Bulgaria

Community Highlights Europe Bulgaria

Bulgaria was our next destination and the most southerly country that we expect to visit on our trip. It was a bit of a monster drive to get there, not helped by a diversion to avoid an accident that took us straight through the centre of Bucharest. We were looking forward to leaving the Romanian drivers behind us, but the trade off was that we had to drive on Bulgarian roads where road markings appear to be optional, adding “guess the number of lanes” to our arsenal of driving games. When we eventually arrived in the rural village of Dragizhevo we were delighted to find that the campsite was not only spacious and peaceful but that it had a really nice swimming pool, and a bar. One night quickly became three as we enjoyed some much needed R&R. We did venture out of the campsite to visit the city of Veliko Tarnovo where we walked round the fortress and its hilltop church. A lot of the city centre roads were being resurfaced (they needed it!) but we did find peace in some narrow lanes where we enjoyed a drink and a frozen yoghurt in a shady cafe.
Peaceful campsite

Peaceful campsite

Early morning swim

Early morning swim

Unusual modern fresco

Unusual modern fresco

Frozen yoghurt and homemade lemonade

Frozen yoghurt and homemade lemonade

Bulgaria was the first country on our trip to use the Cyrillic alphabet. Whilst you sometimes get road signs in Roman letters, it’s not universally the case and so following directions can be quite challenging, as can other basic tasks like reading a menu or shopping in a supermarket (which we managed broadly successfully, although we did end up with allspice instead of black pepper).
Our second stop in the country was in the far southwest corner. In fact, the Greek border was only 10km from our campsite and it was only 30km to Macedonia. We stayed in the small town of Kromidovo in the Melnik wine region. Whilst there, we cycled over a hill to Melnik town where we visited the old home of a rich merchant that has been restored and converted into a small museum. We also had a snack, trying a local dish of mekitsa which turned out to be enormous doughnuts with jam and white cheese (similar to feta). After our “snack” we cycled back over the hill to our campsite, stopping at a vineyard at the very top for a tour and some wine tasting before rolling back down the hill to Gav. It turns out that a bottle of wine fits nicely in a bike bottle cage...
Inside the merchant’s house

Inside the merchant’s house

A light snack!

A light snack!

BBQ with Bulgarian wine

BBQ with Bulgarian wine

From Melnik we headed back north for a couple of hours to the Rila mountains. On the southern side of this range lies a monastery which is one of Bulgaria’s most significant religious sites. It’s a grand old building with a backdrop of towering peaks, making it a nice place for us to stop off on our way to the town of Sapareva Banya. We had a few days’ walking in the mountains planned but, for only the second time in this trip, the weather was against us. There were some storms swirling round the region making it a stupid idea to go hiking up in the mountains. Seeing as the town was a bit of a dump, we ended up hanging around in Gav with some DVDs for a day while the storms passed.
The next day, the storms had gone, although there were still some low clouds hanging around. We rose early and drove up to a mountain car park where we had a cup of tea and some sort of cheesy pastry (which is apparently a traditional Bulgarian breakfast food) that we’d picked up at a bakery en route. After a 25 minute ride on a rickety old chairlift that took us up above the treeline, we set off on the country’s most popular walk, The Seven Rila Lakes. We had the path to ourselves, partly because we’d made such an early start and partly because we couldn’t read the sign posts and so went a different way to everybody else. As the path rose past each lake, the visibility progressively worsened. In fact, we never even saw lake seven as it was obscured entirely by cloud. As we descended, we began to pass the hordes of people coming the other way. We reckon we passed over two hundred people, of varying levels of fitness and attire, although apparently the crowds can be well over a thousand at a weekend.
Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Monastery frescoes

Monastery frescoes

Cheesy pastry breakfast

Cheesy pastry breakfast

One of the lower lakes

One of the lower lakes

At the top in the clouds

At the top in the clouds

We wondered what this was for a while

We wondered what this was for a while

After our walk we drove to another mountain town, a ski resort called Borovets. It is clearly a more lively place in winter than it was when we arrived. Quite a few of the hotels and restaurants were closed altogether and those that were open looked a little unloved. That didn’t bother us though, as we were there to climb Musala, the highest mountain in both Bulgaria and in the Balkans as a whole. We were camped right next to the gondola station making it easy to catch one of the first rides up in the morning. The sun was shining and the scenery was spectacular as we climbed from the top of the gondola to the summit. We were grateful that we climb fairly quickly as we were able to enjoy beautiful views from the top. Almost as soon as we started our descent the clouds started to close in.
After our walk we began our journey out of the country, driving to the town of Dragoman which is just 15km from the Serbian border. We went for a wander round town to discover that it is extremely run down, although we did enjoy the sight of someone trying to herd sheep very badly down a residential street. We managed to find a restaurant where we had some traditional Bulgarian food: a shoppe salad followed by a mixed grill.
Musala summit

Musala summit

Enjoying the view from the top

Enjoying the view from the top

Shoppe salad

Shoppe salad

Mixed grill

Mixed grill

Bulgaria has delivered a mixture of experiences. We stayed in two lovely camp sites run by expats, as well as two much more basic local sites. Overall we felt that Bulgaria needs a little TLC to help address its crumbling roads, pavements and buildings. That said, we enjoyed some beautiful countryside, surprisingly nice wine and some good hiking in the mountains.

This featured blog entry was written by aliceandguy from the blog Return of the Gav.
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By aliceandguy

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 2018 | Bulgaria | Comments