(30) Riding through Bulgaria
We felt sad to be leaving Romania. There were so many places we had missed due to limited time and the onset of winter – although it felt the perfect time to visit with the stunning Autumn colours. It was hard at times with long climbs and cold nights and knowing about the thousands of bears that live in the forests along the roads. However, we felt fortunate to meet such amazing friendly people who live on so little in a country where food is expensive and many live off the forests to subsidize a simple way of life. We would urge anyone to visit this gem of a country – you won’t be disappointed.
Thursday 18th October
We woke up to hear dogs walking around the tent – we think our left over pasta must have attracted them. Sharon popped her head out of the tent to see a dog wagging its tail and smiling which confirmed our suspicions. We got up, had breakfast and before we left, Tim couldn’t resist climbing an old look out tower that was next to where we had pitched our tents. There was a plaque next to it that read ‘1949’ so we assumed it marked the end of the 2nd WW and the tower had been used as a look out.
We rejoined the highway and headed south on good roads. The weather was bright and a perfect temperature for cycling. We felt tired and stopped for a snack after 20 miles at a disused petrol station. As we packed up we spotted 2 cycle tourists. We went over to say hi – Alain and Oscar who were French were cycling from France to China. We chatted for a bit and as we heading the same direction we decided to ride together. It was great to chat with them and it soon transpired that they had wild camped near us the previous night.
We rode on to the next town and shopped for lunch and dinner. They shared the same passion for iced buns as us and a friendship was born. We decided to camp on the beach as they were also heading to the coast. We rode along together chatting about our experiences.
We finally arrived and headed to the beach. It was great to paddle in the Black sea and the coastline looked beautiful. We found a flat grassy spot next to the beach and set up camp. They had a really cool stove that was fueled by wood and it was nice to have an open fire to sit around.
Friday 19th October
We woke up with Tim having not slept well as he kept hearing noises in the night. There were hoof prints in the sand so we can only assume a horse had been wondering around our camp. Sharon had a sea swim at 7.30am and felt much better for it. The water was suprisingly warm – well maybe for us English folk.
We headed off with blue skies and after 18 miles on a hilly road arrived in the city of Varna. We found a large supermarket and Sharon quickly nominated Tim to do the shopping – those places can be a nightmare to find anything! Tim came out a long while later looking flustered and had spent nearly a day’s budget – Sharon looked on in horror as he unpacked loads of tins which she had to carry. We found a piece of grass to relax on and took a long lunch. We headed off after a quick snooze and were suprised to pass a slum at the edge of the town. Kids yelled at us and we rode past waving.
We decided to take a quieter road out of the town which started to climb through the trees. Just as Tim said ‘at least it’s not a long hill’ it started to get steeper. It actually went up for about 3 miles and we were pleased to get to the top.
During our ascent we passed many ‘ladies of the wood’ as we named them. Their outfits seemed to shrink the further along the road we went and the boys seemed to slow their pace…
We headed to the beach once more and found a great small resort. We were keen to camp near the beach rather than on it as when pitching the tent on sand, there is often an increased level of condensation mixed with salt and sand – not a great combination. We spotted some boards pilled up on the beach which was a great solution as we could use them to sleep on under our tarp. As we were about to set up camp we spotted a bar just down the road and decided it was ‘beer time’.
We were soon sitting outside supping beer and found out by chatting to some of the guests that it was a Russian owned resort. We met one guy who was from Azerbaijan but lived in Moscow. He couldn’t speak a word of English but was keen for our skype account so we could chat which we found highly amusing. He was a lovely bloke wearing a stylish shell suit and chatted away to us in Russian. He introduced us to his wife and children who spoke a bit of English. The French guys disappeared and came back with 2 bags containing free hot food. They had asked the restaurant if they had any left overs! It was a result as we could relax knowing we didn’t need to get our stove out. We ate well and during dinner met a Swedish guy who was cycling from Sweden to India. He had met a bear when camping in the Romanian mountains a couple of weeks ago and seemed very calm about it all. Apparently it had circled his tent as he realised he had some tasty sausage in his food bag. The bear left after a short while having not come up to the tent. We wished him a good ‘bear-less’ journey and headed off to our tarp. We climbed into our sleeping bags and felt cosy. Listening to the sea and looking up at the stars was magical.
Saturday 20th October
It was amazing to wake on occasions during the night to follow the constillations around the sky. We woke with a beautiful sun rise and had soaking sleeping bags from the tarp dripping condensation. With the sun coming up it didn’t matter as we could easily dry them. Sharon put the kettle on and started breakfast while Tim went for a swim. We had boiled eggs for breakfast and used the internet connection from the hotel. We finally got going at midday and started off at a good pace as there was a storm chasing us.
We climbed out of the valley and rode along undulating roads in the heat – we could feel the storm brewing. We had good views of the sea along the way and stopped for lunch in a small town. As usual we giggled our way through our lunch break with the French guys .We soon got going though as we had a long climb ahead which we could see on the map. It was a long way up and we stopped briefly about half way for a breather. There were many false summits but when we finally got to the top we were rewarded by an amazing view of Neezbar.
We headed down into the town and with the oncoming storm (and an increasing amount of washing) we decided to look for a hotel to stay. We felt like we were in a movie as we rode around the deserted town. Supermarkets had no food on their shelves, hundreds of hotels were closed and there was no-one on the streets. We finally came to a building that had lights on and a busy reception. Hurray we thought – finally somewhere to stay. Sharon and Oscar went in to enquire how much a room was only to be told it was actually a hospital! Feeling rather foolish they apologised and went to tell a highly amused Tim and Alain. They had clearly missed the people walking around on crutches and in wheel chairs.
It started to rain heavily and we were getting soaked. We perservered and at last found a hotel that was open. The French guys negotiated a great price and we were soon sat in the dry. We were given a bottle of rum by the caretaker who was the only person there except for his girlfriend. The hotel usually slept 200 but we had the place to ourselves! They made us a coffee and we asked if there was somewhere we could cook. They took us through to the hotel kitchen and told us we could help ourselves to the contents of the freezer. They even helped us cook – it was so funny as the caretaker didn’t normally cook and his girlfriend had to take over at one point in fits of giggles.
We had sausage and chips with fried onions – yum. We returned to our table to eat and they brought us a bottle of beer – all on the house. We couldn’t believe it, we had a great evening.
Sunday 21st October
The storm passed through and we were grateful to not to be in our leaky tent. We had charged everything and done some washing so felt a bit more organised. We joined Alain and Oscar for breakfast and chatted about the previous evening. We said our thanks to the caretakers and headed out into a nice sunny but windy day.
We rode to the beach to see if we could ride along it and met a lovely Spanish couple who had cycled from Vietnam. We chatted for a while comparing kit and stories. They were finishing in Sofia, Bulgaria and were sad their trip was ending. We headed off to the old city of Neezbar and pottered around. The cloud was drawing in once more and it started to feel wintery. A chef invited us to eat in his restaurant with a good discount and had lamb stew on the menu. We resisted temptation as it was cheaper for us to cook ourselves but took lots of willpower not to follow the delicious smell.
We rejoined the highway and rode on to Burgas. We stopped off at the airport where they had a display of old planes. It was fun looking around as there were lots of different types. We rode on and found a McDonalds to use the Wifi as we were getting really behind with things (especially the blog!) The connection came and went and at one point we lost quite a lot of work which was really frustrating. We finally gave up and headed out into the dark. We decided to look for another hotel as we really needed Wifi. We asked a lady at a supermarket and she told us about a cheap one nearby but found it difficult to explain the directions. She told us to follow behind her and her husband in their car. We set off and after about 10 minutes we arrived at a hotel. We thanked them and went to speak to reception. It turned out to not be so cheap and so we decided to ride out of town and find somewhere to camp. We normally don’t ride at night but we have good lights and fluorescent jackets so set off heading south. As it was dark, the roads were really quiet.
We eventually came to a side road which we took as it headed towards the beach. After a few hundred metres we spotted a wooded area at the top of a field. It turned out to be a perfect spot apart from the millions of bugs which hopped, crawled and flew around us as we pitched the tent. We finally settled down to sleep just before midnight.
Monday 22nd October
We both slept well but with a late night didn’t wake until 8.30am. With the boys still asleep we had breakfast and packed up which left us some time to go through the photos for the blog.
We headed off around 10.30am and rode to Sozopol where we had a look around the old town. We found Wifi outside a closed shop, made tea and managed to complete the first part of our Romania post. We were there for 2 hours and were suprised how fast the time passed. While we were there we met a Dutch and German couple caled Johan and Baerbel who were also cycle touring. They had started in southern Germany a month previously and were flying from Istanbul to India to continue their journey into Asia. We suggested meeting up in Istanbul for dinner.
It was 3pm so we hit the road – we cycled along the windy coast for an hour or two and decided we would stop early as the boys were keen to light a big fire.
We found a great flat spot just below a number of large unfinished hotel buildings over looking the sea. It was a strange place but had a great sea view. We spent some time exploring and collecting firewood. We put the tent up only to find many of the bugs from the night before had hitched a lift. Tim worked on the bikes while Sharon cooked dinner. We spent the evening chatting over a warm fire and treated ourselves to a hot chocolate -we retired to bed early.
Tuesday 23rd October
We woke feeling really tired as we hadn’t had a proper day off since Sibiu. We packed the bikes and woke the boys and decided to ride on to town without them arranging to meet further along the highway as we needed to buy breakfast. The town had a number of small shops but more importantly had a great bakery and fruit and veg stall where we got supplies. Tim found a honey stall but it wasn’t that nice and we headed on much to the disappointment of the stall holder.
We rejoined the highway and kept a look out for the guys. We rode on and after an hour or so of climbing we stopped for lunch at the side of the road.
We thought the French guys would have caught us up by now and as we headed on we passed a police check point where we left a message for them saying we would wait for them at the Turkish border that was about 20 miles away.
It wasn’t long after this that we spotted movement behind us and were pleased to see Oscar and Alain. We rode on together climbing up and up. We weren’t sure how far the summit was and Sharon was really struggling to keep up. We finally arrived at the border town of Malko Tarnovo. It was a strange town and we were glad we had time to get the other side to camp. We spent the rest of our Bulgarian money on chocolate and beer and headed on up the road.
As it was getting dark we decided to leave the border crossing until the morning so we headed out of town in search of a suitable camp spot. As we climbed we checked out a few areas and finally found a field out of sight of the road 3 miles from the border.
We rode down across the field and set up camp. We cooked our tea and as we sat in the dark with our head torches on, Tim spotted some torch lights moving around at the top of the field where we had come off the road. We all turned our lights out thinking it was probably the farmer or someone curious about who we were. We sat in the dark and stayed as quiet as we could. The torches shone in our direction then went out. We waited a while and were sure we could see someone moving. Not wanting to worry the farmer or whoever it was we shone our torches in their direction when two figures appeared asking who we were. They were border police checking us out and asked to see our passports. They had an infrared gun to see people in the dark. Tim and the boys wanted to have a go but they smiled and declined the request much to their disappointment. The police were very nice and asked where we were heading. We told them we were going to cross the border in the morning and as it had got late we had decided to camp. Happy with our reply they wished us good evening and disappeared into the dark.
We fell asleep happy knowing we would be entering our 10th country the following morning. We were also a few days ride from Istanbul – known as the gateway to the middle east – which meant rest and Wifi! Oh and also the beginning of the visa application process for Africa!
Total distance cycled: 299 miles / 481 km
Total altitude gain: 4,811 metres
Running total: 5,567 miles /8,957 km
Running altitude total 64,435 metres
Next installment coming soon….