Early days of the cycle back through Europe are unfolding with a meandering route. So far I have meandered south-west for about 400km. The Greek Aegean coast is not a direct route to Norway, but friends are here, and it allows a few days whilst a blast of summer heat cooks the land.
I am staying with Thomas, Stavroula and family from Stonero at Lake Volvi: enjoying fine company, home cooking, and some very fun foil windsurfing.
Whilst on track, the EuroVelo 13 route following the Bulgaria/Greek border has been rather magnificent. Sometimes punishing climbs that are best taken with calm: the highest coll so far a surprising 1690m. A welcome feature of the Bulgarian mountain roads are the regular roadside water fountains. Wild camp locations are easy to find. On a bike the terrain changes quickly: rolling hills become sheer gorges; mountains become plateau; a valley leads to a plane. And the vegetation and land use changes accordingly.
The mountainous parts constitute true wilderness corridors. The closed border to Greece is off limits to civilians, and sufficiently impenetrable to have deterred all development. Wolves and bears inhabit the deeper recesses of the forests. Hares, badgers, fox, deer and pine martin are less shy and occasionally seen from the roadside. These wildlife corridors - accidents of geography and history - help safeguard biodiversity and link populations. Life of all sorts thrives within and also spills out into the wider environment, bringing benefits that are easily overlooked - since they operate through complex webs of interaction - but which have a bottom line of helping to soften the impact of human activity.
[Similar to how Marine Protected Areas - if sufficiently extensive and well enforced - are effective for safeguarding marine biodiversity and fish stocks.]
The towns and villages, and people living within them, give plenty to consider. Some inland communities feel as remote and isolated as islands forgotten from maps. Their inhabitants eek an existence through working the land with the knowledge passed down from previous generations. I wonder what they think of the EU, of equality of opportunity, of people who travel by bike.
For those born into the next town, perhaps there might be an income from tourism. What guff that we make our own luck.
Back to my route. The plan is to roughly follow the EV13 "Iron Curtain" route. A legacy of the Cold War is this wildlife corridor of European Green Belt. I'll continue to dip in and out, and will also mix in some EV11, and go off route sometimes when I get lost or smell chips.