Magnitude

An early breakfast ($2 with hotel room), I headed out to Tourist Information. Closed, with nothing on the door to indicate opening time. While waiting, I headed over to Baba Vida Fortress – open!

Baba Vida Fortress was spectacular, everything I like about a castle. Restored, but not managed to extremes. I could wander (mostly) where I wanted. Examining the castle, I could see the different changes through the ages, as well as different architectural and construction feature. I wandered in and about, my years of playing Doom nd Quake coming in handy for keeping track of where I was wending my way though stairs and passageways (though I didn’t find a Blue Key).

By the time I completed my explorations of Baba Vida, Tourist Information opened. I need to take the ferry to Romania. No bus tour to Belogradchik. They walked me 100′ down the street to point out the map store.

I currently have two maps of Romainia. One is northeastern Romainia at 1:400,000, and another is a map sent by the Romania Tourist Authority, at probably 1:1,500,000. Amazon and the local bookstores didn’t have other offerings. Neither one works well for planing a route through southern Romainia. I have a GPS, but not the same (and electronic vs. paper).

I wandered off to the map store. The owner said, “no” to  my request via Google Translate for a detailed map of Romania, and then proceeded to dig through all of his maps. Spain he has. The country across the Danube? Not so much. But my question piqued the interest of another Bulgarian in the store. “Auto?” he asked? I replied “Velo”, gestured with my hands to indicate cyclist, and pointed at my bike. He gestured for me to follow him. Having almost made a career of following random strangers in random countries, off we went.

We first cycled to a news stand a few blocks away, where the words “Romania”, “carte” (map in most languages) and “American” featured prominently. Conversation then led us to our second destination, the Romanian Tourist Bureau, which was unoccupied.  More “Romania”, “carte”, and “American” engaged a couple more people outside. Peering in
the window, one read a phone number to another, who then handed his phone to my erstwhile guide. A brief discussion (more “Romania”, “carte”, and “American”), and my guide spoke the first English of the day, “5 minutes”.

So we waited ten minutes, and we added another gentleman to the mix arriving by scooter –  the person who should be in the office. By this point we’ve added a couple more people outside, and we all crowd into the office. He rummages about, and finds a picture (still in a frame) from a stack on the floor, of Romania, and proceeds to start pulling the picture out of the frame. 

Now the picture is probably 1:2,000,000, worse than either of the maps I have, so I touch his arm and say, “no”. His response (in broken English)? “No problem, make copy”. What do you say to that? He rummages about for tools, carefully pulls the picture out of the frame, and hands it to one of the ever-growing number of people in the office, who comes back and presents me with a photocopy. I gave the only response you can give under those circumstances, an enthusiastic thanks. The crowd disperses, the gentleman in the office and my original random stranger shake my hand, and I’ve made their day, even without  a map I can use. I think I’m going to frame the copy. 

The grey sky and weather forecast intimidate me a bit, but bouyed by my success at Baba Vida, and the reminder of the joys of unloaded touring, I decide to make a day trip to Belogradchik, another fortress about 52 km away in the wrong direction, and straight back into the mountains, with a 600 meter elevation change. The farthest cycled in a day this trip is about 90 km. Unloaded, while I’ll take the repair kits (both bike and first aid) and a lot of calories, the remainder of my safety nets (such as camping equipment) are left behind. The weather is menacing, but the day is warmer, and I decide to risk it. Most of the route is highway; while that generally isn’t fun, I’ll make good time. 

I started making unloaded side trips during our honeymoon tour in Ireland. Marnie wanted the occasional day of rest more often than I, and the occasional extended wandering in the local town. We developed a pattern where every few days she’d stay put, and I’d range out to places not directly in our path.

During one of those treks, I cycled to Birr Castle to see the Great Telescope. I was waiting in line behind a large Polish family, the patriarch of which was aggressively haggling with the ticket desk over the price, the value to his family, the number of people there, and that he didn’t want to be there anyway. When the desk finally relented, and dropped the price (by almost half), and added up the cost, they included me! A look passed between the patriarch and I. He paid for my entrance, and I paid him back once we were inside. I then spent the day wandering about the park with the family. We had lunch. I carried the daughter on my shoulders. Fun all around.

In Vidin, I extend my hotel stay, and set off for Belogadchik around 11:15. To ensure I’m back before dark, I commit that if I’m not there by 4, I turn around. As I set off, the weather turns, and a light rain starts to fall. While the rain stops shortly thereafter, after the first hour I’ve gone only 14 km. The first flat 8 km are followed by 6 km of roads graded like hills – steep. While finally in shape to climb that grade, the slow going tempts me to turn around, given that I’m on the fastest leg of the trip – I’m just not going to make it to Belogradchik in time.

I have nothing else to do, so press on. Shortly thereafter, the grade changes to mountain-class, long gradual rolling hills, and I start making better time. At the 30 km mark, I stop for lunch, and take the turn for the secondary road up the mountain. It’s both inspiring and horrifying when you take a turn to go uphill, and the gentleman standing there claps in praise.

The climb starts in ernest. Graded well, but winding ever upwards. I grind and claw my way up the side of the mountain, begrudging every meter of occasional down, knowing I’ll have to climb back up again to reach the final elevation. I’m in better shape (and unloaded); while my speed drops, I drag myself ever upwards, with the occasional pause for rest, water, and calories. While resting by the side of the road at one point, I was standing beneath a wild pear tree. I knocked a few pears free and added them to my caloric intake.

“Wait. I think I made it. I hadn’t really expected this to work. Yes, up on the hill, that has to be it! ”

Belogradchik? Also awesome.

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In addition to the fortress, rock formations a lot like those I’ve seen from Utah.

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All that remained was the trek back to the hotel. The weather forecast called for rain at 4 pm, and I left at 4:30. On the way back I saw the selfsame pear tree I’d meddled with on the way up. More successful this time, I continued my downwards trek with a handlebar bag filled with wild pears.

I could see the rain behind me, and about an hour later the edge of the storm caught me. When that happens,  you can either try to outwait the storm, or outrun it, and in this case I had gravity on my side. Arriving back in Vidin, tired but dry, a leisurely dinner capped off a great day.

Romania tomorrow.  

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