Oops, I crossed the Balkans

The question of the day (the same question we ask every day!):  how to get there. Local Tourist Information advised my selected route would be across mountains and steep hills, and that further across the plains would be a better route.

My map for Turkey is 1:550000, a terrible ratio for cycle touring. The wide-spread rebuilding of the roads makes the map accuracy even more suspect, and overall not useful for clever routing. My map of Bulgaria on the other hand is 1:350000. Not my preferred 1:200000, but the topo detail appears quite good. Rechecking my plan, today’s path followed water up, and then back down. A rail line ran in parallel. At the point above the water, the rail line crossed at what I assumed was a pass. The roads were much smaller. Everything lined up.

The risk for contours is climbing 99 feet, and then dropping 99 feet, without that showing up on a contour map with 100 ft. contours, and doing that all day. Looking at the presented alternative, the route was on major highway, and that path into the mountains was not only a large highway, but much deeper in the mountains, so the overall elevation change more extreme. Also the only nearby route, that highway serves as a critical corridor to a big city.

The alternate advice from a non-cyclist, and tired of heavy traffic regardless, I decided to follow the route of my own devising.

In leaving the hotel, the owners presented me with a Bulgarian curio with rose water, Bulgaria being known for roses. In the context of our discussion the night before, “Not made in China”.

End result of today? Awesome. Class I-II cycling. Gradual and even grade, light traffic, and good (for varying definitions of good) roads. Mostly cloudy and much cooler. I had headwinds part of the day, but only about a 3 on the Beaufort Scale, and part of the day more of a cross-wind than headwind. Unlike Turkey, intersections were well-signed, in two languages. Construction had not turned the roads into a gooey mess.

Mountains rose to my left and right, as I cycled up the valley in the middle.

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I passed crops of various things all day (grapes, wheat, corn), but my favorite was the sunflowers:

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The walls closing in as I reached the pass, I was through and on my way back down before I realized it.

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The plan was two days of 70 km, with the potential for heavy climbing most of day. Instead, I easily cycled 90 km before 5 pm (with a few nice leisurely stops along the way). I’m supposed to be recovering from my medical interlude, so started searching for a place to stay, and ended up with a room at a lake-side hotel (picture off my balcony):

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Like Turkey, Bulgaria as a country is clearly undergoing an economic surge. I’ve seen the same thing in Ireland and Poland when they were relatively new to the EU, which provides a massive influx of cash for infrastructure improvement. New developments are springing up around the lake, but the surrounding area hasn’t caught up. The photo looks great until you know what’s at the edges. The streets in front of the hotel overflow with trash. Construction has chewed up the edge of the lake. But the view from my room is great.

Five years from now, Bulgaria will likely be a changed country. For now, the throes of change are all around me.

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