I wake to the beep of my alarm at 6.00am. Feeling surprisingly good. As I unzip my door to the world I'm happy to see that the sun is yet to clear the hills before me. While rolling up my tent I get the first flash of gold on the horizon. I eat the last of my food – half a chocolate bar and four cookies, knowing that I'll have to stop again soon to really fuel up. The morning is crisp and for the first time on the trip I set off wearing my fleece. As soon as I enter the town of Novi Pazar I stop at a garage for a coffee. I utilise the toilet to replenish my water supply, inhale a Snickers, and continue on my way.
The road heads directly East towards the rising ball of fire. I can't tell if it's a windy day, or if my proximity to the ocean means I simply feel more breeze. But not even the headwind can deflate my buoyant mood. Over the course of thirty minutes the Red Ochre sky turns to Blue before my eyes and the mist lifts from the fields. Today is going to be a good day. My first view of the Black Sea. The sand between my toes for the first time since Dover. I almost feel like I'm reaching my final destination. And thanks to my early start I will be in Varna nice and early. Which gives me lots of time to explore and decide where to stay.
By 11:00am the sun is hot and so I ride bareback once more. I pass through two small villages, both of which have many friendly waving people. For the remainder of the ride fields are my only company. I pass Pobiti Kamani, a petrified forest dating back some 50 million years. Seaguls squawk above my head, I'm close, I'm really close. Just outside of the town I rest in the shade of a bus stop to guzzle some water. A kind old lady gives me some fresh apricots. By 13:00 I make it to the centre of town, lock up the bike, and go to explore. Though my sightseeing is cut short when I spy a pastry shop with cyber-cafe over the road.
Half an hour later I'm checking into the YO-HO youth hostel. That wasn't part of the plan. I decide some company would be good, and the little I've seen of Varna looks nice eoungh to warrant the stop. The hostel has a great colourful paint scheme with a nautical theme. The staff are very friendly and the price is right, I conclude – a good find. In my room is Paula from Italy. She is in Bulgaria relaxing and sun chasing, she offers to take me on a quick tour. We chat and walk for a few hours. Down through the park to the beach, and then up to the lighthouse. As I dip my toes in the Black Sea waves of satisfaction ripple through me. I stand for a few moments just staring out to sea, trying to commit the moment to memory - my camera is not around. If my trip ended today I'd be happy, very happy. But it still feels like I've only just begun. I've cycle across the tip of the iceburg, and I'm eager as ever to tackle the rest.
We return to the hostel, but not before stopping off at the market for some fresh veggies for dinner. The small communal area is great for socialising. I quickly get chatting with Katharina a fellow cycle tourist from Vienna. Jamie and Nick from England. Along with some folks from Belgium and Germany. The hostel is a work in progress. The hostel owners are turning the basement into a rehearsal room. They invite us down to watch a local punk band put the final polish on some tunes as they have a gig the following night. We buy some beer from the local shop and head downstairs to take a listen. The dirt floor is covered in part by wooden pallets. Carpets line the walls and egg boxes cover the ceiling. Combined with the crumbling mortar of the bare brick walls this place could only be described as RAW. It's great. The band are going for it, sadly minus the drummer. Watching them reminds me of the joys of playing in a band. Once the music stops we head to the top floor to another communal area of sorts. Lots of couches, foosball, a few guitars, and company from all over the globe. It was a good night, and an equally a good decision to stay in the hostel.