Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th March
Felt so sad this morning as we are leaving Greece today – neither of us wanted to leave but we still have so much to see in other countries.
We have had a really great time in Greece and would tour here again “in a heart beat”.
The only 2 criticisms we have of Greece is the number of stray cats and dogs roaming around everywhere and the amount of rubbish just left scattered all over the country side and beaches
After driving for just a few kms we approached the Greece/Bulgarian border where firstly we received a good behaviour stamp in our passports from Greece and then a few metres away we were at the Bulgarian border gates.
We were ushered into the trucks lane but with only one oil tanker in front of us, we soon took our turn to check in and have passports stamped, provide vehicle registration and then a very quick visual internal inspection by one guard. Quite easy with no questions asked.
They did not ask to see drivers licences, vehicle insurance, proof of ownership or any other details – a little different to what we had been lead to believe in travellers blog sites etc.
Purchased a vignette at the first service station which cost 15 lev which is just over $12 for a week for 3.5 ton and under. Currency exchange rate of $1AUD = 1.25 lev. Monthly vignettes are also available but opted for one week and will then top up if need be.
Bulgaria has a population of around 7.5 million with the capital city being Sofia.
One third of Bulgaria is covered with forests and 70% of the world’s rose oil comes from roses grown in Bulgaria.
When Bulgaria joined the EU on Jan 1 2007, their Cyrillic language became the 3rd official language of the EU.
Not far from the border we came across several horse and carts which we have learned are quite common here. Even the traffic signs include art work depicting them.
The countryside is just full of magnificent green pastures but trees are still leafless after the winter. Snow at the top of the mountains in the distance is still very visible and we have heard there is still lots of skiing to be done there.
This is a very poor part of Bulgaria near the border and we passed through quite a few shanty towns along the way. Stopped at a couple of possible camp spots listed in Park4Night but there was no way we would have stayed there – this part of the country around Podkrepa and Haskovo looks like it is still in the Soviet era so we opted to head further to Plovdiv for our first night in Bulgaria.
Quite a long drive today think around 200kms where we experienced a mixture of road conditions. One horrible long stretch of a highway – around 40kms was so rough, our teeth rattled, my driver grumbled and just about everything in Ziggy sang out STOP!!!!
On the way we passed many buildings which looked like they may have been factories of some sort in the Soviet era and they were just standing idle – but were an absolute eye-sore.
Our campsite for two nights: Plovdiv – GPS 42.146568N 24.720989E
The trip through the town was quite uneventful and soon we arrived here.
This is a mixed carpark as part of a fruit market. It is free for the vendors and locals buying fruit and veges here during the day but for an overnight stay in a camper, the security guard charges 5 lev per night. There is a restroom and water here. Gates are locked at 9pm and reopened at 8am with a full security fence surrounding the property.
Took a short 10 minute stroll to Mall Plovdiv to an ATM to get some LEVs and then dropped into a small restaurant on the way back and enjoyed a super meal and two large beers for around $13 in total.
Just so peaceful and quiet here during the night.
Taxi fares are really inexpensive here and for a small 5 lev we were in the heart of Old Town, Saborna Street. The taxi ranks are everywhere along the main road so it was not difficult getting one.
Old town is set on a hill high above the town and was a real hoot which we thoroughly enjoyed. The ancient fortress on the top of Nebet Hill offered a superb panoramic view of the town below. The old town stretches through a huge area and it took most of the day to explore – so many great old buildings.
Next to the Kapana Creative District adjacent to Old Town where we had a great late lunch. The equivalent of the Greek chicken Gyros from a shop called Hobo is priced at $2.40 and is very similar but is massive and left us feeling fully stuffed. A .5 litre beer here is around 2 – 2.50 lev or around $1.70. The Kapana District is very modern with a full pedestrian street that runs for miles with shops and restaurants along the full length.
We walked the full length past Danov Hill and the clock tower and down to Tsar Simeon’s Garden where we found several areas set aside in the gardens for men to play chess and cards in the open air. Lots of mums and kids in strollers were out and about in the rare but welcomed sunny day. Only disappointment was that the Lake Singing Fountains were not operational – maybe only operational in summer.
Think we will be eating out lots in Bulgaria as everything is so cheap. Can’t wait to see the prices in Lidl.
Really tired after the long day walking, we chose one of the many restaurants to sit and people watch (and have another not so expensive drink) before catching a taxi back home.
Another quiet peaceful night.
Friday 16th March
Though overcast to begin with, the scenery today was just so magnificent. We travelled through the mountains today where the roads were etched out of the mountainside and the rock formations were so unique. For most of the journey, train lines were on one side, cascading rivers on the other side with Ziggy in the middle. Once in the valley the landscape changed to lush green fields and then to forests of towering pine trees.
Back up the next mountain, we were so high it began to snow and then rain and snow again. Snow is still quite deep in parts along the roadsides and down the mountainsides into the villages. The roads through the mountainside here are excellent.
Our campsite for tonight: Belitsa – GPS 41.9491N 23.5591E
This is our half way point selected on the way to Rila Monastery which we hope we can get to tomorrow. Travelled about 160 kms today with the road being very good most of the way. Lots of roads in this country are like a patchwork quilt and we wonder how many more times they can be patched up.
Our campsite is in the middle of a little village, next to a sports ground and children’s play area. Nothing much to see here so a relaxing few hours to read and rest up before hiking tomorrow.
Saturday 17th March
The next 100 kms of reasonably good roads took us to the little town of Stob and the Stob Pyramids. For a mere 1 lev we got to walk up a steep mountainside for about 1.5kms to the top.
We followed a pack of sheep for the first half of the journey and they were making better time than we were! The first part of the man made track was really slippery and muddy and then as it got steeper, was replaced by clay and rocks.
Haven’t done a huge amount of walking or exercise over the last few weeks, so had a couple of short stops on the way. The pyramids are just amazing – not to be confused with the Egyptian pyramids, these were created by Mother Nature and are huge rock formations shaped like pyramids which constantly change shape in differing weather conditions. Today we were buffeted by strong winds and once at the top, it was extremely difficult and hazardous to walk along the headland track. Just amazing seeing hundreds of these pyramids dominant in two sections of the gorge. Really worth the walk, though preferably not during rain and high winds.
Continuing on and up through the Rila Mountains and National Park, the scenery was breathtaking with forests of huge pine trees and what would normally be a babbling brook following the road the whole way up, was now a roaring rapid.
Our campsite for tonight: Rila Monastery – GPS 42.1325N 23.3396E
Arrived at the monastery just after lunch to find that there was no parking left so moved past and up beside the monastery to the next carpark about 1.5 kms away. This was a huge flat parking area which still had some snow and ice on it but was quickly melting. Only one car and a small French motorhome here.
Stayed here for a few hours and then ventured back to the Monastery carpark and were happy to see very few cars left at 5pm. Suggest anyone coming here should arrive before 10am or after 5pm particularly on a weekend.
Just a little light left now and as the opening times are advertised as 7am to 9pm, we took advantage of what was left of the day to see the monastery with a view to returning tomorrow for better photos.
Just magnificent. You pass through an archway adorned with paintings into a huge square. The monastery is three floors high and fills all sides of the square with balconies looking over the beautiful church in the middle.
We spoke to the security guard located just inside the archway and asked if we could park outside for the night. No problem and he suggested parking closer to the archway as there are security cameras there and is safer. Three guards patrol the monastery during the night.
Outside the monastery, the cobble stoned walkways lead to restaurants and picnic areas where the babbling brook (now nearly raging Rapids) flow just outside the walls.
We were going to have leftovers but decided to eat out at the restaurant behind the monastery – should have had the leftovers – was probably the worst meal we have had!
Settled in for a more than peaceful night only to be woken up by heavy rain on the roof.
Sunday 18th March
Sadly, fog was so thick when we woke that it was impossible to see a few metres in front of us. Decided to wait a while for it to lift but soon after, heavy rain began to fall. Three hours later, after checking the weather forecast, decided to move on. We did not follow our golden rule of never leaving anything to see tomorrow that can’t be seen today – because tomorrow is always a risk.
Not a huge number of campsites in our APPs for this area around Rila Mountains. We didn’t want to go through Sofia so opted to take a short cut through the middle from Dupnitsa to Samokov 40 kms on what looked like a main road. Biggest mistake ever as this road is by far the worst road we have experienced in all of our travels. Potholes that you could take a picnic in and bitumen patches that became like speed bumps – just horrible, horrible, horrible. Avoid this road at all costs and go around through the outskirts of Sofia.
Our campsite for tonight: Kokalyane – GPS 42.587734N 23.420449E
Not a good day travelling and we were so happy to find a place that looked promising to park for the night (GPS 42.5832N 23.4265E). Wrong – this huge carpark was used for driving school practice during the late afternoon and not long after it became dark and we had finished dinner, we were harassed by three hot cars who used the carpark as a rally car circuit and came closer and closer at each turn – flashing lights and just sitting within a few feet of us – time to move on so quickly got out of there. Our fault as we were so tired, we broke one of our golden rules to never park in a big carpark unless it is in a reasonable sized town and only if there are lots of other cars or motorhomes there.
Only a km or so further down the road, we found the above parking area and settled down to a peaceful night. There are quite a number of smaller spots to park not far away.