The Road to Plovdiv,Bulgaria

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June 3rd 2013
Published: June 6th 2013
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As we had hoped the weather had cleared away from yesterday,well at least it was that way at dawn.Within an hour fog had enveloped the valley we looked out on and the mountains in the distance and we had to wait until the rising sun burnt the fog off to get the views we had hoped for of the fresh snow on the mountains.

In the meantime we went down for breakfast and attentive as ever 'Boris' took our order for omelettes and coffee.The omelettes were a bit different than what we were used to and had crispy edges as if they had been fried.All the same they were tasty and very filling.

Back up on our balcony we watched the village come to life with locals with their horse and carts passing by either with their children on board or their implements they needed for work in the fields near the entry to the village.In between locals in their BMW's and Mercedes also drove by showing just how diverse their modes of transport were.

We loaded up the car and paid 'Boris' for our overnight accommodation,dinner and breakfast and thanked him for his service and attention.He gave us a firm handshake and we had the feeling that he quite enjoyed looking after us.Strangely he left the hotel in his car as we did and we were left wondering who was looking after the hotel as we hadn't seen anyone else around this morning although someone other than 'Boris'must have cooked our breakfast for us.

Vicky wanted to take us on a northerly route initially that we thought looked like it had a mountain road to negotiate before getting to our next stop,Bulgaria's second largest city of Plovdiv.So we opted for a more easterly direction on R197 that at first carried on over the river plain and past people tilling the soil amid the spring crops that were growing in abundance.

As we moved off the plain and started to climb over at first, low hills,we kept coming across small clearings on the side of the road in forested areas where groups of men were sitting breaking large rocks with small tomahawks making thin slates.These were then crated onto pallets and shrink wrap applied positioning the pallets at the side of the road ready to be picked up.The construction of the local houses we have seen so far were not made from this slate so we guess the pallets are taken away to be used elsewhere in the country or perhaps exported.We eventually lost count of the number of the groups we passed and they stopped by the time the road started to climb up to altitude levels we had got to yesterday.At least today we had the benefit of rural mountain scenery and with the road condition good it made for a pleasant drive even if the windy nature of the road meant our average speed wasn't high.

An interesting feature along both mountain roads we have travelled in Bulgaria have been the frequent stopping places with a trough set up over or near a spring with a tap and running water.Some looked like they had been there for years because of their condition but others such as the one we stopped at for a drink mid morning looked brand new and actually had about 6 taps all with a steady stream of water and alongside one of the first purpose built rest stops we have come across in nearly 9000km complete with a table.We didn't see where the dog came from but he/she suddenly appeared and sat on the ground about 3 or 4 metres from us and looked at us.Now we are very wary of dogs that roam the outdoors in this part of the world and we weren't sure whether to get back in the car and head off before it came closer or stay and sort of ignore it.The dog however just sat looking at us and upon a bit more intense looking it appeared well fed so perhaps it had wandered up the hill from a small settlement we could see about a kilometre away.So instead of cats for company,today we had a dog!

At Dospat we expected to continue on to link up to the R868 and head due north to Plovdiv and the map showed the road ran beside a river with a good size lake to pass we were looking forward to a bit of a change in scenery.

However,the GPS was going to take us up the R37 which Gretchen thought looked like another mountain pass to get over.After some debate we followed the R37 and after clearing the town passed a large sign indicating the road had been reconstructed using an awful lot of EU money.And so it turned out for although the road was windy,the road surface was smooth with recent marking indicating the road reconstruction hadn't long been completed.Again it was a road that ran through forest but the lack of almost any opposing traffic meant it was a pleasant drive where we could enjoy the passing scenery.As Gretchen had suspected the road did travel over a pass again just on 1645 metres asl and the outside temperature dropped again to single digits util we started the descent.

As we came down towards Bartak we came across a section of the road where the upgrade was still progressing and getting over some of the sections that had been dug up was more suited to being in a 4 wheel drive!There was no full scale work going on just gangs of 3 or 4 men working on a small patch of the road here and there presumably all working towards each other to complete the job.

The main road through the town of Bartak too was undergoing an upgrade and agin we would have been better off in a 4 wheel drive.How the locals put up with the state of the road is beyond us but then again there don't seem to be as many cars on the road so perhaps there are less people to complain.One thing that we have learnt quickly here is follow a local because they know where the surface is best!

The ride past Bartak was through a leafy green gorge and then we emerged from the hills to the vast plain on which the city of Plovdiv sits.Before too long the old socialist style apartment building on the western edge of the city came into sight and shortly after we were at our hotel which was a relatively new building that looked like it had been built where some of the old apartment buildings might have been demolished as there were other newish buildings on the same side of the main road from the west into the city centre.

After a cup of coffee we were ready for a walk and headed off to look for the Plovdiv Mall about 800 metres away.The Mall was also a new building and a size roughly equivalent to the Bayfair mall at the Mount but almost totally given over to clothes shops including an H & M store.

While we were out walking we found a restaurant that looked OK and went back there as dinner time approached.We find we are eating later as the days lengthen and it was well after 9pm and dusk setting in as we finished our dinner of trout(for Gretchen)at a ridiculous price equivalent to NZ$7.50 and skewers of a variety of meats(hopefully not dobbin!)for me also a bargain at NZ$6.

It had been a day of great variances from rural village life to mountain scenery and then the less than glamorous city with its out of date unsightly apartment buildings.

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