09/05/2018 Kromidovo, Bulgaria
We drove 151 miles to get to our first stop, here in Bulgaria. Brian and Wendy, our travelling partners and our friends, have decided to make their way back to Italy to continue their route back into Germany and beyond.
Just over the border we stopped at an office to buy a vignette to allow us onto the main roads and motorways in Bulgaria. The chap was a Liverpool supporter and was obviously very passionate about his football. He then came out to our van to place the vignette himself in exactly the correct place on our windscreen. The roads were nottoo bad on our way up to Kromidovo until we came to the village itself. One mph was too fast to drive along the main street; the potholes being more like bomb craters. Mind you, I have just read an article about the appalling potholes in the UK and the problems they are causing.
Our first campsite cost us the equivalent to £9 and was so friendly and we were introduced to everyone else on the site by the English lady who was the stand in for an English couple who own the site. What a great idea, in no time we were chatting with everyone and a young German couple turned up and spent the time in our van chatting about our and their travels and their fantastic photography. Steffi also told us where we should visit on our travels through Germany en route to England and our way home.
10/05/2018 The car park of the Rila Monastery.
We left the campsite and headed for Melnik which is the local town. The information we had from the campsite said there was an ATM there. What a fascinating place.
We visited the 250 year old Kordopoulov house and saw the wine museum and the pyramids which are the peaks of the sandstone hills that surround the town.Bulgaria is known for its fine wines and every shop sold bottles at ridiculously low prices. Unfortunately, the spa baths are not open yet and, and here I do have to be honest, the weather here is not good even though we have not started climbing the mountains yet. We are not enjoying the same temperatures we were getting in Greece.
We left Melnik and at first headed for Bansko. Bansko is a Bulgaria’s biggest ski centre and we were supposed to be stopping at a camperstop just by the ski lift.
When we got there, the site was closed. We had a look around and managed to find the old town that the book said was a good place to see. The most noticeable things we saw were, the stork with its massive nest on top of the church tower and the huge statue of a monk.
The rain had started falling so we headed back to the van and headed for a camp site just passed the Rila Monastery, way up on the Rila mountain. By that time, I had already driven quite a bit, so I was pleased to arrive at Camping Bor.
It was deserted, run down and then we saw an old man who looked more like a tramp than a campsite owner. We decided not to stay so we went back to the car park of the monastery. We asked the security guard and he said it was OK for us to stay on the car park for the night. It was so remote there that there was not even passing traffic but we had pour own private guard for the night. All we could hear were the owls and the roaring of the raging river that passed nearby. The only thing was that we were over 6,000 ft above sea level in the middle of a remote forest and I had to put the heating on. After the warmth we had been used to in Greece, it came as a bit of a shock.
11/05/2018 Sapareva Banya
In the morning, the rain had stopped so we walked over to enter the monastery. From the outside, the mighty walls make it look as though it would make a good castle. It is impressive enough outside but as soon as you get through the western gate you then see the several floors of highly painted wooden balconies that run all the way around the interior.
However, your eyes are immediately drawn to the courtyard’s dominant feature; the Church of the Nativity.
I will let the pictures be the description. We went inside and just wondered at the riches on show in such a poor country.
Photography was not allowed in the church itself, so we went to the “religious icons shop”, just over from the church to get a booklet that would show what the inside of the church looked like. The man charged me 4 BGN (about £1.70) for the only book or booklet they had in English. When I took it over to Elaine she noticed that it had a price on it of 3 BGN. I couldn’t stop laughing. Of all the places to be ripped off, it shouldn’t happen in a monastery.
Our next stop was at the foot of this mountain range, but over the other side. It took us 56 miles to take us to get around to Sapareva Banya which as a crow flies, is only about 5 mile away. At first we followed a narrow road across farmland and through sleepy villages where the sight of our motorhome drew lots of attention. Sometimes when we got smiles, we would wave and smile back.
We pulled up at the small campsite and went off to visit the town. It’s main claim to fame is the “Geyser Fountain”. It is the record holder of the hottest mineral water in Bulgaria and Continental Europe with a water temperature of 103 degrees centigrade which erupts naturally. We walked up close and the water is hot but despite being clear and colourless, has a smell of hydrogen sulphide.
We tried a couple of bars on the way back and a large glass of great Bulgarian wine, red or white, cost under a £1. That evening we had a meal at the campsite and cannot believe how far your money goes here. The young German couple we met when we came into Bulgaria turned up as we were eating; we had a chat, then they went off to pitch their tent.
12th & 13th/05/2018 Sofia (the Bulgarian capital city)
After just 36 miles we pulled into Ivan’s garden which he has turned into a camper stop. His cottage is in one corner and here we can get all the services we need and there is a very strong Wi-Fi signal. In a metal shed there is a very quaint toilet and shower arrangement (the hot water hasn’t been connected up yet) but it is safe, and Ivan is very friendly and helpful. You can see the nearest underground station from his garden. Once set up, we walked the short distance to the station of the very modern underground system and paid the equivalent of £0.72 each to get into the centre.
There were Roman ruins as soon as we got out of the station and unlike most places, you can walk inside the ancient walls. Throughout the city we found information boards are mostly in Bulgarian and English, so it was easy to find our way around and to know what we were looking at.
Sofia is a small capital city with a population of around a 1,000,000 people. The buildings have completely diverse influences to their design and structure. The monumental buildings from the communist era in downtown Sofia and the huge sports stadium contrast completely to the Orthodox churches, to what is described as an Art Nouveau Synagogue while Roman, medieval and Ottoman era structures. Downtown Sofia also has large parks and were full of people and families enjoying their Saturday there
This is Sofia, she replaced a statue of Lenin. much prettier, I am sure.
Despite the dire weather prediction, the weather was great. We walked around and around every corner was another reason for me to get my camera out again. We had a great late, lunch and enjoyed talking to the young Bulgarian waiter about living in this city. We continued our walking tour and are left to wonder how many steps we took around the capital. I am going to leave the pictures to show just a few places and things we saw.
One very nice thing happened near the station. A group of people dressed in Roman garb had a small tent and were aiming to set up a peace wall. A slab of clay was on offer so a message, in your own words, can be written on it. Once fired, these bricks with messages from Bulgarians and tourists would be put together to make the wall. The picture shows our contribution.
Later-on, we were told that they were going to put on a play-let whilst dressed in Roman Garb. We went back but unfortunately the words were all in Bulgarian so after taking a few pictures we left to continue our walk around the city.
Finally, the promised rain started so we headed back to the station to catch the train back. We had a magnificent day and a very tiring one. To use the words of the great Bruce Forsythe, whilst compering Strictly Come Dancing, Sofia is now my “favourite” capital city. We are loving Bulgaria and our only sadness is that Brian and Wendy didn’t come with us when we crossed the border.