I am now in Sofia and our troop of riders will be splitting up today. The 5 days of cycling together have been wonderful. We have wild camped three nights, been hosted spectacularly for one night and now have a hostel in Sofia.
On the second day we rode as a group I managed to loose my handlebar bag which is possibly the worst thing that could happen. It contains my wallet, phone, ipad, insurance details, Turkish visa, keys and passport. I searched in a frenzy and realised I must have left it sitting on the street in a town 4 miles back. My fellow riders kindly waited and watched my panniers as I raced back wondering what on earth I would do with nothing but the clothes on my back and a tent. I arrived and found my little red bag untouched, sitting where I had left it 40 minutes ago, nestled on the pavement.
It is this kind of thing that slows down a group of 6 riders. There are 6 times as many bikes to break and someone is always wanting to stop for wifi or just to sit in the sun. One day through the Serbian hills we passed a hunting lodge and were beckoned in for schnapps and a brief attempt at communicating through hand waving. After three shots we hit the road again and after a couple of miles were accosted by a farmer with more schnapps and wine. Three shots later and we continued. No more than a mile on the road and a family gave us bread, 8 fresh eggs, apples and water. They even apologised for not having schnapps to give us. the friendliness and generosity of Serbia has been unrivaled and I was sad to leave.
Sitting now in the hostel in Sofia I am preparing for the loneliness of my onward journey. Istanbul feels close now and I have bitter sweet feelings as the end draws in.