Bulgaria... Oh dear.

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Flag of Bulgaria  , Stara Zagora,
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It was a long day today, a mixture of highs and lows and animals killed at the side of the road. So... We left the motel. We agreed with some old guy to push our bikes from the front to the back so they were safer and closer. He said it was no problem but had to think about it first. Then we realised it was because we were on a toll road and that meant we avoided some of the tolls. We did it anyway and enjoyed a saving of around 20 pence.

The motel was very good, extremely warm and friendly. Small dogs wandered around playing and everyone smiles honestly back at you. Once on the road we found one of the small dogs protecting a small section of it with what used to be his spine. There was considerable more of that to follow.

The road broke from the drudgery of a motorway into a main road, a dual carriageway for the most part and the scenery grew better as we trundled along. The wind was still not going to be our friend and lashed at my little bike like an angry chav trying to get through a car window to your wallet. Even Marcin felt it today, his bike is aerodynamically designed to alleviate the pains of wind, weighs twice as much and has twice as much power but at one point we were riding pitched to 10 degrees just to hold straight. Of course, straight is subjective and I managed to barely keep between the lines and crossed them more than once. Suddenly, about 15 miles on from our start the scenery turned into.... scenery. Burnt black fields peppered the horizon as dimly apparent mountains warned us of their presence as ghosts in the far recesses of the distance. The rocky, barren land stretched on imposingly as far as we could see and while far from beautiful it was striking and impressive. The ride went on for around 100 miles and never stopped being impressive. The rolling hills blended into a barren landscape of hardship and drudgery that while it was a privilege to see in passing was a burden to be tied to. Ancient tractors moved dirt from one place to another, sometimes Russian cars were seen in distant fields and occasionally whole families tended the land in exchange for barely enough to live on. Towns gave way to rows of wooden and rock shacks, crumbling away on the horizon. There was an unmistakable Mediterranean feel to the architecture but with the unplanned, run-down look of the small, painful asian slum towns.

Finally we stopped for fuel. My range was improving. We stopped around 145 miles and I had several litres left. We grabbed some breakfast in a motorway service centre and it turned out to be excellent and cheap as well. We didn't have enough money after he refused our card but ever that wasn’t a problem and he took what we had with a smile.

After the petrol station around Nis we headed out to follow the road and there was an instant dramatic shift as we entered the mountains. We were in a truly foreign land. Craggy peaks of rock oversaw us as we winded our way through narrow paths claimed back from the awesome natural beauty of this region. The roads were amazing, clean, clear and trustworthy and they wound through some truly amazing views. We were lucky enough to even have good weather with temperatures around 17 which were comfortable even with the winds.

Even after we passed the initial outcropping of rock the barren, rugged landscape kept us entertained for miles to come until eventually we found the Bulgarian border. We had to climb to reach it and the clouds darkened the sky. The views closed in until eventually an ugly scar of human nature blighted our view with a border crossing. Nobody seemed to care and we had to ask someone to come and check our passports. We were allowed through straight away. Between the Serbian exit and Bulgarian entrance was a no-mans-land of empty nothing where nobody had any right to be... except a small market full of shops. I guess that speaks volumes in a philosophical sense.

The entrance was pretty straight forward too. They checked our stuff and we were in Bulgaria. Suddenly the trappings of wartorn poverty were swept aside. The roads were clear and smooth and the edges were tidy and clear. We made good time towards Sofia, a large city along the way we wanted to see. From the last 10 miles we were able to see the outskirts so we knew this was going to be a big and impressive place to visit.

I could write a diatribe on my initial impressions as we crossed the border and entered the town but Marcin said it in words that surpassed anything I could imagine and eloquently summed up our thoughts and impressions. We stopped at a set of lights and he looked around at the town sprawled out before him and then he turned to me and said, "Oh dear."

On the right was a shanty town full of an ethnic minority that had been thrown to the wolves. Tiny ramshackle huts were fully along the length of a small river as far as we could see. People, darker than the average and different looking were laying on the pavement smoking and drinking things that had no business in the human body while the passers-by locked their windows. Someone approached Marcin and made a strange gesture with his fingers over his mouth that looked as though he wanted to offer oral sex. Marcin showed remarkable restrain in not punching him but eventually the individual staggered off and collapsed and probably died somewhere. We rode into town and struggled to find something worth taking pictures of. Even when we left the bikes for an instant people began to head to them, eyeing up our stuff like vultures.

We left in a hurry. With the traffic, the grey and unpleasant buildings and even greyer and more unpleasant people the entire city was the visual equivalent of a punch to the throat. The roads in the city are polished so they look strangely like they’re wet. At one point Marcin braked and carried on for 4-5 metres after his ABS though he was lying about wanting to stop. Outside of town the roads were a mixture of ok for a few yards and like riding on an overturned truckload of spilled dildos. The bike vibed all over the place but you get used it after a while, I guess.

We motored on towards the next biggest town and Marcin insisted he wanted to do another 50 miles so as it was still light I agreed.

I had seen even better fuel economy than last time so I’m assuming now that my bike had suffered from a bout of crappy petrol. I put in some higher than usual octane gas and hoped she would be ok. There was a strange rattling noise coming from the front of my bike. I assumed it was my screen which is only held on by stupidity but it turned out to be coming from the back of the bike in front.

Like earlier as soon as we left the station the scenery changed only this time the main road became a back-street and the warnings about the Eastern part of Europe not being accurate on GPS took a pointedly apparent turn for the worst.

Long story short, we spent 3 hours riding around lost. Night crept in and darkness made navigation as much fun as sitting on a 650 single at maximum revs for hour after hour. Motels seemed more interested in ripping us off than offering any kind of service. Eventually we found a town through more luck than judgement and ended up with a half decent hotel to crash at.

The end of a long and interesting day.
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