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Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
Bulgaria

28/05/2012 First day in Bulgaria

Getting up this morning in my cheap pension in Edirne started a day full of hurdles. I was keen to get going, looking forward to a nice ride into Bulgaria.

Steppimg out of my pension though I got wet. Rain!!! And a dark grey sky as far as the eye could see!
However, I packed up my little Suzuki. To be ready to go as soon as the rain stops. Hopefully soon. When problem number two started.
Police cars, lots of them closing all the roads around the pension. Including the one signposted to go to 'Bulgaristan'. Just today there was a bicycle race in town. A bicycle race? The Police guy estimated the roads to be reopened in maybe three hours. Maybe.
And there was rain. Non stop. What now?

It was no heavy rain. Just that bit too uncomfortable to start riding into it. My riding gear should be up for it. But still. Starting to ride in the rain sucks. And so I waited. And waited. I love waiting. While I waited I could watch the bicycle race. Together with a young friendly Turkish Police officer who was keen to practice his English. Around 40-50 bikers doing their laps through the town. Coming past us every 15min. 15min of empty streets. Then a 10sec highlight as the bikes and support cars race past us. Whooooooosh. Then quite again. I kept looking at my little Suzuki. Packed and keen to go, keen to find a detour around the closed streets. And so was I. Looking at the sky though quickly eliminated my keen-nes and I felt comfortable waiting under the shelter of a shop awning. Whoooooosh. Every 15min.
Seeing the race go past us for the 7th time the sky brightened and the rain stopped. Seeing it for the eighth time I was sitting on my bike and took off. Into a grey day. But for now no rain.

If you can't use the signposted roads you have to find your own alternative route. Easiest way to do this is to ask people. But people won't let you go unless you drink one tea with them. So it became a long 25km journey to 'Bulgaristan'. And I was pretty hyped up getting there. From tea and sugar. But friendly people all along. Really cool.
The border crossing itself was easy as. No luggage check. No paperwork whatsoever for the bike. No Carnet, no TIP, no chassis number check. All I had to do was to buy insurance. Covering all of the EU. Last time to buy insurance for me! And before I knew I was in Bulgaria.
Immediate positive observations: fuel here is a lot cheaper than in Turkey. And petrol stations sell road maps! Great start! I bought one straight away. And another one covering Romania as well. Just in case. And right there at the border made a plan of how to get through Bulgaria the most interesting way. I still knew nothing about Bulgaria.
Well, the sky was still grey. There was a slight drizzle every now and then. I already wore four layers of clothes. Considering this my conclusion was that beaches must always have sunshine. So my route should take me straight to the Black Sea, another sea I had to show my little Suzuki. Not the shortest way to Germany. But a scenic one. Probably.
Riding through Bulgaria was strange. The terrain is mostly flat. There is a very intense green. The smell of the recent rain was still hanging in the air. Sometimes in the shape of dense fog. There were houses. Small villages. Most in a grade of decay. And no people. Sometimes, rarely, there was an old person curiously looking after me. Very rarely there was a car. But mostly I had Bulgaria to myself. As if it was evacuated some years ago.
There were some major towns along the way. And there were people. Mostly elderly ones. Standing there watching. There were shops. Closed. Factories. Ruined. Houses. Partly collapsed. The 250km between the border and the Black Sea port of Burgas gave a very sober impression. Bulgaria seemed to be in a poorer state than many African countries we went through.
All that changed though when arriving in Burgas. No more decay. High rise buildings. Traffic lights. A big clean city which experienced it's peak during the communist era. And somehow was able to cling on without developing much further since. It feels like a time travel experiment. Soviet made trucks and cars fill the road. Also ancient electric buses using overhead cables. Like trams without rails. There are these monuments, lots of them truly monumental and huge. Picturing figures from the old communist ages. Mostly in a 'Moving Forward' pose. They stand on major town squares. In parks. In front of public buildings.
And there is the Black Sea. Beautiful and wide. But cold. Not just the water. On arrival in Burgas I was wearing six layers of clothes. And was still cold. And damp from the constant drizzle along the way. In short, when I stepped off the bike I felt quite miserable. So I booked into the first hotel I could find and spend a long time under a very hot shower. Which brought me back to life.
Even a clean city like Burgas looks grey in the drizzle. I spent an hour or so exploring it's sights, had some food and retreated back into the warm dry shelter of my hotel room. Soon after the drizzle turned into rain which hasn't stopped since. My hopes of sunshine on the beaches didn't turn out so well.
I almost forgot how depressing a grey rainy day can be after all the sunshine in Africa. The forecast predicts continuation of these conditions for a week. No fun.

What I also feel is that, since leaving Africa, my interest in sightseeing and spending time in countries diminished to a degree. Turkey and Bulgaria are just not the same as Africa. Not the same Adventure. The same challenge. The same fun with people. It may sound stupid but it feels for me like spending too much time in touring here will water down the awesomeness of the journey somewhat. That and the weather will see me riding longer distances now. Going a straighter way towards Germany. Soon I should arrive. Driving up the small hill to my mum's and dad's place. Where I will have time to process the journey. I guess I will need that.


01/06/2012 Bulgaria

Two nights is all I spent in Bulgaria. One in Burgas on the Black Sea. The other one in Ruse at the Romanian border. Bulgaria is really beautiful. Why did I race through it so fast then?
The weather! I thought my ride to Burgas was already a ride in bad weather. But the next day I got up to quite heavy rain. And a dark grey sky all around. It was so depressing - I was so close to a beautiful Black Sea beach, a beautiful town full of beautiful girls (top marks for Bulgaria here). But I couldn't move three steps out of the hotel without getting soaked. Most frustratingly the lady at the reception confirmed the weather forecast: no change in conditions for the rest of the week. Too long to sit and wait it out. Waiting is no longer one of my strength. So at first chance, when the sky cleared up just that little bit and the rain stopped for a moment, I packed up and happily took off. Considering the weather forecast my route headed straight towards the Romanian border. The weather up North is apparently much sunnier. Hopefully.
It didn't take long, just a few minutes out of Burgas and the rain resumed. And never stopped again that day.
I was riding through deep green landscapes. Everything looked fresh and alive. But the sky was grey. Mist covered everything. The road was wet. And so was I. Wet through all my rain gear. Water just penetrated through any tiny openings, flowing down my neck. Being pushed up my sleeves from my wrists. The road was full of water, you couldn't make out the potholes any more. One or two hours into the ride I felt just miserable and cold. Sorry Bulgaria, but I had to get out of this. As quickly as possible. So I rode all the way to the Romanian border. With only one stop along the way. To have a coffee and some sweet bisquits to recharge my energy. The poor girl in the coffee shop literally had to mop after me, every step I made left behind a puddle on the floor. But she was a nice girl and didn't complain. With that smile on her face that said "poor guy, how did you end up in this misery" she served me coffee. Then bisquits. Then another hot tea. That moment I really loved that girl for saving my life and I'm sure her coffee was all that stood between me and Hypothermia. Unfortunately language put a huge barrier between us.

What I saw of Bulgaria through the grey mist and my wet visor was indeed beautiful. Rural Bulgaria seems to be abandoned, there are ruined houses, potholed streets and almost no people. So nature took over. In bigger towns though it's a different picture. There are shops. Restaurants. Petrol stations. Banks. People. It is clean. Although everything appears a bit old school. But you can travel along very efficiently. No hassle, clean transactions. No conversations. No invitations for tea. Reasons for this in my opinion is really just the language. It is hard to find anyone speaking at least broken English. And I do not speak any Bulgarian. That surely doesn't help conversation.
So tomorrow I will cross the mighty Danube river into Romania, heading North till I find the sunshine as promised by the weather forecast. Cross fingers the forecast is right.


01/06/2012 Bulgaria pics

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First pic in Bulgaria, straight after the border crossing from Turkey. The landscape here is flat, green and empty. The sky is grey. It should become a typical picture for most of my ride in this country.

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The bigger towns are less empty. But feel a few years back in time.

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Statues are all over the towns.

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Bulgarians really love their statues.

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And I love their electric overhead cable buses.



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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann