Welcome to cycle-touring. Relatively efficient, healthy, low-cost, and only slightly unbearable. Almost too good to be true! Travel by bike has always been a dream of mine, so when my friend Alek told me one day that he was going, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to check it off the list.
We pondered cycling Mongolia, China, Russia, or a mixture of the three, but in the end, we settled on Eastern Europe — the cheaper and perhaps more scenic.
Alek and I spent about a week of preparation and month and a half of cycling. Our intended route took us from Poland, through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, and ended on the coast of Bulgaria. The path was scattered with cities, valleys, villages, rivers, & exhausting mountains.
Alek was living in Krakow, Poland at the time, and thus Krakow became our starting point. Out of the Polish cities I’ve been to, Krakow is easily my favorite. It’s a lively, hip center in the southern region of the country, filled with cool restaurants, bars, and an excessive amounts of PIGEONS.
Alek definitely didn’t think I was actually gonna show up.
But, I’m glad I did.
We had no idea what to expect, but we watched a lot of the Northface YouTube videos that got us hype!
Alek conveniently had two bikes, and lots of camping/cycling gear we needed, but we went together to a discount outdoorsy store so I could buy a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, some bike lights, bike panniers, and bags. After, we tuned up the commuter bike for touring.
We named our bikes Pilaar and Tranquillo — shown below:
We left Krakow early into the morning mist. It felt good to finally start something we had been anticipating for so long.
Alek’s first time changing a tire!
We followed the route east and south through Poland. One thing we learned quick, is that “a line” and “a line that gets jagged when you zoom in” are two completely different things. Poland was full of “The Jagged Line,” a.k.a some nice mountains, prime views, and reevaluation of current life choices. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I moved to Russia around two years ago, and Alek only rode his bike for commutes around Krakow. We averaged 40–60 miles a day, with an exception of 120 on the last day.
The first week was spent acclimating to our new lifestyle — cycling all day, delirious exhaustion, and camping almost every night.
Our daily meals contained a lot of boiled eggs, pastries, and unhealthy amounts of coffee.
The first 2 nights we camped off the side of the road in areas with lots of trees. To get to our first campsite we had to cross a crazy river!!
second night camping
The third night we stayed with a couple. This lovely lady just finished her bike tour in Iceland! A legend!
The couple’s house was under construction and didn’t have heating. The shower also only had 5 minutes of hot water which set us up for a chilly night. They were still lovely hosts and had a never ending list of interesting stories to share. We were their first Warm Showers guests, “A free internet based platform linking touring bicyclists with hosts who support them.”
Crossing the border into Slovakia was a breath of fresh air from Poland’s hilly terrain. It was almost all downhill and a blessing for our legs.
We also got taken over some questionable bridges..
The same day, we arrived in Kosice (pronounced: Koshitzey) — an industrial city halfway in Slovakia with a complete lack of charm. We stayed the first night with Janko.
It had never felt so good to take a warm shower. A drink always helps too.
Janko made sure we all finished the bottle.
Alek woke up the next morning extremely sick. Alek therefore had a really bad day, but on the contrary, I had a great day. Jacob took us around the city and showed us some cool Kosice sites.
Some abandoned tunnels from Yugoslavian times.
The next night we stayed with Jakub and his grandma. They gifted us spices from the garden to take with us on the road.
A couple of days later we arrived in Szeged — a hip and international city in southern Hungary, flourishing with tourists and students. We stayed with Ambrus who makes super edgy music. It was decided that our team name would be “the Arthur Pens.”
Vlad makes an appearance!
Once we reached Serbia, the wind became tormentous to any progress. Our late-afternoon-section of the ride that should have taken us 2 hours took 4 and we arrived late at night. Me looking salty, pictured below:
After hitting Belgrade, the Euro Velo path veered East along the stunning Danube. This gorge, between Serbia and Romania, is called the Iron Gates. Definitely my favorite place to cycle during the trip.
Camping along the Danube. A fisherman woke us up in the morning wondering why we stole his spot!
We rode along the Danube for a few days, stopping along the way in different cities.
The route consisted of signs giving us directions- — courtesy of Eurovelo. They all had motivational quotes on them. Kept us going!
In Veliko Gradište, we were the first ever guests of Milos and his family. Milos let us camp in the yard and his family would periodically bring us snacks.
Milos also took us out on the neighborhood lake and let us try to paddle. It’s not as easy as it looks!
In Kozludy, we stayed with the owner of a cake bakery and our stay included good portions of cake. Everywhere we stayed, people would always make sure we were well-fed and ready to ride!
Carb loading the right way
Snacking along the Danube
When we finally crossed back to Bulgaria, we found ourselves in Ruse. We spent one night with our host, Dobrin, and he invited us to bike 10 mi out to a mountain cabin in the woods. Of course we agreed!
The cabin had many animals and particular points to watch the sunrises and sunsets.
Naps for days
We ate the best at this cabin.
After spending 3 nights resting in Ruse and the cabin, Alek and I decided to finish our trip strong with a 200km ride from Ruse to Varna, which is a port city on the Black Sea. We stayed with Alexander — the # 1 fan of Alex Jones and Alex Jones supplements. We spent time touring the city and learning about Bulgarian culture.
In Varna the next day, there was a cargo ship en route to Poti, the port city in Georgia (our next destination). 52 hours on a boat is not easy, but it allowed for full leg recovery. The majority of hours were spent in my hammock, tuning in and out of consciousness, while listening to Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. I was in a funk.
Some boat pics:
There were a lot of other cyclists in the ship, as Euro Velo is a relatively popular route.
52 hours eventually passed and the boat reached Poti during the early morning hours. We were hungry but nothing was open in the eerie city. We roamed around until we found the Poti train station which conveniently had 3 benches for all of us to sleep on (we were with another cyclist from the boat). Around 7am, Alek and I caught the train to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
Georgia was one of the more memorable countries and alas the last stop on our journey. Alek was going study Chinese in China and I was going briefly to Kazakhstan, and then finally home to Florida.
Before leaving, I had a strong urge to visit the mountains and decided to visit Kazbegi, a mountain range in Northern Georgia bordering southern Russia. My host in Tbilisi was especially hospitable, as all Georgians seem to be, and gave me a tent and good advice. He assured me hitchhiking was popular and safe for women (and it was, by the way). I admired the scenery and practiced Russian with the various cars and trucks that gave me lifts. (The older generation in Georgia speaks Russian, although not so many young people anymore.) At one point, a white van pulled over and two hitchhikers sitting in the front told me to join “the others” in the back. In the back of the white van were a pile of old tires and two guys from the UK. As we started talking, I found out all four of them were cycletourists, biking the world and evidently way more hardcore than me.
We all hiked and camped together in Kazbegi.
And that marked the end of the adventure.
So now I’m sure you have some questions, like, “should I go on a bike tour?” and I would give you a “solid yes” and you might be like, “oh I don’t have much experience on the bike” or “I’m out of shape” and I’d say something like “you get in shape on the way” and “you’ll learn as you go.” & then you’d say something like “oh, Bianca, what a great idea, I think I’m gonna do it” and then you’d go out there and be with the world.
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