After another 15 solid days of pedalling up to 9 hours a day, I have finally made it from England to
Istanbul. 2800 miles (4500km), 6 weeks, 1 continent crossed, but a long, long way to go! The end of the beginning perhaps?
After Budapest I battled (unsuccessfully) astonishing numbers of mosquitoes across Hungary’s Great
Plain. Into Serbia, riding for Belgrade. In Novi Sad a temporary bridge spanned the Danube, the original destroyed by NATO bombs just 2 years ago. But Belgrade was buzzing: vibrant, friendly, expanding, bouncing back with verve from the last shocking decade. It was a really refreshing city. Belgrade also boasted the most beautiful girls in the world (probably) and the best street stall sausage sandwiches
I returned to the Danube once more. By now it feels like a good friend. Fields bursting with crops then
into a stunning gorge; forest, limestone cliffs, blazing sunshine and the imperious river. I ended the day
drinking homemade (read hideous) schnapps with a farmer. The morning began with coffee and sunrise
on the clifftop before swooping down across the river into Romania.
My back wheel collapsed. I hitched back to a town to try and find a replacement. All I could find was
a very cheap, very tacky wheel rim: it was time to learn how to build a wheel. It took late night candle
burning and the next morning too; working in a vineyard with a bored shepherd as technical adviser I
eventually built my first wheel, albeit a slightly egg-shaped wheel.
Romania was in wedding and funeral season. Both involve street processions and music so it was hard
to decide whether a sombre, sympathetic nod or a cheer and a jaunty ring of my bell was more
appropriate as I rode by each one.
Crossing into Bulgaria at Ruse I waved adieu to the Danube and headed for the hills. In Bulgaria
nodding your head means ‘No’ and shaking it means ‘Yes’. This is almost impossible to get to grips with!
By Turkey the wind had risen to a gale. Pedalling hard downhill at 9mph is not good for the soul.
And so I arrived in Istanbul, the end of Europe, the Gateway to Asia, like a true romantic young
wannabe adventurer- hammering down the motorway in pitch darkness towards the amazing hospitality
of Caroline and Gurkan Kopuzlar. But ahead of me now my whole journey is in jeopardy; Iran and
Pakistan are looking increasingly unsettled. Do I head north for Kazakhstan or turn South towards
Africa?! So, for now, it’s one continent down, many still to go, and absolutely no idea where to turn