Over the border into Bulgaria

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June 2nd 2013
Published: June 4th 2013
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Our final day in Greece didn’t get off to the greatest of starts as the power went out as we were preparing for the day and we showered in semi darkness.However, not even this could stop us enjoying the first shower with the showerhead on the wall we had had for what seemed like an eternity.

While we were having breakfast the power came back on via a generator the hotel had and perhaps these occurrences even in what we thought was a country a bit more advanced electrically than Albania, where we had a number of power outages, are not that rare either.

The heat from yesterday had gone and the sky had that darkening overcast look we have seen before, and we expect rain at some point will come today as the BBA V2 steps up another gear and heads into the unknown, at least for us, of Bulgaria.

For some reason, this time, Vicky chose the ring road around T as we headed for the border, making the drive faster than yesterday, when we arrived. By the time we had cleared the city the rain had arrived falling lightly as we headed up and over the hills to the north of the city.

The temperature was dropping as the dual laned highway rose in altitude and it had soon dropped to 14C and we were beginning to think we should have dressed for ‘winter ‘conditions rather than summer.

Driving habits in Greece are no different to other countries of the world and even though the road was now quite wet with a reasonable amount of surface water, some of our fellows on the road still felt the need to drive at the max speed of 130kph while we ‘pottered’ along at between 90 and 100kph which we considered more appropriate for the conditions.

From sea level at T the terrain rose towards the border with Bulgaria and it didn’t look like the rain was going to ease.

As the next few countries we plan to visit do not use the Euro as their own currency we thought we should top up the piggy bank by making an ATM withdrawal so that we had Euros to exchange for the local currencies as we need to. So we took a short diversion off the road to the border and called into the dreary town of Serres.We say dreary partly because of the weather conditions as few towns ever look inviting when it is cold and wet. Perhaps in fine, sunny conditions Serres might have been a pleasant place for a short stop.

The kilometres counted down quickly after Serres and us soon we had the Greek border buildings ahead of us. There was no queue ahead of us although on the other side of the road, entering Greece, there were long queues of cars and especially trucks which had been in great numbers on the way up from T.

We got a stamp in our passports leaving Greece and drove on the short distance to the Bulgarian border buildings expecting to have to stop and at least asked where we were heading for.

But no, the officer standing on the edge of the kerb outside the cubicle we expected to stop at just waved us through not even wanting to look at our passports and see where we were from. We wondered whether he had got some information from the Greek border guy who stamped our passports as we drove the couple of hundred metres onto the Bulgarian border or was it our French number plates or perhaps we just looked innocent!

The Bulgarian side of the border was in sharp contrast to the Greek side and we wondered whether the poor state of the road surface was a warning of what was to come.

We purchased our week long vignette, required for driving on major roads in Bulgaria, but couldn’t fend off the guy who insisted on cleaning our windscreen while I parted with €5 for the vignette at a small office on the side of the road. He was clearly disappointed when we drove on without paying him for his ‘clean ‘of the windscreen. We parked further up the road to go into the currency changing office, just in case there were any incriminations from not paying for the windscreen ‘clean’.

With some Euros changed to Bulgarian Lev we were on our way into Bulgaria in light but steady rain on R198 east towards Marchevo and our overnight stay. The road surface was good but no one had been doing any maintenance on the undergrowth on the side of the road and the white fog line was invisible giving the feeling of narrowness to the road.

As in Greece the locals appear to spend Sundays indoors as we didn’t spot a single soul in the first two small villages we passed through giving the impression that the places were deserted. It was of course raining and there didn’t appear to be much for people to do outdoors when it was raining.

It was interesting to note that the style of housing had changed appreciably since crossing the border which is not something that has been apparent in all the other border crossings we have made as construction styles in other places seemed to have flowed ‘over borders’. The standard of construction looked to be less robust in Bulgaria than in Greece almost rustic. The materials used were stone on the lower level and what appeared to be mud brick on the upper level supported by timber framing set across the exterior walls.

With the narrowness of the road due to the encroaching undergrowth it was lucky that we didn’t have any opposing traffic for several kilometres.

We stopped for lunch adjacent to a small park in the third village we came to and as it was raining we had to eat inside the car. Goodness knows what the locals thought of us if they looked out there window and wondered who were these people in the car with the French number plates on sitting there in the rain. During the time we were stopped a bus came by on the road we had been travelling on and we were thankful we were stopped rather than meeting it on the narrow road.

After lunch and back on the road again we started to climb steadily and with the rain still falling it was getting colder outside. It was rather unfortunate that the mist associated with the rain at the higher altitude was making any chance of getting some views as we climbed impossible. As we went the road verges improved which made for easier driving. At 1400 metres above sea level and the summit of the pass we were travelling over we noticed the outside temperature had dropped to 6C and here we were in summer weight clothes and sandals. We were hoping the weather and the temperature would improve by the time we made it down off the mountain and onto the hotel.

We passed through sleepy Gotse Delchev, a sizable town at the foot of the mountain range and out onto a fertile plain turning off a few kilometres further on and up a rural road to the small village of Marchevo.

We knew the name in English of our hotel but had not taken in from the booking site what the hotel exterior looked like and so we were faced with the choice of two hotels at either end of the small village main road. We opted for the one we passed on the way in and got it right.

The guy at reception (we shall name him Boris as we never actually got to know his real name) seemed to understand our English but took a little time to take in the sentences we formed as we spoke introducing ourselves from our passports. He was a likable looking young man with dark features and a smile that appeared eventually when he warmed to us.

He gave us the key to a very nice room on the third floor which had a balcony overlooking the houses in the main street (there was virtually just one street) and across the valley to the larger village of Ognyanova(hereafter called O).We hoped that after a cup of coffee and a bit of a rest the weather would have cleared and we could take a walk to O which looked about a kilometre away.

With the cloud lifting after half an hour we did take the walk to O to stretch our legs and get a feel for this quiet rural area we had found ourselves in. First though we needed to get some shoes and socks on and also a jersey if we were going to venture out for a walk.

The clearing weather had bought out the locals in O to sit outside the small stores and cafes and we said hello or waved, if they were across the road, to each small group we passed and got a response from most of them. In most instances they looked at us in a bewildered way and like the people who were probably watching us from behind their curtains at lunchtime these locals too wondered who we were and what we were doing in their rural village.

We walked one way through the village to the end of the houses and then went back on the other side leaving the locals even more suspicious about who we were.

We were the only people staying in the hotel and we had the dining room to ourselves with Boris also acting as waiter and attending to our order of chicken and mixed meat skewers with fries and a couple of local beers. Dinner was filling and with the beers included we racked up a bill of Lev20 or €10.By the time we went back up to the room the weather over the near distant mountains had partially cleared revealing what looked like a fresh dusting of snow around 2000 metres so it was little wonder we had felt cold when we arrived.We are hoping that tomorrow morning will bring clear weather as the views from our balcony towards he mountains should be excellent.


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