2018/03/19 Bulgaria – Valley of the Thracian Kings

Monday 19th March

Woke up to another miserable, foggy, cold and wet day and travelled mostly with the demister on.  Travelling along highway 6 was so much better today and soon we made short work of just over 100kms.  Not too many pot holes to fall into.  Scenery again of lush green valleys – such a shame the sun was not shining.

We have found the people here really great though very few speak any English.

Only a short 12 kms off the highway took us through the mountains to this wonderful village, though visibility was hampered by heavy fog and light rain.

Our campsite for tonight:  Koprivshtitsa – GPS  42.6426N   24.3598E

The campsite is in the heart of the village and again we were the only ones there.  The attendant at the boom gate wandered over as soon as we parked and relieved us of around $5 and then locked up her office and was not seen again for the rest of the day.  Hardly worth her while I expect.  No one else came in.

Unusual architecture in town

Spent a couple of hours waiting for the rain to stop and given our experience yesterday at the monastery decided to venture out and try to take some photos – fog or not.  It was freezing outside so put on all the gear including hats and gloves and braved the elements.

First task was to find the tourist office which wasn’t easy as everything here is in written in Bulgarian.  Their alphabet is even more difficult than the Greek alphabet but it was a joy walking through this UNESCO heritage town and eventually after asking a few people (using google translate) we found the tourist office.

Armed with a brochure, a map and tickets to go through 6 of the museum homes here – three only open today and the other three tomorrow, we set off in search of the first one.  Quite a challenge as the English brochure we had did not have the Bulgarian translations so the names on the museums were totally different to what was on our brochure. 

No that is not a veil – just the way the snow fell

Such a wonderfully interesting afternoon walking through the cobble stoned streets and going through the museums.  The fog lifted a little so did manage to take some photos but hope tomorrow will reward us with some finer weather.

It was bitterly cold outside so ventured back to Ziggy for a couple of warming vodkas.  Light rain turned to sleet and then to snow for a short while and the temperature inside dropped considerably.  Turned on the gas heater which remained on all night.

Tuesday 20th March

Woke up to a winter wonderland with snow quite a few inches deep.  Must have snowed through most of the night.  Just so beautiful outside and light snow still falling.


Back into the snow gear and went in search of the three remaining museums.  So much prettier than yesterday with everything covered in snow.

They have nine months of winter here in this valley.

Captured this winter wonderland with lots of photos.  There is just something so special seeing trees with their branches under the weight of snow and valleys and mountains blanketed in white.

More interesting architecture

Once down in the valleys, the snow was melting quickly and turned to slush with still lots of pockets of snow here there and everywhere.

Our campsite for tonight:  Kazanlak – GPS  42.6261N    25.3976E

On our way towards Kazanlak it had stopped snowing and even had a couple of patches of blue sky though no sun.  We saw the sign to the Valley of the Thracian Kings so took a detour.  There are several tombs in the area and most are signposted.

In this valley (The Valley of the Thracian Kings) the town of Shipka has one of the most amazing monasteries consisting of two very different pieces of architecture joined together.  The Monastery of Hram-Pametnik, has several gold domes which can be seen from miles away. 

The Monastery in Shipka

There is no cost to see the monastery, however they do ask for a small donation if you want to take photos.  Such a great building and would strongly suggest a visit if in the area.

Another view of the Monastery

Only a few kms to the town of Kazanlak and our campsite for tonight is just at the bottom of a hill with about fifty steps to the Tomb of Kazanlak Thracian King.  The original tomb is closed unless you are part of a group and have prearranged a tour, however they have built an exact replica a short distance away which you can inspect of a couple of LEV.  Really interesting.

Inside the Tomb

The campsite is a carpark which can take about 10 motorhomes and the same number of cars.  Set out in search of a taverna but could not find one close by that was open.  The carpark is quite busy until around 10pm but very quiet after that.

This town is also famous for its rose gardens and ruse museum.  June is the rose festival month so is the best time to be here.

Wednesday 21st March

Were woken up by three lady workers who set about sweeping the carpark and picking up any rubbish.  We watched as they created hand made brooms with the branches of fir trees by attaching these with rope to long wooden sticks – suspect this is how their forefathers made brooms.  We have found the women doing similar jobs in all the villages and towns which are clean and free of rubbish and with very few stray dogs.  Such a shame Greece does not do this as it is so full of rubbish and no one seems to care.

It was our intention to spend a couple of days in Veliko Tarnovo.  Such an interesting city to drive through with the Citadel towering over this huge city.  We drove through the Old Town and saw amazing cathedrals which were unbelievable and then spent the next three hours trying to find a place to stay.

Street art in Veliko Tarnovo

Our ideal spot was totally torn apart with earthmoving equipment taking up most of the carpark.  Think it was being renovated with new lighting towers in place and the rest being levelled to be ready for tourists in the summer months.  We stopped for lunch here but were given the royal stare by the workers so moved on.  Three other car parks were not suitable for motorhomes or were full.

Part of the Old Town in Veliko Tarnovo

Frustrated to say the least we moved toward a farm stay a few kms out of town.  This took us off the main road and up a single land track for about 1.5kms.  On arrival we found a car and trailer bogged at the entry with no way around it.  The owner (a Brit) came out and told us it would take about an hour to tow the car out so we had no option but to reverse back the 1.5 kms over a snowy and muddy narrow winding track to the main road.  My amazing driver made it look so easy. He said he had never had to reverse as far before, even in good conditions.

There are very few camping spots in all of Bulgaria and most particularly in the north.

Our campsite for tonight:  Polski Trambesh – opposite police station.

It was not very late in the afternoon with nothing promising on the horizon.  Drove through a few towns but could not find any place off this busy highway that was not muddy and slushy.

This is a small to medium sized town and off the highway so decided to stay here.  Found a wide level street in town and settled down and people watched for some time.  We certainly created a lot of local interest and we feel not too many motorhomes have passed through here.

Fresh snow once again at our overnight spot in Polski Trambesh

Felt very safe being opposite the police station and had a very quiet night after around 11pm.  Temperature had dropped by 12 degrees by bedtime so expected a cold overnight temp.

Thursday 22nd March

Again woke up to a winter wonderland with snow several inches thick outside.  Overnight temperature was -1 with a maximum of 0 expected during the day.  It was snowing again with heavy flurries.

Not long after we left town, conditions worsened and soon we were in blizzard conditions.  The windscreen and wipers started to ice up even using the demister was not keeping up with the outside conditions.

We were happy to get off the highway and took a side road to see the Ivanovo rock churches.  Passed a 4WD car bogged in snow on the side of the road with no one inside.  The roads were icing up so we hoped we would not end up as he did.

Visibility was poor when we arrived at the churches so took a couple of photos and headed back to Ivanovo before we got stuck too.  Filled up with fuel and gas and the attendant told us our next stop was ideal to spend the night.

Our campsite for tonight:  Basarbobo Rock Monastery  – 43.7659   25.9658

Only around 10kms from the rock churches, this place is just another one of those “must see” spots.  The monastery is Literally carved into this incredibly unusual and spectacular mountain and rock formation.  In front of this is a new and more modern monastery and church which is occupied by two monks.

Part of the Monastery in the rock face

The snow was falling quite heavily when we arrived in the carpark but took the time to enter the monastery gates and take photos of this amazing place.

Didn’t venture up the rock face today as weather conditions were woeful but remain optimistic about tomorrow.

Inside the rock face Monastery

Sat in Ziggy and watched the heavy snow flurries fill up the surrounding trees, monastery buildings and carpark – just so wonderful and serene.

Friday 23rd March

It must have snowed all night as outside was a sea of white, white and more white and the snow was still falling heavily.  The snow was so thick in the carpark that the entrance was nowhere to be seen.  The snow on Ziggy’s roof was at least 6 inches thick and totally blacked out the solar panels.  We enjoyed the scenery whilst hoping that a snow plough would come along and clear the way for us.

The Navigator de-icing Ziggy while we wait for the snow plough

The trip down the mountain and to the town of Ruse was really scary as the snow had turned to ice and visibility was poor.

Our campsite for tonight:  Lidl, Ruse

Lidl came into view and we drove into the carpark and turned off the engine with a sigh of relief.  With snow piled high on all sides of the road on all roads, there was no where else to park that wasn’t snowed in.  Regardless of what happened now, we had our food chain at the doorstep and hoped no one would ask us to leave.

Lidl closed at around 9pm and didn’t hear a sound until 7.30am next morning.

2018/03/14 – Hello Bulgaria

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.

Just another challenge on the roads

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.

Look closely – that horse is attached to the car by a rope and the car is being driven along the road

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.

This is typical – so many of the older people have nothing but have learnt how to be happy with nothing – they still smile and wave and try to talk to us – so many are crippled

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.

Some nice street art in Plovdiv Old Town

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.

Unusual architecture in Plovdiv Old Town

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.

The Navigator directing us around Plovdiv Old Town

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.

The ancient amphitheatre in Plovdiv Old Town which is still used for plays and rock concerts

Think we will be eating out lots in Bulgaria as everything is so cheap. Can’t wait to see the prices in Lidl.

Interesting street art and architecture in Plovdiv Old Town

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.

Look closely – all the electric wires are on the outside walls of the house

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.

Stob’s Pyramids

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.

The main entrance to Rila Monastery

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.

Inside the entrance to Rila Monastery around 6pm

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.

Unusual architecture inside Rila Monastery

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.