Category Archives: Bulgaria

Turkey-bound

When it stopped raining, I left Plovdiv.
But not before I had arranged an e-visa online for Turkey, which required only marginally less patience than hacking the pentagon. Or so it seemed when I struggled to get my creditcard accepted..

In 2007, when Bulgaria entered the European Union, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet in the EU. This means that on new euro banknotes, one can find next to the Latin and Greek, the enigmatic  EBPO, which is EURO in Cyrillic. This design was to ensure that Bulgarians could understand the euro banknotes too.
Cyrillic was invented because early missionaries in Slavic countries, notably St. Cyril and St. Methodius, wanted to translate bibles into Slavic languages but lacked the proper letters in the Latin alphabet. Since they not only brought Orhtodox Christianity to the Slavs, but introduced the art of writing as well, they were free to choose or invent any alphabet they saw fit and so they cobbled together a new alphabet, or rather, a new azbuka, as it is  called after the first two letters. Unfortunately, for the users of the Latin script, there were quite a few so called false friends in the new set of characters, which made it all quite confusing.
For example: pectopaht looks like a medical term, but is the cyrillic tranliteration of restorant, where p = r, c = s and h = n.

At the border with Greece I drank excellent coffee with my last leva before cycling through customs. I hadn’t realised, but Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen zone and so there was a passport control. As any bureaucrat, the man who checked my passport wanted to know things not because it was relevant but because he was curious.
Where are you going?
Edirne.
And after that?
Istanbul.
For what reason?
I looked at my bicycle. Tourism.
And after Istanbul?
I don’t know.
You are going back to Netherland?
I don’t know.
Okay, he handed back my passport. Not knowing what you want is okay.

Exodus

Exodus

The road in Greece was a stretch of wide and smooth tarmac, but very few  people seemed to use it. The route itself was a bit longer than the one through Bulgaria, but I had heard that the new A1 motorway was not ready yet and a lot of traffic still used the old road. The Greek alternative  was quiet and a pleasure to ride on. To my surprise I saw cotton fields next to the road.

Cotton field in Greece

Cotton field in Greece

The border crossing from Greece to Turkey was a breeze. It was a small road through the tiny village of Kastanies and heavy traffic was therefore not allowed. After cycling through the no man’s land between the borders and after nodding to a soldier who stood motionless with a gun in his hand, a mad, loud barking dog started chasing me. The soldier looked surprised, but for some reason refused to shoot the animal.

At customs I showed the e-visa on my smartphone and that was fine. Welcome to Turkey.

Three countries in one  day…

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More Balkans

When I cycled through the mountains of Northern Albania, I saw several places where drivers had unintentionally steered their vehicles off the cliffs and these men, and yes, they were all men, were commemorated by photos and flowers put there by their loved ones. Sometimes I read the birthdays and when they were younger than me, it gave me some strange feeling of satisfaction that I was stil alive and I then felt an urge to celebrate life.

Shopska salad in Macedonia: tomatoes and cucumbers topped with white cheese. It is widely believed to be a traditional dish, but it was actually invented as a tourist promotion.

When I was in Skopje, I read up on some history. One remarkable story was about an Austrian general, Piccolomini who fought against the Ottomans in the 17th century. He famously burned down the city in 1689 to try to get rid of a cholera epidemy. Sadly, this unconventional precaution didn’t  prevent the general from dying of cholera himself that very same year.

From Kriva Palanka in Macedonia I cycled to the Bulgarian border where I used my last denars to pay for coffee and some bread. The border crossing was straightforward and as the border was the high point of a pass, it was a long descent from there into Bulgaria. On the way down, I spotted a mad dog in the distance that jumped against a passing car and, not surprisingly,  bounced off it. By the time I got there I looked around carefully, because I was afraid of the dog leaping at my panniers. Suddenly it sprang from between some parked cars, but instead of coming towards me, it aimed for a car that was, at that moment, overtaking me. It had not seen me and I actually hit it with my front wheel, but it never even made a noise. Looking back I saw it walking away unharmed, looking puzzled at what hit it.

Bulgaria lies in the Eastern European Time Zone, which is my third time zone so far. The time difference left me jet lagged for a few days.

The next day I cycled a record 145 kilometres and reached Plovdiv. The distance is an estimate because my bicycle computer has stopped working in Skopje and I couldn’t be bothered to buy a new one.

In Plovdiv I drank my first Turkish tea in the Turkish cafe next to the Dzhumaya Mosque.

My first Turkish tea in Plovdiv

My first Turkish tea in Plovdiv

After that I set out to explore the city. In the hostel I had accidently grabbed a map of Sofia, so it caused me some head scratching when I tried to navigate with it in Plovdiv. Once in the Old City, I had difficulties to muster interest for the typical architecture. Like so many cities it was built on seven hills, and although at least one had been demolished to make way for a shopping mall, there was still a lot of tramping up and down cobbled streets.

That evening I had dinner in a restaurant and feeling adventurous, I ordered the tripe soup which is supposed to be a delicacy, but which I found rather bland. To improve on the dish I generously added chillies and garlic. When I was so indulging in chewing on the thick lining of cattle stomach, a large group of elderly American tourists entered the establishment. I couldn’t help eavesdropping on some conversations, but they were mainly about hospitals. I imagined it wouldn’t be difficult to strike up a conversation about arthritis of the knees, a subject in which I had become quite an expert after my misadventures in Portugal.

A few days later I joined a young Australian couple who had rented a car to visit the ‘UFO’ in Buzludzha. The ‘UFO’ is a surrealistic monument to the communist era in the shape of gigantic flying saucer. It could easily feature in an early James Bond movie if it wasn’t completely derelict and vandalised. The main entrance was closed to the pubic, but we found a small hole to the right side of the building through which we entered the monument. Because of the thick mist that even permeated the interior it was a spooky experience to explore the dark bowels of the concrete monstrosity. It had been a good idea to bring our flashlights.

Below are some photos from our road trip to Buzludzha, some 120 kilometres north of Plovdiv.

Buzludzha, the conference hall of the former Bulgarian Communist Party

Buzludzha, the conference hall of the former Bulgarian Communist Party

Marx mosaic in Buzludzha

Marx mosaic in Buzludzha

Lenin mosaic in Buzludzha

Lenin mosaic in Buzludzha