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miercuri, 25 februarie 2009

My Balkan biketour april and may 2008

It was Saturday on 5th of april, a very important day when I left home to go on a very interesting biketrip in the Balkan Peninsula. It was quite cold and it was raining a lot when I started this adventure. I was quite soaked through after 32 km when I stopped to visit the Feredeu Monastery, near Siria. There I went inside to pray to God to allow me to have an unforgettable journey. After my prayer before the shrine a monk showed up and I had a very nice conversation with him. He was quite astonished to find out my plans that I was going to travel by bike as far as to the Eagean Sea, in the proximity of the Holy Mountain (Athos Mountain). He gave me good counsels about how I should behave, and to stay away from sins, especially considering for it was the fasting period before Easter. I traveled pretty fast through the Banat region, I remember that the second day I cycled 150km and I was overtaken by night not far from the border of the county of Caras Severin. On my way I was attacked by 2 shepherd’s dogs and then in pitch dark I put up my tent on a hill after some bushes. I had a very poor and fitful sleep that night as if I was haunted by some evil spirits. It was only in the morning that I found out that I had pitched my tent next to a cow’s skull and many whitened bones. Then I had a strange revelation that from your life you get nothing, only your spirit and your bones will survive. So life is folly and only pleasure counts. So Carpe Diem! Seize the day! I am so happy to be a cyclo-hedonist. Then I went on cycling, cycling on the Danube Defile I felt great for the nature was blooming again, so many birds, so many flowers, I was racing the ships and quite often I would outrun them. It was lovely. I was so delighted and free again.
At Orsova I met a friend of mine, Andrei Ozizu, a great young cyclotourist from Bucharest who like me cycled in many countries in Europe. We continued our journey and at Gura Vaii Custom’s Office we met Florin Leonte, who is one of the best enthusiasts and supporters of cycling from Romania. There we waited for 2 hours for a group of 100 cyclists from the Western Europe; they were cycling from Paris to Beijing, and they were supposed to get to China’s capital before the Olimpic Games 2008 started.
We joined them till the town of Drobeta Turnu Severin, where the group went to spend the night in a hotel and I had the pleasure to run into a good friend of mine, Rick, from Buzias, who is a great cyclotourist and climber. He was having a long tour of over 1000km in Romania as he was on holiday. We were very happy to meet and as it happened to be exactly his birthday that day, it was on the 13th of april, we went out of town, and we found a pub where we celebrated and we told our latest adventures. Next day we sayed good bye to each other and he went his own way and I joined the group. Unfortunately for me, I cycled with this group only 50km, then I had a flat tyre, finding myself alone again, and from Craiova I decided to head for Bulgaria alone.
I crossed the border by ferry between Calafat and Vidin.Till Montana, the road was very smooth, nice scenary, I felt just great. Then after Berkovitsa village, I was at the foot of the Stara Planina mountains, I had to climb a pass that was 1438m high, on top of it I found snow beside the road and plenty of fir trees and spruces. Then on the descent I spotted an interesting cave in a vertical rocky wall. Then it started raining and I found a nice restaurant where I took shelter. Then I pitched my tent in the vicinity. Next day It was raining a lot, not far from Sofia I was attacked by nasty dogs, then at a gas station when I bought something, the saleswoman stole me about 4€, not knowing the language my protest were to no avail. Then after cycling in the rain, I set up my tent near Studena, where I stayed for 2 hours in a gas station to rest, to eat and to dry up my clothes. Next morning I woke up in a sort of muddy puddle. It seems the rain flooded my tent. I was lucky to have a good sleeping bad, and so I suffered quite a little during the night.
Then on my way to Blagoevgrad, I was so happy to see the sun come out again and discovering the great Rila mountains on the left with the Musala peak(2925m) which is the very top of the Balkan Peninsula. I was so overjoyed by the natural spectacle that I immediately composed a short song:
“ I miss the Carpathians,
I also miss the Alps,
But that’s it my brother
I’m cycling in the Balkans
Which are simply sublime!”
Indeed the thrill and the satisfaction of discovering new lands by bike, is just huge; nothing can match this unique feeling of utter freedom, inner peace and divine joy.
Then on my way to Rozhen Monastery, which is a masterpiece from the Middle Age, I came across a very interesting relief and lush vegetation. The town of Melnik was impressive, too. Such a lovely area for tourism!
I entered Greece at Kulata Customs and on my way to Thessaloniki, not knowing that 4 monthes latter (on 23th of august) on this busy road European 79, Ian Hibell, the pioneer of cyclotourism, aged 74, would lose his life in a collision with a truck. Oh God, I’m so sorry about that. On this very road I suffered a lot myself, 60 km away from Thessaloniki when I was going up a long and steady climb, something broke down at my pedals and I could no longer cycle. I was so angry that I stopped at first pub and I drank some beers and I started smoking again because talking to some people there I found out there was no mechanic in the area. Then I continued on foot a few kilometers till I got to a smart restaurant where I had a great evening and I made some greek friends who were impressed by my journey. Then I put up my tent nearby. The next day I had to walk my bike for more than 30km till I finally found somebody who welded and fixed my bike.
Then I chose the most difficult route of the Halkidiki Peninsula with numerous climbs, being the first member of the international cycloclimbing club B.I.G. Challenge to climb the Mt. Hortiatis. I felt so good to be the first there, and on my way to the top I ran into a gorgeous turtle. The climate and the relief changed dramatically, the temperature rose over 20 degrees Celsius. The vegetation was so lush with plenty of colourful and variegated flowers and also the palm trees began to show up. Some weeds were as tall as myself and it was only april. Then I also had some climbs in Mt. Holomodas and I visited 2 monasteries. I also passed through Polygyros, an interesting town. On my way to the Kassandra Gulf I had a long descent that was quite straight and I picked up a speed of 80km/h. I was flying on my bike, gazing at the fabulous blue sea in front of me. It’s hard to describe such a blissful feeling when for a moment I felt immortal as God, my Creator. Then after buying some victuals and drinks among which some delicious seafood and special cider at a supermarket in Nikiti village, I made a halt on the first beach I came across to celebrate. The Eagean Sea was the 3rd sea I reached by bike, after The Black Sea and The Adria Sea. I was so delighted to be there on the deserted shore enjoying the the wonderful nature. I also took a dip in the blue sea, it was on 19th of april. The water was crystal clear but very cold, about 13 degrees Celsius. I stayed on that beach for a few hours to celebrate and to enjoy life, then I went on cycling in the paradise of the Sithonia’s Isle. That night I set up my tent under an olive tree near Neos Marmaras village. What a nice feeling, and what a pleasant night!
The next day I had a lot of climbs in a very scenic scenery, I think on this half island whose tour is about 109 km long, there are at least 50 climbs, among which 4 are pretty tough. So it is a heaven for cycloclimbers. This isle is a perfect joining between the mountains and the sea offering breathtaking views.
Near Porto Koufo harbour when I was trying to fix my bike, as I had a flat tyre, a man driving a trendy convertible car stopped and invited me to come over to his restaurant to help me fix my bike. The greek people are very kind and willing to help, more friendlier than those from the western countries, from as far as I could perceive. Near Kalamitsi village I was astonished by some goats who were climbing an almost vertical wall. From Sarti village, I could see in the distance Aghio Oros (Mt. Athos) with its majestic peak(2030m). At Pirgadikia harbour I met great people again and I felt so good, then at Ierissos after visiting a busy market place where I saw 2 attractive Negro girls, after buying a new tyre and a new pump, I went through hard times for I couldn’t find my wallet.
I was quite in a distress for a few minutes till finally I found it and I could pay for what I bought. On my way to Stratoni village, I had a new suffering. Suddenly I spotted a small natural pool where at the bottom I saw a turtle. I wanted to catch the turtle to examine it and to take a picture of it, but when I got into the water barefooted, I had the misfortune to tread on a very sharp piece of glass and out of the blue I felt a terrible prick and I was horrified to find out my right sole bleeding like hell. I had a painful day but I had to go on cycling. At Olimpiada village I saw some great vestiges of the ancient world nestled on a hill and then in the evening I arrived at Stavros resort where I went to a surgery. The doctor there was very kind to me and disinfected and dressed my cut. Then I went in the harbour area to celebrate that I escaped safe and sound after such a dramatic and doleful day. I bought a bottle of cider and I made a halt on a bench, enjoying such a lovely view over the Orfanos Gulf. Of what a night and how lonely I was! I was a real traveler, like the heroes of adventure novels of the bygone times.
The next day after another 23 km I had to bid farewell to the sea and I headed for the mountains. Near Amfipoli, I was impressed to run into a huge ancient statue of a lion that was guarded by a big and mild dog. Then from town of Nea Zichni I entered the mountains, I had to climb 2 passes of over 1000m each till I reached the Bulgarian border again. These mountains from the northern Greece were very spectacular and wild, at Kalithea village I saw some huge plane trees and at Granitis village I was surrounded by aggressive dogs. After Exochi village I entered Bulgaria where I spent another 6 great days till reaching Vidin again. Then in another 5 days I was home after such a great and eventful tour.
For this biketrip of 35 days and about 3000km I must gratefully thank to Mrs Lidia Bradley, the president of Aspera Foundation who sponsored me for the trip with 500$.
Long live the generous people and the cyclotourism that makes my life complete!
Best regards,
Pantani Carpaticus