Several cycle tourers had warned us about the route through Bulgaria, specifically suggesting to avoid the Danube along the Romanian border due to opportunist gypsies. Some friends had been robbed, found trouble wild camping, experienced nasty kids begging and throwings stones... for these reasons we planned our route stretching through the middle of the country and over the Stara Planina, the first mountains of our trip!
We unavoidably cycled the Danube for the first two days, with our new friend Justin, to reach the town of 'Lom' where we headed south for the mountains. Jonny was approached by a very touchy-touchy man explaining how to shoot down planes with anti-aircraft guns and many of the villages seemed sketchy! We were glad to leave the Danube at the earliest point possible, we'd 100% suggest the mountains to any cyclist passing through Bulgaria!
It's always difficult to say goodbye to a cycling friend, with Justin especially because at the exact split there was a huge sign on our road saying ''Danger Zone – 10% gradient''! This kinda just spurred us on to be honest!
d Immediately the scenery became so beautiful that we'd stop for 15mins at a time to look around. Dropping into many valleys and climbing through the forests gave a great sense of adventure and excitement, we were so happy that we were singing to each other for hours on end. The roads were mostly empty, or big enough to accomodate two midgy cyclists, and everyone seemed much more friendly compared to the border.
The Bulgarian 'trout mouth' seemed quite famous amongst other travellers we'd met, and it's true, people always look like they're moody and you won't see many smiles from the road, but Bulgarians nearly always become friendly once you get to know them. Plus, they shake their heads in the wrong directions when saying yes and no! 'Can you help me?' would be answered 'yes' but the head would shake for no! Very weird indeed. Sometimes people wouldn't speak, they'd just shake their heads so we'd end up really confused at times!
We spent around 8 nights in Bulgaria and only paid once for accommodation because everyone we asked let us stay with them. The first night was at the most amazing truck-stop with the most amazing food! Actually one of the best things about Bulgaria is the food (let me state now that i'm a massive food indulger!) It's flipping so tasty and they have vinegar that'd take on that of an English chippy in the heart of York! I wish I had it right now! The truckers kept sending over free food and drinks (Zagorka beer is lovely, but strong) to our table and when I (Jonny) went over to say thank you and goodnight, they insisted I sat down and drank more. A few hours later and the cycling of the next day had been, lets say, compromised. One trucker offered to take us the entire way to the Turkish border but we refused because we wanted to ... cycle ... the fact that he was leaving at 3.30am had no bearing on our decision :p
Strangely enough, everyone kept warning us about how dangerous it is in Turkey and not to go there, which is completely untrue! On the other side of the border, the Turks also found it hard to believe we'd crossed Bulgaria and survived. It's strange to experience this as both countries were amazing for us.
One day we arrived in a small town called Vratsa where we planned on uploading a blog. We stopped at a computer shop asking directions to the nearest internet cafe but looked no further when the owner (Miro) offered us his seat and net connection for free. Starving, we thanked him and told him we'd return in half an hour. We grabbed some food, and a sneaky haircut for Jonny, which cost about 3 euro then we went back and stayed for 2 hours uploading our blog. Miro was pretty intriguing to me. He was very technical (nerdy) and he'd even setup his own radio transmitter plotting his every move on a map, he proved this by showing me his route to the shops the previous day. Before we left he whipped out his GPS and gave us a fly-by demo of the next 5 minutes of our trip, which actually turned out to be one straight road anyway! He was really cool and even had his own radio programme which he transmits to people all over the world.
The mountains of Bulgaria are so beautiful that we actually changed our route to take us over more passes rather than through the valleys. A good call because we bumped into a lovely English couple 'Christine and Dave' who took us under their wing for two days, driving us around, feeding us, telling us many interesting stories, watching the cows come home and introducing us to their way of life and friends. We felt like family and enjoyed every moment with them. Thanks guys for such a lovely time, we'll catch up when we're back in England. Your suggestion to carry on over the second pass was perfect and we had a superb, clear view of the flooded quarry :)
So our time in Bulgaria was relatively short, only 8 days, but we enjoyed every minute due to the kind and interesting nature of the people, the mountains, and especially the food for fat-pie Jonny!!
Unfortunately the communist era seemed to have left the bigger towns (especially Sofia) a bit decrepid and run down. Sticking to the smaller mountain villages is a much better idea.
We had only good experiences when cycling Bulgaria. Get on your bike and go explore the natural beauty of their mountains!