Friday, 1 December 2017

Bulgaria Part 1

After the Serbian-Bulgarian border
In Bulgaria the E3 trail resumes with the Kom-Emine-Trail in Berkovitsa - but from the border I still had almost 200 km left to get there. So another long road walk commenced. I was surprised how little traffic there was on the road which here was a four-lane highway! Nice roadwalking continued until Vidin, my first town stop in Bulgaria where I visited the impressive fortifications and got used to seeing Kyrillic letters everywhere.

After one night in a posh hotel I resumed roadwalking on the big highway out of Vidin towards Sofia. I was soon to turn off that busy highway onto a smaller one - that on the map looked like having little traffic. When I came closer to the junction I was surprised to see truck after truck turning into this secondary highway. I soon discovered the solution: The major highway was blocked due to road construction so all truck traffic was now going along my route!

Obiutaries in a bus stop
The road was incredibly narrow with no shoulder whatsoever. Whenever a "flock" of trucks passed I more or less had to jump into the bushes! This was far too dangerous and I resorted to a long detour on the hills above the Danube which also resulted into a horrible bushwhack because some trails existed only on my GPS but not on the ground! I finally ended up on a little-travelled road that brought through several villages - most of them half-deserted. Young people move into big cities or out of the country - and the old die. A vivid testimonial are the many obituaries that are plastered everywhere: on lamp post, bus stops, fences and so on.

Castle in Belogradchik
I chose a route through Belogradchik which is famous for its rock formations and the castle that was once built into it. I enjoyed a good night in a posh and cheap hotel - and discovered that resupply is not easy in Bulgaria. Despite the fact that Belogradchik is quite a big town the little supermarkets had a very limited choice. But the restaurant in town was great - and I also discovered that most Bulgarian restaurants have a bilingual menu. Although the English translation is not always spot on you get at least a vague idea of what you are ordering ....

Cyclist departing
The last bit of roadwalking was rather uneventful along quiet countryroads. I met one Italian cyclist and we chatted for a bit. Eventually I reached Berkovitsa, starting point of the KomEmine Trail that would take me through the entire Balkan mountain range - with no more roadwalking. I had to stay three nights in Berkovitsa because I wanted to do shopping trip to nearby Sofia. And organizing that trip turned out to be a bit of an adventure because official buses seemed to running only very sporadically. "No problem", told me my landlady via Google translate. "A friend can take you there".

Memorial in Berkovitsa
The "friend" turned out to be a guy who shuttled locals with his private car. I got into the full car at 6 am in the morning when it was pitch dark. When we were leaving Berkovitsa on a narrow country road all of a sudden two horses standing in the middle of the road turned up in the headlights. I seemed to be facing a major accident - and I was sitting shotgun! But the driver had an incredible presence of mind and drove right through the two animals. No one was hurt as he hardly touched the two horses. When half an hour later a stray dog ran into the car no one really batted an eyelash - nothing happened again ...

Pedestrian zone in Sofia

I had a rather stressful day in Sofia: The KomEmine guidebook was not available in the first bookstore, but I could find it in another one. Then a quick shopping trip to Lidl and buying shoes at Intersport. Eventually a last trip to Decathlon because I needed warmer clother for the higher altitude. And then back to some obscure parking lot near the train station where the local shuttle car was departing back to Berkovitsa. No accidents on the way back either. By now I was itching to get back on the trail but the weather had turned bad...

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