There is no doubt about it... We are in a different country


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Europe » Bulgaria » Blagoevgrad Province » Sandanski
October 19th 2009
Published: October 23rd 2009
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25 years on, the Cyprus issue still remains unresolved.
Total Distance Cycled: 672km

We seemed to had a window to cycle on Saturday. It was warm and overcast, but no rain, so we went for it. Other than climbing out of the hole we had in Kavala (on the coast, but totally surrounded by hills), the ride was pretty good and we did have the aid of the wind for most of the day (that makes three in a row now :-)). This was certainly our second best bike day of the trip so far. Just like the other day from Komotini to Xanthi, we spent most of the day riding along the hills of Northern Greece, but just high enough that we get a good view of the countryside below, but with little traffic so we could actually enjoy the ride.

Serres was our next stop, which was much like what we have seen before in other Greek cities. We had one of the nicest hotels of the trip, but it was a bit of a hike from the center. This wasn't a problem, as we were there just there overnight, and there were a couple of good restaurants nearby.

The Sunday ride to Sandanski, Bulgaria started out much the same as the day before -- overcast, but no rain (yet). Unfortunately, at about 25km it started to drizzle… We put on our rain gear and continued with our cycle. We connected up with the Struma River, which would be our companion to Dunitsa, Bulgaria (around 140km). The wind picked up with the drizzle and at one point it got really bad. I thought Shauna was going to lose it, but she kept her cool. :-) This must be the new and approved Shauna. Where did Dragon Lady go?

We actually had a border to cross at Bulgaria. On my world tour 20 years ago, a border crossing in the EU was nothing more than a wave. However, given that Bulgaria just joined the EU a couple of years ago that practice might take awhile.

The big thing we noticed as we crossed the border was that our shoulder disappeared! Unfortunately, outside of about 25kms, this would be the status quo from the rest of the trip to Sofia. This will likely be the worst memory of our trip to Bulgaria. When I have a sitution like this I must really concentrate on the cycling by staying as far right as possible and always be checking my mirror for oncoming traffic. What I hate the most is when there is a truck or bus approaching from ahead as well as one from behind. In those cases, I might ride the bike off the road on to the dirt shoulder (if there was one) momentarily. The traffic also started to get to Shauna on the last 10km into Sandanski.

By the time we arrived in Sandanski, it was raining AGAIN… I checked out a number of hotels, but at one the manager actually spoke spanish! The manager didn't know any english, but he did spanish (he had worked there for a number of years). If there is any part of spanish that I'm fluent in, it is accom Imodations, so the rest of the conversation was pretty easy. I ended up finding a new hotel called City Hotel. It wasn't in Lonely Planet, but it was the nicest of the five that I looked at. Perhaps it was better priced for a reason… At about 12:00 that night, the building started to vibrate… There was a nightclub in the basement!!! Never in my years
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I understand Hollywood movie starts will allow their names and images to be used in far flung parts of the world in ways they would not back home.
of travelling had I experienced anything quite like this. There was no getting away from it -- it didn't matter if you were on the first floor or third floor… I went on until 5:00… Needless to say we found another hotel the next day. The Park Hotel was probably the second best hotel that we have ever stayed at on tour (the other beining Jinan, China, where we stayed at a Sofitel hotel). Ironically, they were roughtly the same price at $80CAD. Most of the interior of the Park Hotel was in marble, and our room was huge with a couch and beautiful views of our surrounding neighbourhood. We even took advantage of the sauna, steam room, and whirlpool (given the temperature on Sunday, we needed it).

There was no denying that we were in a different country. I was actually surprised at how much of Bulgaria hadn't changed since the communist era. Outside of cafes, clothing stores, and mobile stores, not much else was that modern. There was no better example of this than in the outdoor market. I'm sure it was the exact same market that had existed 20 years ago -- even the same people.
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Images from the Soviet era, like this old Lada, can still be found throughout Bulgaria.
It was hard to find anyone there under 50 years of age.

Once again, like Greece, Bulgaria is littered with cafés. Not a whole lot of selection on the restaurant front, and I'm not even sure if they have a distinctive cusine, as so much of their history has been determined by outside forces. One thing I have eaten here is lamb. I have had a lovefest with this meat since Antigua, Guatemala a few years ago. On the restaurant side, I also find it interesting how all of the waiters/waitresses dig into their own pockets for change rather than the a cash register.

Finally, I have seen all kinds of beer around the world, but nothing like the beer bottles here. One can get a 2.5L bottle of beer here! Ironically, I have seen very few people actually drinking beer, and very little signs of public drunknesses. It must be consumed somewhere...

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