Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jun 18/19 - sightseeing in and around Sofia

It reminds us of Barcelona !  The food is wonderful and I like the Bulgarian Syrah !  What more could I ask for ?!?

We've had two evenings of rain and dinners in the hotel.  Well, we'd have eaten in the hotel on our late arrival night anyway.  However, the good news is that the hotel food is 5 star, from my viewpoint (fork in hand / food in mouth !).  The breakfast buffet also hits the spot.

The food isn't spicy, tending to cheese and richer food though.  Italian food seems to be the favorite foreign cuisine -- pizza, pasta etc. everywhere. 

The main drag is a pedestrian mall like Barcelona only, in some ways, better setup.  No tapas, but that doesn't matter :).  We've now wandered it a couple of times, had lunch, some Proseco ...

There's no big red bus !

This morning we headed to the local mountains, very local in fact.  From the ski hills you can see Sofia.  We could drive to just before the tree line.  In the winter, I suspect that you'd take the tram/gondola to that elevation.  The road would be a longer drive than the tram. 

We like Sofia ... which is a good thing because Sandy is here 5 nights without me. 

The bike is together but not ridden at this point.  Thursday a.m. I'll drive to Sliven where the ride starts, about 3 hours away.

Onward !

Monday, June 18, 2018

Jun 17 - on to Sofia

It was a long day's drive.  We didn't get away until after 9am because I went to Mass.  I didn't understand a word, of course, but it was the same rite so I could follow along.  We hadn't entered "Eastern Orthodox" territory yet.

It was easy driving, for the most part, other than lots of detours in Serbia as they were improving the roads.  The detours were well known, as Waze and the Fiat Nav both had similar time estimates, followed the detours and had left ample time for that last part of the journey.  There were a couple of short sections where the road improvement had been finished so the NAV thought that we were off-roading.

While still in Croatia, we caught up to a couple of Teslas driving in formation.  They had signage on the side of the car.  They continued into Serbia and we eventually lost them as they were traveling under the speed limit.  Perhaps they were driverless ?  A Model S & X.

It was a bit slow getting into Serbia with backup at the border and awful getting out.  We spent an hour at the Serbia/Bulgaria border, mostly leaving the former.  At the Bulgaria border they wanted all sorts of car documentation, which I didn't even realize was in the glove compartment. 

Bulgaria is in the EU; Serbia isn't (although I believe that they've applied).  Bulgaria isn't in the Schengen (borderless) area.  Neither is Croatia, as far as I can tell, but Slovenia is.  Anyway, crossing borders is a mixed bag.  Once we're back in Italy, or I guess Slovenia, there won't be border slowdowns.  We have vignettes (Motorway passes) for both Slovenia and Bulgaria, so we don't have to do anything about that on the way back.  We will have to pay tolls in Serbia, Croatia, Italy, Spain, France and Italy.  Oh joy. 

It was raining when we got into Sofia around 8pm (now 7 hours time difference) and we happily ate at the hotel.  The food was excellent !  We both had the stuffed trout and we shared a grilled Camembert ... even though I'd tried to order grilled eggplant.  Oh well.  Sandy had desert and I had more cheese.

Onward !

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Jun 15/16 - and off we go

I actually got out for a ride on our day of departure, getting in 80+ kms and some climbing.  That felt good.  My next significant riding will be the SVS 1200k. 

We left Hemmingford around 3:30, Jim and Sheryl providing chauffeur service.  We had an early dinner at Scores, as usual, in the airport vicinity.  That restaurant has the most wonderful salad bar ... where else have we seen guacamole and hummus in a salad bar ?

Check-in went smoothly although the airport was crazy busy.  I know the drill with my bike bag ... off to oversized.  Nope, no firearms inside, just a bicycle.  The nice big scanner confirmed that and we were on our way to security.  Very busy but well organized, we were through, found a wine bar and then boarded.  The flight left a little early, arrived in Venice a little early and all of our bags made it.  The bike box/bag was about 10 minutes after the first three, coming down the normal carousel. 

Immigration was simply a matter of showing our passports.  There were no customs forms to complete, nothing.  Off we went for ... a coffee ... and then the car rental.  That too went well and we were in our Fiat 500 on the way out of the country.  We stopped a few times for coffee, a snack and a stay-awake stretch. 

At one of those stops in Italy we purchased the Slovenia Vignette, required for driving on the motorway.  Like toll booths, you occasionally go through scanners and must have that displayed on your windshield or the fines are huge.  We paid the monthly flat rate of 30 Euros. I think that we overpaid, buying it in Italy, but that was the easy way out.  We'll have to buy one for Bulgaria today.  Croatia and Serbia, like Italy, have regular toll booths where you pay money based on distance traveled. 

Slovenia looked wonderful.  They deal in Euros.  Croatia has its own currency.  The one toll both in Croatia that we hit before stopping in the Zagreb suburbs charged 7 Kuna = .96 Euros.  That will show up on my credit card :). For dinner we had a couple of glasses of wine each and the free barbecue that is "tradition" with the World Cup ... that came to 56 Kuna = 8 Euros.  We had gotten very personalized service at that bar and I gave the girl 20 Euros.  My wife isn't often a cheap date, but was that time !  Today we'll drive through Serbia (Dinar) and into Bulgaria (Lev).  We'll be in Bulgaria for a while, so we will have to hit an ATM.  It looks like the Dinar is worth a little less than one Euro cent and the Lev is about 50 cents. 

Croatia vs Nigeria hadn't quite started by the time we left the bar but it was getting busier.  Many people were wearing the red and white check of the team.  Faces were painted.  Oh ... and everyone, it seems, smokes.  Cars driving by were honking; displaying their colors.  I see that Croatia won their match ... whew !

My comfort zone has now expanded to include Slovenia and Croatia. I expect that Bulgaria will soon be in that list and Serbia will be a drive-through. 

Sometime today we'll change time zones again.  Bulgaria is in the same time zone, 7 hours ahead of Eastern, the same as Moscow and Tel Aviv. 

Onward !

Friday, June 15, 2018

May 31-Jun 3 - Blue Ridge to Bay 1200k

An interesting ride for sure. I'm not sure if I'd do this one again, but I say that about many of the 1200k's, for a variety of reasons.

Nick et al set out to showcase the region.  Combining Washington with Annapolis and the Bay Bridge with climbs on Skyline Drive and through one of the Appalachian gaps, hitting the battlefields of Gettysburg -- these all provided diversity and challenge.  From a time perspective, the long run into Washington and the city riding with a multitude of turns affected average speed more than the long climbs and descents.  There's payback from climbing; none from jogging through suburbia.  The route designers did achieve their objectives but it probably made the route more difficult than they expected.  Degree of difficulty isn't all about climbing. It's a very difficult route for anyone to break 80 hours. 

I have a somewhat jaundiced view of heading into Washington; I lived in the Philly area long enough and saw the sights often enough, that it wasn't new.  Skyline Drive is spectacular and the Appalachian Gaps are challenging.  In between we climbed and rolled.  The run into Washington on commuter paths, 40+ miles of them, was new to me.  I was pleasantly surprised that I could make reasonable time but for those who start these rides at a fast pace, the paths are speed limiting.  I found it interesting.

The weather was also provided diversity -- mostly cloudy the first day; sunny and hot the second day, again with rain late; climbing easing up on the third day and more late-day rain, but it was a long 203 miles; rain all day on the fourth and final 200k, cool and chilling.  The rain on the first three days had been warm.  You had to be prepared for anything.

At one point with heavy thunderstorms we took refuge at a waste treatment plant and then an open barn.  Such is randonneuring !

The DNF rate was somewhat high, around 35% for the 1200k riders.  Nick thinks that was mostly due to the weather.  I think that it was mostly due to the long riding days.  The female DNF rate was zero.  The Seattle rider DNF rate was 100%.  It's really too small a sample to say for sure and even if the ride is held every year for the next dozen years, different riders and different weather will produce different results. 

I rode with Hamid most of the time except, as usual, that first day.  He always gets out ahead on the first day; this time he finished an hour before me.  Jerzy from Toronto and Greg, a local rider, were companions for most of the ride.  Jerzy slept in after the third day.  He was riding strong; it wasn't due to route or conditioning.

I never felt that I was in trouble time-wise.  Nick had made it clear that intermediate times were guidelines; the final time was all that counted.  As such, I could plan a reasonable day for that day's riding.  The final day, for instance, turned out to be a 15 hour 200k.  We warmed up and dried off for extended periods a couple of times. 

Volunteer support was good.  We started in Leesburg, spent two nights at the same place in Shepherdtown and the third night close to the BWI airport.  There were loads of volunteers at the overnights; during the day we saw Bill taking photos and Nick providing water.   Shab managed the overnights, doing her usual excellent job. 

I enjoy all these rides and this was no exception.  It didn't have the views of the Rocky Mountain 1200k nor the Cappuccino from Italy, but it worked for me.

Jun 14 - snoozin

I wish that I could bank sleep.  Sleep-load ?  I guess that you can catch up, somewhat, but can't bank it.  Tonight, Friday night, we fly to Venice and then drive to Zagreb (4 hours).  By this time tomorrow we'll be short sleep and wanting to get to our destination-of-the-day asap.

Yesterday, doing some catch-up email etc., I put down the phone and snoozed on the lazy-boy.  Sheryl came over and pushed the button laying it out.  I probably snored but since I was asleep, I didn't know any better.

I caught up with some vendors, mostly brought email up-to-date, cleared out a couple of donation requests in my inbox by ... making donations; worthy causes ... whatever.

In between the rain drops, I used the chuck-it with Cassie.  Jenny isn't a fan of Cassie's or, rather, wants to be alpha and is quite successful.  Cassie avoids her and if she moves to quickly, Jenny is quick to pounce.  Hopefully they'll work it out, since Cassie will be here for 6 weeks now and, planned, another 4 in the Fall. 

As mentioned, it rained a lot of the day yesterday.  It's raining now.  I'd hoped to get out on the bike and will, if it stops.  I do have some significant riding coming up ... 1 week today and I'll be riding out of Sliven BG, a town east of Sofia.  I'll be blitzing 3 rides at that point, 3600k (3x1200) over 20 days.

I was checking to see where we would need vignettes.  In this context, vignette is a sticker or something that shows that you've paid to use the motorway.  Slovenia and Bulgaria will need those, so we pay at the border or first gas station.  Apparently Serbia and Croatia are normal pay-as-you-go toll booths.  The vignettes aren't expensive - 7.50 Euros per week in Slovenia and 15 Euros per month for Bulgaria. 

Oh yes, I was also chasing Sunshine 1200k hotel contacts for 2019.  Two of the contacts are still there; I talked to a third; left a message for the fourth.

This morning, as soon as possible, I need to call Amex. It seems that one of the Corporate cards for RUSA has been compromised.  I'm getting these "did you do this?" emails from Amex and cannot sign onto the second userid (actually the primary userid and card).  They'll want to get the card holder on the phone but she's likely asleep right now. 

What a PITA !


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jun 12/13 - packed and gone

June 12 was our day to complete prep and packing followed by June 13, a day of driving.  We're now in Hemmingford.  Who'd a thunk that we'd need to bring the trailer to travel to Europe ?!?

Yes we brought the trailer.  We brought one of the kennels for Jennie, the new dog and a huge bag with two blowup beds and two sleeping bags for the wall to wall sleeping arrangements that will no doubt be needed for the upcoming family reunion.  If all works out, I'll arrive on the cusp of the aforementioned reunion, newly back from Italy.

That's all more than a month away, however, and in the meantime we have lots of ground to cover !  We fly to Venice tomorrow (Friday) night and from there we head to Sofia, our first-ever visit to Eastern Europe. 

Cassie and Jennie ran in the backyard until Jennie was tired.  Cassie was playing fetch, naturally.  Jennie, the one-year-old, was just as fast but was chasing Cassie, not the ball.  Later on Jennie nipped Cassie and she didn't like that; today is another day; eventually they'll work things out.

We had our monthly RUSA Board conference call that went 2.5 hours.  Jim and Sheryl had gone to bed by the time I was finished.  Sandy was still up - mostly because I was occupying the bedroom !

Onward !

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Jun 11 - almost ready

Well, almost is a matter of interpretation.  I do have the bike packed but there's so much loose stuff in there that I'm not happy with the packing.  We'll be bringing two bags each, including the bike box and I may move some of that stuff to another bag.  Also, the difficulty with the bike box is the wheel that's on top of everything.  I should probably remove the tire because there's no way that a security checking person would be able to get it back in the box.  The 32mm tires are really stiff.  More loose stuff in the bag just begs for a scanner person wanting to open it and check contents. 

We will be taking the trailer.  Since I have not been able to get out for any significant riding (rode a 1/4 mile yesterday just to check the setup before dismantling), I might go out for a ride today with the Litespeed and I might throw that in the trailer and get in a ride in Hemmingford.  The bike can then await our return packed away in the trailer.

Cassie was happy to see the neighbours in residence.  As soon as she heard activity over there, I could hear her thundering along the deck, running in that direction. 

I played around with the map files that I created for Europe but can't tell if they actually work.  It quickly loads the basemap, making me think that they don't.  I hope that we're not tied to Waze because we'll be using data for that.  I don't have any idea how much of a data hog it is.

Onward !