On my way out of Babaeski on Sunday, I passed by the town hammam. Had I known of its existence the night before, I'd likely have taken my first Turkish bath of the trip. I must admit, I hesitated a bit before moving on. My next stop was only 22 kms away, but I'd made plans to meet up with one of the guys from the day before when I reached Lüleburgaz, so on I went.
After walking a few hours, I spotted a cyclist approaching on the wide shoulder. As we drew closer, he greeted me in English with a North American accent. Guanto (and I know that's not how he'd spell his name, but it's the best I can do) is from Taiwan. He had gone to China to meet some friends and do a two week bicycle tour before returning to school. That was 18 months ago, and he's been riding west ever since. Since most people traversing the Eurasian landmass by foot or bike are heading east, Guanto has encountered many of them - at least a hundred! It was great to exchange stories, although after standing in the strong north wind for a few minutes, it did start to get a little chilly. (I suppose I could have set my pack down and added an extra layer or two.) After a few photos, we parted ways.
Unlike the previous day, there were plenty of gas stations along the road, which meant I was able to get out of the wind fairly often. At one of my stops, I'd set my pack down in the sheltered patio when another customer greeted me. Murat and his wife were travelling from Istanbul to Edirne, where they were renting a flat. He's a doctor of internal medicine, and until his retirement five years ago, an officer in the Turkish navy. Because Turkey is part of NATO, he had learned English while in service, and was glad of a chance to practice. (These days, most of the patients he sees are Syrians.) They bought tea which we drank while we chatted, but they had an appointment to keep and another hour to drive, so our conversation ended all too soon. After they left, I began to pull my things together when I heard a tap on the glass window from inside the service station restaurant. One of the employees was holding up a plate of food and offered it to me. I nodded in acceptance, and the plate of pasta, fries, and salad was brought to my table, followed in short order by ayran (a delicious yoghurt drink), soup, and a loaf of crusty bread. I made short work of it all, and when I headed inside to thank the four employees, my attempt to pay was politely but firmly rebuffed.
One thing I'm missing from my time in Bulgaria is the ubiquity of free WiFi. Since I wasn't sure where (or even if) I'd be meeting Oğuz, I connected to a local mobile network and turned on my data connection. (Side note: in Kapikule right after I'd crossed into Turkey, I was picking up signals from multiple mobile networks in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece.) We arranged a rendezvous in Lüleburgaz, and once I'd checked into a hotel and left my gear in the room, Oğuz showed me around the central part of the city. Lüleburgaz has a population of 108,000, and the city fills the valley and spills over the hills on either side. (When I cleared the last hill before the city I should have taken a photo or three, but I didn't think of it until I was halfway down the hill, and I was too lazy to backtrack.) There is a large neighbourhood closed to vehicles, with fountains, shops, an open air skating rink, and even a section of street with a red carpet for the pedestrians! We wound up at a café, drinking tea and talking until it started to get a bit chilly. (We were seated at the edge of the patio, far from any of the heaters.) After walking around a bit more, it was time for Oğuz to head home. Does it sound terribly patronising to say he reminds me of myself at that age?
I went back to the hotel and did some equipment maintenance, uploaded some photos, and continued composing my last update. I should probably have gone to bed earlier than I did, but I knew the walk to Büyükkarıştıran was only 20 kms. I slept in and after breakfast I meandered around the nearby squares for a bit. It was 10:30 by the time I started walking towards the day's destination.
A stiff north wind has been my constant companion since leaving Plovdiv, but today was the strongest I've encountered since walking in Albania but at least this time it wasn't a head wind. The few times it slackened, I stumbled a bit because I'd been leaning into it for so long. As was the case Sunday, gas stations were conveniently located, and I could not pay for the tea I drank.
I arrived in Büyükkarıştıran and found the hotel. 100 Turkish lira is a steep price, but I'd dawdled too long to continue on, so I paid. Once I saw the dangling electrical cables and tattered upholstery in the room, I began to regret my choice, but at that point there was nothing I could do. Then the live entertainment in the restaurant three floors below started. I'll be sleeping with earplugs tonight, for the first time on the pilgrimage. If you're thinking of staying in Büyükkarıştıran , just don't.
Tomorrow I'm aiming for Çorlu, which judging by the bus traffic is a much larger place, hopefully with more than one option. It's a 35 km hike, so I'll be on my way bright and early in the morning.