(written by Nancy)
I woke up a couple of times last night and could hear the rain coming down. At 7am this morning it was still raining so we went back to sleep. Well, Dave did anyway, judging by the snoring from his side of the bed. When he finally woke up at 8:30 we checked the weather online to try to see what we should do. It was still raining but the forecast seemed to indicate it might let off a bit later in the morning. So after making some oatmeal and packing things up we finally left about 10:30. The last couple of days have been such a change for us, leaving so late in the morning but when you only have 40k or so to go a late start it really doesn’t matter.
It had actually quit raining by the time we rolled away from the hotel but the skies looked pretty ominous so we were decked out in our rainjackets and booties. But it wasn’t much more than a couple k down the road that we stopped to take off our jackets as it was actually pretty warm out. It felt nice to be out from under the bulk of the rainjackets – I know they are good to protect you from the water (well, kind of anyway) but sometimes they make you feel almost claustrophobic.
We made our way to the small village of Vetren dol, just at the base of the hill, where we stopped at a little petrol station for a quick shot of espresso (about 80 cents total). While we were at the station a large tanker truck went by in the direction we were headed. That was good news and bad news – good news in that if that size truck could go up the hill it couldn’t be that steep, bad news in that we might have to deal with traffic like that on a narrow mountain road.
The road (Hwy 84) ran alongside a river for much of the way up with a very easy grade. The river was quite full and it was pretty clear the road crews had their work cut out trying to keep the river from cutting into the road. There is also a train that goes up the mountain on a narrow gauge railway and we passed under and over the track several times today. It turned out to be quite a scenic ride and thankfully the rain never really let loose. We even saw a few spots of blue sky, the first we’ve seen in Bulgaria I think!
We climbed for about 20k and then finally crested over the hill and could see the town of Velingrad off in the distance in a valley. We didn’t lose too much elevation getting down to the town, which is good I guess as we would just have had to climb back up it tomorrow. We headed to the centre of town to find a hotel and pulled over to a little spot with some outdoor tables to have a bit to eat while we looked around. A bit complicated, as no one spoke English and they had no English menus. So, after one guy came out with a hot dog for one of the other patrons we said fine, let’s have a couple of hot dogs! Fancy, eh?
After we ate our hotdogs Dave walked across the street to a fancy-looking hotel to check it out. He came out a bit later and said it was okay but didn’t seem worth what they wanted to charge. So, we headed off down another street to see what else we could find. We ended up at the Magi Hotel – nothing like our big room last night but it seems okay. The bathroom is a bit funny – first time we’ve had the shower head hooked up to the sink faucet! Oh well, it had its own hot water heater so at least we had warm water.
We went for a bit of a walk around town, such as it is. On the internet it looked like there were all kinds of hotels here and it seemed like some kind of thermal resort place. We did see some signs for other hotels but didn’t really see any in our walk about. I wouldn’t call it a real scenic town… Dave took some pictures of the random statues we saw. We then tried to find somewhere to get some dinner – we walked up all of the major streets but the only places we could find to eat were doner or pizza places or bars. We finally ended up back at the hotel attached to our restaurant, where after some translation issues we had a decent salad, some kind of sausage kebabs and some potatoes (chips really) with cheese all over them. Not entirely satisfying or nutritious but it was all we could find. So, after dinner (after leaving a second plate of cheese-covered chips that came when we asked for some water) we headed over to the little grocery store across the road and got some yogurt so we could say we ate something nutritious today. We can’t really figure out where people eat out in these towns – perhaps eating out just means having a doner wrap somewhere…
Dave is getting to be an expert at getting us hot water for tea in the evenings and he was successful again tonight. He takes great pride in that so I am happy to send him off to try his luck each night.
We did see an odd map-nerd thing today while wandering about, which Dave was very excited about. There was a map of the area in one of the little squares we walked through, and it had this big point marked on it as a point of interest. It was the intersection of the 42 and 24 longitude and latitude lines – this is apparently nearby and is a “point of interest”. Hmm, how exciting…. Dave says there could be a whole new line rounding the earth, where longitude and latitude are transposed. Yes, very exciting indeed.
Tomorrow we have another mountain to get over to reach our destination of Razlog, about 70k or so away. It is right nearby the ski area of Bansko, which is apparently one of the major ski areas in Bulgaria. Our web searches show lots of hotels with fancy ‘Spa’ names so perhaps we’ll find somewhere nice but based on today’s experience I think I’ll wait and see…