Bulgaria 8th – 12th June

With sore heads we cycled to Bulgaria. We chose to take the motorway, not because we’re idiots, because of the fact you have to pay expensive tolls meaning the road is pretty much empty and also has a large hard shoulder. We cruised along with pretty scenery pleasing the eye and the smell of wild coriander and wild flowers pleasing the nose (oh how mature I sound!) and were in Bulgaria in no time. The fashion instantly changed and the tracksuit and fag combo was clearly sweeping the nation. A can of energy drink completed the look and rose status. We were well received and we responded to the car toots and waves with over-enthusiastic waves and ‘woohoo’s’. I say we, it was just me. In the enjoyment of our new hosts welcome all afternoon, the sun had set and we were looking for a home for the night later than we would like. We had no idea what it was like to wild camp in Bulgaria so were looking for the permission of a landowner. We arrived in a village and asked/depicted to a group of locals if we could camp on what looked like common land. Mixed responses, some shouty, some confused, none welcoming, led us to move on. We asked at a hotel if we could pitch our tent on their land. They told us they had a full hotel as were hosting a wedding and sadly couldn’t accommodate us. I’d forgotten what Bulgarian was for ‘ah, but I’m the groom’s cousin so we had to move on. Our thoughts were leading to finding a shady motel to crash somewhere safe for night. We past a petrol station and our necks craned to a patch of grass just behind the pumps. We’d read that petrol stations were a safe haven for bike tourers in Turkey, allowing you to pitch up a tent safely out of sight somewhere and often accompanied with free tea. As a neighbouring country we thought we’d give it a shot. My polished Bulgarian dialect failing once more (must have been tired), I danced out if we could pitch up a tent next to their petrol pumps for the night and get free tea please? My silky moves were perfectly translated and we were welcomed in with big smiles. We decided against firing up our gas stove next to the petrol pumps so spent a small fortune on beer, crisps and biscuits. Looking out the tent door as the sun descended over the Bulgarian hills leaving an amber sky silhouetting three petrol pumps and air and water dispenser, we smiled at our accomplishment on finding our classic postcard view for the night. We then argued over who was going to ask for the free tea.

We arrived in Sofia not ready to stop to explore a big city so half-heartedly took a few photos and plotted our route for the next few days. We were excited by the sound of rural Bulgaria so opted for the scenic route north and up in to the mountains. There were smiles for miles as the quieter roads  took us up and up through spectacular lush green and rocky landscapes. The energy from the crisps and biscuit dinner was running out so we splashed out on a restaurant brunch in a small village. We chose the ordering method of pointing at other people’s food until the owner spoke some Spanish and we were able to communicate like adults. His adult Spanish was better than my childish Spanish but we still managed to get a decent meal. And I got a colouring book! Some ancient ruins on the map a couple of km’s off the road seemed like a good target for a wild camping spot that night and intuition rewarded us with by far our best wild camping spot yet (except for the petrol station of course). We pitched up a hundred metres from a Roman basilica. Towering mountains behind us, a river beside us and a deep valley below. We showered in the river and cooked up a bucket of pasta. ‘Aren’t we rich’.

This theme continued over the next few days. Beautiful cycling during the day, scouting out interesting spots to camp and making fools of ourselves. I spotted what I thought was a restaurant, the obvious giveaway being a big table of people eating and drinking at one of the two outside and a huge coca-cola sign on the railings. We parked up the bikes, walked in, and acted out the international motion for food to a lady walking past as we sat down at the empty table in the garden. As I eyed up the Dad’s beer at the other table and had the argument with myself over whether or not I deserved a lunch time pint, the Mum rather embarrassingly came over and broke the news to us that we were interrupting the family’s boozy Tuesday lunchtime meal. In broken English she said, ‘No restaurant. House!’. This is not the first time I have done this. Many years ago I walked in to someone’s living room in South Africa and asked them for sausages. It’s clearly a skill.

After camping on an Englishman’s campsite that night (it was strange hearing another English voice) we found ourselves at the end of another country, with the mighty Turkey in front of us…

Watch our 1-minute video of ‘Cycle Touring Serbia & Bulgaria’ here…

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