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  • Writer's pictureLauren O'Bryan

Summer Cycle With a Deadline to Reach Istanbul

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

I’ve had very little pressure to be anywhere by a certain date on this cycle trip, however one date I had to keep was meeting a bunch of friends from London in Istanbul for a week holiday.

We had it planned since I began cycling from London and it had been a nice little goal to focus on catching up with them throughout the journey so far. I had however enjoyed Romania a bit too much and spent too much time there. I would now have to haul arse to get to Istanbul in just over a week.

I liked the challenge in this though, so I planned out two rest days to do a little sightseeing in Bulgaria and then the rest I would have to cover in long 90-100km days, on hot summer days.

Upon leaving Romania I bumped into Volodnya, a quirky Ukrainian cyclist heading the same direction. Volodnya was wobbling along the highway whilst recording vlogs and stopped to forage from all the trees on the road towards Bulgaria.

Of the entire trip through Europe this was the first person I’d cycled with and also camped with for the night. Despite speaking zero English, it was nice to have company whilst camping and total luxury to not have to think about finding a camping spot for one night.

He was travelling ultra light, for a short trip between Ukraine and Istanbul and was continuously showing me all his kit. Indicating that my tent was too big, I had too much stuff and ‘didn’t I know there is an ocean between here and Australia’ (silly girl).

This got a little tiring and unfortunately or fortunately, google translate conversations have their limitations and I decided to part ways with Volodnya and travel towards Veliko Tarnovo, a fairly popular tourist stop. I squeezed my sightseeing and relaxing into one day and got back on the bike.

My next scheduled rest/sightseeing stop was Burgas, on the Black Sea coast. I decided to follow the boring highway as I knew the road surface would be better and it was more direct.

I worked out that in order to fit in the two rest days and make it to Istanbul in time I’d need to do at least a 100km day over the mountains to the south of Veliko Tarnovo and then a 130km day to get to Burgas on time. This would be unpleasant, but a day off on the coast would be a nice reward.

The mountains to the south of Veliko Tarnovo weren’t too painful, however the daily summer temperatures were beginning to eat away at me. Whenever I found a roadside water tap I’d drench my hat, buff and sun shirt, so when I cycled it was like my own personal airconditioning. The night time temperatures weren’t giving me much respite either, so I struggled to rehydrate and sleep well in my tent, further adding to my daytime struggle.

Hot, hot, hot – onwards to Burgas.

I booked into a hostel in Burgas that I couldn’t cancel without a incurring a fee, just to add pressure to myself and I kept pedalling on into the night. As I got closer and more and more exhausted I noticed was indicating I couldn’t cycle on the main road into Burgas.

The recommended route was going to add another hour’s cycle and I was tired, it was dark and I really just wanted to get to this hostel. I decided to play stupid tourist and just cycle as fast as I could down the direct road into Burgas. I attracted some honks, including from a police car but they didn’t bother to pull over, so I figured I’d gotten away with it.

After a grueling, personal record-breaking 130km I made it into Burgas. Once again I soaked up the seaside tourist hotspot for one day only, but I made sure to enjoy the very authentic open air salt and mud baths. There’s an entry fee now, but it’s practically spare change and it’s just fantastic. After my budget pamper session I was back at it, cycling south through the scenic Strandja mountains.

I camped close to the border with Turkey in order to cross the following morning and said farewell to Bulgaria after a blur of only 6 days in the country. I regret that I wasn’t able to see as much of the country as I would have liked, but I’ll just have to go back one day.

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