Ups and Downs

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Saturday, November 4, 2006

The road to Bourgas is well populated with coastal tourist resorts. There is only one 50km stretch with no hotels and few small towns, which is where the road passes over a mountain. Unfortunately I hit this stretch in the early afternoon, when it was too early to stop for the day, but getting late to start climbing mountains. Nonetheless, I cracked on and hoped that the climb would not be the steep, increasingly cold and seemingly neverending series of wide meanders that it proved in fact to be.

By around 4pm it seemed that the top must surely be within reach, but the road kept undulating, with long uphills to  false summits followed by short, morale-sapping downhills and another long climb. I knew there was a town that would have a hotel at the base of the mountain, and could resonably expect the descent to be quicker. All I had to do was reach the top, but each brutal disappointment made me question whether what goes up really must come down, while the twilight which was already limiting visibility could make the descent more dangerous than the climb was exhausting. Finally, at about 5pm some markings across the road informed me that something would occur in 300m. There seemed to be only one candidate for what this could be, since all buildings or indeed anything except trees, ice and snow had disappeared some time ago. Sure enough 300m later the sign that will always either warm the cockles of a cyclist's heart or chill their blood, appeared at the side of the road: a red-bordered triangle with the silhouette of a truck pointing head first down the impossibly steep slope of a black triangle. Underneath was the legend

7% slope, 2km.

This was a worry. 7% for 2km couldn't possibly get me back to sea level, and if there was another climb I was in big trouble. About 4mins later I had my answer (descending a 7% slope does not take long). Another sign, another truck frozen mid-plummet, another legend:

8% slope, 5km

Ah, so its like that is it. Getting to the bottom took about half an hour, with the windchill of freewheeling at 50km/hr combining with the cold of the evening to make me wish for the climb again, while not wanting to slow down for fear of losing the last of the light before arriving in town.
I finally reached the town, 'Sunny Beach', cold, tired and hungry. There was a convenience store on the main road so I went in and asked for directions to a hotel.
-You want a hotel?
-Yes, please.
-What, the one next door?
-Ah. yes, that would do...
So I found myself at the Severina Apartments, where the receptionist told me that the room would be 20Euros.
-Do you have anything cheaper?
-No, this is the cheapest
-Do you know of any other, cheaper hotels nearby, only I don't need an apartment and this is really more than I'd planned on paying.
-No I don't.
-(tiredness, cold and hunger hijack brain at this point) OK, I guess I'll take it then
-A good decision. Please give me your passport for registration. I will give it back in the morning...
Now, I"m a generous fellow, and always try to believe that incomplete or erroneous information is the result of an honest mistake. However, when I went into town the next morning to withdraw cash for the hotel room, I couldn't help but notice that Sunny Beach is in fact a TOURIST RESORT. Every single sodding building in that entire town was a hotel, currently sitting empty and waiting for the Germans to come back next summer. I was less than impressed, paid my bill somewhat sullenly and immediately deleted the hotel and the town (as soulless a place as you would imagine, with no visitors and only as many local inhabitants as empty hotels can afford to employ) from my memory. This, it turned out, was premature.
The following day followed much the same pattern, except the destination, Malko Tarnovo, was 120km away instead of the 90km from Varna to Sunny Beach, and was near the top of a mountain instead of at the bottom. Once again the day ended with a long, cold slog through beautiful woods on the side of rugged mountains, racing the setting sun.
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