Yes, I’m alive. And yes, very lazy. Thanks to constant reminders from my mother, I have an obligation to continue this tale of discovery and adventure and so I shall pick up where I left off. Entering Bulgaria.
Such a long time ago now. Feels like it’s been winter forever. In fact, I was to get a taste of just that not long into Eastern Europe. But more on that later. My first port of call was Plovdiv. The change from “East” to “West” in my mind was significant. Everything seemed easier, familiar and sadly less adventurous. Plovdiv would prove to be a wonderful first town for many reasons. Firstly, I discovered on a walking tour that it’s Europe’s oldest city. Secondly, the weather continued to favour me and thirdly, I was to meet many locals and travellers which would account for many late nights and a distinct increase in alcohol consumption.
The old town in central Plovdiv was quite stunning. Some Roman ruins were discovered under the city some time ago and the gentleman who made the discovery proved to be quite unpopular. Why? Well, a number of people had to move out of their houses so as to accommodate the excavation. All this I learned on a free walking tour. This, was to be one of the highlights. Apparently, these tours are all over Europe and the only cost is a small tip to the tour guide after your 2-3 hour stroll. They are very informative and enthusiastic and of course you usually meet fellow travelers along the way. Three young Aussie guys were on my tour and afterward we partook in some obligatory beers in the warmth of the afternoon sun. A few turned into a few more and before we knew it we were at a bar I’d discovered the previous night chatting with the barmaid.
Side note: my first night in Plovdiv saw me perched on a stool at a bar being the only patron for the entire night. I made great conversation with the young barmaid and proceeded to party with her, her boyfriend and friends after her shift well into the wee hours. The level of English in Easter Europe I would continue to discover was exceptional and the friendliness and openness that came with it was equally welcomed.
And so it was that our foursome (Alex, Lewis, Danyon and I) met a couple of lively American girls (Jessie and Kim) and before long we had a throng of revellers enjoying the cheapest beer in Europe. I’m sure that low cost had a lot to do with a couple of the boys “retiring” early (not quite getting the pace right). It would certainly be a sign of things to come as the solo journeying of the bike met the backpacking scene of Europe. Interestingly, Bulgaria was home to the best red wine I’ve had in my life. I’m not quite sure if the inexpensive nature of the country meant I was drinking a higher class than what I might typically consume in other countries or that it was just simply exceptional. I’m thinking it was a little Column A and a little Column B.
Due to the good company and the free flowing wine, I decided to stay an extra day and this proved to be a nightmare for the next journey. The three hour ride to Sofia was torture. My first proper ride in rain in the cold. I can now confirm my gear is certainly not water resistant. Maybe if you were to stand in the rain, but to blast along on the highway, the sheer force of the rain at high speed soaks you and chills you to your core. There would be a few more of these experiences and each one felt worse than the last.
Sofia was equally delightful and again the walking tour (in torrid freezing, wet conditions) was a lot of fun. I met Julie (a Canadian living in New York) and Cassie (an American studying in Switzerland). The following night Julie and I took on the pub crawl. This was such a pleasant surprise. Lots of great travellers, but also lots of hidden bars. One was an old anti-communist newspaper printing room. We even had to sneak down an alleyway and knock on an otherwise nondescript door.The night would prove to be a lot of fun.
Being in Europe meant that there’d be more Churches on the cards instead of Mosques. The Orthodox Churches in Bulgaria were exquisite. Perhaps because I hadn’t seen Orthodox Churches in a long time, but it was a nice to behold their grandeur and design. I took a blast on the motorbike out to Rila Monastery and it was quite beautiful. Still in operation today, but on a smaller scale. The journey there was incredibly scenic and the whole environment really helped draw you into the spirituality of the place. Serene and peaceful. It had the most calming effect and I wondered what it must have been like a thousand years ago when it was first established. Yes, that’s right. 1,000 years ago!
A reunion was on the cards for the Plovidiv gang – Jessie, Kim, Danyon along with some others we’d met there: Braydon aka Alberta (Canada), Graham (England) and Stefano (Italy). I tried finding the hidden bars but in the process discovered a whole new one… again with the secret door knocking. All so mysterious!
I was recommended Veliko Tarnovo as my final Bulgarian destination by Danyon and it didn’t disappoint. It is home to a beautiful castle (Tsarevets Fortress) and some lovely parks with a winding river down below the old town perched high on the gorge cliffs. On the way there I had to stop in a little village called Idilevo to pick up my green card insurance for Europe and it reminded me that I was still in Eastern Europe. It’s hard not to notice the difference in living standard with Western countries and the bigger cities in Eastern Europe. Horses and carts, cattle on the roads, old motor vehicles, mangy dogs loitering aroiund. A much simpler life indeed, but some equally stark reminders of hardship. After a two hour wait (which I must admit was quite pleasant), some kid ran down the road toward me shouting “Ivo, Ivo?” I confirmed that Ivo was the guy I was looking for and with that the boy indicated for me to wait a minute and off he ran again. Ivo eventually turned up full of apologies and our business was all done and dusted in two minutes! For those interested, Ivo worked at Motocamp Bulgaria. They organise bike tours, bike rental, green card insurance and they even have some pretty cool accommodation. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot to explore in Bulgaria beyond the highways and back roads I went on.
Perhaps I’ll return one day for some real adventure.
Note: Apologies for the lack of good photos especially of Sofia. A lot of upload errors for some unfathomable reason! If it interests, have a scan back through the Instagram pics.