In Bulgaria, all the roads lead to

the highway!

Here’s the road I took from Sofia to Sunny Beach. I’m posting it here so that you can zoom in as I tell you what happened.

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I pleaded not to take highways anymore and with that in mind I set off. After trying and failing to get Scottoiler oil in Bulgaria (the official dealer seems to think that selling the thing is enough and doesn’t stock oil), I went to Tatiana’s workplace to give her back the keys of the appartment (Thanks Tatiana!). That’s where it all starts. I had said before (to Tatiana, btw) that it is easier to get lost in cities than outside of cities. Silly me! It’s just as easy.

She gave me a couple of indications on how to get to the road from the center but I wasn’t worried: the signs saying « tsentar » had taken me to the center and to her office and I was sure that other signs, hopefully blue ones, would take me out of the city. And yes, I said blue ones. See, contrarily to France, in Bulgaria the highway signs are green and the national roads signs are blue. I knew that already when I came from Romania so no confusion there, thought I. There are two roads leading to Burgas, roads 6 and 8, pretty much of the same length. I had decided to take road 8 and see Plovdiv and Stara Zagora on the way so I went on to leave the city by the highway. I knew I had to use the highway to get out of the city quickly, I glanced at the map and decided that I would ditch it as soon as I saw signs for Novi Han and I did… only to find myself in the midst of (amateur?) road blocks made of piled up dirt in the middle of the road. This is what you see on the map when it look like I took two roads at the same time. I went there, tried to continue and finally turned myself around after going around the 5th or 6th road block.

And I turned back so inexpertly that I ended up on road 6. But I didn’t want to take road 6. I lost some time buy finally managed to be on my way again. It was highway until Ihtiman then. At Ihtiman I tried to ditch the highway again, got lost in the town, found a kebab shop, asked some guy who directed me to his friend who did speak English who finally told me how to get out of the town and take the small road to Plovdiv. And I had my kebab of course. I followed that road happily for a short while until I saw a blue sign (Blue, national road!) indicating Plovdiv to the right. Where did I end up? On the highway again! Arghhh!!!

Ok, ok, calm down, it’s not so bad. After all you are already late, a little highway won’t hurt. You’ll ditch it again in Plovdiv. That’s what I was telling myself all the way to Plovdiv and I did. At Plovdiv I managed to enter the town, go through the center and leave the town without taking the highway. Only I wasn’t on the road I wanted to be. At the first town I looked at the map and saw I was on a much smaller road than the one I wanted to take. I slowed down so abruptly that the car behind me thought that I had a problem and stopped some 20 meters ahead of me. Some guy came out of the car and I couldn’t hear what he wanted. Instead of keeping telling myself that he was pissed off by my sudden stop, I turned off the engine and finally could hear him say « Vous parlez français ? ». Together we figured out where I was and I decided to stay on that road.

It was an interesting experience for a couple of kilometers, the road was excellent in the surroundings of some towns and immediately became pothole paradise in the surroundings of other towns. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t run absolutely parallel to the highway. I took the highway. No use being on the highway without the benefits of the highway.

Finally, in Chirpan, I actually managed to take road 66 or 6 and not end up on the highway. I got lost in Stara Zagora but still managed to stay on road 8 and not the highway. If you look at the map now you will see why it was so easy: there is no more highway after Stara Zagora. Until there is. And you join it automatically and have no other option near Karnobat.

By then, it was 7pm, I was tired and had decided it was time to rest. Bad luck, there was no gas station or rest area at all for at least 40 minutes. Finally rested, I undertook the final stretch to Burgas and Sunny Beach and got to the hostel safely.

That, dear friends is what the road feels like. On a bad day.

Nesebar, Burgas, Bulgaria

Warnings

I’ve been warned. Don’t sleep there said the hostel lady in Cluj-Napoca when I told her that I planned to go to Sofia by the shortest road and spend the night in Craiova. What about Caracal? No. Slatina? Maybe, why don’t you spend the night in Pitesti? Pitesti is only 140km away from Brasov, that would take me nowhere.

White Church
Cluj-Napoca’s white church behind the abundant aerial cabling

When I got to Brasov I asked a similar question to the hostel guy and he said about the same or worse, it was more like: no, don’t stay in Slatina either, that is the most dangerous part of Romania. If I were you, I would speed through it and get to Sofia, there’s no telling how the adjacent Bulgarian side would be.

Some biker
Strange biker in Cluj

Both times the reason was the same: that’s Rom region. Rom, gipsy, tsingari, egyptians. Who are they and why are they feared that much? I guess I will not find out by going into their region of the country. I have rearranged my route, heading another piece of Romanian advice: « don’t go to the beach in Romania, go in Bulgaria ». Really, what is it with Romanian beaches? I guess I won’t find out this time either. This morning I’ll head to Bucarest and then to Sofia from there. Pity to take such a detour but it will give me the chance to spend the night in Bucarest.

Today was a sort of short riding day but the day before was long. I’m starting to feel the road on my bones and muscles and I will welcome the shorter riding tomorrow and the rest days in Bulgaria and Istanbul. The road was even nicer than the previous days with trees on the side providing some shade but there was a lot of road work that slowed the traffic a lot. The fact that it’s a twisting single-lane road with lots of trucks that you can’t overtake without putting someone’s life in danger (the motorcyclist’s usually) doesn’t make it any faster but I’ve found a solution for taking pictures on the way. Actually, the camera was inside 2 layers of bags up to now and taking it out for picture taking was a drag. Now it’s just in my tank bag without any particular other bag and taking pictures is as easy as stopping by the side of the road, opening the helmet, opening the bag and pushing the shutter button. I don’t even need to open the helmet if I don’t care what’s in the picture and what isn’t :P. Or I could use LiveView. Hum, there’s an idea!

Somewhere along the road to Brasov I saw a sign indicating a fortified evangelical church and I followed the 6km dirt track leading to a small village (Valchid was the name), which must have been enjoying a collective nap to get them through the scorching heat of midday (Seriously, who rides in this heat? Me) because I couldn’t see anyone and of course the fortification was closed, that’s what fortifications are for. Out of the blue came a car with a Netherlands plate and the driver asked me if I was up to what I was up to and said he would ask the keykeeper to come open the church. Not even a minute later I was entering the fortification and the church. That was some sight! The church was not particularly beautiful or anything. It’s just that there was the walls and the church, very close to each other. Inside the fort, there was only the church, nothing else. Strange thing to build, I must remember to read why they did that. I tried to ask in what passes for Romanian in my head (it’s most certainly not Romanian) when was the church built. I didn’t understand the answer. Once at the hostel, I tried numbers in Google Translate and now I think he said XVI or XVII century.

Fortified church
The church’s outside shell

Today, I also chose the roads that were marked « of scenic interest » on the map. The map conveniently omits to say that they are not of asphalt interest, especially the road from Iernut to Medias but it’s alright. At some point the quality of the roads is going to start to fall, it might as well be now :|.

Bike in town
Some biker came to wake the town up
Brasov, Brasov, Romania