(written by Nancy)
Pretty quiet last night in our fancy hotel until about 5:00am when one of the young guys in the room below us decided to go out on his balcony and sing a song after a big night out. Thankfully his friends pulled him back in pretty quickly and he shut up so we could go back to sleep. Breakfast was a big spread down in the restaurant, with French toast even!
It was quite chilly when we set off and there was a bit of mist about though we could see the mountains peeking through. We had about 6k or so of gentle downhill to the town of Razlog. From there we climbed for 10k on a relatively gentle grade, making our way through a pass between the Pirin mountain range and the Rila mountain range. At the top of the pass we pulled over to take a look at an interesting statue – looked like a war memorial of some kind but also a bit like modern art. On the side of the road right as we pulled in there were 3 little puppies – little bundles of fur, very cute. They seemed relatively happy and healthy but we couldn’t see sign of mother anywhere – hopefully they hadn’t been dropped off.
From the top of the pass we had an amazing downhill – 25k at least with perfect road conditions, until we reached Hwy 1/E79, the main north-south road that runs from Greece through Bulgaria. Not surprisingly, the traffic increased quite a bit on this road, including quite a few more trucks. It was a bit hard to believe but the downhill continued and now we even had a tailwind! The road followed the Struma River and went through a beautiful gorge – we think it’s called Kresna Gorge. The river was very full and we saw several signs advertising raft trips. Dave looked it up later and it apparently has class 4 rapids so would be a challenging ride I think! We pulled over at one spot to take a picture and Dave started to walk out to a little rickety bridge that went across the water – I told him he was on his own if he fell in the water. Actually, the way the water was running he’d probably be in Greece before you know it!
We finally pulled over in a little village to get something to eat where we could smell the barbecues going. We tried to get one sandwich to share but ended up with two – but we managed to get them down. From there we took a side road off of the highway that looked like it went most of the way to our destination. I wasn’t quite sure about this – we could see the big thunderheads banking up against the mountains and we didn’t really know if the road actually went through as we would have to cross the river somewhere. Things were looking pretty iffy as we got to the first village and the road turned to dirt… I suggested perhaps we might want to rethink the route but Dave wanted to go on just a bit further so off we went.
Lucky for Dave the pavement started up again a few kilometers later so we continued on. We finally stopped in one little village to see if could find someone who could tell us if the bridge we thought was up ahead was actually there. After some discussion with some locals, one of the fellows got in his car and drove us through town and out again to make sure we had the right route, assuring us (we think) that there was a bridge up ahead. Sure enough, we did finally come to a bridge that got us across the river and we made our way into Sandanski for our last night in Bulgaria. The valley was beautiful, lots of wild flowers which Dave kept trying to take photos of, while the storm clouds kept building.
It was Dave’s turn to look at hotels so we parked the bikes and he set off in search of a place to stay. We have ended up at a little hotel called the Heaven Hotel in one of the back streets of the town. As you can imagine, Dave is already taking about how he’s taken me to heaven… But I’ll bet heaven has a bit nicer bathroom than this place does. It isn’t too bad though, and our room is big enough to keep our bikes in it so I guess that is something!
We went out and wandered the town a bit, looking for some shoelaces to replace the broken ones we both have in our cycling shoes. It took a bit of looking but we did finally find some – it’s the little things that are hard in a foreign country! In Turkey, the first shop without laces would have made finding laces their afternoon project. Here in Bulgaria, people are more reserved and we had to go shop to shop on our own – good fun all the same. We walked up and down a big pedestrian only street and checked out several restaurants before picking one where we actually got a pretty good meal – I think it’s really our first really good one in Bulgaria! Nice salad, some fried zucchini, garlic bread and pork ribs – all very tasty.
Tomorrow we have about 45k before we hit the Macedonia/Bulgaria border. From there we will make our way to Strumica, our first stop in Macedonia . Hopefully we can get a new SIM sorted for the phone there but we may have some delays in posting. Actually, our guidebook says that Macedonia is 95% covered with wireless networks so perhaps we won’t have any trouble after all! And of course we have to figure out yet another currency in our 13th country.