Cycling from Istanbul to Bulgaria – the least scenic way possible

We left Istanbul knowing it was going to be a bit of a nightmare, and with all necessary precautions taken. We’d done the research, and decided to take the D020 out of Istanbul and into an area of what we started terming ‘outstanding natural beauty’.

Small section of the reams of fishermen lining Galata Bridge in Istanbul

At least, it was, until what looks like the world’s next-biggest airport started getting built! It was dusty as hell, with new motorways, viaducts and of course runways being laid down, for mile after miles. We ended up setting up camp on a tiny sliver of woodland that hadn’t been ripped up yet – probably because there were wind farms on it – and got to bed! I didn’t take one photo after wed left Istanbul. Always an ominous sign.

Scuttling away from a shit show

The next day we were off, and into knee-shatteringly hardcore hills. I won’t bore you with the ascent statistics etc, but after a super early start we’d only got 50km done by mid-afternoon and when we saw a second sign for a campsite, we were in!

It was empty and the showers were locked, but it wasn’t cycling and so I was sold! We found a nice area in amongst the ferns and made one of our best camping dinners yet – aubergines, onions, tomatoes and peppers with Georgian spices and pasta. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end – and the howling wind and sloppily set up tent kept us both up a bit. But onwards and upwards!

Home sweet home – for one night only
Walking to our camp spot
No idea 
Cooking up a culinary storm
The result of about four hours of manual labour

The next day we set off, with Sean very cleverly applying the ‘carrot’ tactic on me – ie a hotel in Corlu. With this in mind, I kept complaints to a minimum – even though the hills were mega again! – and got to our final destination. It had massive rooms, great Wi-Fi, and a sauna and a steam room. That, my friends, is how you apply the carrot technique.

Lost in hills
Quick water stop
H-E-A-V-E-N!

Lüleburgaz

Heading out the next day, we were planning to wild camp somewhere on the way to Erdine. About 15km out of town, we stopped at a derelict petrol station for a breather (the hills were again turning out to be a lil bit stressful).

This turned out to be a very good move! A truck driver shouted Sean over for some watermelon, then a car popped in to tell us to cycle on to the next town’s bicycle shop for a free bed and food, then a man who was working on a construction site nearby asked if we wanted to camp there for the night. Good things really do come in threes!

The second man had been the most insistent, and since even I wouldn’t be happy with a day were we’d only cycled 10km, we pushed on for the town with the offer of a free food and bed – Lüleburgaz.

It turns out the local council had dedicated a year of public funding to supporting cycling – which had created a fantastic community of cycling teams, all seemingly centred around one shop, and a cycling academy on the outskirts of town.

When we arrived at the cycling shop we were unsure what what was in store (this is a metaphor. I of course know what was in store in a bicycle shop. Bicycles! Ho ho) but we were given a cold drink of water, and before long some lads dropped in to take us to the cycling academy. Turns out it’s been fitted with rooms, bathrooms and a kitchen purely for cycle tourists who are passing through town. What a dream!

Hells Angels – Turkey chapter
The cycling academy 
Sleeping on solid wood – good for the backs!
Just like Ready, Steady, Cook!, but minus Ainsely Harriott 
The finished product

The next day we set off for Edirne – a border town with Bulgaria that houses an absolutely stonking amount of mosques – including a massive one designed by the most famous Turkish architect, Mimar Sinan.

But before we got to that, some news. Sean has hit 2,000km! And to celebrate he did the pointed toe and we got some Twister ice lollies.

He’s unusual, I’ll give him that!
Finally finding the elusive Twister variants – a life-defining moment

Edirne

For a border town, Edirne has a lot going for it, including our pretty sweet hostel – Limon Hostel. It was only £6 per bed in a 6-bed dormitory and there were only two other lads in there – one was a traveller dude, the other a motorcycling tourist from the Netherlands who sounded 110% British.

Cobbled back alleyways 
Sinan’s favourite design – he gifted the Selimiye Mosque to the people of Edirne
A closer look
Inside, but not too inside!, as I was wearing a skirt
Ceiling details

After sightseeing, and as it was our last night, I voted to eat kofte (meatballs), which has been an absolute staple of my diet for the past five weeks and I’m still not bored of it! And for dessert we had two Turkish classics, fırın sütlaç (Turkish rice pudding) and baklava. YUM!

Stumbled on the best kofte ever – laced with cheese! – on our last day in Turkey 🙂
A small feast
Snug as a bug

Leaving Turkey

The next day we took the road to the border crossing with Bulgaria, which was around 13km. And managed to squeeze in one last tortoise sighting.

And he was a baby one!
Spending out last 8 lira on some special treats
Hello EU!

Entering Bulgaria

Does anything scream ‘you’ve left Turkey and entered the EU’ as well as a sex shop? I don’t think so, and Bulgarians must agree as that’s one of the first shops we saw on our way in. And it was non-stop! Though looked a bit closed.

Non-stop sex shopping – sounds tiring!

It sounds a bit mad but you can really tell the difference – not just with the sex shops, but also the plants, roads, and people. The roads are quite… rustic… and the people kind of give that vibe too! In a way, it’s getting me nostalgic for Morecambe.

We hit upon acres of farmland, and after a few failed attempts, and the nearing darkness, we spotted a sign for a campsite. Sean, in a rare moment of poetic-ness, said it must be ‘written in the stars’! And the fella that runs it is British which was a big surprise!

If you’re in the area, I can recommend Sakar Hills Camping in Biser. It’s immaculate, and we only paid 10 euros to pitch up. Boom! And night night! X

Boom!

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