When we set out, we had NO intention of going to Bulgaria, not even as a destination to zip through to get somewhere we might want to go (like poor ol’ France, which turned out to be so wonderful in the end and we wished we’d been able to stay there for longer).
When we set out we were not certain we would make it to Greece, although there were some high hopes amongst us that this dream would come true. Sitting in the solid non-stop Lindisfarne rain for the third day in a row (and after weeks of at least *some* rain every single day), we agonized over the question of skipping Scotland in favour of Greece. There we were, ten people cooped up in twenty-five square metres with washing dangling wet around our heads, knowing that at that precise moment it was thirty degrees further south……looking back it seems a no-brainer! At the time it wasn’t so simple, but we have no regrets (oh yes, we still wish Scotland had featured in this pilgrimage, but there was not time for both and Greece has been more than we could have hoped for).
So we made it to Greece.
And now we need to get back to Berlin to get rid of the vans. But we have to get out of the long list of countries that have signed the Schengen agreement first for a couple of weeks to “earn” some time for the last German stint and Poland (we’re only allowed on Schengen land for ninety days every six months).
We plotted a route through Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia……only to discover our vehicle insurance is not valid in Macedonia. That put an immediate and unquestionable end to that plan. Taking a ferry up to Venice sounded most attractive, but would cost almost as much as our air tickets home again and didn’t get us out of Schengen territory anyway. Albania presented itself as another option, but quite frankly, we couldn’t be bothered with the rigmarole of getting visas. This left Bulgaria, which sounded like a good option after the horror stories we had come across about driving in Bosnia et al.
That is to say, it seemed a good idea until we read the following:
The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season. Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights. In some cities traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving rights-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. In particular, drivers of late-model sedans are known to speed and drive dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures.
“Underdeveloped”…does that mean it is as bumpy as Belgium or as itchy as Italy? We’ve managed both of them, so no problem.
We’ve become accustomed to seeing rocks falling signs now, and more recently travelled roads where evidence of the rocks lay at the roadside as a more poignant reminder than the signs themselves. Yes, we’re used to that too.
Livestock….animal drawn carts. Wouldn’t they add to the day’s adventure?
Some roads lack pavement markings? Why, most of the roads we’ve seen lately lack pavements, never mind the markings!
And as for dim headlights, sounds like we’ll be in good company, though we do try not to drive at night if possible anyway, because our own lights are virtually non-existent. And we always give way if in doubt.
Aggressive driving habits. Maybe that’s just how this author describes people who overtake on blind corners….but we know WHY they do this. There’s an unwritten law that says if you cannot see a car approaching, you are free to overtake….and you can never see a car round a corner, so this is a perfect place to overtake. Or perhaps they are referring to the speed with which some drivers enter narrow spaces – clearly the author cannot understand that the smaller the gap, the faster one must go to get through it. Or that the numbered signs at the side of the road are minimum allowable speeds, not maximums as we would once have understood them to be.
As for the armed organized crime figures, well, maybe that’s who we saw trying to get unlawfully into a car in Bari….now the children know not to stare and point excitedly, but to pretend they didn’t even notice whilst dropping to the floor!
So it really does sound like we are ready to drive in Bulgaria.
Not that we’ll be doing a whole heap of driving. We’ve gone straight from the border to a campground, where we plan to have a couple of weeks “camping” at a real campground. We’ll read up about Bulgarian history and culture, sample the food, play with new currency and new words, meet some people, check out a “poor kids’ project” and count it all a bonus.
But before we got to Bulgaria, we needed to go right across Greece almost to the Turkish border….we were so close to the country we’ll be leaving for home from – for a moment it almost felt as if we were close to leaving, but we still have over three months to go and we have a long way to travel before we’ll actually get on to Turkish soil.
On fantastic roads, we flew across eastern Greece, so different to the rest of the country. Instead of islands or mountains protruding from flat plains, there were gently rolling hills, quite reminiscent of home, although here the shepherds seem to sit with their sheep for the day instead of leaving them to graze unattended. Additionally, mixed flocks of sheep and goats appear to be the norm. But the grass, the trees, the ploughed fields….they all had a slightly kiwi look about them (until we looked at some pictures later and realised that New Zealand is greener than we remember!)
This part of the country lacked road traffic. We drove for long stretches without seeing another car, without even being passed by one. It felt quite uninhabited (maybe that’s another reason it felt like NZ), and we realised Bulgaria is probably not on most European itineraries.
But it ended up on ours….so long as we could get in!
At the border we had a slight hiccup with the guards.
Rob was waved through in The Bear Cave, but I was pulled over. According to our passports we had been on Schengen soil for four months already. Overstayers! You see some countries (not China or Mongolia or Russia or Vietnam!) are particularly lax about stamping passports and we didn’t have anything to prove we had left Schengen territory for five weeks; no stamps leaving England, no stamps entering France, no stamps into Italy. Ah well, after some quizzing (when did you arrive in Greece? where did you come from? which country was the first one in Europe? but you were in Latvia long ago?), a phone call to someone, checking numbers in a book and something on the computer, he took my passports off to another room, then came back with them, stamped them and without further explanation, instructed me to get the ones from Rob’s van too. Six more stamps later, and without further ado, they let us go.
We arrived in Bulgaria.