leader in this beernapping says I can get a room up the road for 6 euros. I mull this over and then offer to get the next round if they take Bulgarian levs. They do but they won't hear of it. By about the 10th beer we all head off to Bobin's house and have a bbq and another case of beer is bought. I'm truly treated as one of them. Big long sausages, bread and homemade iver and pepper sauce are the order of the day. Earlier the lads had shown me “the machine” the place they distill the homemade whiskey. A bottle of this apppears and fortunately I'm not the only one to refuse but a small one goes down just to be polite. Again Dian is the supplier. Bobin's girlfriend arrives and speaks fantastic English as if she has lived there for years. Amazingly I am the first English person she has ever spoken to. Brass Band music comes on and I show my appreciation for the art. Night has well and truly descended and it's freezing, everyone is wearing big coats and I'm running out of clothes and worrying about what the night has in store for me. I had already put the tent up in Bobins garden but when it's time to go to bed around midnight I'm ushered into the potato shed being told it will be much warmer. It is indeed warmer than outside and I gratefully accept the offer. Bobin is most apologetic he doesn't have room in the house but he is renting out to a few lads. I tell him that I've been treated like a prince and am very happy with the spud garage. At somepoint in the night I go take a leak and this time I'm positive I see the bull constellation in all its glory.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Day 56: Monday 26th September 2011. Movorac to Kunovica. Heavy Hospitality.

No water is the first thing I realise this morning so I have my breakfast which is getting tastier by the day. Oats, Yoghurt, Banana and fruits of the day all soaked in tonnes of med (honey). Perhaps I may have misunderstood the meaning of med on the 40 or so stalls selling honey in Nova Sad. I head over the road to see if anybody is about to get some water to wash my dirty dishes and get the bottles full for the morning. I find the owner in the driveway of his garage bent over a stove cooking red peppers. He comes over and lets me in through the front gate. Water no problem, he says in English. I ask him what he is doing with the peppers. He is preparing them to make "Ajvar". Burn the peppers on the stove and then peel off the skins and clean the pips and pith and mash up and probably add some magic ingredients and bottle it. He asks if I would like a tea. I have just had my first coffee on my new coffee pot but tea sounds great. His wife comes out to say hello. Nina is a retired architect and Dani (short for Slobodan) is a retired structural engineer. They moved out here about 10 years ago and now run a small farm. They are both lovely and before long a tray arrives with a cup of serbian mountain tea and a pot of honey. The honey is produced on the farm and tastes and looks different to the honey I bought a week or so ago. It may be even nicer. I try some off the spoon and then add some to my tea, delightful. No sooner have I started on my tea then a gift of homemade damson jam is presented to me. It's a big pot and weighs a tonne. Then we talk about my book and how Stevens went to the Hofbrauhaus in Munchen and Dani decides this is the perfect opportunity to break out some of the 2008 home made raki. It has labels on it with its name and year, very professional. No point arguing so I sip slowly on the fire water. Mental note, don't mention alcohol in any way, shape or form at breakfast or lunchtime. I mention that I like the honey and how it is different to the other stuff I have and Nina zips off into the house and retuns with a pot to add to my collection, and about half a hundred weight of damsons and a pack of mountain tea! Fearing what might appear next I keep my mouth well and truly closed until I'm invited to have breakfast with them. This of course I can't refuse and very soon a plate of eggs, chorizo type sausage and bread, tomatoes, hams, salami and cheeses fills the table. Everyone tucks in and it doesn't take long to realise the lion's share is aimed at me. Maddy claims to have a pudding stomach, which is why she can find room for a pudding even if she can't eat all that is before it. I believe I have grown a hospitality stomach, as I can now regualarly eat two meals straight after each other. I know if I start to rely on hospitality it will not be forthcoming, but if I make myself a breakfast or a coffee, I'll probably end up getting offered it 5 minutes later. Whilst a hungry cyclist on a budget can always use the extra food, it's the genuine warmth that you feel when being fed or watered that makes it rude and hard to refuse. Dani 's English doesn't quite allow him to say something to me and we both come up with the idea of google translate at the same time. He whips inside and gets the laptop out and off we go. When I was riding up the road last night I was definitely not expecting to find a house with a laptop and broadband. But out here the internet comes in via the satellite TV dish, so can be had anywhere. When I leave them and pack up its about 1.30 and the next 5km I've been warned is quite steep. Unfortunately this is true and I climb at a gradient of between 8 and 10% for the next 5km. I am at least rewarded with stunning views and a gentle descent for the next 10km or so. I then join the main route to Istanbul and trucks aplenty are twoing and fro-ing between Europe and Turkey. There is not much of a hard shoulder and the trucks go by pretty close and at quite a speed. It's a bit hair-raising for a while but hanging on for dear life and a general attitude of gay abandon seems to help. My goal is to visit Bela Palanka and then get as close to Pirot tonight. Stevens does Bela Pelanka no favours with his review after staying over night because of bad rain, unfortunately it doesn't do much for me either. A one road town, a bus station with miserable looking people constantly looking at their watches does nothing to change it's review from 130 years ago. I stop and eat some lunch at the Bus Station and find an internet cafe. This is the first time I've used one on the trip, but I have to make sure my plane date is changed with enough notice so have no choice but to spend the 25p for half an hour. Although this isn't a tourist town, the cafe still has that seedy air to it that I think all internet cafes posess. I don't like them, and even if they were free I would still probably choose a McD intstead! I have now changed my flight date to 10th October. This decision was made in Belgrade but I've only just got round to changing it with OrangeJet. This has really taken the pressure off and is probably the reason why I have had such a good time in Serbia. I leave Bela Pelanka happy that the flight has been changed and I feel very relaxed and positive. Although I don't want to reach Pirot tonight I have no choice as I have no cash nor what I think is enough food for dinner. So when I reach there in the dark it's a bit annoying. I find a supermarket and get some grub. I then go back looking for a camp spot and bump into an old man on a bike who shakes me warmly by the hand and I ask his advice. He points to the wood and shakes his head and says nicht to my suggestion of down by the river. I investigate the road up to the woods but its too much hassle in the dark. I've played this game before. No thank you. I head for the river. There is a small dyke running the length of it. A factory and industrial units lay on the other side of the stream, rather than river and a few small farmsteads back onto it my side. Still in the light of the street I just pick a spot and start to set up camp. As I descend the dyke all of 2 metres the temperature plummits. On the good side I appear to have chosen a field of mint to camp in and a lovely smell comes up at me every time I move about in it, on the bad side I somehow manage to snap a tent pole. My brain is telling me the quick solution to this problem is to mend it properly. My body wants to eat and go to bed so I do a bodge job, eat less than what I would have eaten if I hadn't come to town and climb inside the broken tent. Music is playing in one of the units on the other side of the stream. Not loud, quite soothing. Some kind of classical Serbian orthodox. If there is such a thing. It sounds quite serious but it's nice in the background. Strangely the dog barking is hardly noticeable tonight. Another day nearer my destination, another night in tent land. I've gone to sleep quite early and I wake up shivering about midnight. I put some extra clothes on half asleep and curl up in a ball. At 3am I wake again freezing, it's easily the coldest night of the trip so far. I'm hungry and decide to start on the Nob Lice, just one I tell myself and before long I've consumed the whole box. Nob Lice for the uninitiated is a brand of chocolate biscuit, I had to buy it with a name like that:)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Day 55 pt 2: Movarac to Kunovica, SERBIA. Tower of Skulls!!!

….The road to Nis is that way says Mika. Within 3km I'm lost again. I had a choice of thee roads a while back: left, definitely wrong, straight on, the cryllic signpost had three letters so probably was Nis pointed this way but the road looked like a dead end or turn right on the big road. This is where I am now, asking a guy in a super customised Yugo car directions. It was the dead end after all. Back on track on very bumpy road the mountains start to come into view ahead. It must be 28/30 degrees today and I decide to stop off in the shade and have some lunch before tackling Nis. Sometimes cities are kind to cyclists, sometimes they are a pain in the arse. With clothes hanging off all corners of the bike drying in the sun I start to enter the city of Nis. Before reaching the centre I see various signs pointing the way to the fortress, the monastry and most interesting of all “skull tower”. If I had seen this sign in England I would have imagined it to be something to do with Pirates of the Caribbean but here I'm not so sure. I pull off to visit the market in search of figs, but 100 plus stalls selling local produce have either no fig trees on the farm or sold them all this morning because they are hard to come by. Seeing the effort the locals go to to produce harvest and to my eyes the hardest part, sell their produce for such a cheap price I can perhaps see why the thought of selling your crops to a supermarket for a ridiculously low price, but without the faff might be appealing. Supermarkets like those at home and in countries from France to Hugary are very few and far between in the Serbia. From my point of view buying fruit and vegetables as you need it from outside someone's house or the market is the only way to go. It's interestng to compare the prices when I do have to visit a supermarket in Pirot later because of having no cash, that the cost is about three times what the small farmers sell for. Shame it's not like that at home. I would gladly cycle to a local farm if the price was any cheaper. It really opens your eyes on the route I have taken and the countries I have visited to how packed with people, shops, roads and money our little island is.
Whilst visiting the grounds of the Fortess I read up on my Thomas Stevens about the city of Pirot. Visited and figs totalling zero I head out of town towards Bela Pelanka: my next stop. I must have been falling asleep through this chapter because he mentions the tower of skulls. An imposing monument built by the Turks after defeating the Serbs, the tower originally stood twenty feet high with four rough mortar walls with the skulls of the defeated stuck into the mortar, 952 in all. Reading the book Stevens remarks that most of the skulls have been removed but it is still a very imposing sight to greet you from the roadside. The imprints from the skulls being pressed into the wet mortar still remain clearly visible. Obviuosly I have to see what remains for myself, not expecting much I follow the signs to a small ticket booth. 120 dinar/£1.20 buys me a ticket. This gets me my own guide who has the key. I'm most intrigued. She tells me the story in English and I tell her mine as we approach she point to a chapel which now contains what remains of the tower. This was built 7 years after Stevens came through so he may not have known of it if had he been a decade later. Probably for suspense (which works by the way) my guide continues the story but with the key in the door but not turning it. I'm dying to get in, but the facts keep coming. Then she opens the door to the chapel and before me, the lower half behind glass, is a rough built wall and amazingly still some skulls remain embedded in it. As I'm the only person there it's extra powerful, each side of the tower still has skulls embedded in it and its enough to imagine what 900 of the poor buggers must have been like. The guide points out a single skull in a glass case, which is believed to belong to Sinđelić the Serb leader. She then points out a few other skuls that have bullet holes in, entry and exit and one that has been cleaved with a sword or axe. WOW! Super scary, super powerful, amazing story, all to myself, personal guide, £1.20. Outside on the road a cyclist stops to chat, he is from Slovenia but lives here with his wife. He is going in my direction and we ride together. He tells me the other road is far too dangerous with too many big trucks. We chat about a foreigners view on Serbia, he still goes to work in Slovenia because it pays better. He also agrees with my viewpoint on Serbian driving: bicycles just don't seem too exists. They might as well be dogs. As we part he gives me a banana, apologising that it is all he can give me. I take the road into the foot of the mountains and start to look for a camp. I see a man in a farm and ask for water. There is something interesting about this man, his clothes are what you would expect someone to wear on a farm: a bit dirty, a few holes but his general appearance is rather glamorous. You could imagine him changing into a tuxedo round the back and not think he had been working the soil 5 minutes previously. He lets me pump myself some water and I ask if I can camp there. He says its not up to him as he is just looking after it for someone. I thank him for the voda and off I go. A little further up the road, which is mountains to both sides now and not many properties, I find another house with some people outside. The garden does not have much grass in it so I just ask if I can camp in the field opposite. I disturb the owner who is having his haircut and the hairdresser translates for me and they say fine no problem. This is the perfect solution: say hello, permission from the owner and the chance to get up early and get off. It's a great little spot looking back down the valley and after eating my pasta dinner I sit in my blow up chair looking at the stars for what seems hours. I'm not very up on my astronomy and only ever seem to be able to see the saucepan. Tonight it must be in the dishwasher as I cant find it but I do see the bull, although it could equally be a chicken or perhaps a frog?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Day 54 pt 2 Day 55 pt 1: Sat/Sun 24th 25th September 2011 The Day I met Mika

...Then an old man walks in, he's tall, sports a fantastic moustache, he's wearing a jacket that looks a bit big on him, dust covered black trousers and a baseball cap. The owner tells him my story and he starts talking back to me in French. He explains he can talk Yugoslavian, Macedonian, French, Italian, German, Polish and a host of other languages I don't recognise. His only English phrase is “ Very Good, Very Very Good”. He starts to tell me the best way to my next destination. He catches me admiring a Zevesteva 750 car over the road. My new favourite Yugoslavian car. A bit like an old Fiat 500 but a bit bigger. This particular one has racing stripes painted on it and some numbers just to complete the racing look. It's seen better days but it still makes me smile. It just so happens to be the old man's. I ask him how much he wants for it. £150 he says. A Yugoslavian souvenir. The keys are in the ignition and he turns it over. Yugoslavian he says, very very good. It does sound ok actually. The numbers on the car are something to do with an aeroflot plane that came down but I can't quite make sense of that story. We go back into the shop and I apologise to the owner for taking his hospitality and then disappearing with the old man. The owner explains that the old man is his Father and I then notice the facial resemblance. The old man beckons me outside to talk about more Yugoslavian based hilarity and asks me if I would like to stay for dinner with him and Mika, pointing to the house over the road. Kafe, essen, schlaffen he says, Mika, pointing. Although it's a few hours away from finding camp I accept his offer and we disappear behind a garage into his garden. We climb some roughly finished concrete steps that lead to a platform above a flooded basement. We then have to descend into the garden by means of a rude wooden ladder made out of old pallets. The old man skirts down it like he's younger than me. I soon realise that Mika is his name. He lives here alone and I'm not sure if the wife is somewhere else or dead. I say alone but he does have some companions. Three mongrel dogs: Donna, the eldest and biggest, Bonnie, champion hunting & sniffing dog who will be my personal Policzja for the night and Zsuki the smallest. The garden hums a bit of dogs and cats. I didn't mention the cats did I? Later on, at one of the many feeding times I count 10! Kittens, old ones, young ones, mainly pure white but a ginger tom and a few smokey ones in there for good measure. Both dogs and cats seem to get treated with equal parts of harshness and love. One minute he is doting on them, the next he is clipping them round the ear. We sit down at a table outside and drink our beers and he disappears into a garage and returns with a briefcase. From the briefcase he produces various colour photos of him with some “glamourous” Yugoslavian lady or gent. Some of them are former Miss Yugoslavias, some of them singers, TV celebritys etc. He looks a lot younger, but still with grey hair. He says he's 39 in one, but I think he looks older. He certainly looks quite the Lothario though. Always with a brown leather briefcase in his hand and the celebrity usually looks more like the person who wants to be photographed, he just acts cool in all of them. Mika explains he was a TV producer when times were good back in the former Yugoslavian days. Some of the photos of the woman are verging on porn. There is just too much showing! I'm guessing this is 80s/90s period. He then goes on to show me his business cards and his metal stamp that used to accomapany his invoices. Then he gets out various flyers and ticket stubs of concerts and events he put on. Obviously for me and my background this is fascinating. He says he is retired now, but still helps out with the odd thing if it comes along. He has two mobile phones which he immediatley gives me the numbers to. Also rather hilariously he gives me his landline number, which in Serbian is called the Fiksu (Fixsee). Then he shows me some flyers and something to do with him and the church. Perhaps he arranged events at the church. He beckons me inside the garage to look at something on the wall and I see that this is actually his house. He has a single bed in the corner, a small wardrobe without many clothes, from which he offers me a suit jacket to keep warm at night, and a cooker, a fridge and a TV. The other room in the building houses a rude toilet made of concrete (not porcelain) and a large collection of cardborad boxes. Outside in the garden there are a few rotting apple trees, a pump where he pumps his water and an old Mercedes open back truck full of rubbsh with two of its what! That is if his way of life is anything to go by. Who knows, he could be loaded and choose to live like this. Either way, he seems very happy. Inside his room the cat and dog smell is quite overwhelming and when he suggests I sleep on a camp bed in here with him, I kindly decline and say I will be quite alright in my tent in the garden. My adventure level clearly has a long way to go. After a few more beers and crisps supplied by Mika making regular visits over the road to his son's shop, skirting up the ladder and holding onto a fence - which I fear will give way any minute - to help him up. It starts to get dark and some ingenious light bulb repairs are carried out by the old man. Although I can't know the full story as to why the son has a thrieving builders merchant and corner shop business over the road and his dad lives like this, I suspect that Mika thinks anything fancy is not worth it. I come to this conclusion after the story of the fridge. He has a fridge in his room but another outside. On top of said fridge are two cardboardboxes joined together with a small hole in them, with some bits of wood on top to hold the box down in the wind. The fridge broke, it turns out, and his son said he should just throw it away. Mika said rubbish it's got another 30 years in it yet and said he would repair it and get it working. He bet his son 200 euros he could do it. The bet was made and you guessed it, he got it working. I dont know if Beka, his son honoured the bet, but the fridge now works, not very well and that is why he uses it for the cats' and dogs' food. But most important are the boxes on top. When it gets dark he picks up all the kittens by the scruff of the neck and plops them in the box. The fridge gives off a bit of heat so it keeps the kittens warm at night. I hope you're smiling, I am. (I'm writing this sat in a field half way up a mountain and for the first time in nearly two months I have not heard a dog bark in over 8 hours...err where was I?) Oh the kittens go in in one box, the cats in another Bonnie gets put on a chain and pole outside my tent and Donna and Zsuki put in the toilet room behind a pallet. This in case bandits try to sneak in in the night and tempt the dogs with pieces of meat to keep them quiet. From inside the little room the dogs will sniff and hear the intruders first before they get in and wake Mika up if he has fallen asleep. He does not go to sleep when I do though. Every night he stays up hidden behind the garage until 4'oclock in the morning. He has a loaded gun, to which he shows me a bullet that he produces from his jacket pocket. His son's builders merchant has been raided by bandits, (Serbian mafia he reckons) and so now he keeps guard. When I ask him if he has had to shoot anybody he says just in the leg and then he calls the Police. So here I am taking in these incredible tales from this utterly compelling old man wondering quite what to maker of it all, I'm just about to go to bed and a voice calls out from the top of the ladder and Mika goes over to him in the dark. Then in English the voice says come here. I go over and try not to shine my head torch in the guys face. I meet Mika's grandson. He is 20 and off out clubbing tonight and invites me along. I decide, however, that this is probably not a good idea as I'm falling asleep already. Jovan the grandson then asks me if I'm hungry. Unfortunately I am as the promised dinner of crisps and bread has left my cycling person with room for more. He goes off and picks us up a Serbian burger of some description from a shop and delivers it back. When I ask him about grandad sitting out here with a gun, he replies oh yeah, every night. We were robbed. He asks If I'll be around in the morning to have breakfast with and says he will be back around 10. I say I shall try to stay. I wish Mika good night and thank him for all his hospitality and disappear into my tent, not quite able to comprehend all the stuff whirring around in my head. I hardly notice the rancid smell of cat piss.
I rustle around in my tent when I wake up, delibrately trying to sleep in so I can catch Jovan in the morning. He speaks good English so it would be nice to ask some more questions. From outside the tent comes a voice. Mein Feund. Meine Freund, I reply, very very good, and pop my head out of the tent see a cat half suspend from each of Mika's hands. Kafe? He asks, Ja Ja Zehr Gut, I reply. He beckons me into his room which is toasty warm, which is nice as the temperature outside is remarkably chilly. He closes the garage door and gets the coffee on. The TV is on the news channel and Mika gives an account of each politican that appears; Mafia, Money Money rubbing his hands, or good man, very good man. The weather forcast is for 25-28 degrees all over the Serbia to which he points and says sonny in a German twang. In front of the 2 bar fire keeping the us warm lay 5 big cats and a kittern hides behind it as it doesn't seem high enough up the pecking order to get a place in front. Another sits in an old jumper on top of the wardrobe. Coffee is Turkish style which I have now got used to. I have decided that my quality Italian mocha pot is now too small for my caffeine addiction and must try to find myself a long handled coffee saucepan on my travels. As I am a fairly recent convert to coffee I was interested to see how he made it. The water goes on the boil in a small long handled high saucepan, then when the water boils he takes it off the heat and adds a big spoon full of coffee. Then the pan goes on the heat again and when it's come to the boil he almost instantly takes it off, done. He then spoons out half of the froth from the top into each of our cups and pours the coffee in. I add an absurd amount of sugar to mine and 10 minutes later I feel high as a kite. It's the perfect solution to packing up the tent, and it takes the edge off the rancid piss smell outside. I likewise “pisch” in the corner of the garden as instructed, as the dogs are still in the toilet room, and all is well. Mika appaers as if by magic, shimmying down the ladder with four loaves of bread. One is for breakfast to go with the hot dogs and tomato ketchup, which happens to be a little guilty pleasure of mine back home, so I'm most delighted with this. Another loaf is for me to take with me for lunch along with a tin of sardines and ¾ of a big bottle of lemonade that we didn't finish earlier.
Although it looks like he lives in quite squalid conditions I have no problem accepting his offerings as he just goes over to the shop and gets whatever he wants when he wants.
When I pitched my tent the night before he was worried about the dirty ground or the cold night or both and disappeared into the cab of the old truck, reappearing with a smile under his big tash and a piece of silver backed something or other, I think you put it behind radiators to reflect the heat into the room. We put this on the ground under the tent. In the morning when I m packing up I pick this up and tell him zehr gut zehr gut. This was always going to be a mistake. Off he goes up the ladder and over to the builders merchants and comes back with a big sheet of a similar material only like bubble warp with a silver side. Insulation, he says in German or Serbain, I know what he means anyway. He cuts it to size for the tent and I roll it up with my tent. His son had told me yesterday that when I get to the mountains in Bulgaria it will be a lot colder, so this may well prove to come in very handy indeed. I have packed up as slow as I can but no show from Jovan. Mika has texted him a couple of times and keeps getting the reply of twenty minutes, but we both know what that means from a 20 year old who has been out clubbing the night before. At 11:30 I decide it's time to go and we go and take some photos outside the shop. Some of his friends are outside the shop having a beer or two and try to get me to join them, but I know where that will lead and with mountains ahead I decide to try get in proper shape for the climbs ahead. Sporting a new baseball cap, trousers and shirt today, the amazing crazy old man Mika waves me off telling me to come and stay whenever I want. Moustache twizzled to perfection and a big grin on his face. I hope I've entertained him a fraction of what he has entertained me.