Малко Търново(Malko Tarnovo)-Kırklareli.
Trip dist: 55 kms. Trip time: 4 hrs, 32 mins. Tot dist: 7,395 kms.
You know what the first thing anyone shouted to me was, as soon as I crossed into Turkey proper, when I was rolling by a little town not too far away from the border?
How nice, huh? :D
Anyway, there was a bit of a climb this morning, because the border (I learned posteriorly, thanks to Jesper, who after apologizing profusely for having lost me on the road to Burgas sent me an email this evening detailing all aspects of the ride all the way from Burgas to Babaeski and Lüleburgaz half way from the border to Istanbul, including things like: "after 30 kms from the 2nd hill after the border, there is downhill with strong headwinds for 15 kms, then the turnoff to city of Babaeski, but watch out for the three mean dogs about 3 kms off Kırklareli, they are very big and don't run away when you throw stones at them", and other very helpful details like that--with other precious gems like: "taking the road inland from Burgas to Malko Tarnovo is very tiring and very steep!" included--, because it was a little bit like having someone watching over you ahead of you, and telling you "careful with this" or "watch out for that", so it was nice knowing what to expect from here on to Istanbul) is actually at elevation 650 m. The climb up there wasn't too bad, but although it started out sunny early morning, I didn't leave until past 11, because I needed to change the brakes on the bike, as the old ones, which had been agonizing since the Carpathians, had basically died (no brakepad left, basically!) on the descent from the mountains to Nessebar, and I had heard (on the web) that there were some pretty steep descents into Kırklareli. What this long story means, actually, is that I arrived to the border with weather that was very cloudy and cold (it had just started raining by the time I left the hotel, and by the time I arrived to the border I was pretty much soaking), compounded by very wet clothes, high winds, and the altitude, made it so that I started shivering when standing, and had to even take out my winter jacket and ride with that for a while.
The Turkish border guards were very friendly, though. One of them upon seeing this offered to turn the heater on in the little cabin and asked if I wanted to come inside to warm up for a bit.
Anyway, the landscape changed almost as suddenly as I crossed the border. In Bulgaria it was mountainous and full of leafy forests, but within a kilometer or two into Turkey it was replaced by pines and much rockier mountains. Another thing that immediately changed past the border, a nice change, by the way, was that all those potholes from that bad low-traffic back road in Bulgaria were suddenly gone.
Another neat thing that happened was that not long after the border I ran into Françoise and Peter, the two Belgian cyclists that were also at Malko Tarnovo last night, in my same hotel, where I ran into them and made their acquaintance. They are a middle-aged couple who have been cycling from their home in Brussels, about 50 kms at a time, for about 3000 kms now. They had set out at 8 a.m. this morning, and now here they were, Françoise admiring the landscape while Peter finished changing the brakes on his bike, as well!
Good thing he did, too, because the web people were quite right: The descent 10 kms before Kırklareli was the fastest ever, allowing my record speed of 70.5 kms/hr for about a few seconds at the bottom of the hill, and would've been faster, had the road surface not been so bumpy (no potholes, but the asphalt was not perfectly smooth). Very exhilarating, (and a bit scary--silly mind always thinks things like--"imagine, if you fell right now without a helmet"-type scenarios which tend to ruin the fun!) that was. For a bit after that it was also kind of cool: you're riding in a ridge and the wind was in favor, a very strong gale that literally pushed you up the ascents at 20 kms/hr without you even having to pedal at all!
Anyway, on the windless ascents Peter and Françoise tended to go slow, (they had not been privy to the Catalan Antonio's advice--"On the uphills, use the preceding downhill to your advantage!"), even pushwalking the bike at times, so I ended up waiting at the top a bit more impatiently than I imagine Jesper must've done when he put up with me in Bulgaria (and that is probably why the time above is so high given the kilometer count). So, I guess, and especially given that wonderful road advice he then emailed me with, I forgave him, in the end. ;P
Françoise, Peter and I arrived into Kırklareli just as the evening call to prayer was floating out of the characteristic, needle-like minarets. Here in Turkey they are much more melodic, happier, even, than I remember them in Morocco (they seem to use the makams--which, by the way, I first encountered, long story, back when I was around 10 years old--a little more, for instance, while in Morocco they tend to be a little more monotonous). People are, indeed, very friendly here. As we came into the city center, kids followed us, asking questions constantly, wanting to know everything, but only managing: "What's your name?" in English, product, no doubt, of first lesson first year elementary school class. It was amazing, though, how versatile the phrase became in their hands, elliciting all sorts of responses, incluiding information on where Françoise and Peter were from, and how far we had travelled that day.
You know, Kırklareli, for such a small town, is bursting with activity: lots of commerce, the city center is teeming with people, a very lively town that gave us such a happy welcome into this new country.