04 October 2017

Into Bulgaria!

Nigel is cycling through Europe to raise money for our Hardship Fund. Here is the latest update on his travels.


You can see more photos of Nigel's journey and sponsor him here.


Leaving Orsova in Romania for the crossing of the Danube at the huge Hydro Power Dam called Iron Gate 1 was not without it's challenges! I had a prolonged and frustrating discussion with the proprietor about our bill. There was no argument about the amount but she could not add up. She insisted I paid for breakfast in cash, 35 lei. We had an agreement the evening before when we arrived that I could pay 100 lei in cash and the remainder on a card. The total bill was 185 lei. Having paid 35 for breakfast I had 65 in cash to pay for the room, leaving 85 I would pay for by card. She couldn't understand this although I wrote the sum down 3 times and explained it carefully in French too. It was more tedious than you can imagine. All the time we were delayed from getting on the road, via the Penny Market , a supermarket chain we had first discovered in out of the way places in Germany!

Fully provisioned and having spent all our remaining lei we got on the road, which towards Orsova the previous day had been a quiet and delightful tourist meander with very little traffic. Out of Orsova, toward Bucharest, it was a busy road with terrifyingly close and fast lorries for 15 kilometres before the Hydro barrage loomed and we could cross over quietly and with little bother into the unknowns of Serbia. From the road over the top of the dam we could see a huge sign on the hillside simply saying" TITO" the name of the Yugoslavian Communist Leader.

Before we came to our first town in Serbia. I realised I had the room keys for the Pensiune in Orsova! Ahh! What a frustration. We had to find a cash machine and then a post office to send it back to the annoying proprietor. At the Post Office I had to write everything in triplicate, my own name and address on 3 forms And the address of the Pensiune on 3 forms. It was another interesting experience! Also it had to go airmail, via Bucharest nearly 400 kilometres away although Orsova was only 20 kilometres away!

We spent most of the day crossing this corner of Serbia and had a pleasant time moving away from the Danube and then by it again passing out-of-season resorts with closed bars, redundant sunshades and empty sun loungers. We were heading towards the border with Bulgaria near Vidin and a campsite just out of town at a village called Astimovo. It was dark before we eventually found the village with Jack's digital mapping system which took us miles over rough tracks. We discovered the campsite was closed. It's very difficult to scout a good wild camping site in the dark so we googled Pensiunes in Vidin and one came up with that sounded promising and affordable. We rang them and they said it was OK to arrive before 10.30 pm. We headed for it but it was 10 miles away and when a truck stop presented itself we enquired about staying there and Jack sealed the deal with 2 tenners as we had no Bulgarian lei.

Since then Bulgaria has been a great experience and we got to Sofia via Montana in a couple of days including a serious climb up to 5,000 feet in one big pull. It was cold and wet and with almost zero visibility at the top and some vehicles had no lights!

We had a glorious and fast descent into a beautiful wooded valley, all warm and sunny. We had a fast ride into Sofia and found Hostel Mostel without too much trouble. My godson Sam, 27, arrived the next day at short notice, and will travel with us to Istanbul and at least some of the way home. We visited the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia and managed to negotiate the metro in spite of all instructions on the ticket machines being in Cyrillic.

Hostel Mostel was great with really friendly and helpful staff. You were provided with a basic dinner in the evening which includes a glass of beer and a really good breakfast. I couldn't recommend it too highly. Since then we have wild camped on two successive nights. Both quite nice places but the first was near habitation and the second still at quite a height. Perhaps because of the altitude and a very clear night, it was really cold and the tents were hard with ice this morning!

The morning dawned bright and sunny and we have had a very pleasant ride into Plovdiv which is a very old and beautiful town with lots of Roman and ancient buildings. We are within 2 days ride of the Turkish border and another 3 or 4 days to Istanbul. We passed 2,000 miles of cycling today. It seems that we are still on target to get to Istanbul by the 10th of October which has always been our aim since we set off 6 weeks ago. Jack flies back on the 14th of October and it's the 4th of October tomorrow, a mere 10 days for the adventure remaining for him at least. We will stay in Plovdiv tomorrow and take in the sights but also apply for our Turkish visas which it is recommended to do prior to arriving at the border.

Anything could happen these next few days but we are within sight (almost) of our destination!