From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

5 days in Novi Sad and Belgrade we are ready to hit the road, even in the rain. This morning, it's raining a little, but we go to the train station to take the train to Belgrade and leave on our bikes from the Serbian capital with the goal: Istanbul. But before you get there, the road is still long and the possibilities of numerous itineraries: the perfect wedding for the changes of plans!

The Belgrade exit is not the most fun. We cross a bridge with heavy traffic. Fortunately, the sidewalk allows us to roll on it to avoid some useless frights. To our surprise, the signs of the Eurovélo 6 are rather present and also offer alternative routes with always a short description or quote. To avoid the road, we take the track between the fields and small villages where the free dogs bark on cyclists who dare to enter their territory. A storm surprises us while we are in the middle of nowhere. At the first lightning a little close we go to take refuge in a hunter's cabin and abandon our bikes to a hundred meters from us. Sitting in the cabin, we wait for the storm to pass before we go to Pancevo.

Waiting for the storm to pass
The next day, the day begins with a puncture for Jerome because of a piece of glass. Time to disassemble the wheel, realize that we do not have the right tubes, put the patch and put it all together, we leave Pancevo around 11 o'clock. Between dogs that bark and try to run us, we walk without much motivation and alert, whistle in the mouth and ready to draw the stick. Smederevo and its surroundings do not leave us a good image, even if the seller of the bike shop (where we buy new tubes) saw the match Strasbourg - Lyon. What a coincidence ! Fortunately, the hospitality of the Serbs and their respectful behavior quickly make us forget these misadventures. In Pozarevac, we are invited to have coffee on the terrace and we talk about cycling during this break.

The road is improving and we do not cross any more dogs. At Veliko Gradiste we find the Danube and the Eurovelo 6 that we had left the day before. From Golubac and after crossing its majestic fortress, we enter the Djerdap National Park on a sparsely populated road along the Danube. On the other side of the bank is Romania, a route often used by cyclo-travelers. But we wanted to stay in Serbia to avoid the line of trucks to Drobeta-Turnu: a choice we do not regret.

The fortress of Golubac
The hills make the scenery sumptuous and we climb with boundless energy. This itinerary with these panoramas reminds us why we love cycling. We take the time to stop where we want and we offer a lunch break overlooking Romania. Further on our way, we can see the sculpture of Débécale in the middle of a Romanian hill. 40 meters high and 20 meters wide, it is impossible to miss the face of the last king of the Dacians, facing Serbia. We could not dream better as a road for our last days in Serbia.

From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

The sculpture of Décebale
In Negotin, the last Serbian town before Bulgaria, we sleep in the paradise of cyclists. A guesthouse having welcomed a good number of travelers by bike and for good reason, the owner is the little care. As usual, we arrive relatively early in the afternoon to our destination. After a good shower, we are offered drinks and cupcakes. Everything is thought for the comfort of the fighters: a garden furniture, a kitchen and a washing machine. The address was given to us by an Englishman riding a bicycle along the Danube which was pedaling towards Vienna. In Negotin, we also met Paul, a young Austrian from Vienna to Istanbul, also by bike. Paul is one of those people with whom the current passes immediately and with whom we enjoy discussing.

From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

Changes of plans in Bulgaria
From Negotin, we take the road towards Vidin, the first Bulgarian town after the border. We booked a hotel for two nights to rest the legs before crossing Bulgaria which looks more mountainous. Vidin is nothing exceptional. Some terraces to the Danube and that's it. We sit down with Beer and Sommersby when we see Paul speeding past his trusty steed. He is already far away when he sees our message and our paths are no longer supposed to cross before Istanbul.

Third day in Bulgaria. We always ride along the Danube but we see that very rarely. We cross some villages where we feel a high poverty, especially in this gypsy town where only the main road is more or less paved, the rest is only earth, pebbles and dust. And in this shambles, the villagers are outside, sitting in the shade of the sun, in front of their houses made of odds and ends. Children play, dogs sleep in the middle of bags and bottles lying on the floor. On the course, we also have an appointment with some dogs: some more aggressive than others, even down the bike. Some who see us coming from far and waiting for us in the middle of the road. Arrived in Lom, our motivation is at the lowest. We no longer have the strength, the desire to continue to find a bivouac spot, so it will be hotel. And what a hotel! A slum left in decay: dilapidated walls, unpleasant smell, a mattress on a wooden board as a bed. We leave the bikes in the place where there used to be, an indoor pool. Today, it is empty, the tiles are broken in places and a dead pigeon drags in a corner. Fortunately, the lady of the reception is adorable, it is already that. Lost in our thoughts, we navigate each of our side on the internet, without knowing that we thought the same thing: not to continue on Eurovélo 6 as we had previously organized, but to find a way to make this stay in Bulgaria more exciting. And what's more exciting than visiting cities? The decision is made, we leave by train to Sofia and will also pass by Plovdiv. To close this holiday of loose in Lom, we offer a restaurant. The card is in Bulgarian, we recognize "chicken" thanks to our translator. No bowl, we both ordered chicken livers. Fail ... we go back to sleep on our board!

Extended stay in Sofia and blow of heart for Plovdiv
5:18. We are on the train from Lom and towards Sofia. 4 hours of train waiting for us, time to dream, think and sleep. The night was short and noisy with Bulgarian music until midnight. If we had to redo these last days, we would certainly have taken another path: continue to Nis in Serbia to reach Sofia. But the past does not change and the most important thing is to bounce back in the present moment to enjoy the rest of the adventure. The train sneaks into the Bulgarian mountains, the landscape is sublime with the mist that covers the trees. For a moment, we imagine in the show "Trains like no other" with Philippe Gougler. Eyes staring out, we listen to the sound of the train, smile and impatient to get there.

By train to Sofia
In Sofia, we have an appointment with Hassan and Tania who have an apartment to lend us. We take the time to have lunch together at the trendy Made in Blue restaurant. So hip that Gerard Butler ate there at the same time as us. Fatigue invades us in the afternoon. We return to the apartment to rest, because in the evening we are out with Hassan, Tania and their Bulgarian friends. The atmosphere is good, very festive and we drink every minute with the Bulgarian. 2:30 in the morning, we are ordered a taxi to return. Lack of luck, the driver drops us in the wrong place. When you realize it, he's already gone. We will end the evening with a walk of 2.5 kilometers!

Best burger in town by Made in Blue!
The two nights we should have spent in Sofia are finally transformed into 4 to spend the weekend with Hassan and Tania in their mountain home. The other days were devoted to visiting the Bulgarian capital, strolling the streets, shopping in "Second Hand Shop" and the terraces of the city, including one with Paul (we knew he was in Sofia in same time as us).

From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

In the streets of Sofia
To reach Plovdiv, we take the train again to gain 1 day. We had read on different blogs and seeing several photos that the city was very attractive. And we confirm, Plovdiv is beautiful. An open-air museum with many Roman remains, a beautiful architecture and neighborhoods totally different from each other. The city is one of the oldest cities in Europe, anterior to Rome or Athens and well deserves its status as Capital of Culture 2019. City to the seven hills, it is easy to take a little height to admire the sunset. We did it both nights, including one with Paul. Ah yes ! We met Paul by chance in the streets of Plovdiv, he thinks we're following him!

Bulgaria is soon over and ends much better than it started. We leave Plovdiv following a beautiful bike path that ends in the district of Stolipinovo that we cross to find the road 8. And what a shock! After some research, we learn that we were in one of the largest Roma ghetto in Europe. The difference between the center of Plovdiv is this neighborhood left us speechless. Blocks of buildings of the communist era in a row in a dubious state, a main road and unmaintained streets where pile up waste. We roll without saying a word but our eyes can not help but look at the slightest detail of this surrealist scene. She is far away the beautiful Western Europe!

First steps in Turkey and our itinerary from Edirne to Istanbul
It is through Greece that we enter Turkey with a memorable border crossing: warm welcome from the Turks, big smiles, laughter and especially tea at the time of passport control. At Edirne we stay at Can's, which we contacted via Couchsurfing. We take the time to visit the city together, the bazaars and the wonderful Selimiye Mosque. We also discover local cuisine and morning tea, noon, day, evening. What a treat, Turkey promises beautiful taste sensations. Here we are, finally, in one of the most welcoming countries in the world. Arriving in Turkey is a turning point in our cycling journey. We feel like closing a chapter of our adventure and opening another. In these new pages we learn to live with new smells, new sensations, new noises. The singing of mosques during calls to prayer, the "cling-cling" of teaspoons to stir sugar in tea, the incisive horns and the big male voices of street vendors.

From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

The streets of Edirne
To get to Istanbul, we take the less direct path but avoid entering the city by road that seems chaotic. We go down towards Çanakkale and follow the Aegean Sea and the Sea of ​​Marmara. What a pleasure to see this infinite blue, especially after a beautiful coast and its descent that leads us right on the sea. We stay all along the E87, a kind of 2 times 2 lanes with wide band of emergency stop . Horns of encouragement are omnipresent. A small wave of the hand and we continue our way listening to podcasts. We also meet great people: this man who wants to give us money to eat, this family who comes to give us meat pieces of their picnic and with whom we spend the rest of the evening.

Çanakkale is a young and tourist town on the coast. Bars, cafes and other restaurants are numerous. We stayed here for one night to catch the ferry the next morning to go to the island of Bozcaada, whose beauty, clear water and sweetness of life we ​​were told: the perfect place to do nothing , holidays in the holidays. And what a pleasure to have taken 2 days OFF where our only question was to know on which beach we would put our towels. Between bike rides along the coast, strolling through the streets of the city with the charming mixture of Turkish and Greek influences, the time has stopped and we would have liked it not to resume so quickly.

From Belgrade to Istanbul by bike

The Greek influence in Bozcaada
Return to the mainland at Geyikli. The wind has risen and it faces us during the three days on the road towards Istanbul, with an intensity more and more strong. It is exhausted by gusts, we arrive at Bandirma where we take the ferry to Istanbul. Finally we are there, in this megalopolis. We stay more than a week to make and recover our Iranian visa and wander in this lively, noisy but so attractive city. The arrival in Istanbul with a chaotic traffic!

Our steps:
  • J 38: Belgrade - Pancevo / 41 km / Hostel
  • D 39: Pancevo - Udovice / 65 km / Hostelche
  • Day 40: Udovice - Veliko Gradiste / 75 km / Camping Silver Lake
  • D 41: Veliko Gradiste - Donji Milanovac / 81 km / Hostel
  • Day 42: Donji Milanovac - Kladovo / 65 km / Guesthouse Sipi
  • Day 43: Kladovo - Negotin / 56 km / Guesthouse for cyclists (a great place)
  • J 44: Negotin - Vidin / 45 km / Hotel
  • J 46: Vidin - Lom / 55 km / Hotel
  • J 48: Lom - Sofia / Train / Hosted thanks to Hassan and Tania
  • D 52: Sofia - Plovdiv / Train / Guest Rooms Contact
  • J 54: Plovdiv - Alexandrovo / 99 km / Camping Alexandrovo (Great)
  • J 55: Alexandrovo - Svielengrad / 58 km / Guesthouse
  • J 56: Svielengrad - Edirne / 57 km / Couchsurfing
  • J 58: Edirne - Türkobasi / 89,5 km / Bivouac
  • J 59: Türkobasi - Koruköy / 78 km / Camping Saros
  • Day 60: Koruköy - Çanakkale / 75 km / Airbnb
  • J 61: Çanakkale - Bozcaada / Ferry / Hotel Alize
  • J 63: Bozcaada - Umurbey / 75 km / Bivouac in a petrol station
  • J 64: Umurbey - Biga / 74 km / Hotel
  • J 65: Biga - Bandirma / 75 km / Hotel
  • J 66: Bandirma - Istanbul / Ferry / Airbnb

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