Saturday, 5 May 2012

6 May Stage 24 Craiova - Rosiori de Vede

Dep 11.00 (I know, yes)   Arr 6.20     Dist 110.9 km     Total 2721.9 km

What a good decision to go today and not have a day off. I took my time getting ready and wandered down for breakfast. It was a self-service type so I had a few glasses of orange and made two cups of coffee. The little lady then brought a massive basket of bread and a plate with ham, cheese, yoghurt, butter, jam and salad. It was a lovely spread and I took my time and ate as much as I could, which was loads.

I asked for directions at the desk and was a bit wary about where the man sent me. I wss right too. I saw a sign to a town with a familiar name and took a chance. It worked and I was soon back on the E70, in the country climbing a nasty little hill. Even after the hill I kept in lower gears, took my time and conserved energy, trying not to sweat too much. With it being Sunday the roads were quiet with virtually no lorries to be seen. It was pleasant but not as warm as other days so that wasn't too difficult. I had no time target so I sort of relaxed and pushed one pedal and then the other until I found I had a flat rear tyre. I looked for some shade to make the change but there wasn't any. It actually wasn't too hot which was a very pleasant surprise. I took my time and did it all by the book. The last thing you want is to do it all again. I got going and it went again. I couldn't have been more careful or methodical than I had been the first time but I checked and checked again and this time it worked. The problem was, I was then neurotic about bumps and potholes because I had no more spares. The road surface was deteriorating so I had to be really careful at times.

I was aware of big football matches being played back home so stopped under a tree to check the scores on the kindle. Two of the scruffiest kids appeared, one of each, and they prattled on with their hands out. I quickly set off and the lad ran behind me for a while. Further up the road were a number of the poorest contraptions either side of the road. They were horses and carts, each carrying the worldly possessions of a family. A bit like the Clampetts but not that funny. A little rat of a man snarled something at me as I rode past. No, the gypsies haven't gone upmarket. There were a couple of dog incidents as well today. The little darlings are only trying to impress their owners, bless 'em. A shot of adrenalin took me away from them in each case but I'm ready with my boot if one perseveres.

The towns and villages I was riding through were becoming poorer and poorer with less cars and more horses and carts on the road. There were donkeys everywhere grazing outside houses, geese and their goslings and chickens all over the place. I wasn't confident about this town I had chosen even having a hotel. I rode around the town for a while and was just about giving up and thinking of heading for the next place until I asked two ladies "Hotel, va rog?" The younger of the two informed me in a perfect American accent that there was only one and directed me. It looked very grand from the outside but is only 90 Lei (£18) for bed and breakfast. It must have been really posh twenty or so years ago but is actually very dated, although the wireless internet works OK. It does have a bath though so I can repair my inner tubes. The restaurant is closed tonight so I'll have a little wander and get something to eat.

I make it 1376km to go. 14 days riding. There may be a case for bringing the arrival date forward to 22nd.

Today's Route

5 May Stage 23 Drobeta Turnu Severin - Craiova

Dep 930     Arr 5.00     Dist 116.6 km     Total 2611 km

Lots of pondering last night and looking at maps. In the end the decision was quite simple. The river bends away from here and does a big arc around to Giurgiu where I cross into Bulgaria. The villages on that route seem to be tiny and will be unlikely to have places to stay. I can get back on the E70 and do a straight line to Craiova which is a big city with lots of small hotels and Irish bars with football matches on. So that's the plan. 120km today, hopefully settled for the game by 6ish and maybe a well-earned rest tomorrow together with bike repairs. Breakfast is delicious, by the way.

Massive hill early on. I checked on bikeroutetoaster and it didn't seem too bad but think about sweat dripping off the end of my nose and me blowing it off and it then dropping onto the computer and it becoming caked almost immediately until I started to blow it off rhythmically to the side which ended up a decent sized drip almost every breath. It might have looked funny but I wasn't laughing. Then you see a car in front disappear round a corner and seem to go downwards but you find when you get round that corner it was only a false flat and onward and upward we go again and again. It lasted 8km which wasn't much short of an hour's riding and it was about 1 in 15 which isn't ridiculously steep but it was hot.

There is always a positive and that is that the rest of the day's trip was flat or downhill. I called into a shop in Strehaia for some victuals and got milk cereal and bananas. When I came out there was a lady with a clipboard. She opened it and showed me a photo of a disabled child and when I said I didn't understand she said "Money, help". I explained that a proportion of my income was already allotted to charitable causes of my choice but she didn't let it go. I just then said "No" and she turned and wandered off. The road surface I have ridden on has been brilliant but there were patches now and then that weren't that good. Every now and then there would be a long stretch of roadworks where they were obviously improving the surface on one side. At the next one there were people with clipboards pestering the drivers who were stopped and it figured that the gypsies might have gone upmarket. As I rode to the front of the queue a navvy waved me through on the side being repaired. I rode along and my way was blocked by a JCB. When the driver saw me he manoeuvred out of the way and waved me through. A bit more helpful than thhe German navvies, eh? I wondered what the Rumanian loggers are like.

I had an original arrival time target of 6.00 which would just about give me time to get organised, have a shower and find a bar. I was calculating the necessary average speed all along the way, which helps to pass the time. The arrival time was getting earlier with every calculation and I arrived at the centre of the city of Craiova just before 5.00 which was plenty of time. I phoned an Irish bar to check the game was going to be on their telly and when I was ready asked at reception for directions. The man said it wasn't far but it was difficult. He suggested a taxi and for some reason the taxi man couldn't understand me or didn't know the place. I rang the place from the taxi and handed the phone to the driver who babbled on and ranted while we were stopped at some lights and then handed me the phone back. The man at the bar said "Do you want me to tell the taxi man the address?" I thought that had all been done and gave the taxi man the phone. He stopped the car and gestured for me to get out. I was a bit confused but then looked up and saw a shamrock and realised we were there. I met Daniel, a local lad who supports the reds and two chaps from Yorkshire who were over here contracting for Fords. I had a few beers and saw the game. Not the best result but I think the best team won.

I wandered back through the city and enjoyed a pizza and a last beer in a beautiful busy square full of pleasant people enjoying themselves. When I got to the room there was live band playing some kind of traditional music nearby. I just put the music channel on the telly very loud to drown it out and managed to fall asleep.

I reckon that's 1487km to go. With no rest days that is 15 days which gets me there on 20th so we'll play safe and keep the arrival day at 23rd for now.

Today's Route

Friday, 4 May 2012

4 May Stage 22 Caransebes - Drobeta Turnu Severin

Dep 1015     Arr 6.00     Dist 118 km      Tot 2494.4 km

I slept uninterrupted until 6.20 and turned over once or twice, OK three times, and surfaced at just before 9. I knew it was going to be a late start but didn't care. I went in for breakfast and was given a menu. It took a while to realise that it wasn't included so I made my excuses and had my honey nut loops in the room. As I moved the bike away from where it was stashed, ie the front porch, I noticed it wasn't moving right. I eventually found the back wheel was slightly buckled and was rubbing on the brakes. I loosened the brakes a touch and it was OK but would need some attention somewhere down the line.

I got through the small town of Caransebes and saw it was 22 degrees on a signboard. It was cloudy and there was no noticeable wind which was ideal. I was climbing slowly but it wasn't hard and I took it easy. The little towns were a bit poorer but the countryside became more pleasant than the boring straight flatness I had experienced for the last week or so, and it was welcome. People in the fields or sat outside their houses would smile and wave and there was generally a good feeling about the area. I was moving through a river valley cutting between heavily wooded hillsides either side. The river was coming fast towards me which was a nuisance because it meant it was uphill but the nature of the view at times caused my mind to wander and made time pass. I heard rumblings in the distance and found there were dark heavy clouds on the hill tops on both sides. I got the cape and boots ready and then a Peter Kaye moment "Miss, it's spittin', it's spittin'". I expected it to pour down and got the gear on just before a hill of Saddleworth proportions appeared ahead. It twisted and turned like the Premier League relegation battle and I ended up soaked inside and out. The cape didn't allow the interior moisture, sweat, to dissipate. Thankfully the rain stopped as I reached the watershed and I stopped and dried off during lunch which consisted of a cheese sandwich from yesterday's breakfast, a cheese roll from the "pound bakery" and a bowl of cereal. I made some adjustments to the back wheel and fiddled with the front mudguard which has been rubbing off and on for a few days. There then followed long downhill stretches following a river which eventually opened up onto the Danube. Welcome back Danny, me old mate. The last 20km along the Danube dragged, as usual but I arrived at my planned destination at a reasonable hour. It is a nice hotel with pleasant staff having a laugh with each other and, most importantly, a wireless connection that works. I opened the door into the bathroom and nearly wept. A bath! I spent some time in the bath and got my least creased clothes on and then had the most wonderful meal, chicken stroganoff with a couple of beers. It is Friday after all. Breakfast is included, I checked. I am hoping to get an early night tonight and get to a decent sized town with a decent sized pub with a decent sized football match on at a reasonable time tomorrow.

Approx 1714 km to go. 17 decent days would get me to Fethiye on 21st May. So I'm on target for the revised date of 21st May. Let's say 23rd.

Today's route

3 May Stage 21 Sandra - Caransebes

Dep 9.20    Arr 8.00       Dist 135.7 km       Total 2375.6 km

I actually slept very well, undisturbed till 620, which is unheard of. I must have needed it. Breakfast was in another barn type building which, again, was very impressively set out. An older lady asked me what I wanted and I went over to the bar. I pointed at some bran flake type stuff and dried fruit and she disappeared. She returned with a massive bowl of flakes and fruit and a carton of milk. "Anything else?" (all in broken English - which is far better than my broken Rumanian). I just mentione bread and cheese. So then appeared two slabs of cheese and a basket of bread. These were soon stashed away for lunch.

My plan has changed after yesterday's conversation with Terry from FIG. There aren't many campsites here in Rumania, or in Bulgaria (or if there are Google doesn't know about them) and accommodation is quite cheap. I will go as far as I can each day and stay either in a hotel or camp wild (don't tell my mum). 100 km a day average, without rest days or bad weather, will get me to Fethiye in 19 days. Game on.

Anyway, I had lost an hour somewhere. I haven’t got a watch these days so I have been relying on the bike computer, which is always on UK time, and my phone which changes as necessary. The time on my phone must have changed when it realised I was in Rumania but I didn’t notice. I realised around mid day that my bike computer was 2 hrs behind the time in a shop where I got some milk, bananas and some honey nut loop tyre cereal. So I’m actually now on Turkey time which makes me feel a bit closer.

It wasn’t quite as warm and the sun in the morning occasionally went behind a cloud, but only for a minute or so. I was 33km or so from Timisoara, which is quite a big city, and I wasn’t really looking forward to trying to find my way through the place. I got there soon enough and it turned out to be a nice town after the usual industrial estates, which are necessary, don't get me wrong. It was bright and leafy with people going about their business like you would expect. I got some money and a couple of pies from the pound bakery equivalent and made my way along the pleasant cycle track into the town centre and out again along a well signposted route. After the city the road became very busy but there was a wide “hard shoulder” which I stuck to for the full length of the road, ie until I got here. This is the E70, a Euroroute also locally named A6 and is the main highway to Bucharest. Most of the vehicles have the B registration so are going some way. There were loads of trucks and wagons as well. I stopped for lunch at a village called Recas and a little lad came and sat down next to me smiling. I had the kindle out making notes of some useful Rumanian phrases. We had a sort of conversation with him basically teaching me the pronunciations. I gave him the web address of my blog and told him to have a look and he could see how I was doing. He said no computer. I said ask your dad or mum or school. He said no mother no father but it didn’t register at first. I got going again and realised I could have got his address and sent him some stuff from the uk. I could have even given him a few bob for sweets but I had this wary kind of defensive attitude, probably because of all the garbage you read about this country.

The late start and my new impetus meant I had to keep going through the heat of the day which wasn’t quite as bad as it has been. I saw a sign outside a cafĂ© for an 11 lei (£2) menu which made me jam the brakes on. I got the usual looks from clients and staff, can’t undersatand why, and ordered. There was no choice. The first course was sour tripe soup and the main course was schnitzel with mash. Absolutely fantastic both of them. I wasn’t really hungry but knew I would need the nourishment later so forced it all down. I only had a 10 lei note and the rest were 50s so I got away with paying even less. I feel really guilty, honest.

Some ridiculously dark clouds appeared up ahead. I stopped and got the cape and boots handy. They had been relegated to the bottom of the bag. It was late and getting dark even without the storm clouds so I donned my headlight and clipped on my super duper Austrian front light. The dark clouds were gathering to my right and claps of thunder were getting closer. You could see the rain belting down in the distance. I managed to outrun the storm and made it to Caransebes and checked in the first place I saw. I had found a posh hotel again. This time the shower was tremendous but between us the lad at reception, who couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t get the wireless to work. The restaurant was closed by the time I’d finished FARTING AROUND but the lad directed me and then took me to a road house up the road. Schnitzel with chips and a couple of beers, one a Leffe, and less than a fiver the lot. I drafted the blog while eating but was very tired. I just about made it back to the room and flaked out. Too much beer maybe, but I need the carbs!

The last two days have seen tremendous progress and I have actually saved a day. I have estimated about 1800 km to go so at 100km a day that would get me in to Fethiye on 21st April. That is my new target. It may change but that‘s how it is at the moment. Let‘s see.

Today's Route

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

2 May Stage 20 Kiskunfelegyhaza - Sandra

Dep  8.00     Arr 7.00       Dist 142.1 km       Tot  2239.9 km

I had set my alarm and duly got up at 6.30 for breakfast which I had ordered for 7.00. I would have liked to have been ready to go straight after but it wasn't to be. Breakfast was great. Muesli that tastes so bad it must be good for you. I took ages shovelling it down. I then made the customary cheese and ham sandwiches and the lady came over and said "omelette?" Scrambled egg with ham arrived and I managed to eat it all and took the sandwiches for later with an orange. I wore my long pants and high viz jacket despite the heat because of the inconvenience of applying sun cream all the time to arms and legs. I put loads on my face and hands and got going. It was even very warm at 8.00 but maybe the breeze was a bit cooler. I made good progress through a number of pretty and well-maintained little villages and towns. The road was flat and dead straight in places with flat farmland either side as far as you could see. The kilometres were counting up at the side of the road and I managed the first 40km in 2hours and a bit. Timisoara, a big city in Rumania, was my target for the day but it was a long way away. I stopped in a bus stop for a break and some food and spoke to Terry at FIG about the arrival time. I wanted to bring it forward by five days but wanted to make sure it didn't inconvenience the people at FIG. As it happened it would have been a problem but I was sure I could get there even earlier and we agreed provisionally on Friday 25th May. I will have all on to make it for that day but I do like a challenge.

The day dragged on and I got slower and slower but just kept turning them pedals round and the kms kept going up and up. I crossed the border into Rumania at Cenad and, soon after, stopped and rested under a tree. I lay down and fell asleep for 5 minutes or so. I didn't feel much better when I got going again but was determined to go as far as possible in line with my new target. As my shadow grew longer I passed a number of pensions and guest houses expecting there to be accommodation at Lovrin further on. Lovrin was actually a very quiet place and everyone I asked about hotels just shook their head and shrugged. I had settled again on camping wild but decided to give the next village a chance. It was even quieter than Lovrin but a young man pointed me to a pension type place and here I am now blogging using their wireless. The shower wasn't very warm but I managed. I've complained and they say they've fixed it but it doesn't look like I'm getting a discount. So I'm off for a meal now looking like Max Wall in my cycling pants because I've had to wash everything I have worn today.

Update - The meal was poor. Grizzly meat stew with sloppy mashed spuds, and not many at that. The lad was run off his feet with a large party and the old guy with the tights, ie me, wasn't as important. I had a couple of local beers and the second one was only half full. The old guy complained yet again but they seem to be used to it. Lovely modern building, great facilities and beautifully decorated but you just can't get the staff. I went back to the room and watched the end of Chelsea v Newcastle. Bolton's result was good for Latics. Must be safe now.

Today's route

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

1 May Stage 19 Budapest - Kiskunfelegyhaza

Dep. 915      Arr 600      Dist 115.6 km       Total  2097.8 km

So what a game of football that was! Tremendous quality, great entertainment, noisy crowd from start to finish. City much better on the night but there will be a few more twists and turns yet. Heard that before? I watched it with a load of ex-pats in the Caledonian Pub. Ray had to reserve seats and later on I could see why. It was like being there at the game. I had to bob my head round some local Hungarian lads who were Man U fans with all the regalia and what a noise they made? I learnt a few Hungarian swearwords as well. I thought it a great shame that these lads don't support their own teams but that's the way Hungarian football has gone. The old codgers there, ie everyone who was British, reminisced about Ferncvaros, Honved, Ujpest Dosza and other legendary teams from the past. I managed to only have one pint and kept watering it down with fizzy water. What a hero? We wandered back through the busy city streets in the warm evening with a cool breeze and I got to bed near midnight.

I didn't sleep too well - not enough alcohol maybe - but got organised and was on the road quite handy. A massive thanks to Ray and Orsolya for organising digs for me and the boys. It was truly above and beyond what was expected of them and I hope I got that across as we said our final farewells. They were off to Edinburgh in the afternoon, with a select band of Budapest residents, to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Caledonian's owner, Patrick who is an ex-pat and still is. (work that one out)

As usual, escaping from the city caused me a few small problems but I eventually got into the country onto the A5 which would carry me nearly all the way to Rumania over the next two days. It was a flat, straight road with flat countryside as far as they eye could see both sides. It was 30 degrees C at 10.00am as I left the city and must have got warmer as I bowled along. The wind was quite light but was definitely against and slowed me down a bit. I stopped for a sandwich and sat under a tree in the shade. I was invaded by about 100 different types of beetle, fly, spider etc in seconds flat so didn't hang around. What were they doing before I got there? I soon found a bus stop and completed my "lunch". I reached my target for the day, Kecskemet, at about 4.30 and wasn't feeling too bad so decided to push on, mainly to make the next day easier, or even to gain a day by making the next day longer. I was flagging, though, about 20km later when I got to the little town named above and there was some sort of festival on. There were lots of people around in the centre and, more crucially for me, all the bars and restaurants, cafes etc, were packed. I thought I might feel a bit silly if I joined the throng so pushed on with a night's wild camping in prospect. As I rode out of the town I saw a small, pretty hotel, named the Oazis. I thought it would probably be beyond my budget but enquired of the very nice and helpful young lady about the cost and found it was very reasonable, so went for it. I've just watched Jedward on Hungarian TV - jealous anyone? - had a shower and a massive meal and am updating the blog using the hotel's wireless connection on Daniel's notepad which he has lent to me for the duration of the ride. Cheers pal. Hopefully, this will make it easier to keep the blog updated. I may be able to add some photos to the older posts as well but that is a bit advanced for me so don't hold your breath.

Because of this ridiculously hot weather I've got to get started earlier and take a break in the middle of the day. I actually drank 5 litres of water today. I've taken a chance by booking breakfast for 7.00 so should be on this flat, boring straight road in the cooler weather, all being well. A good day will see me in Rumania tomorrow evening.

Today's Route

Monday, 30 April 2012

30 April Rest Day 3 Budapest

“She said she was a dancer. If I believed her it was my business.” Don’t worry, I’ve not been up to any mischief. It’s a Jethro Tull song, “One Night in Budapest” reminded to me by the legendary fellow Tull fan, Phil Roberts of Guiseley fame. I think you can get the theme of the song. Just in case there is any doubt, another line states that “her legs went on forever”. Phil’s good wishes included the hope that mine do too. The way I’m feeling now after three nights in Budapest, there is no danger.

Anyway, here I am, alone again on this Monday morning with a day’s rest in front of me and a lot of slow organisation to do. My nephew, Daniel, and his lad Ben came out on Friday night to visit me here on my mid-ride break. It was great to see familiar faces and we really had a good time in this fantastic city. We had a few drinks here and there and ate very well for not much money. When we weren’t out “socialising”, the lads did a bit of sight-seeing and took a lot of photos while I rested, caught up with the blog and organised the next couple of weeks on the road. We had a drink with Ray and Orsolya yesterday afternoon and the lads got the taxi to the airport for the flight back to blighty, where it is apparently quite cold and wet, late in the afternoon. It was sad to see them off but I think it was a worthwhile little trip for them. It was definitely a most welcome break for me and I’m raring to go tomorrow. I saw a bit more of the city last night. I went for a slow walk down to the great river and was even more impressed with the beauty of the place.

I’ve washed and lubricated the bike and need to make a few adjustments and generally tighten things up, reorganise the bags and I’ll be ready. I will be meeting Ray and Orsolya tonight to watch a bit of footy and a have a load of carbohydrates to eat. Hopefully, no beer for me but who knows?

The first phase has gone really well. It has been hard, very hard at times but I have made good progress and really enjoyed this little, but much needed break. I’m nearly half way and I am thinking of bringing the arrival date forward. I just need to make sure that doesn’t inconvenience anyone and then I’ll go for it from the outset. I’m expecting a bit more warmth than I’ve been used to over the winter and the wind direction will, as always, be critical.