We left the camp and headed towards the Black Sea; it so so-called because the ancient Greeks called it the “Inhospitable Sea” because it was difficult to navigate, and hostile tribes inhabited its shores. One interesting fact is the Black Sea is not very salty. The upper flow carries the fresh water off the land into the Black Sea and carries the flow into the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the bottom flow brings in salty water from the Med and mixes with the water in the basin and that results in a comparatively low salinity at the surface of around 17.5%- 18%. I suppose that is only interesting if you go swimming and get a mouth full. It won’t taste so salty as it would in other seas.
If you ever come to Bulgaria and want to find a Lidl supermarket do not go to Yambol. We came off the motorway as we needed to shop. We got into this city and started to follow the signs. We went around and around the city following the arrows on the signs for the store. Every sign had an arrow and 2.5km on them. I now think the signs were put up by a rival supermarket chain just to wind us up. We lost almost an hour on a fruitless search and headed back to the motorway. On the way out of Yambol we had to drive through a shanty town area full of Turks who have become residents of Bulgaria. Poverty, squalor, and trash are on show throughout the area and we passed quite a few horse drawn carts full of scrap. There was a supermarket on the way through, but we were not brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to stop.
Finally, after 124 miles we pulled into the Marina at Sozopol. What a great place to stop, just around the corner from the town. We had come here to be by the black sea and to see the traditional stone and wooden houses that it is famed for. We were not disappointed. I think our van looks just as posh as the bit of a boat that was moored in front of us. Mind you, when our motorhome gets dirty and covered in fly swats then it is down to me to clean it. Whilst we were there, two chaps spent the whole time, cleaning and polishing an already gleaming craft. Just in case you wondered, literally yards off the route we took to get into the town, we found a Lidl, open on a Sunday. It is good to shop.
23/05/2018 Nessebur, old town
We had to drive all around the bay to get further up the coast. As we drove on a fairly smooth road towards Nessebur we came across a diversion. We went miles on the detour on the most broken roads we had driven on in Bulgaria. By the time we arrived we were like a James Bond martini, shaken and not stirred. Our pots and pans had rattled about so much that we were surprised that nothing had broken. We looked at a place to stop by the marina but instead drove over the bridge to get to a car park on this World’s Heritage Site at Nessebur old town which is where we will spend the night.
This rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, settlement here goes back at least until the 6th century BC. There are remains here dating from that time. We saw the walls of the fort, from Byzantine times, when this was one of the most important ancient towns on the west coast of the Black Sea and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, There are lots of examples of the stone/wooden houses of the 19th century which are a typical build of the architecture of the period. There are churches of every era, some as ruins but others that have been rebuilt over the ages.
Now, everywhere, there are tourist shops selling touristy type merchandise. It does upset me to see these same shops selling flick-knives, death stars, knuckle dusters and the like along side old lady’s rose petal perfume. Virtually every other building has been taken over by the selling of food in one way or another. There are restaurants everywhere. Outside is the man or lady who’s job it is to try to lure you into their establishment. Down by the bridge, on the way onto the peninsula is a bunch of women all carrying a small armful of cheap necklaces, I had to be positively rude to one of them that had Elaine by the arm trying to force her to buy the cheap merchandise.
The whole town became a lot more pleasant to walk around once the shops had closed and the place wasn’t over-run with tourists. It was nice to walk around without being accosted by over eager shop keepers. We had already chosen the restaurant we would eat at and returned later for a great meal and a couple of glasses of the local wine. We had already been warned that the Black Sea coast was very touristy. It is great to see another side of Bulgaria. We have spoken to a few Brits that have come over for package holidays they all said they were loving their holidays here.
24/05/2018 Just north of Varna
We drove through Varna and stopped just north of the city on an awful little campsite. We were charged far more than the stop is worth considering the poor quality of the facilities. We decided to stop here anyway because the campsite we called in on was deserted and looked closed and the car park attendant at the main car park said we would be charged 50 euros to stop there for the night.
The one good thing is that it is our last stop in Bulgaria and we are only 87 km (about 52 miles from the Romanian border. We have spent the afternoon going through the maps and the guidebooks and have a little plan of our route through yet another new country for us. As always, I have reminded myself about the driving rules and driving habits of the Romanians. It does sound as though it is going to be fun. Apparently, it is a national past time of the Romanian drivers to honk their horns impatiently, to intimidate any driver they consider to be driving too slowly, so they will get out of their way. In which case, I expect to get lots of that, especially if the roads are as bad as we expect them to be. We have had lots of practice coping with the impatient, suicidal drivers as we have travelled around Greece. How can it be any worse in Romania? The other warning is about the number of horse and carts on the road, especially at night, when they can be on the road with no lights.
Lastly at our last shopping trip, Elaine has stocked up on lots of garlic. Elaine and I are now wearing small wooden crosses on chains around our necks, in preparation, and I have a small supply of wooden stakes just in case. Why? On our way out of Romania, we will definitely be having a good look around Transylvania.
25/05/2018 Eforie Nord, just south of Constanta, Romania
We followed the coast road up to the border. Previously I had collected all our Bulgarian coins and notes it came to 66.44 BGN. I pulled into a garage, on the way, and handed it to the attendant who put fuel in to that exact mount. For fun, I showed him my now empty wallet.
Those that know everything gave us dire warnings about crossing the border between Bulgaria and Romania. The last “expert” told us that we would be ripped off by the Romanian guards as they insisted in washing the undersides of every vehicle and charging excessively for the service. He also said that the roads are so bad that it is almost impossible to drive on them without doing serious damage to our motorhome.
When we got to the very quiet border the Bulgarian guard simply came and asked for our passports and our log book for our van. OK he didn’t smile, just took them and disappeared back into his office. Five minutes later, a Romanian guard came out, smiled and returned our documents. That was it! No van washing, no strip search and we were cleared to go. I asked him where we could pay for the road tax for our stay and he cheerfully walked us up to a window in the next building, so we could pay 6 Euros for a week of driving on their roads or 12 euros for a month.
The next 17 km of roads were perfectly smooth and pot hole free. On the way to our first night in Romania we pulled into Mangalia to get some Romanian currency. We were delighted to see that this looked like a thriving up market town. We only saw one horse and cart in the distance and Elaine remarked positively on the nice dress sense of lots of the ladies we passed. It is very early on to form any opinion about Romania but, so far so good.
We pulled into Camping Eforie and got a very cheery welcome and were told it would be 20 Lei a night with electric and park wherever we like. 20 Lei is less than £4. OK, they only have squat toilets and tiny shower cubicles, but we have perfect facilities in our van. We walked into the town and found a restaurant and had a great meal and drinks; total bill there 40 Lei (less than £8). We sampled the Romanian wine in a nice bar and that cost £3. So, £15 more than covered the lot (see kids, at least while we are in Romania, we will have a job spending your inheritance). If it was an email I would put LOL after a comment like that because I am only joking.
As you can see by the pictures, the beach here is amazing. The summer tourist season doesn’t start her until the 1st of June but everywhere you can see frantic efforts to get the place ready. We passed lots of Hotels but know this is going to be a massive tourist centre, here on the Black Sea in Romania. There are huge hotels being constructed and predict that you will be able to book your package holidays here soon and the temperature in the shade is now a warm 29 degrees centigrade.
26/05/2017 Bucharest, the capital of Romania
For us, we were up and ready to leave very early in the morning. Almost for the first time this holiday, Elaine got up and made me tea in the morning. Before driving into Bucharest, we decided to pop into Constanta just to have a quick look.We saw the old casino, a sign of a different era. Like a lot of things built in the communist era, a lot of the buildings were very grandiose whilst the general population were on the poverty line. We walked back to the van and set off for Bucharest. We took the motorway to save time. The scenery we passed was nothing like what we expected. There was not a mountain in sight. In fact, it was just like driving through Lincolnshire on a motorway. Far into the distance, neat fields of differing crops were to be seen with only the occasional field of livestock to break up the view.
It is going to be a warm one today. After a total drive of 156 miles we drove into a very hot, sultry Bucharest. My route planner (Elaine), gives me lots of driving challenges but, negotiating Harriet right to the very centre of this bustling city has been one of the toughest. The car park for our visit to the city and for our overnight stop is within 350 metres from the second largest parliament in the world, but more of that later. The last part of the drive was the worst. The narrow street with cars parked everywhere and if the van had had an extra layer of paint, we would never have got through.
The temperature was 33 degrees as we left the van to walk to the parliament building. We had been told that if we wanted to visit the second largest parliament building in the world, then we had to have our passports with us to gain entry. Probably, the most appropriate phrase to use about our visit is “wow”! Vast fortunes were spent on this obscene, palace of decadence by Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, when he was the communist leader of the country. Meanwhile the people of the country were starving and down trodden. 1989 brought the uprising and him and his wife were executed by a court of the people. So, he never got to see the finish of what he wanted to be his finest legacy.
We had to wait until the 3 pm English tour and after an airport style security check and an extra payment because I wanted to take photographs with my camera, we went upstairs (there is no end to the expense we go to bring this blog to you). The guide had a flat, dead pan, tone of voice, but occasionally you got to hear his droll sense of humour coming out.
Amongst all the superlatives about the things we saw, the 5-ton light fitting in the theatre styled room he gave as the reason why people were not keen to sit in the seats below it.
As I have done before, I will sum up our visit by just showing some of the thigs we saw there, and I am sure that you will be able to see the opulence of the build by a poor country needing emergency loans just to keep its economy afloat. After the I hour visit that was only spoilt because the views of the whole of the City from the Terrace was not allowed because the terrace was being used for a function.
From the parliament we went off over the river bridge to go to the old city. Our tour of Romania will only be a short one just like our visit to the city here. Our view of Romania so far is that we have liked what we have seen and oh yes, the only honking of horns we have heard so far was me desperately trying to warn the driver of a black Range Rover that was coming much too close as we drove through the city.
27/05/2018 Bran, Transylvania, Romania
Having seen the traffic coming into the capital, we decided to make an extra early start to our day. We were on the road at 6 am and were out of the city and on the motorway with no hold up at all. However, our wretched sat nav, that is very lucky that it hasn’t been thrown out of the window so many times suddenly decided that it didn’t know where we were at all. The map jumped from one page after another, one moment telling us to turn left on a road that wasn’t there and almost immediately after was telling me to turn around. We were going under the trolley bus overhead cables at the time so maybe that had something to do with it. We just kept going straight and ended up on the motorway anyway.
After that early start we were at Peles castle just after 9 am even after stopping for a bacon sandwich breakfast. We paid our money and went for a tour and although photography of inside the castle is not allowed, to make people buy the guide books, my finger accidentally kept pressing the button whilst just aiming the camera held at waist level and hoping that I was pointing it in generally the right direction. So please forgive the fact that some of the pictures are on the wonk.
By now, you probably think that about the general standard of my photography already.
On the way again and the whole panorama had changed completely. At first, we just saw the vague shapes of mountains in the distance. Then we left the flat lands, the houses and the wooded covered mountain sides made us think of Austria or Switzerland. We aimed to stop at Brasov on the way as the guide book had shown it as a place of interest. We had a specific car park in mind as we entered this huge city. When we got there the car park was full and our road was barred, I followed a sign for another car park and got to the entrance. It was for cars only and I had to go through a No Entry sign to turn around. In the end we just had to give up as the city was so full of parked cars it was impossible to find a place for Harriet.
We drove on to Bran and Elaine took some great photos of the mountains as we went along. Perhaps she should take all the photos from now on. We arrived at Camping Vampire and parked up. I noticed that flies were going from one to another of their dead brethren stuck all over the front of the van. They were perhaps seeing if they knew or were related to any of the hundreds we had killed today on our way here. Out came the wash bucket again.
After washing the van, we went off to walk the short distance to go to see Castle Bran. The whole town is taken up by the tourist trade. There are stalls everywhere, each one selling almost exactly the same as their neighbour. The castle is as spectacular as we expected it to be. You have to walk around a bit to get shots of the different aspects of the castle because of the many trees that surround the rocks on which the castle stands.
We paid our entrance fees and went up the ramp to enter Dracula’s castle.
The castle was built in the 13th century and was first used as a defence against the Ottomans. More recently it became the favourite summer residence of Queen Marie who was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. She refurbished the entire building and had electricity installed. It is now a museum dedicated to the history of the Romanian Royal Family.
However, it is the Dracula connection that brings most visitors to the castle.Apparently, there are secret tunnels all over the castle. We were allowed to climb one of those to climb from one level to another.
The truth is that some features are not part of the original structure. The high tower was added in the 20th century just to make the castle look good and the silly reconstruction of a torture chamber has only been added because they thought tourists would like it. On the other hand, the well in the courtyard is interesting. Under the false bottom of the well is a shaft which was converted into an elevator in 1921 which led to a tunnel that opens out into the park in the valley. Although there is no water in the well the bottom was littered with coins and paper money.
28th, 29th /05/2018 Saliste
Our aim today is to drive to Sibiu and to try to park somewhere near the centre. After our failed attempt to find anywhere to park in Brasov, the other day, we just hoped we wouldn’t have the same problem here. We drove about a hundred miles and the car park we drove into was heaving with traffic and there was no way I would be able to get through, let alone park our 7-metre motorhome. All of a sudden, I was just in the right place, a car pulled out of a spot that was long enough for me to park. Job done! Off we went to visit Sibiu.
The temperature was 34 degrees and it was wall to wall blue sky weather. What a day to run in a marathon. As we approached the main square we saw that it was being used as the finishing post for the 2018 Sibiu Marathon. We saw some pretty tired, late finishers stagger over the line and they certainly deserved the applause they received, I wouldn’t want to run 26 yards in this temperature, let alone 26 miles. We watched one chap being immediately stretchered into an ambulance. Hope he is OK.
This is a beautiful, well to do city and most of the buildings are painted and decorated.
Whilst Elaine, quite sensibly, sat in a nearby café drinking iced fresh orange, I climbed the 250 steps of the church tower, so I could get a view out over the city.
When I was near the top, I was pleased that it wasn’t time to ring the bells.
Pictures taken, it was time to climb back down. We walked down to the bridge and bought some cherries in the market we found just before the river. We walked back to the centre to find the unusual Orthodox cathedral, with two towers as well as the usual domes.
When we went in a wedding was taking place but still managed to get some discreet photos. We spent three hours wandering around the city before getting back to the van. Harriet was so hot inside that we could have cooked a roast without using the oven.
We continued on our way and after another 12 miles we pulled into the small, but perfect campsite in the centre of the village of Saliste. Just an hour after we arrived we heard the first clap of thunder. As I complete the 14th blog I have done on this journey, the rain is hammering down on the roof and the temperature has dropped and it is now quite comfortable. This week we have driven 637 miles. It doesn’t sound so much but total concentration is required because of the road conditions so the planning officer (Elaine) has said I can have a day free from driving so we will stay here tomorrow as well. Shame, she didn’t also say I would have a day free from all the other jobs as well!