A week in the sun
Days on the road: 93
Kilometres cycled: 3902
Countries visited: 14
As promised, we will now try to make our blogs as regular as Sarah Beeney’s babies. Here is our journey from Skopje, Montenegro, to Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Originally, we were aiming to leave Skopje on Monday the 11th of June, the main reason for this was to get to Plovdiv for Friday night and enjoy the weekend.
The evening before leaving, we met up with a local singer, Lilli Chilli, who gave us the chance to film her performing two songs, one of her own, which will feature in a later video, and a cover of Damien Rice’s Blowers Daughter, here is that performance.
Lilli is certainly a character, and this is obvious in her performances. By putting her own stance on well-known songs, she interacts with the crowd on a much more personal level than other performers. The song she had written was beautiful, and even though it wasn’t sung in English, we both felt the meaning and passion behind the lyrics and the song writing. A big thank you to Lilii for letting us film her, and we hope that you enjoy her pieces as much as we did.
A combination of fun and admin slightly delayed our departure, but by Wednesday morning we were back on the road, taking on the blistering Montenegrin heat and the ridiculously busy city roads. Eventually, the roads quietened and the hills started, presenting us with the perfect opportunity to sweat out the weekend fun we had partaken in. In stark contrast to the Alpine mountains, we now relish the hill climbs, the challenge they present physically and mentally, the reward you get from the downhill on the other side, and the sense of achievement when you reach the summit. We are now more accustomed to the physical side of the cycling, but Tom is still not yet accustomed to the snakes we will inevitably see along the way. Consequently, when a live snake slithered past whilst going uphill, he panicked and swerved into the middle of the road. The snake, more scared then Tom, hid beneath a rock and I was left holding my belly and wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes.
At the top of another hill, we came across one of the sadder sites that we’ve seen in the Balkan countries. A rubbish tip played home to smells of death and completely ruined the beautiful scenery. The smell and site acted as a reminder of the poverty that exists across many of these countries, and if it were not for the wild dogs roaming the area, we would have stopped to take a picture so you could see for yourself.
At the end of a tough days cycling, we came across a small village/town and yet again experienced the amazing kindness of strangers. A local man guided us to a disused football pitch that would serve us home for the night, and also let us know where we could buy food. We can’t explain how much we appreciate the generosity and helpfulness of people we’ve met along the way, it’s truly humbling that people with so little can be so helpful.
The morning presented us with another mountain climb and the Montenegrin/Bulgarian border, by far the friendliest crossing we’ve had, and on the other side we had the pleasure of a big downhill and a plateau that stretched beyond our eye site. Weirdly, the long flat road in front of us was more of a challenge then the previous mountain passes. The cycling becomes arduous due to the uniformity of the road and consistency of the scenery. After around 100km, we stopped and set up a camp in one of the most scenic places we have slept in so far. In addition to the views, we were lucky enough to have a river at the bottom of our garden, and therefore the opportunity to have a bath and wash away the day’s work; something that was greeted with weird looks by the local fishermen. Regrettably, due to brambles and potholes under our tent, the night’s sleep we had was not in sync with the setting we were blessed with.
We both woke from half a sleep, and started with the usual routine of packing away, eating some Nutella on bread, and hitting the road. We were 37km into our day, and despite the lack of sleep, we were feeling strong. There was a long way to go to Plovdiv, but relishing the challenge we decided to back ourselves and try to get there on that evening. Using the wifi that is found at all petrol stations in Bulgaria, we decided to put pressure on ourselves; we booked a hostel (Hostel Mostel) and paid for it, meaning we had to get there or we lost money. The challenge was on.
The heat was relentless and the road conditions were pretty terrible; one stretch in particular was comparable to Chinese drip torcher, every 10m we would cycle over another bump that would send a small gentle shudder through our bikes and up our spines. The day seemed to go past quickly, we were cycling hard, but we had both entered a zone, one were the physical side of cycling became a non-consious action, leaving us with only the mental battle to deal with. After nearly falling asleep on the bike, and cycling just over 176km, we found ourselves welcomed by the hostel we had booked earlier that day. We had finally cycled over 160km, we had done it in blistering heat and we were proud. We needed a beer!
One of the hostel workers, Alfredo, took us out ‘on the town’, and once again we were both surprised with the beautiful city we were in. Plovdiv has a mixture of old and new buildings, an evidence of a long history and deep culture, and most importantly, extremely friendly locals. We were joined by Julie, a French Canadian with an English sense of humour, something we would come more accustomed to the morning after when she gave us a guided tour of the city, without actually ever seeing any of it before.
Having ticked the culture box by walking the city, we decided to hunt down some music. Being a Saturday, we were sure to find some buskers, a live gig for that evening, or a local band that would be willing to perform. We hit jackpot by accident when we walked to the amphitheatre in the heart of the old town. In turned out that the Bulgarian Frank Sinatra was performing that evening and was to be accompanied by the fantastic Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. Armed with our cameras, microphones, beer, and some new friends from the hostel, we made our way to the romantic setting for the evening’s entertainment.
Much to our delight, we were let in for free and got some pretty good seats, considering how busy the venue was. The next two hours were truly fantastic, the singer was incredible, but the orchestra were out of this world. The whole audience clapped along to upbeat classical classics, the acoustics of the theatre were perfect and the lighting was sympathetic to the Romanic ruins we sat in.
Leaving the theatre after being completely wowed, we headed for the main strip and tucked in to some local kebab before hitting a non-touristic nightclub. Our night got better and better as the DJ (DJ Visitor Q), using (proper) decks, played a mixture of swing, electro and break-beats, ensuring the transition between each genre was seamless. Here is some of his set.
Now, we are sitting in the hostel, working out our route to Istanbul and catching up on other admin duties. The next five days will be tough, hilly and hopefully rewarding. Nevertheless, we need people to keep on donating, we have a long way to go in order to reach our target, and we won’t get there unless our followers help us. So please, please, click on our just giving link and donate something, even if it’s just a pound, it all goes to help and it provides us with such a huge morale boost.
Thanks so much for reading. Love x
Posted on June 17, 2012, in General and tagged Around the world by bicycle, Cycle around the World, Cycle the world, Daring Dynamos, Festivals for All, H4TH, Hats for the Hill, Kerven Bros, Kerven Brothers, NUCO, NUCO Travel, OnePiece, Phil Saunders, Spotify, Tom Nelson, VADO, War Child, War Child UK. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.