As so often, we adjusted our itinerary from Novi Pazar to the weather prospects. Because the weather in the mountains remained cloudy for a longer time and the nice weather approached from the west, we decided to make an additional loop over the Uvac Canyon.

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A 6km long gravel road, which was badly damaged after the rains, leads to the most important landmark of the region. If you dare to go to the end of the road, you will arrive at an “Alp” and from there you can walk to the viewing platform. We liked the view very much, so we bought the minimum amount of cheese (=1kg) from the shepherd couple and asked for a place to camp. Thus we were allowed to spend the night exclusively at the canyon and thereby enjoyed the exquisite feta 🙂

The region in the rural south of Serbia is visited by few foreign tourists. The baker in a small village was so happy about our purchase that we took selfies and her small daughter gave us apples. After the detour via Uvac Canyon, the weather in the mountains was better again, and we enjoyed the ride through Kopaonik National Park to Niŝ very much.

The last night in Serbia we spent at Lake Vlasinsko. There, a wedding couple posed for a photo shoot and spontaneously asked us if they could use the bikes as a subject. Finally, our bikes posed in front of a romantic scenery with a real wedding couple 😉

Speaking of “romantic scenery”: the idyllic landscape pictures from the Balkan region should not hide the fact that garbage (in fact since Rome) is an ever-present problem. Trash lies in roadside ditches, ravines, national parks, (il)legal dumps, in lakes and rivers. We are aware that with our travels and the immense consumption of food, we are adding to the mountains of waste. We try to avoid unnecessary plastic bags and always dispose of our waste in containers (we have not been able to recycle for a long time). However, this only helps to ease our consciences, because often the infrastructure and the awareness for the proper disposal of waste are lacking… In this report, Helvetas highlights the problem and possible solutions from an interesting perspective. Anyone interested can find countless articles and pictures on the subject on the Internet.

In the last village in Serbia we traditionally spent the rest of the national currency (Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria each have their own currency) and then continued our journey to Bulgaria. Through the cherry paradise around Kyustendil we reached Borovets at the northern edge of the Rila Mountains. From there we undertook our 3-day trek, about which we have reported last time.

After the trekking we rode to Plovdiv with a strong tail wind. Apart from sightseeing, we had two missions in Plovdiv: To find spare parts (bike sprockets with 11 and 13 teeth) for our bikes and to find a hairdresser. For the spare parts, we checked out all the bike shops in town and were still unsuccessful. Due to the general lack of spare parts, we ordered various parts for future service in Switzerland to my parents. The delivery time is up to six months, depending on the component, so we felt compelled to build up our own stock of materials.
The search for a hairdresser also turned out to be surprisingly difficult. We either found beauty salons or full appointment calendars. On recommendation, we visited a small salon in a courtyard, where we got our hair done at the same time. With pictures of the last Swiss hairstyle we had prepared ourselves for this test of courage… for the first haircut on our trip, however, the photos were not much use. David’s hair remained too long for the time being. When he asked for a shorter hairstyle, the hairdresser sighed with relief, put the scissors aside and reached for the short hair clippers. Until Istanbul, he had to apply sunscreen to the lateral hair – or what was left of it :-). My hairstyle was more like a local standard than the photos, but could be improved by David with the nail scissors around the ears and at the neck 😉

Newly styled we left Plovdiv to visit the Bachovski Monastery with its impressive wall paintings. We skipped the famous Rila Monastery and the futuristic Buzludzha Monument, as we had visited these attractions on a previous trip to Bulgaria (see Photo gallery).

We reached Turkey through a few kilometers of Greece with a hassle-free, fun border crossing. The device for scanning the passports is called Regula, which made everyone laugh. Thanks to our Turkey guidebook and some internet research, we knew that in the border town of Edirne, the Kirkpinar tournament opened that day. Kirkpinar is the oldest sports event in the world after the Olympic Games. This sport is a kind of wrestling, with the goal to put the opponent on his back. The special thing is that before the fight, the fighters douse themselves from head to toe with oil and rub it on each other. They get so slippery that they can only bring themselves down by grabbing at or in(!) each other’ s pants. One shouldn’t have any fear of being touched in this sport, see pictures ;-). The real competitions took place one week later but we were lucky enough to watch a training session of a junior group.

The story of the three travel days through the European part of Turkey is easily told: Tschaupe all the way to Istanbul. Fortunately, David had prepared me for the fact that the ride across the hilly country from Edirne would be strenuous. It was constantly up and down but also headwind and sticky road surface made it difficult for us to ride. In addition, the encounters with the (terrifyingly tall!) Turkish street dogs were numerous and time-consuming.

The ride to Istanbul (15 million inhabitants) was through 70km of metropolitan area. Leaving already at 6am in the morning we rode with increasingly heavy traffic on up to 4-lane highways. Most of the car and truck drivers were respectful. Larger vehicles that did not want to slow down often announced themselves with a short honk. So, we were prepared to hold the handlebars well and not to make a swerve :-D. After a strenuous morning under utmost concentration, the fish sandwich in the center of Istanbul tasted especially good!

We now spend almost a week as “normal” tourists in Istanbul. We can already order two teas (Iki Çay!) in fluent Turkish 😉