ven had a symbol for the gradient of a hill (hill or bigger hill) to let us know what was coming. We soon realised that what the map considered to be a hill was very different to what 4 people on bikes with panniers considered to be a hill! At the top of every hill we'd check the map which would utterly deny there was any kind of gradient there at all! It was a race against time to get to Montana so Adrien could catch a train. We fought over rolling hills, lorries and roads which were more pothole than tarmac and made 52km that morning. I was sorry to see him go but it was really enjoyed his tales. So that afternoon Charlie, Nina and I set off for Sofia. And it started raining. We pulled into a village and asked around for a place to camp, we were told we could set up the tents in the nearby football field which was currently being used to graze sheep. That evening we spent cooking and playing volleyball with some of the kids from the village which was lovely...but...Bulgaria struck again and that night we heard mens voices outside the tent, we shouted and heard them run away but they came back three times and in the morning we lookedat our bikes and saw they had ripped anything off they could get! Nina's seat was gone, our tool kits missing, all lights ripped off, bungee cords even the hairbobble charlie kept on her handle bars. My wheels were loose but luckily the pannier racks had stopped them coming off completely. We were in shock.
18:52 Charlie RowenWhen your whole life is on your bike the loss of parts of it rocks you to your core. I'm just glad they didn't take the bikes or come inside the tents where most of our panniers were. We tried in vain to get any answers, but struggled to communicate through a local girls tablet translation app. We even called the police to report it and the guy who turned up promptly informed us that it was illegal to camp in Bulgaria (bullshit) and to report it we'd have pay a fine first (convenient huh?). In his words "its not my job".\nSome people from the village got Nina a saddle so we could cycle the 20km to Vratsa, at that point we just wanted to get out of that village as fast as possible. Oh and it was raining too! \nIn Vratsa we had multiple cups of tea and decided that the Bulgarians we had met so far were not a friendly bunch. We missed Serbia. \nThis was the hardest challenge and biggest knock to my confidence so far. At that point i would have thrown my bike and me on a train to Sofia and never looked back. I didn't want to cycle anymore. But we decided to push on regardless. It turns out this was exactly what I needed as the road leaving Vratsa was beautiful and did wonders for restoring my faith in this journey. We wound up quiet mountain roads through small villages and were rewarded with stunning views of the landscape. We whizzed down the other side of the mountain and headed towards a gorge which is one of Bulgarias highlights.
18:55 Charlie RowenI was looking forward to this part and enjoying the cycling...and then it poured! Heavy rain fell from the sky and a grey world descended in which i could only just make out Nina and Charlie behind me as we entered the gorge. We didn't have lights at this point (damnit robbers!) So were extra wary of the cars passing by. I managed to look up a couple of time through the rain and saw glimpses of what i believe is a very beautiful gorge. I didn't care, just wanted to get to our safe, dry hotel for the night. We were only hindered by a crazy guy for a short while before we were curling up in a hotel and fast asleep exhausted and unsettled. The next morning we let out a collective sigh of relief that our bikes were still there. Attachment issues. And set off again. \nIn Sofia we stayed in a beautiful airbnb and the guy who owned it helped us replace everything that was lost. \nWhat else could happen, surely it would be plain sailing from here...then we turned on the tv and heard that there had been an attempted military coup in Turkey. \nA couple of days mising between planning and shaking our heads in our hands and Charlie and I decided we would go to Athens rather than Istanbul. \nReasons for this in order of importance:\n1) We wanted out of Bulgaria as fast as possible on a bike and the Greek border was only 3 days ride away.\n2) A bunch of my friends are living in Greece and I was really keen to see them. \n3) 3 days till the border!! Best. Decision. So. Far.
18:57 Charlie RowenNina chose to continue on to Istanbul but would join us to the Greek border before going east. I was really glad Nina was coming with us as she was so much fun to have around. Totally laid back and with tons of funny stories from around the world! Heading south from Sofia things became almost immediately better. We headed into the mountain and had two days of great ascents and our highest point so far a ski resort at 1900meters. The people were friendly here and we stayed in the Balkans premier spa town...can you guess it, you know the one....Velingrad! No? Us neither. Our last night in Bansko was really nice, the views of the mountain were incredibly beautiful and I could almost be convinced to return to Bulgaria for skiing...maybe.\nWhen we crossed the border into Greece we were elated, thrilled and absoluetly sure that Greece would be infinately better, without a doubt, why? Purely because it wasn't Bulgaria. I reckon the universe balanced itself out in that country, mostly because we had the pleasure of cycling with Nina and were really sad to part ways....or did we!? Tune in next time folks for our Greek adventure!
Charlie's blog: Bulgaria started off like any other country we'd been in, better actually as we had out first wild camp without dogs howling or barking around our tent. We woke up early and not an hour into our ride we were joined by a french lad called Adrian. He was cycling around Europe for a few weeks before uni and we were all heading to Vidin so cycled together. We reached Vidin in midmorning and stopped to buy a watermelon. We found a park and were about to crank open the watermelon when Lou spotted another cycle touring! We invited her to join us for watermelon and found out that she was called Nina from Germany and she had been a few days behind us pretty much the whole trip! We all decided to cycle to Montana together which was awesome as it is great to have company on the road:) We should have know by the name Montana that it was going to be hilly and boy was it hilly and full of lorries!
Adrian left us there to get a train to Sofia to meet a friend but Nina decided to adjust her original plan to cycle with us to Sofia and on to Istanbul:) Pretty much as soon as Adrian left we were hit with a thunderstorm and torrential rain, we were soaked in seconds. But we wanted to make some progress towards Sofia so we pushed on for a bit. It was getting late so we decided to look for a camping spot. Cycled into this little village and asked the local shop if there was anywhere we could camp, the lady said yes and one of the local boys showed us to their football field and said we could pitch our tents there. We had and lovely evening cooking some food and playing volleyball with the local kids. It got dark and we went to bed,but not long after we heard voices and some of the kids had come back and we're hanging round out tents, not feeling too great about it but we left them until we heard them messing with our bikes, We shouted out and they ran away. They came back twice in the night, each time us shouting and them running away. It wasn't our best nights sleep! In the morning we woke up to find that they had stolen Ninas saddle, our front and back lights, tool kits and bags, lous bell, my head band and lock extender. We went to the village and called the police only to find they are corrupt and rude. Luckily the people in the village were really friendly and helped Nina buy and saddle that would get her to Vratsa (the closest town 20km away). We cycled to Vratsa throughly disheartened and fed up (it was still raining) and found a restaurant where we spent the whole afternoon drinking tea and eating pancakes :) Luckily Nina found a bike shop and was able to buy a proper seat so she could continue cycling. We rallied and decided to carry on a bit further that afternoon, mostly because Vratsa was an awful Town and we didn't want to stay there any longer than necessary! What followed was two days of beautiful mountain scenery all the way into Sofia. A good warm up for what was to come next. We spent a couple of days in Sofia mostly because our plans had changed. We decided to head to Athens instead of Istanbul, in the past month there had been a bombing at the airport and the week before we were due to arrive there was a failed coup. I really wanted to go to Istanbul but we decided it was just a bit too unstable at the moment. It probably would have been fine but I know I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much which would be a shame.
So Greece it is!
We headed south from Sofia into another mountain range, one night we camped at a ski resort, just think how high ski resorts We cycled up that!! It was tough going and I know it's cheesy but the views at the top really did help. On our last night in Bulgaria e were in a hostel with the most spectacular view, we all decided that although we hated Bulgaria we would come back to go skiing... if there was no where else available ;)
We reached the Greek boarder and I was surprised by how happy I was to be leaving Bulgaria haha says it all really. And immediately as soon as we crossed over people were nice again! It was that sudden.
So we have a new plan, a new country and are out of Bulgaria! Things are looking up:)
Lou's blog: 1) If ever there was an example of the universe's ability to always balance good and bad it was our journey through Bulgaria. But first, I'm writing this on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan, the start of our Central Asia leg of the journey and I'm really excited to be here.
Anyway, I'll stick to chronological order and take you through the through the drama of Bulgaria. We crossed the border to the usual warnings of people from the previous country and were sad to leave Serbia. It was late sowe quickly found a wildcamping spot which turned outto be the best one so far with no wild dogs, no people and no mosquitos! Dreamy! We got up early the next morning and had been pedalling for no more than 20 minutes when all of a sudden a guy popped up next to me on a bike with panniers. He had bren chasinh two Austrian men but that's a different story. We chatted over mutual failed wildcamping attempts and the experience of cycling in Eastern Europe. The three of us headed into Vidin and gladly bought a watermelon to share (because 2 people just don't justify a massive watermelon no matter how delicious they look). At a cafe by the Danube I spotted another fully loaded bike and a girl sat next to it on a bench reading. Having had a good nights sleep and enjoying conversation with the frech guy i went over and introduced myself to the girl. Meet Adrien and Nina. We split the watermelon and chatted about climbing at which point I knew we'd all get on well.
We were all riding to Montana and Nina was even planning to go to Istanbul like us. But the bad came with the good and it came in the form of utterly crap roads for the rest of the day. The narrow tree lined, windingbroads would have been nice but roadworks on a nearby highway was diverting all the long distance freight lorries onto our road. As the hundreth lorry roared past on a blind corner we found a cafe to get some lunch and shelter from the heat. As a result my last view of the mighty Danube which had taken us through 4 European capital cities and made navigation a doddle was in the distance, obscured by lorries in primary colours. We camped in the garden of a restaurant and quickly got in a round of Bulgarian beer. It turns out Adrien has also brought a slackline with him and so we set both lines up between a tree and a lorry. Dinner was Shopska salad and a shot of something strong. The great nightd camp was only slightly ruined in the morning by a mangy dog painted green with disinfectant which tried to bite our feet as we set off.