On our first 20km of bike touring on Bulgarian soil we kept looking out for two robust wooden sticks. We have read about the wild dogs in Bulgaria and Romania a lot. We have heard stories about cyclists who have been chased by a dozen of barking dogs and others who have been bitten in the calve by rabid dogs. As we weren’t successful finding good sticks on the street, we took a rest day to organise our dog defence in a small town. Matt got a big wooden rolling pin and I got a little handheld gadget which makes a high pitched sound. The sound is supposed to hurt dogs in their ears. So far we have only used our weapons three times. We experienced that it is best to stop and face the dogs. They love chasing, so riding on is not a good idea.
I remember one dog that made a poor attempt trying to attack us. He jumped directly in front of my bike and I rode straight over him. I didn’t really pay attention, heard something bark and then felt my bike being stopped by something soft. I left the poor white dog with a tyre mark over his belly. Probably we were lucky, but we found that the dog situation in Bulgaria and Romania is not as scary as the stories we have heard.
The Danube river marks the border between Bulgaria and Romania. On both sides of the river the Eurovelo 6 (one of 17 European bike trails) can be found. Every summer the Eurovelo 6 leads hundreds of bike tourers from the spring of the Danube in Germany all the way to Romania where it meets the Black Sea. The good thing about these trails is that they are well marked with blue arrows. This gave us a great break from working out our route day by day, how we normally do it.
We planned to travel along the Bulgarian side of the Danube to Varna on the Black Sea. As we were riding along we suddenly came across a sign saying that we will cross the Romanian border in 1km. We were rather surprised. After speaking to the police man at the border we found out that there is a ferry to the Romanian side of the Danube. Spontaneously we decided to give it a go and explore a bit of Romania too.
We did not regret this unplanned turn of our trip! Going from Bulgaria to Romania was like taking a step back in time: Along the road in Romania we saw shepherds sitting in the long grass in the golden morning sun watching over their flock from afar, donkeys at the front entrances of brick stone houses and families on horse carts transporting big piles of corn or grass. We were also stopped by a few melon sellers along the way, who insisted to give us a melon for the road. Some of them did not speak or understand one single word of English. There was nothing we could give back to them, not even a friendly chat, still they insisted to give us the melons. We pedalled away very thankful, but now about 8kg heavier.
In Romanias country side we encountered many Romani people, better known as Gypsis. They originate from Northern India and migrated to Europe in the 14th century. Today, Romani people are the the second-largest ethnic minority in Romania after Hungarians. They are still not well accepted in society. Many times when Romani children came up to our bikes and started saying the few English phrases they knew, a Romanian person told them to go away or told us not to talk to them. For me it felt so wrong to treat smiling little kids like that. I felt sorry for them, but I guess I haven’t spent enough time in the contry to really understand the tension and build my own opinion.
As much as we loved Romanias country side, we decided to leave the bikes in a town along the Danube and take a bus trip to Bucharest. Once in Bucharest, we felt as if we had gone to another country. Instead of horse carts and wild dogs there were big traffic lights and fancy cafés. Romanias city and country side are extremely different. We stayed in a hostel in the city centre were we met other travellers. Comparing the pictures of Romania we had on our camera to the pictures other travellers had on theirs made the differences even more apparent. Romanias top sights and Romanias rural areas are two different types of shoes, like high heels and worn out crocs. We are glad we saw both sides.
After Bucharest we headed back over the Danube to Bulgaria and then onwards to Varna on the Black Sea. The last stretch before Varna was marked with countless rolling hills. At the top of each hill we hoped to finally get a glimpse of the sea, but it never happened. Even in the centre of Varna itself we couldn’t see the sea. Coming to the Black Sea would mark the end of the first sort of chapter of our trip so we were both very excited to see it.
It wasn’t until we left Varna on a very busy road to ride to our hostel, that all of a sudden something big and blue popped up in the corner of my eye. The little side street where we stopped was covered in rubbish that had been thrown out of cars windows over the years. Through the wire mesh of a rusty gate we finally saw the Black Sea. We made it. The first chapter of our trip is written. We high fived, hugged and stared at the horizon for a couple of minutes. Although there was a busy six lane road behind us and we were standing on rubbish, it was one of the most peaceful moments of the trip. In a few days we will take a ferry over there to Georgia. A ferry into the absolute unknown. Either of us has ever been over there. There was fear, but the excitement was so much bigger.
Looking at the horizon of the Black Sea we both said that we can do it. We will ride to Australia. For the first time we felt comfortable saying it. Before, we never really said it with confidence. We said things like: “We are trying to cycle to Australia. We give it a go, see how far we get”. We were too afraid of failing. But in that moment there we were both sure of it: We are riding to Australia.
As I am writing these lines I am sitting in the garden of our hostel, waiting for a plane from Switzerland to land. My best friend Anja and her boyfriend Dimitri are visiting us for four days in Varna before we catch the ferry over the Black Sea. To say I am excited to see them and speak some Swiss German again is an understatement!
Best friends, 55 hours ferry, explore Georgia: Our near future sounds wonderful.
Talk to you soon
Matt and Jasi