(written by Nancy)
Well, we made it through 4 border checkpoints today and into Bulgaria! We left the hotel after a good breakfast (toast even!) and headed out of town toward Greece. The Greek border was only about 8k from Edirne and we checked out of Turkey with a quick stamp in our passports. We rode a bit of no-man’s land and then hit the Greece passport control, where I handed the passports over and told him we were just passing through on the way to Bulgaria. The fellow behind the window paged through our passports a bit, talked to some of his colleagues and came back to ask us if we were sure we were just passing through. “Yes,” I said, “I know we only have 4 days left on our Schengen time.” He smiled and said okay, stamped our passports and handed them back to us – we were in!
We rode for a bit over 30k in Greece, on a superb road with very little traffic and a huge shoulder that wound its way through farmland for as far as you could see. It was pretty amazing – a far better road than we have seen since we left Nice almost 3 months ago. Dave estimated that the shoulder on this road was close to 10 feet wide, see photo below. We eventually came upon a sign that explained everything – the road cost 28.5 mill euros, funded 75% by the EU and 25% by Greece. It was a great road but you had to wonder if perhaps that money might have been better spent elsewhere…. We did enjoy it though!
We followed the road signs to Bulgaria and soon hit the exit booth for Greece. After another stamp out from Greece we entered another no-man’s land until we hit the Bulgarian passport control. There was no line when we arrived at the small booth and we were through in no time. Through 4 checkpoints and three countries in one day, just as Dave wanted. From there it was less than 5k or so into the town of Svilengrad, the first town on the Bulgarian side. We actually had to backtrack about 2k toward Turkey to reach the town but we figured a border town would give us more chances to get some money changed and get a new SIM for the phone sorted out.
We found a bank but it would not change our leftover lira so we just used the ATM and headed down the street to a ‘Change Office’ and swapped our leftover lira into Bulgarian lev – great, another currency to figure out. We continued into the town centre pulled into a little café/pub to get something to eat (actually, we tried one place first but we couldn’t figure out if they had any food and no one spoke English so they sent us across the street to another café). After a nice meal of scrambled eggs and ham Dave set off on the hotel search. He looked at about 4 hotels and we settled on the Central Hotel, the hotel attached to the café that we were sitting at! I was pleased that he did not commit us to the hotel that had a mirror on the ceiling as you never know what that was all about. After cleaning up we headed out to a M-Tel shop and got the SIM sorted for the phone – was a pretty easy process thankfully.
First impressions of Bulgaria are good – both accommodation and food seems relatively inexpensive. And, no need to worry about food – in our short walk around town we found a small grocery store that had all kinds of things we could recognise, including pasta and oatmeal – yeah! It also looks like espresso is back on the menu – we got a couple of nice espressos for 1.60 lev, about $1. Not a lot of English on the signs – many are just in Bulgarian, which uses a Cyrillic alphabet, a bit like Greece, so we have little hope in trying to figure out what it says!
The buildings in this town are much different than what we saw in Turkey – things look a bit more of the ‘Soviet-block’ type construction and a bit tired, but that could be just this town. No mosques so far so I suspect we won’t hear the call to prayers anymore, though there is a Muslim population in this country. We’ve already noticed that there are a lot of bars and pubs here – not something we saw in Turkey. The style of dress is also very different than what we got used to in Turkey. Here woman dress much more like we would see in Sydney – lots of tight clothes, high heels and skin showing. We are certainly aware we are in a different country!
Right now we have about 7 or 8 days planned in Bulgaria, mostly in the southern part, as we make our way over to Macedonia on our way to Albania and the Adriatic Sea. We expect to have some mountainous regions to get through as we head west through the country – some long climbs coming, I think.
We’re off to find some dinner – not sure what the ‘typical’ Bulgarian meal is yet so who knows what we will find….