Today’s ride was one of two distinctive parts: Our final morning cycling in the Rhodope Mountains (the name of the range we were cycling through in southern Bulgaria) culminating in a long descent out of the range and then the second part of our ride along the arable foothills that fringed the Rhodopes.
So it was more beautiful mountain riding in the morining, we were told by Bibor yesterday that where we were cycling now was the region of Turkish majority, but there wasn’t that much difference to be noticed, although the settlements that we passed through featured more mosques than churches.
We finished one last switchback filled climb and then it was one of the longest downhill runs we had so far, coming out of the mountains and back down to the lowlands. For an hour we coasted along without pedalling enjoying the exercise-free cycling.
Reaching the bottom we found ourselves in the city of Kardzali, the most sizeable place we’d passed through since leaving Sofia. We stopped for lunch and then did perhaps our final Lidl shop of the trip, it was a momentous occasion, the chain had fuelled our progress over most of Europe.
Following a lengthy lunch break we set off in a golden and very warm late afternoon sun. This was the second and decidedly very different half of today’s ride, with the mountains behind us we found ourselves cycling between the rolling foothills by farms and through small hamlets.
At one of these hamlets we pulled up to fill our bottles at the water fountains. On the opposite side of the road stood the sole shop/eatery whose patrons sitting outside were all busy watching us roll in with curiosity. As we filled up our bottles one dude came over to chat. Once he gleaned we were cycling to Istanbul he gave us directions to the border via what I think he had sussed was the shortest route between the various towns between here and Turkey. He kept repeating it and it was only later we figured out he thought we didn’t understand as we kept nodding our heads – which means ‘no’ in Bulgaria.
Before we left Finn ran over to the shop to grab bread for the morning and ran into a Turkish guy visiting who had a bit of English. Himself and shopkeeper invite us over for some sausage they were cooking and a beer. The Turkish dude was the only person with any English so he did a bit of translating while we sat at a table in the shop waiting for the food. Our friend who had been giving us directions before came over and sat with us while we ate this surprise dinner.
Eating something that isn’t pasta for dinner is always welcome and even though it took a bit of time to cook and it was getting dark when we left it was well worth the stop. Leaving this little town of Popvets we were looking out for somewhere to camp right away. Most of the land near the road was farmland or pasture, in fact we passed a number of shepherds herding their flocks as we cycle through. Before too long we found a little hill just of the road with some scrubby bushes we could set up behind.
From here there was a great view of road ahead of us that wound out to the horizon. It was a completely clear night and as the sun went down above was one of the most star filled skies I’ve seen with that big swath of across it of the Milky Way you only really see when it’s properly dark.