Published: October 20th 2007October 10th 2007
Bulgarian flag flying high at Veliko Tarnavo
Its Ian here, currently in Dubrovnik in Croatia and im 30...but lets go back to the heydays of my 20s if i can remember that far back and to Veliko Tarnavo in the middle of Bulgaria which is where we left you.
Internet was free last time hence a bit of an essay but im flicking into a more light and breezy manor !! detail is for 20 somethings - they have time!! clock ticking for me now ( notice all the self abuse to deflect anyone elses attempts!!)
Bulgaria was brilliant. I really enjoyed it and was one of my favourite places. Loving the food, Shopska Salad, pizzas, loving Zagorka beer, loving the fact that we didnt see a cloud all the time there!....
Veliko Tarnavo is a cracking town, maybe a few too many Brits there, but it defo has a lot of appeal. The old Fortress is extremely impressive sat above a huge meander in a river...there was a few Horse Chestnut trees in the middle and hundreds of shiny brown conkers ( dont think kids know about conkering over here) made me realise how late on in the year it was, its always grim
Gerbil found in most Thracian tomb excavation
at home when the conkers fall, also reminded me of a poem about conkers that a great poet wrote, using the conker as a metaphor for a gladiator in an armour of spikes...can you remember any of it dad?
Had a good relax in VT, checking out some bars and cafes - they have loads of cats here, you are in an outdoor cafe and they are all around your feet looking for tats. Andy Dixon would love it !!!
From kicking bottom in Romania we have officially become soft and were taking it in turns to be weak and ill.. Jenny was rough in the morning and come the afternoon i was feeling crap. Spent 2 days getting over the Shipka Pass, which was a but of a lorryfest all the way up and down but an impressive route through 2000m peaks. Met some Bulgarian cycle tourists up there - not been meeting many bike riders recently so it was a bit of a novelty. They were loving it all....took loads of photos of me to show their wifes!! (jenny is now worried!!)...from the top of Shipka you drop onto a wide valley of the roses. aka
Ian on top of the Shipska pass
valley of the Thracian tombs as they keep finding more and more. Went to a really impressive one near shipka. King Svet III. It was like you imagine a pyramidal tomb inside but a big mound of earth over the top....now i know they are still discovering more tombs in this area but i could see them a mile off...they are just mounds of earth that look obviously like burial mounds...i should work for them!! Think Thracians are pre-roman so its pretty old stuff. Standard joke then that we blamed the pesky thracians for anything!! uphills, mountains cobbled roads....scapegoats.
Stayed in a nice hotel in Kazanlak with the best breakfast i have had this tour. Far nicer than the huge "grand hotel" next door and cheaper to boot...free internet aswell!! prrrrrrp...bit shout out to Hotel Rosa.
Another range of big mountains were crossed to get to Plovdiv. We did a really quiet road that was incredible. Gradual uphill for miles and a kick up at the end. Roasting sun, quiet roads with an impressive backdrop ( and we had a tailwind to boot). Had a few mechanicals which didnt even damper my spirits . Snapped chain, then broke my
Vehicle wash - romany style
chain tool and in the process ruined 2 more links so am now on minus 4 links ...suppose it makes my bike lighter!.
Stayed a couple of nights in Plovdiv, ambling around the old town and new towns cafe bars. Incredible roman theatre here - bizarely they have run a dual carraige way tunnel underneath.
Both me and Jenny agree that we are getting a bit sightseeing-zonked and things and places which we know are amazing arnt hitting us with the same impact as before. Plovdiv and many other places could well merit a week there but we have become real "main sighters". Tick of the recommmended things, then wander around and take in the ambience...and rest!!
Next stop on the tour was the ski areas in the Pirin mountains and the resort of Bansko. Quite a bit of climbing (maybe to 1700m?) to get over another range of moutains. Took 2 days of pretty good cycling to get there with an over night stop in a town called Valingrad. Here we (i mean I) really jibbed out...loads of accomodation so we could have got something dirt cheap no doubt with a bit of ferretting around but
Plovdiv roman ampitheatre
jenny fell in love with a real nice hotel with thermal spa and jacuzzi and all the works and I was soft enough to let her go for it...more than we should have payed but about 8 times less than similar in the uk..,oh how the other half live eh i shouted over to jenny who was at the other side of the biggest bed we had ever seen....what she said (it was a long way!!! hahah ) pesky Thracian bed makers.
Bansko a real ski area and i bet its brilliant here in winter with little guest houses and small homely Mekhanas (traditional inns). Stayed in some perfectly fine digs and a ridiculously cheap price and had a great meal washed down with 3 or 4 of my mate Zagorkas. )enough to go bollard jumping!! 20 something Brits abroad eh?
Another 2 days to get to Sofia from Bansko and in between more off season cheap ski accomodation. Unfortunately we lost most of our height and had to climb back up for most of the day up a valley, hot hot hot and thirsty work. Very close to the Macedonian border here (15km) over the hills and
Jenny and the really rather impressive remains at Povdiv
dropping down from Bansko the scenery changed from alpine, meadows, trees and rivers to a more arid view, like southern spain with semi desert and small trees scattered around.
Last day in Bulgaria to Sofia was generally down all the way from the ski hub of Borovets. Passed a really beautiful lake which i couldnt believe was so quiet. Only 25 miles from Sofia and yet no houses or much sign of civilisation on its shores. There was one restaurant and we lunched there in pretty much heaven next to the deep blue lake in the sun.
Cycling into Sofia was a bit of an epic and although following "centre" signs ended up getting lost a few times and eventually ending up on a 3 laner which was extremely uncomfortable on the bike. Got off as soon as we could and ended up walking through the centre passed all the sights to the hostel. Sort of regret not seeing the sights of Sofia but we didnt have time really as we were catching a train the next day. Its defo on my list of somewhere to come back to.
Spent the last night in Bulgaria and of my
High up in the Bulgarian mountains near Bansko, really alpine.
20s sampling some liquid refreshments in some bars and spending the remainder of our bulgarian Leva until we ordered some nuts and they came to the price of 3 beers which stopped our drinking binge!!...happen as well as i had a sore enough head in the morrow anyway.
great place but, and as other cyclist here also said, some hair brained overtaking and general pipping (worse than romania!) got honked so many times it was annoying. The driving isnt actually that fast, or that manic and ive seen far worse driving in other western european countrys but some of the overtaking head on into other road users (us) and tailgating was attrocious .
found some stats in a paper about how many road deaths there are here...630 so far ..this is about 1000 a year out of population of 6 million...thats...(ermmm fingers, toes carry the 3) ..about in in 6000 people die on the road each year which sounds immense..anybodz know the uk figures....need to check this out...maybe shouldnt let parents read this jenny!!
caught a train the next day into serbia where we spent an afternoon and early evening at Njis station with a French Canadian
traditional Bulgarian eatery...and drinkery
called Jean-Philipe and managed some interesting bartering with a stroppy cafe owner using bulgarian currency he called worthless souvegner money....ended up with 3 extremely strong coffees (white) in plastic cups and 3 beers.....
very interesting journey....Jean Philipes friend was heading our way and then carrying on towards Budapest and although they were at the station hours before us, JP managed to end up with the ticket he didnt want changing somewhere else in Serbia and heading to Montenegro and unbelievalby after a mix up with the conducters confusion at 20 and 12 minutes to go his friend managed to miss the train completely but with all his stuff on....not to be phased in the slighest the chilled out conducter just stopped the train at a small station and waited for the taxi with Jonathon in....haha....this tickled me pink....couple of dudes though.
Jean-Philipe stayed with us until podgorica in Montenegro and we continued another hour to Bar on the coast.
Transporting bikes was a bit wierd it was up to the conductor as the bikes basically sat in the coridor or with you in one of those cool couchette type rooms. so we had to pay him (basically
really great lunch next to this serene lake...wow...red hot as well...
whatever he decided) but over the border to serbia another crew took over the train so had to pay that conductor as well....2 more payments on the next train as another 2 crews and therefore another 2 conductors...all different prices and all not much to be fair.
onto the coast now.....
There are more photos below