New Orleans to Bulgaria & back

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by EvilEagle, Jun 25, 2020.

  1. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I made my first photo stop at the dam creating the Lacul Obreja de Capalna. There was one small food stand working there and a few people milling about. I snapped my pictures, put a fighter squadron sticker on a pole there and mounted up wondering why everyone was looking at me so strangely.
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    After leaving the dam the road was still great, the mountains had snow caps now and I had the road all to myself. I was enjoying the ride, taking it easy and looking for hazards. As I rounded a left I came to a stop. The road was completely covered by vegetation. From the look of things, a landslide had dropped about 200 pine trees across the road. There was a work crew there with chainsaws, chippers and logging equipment working to clear the road. I assumed the road was still there because you couldn’t seen anything but green and brown for at least a half mile. As I sat wondering what to do, one of the workers finally noticed me. He got the other’s attention and they all waived me through with great big smiles and some fist pumps. I couldn’t NOT ride through now, so off I went over the pine boughs, small limbs and very slick needles hoping I didn’t end up with the bike on top of me and a sharp stick in the eye. I put that obstacle behind me and felt pretty good about the ride as I climbed ever higher into the mountains. My bike told me it was about 37 degrees now and I was feeling it. Thankfully my heated jacket, heated seat and hippo hands were keeping me toasty. The forest was now right on the road with great trees at least 80’ tall lining each side of the road. Stealing a quick glance at the scenery I could tell that the pitch of the slope was very steep. I checked my speed to ensure I wouldn’t be forced off the road if I came upon another surprise. A few bends later – surprise! Fog. I’m not sure that this was ice fog but it sure seemed like it. Visibility was down to about 200’ and I strongly considered turning around. What was I up here for anyway? In this weather I couldn’t really enjoy the road could I? As I felt the yellow streak emerging on my back the bike topped the pass and we started down the other side. Soon I was back out of the fog and just surrounded by staggering drop-offs, huge trees and miles and miles of nothing. “There! That’s better.” I thought just as a logging truck swung into head-on view entering the opposite side of the downhill-decreasing-radius turn I’d just entered. The truck was using most of his lane and at least ½ of mine but the truly disturbing thing was that the ratio was quickly changing in the wrong direction for my liking. I prepared to bail out for the ditch just as the passenger slapped the driver, yelled something at him (Probably “holy crap, what’s the bike doing up here on this road?” in Romanian) and the driver yanked the truck back on his side of the road as I slid past the tail with about a foot to spare. Never a dull moment in the mountains of Romania.

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    #21
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  2. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    IMG_3200_original.JPG The road continued a downhill trend and I saw no more traffic of any kind as I rolled to a stop at the intersection of an east-west running road. I had expected the Transalpina to go straight across this road so I was confused when all I saw in front of me was a pasture. Flipping a coin I chose to take a right and soon saw a sign indicating that the Transalpina continued down the next left. I pulled over for a picture of the sign, quick sticker application and to off-load the last liter of water I’d drunk.

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    No sooner had I started down the Transalpina when I found myself blocked by a red and white striped gate lowered across the road and padlocked in place. There was no explanation, no detour signs, no ‘closed for construction’ signs – nothing apart from the bar blocking the way. I shut the bike off and considered my options – I could go around the bar and see why it was down in the first place; maybe the road was passable on a motorcycle but not by car so they hadn’t opened it. I guessed that the famous photos of the road must’ve been taken on the southern section because the part I had just ridden was a good road, but not what I’d seen on the internet. (how many times has that been said right?) Or I could re-route on the east-west road and put myself further behind schedule. Just then I noticed a dog trotting along. I hadn’t seen a house, a building, a lean-to, a shanty, a shack, a hovel, a campsite – NADA in over an hour of riding. This dog was clearly a pet, it was groomed, well fed and had a collar. WTH? Shortly I heard a jingling sound as a man about 60 came into view. The surroundings were stark – tall lush mountains, a nearby creek rushing with snow runoff and NOTHING ELSE. He glanced at me, registered a look like this was completely ordinary to see another person out here and didn’t even break stride as he continued. I yelled at him and jogged over to catch up. I pointy-talkie’d again asking about the east-west road. He gestured that the eastern path was no good but the west-bound road was ok. A heartbeat later he was gone; what a strange encounter. There must be a house or lodge or something nearby. That mystery was never solved. I loaded back up on the bike and pointed west. Soon the rain was back with me, the road narrowed from 2 lanes to 1.5 lanes like many small backroads tend to do. 1.5 lanes of blacktop became 1 lane of patched concrete and blacktop which gave way to one lane of gravel then back in the thickest woods the gravel gave way to mud. The road on the map that had been basically a straight line to the west had just become the most challenging road I’d ridden in recent memory. Rivers of rainwater cut new trenches all across the road. The mud shifted under my tires as they careened off parts of a long-ago paved road that was still trying to cling to the side of the mountain. Every switchback was a heart-pounding workout as I weaved down the incline. At one point I stopped to try to peer through the driving rain to see what the best way to navigate yet another hairpin turn between rivers and rocks was going to be; I shivered as cold rainwater made it’s way down my spine, I noticed that my socks were now completely soaked through because I could feel my toes squish against the boot as I put my foot down. Just then, for the first time in 50k miles I’d put on my BMW, my oil light came on – “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???” By now I was fed up with this whole experience and I admit it got the better of me here. On at least three occasions, I seriously considered parking the bike, setting up my tent on the side of the road and sleeping until the weather stopped being such a pain in the ass. Thankfully I didn’t give in, kept working at it and finally emerged onto paved surface next to a swiftly running creek.
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    As I refueled the bike and myself a few miles later, I counted that it had taken nearly 2 hours to go 29km down the “straight line” road depicted on the Transalpina Map sign back at the roadside café.

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    #22
  3. James59

    James59 Adventurer

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    Beautiful landscape, but tough place!
    #23
  4. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    That day was a series of up and downs. The excitement of riding the first part of the Transalpina was still a pretty high-high. The low of the hellish road was pretty low. While I was thinking through all that at the gas station I got one of those experiences that reminded me what a cool journey this was and how lucky I was to be able to do it. My motorcycle has a license plate from Louisiana – along the bottom edge in the middle of the plate it was stamped ‘MC’ (for motorcycle). The bike was filthy, as I was sitting next to it on a picnic table a man walked up to have a look at the bike. He could just barely make out the MC on the plate and asked “Monte Carlo?” I had to smile; never in my life would I expect to be mistaken for someone from Monte Carlo; hell I didn’t even know where Monte Carlo was until I was in college! I walked over shaking my head. I wiped off the top of the plate so he could read Louisiana and read it aloud. He frowned as he tried to work out where he’d heard of that… “lou…louwheesy….annah…” Then all at once his eyebrows rose in recognition “LOU-ISIANA? USA?” I agreed, he turned around and in a language I couldn’t decipher yelled for his family in their car. Shortly out popped two little kids and a wife that had the ‘I’m-just-here-to-humor-my-husband’ look on her face. We tried to talk a bit, I showed them the map of where I’d ridden in Europe. The younger boy just wanted to sit on the bike and make engine noise but the older boy (around 11 I’d guess) got that look in his eye that might’ve been the spark for him to want to travel one day. We said our goodbyes and they were gone.

    The rest of that days ride was pleasant on decent roads and with mostly sunny skies. I saw this plant right by the road. I was surprised you could ride right up to it so I had to take some pics.

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    I rolled into Craiova planning to find some food and a place to crash for the night. I spent a few mins looking around the city center at a lively town that is probably a very cool place to spend some time. At that moment the road was more appealing than the prospect of a new city. I found some free WiFi and located a hotel near the ferry I was going to take from Bechet, Romania into Bulgaria the following morning.
    #24
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  5. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Ferry loading for motorcycles can be like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. Thankfully this one was easy and fairly expeditious once the loading began 45 mins after the boat was scheduled to have left Romania.

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    The Danube River is wide and smooth at this crossing. Visually there wasn’t much difference in looking north or south apart from a gently rising slope on the Bulgarian side of the imagined line separating the countries.

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    At the Bulgarian side, the agents singled me out to go to the front of the line and I experienced the quickest border crossing of the trip. It couldn’t have been more than 45 seconds from the time the wheels stopped rolling until he had my passport stamped and back in my hand with a smile and a wave. I shot up the hill looking forward to some familiar scenery since I’d spent about three weeks of 2015 in the same town in Bulgaria. I remembered that fuel was really cheap in Bulgaria so I had run low on purpose. Now in need of fuel I found a new-ish looking gas station and started to fill up. After some time we found out that their machines couldn’t take my American credit cards. There were no ATMs in this small town but thankfully there was another station that he gave me directions to which did take cards. Small victory achieved and a full tank of gas I set out for Plovdiv.
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    Looking back across the river at Romania.
    #25
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  6. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    At the first major roundabout I was gobsmacked by the signage. I hadn’t noticed but had obviously taken for granted that from the time I left TN on this trip, all the road signs had used the Roman alphabet. Bulgarian signs were all in Cyrillic alphabet. I sat there staring at the signs laughing at myself for clearly remembering driving around with those signs up everywhere last time I was there but not thinking one instance about it since leaving. Even if you don’t know how to pronounce anything in Romanian, German or Czeck you can still follow signs to it because the letters are the ones you are used to. I was glad to be back ‘on map’ for my GPS even though I knew generally where I was going.

    I had missed some pretty cool cultural sites last time I was in Bulgaria because I spent most of my time in bars around Plovdiv. When planning this roadtrip I decided that I’d fix that on the inbound leg to Bulgaria. I wanted to ride the winding Shipka Pass road, visit the Orthodox church in the village of Shipka, then up to Budzludza or Khadzhi Dimitur – the UFO like landmark from the Communist era of Bulgaria. I was enjoying the ride, feeling like I was on the home stretch – almost to Shipka pass. I just noticed a big monument on a hill to my left, quick decision and up I went to this monument. Stoletov Peak is a monument to the time Bulgarians fought off the Turks after 500 years of rule. The views are incredible and there’s a nice museum at the top.

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    While I was busy taking pics of the scenery and my bike I finally looked east and saw Budzludza off in the distance. That moment is one I’ll always remember; there’s nothing I’ve ever seen that is so odd but fascinating. If the Sydney opera house was on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere it might qualify. More than the picture itself, I distinctly remembered adding that point to my GoogleMap plan for the road trip. I almost laughed at the time because I just knew something would come along and screw up my plans. Sitting in my living room in New Orleans and saying I was going to ride my motorcycle there seemed about as likely as riding it to the moon. The sense of accomplishment was real and I was surprised that it was so strong.

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    #26
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  7. ShortySM

    ShortySM n00b

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    Man, I never thought I'd see LA plates on Transalpina / in Romania. I bet that's what the border guard was thinking too.

    Awesome story so far, I'm curious to see the rest, especially the Transfagarasan part. Those 2 roads usually open in late May, being closed until then due to snow. Also, while Transalpina used to be pretty dicey on anything but dualsport bikes (see https://motociclism.ro/topic/208701-transalpina/?do=findComment&comment=1280158 for example), around 2010 they laid down asphalt and made it accessible to anything. The road you took, however, from Obarsia Lotrului to Petrosani, they never got around to fixing, which is a shame, because it's also great to ride (in good weather).

    Edit: no Transfagarasan apparently, too bad. Maybe next time :D
    #27
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  8. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Then I dropped my bike. On a steep hill. And there was a car behind me. And another one coming the opposite way. But... I'll get to that.

    I rode down Shipka pass and through the valley up to Budz (what a great ride!). The Shipka Orthodox Church is beautiful!

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    At the southern end of the Shipka pass, I took a left towards Budz. The turn off that road had quite the sign marker.

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    I had to try for an impression...

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    #28
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  9. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    As you near Budz, the signage was not clear on how to get right up to the buildings. There’s a lower parking lot to the southwest of the actual structure and several hundred feet lower on the hill. There are some huge soviet era monuments down there that make for a great foreground to Budz.

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    If you continue down that road it leads away from Budz and actually ends up back at Stoletov Peak. I wanted to get to the top of Budz but was uncertain how to get there. I continued past the giant sculptures then the road started downhill and away from the site – I knew it must be the other way. A quick look in my mirror told me that I was by myself. The road was narrow – yes; but of course I’m a highly skilled adventure rider that’s just ridden solo across most of Europe in 4 days, one little off-camber downhill u-turn should be child’s play, right? I knew it was a bad idea bout 3 seconds after I’d committed to it and was beyond the point of no return. I basically got all 669 lbs of the bike turned 90 degrees across the road when I really needed it to be more like 110-130 degrees. About this time the two cars came up – one from each side. Now I was rushed and I had an audience – great. On my tip toes I started to inch slowly backward when the bike just leaned a little too much towards my downhill leg. Over it went; I managed to stop it at about a 45 degree angle to the road by doing a 1 leg squat but mass and gravity eventually won and I laid the bike down fairly gently as I hopped off and nearly tumbled down the road. Thankfully one of the drivers hopped out and helped me get sorted out – the only real damage was to my ego. I carried on back up the way I’d entered and up to see Budz. The view is more than worth the price of admission!

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    About 90 mins after leaving Budz I was parked in the hotel garage and checking into what would be my new home for the next 6 weeks.
    #29
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  10. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I think you are right - I wasn't sure I'd see my LA plates on the Transalpina either. This was the first week of May, 2017. I found out later that the Transfagarasan wasn't open yet either. Too bad! Maybe next trip. I was so upset that I missed the roads, I almost completely changed my itinerary on the way back to Germany but decided I really wanted to see a few more countries and would just have to leave those two awesome roads for another time.
    #30
  11. AjiRides

    AjiRides n00b

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    Nice ride report and pictures. Enjoyed reading it.
    #31
  12. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Thanks!

    Actually only halfway done, I’m working on the story of the return route through Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia & Germany.
    #32
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  13. James59

    James59 Adventurer

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    I have never seen a building like that! You see some very strange looking buildings in Russia and the former Soviet states, but nothing like that. Very nice trip, very interesting and great photos and well written.
    #33
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  14. AjiRides

    AjiRides n00b

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    Ok. Thought it was a one way trip. Eager to read your return trip (with pictures)..
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  15. sasho

    sasho Dual Personality

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    The small town where you stopped for gas after crossing the Danube from Romania might have been Nikopol.

    There are ATMs in the center, about a block or so from the gas station.

    I was born in that town, next month will be 50 years.

    Looking forward to the rest of your story!!
    #35
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  16. nii

    nii Johnnie Walker

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    Oryahovo is where he entered Bulgaria (Bechet-Oryahovo ferry).
    #36
  17. Lone Stranger

    Lone Stranger Adventurer Supporter

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    What he said :y0!
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  18. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Most of my time in Bulgaria was spent at work but the weather was really nice and I got to take the bike out for a few long rides in the mountains.


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    #38
  19. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I had spent a lot of time planning the trip from Holland to Bulgaria but hadn’t thought much about Bulgaria back to Germany. As the weeks ticked off the calendar I finally started planning my route. As you may know, insurance can be purchased for the entire EU from many places. One of the cheapest are the folks at http://motosapiens.org/ and they are based in Bulgaria. Unfortunately for me, they only sell insurance for EU. I would be on my own for Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia. (Much more on this later) The research I found said that since you can’t buy insurance for those countries before you get there, it will be easy to obtain insurance at any main border crossing. I searched the web for more specific data on which border crossings had insurance available but came up empty. Oh well, that’s why they call it ‘adventure travel’ right?

    I poured over potential routes back to Germany, weighed the options of places I wanted to see and the overall experience of riding somewhere I may never get an opportunity to return. Topping my list were:

    Prevoj Sedlo – a mountain pass in Montenegro promising amazing views​

    the Olympic bobsled track in Sarajevo, Bosnia,​

    Mount Vlasic in Bosnia

    Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia with beautiful multi-level waterfalls https://np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/

    Predjama Castle, Slovenia built into the side of a cliff face https://www.postojnska-jama.eu/sl/predjamski-grad/

    Mount Mangart, Slovenia – amazing views and good riding​

    Stelvio Pass, Italy – switchback canyon​

    Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany said to be the example for the Disney Castle https://www.neuschwanstein.de/

    I would eventually store my bike at Stefan Knoph Tours in Heidleburg, Germany http://www.knopftours.com/Web-Site/Welcome.html for about 6 weeks until another trip with my wife, my buddy Danny and his wife when we all visit Norway. After weighing all the options, reading as much as I could find on the subject and in the end just going with my gut feeling, my route was set!

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    #39
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