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Wednesday / Thursday July 25 & 26 Fredericksburg to Budapest
Departure day has arrived…the first leg of the trip was the one hour drive from Fredericksburg to the airport in San Antonio. Randy Thompson volunteered to chauffer us to the airport; the front door drop off was a nice way to start the trip. After a brief visit to the United Club we boarded a CRJ700 for the 3 hour flight to Dulles. During our brief layover at IAD we had enough time to visit the United club for a cold beer and make a post to Facebook. We had very comfortable bulkhead seats on a Boeing 767 for the 7 hour flight to Munich. Airline service, especially the meals, continue to disappoint, but at least the flight was uneventful and on time. I still have not learned to sleep on a transatlantic flight, but I have learned how to cope with jet lag on arrival. In Munich we had 3 hours to rest and enjoy some good breakfast snacks in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. The short hop to Budapest was one hour which is about the maximum time one can endure the discomfort in an Airbus A320. With anxiety we waited at the baggage carrousel and sighed relief when our four cases appeared. We had arranged a limo to take us to the Sofitel hotel located at the foot of the Chain Bridge on the banks of the Danube River. Our first task was to take the bike to the parking garage and reassemble it for the tour. This chore takes about an hour with a few minutes required to make adjustments to the brakes and shifting. Once the bike was reassembled and test ridden, we were ready to explore Budapest in search of a cold beer. The concierge recommended a pub about two blocks away where we enjoyed some of the local Dreher Draft and a sausage plate. We then walked another 2 blocks to the Meridien Hotel where most of the Tandem Teams were staying for the pre-tour. We had met many of the teams on this tour on previous Santana Tours and we really enjoyed renewing the friendships in the lobby of the Meridien. We visited until the time they left for a program at the National Theater; we departed for a stroll through the old town and dinner at a sidewalk restaurant complete with a bottle of local Sauvignon Blanc. Finally we could fall into bed after a 36 hour long day.
Friday July 27, 2012 Budapest
Jet lag is an unpleasant consequence of transatlantic travel…this trip is no exception…neither Becky nor I could manage to sleep past 4:30 am. Part of the issue is that the dawn breaks before 5:00 and that triggers my get up sense. We decided to repack our luggage and get ready for our first day of riding. We had to check out of the Sofitel before we left for the ride because we would not return until after check-out time. We checked our luggage into the storage room and started on the bike in search of breakfast; we found a pleasant outdoor café a few blocks from the hotel where we ordered a surprisingly good grilled vegetable omelet. After breakfast we continued to the Meridien where we met with all the other tandem teams who were eager to begin our first ride of the cruise. Consider this a prologue ride…not really a preview of the week to come but a chance to check out the bike and see Budapest. The route was over city bike lanes to a statue park about 12 miles distance. The paths were narrow and rough and the traffic at the grade crossing was heavy…not your ideal biking conditions. We did eventually arrive at the park which was a remembrance to the fall of communism in 1990. The city had collected all of the statues and monuments to communism and moved them to this remote location, not to glorify the Soviet occupation but as a reminder to never forget the oppression and corruption of the occupying regime. From the statue park we rode a few miles to a winery where we had a chance to taste a local Sauvignon Blanc and view the antique wine barrels in the cave. The next stop on the itinerary was up to Buda to have a view of Pest and visit the Rock Hospital. This is now a museum of an underground hospital was completed in 1944, built in a secret natural cave 45 feet underground. It was a fascinating tour of a once functioning hospital which saw three uses: the first during the 2 nd World War, next in 1956 during the Revolution and then in the 60’s as a nuclear fallout shelter. It was restored and opened as a museum in 2008. From this pinnacle, the final leg of the ride was to coast down to the river to our floating hotel ship the Amadeus Elegant. We carried the bike up to the sun deck and then checked in. We had to return to the Sofitel to claim our luggage and transfer to the ship. Back on board, we unpacked, showered and prepared for the beginning of a weeklong floating party. We found many of the teams in the Panorama Lounge already relaxing and enjoying the first of many happy hours. Fortunately there was a buffet of snacks which was our substitute for lunch. After a couple of cold beers we had officially shifted into full vacation mode. The happy hour continued until the champagne reception began at 7:00…at this time the cruise director conducted the required safety drill and then introduced the crew. Following the reception, we moved to the restaurant one deck below for dinner. The evening meal is plated and served, always with a choice of appetizer, a choice of soup, a selection of two entrees and a desert choice and finally completed with a cheese course. Becky and I both selected the grilled Parrot fish for our entrée. The table service was good and the local Hungarian wines were not only nice but also plentiful. Following dinner and lively conversation, we all moved to the sundeck to watch the ship castoff and cruise through the lighted river between Buda and Pest. It was a spectacular view on a near perfect evening…and the crew served more wine for the final event of the day. We were now exhausted and quite ready to retire to our cabin for the evening. Daily mileage: 26 miles and 1200 feet of elevation.
Saturday July 28, 2012 Ordas - Porboly, Hungary
The Amadeus Elegant moved downstream during the night to Ordas. I was still feeling the effects of jet lag; not to worry better days (nights) are coming. The morning starts early on the ship with tandem captains preparing their bikes for the day’s ride. The breakfast buffet begins at 6:30 however coffee and croissants are available in the lounge from 5:00am…I know this because I was in the lounge when they set out the coffee. Bill McCready, our trip organizer, always provides a “brief” ride route talk during breakfast to give us an overview of what to expect for the ride that day. Most of the teams use GPS navigation systems and simply follow the electronic routes previously provided by email. Bill does explain the attractions to be seen on the ride as well as giving hints on finding some of the more obscure turns. Getting the bikes off the sundeck and onto the shore is always a hassle and the shore facilities at Ordas were particularly narrow and congested. We were off the ship and onto the bike by 8:00. Our first stop was in Kalosca with a brief stop at a Paprika Museum and a look at the town square. The restrooms at the Paprika Museum were more popular than the exhibits themselves. The roads were narrow and paved but not the smoothest of surfaces…traffic was light and no problem for the riders. We maintained a quick 19mph pace with a group of 5 bikes for the second stretch of the ride to a centuries old wine village with hundreds of caves. We visited one of the caves for snacks and tasting. These are not commercial wineries…simply home produced for family consumption, but every family made several hundred bottles a year for their personal requirements. The cave we visited produced several varieties which all had unique characteristics however they were extremely young and thus accented with a yeasty taste. It was a good break and a chance to rehydrate (I drank a lot of water and tasted little of the wine). From the wine village we had 14 miles to ride to return to the ship (which had moved downstream to Fajsz) for lunch. We took about an hour break for lunch and refill the water bottles for the afternoon ride. Lunch on board the Elegant is always a buffet with both hot and cold choices. Beer is included at lunch if desired. Only about 20 riders elected to do the afternoon 23 mile ride to the headquarters of the Gemenc National Park. The ride was mostly along the Danube levee with nice view of rich agricultural fields. The first 4 miles were over hard packed gravel which then became nicely smooth paved asphalt. We encountered only a handful of cars on the levee which ensured a safe and pleasant ride. The weather was brilliantly clear with a slight headwind. We cruised along at a 17 mph pace and covered the 23 mile route in about an hour and a half. We had plenty of time to rest and recover before visiting the forestry museum and loading our bikes onto a flatbed rail car. The majority of the teams arrived by narrow gauge railroad pulled by a wood burning steam locomotive. As they arrived we moved to a shaded area where we were treated to wine and snacks. We then had to return to the train with our wine glasses for the one hour return to the ship. We were treated to more wine on the excursion while viewing the forest, swamp and wildlife out the open train cars. As we arrived at the Porboly terminal, we were advised that we were leaving Hungary and that the local currency would not be accepted anywhere else. We chose to exchange our few Hungary Florins for two bottles of wine. We offloaded our bike from the rail car and carried it back up to the sundeck. We had just a few minutes to shower and change for dinner which began at 7:00. This evening we had a Hungarian Goulash or tilapia or vegetarian pasta. I chose the seafood cocktail and the pasta while Becky opted for the goulash. Both were excellent and we exchanged plates at the halfway point so we could both enjoy the selections. After dinner we went up to the sundeck to enjoy to cool breeze and we watched to bank slide by. There were some trivia games going on in the lounge, but a solid night’s sleep had more appeal. Ride mileage for the day was 66 miles with negligible elevation change.
Sunday July 29, 2012 Bezdan, Serbia – Vukovar, Croatia
Our floating hotel continued downstream while we slept and docked at the port of Bezdam. We had gone to sleep in Hungary and woke up in Serbia. During his morning route talk, Bill explained that our planned lunch stop had changed due to the fact that the scheduled pontoon no longer existed. So lunch was moved upstream 12 miles to Apatin, home of the largest brewery in Serbia. Exiting the ship in the morning was a bit tricky and slow, requiring more than 30 minutes to get all the bikes and teams off the ship. The morning ride was a quick 32 miles route which took us through Sampor and along the levee. The terrain was flat and very agricultural. We passed by large fields of grain, corn, peppers and vegetables as well as fruit orchards. Surfaces were generally smooth and traffic was light however we did have to contend with a brisk wind which was opposing the majority of the ride. We found the ship in Apatin ready for an early lunch at 11:30. We enjoyed a short one hour break for lunch and to refill our water bottles before continuing the final 35 miles of the day. In the afternoon, the major challenge was the heat and bright sun. Air temperature was about 97 and the heat rising off the dark pavement was even warmer. We had to cover about 15 miles in Croatia before arriving at the border crossing in Serbia. The heat and wind had slowed the pace to 15 mph…a group of 12 bikes arrived about the same time at the bridge where we presented our passports as we left Croatia and again after we crossed the bridge and entered Serbia. After crossing into Serbia, our priority became to find a stop with shade and cold water…we arrived in Dalj in about five miles and found a small café. We stopped for cokes and water and a chance to be out of the sun for a few minutes. Dalj lies on the front of the Serbian Croatian war and was the site of one of the massacres in 1991. While we were resting the café, the weather made a dramatic change with a large thunder cloud appearing on the horizon. The air temperature seemed to drop about 10 degrees and refreshed with a couple cold cokes, our pace picked up for the final miles into Vukovar. As the cloud approached and the lighting and thunder started, we picked up the pace, but as we entered the outskirts the drops started falling bringing a refreshing shower…no one complained about rain, we collectively welcomed the refreshing rain. Riding into Vukovar, we could see some remaining scars of the 1991 war. Factories lay idle and bombed; houses and buildings were pot marked with multiple bullet holes. 90 percent of Vukovar was destroyed during the war and while much has been rebuilt in the 20 years since, there is still plenty of visible destruction to memorialize this strife between the two countries. We arrived at the boat dock about 3:30 in a driving rain; the landing was a floating restaurant and bar whose manager invited us to bring our bike inside and wait for the ship. Close to 25 tandem teams took refuge in the bar and the party started with beer for everyone. We had about an hour to rest and visit before the Elegant eventually docked alongside where we waiting. Bill had arranged for local tour guides to take us in four groups on walking tours through the downtown district. The tour lasted about an hour as the guides explained about the war and the changes since that time. Now the city is less than ½ the population before the war, with major factories shuttered and closed forever. As we completed the tour a full rainbow accented the sky indicating that the rain had passed for the day. Dinner had been postponed for a half hour to allow everyone time to complete the tour. The menu selection included a mackerel or pork steak, but steak and chicken breast are always available. Becky selected the pork, but I chose the steak…we agreed that I had made the better choice. We had crème brulee for desert and a taste of birthday cake. The evening program in the lounge was a group of young local musicians playing regional instruments and original compositions. We listened to a few numbers before bidding goodnight. Total miles for the day: 68 with no elevation change.
Monday July 30, 2012 Ilok, Croatia – Novi Sad, Serbia
We have moved farther downstream and docked in Ilok, Serbia. The morning began with the usual route explanation in the restaurant, but today Wolfgang was going to lead eight teams on the long ride. We chose the long ride option through the national park and forest. The rain the previous afternoon had cooled the morning temperature making the start very pleasant. After breakfast we were one of the first teams off the boat to avoid the normal congestion. Wolfgang led us out for only a mile until we arrived at the border crossing back into Serbia. It took only a few minutes to have our passports stamped and we were on our way to climb out of the Danube valley onto the ridge 2400 feet higher. The climb was slow and steady; for the first time we could see outstanding vistas over the valley. Our Garmin GPS failed as we entered the hills and at the same time we fell behind the bike in front of us and did not realize that the group had made a left turn as we sailed past into a long steep descent into a small village. Because we did not see any bikes in the town, we realized that we should have taken the turn…now we had to climb back out to rejoin the ride. As we were climbing we were able to save another team who had made the same mistake from going all the way to the bottom. We waited for a few more teams to join us so we would have navigational help. The route was hilly and rolling with absolutely no flat stretches and to add to the challenge the road surfaces were the roughest and most pot holed we had ever ridden so our descents were no faster that the climb. We trudged onward but had only covered 12 miles in two hours; as we approached one of the steeper climbs, I tried to shift into my smallest chain ring, but unfortunately the chain jammed between the middle and small rings. I had no option but to loosen the ring with a multi tool to free the chain…this operation required about 15 minutes, but we were soon back on the ride. Eventually we exited the National Forest and found all of the leading teams at an intersection enjoying snacks and cold drinks. We welcomed the chance to leave the bike and rest for a while. From this intersection, there was an optional ride up to two monuments one of which was a bombed out communication tower which had been strafed during the 1999 Kosovo War. This was an easier climb, but again the condition of the road surface made for less than pleasant riding. The tower had survived the attack with significant damage but continues to function in spite of the damage. From the tower the final miles were all downhill to Novi Sad on a smooth highway…the grade was 8% thus the ride was so fast we had to brake to control the runaway speed. There was some minor confusion as we followed the route into town, but none of us was never more than a block off the route. Finally we saw our ship docked near the city center. Exhausted, we were happy to carry our bike up to the sundeck and then shower and clean up for lunch. Lunch had been extended until three this afternoon so we had plenty of time to enjoy a hamburger with French fries and lots of salt. Novi Sad is the third largest city in Serbia with an attractive historical pedestrian district. Shopping was not on our list of priorities, although we did enjoy strolling the streets. The only building we entered was the Eastern Orthodox Church. Much of this pedestrian zone was lined with sidewalk cafes with large umbrellas to provide shade from the sun. We found an inviting table and passed the time drinking the local beer and watching the activities on the street. We selected a Lav beer; it was unremarkable but a half liter cost only $1.50…we found Serbia to be an inexpensive place to visit. We returned to the ship with two hours to rest before the dinner call at 7:00. Dinner offered a selection of pasta or a Vienna Steak or Rainbow trout. Becky chose the schnitzel and I took the trout…this wasn’t the best meal of the trip. After dinner we went up to the sundeck to do some minor repair to our headsets and visit with other teams who had stepped out to enjoy the cool evening breeze. The strenuous ride had taken its toll and I was anxious to return to our cabin to rest and recover. Mileage for the day was 48 with 3900 feet of elevation change.
Tuesday July 31, 2012 Veliko Gradiste, Serbia through the Iron Gate into Romania
We continued to wake up in a different place from where we went to bed, but we were still in Serbia although this would be our last day in this country. The morning routine is for me to go to the aft Amadeus Lounge to write this narrative about 5:00 every morning…that’s the time the crew sets out coffee and pastries in the lounge. Breakfast begins around 6:30 every morning and everyone is off the ship and on their bikes before 8:00. We docked in Veliko Gradiste at 6:00 in the morning; Bill had warned everyone the night before to be prepared to start at least a half hour earlier because the morning ride would be 48 miles long and the ship had a very short time to dock at noon to pick up all the riders. The ride itself was the best of the trip to this point following along the Danube with wonderful views of the river to our left and the jagged cliffs of the Iron Gate to our right. The road surface was the smoothest of the trip and traffic was light. The pace was comfortable as the riders naturally grouped together according to their pace. The route was fairly flat as we followed the banks of the river; however there were some small rollers. One of the interesting sights was riding through a castle as the road passed right through the gates. There were several tunnels on this stretch where the rock ledges hugged the banks of the river. The longest of the tunnels was 260 meters long, but that was enough to be totally dark and a bit disorienting. Bill had provided lights for everyone to help guide through the darkness. Our morning goal was to reach Lepenski Vir which was 36 miles distance from the start…this is the site of an ancient village that existed for 4000 years but ceased to exist 2000 years ago. There was a small café where we could buy a cold drink as well as visit the small exhibit. From Lepenski Vir we had only 12 more miles to reach the ship, but there was a long climb to pull to get there. We had one flat tire as we approached one of the tunnels and had used a CO2 cartridge to fill the tire. Exiting Lepenski Vir, our chain jammed between the middle and small chain ring so I had to spend a few minutes to free the chain. We immediately started the mile long 5% grade climb which we managed fine in our middle gear; however on the descent I could feel the bike was unstable and knew that the CO2 had leaked out of the rear tire. We stopped at the bottom of the hill and pumped up the tire only to have it leak out in a few hundred yards. Now we had to stop and change both the tire and tube and pump it back to pressure before we could continue the final few miles to the ship. We arrived at the ship right at noon …first we carried the bike up to the sundeck and then went to the shower before going to the restaurant for lunch. After lunch I had some bicycle maintenance to take care of…there was a short ride option through the Iron Gate, but we had decided to do only the morning ride. I wanted to correct this problem of the chain jamming in the crank; I explained our mechanical issue to Larry and he said we would have to machine the lugs on the crank to bring the chain rings closer together. He handed me a file and wished me well as I started to correct the profile of the crank. Clouds started to build overhead as we pulled away for the afternoon cruise to the dam and locks through the gorge. We did get a brief shower which helped to moderate the temperature so I moved from the sundeck down to the vestibule to continue filing the crank. We were cruising through the most interesting section of the river with high rock cliffs on each side. One of the cliffs had a face of a man carved into it. We stopped briefly to pick up the 8 bikes that had ridden the afternoon 28 miles and then entered the Romanian locks at the dam. We locked through two chambers which lowered our elevation by 105 feet. As we left the locks we were in Romania. The afternoon was still early which provided us plenty of time to meet Hal and Lucy in the aft lounge to enjoy the two bottles of Hungarian wine we had purchased a few days earlier. While we drank wine and traded life history stories, I changed the tire and tube on our rear wheel to be prepared for the next day. The evening dinner selection was a chicken breast or fish or pasta…Becky and I both selected the always available steak and French fries. The evening activities included bingo in the lounge with fabulous prizes…but for me the greater prize was an early trip to bed. Total mileage for the day: 48 with 1000 feet of elevation change.
Wednesday August 01, 2012 Orjahovo to Nikopol Bulgaria
We have changed time zones and set our clocks back one hour…to accommodate the loss of an hour, today’s schedule has been pushed back by one hour. During the night the Amadeus Elegant had cruised downstream about 200 kilometers to arrive at the Bulgarian Port of Orjahovo. During the usual breakfast time, the Bulgarian Immigration authorities we’re clearing our passports…this process took about 1 ½ hours due to manual input of everyone’s data into their system. But by 9:30, they had finished their passport control and we were allowed to exit the boat. There was a slight rain falling as we left the ship, but we could see that it would not last long and the thought of wearing rain protection was more onerous than getting a little wet. Bill had picked out two possible routes for us to ride…one was a 55 mile ride through Romania the other was a 75 mile route through Bulgaria…we chose the longer route. We had to immediately climb 1300 feet out of Orjahovo…the climb was over a mile long but the grade percentage was steep enough that we eventually shifted into the granny gear to make the pull a little easier. The rain had stopped by the time we reached the top and the streets started to dry. We rode through mostly agrarian country with huge cultivated fields on both sides of the road. We assumed that these had been collective farms before the fall of communism. The surface of the roads was a mixed bag….some stretches were nothing more than a series of potholes while other sections were smoothly paved. Generally, this area of Bulgaria seemed extremely economically depressed. Most of the houses were in serious need of repair and many appeared to be abandoned. We passed by many abandoned factories…judging from the height of the weeds and broken glass, they had been shuttered for 20 years. The little villages were not clean and there was very little visible enterprise. We saw a few small cafes and bars, but no open shops. It did appear that most everyone had a vegetable garden and enough grape vines to provide a year’s supply of wine. Realizing that there was little potential for lunch on this route, we were provided lunches to carry with us. About 40 miles into the ride we arrived in Krushovene where we found a place to stop and eat our lunches…there was an old fighter jet in what was once a park but it was in such decrepit condition that it saw little use. We had now ridden more than half of the distance and scheduled one more break at the 60 mile point. We arrived in Brest and found several other teams at a café so we stopped to join them and refresh with some cold drinks. From Brest we had only 20 miles to go to reach the ship, but that included the second major climb of the day at Somovit to get over the range which followed the river. This climb was only a little shorter than the first, but the surface was extremely rough and the sun was hot which added to the challenge of pulling out of the valley. However, once we reached the top we had a wonderful 2 mile long downhill coast over smooth pavement. By now the homing instincts had started to kick in as we picked up the pace for the final sprint into Nikopol. We arrived at the dock at 3:30 with plenty time to sit in an outdoor café and enjoy the local beer and some French fries. The prices were very cheap…about .60 cents for a 500ml beer and the same for an order of French fries. Other teams were also in the café so we had plenty of company to trade stories about the adventures of today’s ride. Next it was time to carry the bike up to the sundeck and clean up for the evening activities. Dinner was at 7:00 in the restaurant, followed by Bill’s preview of upcoming Santana tours in the Lounge. Dinner was a Bulgarian theme with appetizers, main course and dessert all tagged with unpronounceable names. The appetizer was sausage aspic and the main course was similar to a goulash while the dessert was a sweet bun in a vanilla sauce. The white wine was a French Chardonnay and the red was a Merlot. Both Becky and I struggled to stay awake during Bill’s talk and took the first opportunity to exit for bed. Total mileage for the day: 75 with 2300 feet of elevation change.
Thursday August 02, 2012 Harsova to Cernavoda, Romania
Our ship pulled into the port of Harsova Romania as we were finishing breakfast and Bill was completing his morning route talk. There were two options for rides a shorter 33 mile route or the longer 44 mile route which contained a couple of significant climbs. We chose the longer route. Before we left the boat we had to fill out a customs declaration which verified that we were not carrying guns and psycho drugs. We pushed the bike up the loading ramp and onto Romanian soil. We immediately began a gradual climb out of the town and onto the rolling hills. Once outside the town we were in very sparsely populated agricultural areas with vast open fields and pastures. The major crops appeared to be corn, sunflower and grains. There were a few herds of cattle, goats and sheep, each tended by shepherds or cowboys. The most common form of transportation was a single horse drawn cart. The road surface was better than Bulgaria and the economy seemed healthier as well. There was a strong mostly favorable wind on an almost cloudless day…these two elements made for a dry hot ride. We had to stop twice to buy water to help keep us hydrated. We did pass through a few small villages with open cafes and shops so finding supplies was easy. But the hills were another story…there were at least two 10% mile long hills, challenging enough by themselves but under a blazing sun we were parched at the top of each. But on the brighter side the descents after each climb were thrilling reaching speeds in excess of 40 miles per hours. The local citizens were surprised to see such a group of tandem bicycles and were friendly and curious. The language barrier prevented any meaningful dialogue but they let us know we were welcomed in their community. (Although I found one gentleman who spoke German so we could easily exchange greetings) The final climb overlooked the 2 mile descent into the port of Cernavoda, but in this town of potholed streets lined with cars, houses and pedestrians, we had to brake the entire distance to the river. Let’s not forget one other hazard…drainage grates with spacing wide enough to swallow a bicycle wheel. We had to dismount and walk over several of these grates as we negotiated our route to the boat dock. The final mile was a little difficult to follow, but Becky with the aid of the Garmin GPS managed to keep us on course. We arrived at the quay about 2:00 and enjoy a cool beer (under a hot umbrella) while the crew finished securing the boat. We were not allowed to board immediately because the crew was loading fresh produce for the galley. They carried boxes of lettuce, tomatoes, fruits, vegetable and perishable down one set of stairs and up the ships gangway one box at a time. There was no automation to this transfer procedure. With the new provisions on board, the tandem teams lined up to carry the bikes back on board, Once on board, we carried our bike up to the sundeck and then went to the restaurant for lunch and more beer. After lunch, we returned to our cabin to shower and rest for the afternoon. By 6:00 we had recovered sufficiently to enjoy happy hour with other teams and then proceed to the restaurant for dinner. Becky and I both selected the turkey medallions with ice cream for dessert. Becky chose the Hungarian white wine while I enjoyed cold Bittburger beer. Following dinner, we went up to the sundeck to watch a beautiful full moon winking at us through the breaks in the clouds. Several teams gathered on the sundeck to enjoy the moonlight and watch the shadows on the bank slide by in the cool evening breeze. The evening program (which we skipped) was Bill’s talk on new bicycle technology. Total mileage for the day: 44 with 2300 feet of elevation change.
Friday August 03, 2012 Galati, Romania – Moldova – Izmail, Ukraine
I never knew where we would be when we woke up each morning so I had to look at the daily program to know where we were. The ship sails every night so we never wake up in the same place where we went to sleep. This morning we were in Galati, Romania. There was a slight drizzle falling under overcast skies. We continued to watch the rain through breakfast and the route talk as Bill explained our rides and warned us frequently about the road conditions we would encounter. The cool rain was welcomed by most of the teams…a pleasant contrast to the heat and intense sun of the previous afternoon ride. We could see the clouds breaking in the distance and knew that the rain was only temporary. The Garmin guided us out of Galati for the short 4 mile distance to the Moldovan border…here all of the teams were together for the first of four passport control points. The efficiency of the border crossing could stand a lot of improvement as we waited about ½ hour to leave Romania and enter Moldova. Our route covered only one uphill kilometer corner of the country before we arrived at the Ukraine border. Here again we waited another ½ hour to clear the passport formalities, but the rain had stopped and the puddles began to dry. About 20 teams elected to ride the short 55 mile route while another 20 chose the longer 77 mile route. We had chosen the shorter route because the bright afternoon sunshine and heat had zapped us the previous day. The caveat to taking the shorter route was the deplorable road conditions….I don’t believe it’s possible to properly describe these roads because the bouncing on the butt is required to fully appreciate the ride. We dodged potholes, cracks, torn up paving and horse manure as we eased through Reni, Ukraine. The traffic was light so we could weave through the entire road width to find the smoothest track. I had no chance to see the country as I was constantly watching the road. Seven teams rode together across this stretch of bombed (not literally) out roads until we had a double flat…both front and rear tires flatted at the same time. One team stayed with us while I changed the tubes, but before I could get the repaired rear tire reinstalled, it blew out again….apparently a defective tube. Fortunately Larry Black caught up to us at this time to help change the blown rear tire while I finished the front. Soon we were rolling again but a little more slowly and cautiously. The roads were being restored in some sections and the areas of fresh pavement were a blessing…some was so recent we were following the paving crew. The route was mostly along the Danube marsh; flat without benefit of shade. The country was agrarian and poor…the crops were mostly corn and sunflower; we saw little livestock and the horse drawn cart is still a common source of transportation. We had a little head wind but the cool cloud cover of the morning disappeared and the broiling sun reappeared. There were a couple of villages were we could stop to buy water and soft drinks. We did eventually catch up to the lead group at one of the stops and continued together for the last 15 miles into Izmail. Fortunately the roads were much better as we approached the city; Bill’s route to the boat included a detour around the central park to see a statue of Lenin. From the statue we coasted downhill the last mile to the ship. Much to our pleasant surprise there was a café at the dock with an English speaking waitress…here we enjoyed a few cold draft Fest beers as we watched the other teams arrive at the boat. After relaxing for an hour at the café we boarded the boat to clean up for the evening activities. We had dinner in the restaurant; Becky selected the pork specialty and I choose the always available chicken breast with French fries…anything that would hold salt was my requirement. The wines were Chilean so I chose beer. After dinner we went to the lounge, danced two numbers and then off to bed. Mileage for the day: 55 miles with 500 feet elevation change
Saturday August 04, 2012 Tulcea, Romania
During the night, the Amadeus Elegant sailed from Izmail to the port and tourist destination city of Tulcea. This would be our last opportunity to ride on the cruise and probably the only chance to see the Black Sea. The ride choices were a short 20 mile out and back to a point where one could see (maybe) the Black Sea in the distance or there was a 55 mile ride to a fortress in the delta. Other options included a 4 hour nature boat tour through the Danube Delta or a day of visiting museums and shopping in Tulcea. After 8 continuous days of riding, my body (particularly butt and shoulder) was begging for a day off. Becky and I chose to take the 4 hour nature cruise into the delta to see birds and vegetation. We cruised along the port and turned into one of the canals in search of wildlife…we did see some birds and a lot of tourist camping and fishing from the shore. Our English speaking guide provided an excellent history of the delta and its current ecological condition. He also explained about the economic conditions, the social system, the education system and the health care system in Romania. His explanations were more interesting than the cruise itself…we were happy to have chosen this activity for the day. We arrived back at our ship just a few minutes before lunch was served. In the afternoon, we had to break apart our bicycle and pack it into its two suitcases. This was a hot activity on the sundeck, but working together we were all packed and ready to travel in an hour. Bill had a few tickets available for the Folk Art Museum, so after packing the bike, Becky and I walked 15 minutes to see an exhibition of the various cultures that had settled in Tulcea. There was a docent who ushered us through and explained each of the exhibits on display. We had a little time to enjoy a refreshing beverage along the quay before we boarded the ship for the last time. We had to be present for our debarkation instructions at 6:15 in the Panorama Lounge which was then followed by a champagne reception and introduction of the crew. As we sat down for dinner the ship pulled away from the pontoon and started upriver to the port of Harsova, Romania. The dinner was the farewell gala…it was special with extra appetizer, sorbets between courses and nice beef tenderloin for the main course. They made the traditional sparkler parade for the baked Alaska dessert. This final gala also lasts a lot longer than the normal dinners…this one did not conclude until 10:00 and some teams still lingered sipping on wine with the final course of cheese and fruit. We had to finish packing so we could be ready for the porters to pick up our cases at 6:30 in the morning. No riding today.
Sunday, August 05, 2012 Harsova – Bucharest, Romania
The crew started moving our bikes and luggage off the boat and to the trucks and busses at 6:30 in the morning. We had the normal breakfast selections in the restaurant, but we had to be ready to depart at 7:30. The restaurant staff had prepared a box lunch buffet in the lounge so we could pack some snacks for the three hour bus ride. There were sandwiches, fruit, cheese, candy bars and drinks ready for the ride. Becky filled a box with goodies and we left the boat and friends for the next leg of the adventure. Santana offered a post tour option in Bucharest which included a city tour and a visit to the Ceausescu palace…we chose to go to the airport instead because we had an early flight to Munich the next day. The bus ride was unremarkable but did give us another view of the Romanian interior countryside. We arrived at the airport about 10:30 and took the hotel shuttle to the accommodation for the evening. The remainder of the day was for rest and relaxation. We did manage to watch some Olympics and read, but not much else happened. We met Ralph and Judy for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant; we enjoyed very interesting conversation about their life in Izmir Turkey where Ralph is commander of NATO forces. Following dinner, we were off to bed to prepare for a very early flight to Munich in the morning.
Monday, August 06, 2012: Bucharest, Romania
The Santana Tandem bike cruise has officially ended and we were on our own. We had a 4:00 wakeup call with breakfast delivered at 4:15; then onto the hotel shuttle to the airport for our flight to Munich. The check-in and security went smoothly leaving us with a little time to have some coffee in the business lounge compliments of our Star Alliance Gold status. We were a few minutes late pushing back waiting for some late passengers to arrive which resulted in a 20 minute delay arriving in Munich. Now with the first half of our European bike tour completed, we were eager to begin the second half biking around the Bodensee in Germany.