Day38: Razlog to Blagoevgrad, probably my last day of cycling on this tour

I had a relatively easy day today, which was good because I didn't sleep very well last night. It was bit warm in my room, but that wasn't the reason I was having trouble sleeping. I've been worrying about getting back to Germany from Italy which was my plan.

I'm running a bit behind schedule and, with 9 days left before I'm scheduled to be at a birthday party in Dalldorf, I'm not going to be able to ride to Montenegro and still get to that party, without a extremely long, and quite unpleasant, train trip from Italy to Germany. The main problem is the restrictions on bike travel on trains meant a trip composed of lots of little trips and train changes. Last week, I looked at what would be involved and was horrified at the total time and number of train changes just to get out of Italy. Most of those train changes would require multiple trips up and down stairs with my loaded bicycle. Those trips, even when I younger and capable of running with my bike up stairs, were awfully hard on my back. As a result I've been investigating other ways of getting back to Germany.

My best tentative solution is to get to Sophia, BG - 100+ km north of here - tomorrow and try to get a night train to Belgrade, SB. Then, the next day, hang out in Belgrade - which should be interesting - and get a night train from Belgrade to Vienna the following night. It isn't completely clear about bikes on those trains, but other folks have done it so I assume I can. I don't think the train from Belgrade gets into Vienna in time, and probably it doesn't stop at the right station, for me to catch the bike train from Vienna to Passau, Germany, so I'll probably be stuck - not a horrible fate - in Vienna till the following day. Finally, from Passau I can get a train to Stuttgart to visit my daughter and her husband if I have time, or to Uelzen, to get to that birthday party, if I'm delayed. Since high temps are over 100 F right now and riding on the expressway going north to Sophia would be damn hard - 110 km, 1500 m of climbing - not to mention noisy, smelly, and and not at all relaxing - I'm going to try to take the train from here to Sophia tomorrow. So, if things work out, today was the last riding day to tour12.

My Hotel

Morning views from my window

I started this morning with a cup of good coffee and a nice visit with the guy who is doing security at the hotel and a young woman who is receptionist there. The restaurant isn't open, but there is a small store - they are called mini-markets here - nearby where I got yogurt drink some pastry with cheese and an apricot for breakfast. I combined that with a some of my supplies to make a good breakfast that cost me less than 2 Lev. That left me about 9 Lev for the rest of the day and tomorrow's breakfast. I've spent about half of that. Today is Sunday, so tomorrow morning when the banks open, I can change money. What I can't do, thanks to my own paranoid bank, is use my ATM card in any of these 'dangerous' countries. Last year my credit card got blocked because I used it to make a purchase from DB Internet. That's Deutsche Bahn, the German train company! This year my ATM card hasn't worked since Czech.

I left the hotel with a new, smaller, BG flag mounted next to my UA sports flag, and rode/walked through a big flea market which is set up, for blocks, near the hotel. That was fun people watch and interesting in that I heard English as well as Bulgarian being spoken.

Riding through Razlog, I saw what a major resort, with fancy casinos and resort things, it is. Between Razlog and the end of the valley there are hundreds of chalets and several golf courses, etc. I saw similar things on the other side of Razlog while riding the detour yesterday. The Rila Monastery, which is the biggest and most famous Monastery in Bulgaria, is also located in the mountains near this valley. It attracts a million visitors a year.

In Razlog. My hotel was in the Ski Zone

The long straight constant downhill after leaving Razlog

Riding out of town, I found myself on a long - several km - gentle downhill. It was followed by a long gentle uphill then things settled down to reasonably flat until the pass started. This pass only climbs about 300 m at grades of 5 to 6%, but I still needed to stop, mostly to cool down, twice on the way up. A local rider, who passed me and then stopped to cool off and drink water, stopped to visit with me when I stopped the second time, not long before the top, to snack and cool off.

Cruising along the, relatively, flat valley floor

The start of today's pass

At the top, I put my helmet and gloves back on. Having them off really helps get rid of heat on long hot climbs, but having them on was definitely the thing to do on that downhill. It starts out at 4 to 6% but has sections that are close to 10%. It goes on for 30 km - half of today's total distance. It was fun, but eventually I got this feeling that I might as well be on a motorcycle. I was tired of the constant wind in my face and a bit bored by just going downhill. It was quite pretty, quite curvy, and the road quality was excellent. Traffic wasn't too bad, although there were a few cases where I was uncomfortable with being passed at speed by multiple cars in sharp corners. Their speed wasn't much faster than mine, and I didn't like the feeling of having them close to me with a guard rail pretty close on the other side.

Traffic as I climb, slowly, to the top of today's pass

Heading down, going fast
The signs warn of switchbacks and slipper surface

This is a snap shot taken during the high speed descent
Notice how the close vegetation is blurred by my speed

After 10 km or so of continuous highspeed - 50 kph+ - descent
there were short sections where the road flattened out before descending some more

This descent even had several false bottoms where I thought it was over only to have it resume. When I finally got to the bottom, in the town of Simiti, I was back on the NS expressway - Highway 1 in Bulgaria and E79 as a Euro expressway - that I had ridden when I first came to Bulgaria. It was hot, very noisy, and a bit smelly on the expressway, but it did always have a rideable shoulder and other than having very big hunks of metal coming by a foot or two away from my bags, it wasn't bad riding. Although I was thinking I had come out of the mountains, I was riding through a mountain valley along by a river.

It felt like I had been descending for about an hour when I took
this image which shows the valley I'm descending into

On Highway 1 headed for Blagoevgrad
Not fun, with lots of large truck traffic,
but fast with a tail wind

I stopped for a Radler and stuff from my supplies about 8 km before Blagoevgrad. Shortly after that, I rode through I tunnel I remembered, less than fondly, from the first time on this road. The noise level in the tunnel was, of course, extremely high, and, although it isn't that long - 1/2 km? - and it is lighted, things got pretty dicey in the middle where most of the lights were not working. I could just, by the light coming from the other end, make out where the white line was. Fortunately, a big truck went in just before me and another one came into the other end while I was coming out, there was no traffic for most of my time in the tunnel.

After the tunnel, there is a climb before Blogoevgrad. That was a hot climb so I stopped, off the road, in a bit of shade to cool down and to use my GPS to route me to the hotel I wanted to stay at. It is called the Cardinal and I enjoyed it when I stayed here before. The route the GPS used was not great, but it did have the advantage of taking me by the train station so I know how to find it tomorrow.