Bulgarian beer and singing gypsies

We rode past the nice-looking campsite and onwards- 150km in the wrong direction based on a border crossing on our map that didn’t actually exist. The towns got smaller and smaller. We stopped and asked a burly army officer how to cross into Bulgaria. He looked very surprised when he eventually understood, and sent us back exactly the way we came. We stopped at a disco garage for strong coffee to buzz us back towards the Bulgarian border.

Bulgaria awaits.
The border had a brilliant soviet-style ‘Republic of Bulgaria’ sign, and we passed the now-defunct ‘Disinfection Bay’ without anyone trying to hose us down with anything. Everyone was whizzing through without showing anything, so we got stopped and asked for our passports.

some communist-looking flats in the rain.

The crossing was great though, and the bit of Bulgaria we arrived into was excellent, with very shabby little villages, and Lada cars everywhere, and dodgy-looking huddles of young men at roadside bars. We changed some money at a very unforthcoming money changer, where the owners carried on their muttered conversation throughout the transaction. The bike got a lot of attention. Saw an actual campsite sign and thought it prudent to stop there for the night (slow on the uptake but learning!). We rode into a tiny village past a man hanging up his freshly skinned pig from a shed-beam, and a pen of very large goats, to an actual, real-life campsite.
We prepared ourselves for the arduous task of determining prices etc in mime, and were greeted at the door by a southerner from Kent , telling us rapidly about his power-failure. His name was Matt, and it was his campsite. It had the dubious honour of being the best campsite in Bulgaria, out of a grand total of two. We were promptly shown ‘the reason I stay here’- his young Bulgarian girlfriend Magdalena, who introduced herself by saying ‘I am Magdalena and I am a Bulgarian.’ in an excellent accent. We ventured out to the local shop where we managed to procure, amongst much confusion and hilarity, a pot of pepper sauce, a piece of the worst cheese ever tasted, and two large local beers. We got lost trying to find our way home, and passed some excellent toothless old crony real-life peasants in headscarves, several roadside tethered donkeys, and a pony-trap. The beer proved excellent. Bulgaria was going to be good.

a pony cart in the village.

On arriving back at our pitch we met Barry & Margaret, a retired couple from Yorkshire who had spent the last 14 years continuously travelling in their modified motorhome, and who were very knowledgeable about- in no particular order- bears in Greece, cartography, Bulgarian history, world affairs, birdwatching, websites and cycling. Plus the storm they had witnessed briefly before we arrived, which had caused (as we heard many times) the failure of the Wifi, the switching of one fuse-box and the failure of the hot water. Having said that, they were very friendly and talkative, and very pleased with the half-full pot of 60p jam we donated them when we left. They were keen to let us know that the Slavs were an arrogant race with regards to their own history, and that charity donations were wasted unless spent on knitting woolly hats for Romanian orphanages. I now pass that information on to you, for any use you feel is appropriate. But it was good to have spent time chatting to people from home, and I was impressed with their lifestyle.

Barry & Margaret, formerly of Halifax, now of Motorhome.

We slept well and mostly managed to ignore the singing gypsy who passed through the campsite at 3am.
The next day saw us riding around on tiny little roads, still in fairly good condition but getting smaller and smaller. We went past some amazing soviet-era tank vehicles, and statues in weird soviet blocky style but with religious overtones, and giant soviet factories, both defunct and working, with women outside smoking in aprons (like the old black & white photos from the 40s in Britain).

soviet-era military machines of some kind...

a big rusty factory. one of many.

There were more ponytraps with Roma gypsies and horses with feathered head-dresses, and lots of people smiling and waving. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with churlish waitresses who glared at us when we ordered the only thing vegetarian on the menu. We headed off to somewhere on the map called Samokov, a hilly place which appeared to have campsite symbols on our newly acquired, possibly less-than-accurate Bulgaria map.

The roads wound up through crazily pretty scenery, with forests and rivers and waterfalls. Bulgaria is definitely a beautiful country and should be firmly on the map for the beer and people alone. Anyway, we kept going, and there were lot of people sat outside cafes after work, and Romani gypsies (Barry: ‘paid by the day not by the hour- too lazy’) working the fields completely by hand, sometimes with horses, or sat on their lunchbreaks in big groups. The streets were relatively quiet until after 6pm- everyone works. We got lost and lost and lost again, in a pleasant unhurried manner, and went past the same café four times before finding the correct road. Finally arrived in Samokov to hunt down the campsite.

storks nesting inappropriately.

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