imperial eagle
If you would like to help,deposit into the account number 9933 of Natuurmonumenten, ’s Gravenland, stating Fietsen voor de Keizerarend  (cycling for the Imperial Eagle). Any amount is welcome!!
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Photo's can be found here Picasa:

23 April: departure

It was a lovely, bright, spring day when former colleagues, family and friends sang a wonderful farewell song while waving us goodbye. That morning the Netherlands nature conservation society, Natuurmonumenten, had announced that it would sponsor our project with 1 euro per kilometre. That was really great!

Our first cycling day was a lot harder than we had expected and we did not arrive at our destination before 7.00 p.m.. The gentle slopes at the end of that first day proved to be tough for the men with their fully packed bikes.

On Saturday, 24 April we cycled into Germany and got less far than we had hoped. Feico was suffering from a severe cold and his condition had badly deteriorated during the day. We found a hotel and after a nice cup of beef tea Feico went to bed. Unfortunately, it was Saturday night and the loud noise of the disco kept us awake till the early morning.

Sunday 25 April: Bad luck

Despite the mishaps we mounted our bikes in good spirit on Sunday morning; the weather was fine, there was little wind but the pace was slow, too slow. Just three kilometres before we would get to the planned campsite there were roadworks and the road marks were lacking. A moment of inattention and then with an elegant sweep of his body Feico fell on the tarmac. He had a couple of grazes but also a deep wound in his thigh where the handle of the brake had pierced a hole. He had to go to the emergency ward of the local hospital where the wound was stitched up. Cycling was no longer an option for him.

Monday 26 April

Feico’s wife, Marlies, came to fetch him and his bike. Gert, Juun and Jan Willem continued their trip to Paderborn.

Tuesday 27 April

The three men arrived in Hofgeismar. Back in the Netherlands, Feico went to see his family doctor, who told him to take a good rest. The bicycle repairman did a thorough job on his bike and then Feico decided to take his bike on the train to Regensburg and join the other three men later on.

Friday 30 April

Koninginnedag (Queen’s birthday), 30 April is a public holiday in the Netherlands. During the celebrations, as reference to the colours of the House of Orange-Nassau, people dress in the colour orange. Of course the bikers from the Netherlands could not resist the urge to decorate their bikes with orange balloons that day.

Saturday 1 May

Labour Day is a national holiday in Germany but it is also the day that Maypoles (Maibaum) are being erected. We saw very few maypoles but we did see many young people lugging about crates of beer. There was a soft, warm rain while cycling to Bayreuth where we stayed in a very quiet youth hostel. The next day, Sunday 2 May, was our rest day. Of course, we were looking forward to meeting Feiko again, who was said to be somewhere south of Bayreuth.

Wednesday 5 May Passau

After an exciting piano concert for 6 to 8 hands (!) and a wonderful Korean quartet in Bayreuth on Sunday night 2 May, it was time to mount our bikes again and we arrived in Passau on 5 May. We cycled along the Haidenaab route in the drizzling rain and saw three cranes on the way to Pfreimd, where we were to meet our friend Feiko. The reunion with Feiko was a memorable event, unfortunately he was not allowed to ride his bike yet. The stitches were to be removed on Wednesday and so he took the train to Passau. We continued our trip to Schwandorf and the next day (rain again) to Regensburg and then on to Straubing. That last leg of the trip was boring and we had the wind against us, but it did not rain.
We are cycling more than 100 kilometres a day and have developed a kind of routine: we wake up at 7.15 a.m., leave at 9.00 a.m. cycle 35 to 40 kilometres before we have our first coffee break, lunch with cup-a-soup and after 70 or 80 kilometres we have our tea break and arrive at the camp site between 6.00 and 7.00 p.m., we then take a shower and have dinner in a local pub . There are hardly any internet cafés so we cannot update the log. So far we have covered 1,200 kilometres.
That night Feiko was waiting for us in Passau, the stitches had been removed and he was eager to join us again on his bike. The wind turned after Passau and with a light tail wind Feiko was doing well. The first stretch of the cycling path along the Danube was very pretty and the river meandered between the lush green mountains. Every now and then we were passing through small villages. From Germany we crossed into Austria, where the cycling paths were flat along the Danube. Juun was the first on this trip to have a flat tyre but nevertheless we did 128 kilometres and arrived in the village of Au past Mauthausen. Feiko did very well. And the following day he managed the climbs pretty well too. Tail wind and reasonable weather, despite the poor forecasts. A spoke broke in Feiko’s wheel but the Austrian cycle repairer did a good job. We stopped in Krems and the next day got to Vienna The clock showed 1,600 kilometres.
To Budapest
From Vienna we continued our trip to Bratislava, cycling along the north bank of the Danube. These were straight stretches through alluvial forests where the Danube used to meander before it was canalised. That day we crossed the border between Austria and Slovakia. It was not easy to find a road suitable for cyclists but in the end we arrived at the Hungarian town of Donaukiliti where we met Tomas Kusik of the organisation for nature conservation in Slovakia, BROZ. We discussed with him our visit to Velký Lél,- our first sponsoring project - situated further down the river Danube. The plans for our excursion to Velký Lél seemed a little vague still but we had a roof over our heads. We slept in the place that will be the new information centre and in the evening we went to the local restaurant where we had the opportunity to try Hungarian food, to learn something about local politics and the differences between the Hungarians and the Slovaks, and sampled the atmosphere of life in a small village. But first and foremost we felt the impact that the past century had had on the population here. From Velký Lél, we cycled via Esztergom to Budapest where we would meet our partners and enjoy a good rest.
Velký Lél
It was a glorious day when, accompanied by five people of BROZ, we arrived on the island of Velký Lél. The key focus of this small regional Slovakian organisation for nature conservation is to restore nature in the Danube area. Many of the projects are subsidised with EU funds. The regeneration of Velký Lél consists of restoring the alluvial forest and removing American poplars and other non-endemic species, pollard willows are topped, cattle grazes the grassy fields and an attempt is made to involve the local farmers in the projects. This is not an easy task as cattle breeding had almost disappeared during the communist regime. The river banks are being restored to create breeding space for sand martins. Plans are underway to remove the dam that connects the island to the mainland to enhance the river dynamics. BROZ is faced with an enormous task, but it is full of ambition and enthusiasm. We were happy to hand over an initial cheque of 1,500 euros. BROZ will use the donation to purchase land to strengthen its position on the island. The purchasing of land is a very complicated procedure but in the end it the money will be well spent.

Satuday 15 May Budapest

We ended our last day in Budapest with a festive dinner to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of Mieke and Gert who both looked radiant. Rain again. This does not look very promising.

Sunday 16 May departure

We said goodbye to our beloved partners in Hotel New York known for its superb coffee and cakes. Rain and wind. Luckily mostly tail wind. That day we rode 50 kilometres and stayed the night at the edge of the Kiskunsag national park.

Monday 17 May

Juun had his birthday. We began the day by singing for him. Via Kecskemét we cycled to Kiskunsag national park. Hundreds of beehives put a spell on Jan Willem, while Juun discovered a swarm of bee eaters and Gert spotted a hoopoe. It was very cold and windy but it did not rain.

Tuesday 18 May

Today it was Jan Willem’s birthday and of course we sang for him too. Jan Willem received lots of encouraging text messages from Holland. That day we only cycled 40 kilometres to Bugac with a strong tail wind and a light drizzle. We pitched our tents in the national park went for a walk on the pusta. Tomorrow we are heading for Serbia.

Wednesday 19 May

We cycled from Bugac situated in the Hungarian National Park of Kiskunsag in southern direction towards Serbia. We saw redshanks, black-tailed godwits and lapwings in the wetlands. We passed through Szeged, a pretty town, in southern Hungary where we enjoyed taking a walk at the bustling wine market in Szeged. The town is full of houses and buildings from the art nouveau epoch and we decided to stay the night here. After exploring the architectonic highlights we had dinner at the wine market and of course took the opportunity to taste the wine.

Thursday 20 May

We continued our trip to Serbia, or rather; we thought we did. When we got to the border we were refused entry into the country. The problem was that this particular border crossing was only open to Serbian and Hungarian passport holders and at least three customs officers were trying to deal with our problem. This led of course to lengthy discussions with the Serbian border patrols. But they receive their orders from Belgrade and the oldest guy was definitely trained by Tito himself. We were not allowed to cross the border. We don’t want Serbia to enter the EU! So we cycled back to Szeged and tried to get to another larger border crossing point which could only be reached via the motorway. But that is no problem for us anymore, we cycled to the other crossing point along the hard shoulder. Within 15 minutes we had entered Serbia, without a problem. But how to get off this motorway?. Should we just get off at the first exit? But that was still a long way away. Apparently there is only motorised traffic between Hungary and Serbia. Eventually we hit the right route and arrived in Novi Becej. We clocked 150 kilometres that day.

Friday 21 May Visiting Slano Kopova

We were picked up by the manager of Slano Kopova at 8.30 a.m.. A kind of press conference had been organised at the Hunting Club and we were addressed in Serbian followed by a short translation in English. There was a photo shoot when the cheque was presented, followed by a toast to the future of Slano Kopova. After that we visited the park by car. The water level of the central lake was much higher than usual due to the heavy rainfall during the past few days. We could still see some salt-water plants such as alkali grass and asters, but most of the vegetation was below water level. It struck us that there were very few birds just a few avocets and a brown marsh harrier far away in the distance. In recent days a new canal had been dug to supply fresh water to the freshwater area. Our guide, Lorand, who works for the nature conservation department of the province, was pleased with this development. We saw herds of cows and sheep accompanied by a shepherd and his dog., a familiar picture in Eastern Europe. We walked on to a lodge that was still under construction. It will be the visitors centre, but it is in the middle of nowhere and you need a licence to visit. One of the rangers was sleeping there after he had accompanied a hunting party early that morning. About the future of this project one can only hope for the best. Our feelings were ambivalent. On the one hand you should trust the owner - the local hunting club, but they are hunters. On the other hand, the area with its salt-water vegetation is quite unique. Lorand seemed very competent and the project is being monitored by Euronatur – a German nature conservation organisation – that is known to be rather critical.

Saturday 22 May Novi Becej

We left Novi Becej at 9.00 a.m. after a delicious and nourishing breakfast with lots of fried eggs served by the jolly waitress Zoriza of Hotel Novi Becej. Our friend, hunter and artist Josimovic accompanied us during the first five kilometres of that day. He told us that his racing bike had belonged to Eddy Merckx when he was young. The five of us left Novi Becej under the admiring gaze of the local population. After having said goodbye to Josimovic we continued our trip through a seemingly endless space that was not always very interesting. Lots of fields with potatoes and cabbages etc. A rusty petro-chemical complex and large silos as well as factories in the far distance. In a village we passed an intensely sad-looking farmhouse swamped by water where the farm dwellers were sorting out meat. Is this Serbia? Yes it is but there is also another Serbia where people are friendly and interested in what is going on in the world and who like to talk about Europe which they may not yet join. And many places of outstanding natural beauty. The hills close to Alibunar, for example, with vistas of the Carpathians, farther away in Romania. Excellent countryside for bird watchers. We saw lots of bee eaters and even a beautiful lesser spotted eagle. There was supposed to be a camp site in Aliburna but after asking around it turned out that it had closed down years ago. Then Radovan appeared and invited us to pitch our tents in his garden where we had to taste his home made brandy. For breakfast too we were served home made brandy which JW loved, even at this early hour.

Sunday 23 May Alibunar

First Feiko’s broken spoke was replaced supervised by Radovan, then we had a huge breakfast and after that we packed the tents. We said goodbye to this hospitable couple and their son and cycled to the ferry across the Danube. The ferry took us to Ram with ruins of buildings dating back to the Ottoman empire. At three o’clock it looked as if it was going to rain and we started looking for a camp site which here too seemed to have disappeared. So we decided to cycle on for another 20 kilometres. That is no punishment because the Danube is wonderful here and we spotted a couple of pygmy cormorants. By the time we arrived in Golubac it started raining seriously. Here no private garden but a private apartment belonging to a KGB-like individual who wanted our passports which, he told us, had to be shown to the police.

Monday 24 May Golubac

Hurray, we got our passports back and with the sun out we continued our journey. It was a lovely trip along the Danube, with magnificent medieval forts but also dozens of unlit tunnels. Feiko’s spoke broke again. Fifteen minutes later the broken spoke was fixed but it was evident that we needed a professional cycle repairer. A very long and steep climb and a speedy descent took us to Donji Milanova, a small attractive bathing resort with a bicycle repair shop. So we decided to stay the night here. We found a room with a view of the Danube for 15 euro per person. Our colleagues of the large National Park Djerdap that comprises 68,000 hectares gave us a very warm welcome in their new visitors centre where our hosts informed us extensively about how a National Park in Serbia is managed. In the boardroom, sitting in big leather chairs, we felt all of a sudden a bit at home.

Thursday 27 May Romania

In Hotal Corabia we had our first shower since we arrived in Romania three days ago. For two days we camped wild surrounded by huge barking dogs and clouds of mosquitoes. It was hot but the villages and agricultural traditions, long gone in our part of the world, made up for it. We swished past the villages cheered on by the enthusiastic population. In a few days we would reach Bulgaria that we had seen in the distance for the past few days.

Friday 28 May

The annual dinner and the graduation party of the local high school were held in the court of our hotel and the loud speakers were set up in such a way that we could fully enjoy the disco tunes. But we survived this. The next morning Feiko had trouble with his spokes again. A poultry farmer gave him, his bike and luggage a lift to Turnu Magurele and dropped him at the cycle repair shop. It took the repairer ten minutes to replace the broken spokes and then an hour and half to completely overhaul Feiko's bike. And then he did not want to be paid for this great job. Who said that Romanians are not friendly. We know better. We were cheered on in a every village we passed and children gave us the high five. It sometimes seemed like a victory ride. We got to Zimnicea, and the following day we headed for Gheorgiu and Ruse. We are coming closer to our final destination and we contacted our Bulgarian hosts. We hope that the amount of the cheque we will present will become higher.

Tuesday 1 June halfway score of sponsor gifts

Up to 1 June gifts and pledges have amounted to more than 3,500 euros, the management of nature conservation organisation, Natuurmonumenten, has pledged 1 euro per kilometre to support our colleagues in Slovakia, Serbia and Bulgaria. We now have raised some 7,000 euros. Great!

The latest news Tuesday 1 June

Unfortunately, Gert had to give up just after crossing the Bulgarian border with almost 3,500 kilometres on the clock. Something seemed to be wrong with Gert’s left eye just before crossing the border of Bulgaria. He went to see an eye doctor in Ruse, the first Bulgarian town, after we had crossed the Romanian-Bulgarian border. Gert was diagnosed with retinal detachment and the doctor felt it was necessary for Gert to go to the academic hospital in Sofia as soon as possible. Gert was shocked but also disappointed and so were his family and of course we, his team members. We decided to rent a car to take Gert to Sofia as quickly as possible. After a preliminary examination Gert was allowed to join us at the hostel very close to the hospital. The next day the three of us drove back to Ruse to pick up our bikes. Gert would undergo a number of examinations before he would be operated on Wednesday. With the team of experts at the hospital we know that Gert is good hands.

2 June 2010, message from Gert

I have been operated. Operation went well. The doctor will come tomorrow to remove the bandages. Depending on what the doctor will say I expect to go back to Ruse tomorrow or the day after. That's all. Gert.

2 June 2010

Juun, Jan Willem and Feiko cycled from Ruse to Ragrad. After we had said goodbye to the wonderful owners of Hotel Odyssee in Ruse we had to tackle the hills. But it was not so bad after all. We stopped at a small cafe for coffee and Feiko tried to tell the barman and a couple of customers we were Dutch and had come to Bulgaria by bike. Explaining this was not easy but in the end the barman scribbled on a note 1971-1972. It turned out that he had played against Ajax in that year. Our conversation was limited to calling out the names of famous Ajax football players. We had fun, there was an atmosphere of friendliness and there was lots of laughter. We were offered alcoholic drinks but refused politely as we still had to cycle a long way. Being a former sportsman he appreciated this and gave us lemonade. We were waved goodbye in high spirits. We spent the night in Ragrad where we met two Dutch guys who sold slaughter machines in Bulgaria. They gave us some more insight information about Bulgaria and its people. They were very positive about the hard-working Bulgarians.

Friday 4 June

The operation on Gert's eye seemed to have been successful. Meanwhile he has returned to Ruse where he will stay for a couple of days to recover and from there he will try and send his bike back to the Netherlands. Then he will travel to Elhovo where he will join the other three men who hope to arrive there the following day. Today we cycled 130 kilometres and it was a wonderful trip with two mountain passes. This morning, when we left Preslav, we were accompanied by the police. They do look well after their guests, don't they!

Sunday 6 June: Elhovo!!!

We have cycled now more than 3,500 kilometres and we reached the village of Elhovo, situated on the edge of the Sakar mountains or rather the hills ( the highest point is 600 metres). This afternoon we will meet Gradimir (Gradi) Gradev, the conservation officer of the Green Balkans, the federation of nature conservation NGOs in Bulgaria and Gert, who will be picked up by Gradi at the station in Jambol. Yesterday the trip was very relaxed. After we had left Jambol we cycled the first 40 kilometres through low hills with small streams and in the distance we could see the Sakar hills. Just as in Romania, there were large holes in the roads, sometimes 20 centimetres deep, making it dangerous to look around. At a certain point the asphalt had gone completely because this road will be surfaced and the project will be paid for by the EU. Wouldn't that be nice for those who want to go by bike and watch the imperial eagle there next year.... When we stopped for lunch at a small lake we saw black-winged stilts and dozens of storks that were looking for nice titbits. We really enjoyed the scenic landscape some 15 kilometres before Elhovo, gently sloping hills with open spaces full of flowers alternated with wooded hills. Hop plants, bee-eaters, red-backed shrikes, lots of skylarks and birds of prey including the lesser spotted eagle. In Elhovo we will be staying in Hotel Diana for a couple of nights and here we will celebrate Feiko's 63rd birthday. In the morning we sang for him while enjoying coffee and cakes. We also visited the Russian Orthodox church where a service was being held. In the church with walls covered with icons worshippers kept walking in and out lit candles, crossed themselves and left again. The service just went on while someone was reading from what we thought was the holy script. Next time more about our plans for the coming weeks.

Monday 6 June

Juun sent a text message with the magic word: they had spotted the imperial eagle. That was their goal, that's why they had cycled 3,500 kilometres and endured hardship. Please look at the wonderful pictures on Picasa.