Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo 6. Day 6.

July 12, 2014

From near Calafat in Romania to near Vidin in Bulgaria there is a wonderful new bridge, which not only has the usual carriageways and train track but an adequate cycle track.  What a pleasure to cross the river without taking one’s life in one’s hands.

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Vidin at once seemed more prosperous than anywhere we had been to in Romania, although Bulgaria is said to be the poorest country in the EU.  There were shops (including German supermarkets) and cafes and pleasant tree lined boulevards.   Many of the roads in the city were being resurfaced.

Our favourable impression of Bulgaria was enhanced by a really good truck stop cafe between Vidin and Lom.  The only one we saw. And right by the river !

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The stork above was unusual, having chosen to build its nest on a house, rather than an electricity pole. (See later entries when they come.) No chicks yet.

That evening, we came to Lom

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Cycling the lower Danube. Euro Velo 6. Day 5.

July 11, 2014

After the pedal change from a friendly local bicycle mechanic and racing cyclist we set off, still on a busy road but wider and better surfaced than on the upstream side of Severin.  We also had an hour of moderate to heavy rain – the only rain while we were cycling on the whole trip.  After a climb there was a magnificent descent into a plain where there were wildflowers in abundance and flocks of goats and sheep.

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Despite all this delightful scenery, and charming villages where the old people sat outside their houses chatting and knitting and waving to passing cyclists, we did have trouble identifying shops and bars. Sometimes the only clue was a chiller cabinet outside with a Coca Cola sign across the top.  Often the staff weren’t very interested in serving. Warning – in very small rural cafes don’t go for coffee unless you can see a proper coffee machine.  We had two lots which were absolutely disgusting.  I don’t mind the Turkish type, which has an inch of sludge in the bottom of the cup, and that sometimes turned up.  What was difficult to find was the choice you get in most coffee shops in Western Europe – americano, latte, cappuccino etc.

 

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We ended the day at Calafat, which had until a year ago had been an important ferry terminal for traffic from Bulgaria.  Now, however, thanks to an EU funded magnificent new bridge (see day 6 coming soon) it had hit hard times.  The Panoramic Hotel was almost deserted, though had obviously once had a flourishing life as a conference centre and overnight stop.  We didn’t worry too much about finding a pension, since hotels were mostly cheap in the small towns along the river.

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We walked around the town a bit, noting a fine example of the ubiquitous concrete fencing.  These 3 countries (Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) seemed to have accounted for vast quantities of the world’s concrete production – or perhaps other countries just concealed the underlying concrete with better facing materials.  The place itself had obviously once been a fine example of  a middle European town – still hanging on.

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To make up for the economic decline caused by the bridge, the EU seemed to be funding the development of a fine new promenade by the river, from where we watched the sun set over the Danube, here briefly flowing south-west.

Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo Route 6. Day 4 Part 2.

July 8, 2014

Despite the lorries, we arrived at Severin unscathed, except mentally.  Much of the town is new, not this time because of the dam, but some heavy damage during WWII.  It was bigger and more lively than the small towns and villages we had passed through or stayed in so far, and here we saw the first signs of other tourists than those on bicycles.  The town has an old water tower, now converted into a gallery and view point – and it was free.

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In the distance you see a bend in the river – from East it turns South for a while.

There were also identifiable shops (elsewhere they seemed to exist without any advertising or, in many cases, a desire to sell anything.  The shop below sold these amazing paper garlands, but for what purpose we couldn’t tell.

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In the evening, many of the townsfolk walked up and down a newish promenade (inland, and at right angles to the river) where there were bars and fast food caravans.  The promenade up and down a main street came to be a regular feature of our evenings in the larger towns.  A family activity, it seemed.  We had dinner at a pizzeria (ubiquitous – almost everywhere would provide pizza and pasta, though the pizza in particular was highly variable).  I asked a local chap who had shown an interest in our bikes about a bike repair shop – we needed a replacement pedal – and he forthwith rang a mate who turned up at our guest-house the next morning, changed the pedal, serviced the bikes, and charged a remarkably small fee.

Our Pensiune was comfortable, but at first none of the lights in our room worked.  It did, however, have this amazing ceramic stove in the corner, left from before the original rooms were divided up, I would guess.

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And it had a mulberry bush in the courtyard.

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Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo Route 6. Day 4 Part 1

July 7, 2014

We didn’t meet many other touring cyclists going our way, and only a very few in the opposite direction (which was into the prevailing wind, and therefore silly). But we started day 4 alongside 3 German men (of  a certain age) and this enthusiastic French couple who were cycle camping around Europe for 4 months.

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I don’t envy them that amount of luggage though !

The ride to Orsova was great – a small hilly loop inland, from where we had this wonderful view

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and met this chap – an egomaniac, without doubt.

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before a pleasant lunch in Orsova where we could admire the local hardware store, which reminded me of every hardware store I have ever seen.

The road from Orsova to Drobeta-Turnu Severin (hereafter, Severin) outdid the Belgrade bridge for sheer terror. Suddenly all the largest lorries of Europe were heading from Northern to Southern Europe, or vice-versa. The road was just wide enough for two lorries to pass, but not two lorries and a bike.  There was a near death experience every 30 seconds, plus all the drain covers on the numerous bridges being put in with the slots parallel to the direction of travel, thus becoming potential wheel traps (except for mountain bike tyres, which of course we didn’t have on our Bromptons), and two unlit tunnels, mercifully short.  I cannot recommend this section of road, but there is no sensible alternative as the opposite side of the river, in Serbia/Bulgaria, has longer and windier tunnels.  At least there was an opportunity to stop near the Iron Gates dam and hydroelectric plant, responsible for the loss of much that was beautiful and unique about the Danube Gorge we had just passed through, though, doubtless welcomed by Romanians and Yugoslavs at the time.

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Only the view from the upstream side is recorded, as a security official prevented photographs from the downstream side.  One does wonder why.

Cycling the Danube. Euro Velo Route 6. Day 3 Part 3.

July 4, 2014

One of the most unpredictable elements of the tour was what road surface we might find.  This didn’t seem to depend on the status of the road.  Minor roads were occasionally smooth and wide with few potholes, so-called trunk roads would suddenly deteriorate to a succession of potholes linked by broken concrete.  The road below, was the main road through the gorge, which suddenly turned to dirt.

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Feeling thirsty in mid afternoon, we left the main road to visit a village perched on the side of the valley. The views were magnificent and the haystacks typical but water was there none – nor Coke either.  It had the local office of the organisation promoting tourism in the whole area – but they were completely unhelpful to actual tourists.

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Fortunately, not much further along we found an isolated pension, right by the river, with magnificent views  downstream both evening and morning.  The fish for dinner was delicious.  It seemed to be run by just one family but the son, in his early 20s, spoke excellent English and sorted out a sudden influx of 5 guests (us plus 3 German cyclists) with no trouble.  The place was clean and comfortable.

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The view downstream in the evening and, below, next morning.

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Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo 6. Day 3 part 2.

July 3, 2014

An apology to start with. Word Press, who host this blog, have made some disimprovements which mean the pictures are smaller and not as sharp  But maybe if you click on the picture you can get an enlarged version.

There were pleasures large and small along the way:

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We rescued this little chap trying to cross the road – took his picture then airlifted him to the far side.

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The were wider pools on the river, one of which must have been the Kazan, or cauldron, which so impressed Patrick Leigh Fermor. Now, of course, it’s drowned in the lake created by the Iron Gorge dam.IMG_2262

 

Around lunchtime, we came across signs for a pension, accommodation and restaurant.  Needing the latter, we scaled a dirt track to find a brand new building, complete with swimming pool, sun loungers, and some rather surprised staff who nonetheless produced us a delicious lunch of polenta and bacon, goat cheese, tomatoes and bread.  It seemed to be part of the sporadic EU funded improvements to the tourist infrastructure – very welcome but we still found ourselves the only guests or diners in several of these establishments.

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The  view upstream

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And  downstream.

 

Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo Route 6. Day 3 Part 1.

July 1, 2014

This was the day we entered the gorge that leads eventually to the Iron Gates.  When Patrick Leigh Fermor visited it in the 1930s the Danube here was still unchecked, and for 100 miles rushed between a succession of narrow defiles, swirling and crashing.  All this was changed when Romania and Yugoslavia built a huge dam and hydroelectric plant, raising the river level, drowning riverside towns and villages, and slowing the torrent.  Nonetheless, it’s still impressive.

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Rather like a Norwegian fjord at this point – clouds too !

 

 

Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo Route 6. Day 2.

June 30, 2014

After what came to be a familiar breakfast – omelette with goat’s cheese, tomato, cucumber, white sausage, and strong coffee – we left Kovin in Serbia on a road parallel to the river, but some way inland.  Roads generally reasonable, though sometimes boringly straight, but the occasional pot hole made sure we didn’t just look at the scenery.  The border crossing at Kaluderovo had built up something of a backlog over the officers’ lunchtime – remarkable how quickly they could deal with it when someone in command clicked his fingers.

So, we were in Romania, and stopped  for lunch.Image

One of the features of cycling in Romania we had been warned about was the number of loose dogs, sometimes in packs.  Less than 3km inside the country a pack of eight showed an unhealthy interest, hurtling down a hillside to intercept us. Fortunately my friend likes dogs and talked to them nicely, avoiding injury.  But they weren’t the last to worry us.

We took a short-cut across a spur of hillside (lovely well-engineered road with steady gentle gradients) which rewarded us with wonderful vistas of the Danube.Image

Looking East

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And West.

A pizzeria in Moldova Veche also provided accommodation so we left the bikes and ambled round the town.  Many, if not most, of the predominantly single-storey houses had ceramic facings on the walls, something we saw nowhere else.

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And we went to look at the river, having spent much of the day at some distance.  Many of the towns we stayed in had a port area beside the river but, with the exception of Lom in Bulgaria, nothing seemed to be happening there in the way of  river transport being loaded or unloaded.  Compared to the Rhine, where the passage of laden barges in both directions is constant, the Danube along this stretch seemed little used for freight.  Most days, though, we saw at least one cruise ship, long and low.

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Note: in spite of appearances, we hadn’t yet been rained on.

Cycling the Lower Danube. Euro Velo Route 6. (Part 1)

June 29, 2014

Coming into Belgrade by train at 6.30am on a wet Saturday morning, in a sleeping car that dated from before WWII, was the most depressing point of the whole trip. I began to wonder why we had come.  Huge blocks of Communist era flats – inhabited but decaying.

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But after a couple of coffees and a sandwich at the bus station, and the rain having stopped, we set off towards the Danube bridge.  We had heard that this was tricky for cyclists. Actually – terrifying.  No chance using the roadway and the sidewalk was narrow and uneven, threatening to throw us off into the traffic maelstrom at any moment.  But we survived and, thanks to the signage for route 6, which in Serbia was excellent, we soon found ourselves on the flood dyke heading east.

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As you see, the flood plain was indeed flooded (there had been torrential rains south of here in previous weeks) and, that we were riding Bromptons.  Here, on day 1, we heard the first of many cuckoos who were calling throughout our trip, and too we were first introduced to the wild flowers in profusion which lined every road and track in the countryside.

We had no trouble finding a cafe for lunch, nor a pension (bed and breakfast) that evening, in Kovin.  Dinner was a bit more difficult – the first of many well concealed and near deserted restaurants, but excellent when it came. Nearby, a nice bar with decent local beer.

Also, the first of many abandoned and derelict factories, which we found particularly in Romania. A result of the fall of Communism and the changing map of world manufacturing.

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On the Sunday morning, as we had breakfast, we watched as ancient tractors, ancient horses and carts, and ancient people riding ancient bicycles passed by on the street outside. (We decided Kovin was the world capital of slow cycling – unbeatable). There was a farmer’s market – very busy, all over the road, and bringing life to what had seemed a dull, spiritless town. We headed towards Romania.

On the ‘L’ in Chicago.

May 27, 2014

On the 'L' in Chicago.

The most unusual thing about this photo is that there isn’t a train on the crossing. Usually, there is more than one a minute. An amazing 100 plus year old metro system at second floor level.