Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
This entry came into life with real difficulties. The main reason is probably that we spent only a short time in this country. In the other hand, we didn’t have the chance to meet too many people either. Our acquaintances, who put us up were busy with working, so we didn’t have time to talk. Let’s see, how we felt in Bulgaria.
Entering to the country, compared to Serbia ґwe didn’t see any differences when it comes to clarity. Maybe a little bit cleaner, but I wouldn’t swear on it. You can find plenty of garbage by the road on both sides. We firstly thought that we’re going to have to deal with abandoned dogs, but the county developed in this aspect (I spent the autumn semester of 2005 in Sophia with Erasmus exchange program, so I had the base for comparison)
Some of roads are in terrible conditions. The highroad 8 between Sophia and Plovdiv is impassable, we struggled with it even though, we travelled by bikes. The motorway otherwise seemed ok, at least on that 40 kilometers way we took (but don’t tell it anyone).
The driving style of Bulgarians-which is hard to define-but let’s say, they prefer driving fast, confident and sporty to driving slowly and thoughtful. If we don’t want to be sophisticated, then we could say that they drive like brutes. The preferred situations for overtake took place in bends, at the double white line, on slopes upwards and overtaking the other who’s going right on in the band, turning to the left and so on. The best scenario ever is the one, when a on 2 banded road it was the 4 of us next to each other. So I was overtaken by a car, then that one was overtaken by a more determined one and there was another car as well, coming regularly from the opposite direction. The road was quite broad, but still…The cars represent the current social state of Bulgaria, the middle class is really small. 60% of the cars worth a lot, 30% counts as the cars in bad conditions, imported from the west and the other 10% for the average. We somehow suspect that the mentioned Bulgarian driving style has something to do with the high number of crashed luxurious cars by roads or in used-car dealerships (you can never know what pleases to the buyer). The usage of traffic circles is common, but people don’t understand what is good for exactly and how do they supposed to drive in and out of it.
Shopping, prices, dishes
Bulgaria is noticeably, around 30% cheaper than Hungary. You can anything in shops, there’s a huge variety of local and imported goods as well. Beers are delicious (alcohol is basically cheaper), they’re getting better in vines, cheeses are good and ayran can be bought everywhere (a very weak yogurt drink). You must try “bánica” (pastry, resembles to strudel with filling inside) with “szirene” (white cheese), apple, spinach. A huge slice costs 1 leva (around 150 Hungarian forints). “Bánica” shops can be found on each corner of the streets. One night we went to a restaurant. Bulgarian cuisine is amazing, dishes are very delicious and creative. They use a lot of vegetables, meats are well prepared, mainly on the grill. If you order salad, don’t be surprised if you get a huge stack of it. It’s not like in Hungary, that you get 5 slices of tomato floating in the dressing. They start at 300-400 grams, but you can find even 800 grams on the menu on a very reasonable price. Eating in an authentic restaurant in Sophia is obviously not the cheapest option, but you can see the waiters dancing roundelay with the guests, with the help of the official entertainment employees. We saw it once, which was more than enough.
We already told you, that we lack experiences with the locals (this time), but what else could we do, we have to evaluate like this. I have to tell you, that Bulgarians are not the most polite nation, they’re not attentive and no one should expect being premised in the door. In my view, exemption doesn’t strengthen the rule (I have no idea who invented that one exemption would strengthen a rule, but there’s no point in it), but you can find some of them. They don’t speak English, maybe only youngsters in bigger cities.
Cities, nature, architecture
Sophia is located in a beautiful place, right next to Vitosha-mountains. It has some very pretty buildings and places to visit, but altogether the city is not beautiful. Most of the smaller cities are really socialists, grey and depressing. The villages next to roads looked the same. Same houses without plaster-work on the walls, or only on some parts of the walls for example: only the balcony (probably the main reason is the lack of money). The balcony is usually situated on the floor or on the ground floor, the houses are cubical in most cases. Plovdiv is a wonderful city, I mean its Old Town. So don’t miss it if you’re in Bulgaria. We haven’t been to the sea-coast, but we know that great places are situated there as well and the lovers of mountains can find suitable destinations for their passions. Bulgarians love putting old, useless jet-fighters on the top of columns, god knows why…
Bulgaria is an exciting country, with plenty of surprises and novelties. Do not expect for long sightseeing tours, except Plovdiv and maybe Veliko Tyrnovo and Nessebar. There’s nothing special about sea-coast, the mountains are romantic, suitable for days or weeks long hikes. Those who are interested in monasteries won’t be disappointed either. Going on bike trips is not the best idea, due to the previously mentioned Bulgarian driving style, but don’t panic, the situation is not life-threatening yet.
If you’re in Bulgaria, do not miss:
- Rila Monastery
- Try Bulgarian cuisine
- The church of Sveta Nedelja and the cathedral of Alekszander Nevszkij in Sophia
- post-communist something on the top of the Buzludzha-mountain
The knowledge of Cyrillic alphabet is highly recommended, but there’s no need for anti-rabic injections (abandoned dogs) for a holiday at Golden Sands.
Translated by: Marci Bekker
During our stay in Sofia the weather wasn’t very much in our favor. Even though there didn’t seem to be any improvement in the weather conditions despite the sunny forecast, we set out. Someplace up above, the sun must have surely shined, but we neither saw nor felt any of that. Instead, we were accompanied by a light snowfall on our way out from the Bulgarian capital.
We were heading towards Plovdiv and the first part of the way proved quite arduous. There was a lot to climb, but the traffic was low. We were yet to learn why everyone else chose the highway running parallel to our road. We took road number 8, which, from a settlement called Vakarel continued on in a catastrophic state. If I ever wanted to direct a movie about the apocalyptic landscape in the aftermath of an imagined World War III, I’d definitely use this road in it. Huge pits filled with water, cracked and rutted asphalt with depressions all over it, tree trunks sprawling across the road and beginning to be grown over with weed. Having arrived in Ihtiman, we played it safe by darting to the churchyard. They let us spend the night there – there was running water as well as a toilet. The latter was of the earth closet type, but wild camping doesn’t offer more comfortable opportunities either, so we have no reason to complain. We had a rather cold night, but our sleeping bags kept us warm. In the morning people started stirring about the church without paying us much attention. At the boundaries of Ihtiman a lamentable image awaited us. Scrawny horses grazing among plastic bags whipped around by the wind. Garbage. Everywhere. Again.
That day, to our great joy, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds once in a while, but spring was still a day away. We spent the entire day descending on the slopes of the Rila mountain range, which day, as regards the amount we pedaled, has remained Eni’s favorite ever since then. The scenery was spell-binding, with some peaks still covered in snow, the highest of them invisible from the clouds hanging above. We left Rila behind. The Rhodope mountain to the right (south of us) and the StaraPlanina mountain to the left (north of us) started growing high on the horizon. The two of them kept us company even two days after we set forth from Plovdiv.
With its 112 km, this was the longest ride so far. We loafed around Plovdiv for a while because our GPS went out of whack and led us in circles. Eventually we did find the hostel we were looking for, but we paid a high price for it as we had to jerk wheel our bikes up a steep, cobblestoned streets (with enormous, abyss-like pits in between). The little place called Hikers Hostel was very cozy – the owner received us warmly. Cleanliness and calm held sway over the place. Apart from us there were three Finnish and an English biker lodged there. We drank a welcome drink of rakia with the owner guy and headed to the town to forage out some dinner. The English bloke, Stewart, joined us and we found the occasion to share our biking experiences with one another. We admired Plovdiv being lit up at night; the old part of town is simply beautiful. If you are ever in Bulgaria, don’t miss out on it!
The next morning we squeezed in a little bit of sight-seeing before continuing on. We woke up to a genuine spring day, the coats were off at last. Plovdid is a treasure chest inside Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the majority of Bulgarian cities isn’t remotely as beautiful. They are shabby and reek of socialist architecture; not even Sofia cuts it, but Plovdiv truly is a relief. Having been inhabited for over five millenia, it’s not only Bulgaria’s oldest, but one of Europe most ancient settlements. We didn’t manage to leave the town until somewhat late into the afternoon on account of the stroll in the city, but we didn’t mind, it was nice to skip and bounce in the sun a little. After around 60 km we started keeping an eye out for some sort of accommodation, because the sun was about to set. Here, we are an hour ahead, and it stays bright until almost 8 o'clock. We first aimed for a little clearing behind a restaurant in a small village (Byala Reka), but the main road was rather loud and I had the feeling that we'd better move on. Eni didn't mind, that's how it is. If either of us has a sinister feeling about a place, we preferably just don't stay there. Around 2 km after leaving the village, we spotted a house roughly 500-800m off the road in the woods. We thought it'd be some sort of a ranch, they wouldn't mind if we pitched a tent, there's room galore. Afraid of dogs and leaving our bikes behind, we approached the house tentatively, each of us bearing a stick in our hands, which was still somewhat hidden by the trees. Dogs were nowhere to be found. We edged closer and noticed what it we’d spotted really was. A little church stood there with a small yard circumfenced by stones. On the verandah of the church a table with chairs. Budding trees, blossoming flowers, the chirping of birds. Not a sole around. By this time we knew it was worth leaving the roadside. It felt as if we'd cycled into the Garden of Eden. And there, we had every right to feel that. It was a magnificent place in the setting sun, emenating nothing else just calmness. We dined and tucked ourselves away to sleep. We were woken up by the shining sun and the songs of birds the next morning. We agreed that this must have been our top wild camping spot since we started the trip.
After spending half the day with sightseeing in Plovdiv, we couldn’t cover as much as we’d planned to. We had a room booked in Edirne, Turkey, but that seemed too far away for a day, especially given the elevation for that stretch. We pedal on as we can and we’ll see how it works out, just as we’ve always done – we thought. It was our first T-shirts and shorts day. We stopped in a small village to ask around for a grocery store. As we were receiving our itinerary, an old lady ran towards us clinging onto something in her hands. It was an Easter egg and some pastry with and a ‘happy holidays.’ We found the store, bought ham, bread and vegetables to the boiled egg and made an Easter feast of our breakfast with a week of delay, according to Bulgarian traditions (here, it gets celebrates a week later). We took out time with lunch, chatting over it, drinking coffee and eating the Easter pastry to it, enjoying the sun.
We were in the saddle all throughout the afternoon and got in the close vicinity of the border. Despite the fatigue, we thought it would worth a try getting to Edirne, since camping in the wild 20-25 km away from our accommodation wouldn’t make much sense, and in any case, it’s never advised in border regions. Before crossing the border, we drained out last levs into buying chocolate and a glass of water. We ran into a few Hungarian truck drivers, too. It was a peculiarly uplifting feeling to meet people from home. Thankfully, we were through with the border crossing pretty quickly. The Turkish border lady was a little perplexed for a few seconds as to which way New Zealand actually was, but we told her not to worry, from this point, we could really just go either way. We were a little afraid of the luggage inspection, because if they’d wanted to rummage through our bags, cramming our load back in would have taken a lot of time, but the guy thought a glimpse into our front bags would suffice and he let us go with a “Thank you, good bye!” The sun was going down over the horizon and it painted the roof of a mosque orange in front of us: we’ve arrived in Turkey.
We weren’t left alone on the other side either, as a trucks lined the road around 6-8 km long. I wonder how much time it took those poor guys to get across. A big racket, bustle and flickering lights welcomed us in Edirne. We were expecting to see a smaller town; instead, we found ourselves in a city with a population of 150 000. There were so many things around us, we didn’t know which way to look. We’d almost found the address we needed to go to, but the street just wouldn’t be discovered. A local guy the same age as us called Umut (meaning hope) came to our rescue and rode ahead on his motorcycle as our reconnaissance officer. And sure enough, we were fiddling around in the right place. He called our host on the phone and waited with us until they came to fetch us. Since he could speak some English, we started chatting about all worldly things in the meantime. Osman, the brother of our host came to get us and led us to the apartment. He was in his 60s, a kind man with no knowledge of English. As we spoke no Turkish, we could only communicate with our hands and legs flailing in the air, but we got by, somehow. (Before going on a world tour, it actually pays to practice on Activity, a lot!) He showed us the bathroom and our quarter and made us tea, true to Turkish traditions. We set up a new record this day cycling 133.5 km and climbing around 750m. After the usual pre-sleep activities (showering and brushing our teeth), we dozed off.
We were startled out of our dreams at dawn by the voice of the muezzin, which gave us a kick, but after realizing we are in Turkey and that there’s no problem at all, we snoozed back for a little more.
Transalted by: Marian Kiszely
On the 4th of April, we arrived to our host in Sofia, who is Pavel, the acquaintance of Balázs.
We were standing in front of an old ten-floor flat, and I was pretty nervous for a moment when Pavko came; he was smiling and he told us that he was living on the 10th floor. We were so tired at that time that we started to think about how to carry all our stuff up there. But of course there was an elevator, we only had to carry the bicycles during a couple of meters.
Pavko lives with two other friends, the other Pavel and Ivan. They are all around 25-28, after university they all got a job in Sofia, so they stayed there. But somehow they would not really like to go back to the campaign, now they earn money and they build their careers with greater and smaller vehemence. This was an interesting parallel with the situation at home.
We had great conversations, mainly in English, although I asked Balázs several times to speak Bulgarian, but he said that he had already forgotten a lot...
With his Bulgarian knowledge we still suceeded when we talked to the market-women of the Zenski bazar, in the bicycle shop where we were looking for a screw for out kickstand and in the domestic shop where we were looking for a special stain remover...
In Sofia we tasted the genuine banica, we tried the one with spinach taste, the one with cheese and with apple taste as well. The first night we painted the town red: we went to a Bulgarian restaurant that is next to Studenski Grad with Pavkov and his girlfriend, Elena. We had Shopska salad, pie with garlic and we tried the satch. This is a typical Bulgarian meal, they roast the meat and the vegetables in a vessel that is made especially for this purpose. They season it and they served quite a big portion!
Unfortunately the weather was not nice, just like in Belgrade. It was snowing every morning, the snow did not remain, during the day the air got a bit warmer. Because of this, after the snowfall in the morning we had rain the afternoon.
We only had time for a fast sightseeing, but Balázs was nostalgic about the semester he had spent here, he told me about the town and about the markets. Of course we visited the Alexander Nevski catherdral, the Sveta Sofia and Sveta Nedelja ortodox churches, the Serdinka square and the statue Sofia. We spent some time in the Zenski basar (this means women's market: formerly women were selling their goods here), Balázs was interpreting and he talked very skilfully with the market-women.
One evening we prepared a Hungarian dinner for the boys, Plamy, the acquaintance of Balázs joined us as well. We had the following drinks: the Serbian plum rakija that we got from Slobodan, the Bulgarian grape rakija of Ivan's father and a small bottle of Unicum as well. ( one of the boys has been to Budapest a few months ago, and he bought one bottle as a souvenir)
We talked a lot and had a great evening!
We left Sofia on the 8th of April. In the morning we had some small issues when we tried to repair the bicycles, so Balázs and Ivan went to a bicycle shop. In the meantime I prepared our luggage. We halfly managed to solve the bicycle issue ( the boys could not find the right quick release that we needed) We hope that we can find the right parts and service in Edirne...
Translated by: Gréta kojsza
The Danube’s Iron Gates start off at Golubac. The river flows through a deep ravine here, bordered by huge, rocky mountains on both sides. The view is breathtaking. It’s hard to tell, you really have to see it! As there are no villages until Donji Milanovac and you don’t care about surfaced roads, you can easily have the feeling that you travelled back in time. The nature clearly makes it job, wherever you look. The flow got its way through the valley…I can almost see it. Amazing! Who wants to know more about the ravine, you can read more about it here it is very interesting. As we were drifting down the road, the valley got tighter and the rocks started to grow above our heads. In some places, hundred meters high rocks towered us. Tunnels came, the shortest was 40 meters long, while the longest is around 260 meters. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic, but seeing trucks rushing across still made our legs pedal faster in the tunnels.
Slobodan suggested us to visit the museum of Lepenski Vir. This unique quarry, which covered 2000 years of Mesolithic and Neolithic culture of Europe has been discovered in the ‘60s right next to the river by the archeologists of Belgrad University. We watched a short movie about the excavation, checked the vitrines and finally observed the posture of the huts in a hall made of glass. Quite interesting that people paid so much attention on the function even in 8000 B.C. The houses looked towards the river, the fireplace can be found not far from the door, which possibly kept animals apart from people sleeping inside the hut.
Interesting comparison. People lived outdoors, while we are both liable to the adversity of the weather, staying outdoors all day long, only huddle up in the tent for the night.
We were heading to the direction of Donji Milanovac, climbed a challenging slope then got a nice downhill on the other side. We soon arrived to a small city, which didn’t have too much to offer, but at least we had something to eat. We outstripped the Danube and its wonderful valley and headed to the mountains. We slept on a field in the company of a straw bale. We can actually use the gasoline cooker correctly for now, making mash works out wonderfully. We’ve still got some work to do with the parking time, but in such a cold weather everything takes longer. That’s our only excuse. The valleys, where we were cycling upwards were filled with the scent of charcoal-burners. The sun seemed to be in a good mood sometimes and indicated its presence, we only had to be patient. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling good. Because of the cold I was feeling smart pain in my breast, but I really couldn’t pay attention to that, as we were struggling with the differences of height (don’t worry, I’m feeling much better now). After reaching the top, we started to delve and it was raining cats and dogs. We stopped in a small village for a coffee and chocolate break. We kind of deserved this extra.
The first night spent in a hotel passed. Our warmshower host forgot to check his massages, though we wrote him that we’re going to be one day late. As we couldn’t spend the night at his place, we were sleeping on a gas station close to Zajecar. After a little bit of swimming around, we got a suggestion to sleep in a small hotel, which got the prestigious name of Hotel Konj (Horse Hotel) and was situated in a hidden alley. 3 older men, in the middle of drinking pálinka (called rakia here) greeted us in the absolutely empty hotel (at least it seemed to be empty). Besides its name, it has got the sign of a cut horse head. After all of it, we’ve got the Godfather feeling. The room was partially clean and quite cold, but the bed was quite comfortable and they had hot water. That’s enough for us, it will get worse anyway.
We battled the mountains again the following day. We had wild camping on a very dirty river-bank and got through a new height in the random mixture of snow and dashing sun. We visited a small church of the 15th century. A nun was hoovering the floor…such a bizarre scene. There’s a monastery not far from the church where 10 nuns live. It doesn’t look like a real monastery, it better resemble an apartment at Lake Balaton. We arrived to Pirot totally exhausted, but gained some energy with a strong coffee at a gas station as usual, while we had the possibility to use WIFI. We asked the nice lady working at the gas station if there’s any camping nearby. Well, when we ask such a thing we always wait for the answer: “Ahw you really shouldn’t go to a camping, you can sleep here or there.” We obviously don’t expect the person to invite us in his/her own garden, but to suggest us a good place for wild camping.
The woman told us that there was a small town 12 kilometers away in the direction of Dimitrovgad (where we’re heading as well), though it’s a few kilometers away from the main road. There’s a monastery in the border of the town, where we can have a camping for sure. We got ready and after informing the family, that we’re ok we set off to Suhovo. We arrived to the monastery before sunset and a woman came out as we were waving keenly. We told them that we would like to set up our tent in their garden if it’s ok for them. She had to find the abbot first, but he disappeared. So they invited us in and offered some tea and coffee, which we accepted of course. Finally, the abbot showed up and they offered us a room, as it was too cold to sleep outside and they were absolutely right about it. We didn’t expect them to act like this, but we accepted the gesture with pleasure. It wasn’t a problem that we had to sleep in separate rooms with Eni. As they were fasting, we were asked not to eat meat or dairy products. We didn’t have too much left in our pocket, but they insisted on dining us. We had a very delicious vegan dinner, which consisted of vegetable soup, boiled potatoes, tomato-onion sauce, pickle and cookies with jam. As beverage, we had a small glass of liquor of herbs and nuts.
After that, we went to our rooms. Eni didn’t sleep alone, she got the company of 3 older, Serbian women as roommates (who work in the monastery).We managed to communicate with them, with the help of Serbian-English activity mixture. I was all alone, only a guy arrived in the middle of the night to sleep on one of the other beds. In the morning we couldn’t wait to see each other and give a kiss on the corridor.
We visited a church in the morning, packed our stuff and thanked for the warm hospitality. We got two bottles of home-made drops. One of them is St John’s wort and propolis. They’re going to be pretty useful during the road for sure.
Passing the borderline took half an hour, they didn’t look us through. They only checked the passports. Mountains came, mainly the way upwards. We finally reached the top of Sophia and after that, we were rolling down. We ran into some cyclists in the city, who were the part of a group, which organizes trips each weekend. We talked a bit, told them where we are going to and took a photo as well. At the evening we arrived to our dear, old friend Pavka, who had been already waiting for us. We’ve got 945 kilometers behind us. Sophia seemed to be so far away, but here we are now. Let’s have a rest!