Approaching my final destination, which is … what?

13. Juli 2013 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

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The decision came as a surprise to me too. In the morning, as I locked Keith’s apartment and brought the key to the school for safekeeping, I didn’t yet know where my journey would end for sure. Varna perhaps, and then a flight home, or Bucharest and a long train journey as has been my wont on these eco-friendly trips; or would I pull through and head north from the Danube’s mouth to my ultimate goal, Comrat in Gagausia? But I checked out with Google Maps that this would mean another 800 and odd km, and though I’m doing okay healthwise, I have developed this lameness in my right arm. It’s probably to do with the pressure on the nerves in my wrist, and the result is I find it hard to brush my teeth or cut meat with my right hand.
It’s less the health factor than a general feeling telling me that I’m looking for temporary closure towards the end of week four in my third summer of cycling through the European language regions. I have covered about 30 language areas so far, and I’ll have to think of another mode of transport for the remaining 50 or so, because on bicycle taking in another 50 languages would mean at least another 10’000 km however well I plot my route. This is not a prospect I want to face at the moment.
But the real clincher was the signpost in Plovdiv which I suppose showed the distances to the town’s twinned cities, and I remembered it on my route, 20 km out of Plovdiv. It said: Istanbul 403 km. Now that is close, isn’t it? Reachable in 4 days or so. And hadn’t I told some of the people who asked me about my ultimate destination, two years ago in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia that my goal was Istanbul? Well, okay it was mainly because I didn’t know how to say The Black Sea in any of the South Slavic languages then, and because I didn’t want to have to give long explanations about Gagausia to innocent passers-by.
But when I approached that fateful junction in Popovitsa, my mind was already made up: Istanbul is as suitable a destination as any, a true and fairy-tale like ending to an outsize European trip. Like two years ago, when I decided to head for Dubrovnik and call it a day there, the decision gave me a boost of energy. This has proved to be absolutely necessary, because the stretch from Plovdiv to Istanbul is by no means easy pie. You practically follow one straight road, the E80 in Bulgaria and then the D100 in Turkey. It goes up and down the low rolling hills of Thracia with their sunflower fields and their stinky little rivulets at the bottom of the wide valleys that all drain towards the same river, that is, rather than following a a river valley the road insists on all these hills and dips.
For the most part, there is a side strip clear of shards and rubble, but the are exceptions, particularly towards the metropolitan areas, and apart from the intense lorry and van traffic, which I block out with music or earplugs, there are dangerous spots, where suddenly trucks or tractors come against you on your side by excuse of just wanting to go from one field or factory to another without having to go up and down the dual carriageway. And, would you believe it, 100 km before my final destination I pick up my first puncture. A compliment to the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, which have held up so well, but I did take an hour to repair the damage. I wanted to exchange the inner tube quickly with a spare I had carried with me all these 6600 km, but it proved to have a defective valve, and so I had to use the trusty galvaniser and rubber patch in a small dusty village park (why there is never a public water tap in 80% of the Southern European towns beats me, especially when you see them sprinkling the scrubby communal lawns at the same time).
Anyway, the decision was still a good one, and I’m looking forward to the Golden Horn and the flight home (that’s definitely another asset, a cheap and direct flight home with Europe’s best airline – yes, I’ve given up the principle of only using land and sea transport on these trips, but I just can’t face 48 hours on hot trains).
As a compensation for last night’s rip-off at the mouldy boutique hotel, I checked carefully this time and booked through a website. The room at Silivri Park hotel is cavernous but nice, and the roof terrace bar and restaurant with a gorgeous view of the Marmara Sea can’t be beat, especially at a third less than at the Ninni in Babaeski. But during dinner on the terrace, I can also see the intense traffic on the D100, and perhaps I’d better find out about alternatives such as boats, trains or buses into the heart of the 15-million megalopolis.

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