If you know you will succeed it’s too easy – Alastair Humphreys

My name is John Karwoski and here is my first blog. I’m trying it as a way to share my Oriental Express adventure. Being new to blogging, I don’t know the tricks to make it organizationally exciting, so I hope mere words and pictures interest you.

If you are new to blogs, be aware that entries are sorted from newest to oldest. I think it’s cumbersome to scroll to the bottom of all the blog entries and read upwards to read them in order.

Instead, for quick navigation click the MENU button or a Country name above to go directly to any day on the tour.

On mobile devices, click “Menu” for navigation by country and day
On computer screens, click a country name to go to blogs for that country

Also, when using either navigation menu, at the bottom of the daily blogs you can select to go to the prior or next daily blog.

The navigation system allows you to go to prior day or next day


I’m putting my ride maps and statistics in Strava. Strava is a free app that works on your smartphone (get from the App Store) or your computer (Strava.com). Sign up for a free account, then search for my name and “follow” me.


I’m also putting pictures and statuses on Facebook. If we are not already connected, search for “John Karwoski Austin” on Facebook and send a friend request to me. For security reasons, only friends see my Facebook posts.

August 26 – Istanbul, Turkey – Recap and Lessons Learned

Today some bicyclists are going home, some are moving to new hotels, and some have spouses joining them in Istanbul. My roommate Jay has a sister and brother living nearby and he will stay with them for a week.

After breakfast and good-byes I walk my duffle and boxed bicycle to a nicer hotel. It’s close, only four minutes away. I’m staying in Istanbul two more days.

I used to work with two wonderful people who live in Istanbul, Didem and Nedim. I connected with them before the trip and have dinner with them tonight to catch up with each other.

To wrap up this blog, here’s my opinion about equipment I brought and other aspects of the tour.


I think my Specialized Diverge Comp gravel bicycle is perfect for this ride. It’s relatively light and its 38mm Sawtooth tires and “Future Shock” stem shock absorber smooth out the rough roads. Road bikes with skinny tires suffer most of the flats (our record holder has 6 flats). For me, no flat tires.

My bike with half frame bag, three water bottles, rear fender

My bike repairs: (1) replace the derailleur hanger (2) adjust for rubbing brake rotor. Future work required: the chain is worn and needs to be replaced. One of my pedals is making a clicking sound. Probably a worn bearing or spindle. Time to replace the pedals.

Bicycle Accessories:

I have small and lightweight Bontrager Ion 200 RT/Flare RT lights and use them in flash mode to be more visible to cars and trucks. They work great (but did not stop the bus that hit me 🥴). The lights have to be recharged nightly after long rides. I like them a lot.

Headlight and tail light with chest heart rate monitor for size perspective

For navigation I rely on a Garmin 1030 bicycle computer. I downloaded all 39 ride tracks provided by TDA plus Garmin’s Europe Bike map before I came to Paris. Downloading the TDA tracks was a convoluted process requiring a computer, but I got them all.

My Garmin’s performance is rock solid. The purchased Europe map provides good local road detail in all countries. I rely on the Garmin as my primary navigation guide and use TDA daily cue sheets for supplemental information.

Garmin 1030 and Bontrager Ion 200 RT headlight to its right

Several riders with older Garmin computers had issues keeping their GPS signal or stopping mid-ride. Maybe they didn’t have the latest Garmin software updates?

I brought prescription Oakley Cycling glasses. One of the lens broke on the second day of the ride. I rode the rest of the trip wearing regular prescription glasses. Lesson learned: bring backups for unique, personalized accessories such as prescription glasses.

Dang. Broken prescription lens. Won’t stay in frame.

I brought a GoPro. Stopped using it after the first day. Too finicky. Plus how do I handle seven weeks of recordings when I get home? I use my phone for pictures and videos.

I found a rear view mirror invaluable. When sharing potholed/cracked/rippled roads with trucks and cars it’s always nice to instantly see what’s behind you to help decide to go through or around obstacles. I have a large dorky looking mirror attached to my helmet.

Helmet attached rear view mirror. Large field of view in an instant.

My RAM X-Grip stem mount phone holder has two problems. First, on the “quite rough” unpaved roads in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey it doesn’t hold my phone securely. My phone has been dropped. After the drop my phone stayed in my jersey pocket most of the time. Second, the mount requires two hands to release the phone to take pictures while riding. I want a secure mount with single-handed mounting/unmounting.

After the riding in my first rainstorm I bought a small “Ass Savers” rear fender to attach to the bicycle saddle. Small, light, and worked well.

Ass Savers rear fender

My Revelate Designs half frame bag fits well and is the right size. However, I regret it isn’t waterproof. If you ride in the rain, contents WILL get wet.

Half frame bag

Health and Injuries:

I have a cough throughout the trip. I’m a mouth breather and maybe I’m inhaling dust/pollen/etc while riding. Probably need to discipline myself to inhale more through my nose.

I have three falls. I’m lucky. Only scrapes and a sore butt. One time my bike slipped while on a muddy road in Austria. Another time I fell while trying to stop and turn simultaneously to take a photo on a gravel trail in Bulgaria. Finally I got hit by the bus in Istanbul. No issues to stop my riding.

There will be the occasional road rash, scrapes, and cuts.

Best way to handle cuts and scrapes I learned: wash with plain water immediately. When you reach the hotel, clean the sores thoroughly with soap and water, cut off any loose skin, then let air dry. A little bleeding is OK. Helps cleanse the wound.

Several of us, including me, got stung by bees while riding. I got stung on my lower lip and stomach. An anti-histamine helps if there is swelling.

Other riders have more serious falls. One dislocates his shoulder, another acquires a cut needing stitches, and someone tears his hamstring (he falls in the bathtub, not from the bicycle). There are several other minor scrapes, bruises and cuts requiring only cleaning and air drying. One person is bit by a dog (getting rabies shots now).

Some days I end the ride exhausted, but by the next morning my legs and body are fine. I attribute this to my improved general physical fitness thanks to Camp Gladiator exercise camps I attended regularly for months before the ride.

I use chamois cream on my skin every riding day and have no problem with bottom sores. I think a key requirement for preventing sores is getting a good bike fit. You don’t want repetitive squirming or shifting on your seat while pedaling.

Water bottles:

I have three. Two for electrolyte solutions and one with plain water. I drink the water containing electrolytes. The plain water is for washing injuries and sharing with other riders. Bring a bottle brush. Bottles get scuzy with daily use.

For electrolytes, I use Nuun tablets from USA. I found something similar, Dextro Energy tablets in Germany. When I have no tablets I mix orange juice and water (50/50).

No Nuun in Europe? Found this similar electrolyte in Germany


I brought bicycle shorts but stopped using them because my nipples get sore after rubbing the jersey for several hours. I wear bib shorts instead and am comfortable. I have two pair of bib shorts and do daily sink washings to wear them on alternate days.

My sink washing kit

For rain protection I rely on a lightweight rain jacket plus rubber booties to protect my bicycling shoes. I brought a waterproof helmet cover and rain pants but don’t use them.

I discovered if your bicycling shoes get wet, a good way to accelerate drying is to stuff them with newsprint. The paper draws the water out of the shoes.

On a couple days we ride through forests with knats/flies swarming around our faces. We all suffer. I wish I had some sort of netting to put over my head for protection. Next time I’ll carry one.

I wear a bicycle hat most days instead of my usual buff because the hat provides more padding between my head and helmet.

Bicycle breakdown for shipping:

We brought our own bicycles for this tour. They had to be shipped in cardboard boxes. Here is how the TDA mechanic guided me to break down and prepare my bicycle to go into the box for returning home.

Your bike and packing requirements may be different, but maybe this video will give you some ideas.


So the question is, did I enjoy the tour, might I do this again? The answer is a resounding YES! Parts of the tour were challenging, hotels were sometimes so-so, but I enjoyed a lot and learned a lot. The TDA staff were excellent and I appreciate the support they provided to all riders. My fellow riders were a great bunch; very open, accepting, and fun to be with day and night. I’m looking forward to meeting them again.

That’s it! I hope you find this blog entertaining and informative. See you on the next tour.


John Karwoski

Austin, Texas USA

August 25 stage 39- Durusu to Istanbul, Turkey – The Finish!

For such a short ride, hard work. First challenge is steep hills of very rough/stoney gravel. Most riders walk the steep parts. Then granny gear climbs through villages perched on hills, riding alongside highways under construction with huge trucks rolling past, a long climb up a park road of 1-1/2 lanes with two way traffic, and then traffic in the outskirts of Istanbul.

View near beginning of ride
Glad I have a gravel bike. I ride the whole section
At about the 45KM mark I find a place to stop, rest and have a snack.
My snack

I am hit by a metro bus in Istanbul. Riding alongside the Bosphorus I’m surprised when a massive bus starts pushing against my left side as he moves to the right towards a bus stop. He has no idea I am there (I didn’t ride up to his side; he drove up to my side). He presses me and my bike sideways until me and the bike drop to the ground. I scramble to keep my arms and legs away from the bus to keep away from its wheels. I see bus riders wave their arms and yell until the bus driver stops the bus. Happily I am ok. My butt is sore, have a new scrape on my left elbow, and the bike seems OK. The bus driver waits for me to signal I’m okay and then drives on. I am at 59.46 KM, within 1 KM of the absolute end of my Paris to Istanbul ride. What a finish!

This isn’t the bus that hit me, but it’s the same size

My total trip distance: 3792KM, or 2356 miles. Total climbing: 25,551M, or 83,828 feet.  I EFIed it.  That means traveling “Every Friggn Inch” without ever riding the SAG van or other vehicle.

Celebratory pose with jersey I earned.

The ride ends in the outskirts of Istanbul, north of our hotel. When we’re all gathered together we load the bicycles onto a ferry to travel south on the Bosporus strait to a dock close to our hotel.

Loading bicycles onto ferry
They were stacked on the top deck

We enjoy celebratory champagne and lunch on the ferry. Several riders also enjoy jumping off the ferry into the water to cool off. A delightful ride, no pedaling required.

Watching others jumping from top deck into the water
Champagne and snacks before lunch
Skyline from the ferry
Are we rocking because of the champagne or the boat?
Me in relax mode. I am the first in on today’s ride
Actually, everyone’s in relax mode
Top deck of ferry
One of three bridges we see
Stacked bicycles
Ferry’s name reminds me of Nebuchadnezzar
Time to dock
And unload the bicycles
Group shot on dock

Immediately after arriving at the hotel we box our bicycles for travel back to their home countries. Then we meet at a local restaurant for dinner and more celebrating. My butt is sore from the bus incident. I suffer when climbing three stories of stairs to the restaurant, but what a view!

View from restaurant

Our hotel room AC doesn’t work. I ask the hotel to have someone fix it. When Jay and I return to the hotel we discover the “fix” is to open our room’s window. Our room is hot, humid, and outside street noise is loud. We debate asking for a different room; decide we are too unpacked and tired to move, and what’s one more night sweating in our sleep? We stay and suffer the room. Seems a suitable way to end our TDA adventure.

Strava analysis of this ride: https://strava.app.link/aj0qqqMxtZ

Relive 3D rendition of this ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39514363923

August 24 stage 38 – Malko Vize to Durusu, Turkey

Good roads, some headwinds and crosswinds. Rolling hills, but larger than normal, so uphills are steady work. I take no photos during the ride.

Tonight’s hotel has a pool. Beers and swimming. Great combo to relax with before dinner.

Tomorrow we ride into Istanbul!

Pool and beers after the ride
Highlights of today’s ride

Strava analysis of today’s ride: https://strava.app.link/5Ev1lDJ7pZ

Relive 3D rendition of today’s ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39467710854

August 23 – rest day in Vize, Turkey

Spend a chunk of today getting caught up with blog posts. Most of our recent hotels have unreliable WiFi internet access, including our Vize hotel. As of now I am only three days behind!

View from our hotel window. Room 206 on third floor (European count) or fourth floor (American count)
Got a hair cut and beard trim today. Took an hour of intense effort.
Nick. Straight razor shave and trim all around
Nick. Hair wash at the end
If wife Mercedes were with me, she is where she would be

The above videos are Nick getting ear hairs removed by flame and a local parade passing in front of our hotel.

August 22 stage 37 – Malko Tirnovo, Bulgaria to Vize, Turkey

Only a 89KM ride today, but hard. Starts with a 5KM climb immediately after breakfast. Cross the border into Turkey at 8KM.

Introduction to Turkey is a nice, long downhill on a smooth road but quickly changes to steep rollers. Then we turn off the nice asphalt onto small backcountry roads for the bulk of the ride.

7KM of gravel roads before lunch – lots of sharp rocks and sandy rollers. The wind picks up and we ride through dust devils.

When the asphalt comes back we ride into terrific headwinds for several KMs before arriving at the lunch truck. Several riders drop out, preferring to finish the ride by van.

After lunch, more gravel plus blustery crosswinds. I swear my bicycle slides to the right with the gusts. Have a couple falls in the group – Nick dislocates his shoulder and Jay gets cuts and bruises. Both earn rides to the medical clinic (however Jay completes his bicycle ride before agreeing to go to the clinic).

Vize is a small town and our hotel is on a busy street. No AC, so our room window is open. Loud barking dogs on a regular basis throughout the night. It is 3:30am and I’m able to use their WiFi. Progress.

Tomorrow is a rest day. We’ll have fun exploring and doing personal chores before our final two days riding to Istanbul.

Three kilometers from Turkey! We will have three days of riding in Turkey to get to Istanbul
Highlights of today’s ride
Jay takes a fall to avoid hitting someone who cut him off. Went to hospital eventually for two stitches on his elbow and to check a bruise on his side
Nick also takes a fall. Bad cobblestone speed bump. Dislocated his shoulder and huge bruise on side. Hospital visit required. He is out for the rest of this ride.
Snacks after dinner: wine, coffee and selection of baklava

Strava analysis of this ride: https://strava.app.link/qjalYLX5pZ

Relive 3D rendition of this ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39367622290

August 21 stage 36 – Sredets (Средец) to Malko Tirnovo, Bulgaria

Most of today’s ride is on a former military road they don’t use anymore. Just a few lumber trucks use it. The road is 40+KM long, with rolling hills and switchbacks on a heavily forested mountain range (remains of the Balkans Mountains?).

Gnats/flies are terrible – buzzing around our faces all the time. Roads are also in very poor condition. Looks like no maintenance for years so they are falling apart. I think we have 5 flat tires by our group today.

With my fat tires the roads are doable (and fun). I also learn if I keep my speed above 10KPH most of the insects stay away. I am strongly incented to keep hammering up the uphills.

I have one mishap. I pass a monument of some sort. Decide to stop and ride back to photograph it. When I slow and turn I go too sharp and lose control on the loose rocks. The bike goes down. I scrape one arm and bend the bike’s derailleur. When I continue riding I have fewer gears available.

Of course I still walk to the monument to take the picture despite scores of flies immediately attacking my face.

At the lunch stop I am lucky. Our TDA mechanic is there with his tools. He straightens the derailleur hanger for me before I leave.

Nice town, nice hotel. We have a real bathroom with a shower stall!

Unusual, but tastes good. Breakfast. Egg and yogurt and (paprika?) oil. Plus a crepe pancake.
Wasn’t paying enough attention when I stopped to photograph this and fell over in the rocks. This appears to be a Soviet era tribute to the forced labor used to build the military road we’re riding today.
About 40KM of this today
Glad I have fat tires (38mm)
My booboo. Bent my derailleur hanger too
Kathleen cleans my booboo
All clean! Will let air dry and scab up
Tonight’s hotel. Interesting place to hang the toilet paper
Found pictures in the town square from scenes in the 1920’s

Strava analysis of this ride: https://strava.app.link/XhPLbnz5pZ

Relive 3D rendition of this ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39312161708

August 20 stage 35 – Kotel to Sredets (Средец), Bulgaria

Longer ride than yesterday, but less elevation. Easier. Have a 25KM headwind for about 40KM towards the end of the ride. I can deal with that. What drives me crazy is the last 3KM on a busy forest road up to the hotel. Gnats. Gnats flying all around my face. I keep trying to swat them away to no avail. Where’s a headwind when you need it?

Tonight’s hotel is nicer than average. Has a swimming pool some of us try out. I’m starting to believe the Bulgarian standard bathroom has no shower stall and no bathtub. Just a shower head between the toilet and sink and a drain on the floor.

Note to self: my bicycle chain is stretched and must be replaced soon.

Highlights of today’s ride, including the admonition to not drink this hotel’s water
We take over a coffee shop along our route
We are going to Средец
This hotel has a pool! Bicycle leg tan lines
Bicycle arm tan lines
Local beer and my fingerless bicycle glove tan line (NOT dirt)
View from my room
That is the Black Sea 40KM away. This is the closest we’ll get to it
Another wet bathroom

Strava analysis of this ride: https://strava.app.link/SLPam3U8nZ

Relive 3D rendition of this ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39264255841

August 19 – stage 34 – Veliko Tărnovo to Kotel, Bulgaria

This was a hard ride for me. Left Viliko Tărnovo via narrow cobblestone streets going up and down. Was able to handle them without walking the bicycle. Soon after leaving town had the big climb of the day, averaging 10% to 15% for a few kilometers. I tried slowing myself down to conserve energy, but still had to stop three times for short rests.

Had some real nice rolling hills afterwards, then the slow steady climbing began. Not too steep, but kept me in my granny gear most of the time and was wearing. Very happy to reach our destination hotel at 2:30.

Some nice rolling hills
Found this abandoned MIG-17 on the side of the road
Cockpit closeup
Finn’s helmet head
Two beds but one sheet? We got this fixed.
Shower but no enclosure. I guess this is called a “wet bathroom”
Bar tab in Bulgarian on computer screen
Marg Joe Bill
Local beer
We try several. It’s good
Hotel water isn’t potable so I walk to the village fountain to fill my container for tonight and next morning. Villagers queue up to do the same
A Bulgarian practice is when someone dies, post flyers around town commemorating their passing

Strava analysis of this ride: https://strava.app.link/PkU849W7nZ

Relive 3D rendition of this ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39209333598

August 18 – rest day in Veliko Tărnovo, Bulgaria

Laundry, bicycle cleaning and explore!

Front entrance to our hotel
View of city
Luscious foliage everywhere
Where to go?
Fortress above the town
Fortress above the town
Narrow cobblestone streets
Local beer
Yes this a real city
Veggie sandwich and fried potatoes
Another view of houses
Mother Bulgaria monument
Lots of stairs to visit upper and lower parts
View from restaurant above our hotel (see the red van?)
Relaxing at dusk

August 17 – stage 33 – Ruse to Veliko Tărnovo, Bulgaria

I start last today with the TDA sweep rider. It is lightly raining, but our route is toward blue skies so I skip the rain gear.

Nice rolling hills for most of the ride. After lunch we have several KMs of bad concrete road – lots and lots of potholes, but then get to nice asphalt again. As usual for Bulgaria, no bike lanes and no shoulders. We share roads with cars and trucks.

Near Veliko Tarnova we climb the steepest hill. About 10% grade for 2-1/2 KMs. I do my usual ride/rest/ride up this hill. I’ve got to try riding slower to see if I can get up all the way without taking rest breaks.

Veliko Tarnova is a beautiful fortress town. We have a rest day here.

I’m stumped Ahh, the pictures say rest and food.
Cyrillic alphabet stumps me again
View from ride
Lunch spot
Found this monument alongside a badly broken up road
Looks like Soviet era statue
Wayne coming big climb near end of ride
Coming into town
Layers of buildings going up
Dinner with Mike and Marg
Ice cream with fruit dessert
Sign pointing to our hotel
View of our hotel from island with Assen monument. See the red TDA van?
Monument to the Assen dynasty. Dedicated to the 800th anniversary of rebellion against Byzantine rule that ended with the liberation of Bulgaria
Assen monument with town in background
Another view of town from Assen monument
Detail of Assen monument
View while crossing Stambolov bridge built in 1892.
Story of Stambolov bridge
Mother of Bulgaria monument. Appears to be dedicated to the various wars her sons fought

Strava analysis of today’s ride: https://strava.app.link/edHsrBO4nZ

Relive 3D representation of this ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/gh39108035633