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

Kronstadt

Brasov's fortress
Brasov’s fortress

Three days are not enough to know Romania but they may be just enough to fall in love with the country. Romanians are so kind that when you pull out your map, before you even finish unfolding it, there is already someone asking you “Unde something something?” or event better if they speak English: “Where are you going?”. Always ready to point you in the right direction. Not always ready to admit that they don’t know the place you are trying to reach, though.

That last “morning” in Brașov was an interesting experience. Needless to say I didn’t wake up early, after finishing that last post so late, I could only wake up later than before. It’s ok, I wasn’t in any hurry, the road to Bucharest is not very long. Only I didn’t count on the total randomness of life to slow me down to the point I didn’t have time to visit Bucharest at all. I did take a better look at beautiful Brașov though.

German couple
The first Germans of the day

I set off at noon, a good time to set off if you are looking forward to melting inside your riding jacket and you know I’m always looking forward to that! I wanted to take a closer look at the Black Church and was hesitating to go into the sidewalk with the bike to get closer to the entrance when I saw another travel bike with its bikers right by the church’s entrance. That was my cue so I got closer. It turned out to be a very nice German couple travelling around Eastern Europe. We talked for a while and they recommended me a monastery to visit in the Turkish border. I might just go if I leave early from Sunny Beach. I took a regular I-ve-been-here pic of the church and left for the other church in Brașov and the first Romanian school. There I was, lazy me trying to figure out how to get closer to the church without leaving the bike when the usual Romanian kindness pushed some guy on a bike to ask me where I was trying to get to and where I came from. He spoke French and was happy to speak French with me. t turned out to be a German-Romanian whose claims to fame were many, one I can remember was to have founded the Romanian ski school.

Nicolae Chibac
Nicolae Chibac on his smallest bike (he had at least 2 more in the garage)

His name is Nikki Chibac and he invited me to this house on the hill. Little did I know that it would mean my first fall with the bike, and the second one too. See, I said house on the hill and conveniently omitted to mention that to get to it the only way was a little dirt trail ending in a very steep curve. Yes, that was my cue to touch the floor. No harm to me or the bike apart from a scratch on the left pannier. In no time I was surrounded by 3 of his gipsy workers that were helping me to pick up the bike and asking me in broken English if I had ran out of gas. Shame on me, I answered “no, no, bad driver”, countering his broken English with my own brew of broken English. After showing me the property and taking me on a hike up the hill to show me the road to Poiana Brașov that I should take if I wanted to go to Bran before leaving for Bucharest, he invited me to soup but I had to refuse. It was already 3pm and with my proverbial slowness, I was never going to get to the capital before nightfall if I stayed for the soup. Pity, it would have been my first home cooked Romanian meal. On the way out, I fell again and this time, 4 of the gipsies and Nikki himself took me down the ramp carrying the bike with small steps of clutch release and brake. After a brief reminder by Nikki of how I should ride a trail, I was off on my way to Bran. The rest of the road was uneventful, beautiful but uneventful. The only thing to say is that I ran into a lot of bikers. With these roads, there had to be bikers. I got to Bucharest very late as expected. It was still day but not for long, time to go for dinner at a Romanian restaurant, my first since I hit the Romanian roads.

View from a hill
The view of Brasov from Nikki’s hill

PS: Kronstadt is the German name of Brașov

Sofia, Sofia-grad, Bulgaria