All posts by haeganaltizer

Cycling and seeing the world.

No problem, hasta la vista baby!

March 13-16, 2015

Haegan: Even though we didn’t have a long day planned, we decided to try to get on the road early on the way out of Edirne, seeing as we had to cross an international border. The weather was nice and we rolled out of Edirne and headed towards the border. As we started getting close to the border the right lane was full of parked truck after parked truck. We got in the left lane and continued. Soon we had been riding past parked semi’s for over a kilometer when it dawned on us that they must all be lined up waiting to go across the border. The drivers were all just hanging out, it seemed to be a pretty normal thing for them. Some were sitting with their feet out the window drinking coffee, others sitting and talking on the guardrail. We even saw a vendor with a cart going around selling coffee and tea to the drivers. After about 3 kilometers and what must have been at least 300 or more trucks we were at the beginning of the border crossing.

So many trucks

There are a lot of little windows to go through. We snapped a picture on the way out, got two new stamps in our passports and were in Bulgaria!

Good Bye Turkey!

We were pretty disappointed that there was no “Welcome to Bulgaria” sign anywhere, I feel that is something that should be at any border crossing. We continued on through the very nice Bulgarian countryside and through Svilengrad along the E8 towards Biser where we planned to camp for the night. A few kilometers outside Biser we ran into the tiniest, most runty kitten you can imagine on the side of the road. Autumn was really close to bringing it with us in her handlebar bag. It chased after us for a few hundred meters as we road off, mewing at us the whole way.

Tiny, adorable, cat that we couldn’t take with us

We arrived at the campsite in Biser only to find that it was closed for the winter. Apparently the website I looked at had the info wrong, so we headed into town to see where we might be able to set up camp. Biser is very small and very quiet. It’s a bit eerie because aside from an old man or two walking around we didn’t see anyone on our way into the center (if you can really even call it that) of town. We saw that there was a school and a church and thought we could ask if we might be able to camp at one of them. Everything looked empty but we could hear some faint music coming from up the road so we followed it and found a little store/bar with a few people in it, all chain smoking. An old man motioned to us to sit down so we did and he started talking to us in Bulgarian. We tried to explain that we didn’t speak any Bulgarian but we’ve realized that telling someone you don’t speak a language does not stop them from continuing to try to talk to you in that language as if you should understand. The only two things he said that I understood were “no problem” and “hasta la vista baby” which are not particularly useful for conversation. He had a lot to say to us and kept talking and talking even though it was clear that we had no idea what he was saying every now and then he would reach over the table and grab my hand. Eventually he started talking about Christ I think and grabbing his heart. He gave us some plastic coins that I have in my handlebar bag. Not really sure what the significance is though… Using our phones again we were able to communicate to the lady working there that we were riding across Bulgaria and needed somewhere to camp. We asked about the school or the church and they said to wait while the guy working there (Valco as we found out his name was) made a few phone calls. Possibly the funniest part of this whole ordeal was when this little old lady with a cane came in and after our friend “hasta la vista” guy said something to her she hit him on the back with her cane. She looked and walked like she must have been at least 100 and looked like the classic stereotypical old eastern european lady. Eventually they asked if we spoke Spanish which Autumn does fairly well and not too long after the Priest’s son showed up and he and Autumn talked some in Spanish. It was a bit bizarre to be in the smallest town you can imagine middle-of-nowhere Bulgaria and speaking Spanish. The kid said that his dad would come open up the church soon. Not long after they realized we couldn’t stay in the church but Valco assured us “no problem” we could set up the tent at the school. He walked us down there and unlocked the gate and we got the tent and everything set up and started to cook ourselves some bulgur.

Yummy bulgur food
Yummy bulgur food
All set up, but soon to be taken down

While we were cooking, kids were zooming back and forth on mopeds and doing doughnuts in the dirt street. As we were sitting down to eat another man showed up and started talking at us in Bulgarian. The only thing we understood at first was something something police. At first this had us a little worried as he was motioning that we should pack up our things. Where were we going to sleep. We got him to type what he meant into the translator on my phone and eventually figured out that it wasn’t so bad after all. Valco showed up and after a while it became clear that they were concerned that it was going to rain so they had found us a place to sleep in a house. Great! we packed up our gear and followed Valco as he drove across the town to an old somewhat abandoned looking farmhouse. There were horses and some other animals outside but in the house it didn’t really look like anyone lived there. It was mostly empty with a thick layer of dust on most surfaces but it did seem like a farmhand might stay over every now and again. They told us “no problem” we could sleep here and put our bikes inside. We thanked Valco and his friend profusely and then they left. We finished our food and were just starting to think about going to sleep and that it was going to be cold when we heard someone coming up the stairs. Valco was back with another guy and a bunch of firewood. They proceeded to build us a fire in the woodstove, “no problem, no problem” and they were gone again. We set up and slept on the floor by the stove very comfortably until about 4 am when we were woken up by footsteps and saw someone walking out of the room. We both freaked out just a little bit. Someone walking around the room at 4 am? that seemed a little weird, but we decided not to worry about it and figured it was probably just a farmhand using the bathroom. We arent really sure who it was or why they were there but that stands as our best guess, someone doing early morning work on the farm had to pee. We got up at 8 or so and headed back to the bar/convenience store/cafe/only business in the whole town to get coffee, which the guy there insisted on giving us no charge. We waited around a bit hoping Valco would show up so we could thank him again but didn’t see him. Eventually we told the other guy working there that we wanted to thank Valco and he called him to come down. He told us “no problem”  once again. We got him to write down his address for us so that we can send him something when we get home. It’s all in cyrillic so we have no idea what it says but hopefully we will be able to  send something as a thank you. We said ciao which Valco also knew and rolled off in the dreary rain towards Haskovo.


The riding that day was pretty miserable. 50 km in the cold rain is never fun.

The picture doesn’t convey the discomfort

By the time we arrived in Haskovo we couldn’t feel our hands and our legs and feet were soaked. (our rain jackets did quite a good job however) We arrived where we thought the hotel was and the building was empty. Not what you want to see when you’re halfway frozen. We decided to find somewhere to warm up and regroup before figuring out the hotel situation. We found a little diner and went in. Autumn got some rice with chicken (which apparently is a traditional Bulgarian dish) and we both ordered coffee. We soon discovered that the norm for coffee in Bulgaria is a double shot of espresso, not exactly the nescafe we had become used to in Turkey. As the feeling was coming back into our hands the waitress saw Autumn sitting there shivering and brought her over a jacket to warm up. I ordered some lunch and the waitress gave us some tea because we looked cold. After just sitting and warming up for a while we figured out that we were looking in the wrong spot for the hotel and decided to go find it. We tried to return the jacket to the waitress but she insisted Autumn take it to the hotel with her. We got into the hotel which was ok, but not as nice as the last few places we had payed to stay at. But hey, it was dry. The next day the bad weather had passed quicker than expected and we had a nice dry ride into Plovdiv. We stayed in the Gramophone Hostel in Plovdiv for the two nights we were there which was really nice and surprisingly empty.

Autumn: The ride to Plovdiv was awesome. It was the first day of riding that was pleasantly uneventful. We rode into Plovdiv and were immediately struck by a house on a hill that was very close to the tunnel we rode through. The rocks on the hill were tied up, they looked as though the cables were the only thing keeping them on top of the hill.

Rolling into Plovdiv

Someone on couchsurfing told us about Gramophone Hostel so we decided to check it out. Gramophone is known mostly as musical venue, it used to house performers when they came to Plovdiv to perform. A little while back they added more rooms and turned it into a hostel with a joined bar and outdoor stage. It was pretty neat and the guy working there was very friendly. We were the only ones staying at the hostel, I guess Plovdiv is not a popular spring break destination. We got a bit cleaned up and then started to wander around Plovdiv. The hostel is in this pedestrian area with lots of shops, a few fast food restaurants, and quite a few cafe/bars. A few casinos too, those seem to be very popular in Bulgaria. Right in the middle of the pedestrian/shopping area is the Roman Stadium. It was built during the 2nd century AD, and a lot of it is still intact.

Oh, look! Ancient ruins right in the middle of town

After wandering around the stadium and the area they’ve built around it (which is very cool: you’re walking along and see a giant hole in the path, in that hole is the stadium), we decided to go find some food. Earlier I had seen a kid with a giant pancake with stuff inside so I wanted to find that. Haegan got a chicken kebap which has thinly sliced chicken, tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, yogurt, and fries. All in a wrap. He loved it. He loved it so much that I’m still hearing about how the design of the wrap and its contents are perfect. I had one too the next day and I have to say it was definitely very good.

Alex Foods, you have created the perfect food.

I found the pancake place and was completely overwhelmed by the menu. It’s one thing to walk into a fast food place and not know the language on the menu… it’s another when you walk in and you don’t the alphabet on the menu, especially when there are over 200 options. I was completely overwhelmed and the staff could see my look of confusion so they pointed to me a small menu on English next to the register. I’m indecisive, so even that menu was overwhelming. I got a pancake with salami, mushrooms, and pickles and decided I needed to come back the next morning for breakfast. It was dark by then and we continued to wander around. Haegan found these rocks behind the shopping area and discovered there were paths leading up them. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been terrified of walking or climbing up, or even just on, rocks. My fear doesn’t really make sense, I know my chances of falling and actually hurting myself are slim, but it still scares me. I wouldn’t call it a phobia… but I’ll admit it’s probably close. Despite this, I followed him up a semi-maintained path of stairs and rocks to the top where we had a fantastic view of the whole city. I didn’t love the climb up but I loved the view, it was so neat to see the whole city lit up.

Cool graffiti at the base of the Tepe
Not a bad view

We were hungry after climbing so we went to find more fast food. Bulgaria has little stores that display pizza in the window. You just point to the slice you want, they grab it for you and you’re on your way. Window pizza, best thing ever, besides chicken kepab of course. Bulgaria is getting a lot of points for fast food.

The next morning we went to a little cafe at the mosque close to our hotel. I decided to order a latte because I now know that if I just order coffee, I’ll get straight espresso. I love coffee, and espresso, but I’m not that serious. It came in a neat glass with a straw, the glass I liked, the straw seemed like a bad idea. After coffee and tea we went to get pancakes, which were much better as breakfast food (go figure). We went to find the Roman Theater first, but stopped at two churches along the way. Bulgaria is Eastern Orthodox so their churches are set up differently from the ones we’re accustomed to seeing. People sit in pews on the sides of the church, facing the center. The back wall has beautiful portraits of Mary, Jesus, and many saints. The walls and ceiling have pictures depicting stories from the Bible. The churches are stunning and unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside. I’m excited to see more of these in Sofia. After the two churches we got to the stadium, got our tickets, and then were let into the theater. I was astounded at the lack of security. The theater is about 1800 years old and the entrance to get in is blocked only by a small rope and a sign that says you need to have a ticket to enter. After that you’re let free to roam around the ancient theater, there are no metal detectors or guards or anything. We were the only ones at the theater, no other tourists. We played around with the acoustics of the theaters and walked around on the stage and in the seats. It was crazy to think we were sitting where people sat hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Roman Theater
You can walk around and sit on it!

The theater and the churches we were at earlier are part of Old Town. Throughout old town there are plaques on most of the houses that tell about a politician or merchant who built the house and lived there. Each house is historic and has something unique about it, and in most them there is a museum about Plovdiv’s history. It’s a neat idea and liked reading all the plaques about each house. A lot of places were either closed on Mondays or just not open at all. We realized later that Plovdiv is in the process of making the city more tourist friendly because in 2019 they will be the European Capital of Culture. I’m guessing most of the work they’re doing is new so not everything was up and running. It was still neat to walk about the Old City. We went to another church, Church of St. Constantine and Helena. This one was my favorite of the three we saw that day, the colors were so rich and all the paintings were breathtaking. We continued to wander around and found some ruins on the edge of one of the hills. Plovdiv has six hills called tepes. It used to have seven but they destroyed the smallest one a while ago. Haegan and I were climbing on of the tepes the night before but hadn’t realized what it was. The Old City is built on one of the tepes and the ruins were at the edge of the tepe, there used to be a watch tower there. We wandered around the ruins and then just sat enjoying the view of the entire city, this time from the other side of town.

Ruins at the top of the Tepe
Autumn being afraid of heights
That thing in the corner used to be a watchtower
Haegan not being afraid of heights
Haegan not being afraid of heights

We headed back into the main part of the city and stopped at another one of the house museums. This one had displays of modern Bulgarian art. The guy running the museum let us in for free because the museum hadn’t been finished. Old Bulgarian houses in the Old Town are typically very symmetrical, the rooms and staircases all mirror each other. The ceilings and banisters had beautiful woodwork.

Neat painting in the house
Neat painting in the house
Intricate woodwork
Intricate woodwork

After walking around the house a bit we talked to the man running the museum a bit more. He is so passionate about the house and some of the art in it. We walked around a bit more and found another church on another tepe, which we wandered around and enjoyed some apples.

The rest of afternoon was fairly uneventful, we got in a little spat, made up, saw some Peruvians performing pop songs in stereotypical “native american” style (this was probably one of the most bizarre things we’d seen), and then found pizza and had fancy dessert.

Look how fancy we are

After walking around and talking a bit longer (and witnessing a freaky cat interaction), we went to the bar right below our hostel. The night before we tried Rakia as a welcome from the hostel. We didn’t want to do that again because Rakia is disgusting. So I got a Bulgarian beer, Haegan got a cider and we played foosball for a while.

Bulgarian beer, not sure what the name is exactly
Bulgarian beer, not sure what the name is exactly

Turkish Delightful

After a rough first few days we were feeling a little bit down on Turkey. It wasn’t easy riding, our maps didn’t show us what the roads were actually like, and we were exhausted from riding in the wind. We decided that we needed to find a place to stay for the night. We made a Couchsurfing profile and sent out a few requests for places to stay. We quickly got a response from Mustafa, who lives in Çorlu. Even with the late notice, he said he would be happy to host us. After our difficult ride into Çorlu (which you can read about here) we met up with Mustafa. We walked back to his apartment got changed into some clean clothes and he took us to a shopping center to get some quick food. We went to a fast food-ish restaurant to get Iskender  which we both thought was delicious, but Mustafa said was only so-so as far as Iskender goes. Sorry for the lack of photos of food, we are trying but always end up eating it before remembering to take a picture. We’re improving though. We had a great night talking with Mustafa over coffee back at his house. He offered to let us stay with him a second night and we decided a rest day would be a good idea after the last few days. The next day we didn’t do very much. Slept in until noon, showered did laundry, etc. We did wander out for another delicious Turkish meal of tavuk şiş (chicken skewer) and pilav üstü döner (thinly sliced beef over Turkish rice) and tried acili ezme (which we think is the Turkish equivalent of salsa).

We really liked Turkish food

 Most Turkish food we had has been grilled or cooked the way gyro meat is cooked, on a vertical broiler, and often served with spicy grilled peppers (which I, Haegan, love), Turkish rice (which is one of Autumn’s favorites), and bread. We began to search for a possible bus or train to Edirne which is right by the Turkish-Bulgarian border, but were thwarted by our lack of Turkish, the website’s lack of information, and the fact that all train service to Edirne has been momentarily cancelled due to construction. It was quite frustrating. That night when Mustafa got home from work he informed us that he had solved our bus problems. There are tons of buses in Turkey, but almost no timetables online. We could take a 2 hour bus to Edirne departing every 30 minutes from just 2 km down the road. Mustafa had told some of his friends that we were staying with him and, baffled by the fact that we were riding our bikes across Turkey, they wanted to come meet us. We went up the street to a restaurant and met three of his friends, Özay, another Mustafa, and Şükrü.  None of them knew more than a few English phrases so Mustafa acted as translator all night.

Dinner with Mustafa’s friends

They had a lot of questions for us, especially Şükrü, so we did our best to answer through Mustafa. It made us really wish that we knew more Turkish so that we could get to know them better, but we still had a good time, lots of laughter. They ordered food for us and soon we were eating. First we had more acili ezme with flatbread and something kind of like cheese dip. Şükrü also insisted that we try mercimek köftesi which was ok I thought but Autumn did not like at all. We also tried this strange red cabbage drink that Özay recommended. Neither of us really liked it. Cabbage juice and spices just don’t make for a drink I like. Then, after we had already eaten quite a bit, they brought out the main course. Three huge platters of lenger kebap, a combination of many different kinds of kebap. Doner, tavuk, adana, şiş köfte, and a type of köfte coated in ground lentils and fried (think corndog), to name just a few.  Şükrü told us we couldn’t leave until we finished the whole platter. We tried our best, but couldn’t quite do it.

So. Much. Food.

Needless to say it was all delicious, and we were stuffed. After dinner we had çay, a tea that is incredibly popular in Turkey. After that we walked over to a cafe in the downtown area to get coffee (you might be starting to notice a Turkish theme here…) Autumn got a real Turkish coffee which is very strong and I had some more çay. It was explained to us that Greeks will often claim that they invented “Turkish” coffee but that we shouldn’t listen to them, it is indeed Turkish. We also met up with some more of Mustafa’s friends at the cafe. Pembe and Ayşen who both went to university in Edirne. Ayşen spoke remarkably good English for someone who had only been studying for a year, and Pembe had recently started an English class. Once they asked, Autumn and I realized we both needed to slow down a little bit because we naturally talk pretty fast. We talked with them and showed everyone on our phones where in the United States we lived and they told us about Turkey and Edirne and about life in Turkey.  

9:30? Perfect time for coffee!

After coffee we walked to a club that usually plays live music but being that it was kind of late and a Tuesday night Mustafa’s friends had to go home to get some sleep. So Autumn, Mustafa, and I went in and listened to the DJ’s there. It was an interesting mix of remixed traditional Turkish music, dubstep/electronic and bits and pieces of American music, which Autumn and I found rather amusing. After an hour or so we headed back to Mustafa’s place to get to sleep. We talked for a bit about traveling and then said our goodbyes as Mustafa would be headed to work before we were up. We had a great time staying with Mustafa and are really happy to have gotten to know him!

Getting to Edirne ended up being remarkably simple. We packed up, rolled a few km down the road to the Otogar, stopping to grab more delicious Turkish pastries on the way, and got on one of the mid-sized buses. Cramming all our gear and bikes into the cargo space, which was no easy feat, but we managed. After a few stops at other Otogars to pick up more passengers we arrived at the Edirne Otogar, a few km outside the city. In our rush to get off the cramped bus (Autumn’s knees hit the seat in front of her and she is only 5’ 3.5” on a good day) we forgot to grab the bungee cords that hold Autumn’s sleeping bag and bedroll onto the bike. So Autumn went to find some halat (rope). She ended up on the phone with someone at the Edirne city center station who spoke English and said they would send us some on the next shuttle in 45 minutes. So we sat and waited, mad at ourselves for forgetting things, but happy with the kindness of the people we have been encountering. I decided to go get a cup of corn from a vendor (yummy and buttery) and as I crossed back to where we were waiting, I happened to see the ticket taker from our bus. I got him to come over with me to the bus and found the forgotten bungee cords! We were back in business. We got on the D-100, which is not nearly as bad in the daytime, and headed towards the city. After a few km of nice riding a car pulled over in front of us. The man who was helping Autumn at the station got out and gave us some bungee cords. We had forgotten to tell him we found ours, and he had driven 2 or 3 km to bring us some! We were once again humbled by people’s willingness to go out of their way to be helpful. Even though we didn’t need them we decided to keep the bungee cords as a sort of symbol of the hospitality we received in Turkey, and they are now decoratively wrapped around Autumn’s bags. 

We stayed at the Tashan Hotel in Edirne for the two nights we were there, and it was lovely. The hotel used to be housing for employees of the Üç Şerefeli Mosque across the street. 

Right across the street from the hotel.

It has a great little courtyard and our room had a nice view out over the busy little street below. As soon as we got there Emre, the manager, invited us to sit down and have coffee. (Nescafé is the staple coffee in Turkey) He told us about a few of the many great sites to see in Edirne and we talked a bit about how overwhelming Istanbul can be. While we had been on the bus Pembe had gotten in touch with a friend of hers in Edirne named Hakan to see about us meeting up with him and getting a bit of a tour. After we unpacked and relaxed a bit we went out to get dinner with Hakan and his girlfriend. After dinner we walked around to look at a few of the mosques all lit up at night and ducked inside the Selimiye Mosque for a few minutes before prayer started. The mosques are amazing at night, the minarets glowing in the dark. The Selimiye Mosque is considered one of the best examples of Ottoman style and was designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the greatest Ottoman architects. It is considered his masterpiece. We agreed with Hakan to meet up at 10:00 the next morning for a tour around the city. As we found out over dinner Hakan is actually a professional tour guide and owner of Edirne Tourism. When Hakan arrived we were talking with Emre and he invited Hakan to join us for another cup of coffee (I had already had 2 cups of çay with breakfast, try to keep count) They talked for a bit in Turkish, very quickly I might add, and we headed off to see Edirne with Hakan. Our first stop was the ruins of an old Ottoman tower and even older city walls dating back to Adrianople, about 2000 years ago. Inside the wall are three pottery oven pits of around the same age. It’s incredible to stand next to something and know that what you are seeing has been seen by people for 2000 years. The other incredible thing about these ruins are the fact that they are just sitting right in the middle of a city. Just go through a little gate and you’re walking among ancient ruins. 

Looking dorky in front of old stuff, our specialty.

After the ruins we caught a bus across town to the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II Health Museum, which is a part of the Trakya University. The complex was built in 1488 and housed a mosque, and a soup kitchen, but more importantly one of the most significant hospitals and medical schools of the time. Over time the hospital became focused on psychiatry. As early as the 1500’s the hospital was using sensory therapy including music, water sounds and aromatics to treat patients with mental illness as well as using occupational therapy. Pretty forward thinking for a time when bleeding people as a cure was common in Europe. The complex has now been restored and turned into a health museum about the time period. The different rooms contain realistic dioramas and decor to show how they were used. We toured around both the hospital and medical school for a while before getting another coffee with a professor of Hakan’s on the way out. I could write pages about each of the places we saw but I’ll try to keep it reasonable and let the pictures do some of the work.

Always making weird faces
Ceiling of the platform
Flooding all around the rivers, a regular occurrence
In the bunkers
Leading down to a bunker for soliders
They were all sunk very low into the hillside
You can see Greece and Bulgaria in this picture. And two weird teenagers…
All men in Turkey have to serve in the military for at least 6 months. (unless you pay to get out of the obligation)

Next we walked by a Greek synagogue that we couldn’t go in because it is in the process of being restored. 
We walked out to the edge of town to check out the old bridges across two of the three rivers around Edirne and saw where the sultans would go to watch the sunrise. 

The ceiling of the platform
The ceiling of the platform

 At both bridges the water was quite high and covering the road at the bridge, Hakan explained this happens regularly in the spring because of a dam that is let out up river. We had to hitch a ride through the giant puddles both ways.  We met up with Hakan’s business partner and friend, Tolga, and drove up to the hill overlooking Edirne to go to the Balkans War Museum. The bunkers from the war are now an exhibit showcasing artifacts from the war as well as photos and and strategic information. 

The bunkers
The bunkers
They were all sunk deep into the hillside
They were all sunk deep into the hillside
Leading down to a bunker
Leading down to a bunker
If you are a Turkish man you must serve in the army for at least 6 months
If you are a Turkish man you must serve in the army for at least 6 months
In this photo you can see Greece and Bulgaria. And two weird teenagers...
In this photo you can see Greece and Bulgaria. And two weird teenagers…
Ottoman Sugar

Later, Hakan and Tolga took us to meet their friend who works at Arslanzade, a local candy store where they make stuff like marzipan, cookies, turkish delight, and lots more. While we waited for Recep we were offered tea and coffee again, to which we obliged and also tried a few of their products including some authentic turkish delight. After coffee we got to go downstairs to see where they make everything. Recep told us that they make up to 150,000 boxes of candy every day! We even got to taste a fresh batch of cookies as they came out of the oven. 
 On our way out Recep gave us a few boxes to fortify us while we ride which we are eating as I write this! We headed from there to The Old Mosque. The Old Mosque is a fairly small mosque as Ottoman mosques go, but of all the ones we have seen it is my favorite. Inside there is large calligraphy on the walls over 8 feet high and the ceiling paintings are some of the most intricate we have seen. The 9 domed mosque is very colorful and everywhere you look is amazing art and craftsmanship. 
After all that it was time to get some lunch (sorry, forgot the pictures) but we got chicken doner sandwiches with spicy peppers that were wonderful. We also tried Ayran which is a drink that is basically watery yogurt, it was ok. After lunch we walked by The Old Mosque Bazaar where Hakan seemed to know everyone. One of the vendors outside gave us Ottoman sugar which is melted colored sugar wrapped around a stick and rubbed in lemon juice. I liked those a lot. 

Ottoman Sugar
Ottoman Sugar

After walking through the bazaar Hakan and Tolga had to head to a meeting so we said our goodbyes and thanked them for the amazing tour. It was a pretty non-stop day so we just wandered around, bought some snacks and wrote a few postcards before being invited to eat homemade lentil soup with Emre and his girlfriend. A great example of the wonderful hospitality we have found in Turkey: Emre said we should just try it, but then insisted on me “trying” three full bowls with bread and cheese.

Although we had a rough start, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Turkey. It may not be the best place to start your first bike tour, but the amazingly generous people and awe-inspiring history made it well worth it. A special thank you to our hosts who made our time in Turkey so memorable. We’re excited to come back someday and explore the rest if the country. Know that if you ever have a chance to come to the states, you have a place to stay.

Note from Autumn: First, I’m 5’4″ on any day, even if Haegan doesn’t believe me.

It was my idea to start the trip in Istanbul, and when we’re riding those miserable days I seriously regretted pushing for Istanbul. Once we got to Çorlu though, as Haegan said, it all became worth it because they people we met were so great. I loved the history of Edirne, and I loved the conversations we had with each of our hosts.

Hard Labor

Yesterday we got back from our first real loaded trip. We packed up all our gear that we’ll have for the next 5 months and rode 60 miles out to Hard Labor Creek State Park. (Autumn would like to add that it was indeed hard labor.) The first day went pretty well. After a little bit of panic in the morning of thinking we wouldn’t able to fit everything, we got everything packed up and hit the road by 11 am.

Bikes all loaded up
Bikes all loaded up

It was pretty cold at the start but once we got going the temperature was okay. As usual, the roads getting out of the city were busy, and made for less than ideal riding, but eventually the roads mellowed out and became a lot more scenic.

Gum Creek Courthouse c.1888
Gum Creek Courthouse c.1888


With our late start and lower than anticipated speeds due to how much weight we had on the bikes, we arrived a bit after dark and had just enough time to get everything set up before the rain began.

Autumn as we near the end of the day
Autumn as we near the end of the day

The campsite was nice and very empty (I guess we’re the only ones dumb enough to go camping in late February with a forecast for rain the next day). We settled in and fell asleep to the sound of rain on the tent.

When we woke up it was wet and cold outside. It had rained all night but we were nice and dry in the tent. We broke camp and headed out. It was not raining hard, almost more of a heavy mist than rain but at 33 degrees on a bike you get cold pretty fast and within the first half hour, even with thick gloves, our hands were frozen. We had to stop somewhere to thaw out. 10 miles in we reached Social Circle and stopped to get coffee and warm up a little, unsure of how we could possibly deal with the current conditions all the way home. We texted my mom to see about meeting her in Lithonia, another 30 miles from Social Circle so as to save ourselves at least one hour of suffering. After all, 60 miles is well more than we are planning on riding on a typical day of our trip, especially with the weather we were riding in. We sat at Buckeyes restaurant for at least 30 or 40 minutes drinking coffee and eating johnny cakes  until we could feel our hands again and then headed out. It was immediately better, as if that stop was all we needed. The small town hospitality and slightly warmer temperatures turned our whole day around.

Misty fields
Misty fields

A bit after we left my mom called saying she was on her way to meet us, which we weren’t expecting at the time. She thought with the bad weather that was rolling in and the fact that we leave in 8 days, it wasn’t worth risking getting sick riding in the cold. So we only ended up riding about 22 miles total before getting picked up in Covington, but we made it through the worst of it and felt as if we certainly could have finished the day.

Despite the somewhat miserable conditions and a few challenges the test run went really well and showed us that we’re ready for this trip. Sure there will be a lot of hard days ahead of us, but we can manage just fine.

Note from Autumn:

I felt as though I had been cruelly pushed back 6 months. Back to when I had no idea what riding for extended periods of time was like, when riding 40 miles made my whole body ache. It seemed a little unfair. I didn’t train all those months simply to be back at the place I started.  I guess though, that when you add an extra 25 pounds (or possibly more) all at once, everything gets a whole lot more difficult. Then on day two, throw in some rain, near freezing temperatures, and an unwelcome visit from mother nature… I was about as miserable as I’ve ever been riding.

However, it is reassuring to know that we will never have days quite as bad as day two. We have rest days built in and we will ride longer days when it’s nice, giving us more flexibility when we need a day off. And really, after the coffee break Haegan mentioned (Folgers has never tasted so good), it really wasn’t all that bad. Here is what I have to add to my list of things I have learned:

– Hiking songs work for riding too

– Coffee actually does fix everything

– Quality coffee is completely relative

– The worst will pass eventually

Get this, do that, build a bike.

We’re getting close to actually leaving on this trip and there is a lot left to do. For starters I have to build myself a touring bike. I know in my head exactly how it will be down to every millimeter and every part, but it doesn’t exist yet, which two months out isn’t the most reassuring thing. But now that this will be my second frame I have a lot more confidence in the fact that I can get it done. After all, I have done it all before. We’ve finally got most of our stuff together for the trip which is good, just a few odds and ends to pick up. It’s still a good bit of work to get done in under 60 days but I think we will both manage.

It’s only now that I’ve really started to grasp how big of an undertaking it is to go from having never done any touring before to trekking through all of Europe in one go. There’s a lot to research and learning just on the touring side of things, but there’s also so much that goes into planning any trip of this length. Where do we go? How do we get there? What will it cost? Will we have enough time? There are a lot of question we’ve figured out and still more piling up yet to be answered.

So far our two biggest aspects of planning have been the route and legal stuff. Early in our planning we found out that our time in most of Europe is limited to just 90 days so we had to adjust our plan accordingly. At the time it seemed like a big problem, but it’s actually ended up being a pretty good thing. Having the limit to our time in Europe is letting us add a lot of other cool stuff to the trip by starting in Turkey and ending in Morocco. As soon as I started looking at what to see in Istanbul I realized that spending some of our time outside of Western Europe is going to be awesome. The more I look into it the more excited I get about the first leg of our trip. However, the time limit does make the planning bit more complex. Autumn has done an amazing job of figuring out how to get us through 12 countries stopping in 20 cities all in 90 days. You can check out the plan here. Leave us a comment or shoot us an email if you have any tips or know anyone along the way! It’s going to be a whirlwind of riding and trains but it looks like we’re going to make it.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how different this trip is going to be from anything we’ve ever done. It’s a kind of abrupt transition from high school seniors to fending for ourselves in Europe. Moving out of your parents house is kind of a big deal, and moving into a tent in Europe isn’t going to make that transition much easier, but it will make it more exciting! I’m a little nervous about taking on full responsibility for my life but its going to happen sooner or later so why not all at once, right?

Note from Autumn:

We both knew it would happen, and we were right. Once we rung in the New Year (on opposite coasts), this trip suddenly became very close, and very tangible. I can’t say enough how excited I am, and now a little anxious too. A few weeks ago I spent an entire afternoon finalizing our tentative plans through the Schengen Zone. There’s a lot less biking than what would be ideal, but we both want to see as much of Europe as we can and still be alive when we reach Morocco.

As we start to really get into the planning we’ll posting more about training, preparation, packing lists, and thoughts on everything leading up until the trip.

Autumn’s Bike

As you might guess, in order to ride your bike across Europe you need to have a bike. You could probably do it on any old bike, but being the bike nerd that I am, that was out of the question for us.

We’re going to be spending a lot of time using these bikes so I wanted to make sure everything was just right. For the past 2 years I’ve been an apprentice to Seth Snyder of Snyder Cycles and I decided to build Autumn a bike from scratch rather than get a stock touring bike. Over the past eight months or so I went from a bunch of pieces of metal to this.

IMG_1949.JPG It was unpainted for a while before I powder coated it the color Autumn picked, Winter Mint.

This is the first frame I have built and I learned a ton in the process. I went into my apprenticeship with no real metalworking knowledge and now have built an entire bike, and helped to build a bunch of others. Being my first, it has its quirks and it isn’t perfect, but it rides nicely and does what it’s supposed to so I can’t complain. If I were going to do it again it would have room for bigger tires, possibly 650b wheels and no toe overlap, but you live and learn. It’s incredibly satisfying to design and build something from scratch that is useful and will last for a lifetime. This winter I will be working on another similar frame for myself to take on tour.

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Here’s some info about the build for those of you who care to know.
The frame is fillet brazed True Temper steel tubing with a 51.5cm top tube, tall head tube, clearance for 35mm tires or 32’s with fenders and internal routing for the chainstay mounted disc brake.The fork is an All City painted to match.

The bike is built with SRAM Apex and TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. The cranks are Sugino OX601s geared at 26/40 with an 11-32 cassette for a nice low-end range. The wheels are CR18s with Shimano SLX hubs and 32 spokes laced 3 cross rear and 2 cross front.

Autumn has already logged over 500 miles on the bike since September getting ready for the trip (and it hasn’t fallen apart yet…) There have been and probably still will be a few small changes before we leave (racks, bags, fenders, Brooks saddle, etc), but for the most part this is the bike that will carry her across Europe.

Note from Autumn:

It’s so pretty. I can’t tell you about the technical stuff, but I love this bike. I love that with this bike Haegan has taught me more about bikes than I ever thought I would need to know. I love that he’s showed me how to be a cyclist on this bike, and I think I’m getting better at it. I love that I got see the process of how it was made, every step from the sketches to the final product. I love knowing that this is the bike I’ll be seeing Europe on. What I really love though, is that Haegan made it. The act itself is incredibly flattering and I’m still in a bit of disbelief. I really don’t have words to describe my gratitude, awe, and admiration. He’s a pretty cool guy, with a pretty cool skill. I guess he’s worth keeping around 🙂


Getting Started

We have a blog! After a lot of procrastination we have started our blog. Right now it is still a work in progress as we get everything figured out and set up, but hopefully within the next week we will have posts up and the blog running full swing. We are departing tomorrow to Tennessee for a week long “training camp” style kickoff for our preparation. Only a few months to get Autumn used to this whole bike riding thing. Check back for updates!