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Published: October 7th 2013
Our ride on Sunday started off OK. Roads were dry and the forecast was only calling for 20% chance of rain. As we headed northwest out of Serres and towards the mountains and the Bulgarian Border, things got a bit ugly. First off, the road for some of the way didn’t have a good shoulder, secondly, they were wet. Wet roads are the same as if it is raining when you are on the bike. You get just as wet. We stopped at a gas station with a little restaurant so we could put our rain gear on, and ironically it started to rain.
So we trudged on in the rain all the way to the border. Even though Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, they still have a controlled border crossing with Greece. The border traffic was slow, so getting through was pretty painless, just having to get our passports stamped. Although the highway on the Greek side of the border, improved to a brand new motorway with huge paved shoulders about 15k before the border, the Bulgarian side was pretty disappointing. The main highway is only 2 lanes with no shoulder. The traffic was pretty light to
start with, but was starting to pick up once we neared Sandanski – and really beginning to grate on the nerves.
The border town on the Bulgarian side, Kulik, was kind of seedy – casinos, betting, money changing – not very welcoming. Sandanki is only about 21Km from the Greek border, it’s a cute little town that appears to be booming. Lots of foreign investment in real estate – it I situated well for access to ski resorts as well, it is right in the heart of wine country.
We pulled into Sandanski looking like wet rats. Barry sat me down at a café so I could warm up with a cappuccino while he found us a hotel. He came back an hour or so later with a room. The hotel was pretty nice, it was new and had heat! Unfortunately, as we found out at 1:00 in the morning, when we were awoken to the sound of thumping music, that is it also built directly on top of a disco that doesn’t close until 6am. Needless to say neither of us got much sleep.
Today was our day off, so we switched hotels
first thing… found this gorgeous boutique hotel about a block from the original one (Barry had missed it yesterday) for only 50 Euros /night. Once we had that taken care of, we tried to do some sight seeing, with not much luck. It rained all day off an on. Still haven’t seen the mountains because of all the cloud cover. Luckily, our new hotel was also equipped with a “relax” center… Including a steam room, sauna and hot tub. We opted instead to take advantage of that and catch up on some much needed sleep.
Bulgaria is so far quite interesting – it was a communist bloc country until the fall of the wall 20 years ago. So most of the towns have really nice old town centers, however, you can definitely see evidence of the characterless communist architecture on the outskirts. This country is finally starting to become a tourist destination after years of corruption and neglect. There is certainly lots of history here… Bulgaria, like Greece and Turkey was also once part of the Ottoman and Roman Empire. There are many byzantine ruins and other historically significant sites in the region.
Tomorrow we set out
again, this time higher into the mountains to either Blagoevgrad or Dupnitsa, depending on how we’re feeling. Hopefully the roads improve – supposedly there has been a motorway rehabilitation project ongoing since 2002. So hopefully we will see that soon.
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