Istanbul Photo Gallery

Views of East Istanbul

 

Views of European side, Istanbul

 

Out and about

 

Shops and produce

 

Local street market

 

Topkapi Musuem and park.  Topkapi palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans since 1453.

 

Hagia Sophia museum – Originally a Christian church. Built in 532AD by Emperor Justinian.  After 1000 years as a church it was changed into a mosque.  Because the church had lots of mosaics, Sultan Mehmet the conqueror plastered over them to create the mosque.  Now the building is a museum.  The mosaics have been uncovered but the building has kept aspects from both religions.

 

Blue Mosque

 

 

Basilica Cistern – built in 532 AD by Emperor Justinian and was for centuries the main water supply to the city.

 

Grand Bazaar – over 4000 shops in the world’s largest covered bazaar.

 

European side Heritage tramp and second (to London’s underground)oldest underground in the world.

 

 

 

 

Setting off from Kirklareli

With some time in hand we were keen to visit the Black Sea. A day at the beach sounded wonderful.
Setting off from Kirklareli, Garmin guided us accurately through back streets to the widely recommended D020. We had read that it was no longer a quite dirt road through villages but, none the less, it is still the best route into Istanbul missing the heavy traffic.  This had 6 lanes and a hard shoulder for us. Traffic was light with on one stretch, a guy sitting on the central barrier and another walking along in the fast lane.  It looked like a safe but bleak day. After some km it exited Kirklareli’s industrial estates, and reverted to 2 lanes and a gutter. But still unbusy.
As we passed other towns the adjoining traffic picked up. This, together with the strong cross wind, made the cycling uncomfortable.  We’d planned a short day and were relieved when the Garmin directed us down onto a quiet route to a campsite at Safaalan.
Setting off again the Garmin was struggling to set a sensible route.  The problem soon became apparent when the D020 turned into a motorway; opened in 2013 it boasted. No wonder the Garmin wouldn’t set a bicycle route along it!
As the day progressed, again we were pleased to find a campsite just a little way off our route. But it was a sleepless night as both of us were a little concerned about the ‘campsite’.  It was a certain area within a picnic spot.  Nothing wrong with that except we were the only people there in a rather public spot near a busyish road and felt rather exposed. The local dogs seemed friendly enough…
Off again the following morning we went back to the main road expecting another day of traffic.  Gid was keen to come up with an alternative and Garmin did it’s stuff.  We set off away from the main road pleased with the more rural route.  It was  not long before we were flagged down by 2 men.  One saying turn back the other suggesting we could go on.  It soon became evident why.  Our road finished with a pile of dirt and giant quarry beyond it.   We were forced back to the D020, at this point a 6 laner, but the next section was closed, and beyond that it was still under construction. Everyone was diverted south on the simple 2 lane road SE to Gokturk.
 
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Panorama taken on phone – from side to side across the back there is construction work

With even more traffic forced along the diversion, as well as the construction vehicles at times bumper to bumper, it wasn’t the best of experiences but we were keen to reach the beach resort for our day of rest so set about trying again to make progress north. Garmin plotted our route, clearly, looking at the device, some of it was on tracks not evident on our 1:800000 road map.
Rather more cautiously we checked the appropriateness of our choice before cycling to far. The locals waved us on.
The track was very good but nonetheless, much slower than a road.  Along it we had our first encounter with water buffalo.  Having stopped to look at it we scarpered pretty quickly as it took a few steps towards us. Must look up if they are aggressive or merely shortsighted. Further along, encouraged by the nearby herdsmen I became brave enough to take some photos.
Our track deteriorated into a part of a flood plan that ended up disappearing up a rocky ravine. Garmin listed our turn off up the ravine as ‘track (bad)’ now we know what that means. It was a four-hands push. It’s not the first time one of it’s tracks hasn’t been that brilliant so we’ve now reprogrammed it to avoid tracks. Especially as Gid got two punctures from it, a big thorn in the front, and wire, probably from a burnt tyre carcass, at the back. (Punctures: 3 Gid-0 Clare.  It’s progressing as usual!) Honours for puncture protection shared between Specialized and Schwalbe respectively. Our progress had slowed for quite some time to 5 km / hr. It was a mixed blessing when we reached the road again.
Later research tells us there’s a new airport and motorway and Bosphorus bridge network they are building so hopefully the rest of Turkey won’t be like this.
All is forgiven as we sit here in a good campsite in Kilyos, having been swimming in the Black Sea. Actually the campsite – Mystic – is a bit of an orchard, with plums, cherries and apricots, all ripe now. And mulberries, our first, although parking the bikes under it led to a few juicy spots.

Twenty Four Hours in Kirklareli, Turkey

The ride into Turkey was generally more relaxed than the previous couple of days.   Through Bulgaria, despite the hilly terrain, we’d covered the distance spurred on by the desire to find accommodation and a shower. The 50 km needed to get us to Kirklareli wasn’t going to be a problem, although the Turks’ fine new road was pretty bleak, bypassing the few habitations in this range of hills.  We’ve discussed  finding some shelter to sit out the hottest part of the day but never quite manage it.  On the one occasion we did, boredom set in very quickly. Well, it was in a highway drain.
Having arrived in Kirklareli, we were focused on dodging the traffic and failed to notice the two hotels behind us as we asked, in the local police station we were passing, if they could direct us to a hotel.  The language barrier has got wider the further east we have come. It’s no longer the case that a number of people will speak English.  At the time we didn’t know how to use Google Translate offline, though we did later..  It was the same with the policemen.  They could muster a few words of English between them, we still hadn’t got the phrase book out.  They leapt into a car and set off with  us trying to follow and dodge the traffic.  They had certainly taken us to a great hotel but it was way beyond our budget.  Garmin saved the day in its local search… pretty much opposite the police station!
Kirklareli is an energetic town throbbing with people and activity.  A quick scan on Wikipedia said there were things to do, and it should be a great place to explore.
We were quickly out and about keen to find some supper, that’ll be kebabs in the street then; but we must have had tourist mug written across our foreheads because there was no menu with prices on it.   We were charged an outrageous 50 lira when it should have been less then 30.  We’d failed to follow the advice on line ‘ check prices first’. We’ve got a bit more savvy thereafter.
First errand in the morning was haircuts and a shave. And this might already have made us look less weird. Gid bought a cheerful cotton shirt, and provided he avoids the combo of shorts and big boots, is probably less of a sore thumb in the streets now. Clare, however, still looks vaguely military.
Since then we’ve visited Hızırbey Cami mosque. This was a stunning experience mainly because the Imam encouraged in, told us about the history of the building being linked to the early Ottoman empire, being founded by Osman 1, what the symbolism meant & donned his robes for our photo call. A fantastic welcome to our first Islamic country.
Still on a high from that we gathered our stuff and went for a Turkish bath in the towns second ancient building with an early Ottoman origin.
The last of the days events was people watching.  The roads have very little in the way of lines demarking rights of way. As I sat and watched a busy roundabout with 5 exits, I marvelled at how traffic: bikes – occasionally 2 up, motorbikes – sometimes 3  up + shopping, buses, cars, trucks etc. people & dogs all interwoven.  It seemed to stay fluid with everything using the same navigational routes.  It really was amazing to see people in this mix taking their turn in amongst the traffic, not to mention the dog whose water was thoughtfully placed in the centre of the roundabout.
All this is punctuated by the regular reminders blaring out from mosques to go and pray. There also seemed to be a city centre tannoy system, we didn’t figure out its purpose.

Travelling South Across Bulgaria – Part 2

We’ve still seen the occasional horse and cart as we’ve travelled down through Bulgaria but they are much smaller and seem to be used for personal transportation rather than the industry that was evident in Romania.
Again we are noticing that villages and areas have their own characteristics.
In one small village, old prams, with plastic boxes to load up, were the order of the day. It didn’t seem to matter if all 4 wheels we firmly attached & rotated. Four or five of these turned up and were parked outside the store while the owners toddled in to do their shopping.
A couple of villages, in close proximity to each other, were drying sliced mushrooms on racks along the road side.
On occasions mud bricks are being used. At first we saw a pile of them next to the road.  Nearby there were some new homes where they had been used to make the walls; perhaps the rendering has not yet been applied.  They have been quite frequently used to fill old door ways or window frames that are clearly no longer needed. Equally, where rendering has fallen off extensions or out-buildings it has exposed mud bricks.
Whilst contemplating where we might stop for the night we where on the look out for a campsite, or a cafe in which we could stop, get refreshments and peruse the map.  The sun shades make the cafes quite easy to locate unlike grocery stores that frequently have no advertising or signage at all.   On entering Straldza however, both of us quaked as it was evident that the cafe was on the edge of a shanty town.  Fearing the attention we would attract, we sped past but found a very nice cafe, shop and cheap hotel at the other end of the village.  Thankfully, we were once again under a solid roof when the storm came through.
Heat and hills is becoming the norm but thankfully there are quite frequent water springs along the way providing refreshing cool water. Both the Bulgarians and Turks fit the roadside springs out with pipes and a trough, perhaps a habit left over from horse drawn days. Very welcome and nice water too. We’ve both taken to sticking our heads under the water flow before filling our bottles.
The views from the hill tops are beautiful and on occasions it even feels worth the climb.
Our Bulgarian map was a 400k Reiss Know-How map, and proved one of the most informative at this scale, with some contours, and waterproof too. The key didn’t explain what the symbols for places meant, so here’s ours:
  • Urban area 1cm or more on map: Will have most facilities. Choice of hotels but obvious ones may be pricey. Probably a nice centre bit. Big enough to get lost in.
  • Urban area 5mm to 9mm. There will be at least one hotel/motel/guesthouse. You may have to ask around in shop or street corner to find it. It may be on the edge of town. It will probably be 40-60 Bulgarian (20-30 euro) for room for two, excluding any food. There will be an in-hotel or nearby restaurant. There will be more than one food shop, and they will have fresh fruit and reasonable bread.
  • Big dot. No place to stay. Some kind of bar or cafe (may not do hot drinks). One shop, at extreme edge of viability: No fresh products, bread may be mouldy or end dated; vaguely disquieting smell. Difficult to get even UHT  milk, or cheese. Although a fresh cheese is sometimes available from a concealed bucket. This is an interesting contrast with Romania, where little village shops were normally selling fresh bread, and tomatoes, cucumbers at least, and generally seemed viable.
  • Small dot: Just houses, a good proportion falling down.
Later, in Turkey, we encountered three French lads cycling in the opposite direction, and we swapped the excellent Bulgaria map for their equally useful, same publisher, Central Asia map – a perfect trade for both of us.
The other interesting contrast between Romanian and Bulgarian villages is that the former are always a wide main street with houses spaced along both sides. Bulgarian villages are more houses around an area, with side streets, and usually a consciously designed, open, central square, with some communist-era fair sized buildings around (often semi deserted). And in maybe a fifth, it seems like all the houses were demolished and replaced with small apartment blocks, 1 to 5 in a village. They’re often in poor repair.

South Across Bulgaria – Part 1

We really, I mean really, had a good rest day in Ruse. It’s always a bit slow starting off from an hotel, but today, Monday, we were out of the town by 11, including route planning to the Turkish border and posting the last batch of souvenirs home. With the hotel staff’s weather warning ringing in our ears. We’d agreed to go via the Ivanovov cave monastery, so, in advance, big miles weren’t on the agenda. Around 12 we ran into the first village and stopped to buy food for the day. Gid shopped, Clare read the village sign board. Which advertised this village’s own cave monastery, St Dimitriy Basarbovic, 1km left. Ok, let’s do that as well. It was small, we were two of a trickle of visitors; we saw three monks; there were about 4 caves, some richly decorated, some bare but scattered with coins and little notes, presumably prayers from the faithful. Lovely it was, and although I’m sure Ivanovov is more authentically ancient and has more splendour, probably visiting this small site was more solace for the soul. And safer for the bikes.

And, there was a sign: Tallying with our 400,000 map, this little limestone gorge was the downstream end of a nature reserve that took in two or three such. The road past carried on up, wiggling madly as the river did, and was marked as an ecotrail all the way 6km to the next village. The sky was thundery, so we didn’t fancy the main road, so decided to enjoy this slow scenic route.

The road passed a little of this n that, including a gated cave entrance big enough for trucks and probably used by same. The road also gradually got worse. The river was dammed in several places, filling most of the gorge floor with lovely lakes, inhabited by rafts with fisher-scarecrows. And cormorants.

At an abandoned, perhaps never finished house, the road ended, but an obvious 4×4 track carried on. Gid fell off on a rut, but the rain held off so it stayed dry. At a dam, the 4×4 ruts ended, but there were still vehicle tracks in the overgrown grassy track… With some concerns we carried on, for a bit. Clare fell off too, and it was still getting harder with, said Garmin, 4km to go. We turned about. The sky darkened more. Back at the monastery, we dived under the shelter outwith the walls, dug out lunch, and watched the heavens open. We sat it out for an hour, amused by lunch, eating all our snacks, playing I-spy, and a scrounging cat.

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As the rain eased, we donned waterproofs and set off. It was 4pm and we’d done 20km.

We had some discussions about where next, and modified our route slightly to pass through the next town. About a 1km gradual climb took us up onto a kind of plateau. We could see for miles, and, clearly, this plateau was often deeply cut by little gorges: The rivers found it as easy to cut as did the monks. We ignored signs for two hotels in a unhelpful direction, and never did find those Ivanovov caves. Dvi Mogili did not look promising as we rolled through a rather bleak, big, farm straddling the road. Two guys were visible working on stuff, it was only 5:30 but dark as late evening. The rest of the village appeared bleak too, but we stopped at the shop to ask…. The shop was bright and absolutely chock with people. “Does anyone speak English?”, “sprechen ze deutsch?”, say I.  “she does” says a chap about my age, then he says “parlez vous francais”, and so we proceed with my broken French. And there is indeed a place to stay. In fact he leads us there in his car. We’d cycled past it, and both thought it something, but not an hotel or pension. He pulls over, legs it in, and sets us up with the – surprised – couple running the place (including telling us the price, which, ahem, might be a special tourist rate. Well it’s pretty reasonable). At this point the heavens open again, we really are having some luck today. Bikes tucked away, we’re in the basic but fine room when the storm really hits overhead: KABOOM and the lights go off, Clare’s in the windowless shower. But headtorches fill the gap. Supper is provided, a bit scratch but then we didn’t prebook. By 8:20 the lights are back on, there’s WiFi, and the rain has stopped. 51km today  Still glad not to be camping 🙂

Out of Serbia and Into Romania

Serbia was unexpectedly wonderful. Very scenic, and very friendly. The EV6 is signposted, and, if you look hard, there are occasional small informal campsites or rooms. The countryside is gorgeous, often steep and wooded, with houses dotted about; yet the steepness is avoided, mostly, on EV6. The roads, if a bit patched, are generally ok, and very quiet, the drivers usually considerate and not hurried. There’s more people about in the country and villages and towns than anywhere so far, the place looks active and lived in. There’s a lot of traditional-looking agriculture – tended flocks of sheep/goats or herds of cows; charcoal burning, small plots obviously family sized.
Luxury is now defined as being able to have a warm shower.  The last two campsites have had all the facilities we wanted except for the vital one.  Earlier on in our trip we’ve had a couple of occasions when that criteria was not met.  Once there was a lukewarm shower, I just about handled it. On the second occasion it was full blown cold.  I’d winced & whinged while Gid came out laughing that he’d gone in fully clothed; it cut down on his laundry time , he said. We’ve just had two nights with only cold water.  Grim!
This was written (but not uploaded) after just arriving in Vidin, Bulgaria. Having crossed the border quite late we were keen to find a place to stay – almost the first peer down a backstreet found a small, comfortable, and cheap hotel.  But this was a fleeting visit as we dashed across the border into Romania.  Romania is very different. Horses and carts are everywhere. We’ve only seen a few tractors on the roads and there aren’t that many in fields.
The fields have been a mixture.  As we left Calafat, strips were very evident but as we’ve moved further out into the countryside there has been some large scale farming.
Horses and carts are still rumbling past us at 8.30 pm as we sit here having supper.
Gid has commented on how villages have characteristics.  In some villages horses are tethered along the road side on the grass verges, in another village it’s wild fowl along the verge with a range from chickens & ducks to guinea fowl & turkeys.  Some are free range, some shepherded & others in makeshift enclosures. Two or three villages have had wells at regular intervals. Again two or three have had shiny, blue water pumps. One village had a tap with two bright red cups hanging next to it on a tree.  Stray dogs have not been a problem here & the people are very friendly. In fact, our arms are worn-out from returning their greetings. Young children are most enthusiastic, running out to do high 5s.
Generally, this bit of Romania seems to be wealthier than the part of Serbia we went through; homes are in a better state of repair, there are very few derelict buildings and there is nothing like the amount of rubbish littering the roads.   In a couple of villages, similarly to Ireland perhaps, there are a number of large new homes, started in the property boom and now left unfinished with the crash.
In this dash through Romania I feel we’ve really had an insight into the people going about their daily lives.  I stopped to take a photo of some cattle on a beach alongside the River Olt, some were in the water wallowing. A little further on I had stopped again to absorb the view, from behind, two herdsmen drove a mixed herd across the main road down to the waters edge.   Whilst standing there taking it all in, their was a bleat. One kid had been left behind. Barely 5 mins later they were off again.
The Garmin did what it is famous for and took us on a short cut.  We headed off down a minor road.  I could see on the GPS that it became a track but hadn’t expected it to be quite so rutted or steep.  My front wheel was frequently air born with my efforts to cycle up it. The view, however, really was stunning! We looked out over a lake and floodplain, herdsmen with their herds, all heading in different directions, everywhere.  It was an absolutely stunning site. This was followed by a route down the back streets that appeared to be one communal farm yard.  Again, people & animals everywhere.
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Into the distance there are herds heading in different directions

We’ve travelled further east than we had originally planned. Now, when looking at the larger scale maps, we have wimped out of going over the mountain ranges; by coming further east we hope to have missed most of them, as we now head south.

Into Serbia and Belgrade

It has felt very different.  We couldn’t read the signs and there are people bustling about in all the villages we’ve been through; street sellers at corners and along the roads, people harvesting small amounts of hay on the road side and people sitting on their seats outside their homes  and generally milling about.

We first headed to a larger town to get the currency sorted.  That done we headed away from the Danube and up a 8-13 % rather lengthy hill to reach the top of the national park.  The views were spectacular.

 

Cycling into Belgrade the traffic was initially rather heavy having got used to the minor roads through the countryside.  It’s a different skill set and you need your wits about you.  We were quite relieved when a Danube cycle way peeled off along the river bank.

 

 

Like all cities, Belgrade is very bustley but in Belgrade we’ve had to search harder for the outstanding architecture and city ‘treasures’.  The bins don’t appear big enough for the rubbish so there is a lot of garbage bagged up and left on the streets.  Bread rolls have been hung from bins for the people who are rummaging around for left overs and the lucky pigeons.  Off the main streets, like Budapest, buildings are often in a poor state of repair.

Again like a number of the cities we’ve been through, right back to Vienna, graffiti seems to be an accepted part of the street environment and there are large murals decorating some of the bare walls.

 

Two Serbian Orthodox churches, and one temple, in Belgrade.  One was highly decorated while the other was not but both are very beautiful in their own right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agricultural Observations

Agriculture and Wildflowers

As we’ve pedalled across Europe, several trends are quite clear.

Firstly, I’m writing this in Serbia, on 4th June. Barley in the fields is nearly ripe, and wheat is well grown. Walnut trees – there are loads – have their fruit half grown. The locals are harvesting cherries and strawberries in great abundance. So the seasonal effect of going south is clear. I expect in August everything here will be brown and dead, as John Bull revs up his combine harvester. It’s rather the reverse of our 2014 Kent to JOG ride, where we followed, then overtook, England and Scotland’s harvest. Added later: We cycled through the harvest in Turkey (June/July). Most of Turkey is quite elevated, so the harvest wasn’t as extra early as one might expect. In Uzbekistan (October) the grain harvest was long done. But at the end of October, in the Wakham and Panj valleys, it looked as if the grain harvest was only recently done, probably the growing season starts pretty late there.

Second, from France thru to Serbia, there’s a lot more wildflowers than are tolerated in the UK: England’s farmland seems sterile by comparison. There are differences as we travel- German and Austrian crops are weed free, but they have a lot of deep verges and wildflower hay meadows. From Hungary on, there’s still a fair bit of unmechanised farming and, for example, fields left fallow or poppies in barley crops, contrasting with occasional big, clean (sterile) acres, presumably where big Ag is getting involved.

Bird and Beastie Log has been moved to here.

 

Hungary and Croatia

Budapest was lovely, but also hot, tiring (cos of walking everywhere, especially hunting bike or gear shops!), and stressful (cos of visas). So it was great to leave and zip through the countryside.

The way out of Budapest was trouble free.  Our route took us along an island in the middle of the Danube where, at Rackeve, we found a pleasant spot next to the river for lunch and a swim. The river was actually warm here after several days of blazing sunshine as it isn’t a part of the main flow. A ferry ride got us back on the main land but immediately into problems with our route.

As the day was pressing on we were keen to make the campsite 10km further on.  We’d got used to, in Germany and Austria, that even if there was a main road we had to spend some time on there would be a cycle track along side it.  Not on this occasion.  The road was obviously rather new but not only was there no cycle track but bicycles were not allowed on it!  This lead to a trail of expletives from Gid and an instant search for another route.  Between the Garmin and the 1:400,000 map we hatched a plan; to go back through the village circle round using the minor roads and head back to the town where the campsite was.  Somehow Gid managed to convince me to take a slightly longer route which meant less doubling back but reaching the next campsite along the way.  If the navigation was correct there was a minor road out of the top of the nearby village that would by pass the main town and get us were we needed to be.  Firstly, Michelin’s minor road didn’t exist despite checking our location with some elderly gents, secondly, the loop round involved an awful lot of traveling north before we finally managed to turn south again.

After clocking up 127km, and originally leaving Budapest rather late, we arrived at the campsite after eight.  Mid tent pitching Zoë and Adrian strolled past.  They had taken a leisurely two days to reach this point.

Following our long day we had a slow start and ambled along the embankment.  We took another dip in the Danube and had an extended lunch break.  At 2:30pm the first of the thunder had started.  The sky was an ominous black in every direction and things were looking grim.  At that moment we passed an unexpected campsite sign.  Both of us were keen to dive in and get the tent up fast.  A storm last week had lasted 3 – 4 hours with some heavy rain and we were totally exposed along the embankment.  A speedy 10mins later the tent was up.  30 mins later the sun was out again and the ‘storm’ had passed over.  Amused by this, we twiddle our thumbs and wondered what to do.  The next campsite was 10 – 15 km further on, which was hardly worth moving for; the one after that was nearer 50km which too far to go, especially after yesterdays escapades with our route.  It wasn’t long before both of us were asleep, clearly in need of some extra rest.

Before going to bed we had investigated the immediate area and observed a herdsman taking his donkey, goats and flock of sheep to pastures new along the embankment.  We’d first witnessed this back in Germany and have seen it again since.  Whilst sitting across the small unpaved road from the campsite, at the waters edge we had speculated on the purpose of the two somewhat neglected pontoons.  Neither of us had predicted the sight we saw in the morning;  3 very large river boats were moored up, 2 in tandem.  Several coaches had also appeared to take the torrent of tourist emerging from the vessels.  Gid had wandered down to get a better look and was flagged down by a passing truck with two large tanks at the back.  It was very low on its springs and carefully negotiating the pot holes, advertising ‘Live Fish’ across its bonnet.  Musing over this while we ate our breakfast we also watched the shepherd ambling back along the embankment, stool under arm, with his dog rounding up the strays of his donkey, goats, and flock of sheep.  Had they seriously been gone all night?

The embankment route through Hungary has afforded us excellent views of the countryside.  On many occasions we have been looking out across well managed farmland, some of the fields are very large.  On one count there were seven tractors working on one field and the certainly weren’t crowding each other out.  Just occasionally we’d come across a cluster of bikes left in the grass in the middle of nowhere.  This led to a guessing game as to what they were doing there.  It was some time before we noticed the group of workers in a line, moving up between the rows of plants, hoeing the fields.  We’ve previously seen one elderly gentleman tottering between his rows of crops with a hoe but that was on a small field these workers were on an industrial sized crop.

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Gid whizzing along enbankment

 

Whizzing along the embankments where we are serenaded by crickets, bird song and, the occasional now, frog symphony is extremely delightful but on one occasion, when newly in Croatia, it went badly wrong.  We merrily took the embankment’s paved track immediately opposite a signpost, just like we have many times before, but on this occasion it lead to problems.  We skirted round the barriers, thinking nothing of it as it is regular practice, in the UK, where at times the cycle track sign is actually attached to the barrier; and in Hungary there were similar vehicle barriers with a tarmac cycle track laid round them. We stopped to ponder a bird of prey and its mate a little further off, both perched on a hay stacks,  (on a photo shoot back in England a similar bird of prey had been positioned on a hay stack because this was it’s natural habitat but we can’t remember what it was called), admired the hares without suspecting anything.  It was with great surprise when we arrived back at a minor Hungary / Croatia border. There was no route through and we were met with a barbed wire barrier.

 


Two cyclists approached on the other side, merely turned round and scooted off again.  Faced with this dilemma and the late time in the evening we decided to camp back from the border at the foot of the embankment on the recently harvested meadow.  Whilst eating our supper and considering a tortoise, a tractor appeared on the other side.  It stayed for a short while at the border before turning and disappearing.  It felt strange at the time but it didn’t raise any alarm bells.  We pitched our tent and went to bed – 3rd mistake.
We’d just settled into our slumbers when the tent was shaken together with gruff voices asking who was in there.  Gid emerged, I peered out behind him.  Two policemen asked to see our passports; recently used to cross the border there was no problem with these.  Having tried to explain how we came to be there the policemen were unimpressed making it clear we had to leave; a) the barriers had been ignored, b) this was not an official border crossing, c) we were in an area where hunting took place, d) there might be bombs in the nearby woods, and must leave immediately.
As the policemen waited nearby, we packed up rather rapidly.   Making our way back along the embankment one boar, which explained the stench we had passed earlier, and a couple of deer darted across the path.  By the time we reached the recommended town it was at approximately 1:30 am.  We’d disturbed numerous dogs along the way trying to find a pension or campsite that might be open but all to no avail. Turning up at the town at this late hour rallied all the strays into a united effort to herald our arrival.   We finally found a quiet spot tucked away safely for the remainder of the night, at about 2am.  At 7 in the morning, having made a speedy exit from our hiding spot, when the shops & cafés are open, the village was a much friendlier place.

We’ve since learnt that the Croatians don’t have any EuroVelo 6 – Danube cycle way tracks, we just use the roads.  So any sign, no matter what track it appears to be indicating, means the turning down the road.

The highway route has taken us away from the riverside and into many of the villages along the way.  The route to Ilok at the Croatia Serbia border was recommended by our Swiss friends, Zoë and Adrian, whom we’d bumped into again.  Despite the lack of cycle tracks it has been a good move as it is very interesting to get a glimpse of life in Croatia.  The streets we have cycled along have, in many ways, looked cosmopolitan.  They have had bungalows neatly lined up and, in the main, well cared for with attractive flower beds etc. except, every so often there is a bungalow in a serious state of dilapidation.  Gid’s theory is that this is probably be due to families abandoning properties back in the 1980s during the civil war.  It would certainly explain the number of houses that look abandoned and the water tower and telecoms tower we saw later, that each had several holes blown into the side of them, to the total ruination of at least the one that was supposed to hold water. The photo is of the telecoms tower – possibly still in use.

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Destroyed communications tower

Equally juxtaposed is when you get a glimpse into rear of the bungalows; they appear to be from a different world with chickens, animal pens and carts just like a farm yard perhaps displaying the dichotomy of new culture and old.

The people are very friendly, often waving us on or calling out hello.  Gid was highly amused when he raised his water bottle for a drink, in response, an oncoming lorry driver raised his beer bottle motioning a cheers salute.

Another lesson was to plan our border crossings better. A cursory map check of the Hungary Croatia border showed a town at it, so off we went, planning to camp a few km into Croatia. Oops. The town was entirely on Hungary’s side. So, no Croatian money! And it’s 5pm. The next border we got right, we stopped for the night in Croatia, spent all our Croatian cash on food in the morning, and routed in Serbia via an initial town, specifically to find a cash machine. Actually, in both Croatia and Serbia the Euro is widely accepted.
Very little sign of organised camping in Croatia, our second night there, at Ilok, we spent very comfortably at the Old Cinema hostel… with Zoë and Adrian.