RTW Trip on a Himalayan

madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
Days 31 - 37 (Part 2)

Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia.

Due to another favour for the same friend I then headed for and spent two nights in Bialystock, a very unremarkable city. Once this task was completed I headed for Gdansk. Although very touristy I did like the city, especially the older building of which there were a lot of.

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Leaving Gdansk I headed for Vilnius in Lithuania, the journey was not particularly pleasant as the temperature dropped to about 10 degrees Celsius. Once I got to Vilnius I found the old town and had a walk about, as it was getting dark by the time I did so my opportunities for taking photographs soon evaporated, but I did manage a couple before it got too dark.

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I had intended going to Tallinn in Estonia via Riga in Latvia, however, the weather forecast for the Baltic states for the next week was cold rain. So, I thought f**k that! One U turn later I was again heading in to Poland but this time I headed south to Lublin where I hoped to spend my last night in Poland before going to Ukraine. The next morning I headed off bright and early and once at the border I passed from Poland to the Ukrainian side of the border.

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Once there however, I was told that Ukraine was closed for non Ukrainians because of COVID19 restrictions. That news put and end to that little plan! So, after a U turn back to the Polish side of the border I then had a three hour wait to get back in to Poland. On my way to the Slovakian border I passed some Soviet made fighter jets parked in a field at the side of the road.

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Then I stumbled over the monument to the Battle of Dukla Pass which was a massive tank battle between the Soviets and the Germans in 1944.

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madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
In these posts I have tried to use smaller sized pictures so that it does not take a long time to load the page. Please let me know if this helps and if so i will resize all the pictures on the post. Thanks.
 

Wintrup

Well travelled
Location
Cumbria UK
Great stuff. I was in Gdansk many years ago when the curtain was still down. Really looking forward to your Ukraine experience. I've been, but never on the bike.
 

madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
Days 38 - 42

Hungary and Romania.

I entered Hungary from Slovakia by way of a small border crossing not being aware that a few days earlier Hungary had closed it's borders to all non Hungarians. The border guards at the crossing, looked at my passport and then gave me a piece of paper that apparently allowed to enter and leave Hungary which because of my ignorance of the border closure that was in effect, I was slightly bemused at. However, as I had booked accommodation in Budapest for the next two nights I made my way there. I had never been to this city before and I was looking forward to seeing it.

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I have to say that I found the place very nice but a very odd thing was that in the time that I spent there I was unable to find a mobile phone shop in order to get a local SIM card for mobile internet. I also noticed that all the bars and restaurants started to close at around 10pm which again I thought was a little odd. Once again my ignorance of the current COVID situation was to blame as this was a measure to control the virus instigated by the Hungarian Government. So after a short rest I was on the move again, to the Romanian border. I left Hungary without drama and once in Romania I stopped in the city of Timisoara.

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The next day it was time to ride the famous Transfagarasan pass. I had seen many reports of riding this road by other bikers and most of them had raved about it being the one of the best biking roads in Europe so I was understandably looking forward to it. However, I can say that in my opinion it was no better than many of the Alpine passes that I rode over in France and Switzerland. In fact in a number of ways it not as good, at the top of the pass the traffic and number of stalls selling various stuff was unbelievable. I could hardly get through the number of parked cars, tour buses and throngs of people walking about the road. Too touristy for me by a long way. In fact it was so busy on the way up that I was unable to stop and take any pictures. However, on the way down (South as I approached it from the North) it was less busy and I managed to get some taken. Also, the road surface was very, very, poor in comparison to the Alpine passes of Western Europe.

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Also on the way down I saw lots of stalls at the side of the road selling sausages and cheeses. I stopped at one for a bite to eat. A couple of smoked sausages and a cup of coffee was a delicious lunch and I decided to buy one of the cheeses. This was one of my better decisions. It was a dry smoked cheese, unlike any cheese that I had previously tasted. One of the best tasting and textured cheeses I have ever eaten and I can thoroughly recommend that if your are there then you get one.

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On the way South away from the Transfagarasan and on the road to Brasov there are a couple of castles that are reputed to have been the actual castle of Vlad the Impailer and another castle that was allegedly the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. I had fully intended to stop and have a look but just like the Transfagarasan, both places were swarming with tourists in cars and tour buses. At the first one, the actual castle of Vlad the Impailer, as I was negotiating the huge amount of traffic I noticed a large number of people who had stopped their vehicles in the middle of the road and they were all walking about on the road. At first I thought that there had been an accident but then I noticed that they all appeared to be photographing something at the side of the road, where the pine trees rise steeply up a hillside towards the rocky outcrop on which the castle was built.

Then I saw what they were all looking at. An adult European brown bear that was slowly walking towards the throng of people who were all standing photographing the beast. It was enormous. I have only ever seen bears in a zoo and this was my first encounter with one in the wild. For about a second I thought about stopping and photographing all of the idiots who were within yards of this wild animal but I quickly moved on wondering at the stupidity of such people.

That night I stopped in the city of Brasov and spent the night at a very nice and reasonably priced guesthouse.

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The following day I rode to the town of Constanta on the Black sea coast and spent the night there. I was a very unremarkable place and not at all what I had expected. It was so unremarkable that I could not be bothered to photograph any of it. The next day I set off for the Bulgarian border.
 

madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
Days 43 - 46 (Part 1)

Bulgaria

On reaching the Romanian/Burgarian border I encountered one of the most common road defects that Central and East Europe has to offer, "Tramlines". These are the large longitudinal indentations left in the road surface by the repeated driving on hot, soft, tarmac by very heavy lorries. Unfortunately, they change the camber of the road and whilst waiting in line to be seen by the Romanian authorities and sitting astride my bike in one of these "tramlines", I dropped my passport.

My passport landed on the road to the right of the bike just out of my reach, so I put the bike of the side stand and dismounted to retrieve it. As I picked it up I heard the sickening crunch of my bike hitting the road. A combination of the bike sitting in the "tramline", the side stand resting on an adverse camber, and a strong gust of wind caused the bike to fall over, bending the brake lever in the process. Realising that I was fatigued I made a decision then an there to find some place relatively close to the border and take a break from riding for a few days.

I found a small studio flat overlooking the Black sea just North of the city of Varna for about 14 Euros per night, so I decided to rest there for a while. This was the view from my balcony and of the nearby beach.

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In fact the place was so cheap, so nice, and so relaxing that I decided to spend a total of nine days there taking a much needed break from constantly moving. While there I used the opportunity to repair my bent brake lever and explore the nearby city of Varna.

The brake lever as you are probably aware is made of an aluminum alloy and these can snap when bent hard. Fortunately, the side bags took a lot of the impact so the lever only bent. An old trick for straightening these levers is to heat them with a blowtorch and then use a cylindrical piece of pipe or metal tubing to bend it when hot. Also, when doing this the application of household soap to the lever during this process apparently stops the lever from snapping. I decided to give it a go.

Using my butane camping stove as a heat source and a box spanner, I began the process and with a little patience and lot of soap rubbed on to the hot metal, it worked a treat. Straightened brake lever!

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Once my batteries were fully recharged I headed for Sofia. En route I saw some more Soviet fighter jests parked at the side of the road. This time I was able to get up close to them. There was also a Soviet Anti Aircraft missile parked there. All very impressive.

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I also decided to visit the Buzludzha monument, the spaceship like building perched on top of a Bulgarian mountain top. Once again the roads surrounding this place are horrific, no problem for the Himalayan, however I would not like to ride a road bike with very expensive wheels and suspension around here. In fact, the potholes were so bad on the road up that for about five miles I rode standing up, as if I was riding a rocky trail.

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Wintrup

Well travelled
Location
Cumbria UK
What an adventure. Bulgaria was a place I've wanted to visit, even contemplated buying a property some years ago. It's going to get real cold in that region over winter, so I guess you'll be heading south into Greece maybe?
 

madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
Days 43 - 46 (Part 2)

Bulgaria

Whilst en route from Varna to Sofia I stopped at a McDonald's in the town of Veliko Tarnovo for a coffee and a cigar. Whilst sitting in the sun enjoying my break a guy approached me and spoke to me in English. He asked me if the "Himmy" in the car park was mine and when I told him that it was we began a conversation. It turned out that he was and Englishman who happened to live in Bulgaria, running a camping/motor-home park nearby. He was also was a Himalayan owner and we chatted for a while about the bike. He still had to bring the bike out to Bulgaria but he questioned me about the performance of my bike on my trip. He wanted to stay and chat further but his wife called him from their car and he was off. Strange how in the middle of Bulgaria I met a chap who not only owns a Himalayan but who was also English.

Once in Sofia I stayed for two nights and had a look around the city. The city is a strange mix of modernisation and old Sofia. For example, some of the main roads in an out of the city are still sufaced with cobble stones, these are frequently very uneven, and have the metal tram tacks running along them. All very exciting in the dry and butt clenching in the wet.

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Yet there are the usual pedestrianised shopping areas full of bars and restaurants that you can find in any modern city.

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Sofia has the usual impressive architecture of most European cities with the occasional building associated with it's former communist past but two days were enough for me and so it was on to my next stop, Plovdiv.

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My reasons for visiting Plovdiv were twofold, firstly I had read that this city was the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe and secondly, as I wanted to visit Greece, I needed to get tested for COVID and a hospital in Plovdiv provided this service. While I waited on being tested I explored the city and found that the city had a lot of Roman architecture still visible in the city centre.

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In Plovdiv I also saw a Trabby that was still being used as daily transport and not as a tourist attraction.

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Eventually the time came for my test. so I trotted along to the hospital and stood in a line with lots of other people wanting the test. It was only at this point that it occurred to me that this was probably the biggest risk of catching this virus that I had faced so far in my trip, standing in line with others, some of whom may have the virus and who need a test to confirm it. Anyway, the next day I trotted back and picked up my results, negative. So, I packed the bike and headed closer to the Greek border as I had a long way to go on my first day once I got in to Greece, the island of Corfu. That night I stayed in the town of Sandanski which is about fifteen miles from the border.

Just as a bit of an aside and to add a bit of my own thoughts about COVID. When I was walking around Sofia, I turned a corner and there, scrawled on a wall in English was a piece of graffiti which in my opinion correctly summed up the current situation with regard to how we are currently living.

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Robert

Well travelled
Location
Holland
Thanks for the story and the pictures, I much enjoy those. The only east european country I have ever been was Poland, some 25 years ago. I really would like to visit these others as well some day....
 

madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
Thanks for the story and the pictures, I much enjoy those. The only east european country I have ever been was Poland, some 25 years ago. I really would like to visit these others as well some day....
I hope that by reporting accurately on what I see and discover on my travels, I can help other forum members make the decision to do likewise, in whatever capacity they can do.
 

madbiker

Well travelled
Location
United Kingdom
Days 47 - 50

Greece

On arriving at the Bulgarian/Greek border crossing at 0630 I was cold. I had only ridden about 20 miles or so to the border but at that time in the morning it was around five degrees Celsius, cold for the time of year. Due to all of the procedures that the Greek government had required of me prior to reaching this point, I had expected to encounter a huge bureaucratic process including being tested again. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The border guard asked me for my passport and another guy, not wearing any uniform, asked me for my COVID test results.

I handed both over and the guy who took the test results barely looked at it and then quickly handed it back. As an after thought, he asked for my QR code that the Government had sent to me earlier that day. I showed it to him on my mobile phone and once again he barely looked at it, no scanning of the QR code was done. Once my passport was returned, that was it I was free to go and enter Greece.

One of the major aspects of my entry in to Greece was a requirement by the Greek Government that I had to provide them with my exact whereabouts for fourteen days after entering the country. To do this, I was forced to book accommodation for the fourteen day period in advance of my arrival. This is not normally how I operate as I like to go where the wind blows me rather than have a fixed itinerary, however needs must so I had booked one week stay in the island of Corfu and one week stay in Corinth.

I had a long way to go from the border to the port of Igoumenitsa from where I was to catch the ferry to the island, so I had no choice but to get on the motorway. It did not heat up till I was about two thirds of the way there and I had to leave the motorway twice to find petrol as the service stations on Greek motorways are few and far between.. On average the distance between service stations is about one hundred miles on the motorways that I travelled on. In addition, there were no ATM machines at any of the service stations that I did stop at so I was unable to withdraw any Euros. Luckily, I had topped up my prepaid card with Euros the night before so I was able to purchase petrol and coffee with my card. Eventually, I arrived at the port and boarded the ferry to Corfu, an island which I had never been to before.

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Now I should mention at this point that I had previously visited Greece, in 1985, when i was younger and on a package holiday flying in to Athens and then hopping around a few of the smaller islands. Therefore I was looking forward to seeing how my new experiences would compare with my memories of the country. I was very disappointed. Gone was the charm of small village life, of cosy Greek tavernas selling local food. I rode around the whole of Corfu in one day and although very scenic in places, overall I was not impressed.

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The island is very touristy. Perhaps I should have been lees optimistic but I had hoped that some part of the island might have escaped the tourist treatment but I was wrong. For the next six days I sat and twiddled my thumbs, bored to tears waiting for the seven days to end so that I could move on. When my time to leave the island came it was a relief, I boarded the ferry to the mainland and headed to Corinth where I was to stay for the next seven nights. The journey there was taken through some very twisty roads and very spectacular scenery.

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Using Corinth as a base, I rode out and explored the surrounding countryside. All very pleasing to the eye and full of archeological remains. I stooped and photographed some of them like Ancient Corinth

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and Athens.

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I also ventured in to the mountains of the Peleponnese peninsula where some of the roads were twisty enough to keep me interested.

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Again, I found being stuck in one place very depressing. Although I was able to strike out a little I was still not able to tour around as I had hoped to although the very impressive Corinth canal was within walking distance of my hotel.

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Once my time was up in Corinth I headed for the site of the battle where the Spartans held off the Persian army for three days before being betrayed and overpowered. Visiting the monument to King Leonidas at the pass of Thermopylae was one of the highlights of my time in Greece.

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I then spent the night in the city of Thessaloniki which was not much to write home about. The next morning I was up and away towards the Turkish border eventually spending the night at a nice small hotel on the east side of Alexandroupoli.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with my time in Greece.

It is one of the dirtiest countries that I have been in so far on my trip. At the side of every road that I travelled on, and I mean EVERY road, even in remote mountainous locations, the amount of litter at the side of the road is staggering. Discarded plastic bottles, coffee cups, and papers fill the roadside verges. I even witnessed it at first hand where on a number of occasions a car that was approaching me or which I was following, the occupant would throw stuff from the window as they drove.

It is also one of the most expensive countries that I have visited. I did not find a cup of coffee anywhere for less than 2 Euros. A litre of petrol was about 1.5 Euros. The cheapest hotels were around 25 Euros per night and the standard at that price was very poor. Greece is a very scenic country with a lot of historical monuments and architecture but clean and value for money, Greece was not.
 
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