Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Trip dist: 84 kms. Trip time: 5 hrs, 5 min. Tot dist: 6,859 kms.

This morning I hapily set out from chaotic, noisy, dusty Bucharest towards the border. I soon encountered that old friend, the Danube.

Did you know that the Danube passes through no less than 10 countries? It is, in fact, the longest river in Europe. It would be cool, to take a boat and ride it from its source in Germany to its destination at the Danube Delta (UNESCO World Heritage Site, by the way) into the Black Sea. It really does pass through some very neat cities, as I've happened to find out first hand.

As soon as I crossed the border, the change was immediate: all the dust and dirt suddenly ceased, even though the traffic was as disorderly as back in Romania. The border guards were friendly and even when telling you that photographs were forbidden they still did it in a very calm, happy, nonchalant way, as if things didn't matter, but still without allowing you to get away with things, simply repeating calmly what you were and were not supposed to do, which was very much unlike in the rest of Europe, where even in the borders that will soon be vanishing (Germany-Czech Republic, or Austria-Slovakia), both sides seem more uptight.

Anyway, the Bulgarians seem like a friendly bunch. The border guard at Russe chatted quite amusingly at length with me ("You're going to Istanbul via Varna? There's a more direct route, you know". "The one full of mountains, you mean?" said I. "Ah," he smiled. "Of course, you're on a bike, I momentarily forgot."), but the very first thing, the first question he asked when he found out I'd been biking all the way from Lisbon was, as he leaned out of his little cabin window to look at my bike and panniers more closely and then pointed at my bags: "What do you have in there? I mean, what do you eat? What do you drink? How do you do it? Does it all fit in there?", which I thought was amusing, and a question I had up to then not heard before.

I got a bit lost at the outskirts of Russe. It gets a bit tricky trying to read all the signs in cyrillic, and also if you consider that even if you could read them you'd still not understand the language. So it took some asking around to find city center, but people were most helpful, and very curious and interested to help a foreigner. Some of them, even, would have long smiling conversations in Bulgarian with me, they didn't seem to mind that I did not understand.


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