Cycling East Part 9 – The Republic of Bulgaria

Romania was always going to be a tough act to follow, but Bulgaria certainly held its own.

As we rode away from the Danube the flat landscape was replaced by limestone outcrops and a lush greener sub tropical vegetation. The road was quiet and well maintained as we slowly gained height. We did however have a bit of an issue, the was nowhere to get currency. This was a rare horse and cart in Bulgaria.
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For many miles we rode through small villages unable to use Euros or cards. We were both suffering low blood sugar after a few hours on empty stomachs and stumbled upon trees of juicy ripe yellow wild plums. I did have as care we just poisoned us both but they were certainly tasty and helped us get through. Feeling fresher we detoured away from Pleven to find a campsite in Pelishat that we saw on Google. There was nothing there at all.
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Bulgarian countryside was emptier and a lot safer for wild camping so we pitched up in a random wood outside Valchitran. We filled up with water at a spring and got biten by mosquitoes as we cooked our last supplies. A thunder storm rolled in but we had a pleasant enough night, despite the heavy footsteps from some animal out into dark. The next day, without breakfast we stocked up on a feast of red, purple and yellow plums as we rode south, this is sustainable travel at its eating local best. It was like the wild cherry picking we enjoyed in Germany but this time it was more survival themed. Here are Marion’s bites!
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Finally after what felt like forever we arrived into Lovech and I went a bit mad in Lidl. Muffins, pastries, fruit, bread, mayo/aubergine salad, juice, sweets etc were very welcome after just pasta and plums for almost 24 hours! I guess this was sustainable travel at its worst!

Lovech itself was another of those surprise finds. An interesting town set on a river below a castle on a hill. We tried to ride up to the fortress but a police road block stopped us, slightly annoyed I asked why we couldn’t proceed. He answered that an angry Jaguar had escaped from the zoo. That’s a reasonable reason I guess! We took a different route via a wooden bridge lined with artisan shops, past a museum of ethnology  and an interesting old church.
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The castle was pretty ruined but offered good views from the rough Ramparts that remained. Marion was feeling a bit sick, either a combination of the heat, dehydration or some dodgy food hygiene! Either way she sat in the shade for bit, whole I explored. Feeling refreshed from the rest and food we set off towards the town of Troyan. It is on a ancient Roman road route that crossed the mountains. A route we would also follow. The road was in place for the first 4 centuries AD created and named for emperor Trajan, before the Huns destroyed it and all the towns along it in the 5th century! This route seemed to be a favourite for various marauding armies over the past few millennia. This wall was almost 2000 years old that survived the Huns!
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Troyan was a uninspiring little town after the name had raised my expectations. There was no camping options and in desperate need of a wash we rode up the hill above the town to find a potential youth hostel. After calling into 2 abandoned old hotels and one brand new one, we found the hostel past a stunning picnicking and viewpoint.
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An odd old place tucked away in the woods, but offering panoramic views over the town below. We walked in, met with that distinctive hostel smell! The lady owner was actually very friendly after being initially frosty, it took much discussion before we could ascertain if it was indeed a youth hostel and whether we could stay!
After cooking yet more pasta in the carpark we had a good nights sleep, which we needed for the next day!
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I was super keen to ride in the mountains in Bulgaria and although we missed the peaks nearer Serbia we found a great looking road winding up over 1000m to about 1600m in the central Balkan Mountains.
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The climb was hot and very long! It was fun though, on a quiet road with the odd courteous lorry driver. The final few hairpins were out of the trees revealing this insanely tall aggressive looking concrete arch with large angular concrete statutes on its flanks. The year 1874 was one side and 1944 on the other and it had a track winding its way to the base on the mountain top.
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It towered above everything making for some interesting photo opportunities. The panoramic views highlighted the ridge marking the path of the international walking route along the central Balkens mountains from coast to coast. It winds through several national parks and looked an interesting adventure!
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The descent was super long with fun corners and outstanding views. We dropped down into the valley where we stopped for omelette and chips in a strange little cafe. Two kids stood and stared at us for the entire meal.
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We road along a busy road that was all down hill towards the coast. Flanked by the Balkan mountains reaching heights up to 2600m and fields of harvested wheat and ripening sunflowers. It was a shame the road was so busy with lorries and fast cars. We saw vineyards, lots of people picking blackberries into large buckets and old men just staring yet again as we passed.
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We passed a few forgettable towns before looking for alace to stay near Kazanluk. We spotted a monastery 4km up into the mountains so headed there. It was just inside the national park where a map sign told us it was the wrong road. It wasn’t a bad error as we found a camp spot across a small crystal clear mountain river.
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It was a patch of flat grass grazed by the odd cow. Nearby Bulgarians had parked and were camping too. It was a beautiful spot both at sunset and under the stars.
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Here is a shot of the stars:
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The next day we carried on along the same busy road following the decking mountains towards the sea. We passed Sliven and other dull looking towns. It was all downhill with a tailwind.
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We reached the Black sea coast at Burgas late in the day. This is a place to leave ASAP. Rough overdevelopment and general depressing air about the town.
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We rode south along the scary dual carriageway before the first alternative route took us along an old coastal road. We camped at the back of the beach in the dunes as the sun set. A quick dip in the sea before cooking dinner and getting bitten by mozzies and retiring to the tent.
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The next day we rode along the coast south until the road detoured inland to the Turkish border.
The towns were a bit depressing except for Sozopol with its interesting old town and artisan market stalls. We swam in the sea along a rare stretch of natural sandy beach.
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It was untouched by hotels because it was in front of a large lagoon on a sand spit.
We finally stopped near Tsarevo at a sandy bay with a campsite/shack encampment! The sea was swimming with plastic and people, with hotels and a beach bar next door. It was not a bad place if you avoided the water and just sun bathed!
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The road to Turkey was surprisingly quiet and even overgrown as it wound up and down through the densely forested nature reserve. The same reserve stretches to the coast south of where we camped, probably meaning there were some nice beaches down there! It was still hit and muggy despite being cloudy so I rocked the bib short solo look!
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We reached Malko Tarnovo a depressing border town with more inquisitive kids as usual. Not a place to stay overnight if at all possible! The border then loomed after a 600m road climb in the rain!
That was it good bye Bulgaria, it felt rushed due to some epicly long days riding to get the milage back on track after zig zagging in Romania, I think we saw lots of the highlights of this interesting country though. Perhaps a trip to the mountains near Serbia would be something worth returning to explore, the coastline is not somewhere I will return to!

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