Greetings from Bulgaria

Trip Start Jan 20, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, January 25, 2008

G'day again to all and sundry,

Once again, working with a computer has left me with a strong urge to destroy something... (a computer would fit the bill nicely) but it isn't my computer, and breaking other peoples' tends to be a distressingly expensive practice. So it's safe for now. For now...

The cause of this annoyance is simply the fact that some benightedly difficult to track down security setting won't allow me to upload any photos to the blog, and I suspect that this will make somewhat dull reading without any photographic accompaniment, but nevertheless, persevere we shall, in the face all all adversity, no matter how trivial ;)

At anyrate, we have now made it to the delightfull little village of Chepelare, in the mountains of Bulgaria. Apparently the elevation here is about 1140m above sea level. The temperature topped out today at a blistering -1 degree Celsius, but it spent a lot of time rather lower than that. Chilly, eh?

The trip from Incheon to Heathrow was pretty long, and pleasantly uneventful. Unfortunately none of the air hostesses had names quite as interesting as "Oi" this time around, but they were just as pretty. We made friends with a young Korean bloke called Jeong on the flight over, and got him to tell us how to say, "thankyou", "you are beautiful" and various other inanities in korean, then enjoyed ourselves enormously trying them out on the hosties. Our pronounciation must've been terrible, but Doug was rewarded with a huge smile from the hosty to whom he said, "Tangshin kepoyoh" (you are beautiful).

Once we got into London we cleared customs with a minimum of fuss, dug out our instructions on how to get to Geoff's brother's (Rob's) house in Twickenham and got busy making our way there. Rob was a top bloke and a great host and put us up for that night and the next one. We spent the following morning playing tourists and strolling around London, then we spent the afternoon playing Australian and sending pints downrange at a pub back in Twickenham.

The next morning saw us get up at a positively ungodly hour to catch our flight from Gatwick to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Coming into a country that only abandoned communism 15 years ago was a pretty interesting experience. The taxi ride from the airport to the bus station was quite an eyeopener. A lot of the area around the airport resembled nothing so much as a slum. Lean tos, shambles, and small buildings in such disrepair that it was impossible to tell if they were half constructed and abandoned, or half demolished and abandoned. Further into the city, the buildings we bigger, but not in much better condition. Dirty, grimy and dreary spring to mind as suitable descriptions. There was plenty of communist style architecture around, all covered in grey slushy snow, and pretty damn cold too.

Once we got to the bus station we managed through a combination of limited english (theirs), bluff, gesture, persistance and exasperation (ours) to get tickets on a bus that we were almost certain would probably take us to Chepelare, where we were to meet Geoff and his family. The bus left at 1500H and we had been told that it was about a 3hr drive there in a car. Considering that Chepelare is the highest village in Bulgaria, we figured that the trip would have to take a fair bit longer than that.

The first half of the bus trip was pretty uneventful, as we ground our way through gears and the streets of Sofia in roughly equal measure. Once out on the highway, the pace picked up and the grimy houses and factories fell away to reveal open plains covered in yet more snow. Things really only became interesting again when, some hours later, we started to grind our way up into the mountains. Our incredibly talented bus driver found no apparent difficulty in smoking, talking on his mobile, driving the coach up icy, slushy roads with a cliff on one side of the road and certain death on the other and overtaking slow moving things like, um, other cars, all at the same time! Not just once, did he overtake on the outside going up the 60 odd miles of twisty road, but four times. At least! Cool guy.

It occured to us, about 3 hours into the trip, that since almost all of the road signs and other highway signs we had seen were all written in Cyrillic script, we might not actually be able to recognize Chepelare when we got there. After another hour on the bus, we were beginning to seriously wonder if we'd missed our stop, then, finally, I saw a billboard for a hotel in Chepelare, and we knew we had to be close.

Once we'd arrived though, we still had to find a public phone and get a hold of Geoff. The bus dropped us off on a side street with one streetlight and was gone again before we could as any productive questions, like, "where the hell are we?" or, "is there a public phone near here?" or "do you know where the Hotel Karov (where Geoff and his family are living) is?".

Not be put off by the falling snow or the freezing temperature, we resolved to walk around and look for either the Hotel or a phone. We got lucky though, and within the first 300m found a sign that said, "Hotel Karov" 92m with an arrow that completely failed to point to any of the three possible roads at all. Unconcerned, but shivering, we picked the most likely of the three possibilities and struck off confidently. After about a 150m, with no sign of a hotel, we decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep going for another 150. Still no good. Must've been one of the other roads then, we figured. So we trudged back to the sign and headed off again down a different street, but with the same results. Convinced now, that by simple deductive reasoning, it HAD to be the last street, we forged ahead and found a complete absence of hotel Karov.

At this point, we decided to throw pride to the winds and ask for directions. Finding someone to ask  though, was slightly more difficult. Eventually though, we found a couple of people at a tiny little service station who spoke no english, but did recognize Hotel Karov, and one of whom was incredibly generous and communicated through hand signals that he would drive us there. On the way to the hotel, we passed the sign we had fist encountered and went along one the streets we had partially explored, at which point I started feeling a littl embarrassed. Six turns, one bridge and at least 1800m later, my embarrassment had evaporated, and we arrived at the hotel. 92m my arse, mate.

When we got to the hotel, we spoke to the manager, who showed us up the where the wonderful Marsh family was staying. Unfortunately, they weren't in, but the manager called them on his phone and Geoff arrived about ten minutes later to take us in hand.

After that it was all plain sailing really. There's plenty more to the story than has been written here so far, but it can all wait for later, i'm starting to think this must be getting boring.  At anyrate, we met Geoff and his family, who have been incredibly generous and welcomed us into their home. We had dinner in a restaurant that night, and then hit the streets to get kitted out for some snowboarding the next morning. Then we managed to hit the slopes for about an hour in the afternoon and came home for another lovely dinner. And that pretty much brings things up to date.

Will try and get the photo issues sorted out as soon as poss.

Take care everyone!

Cheers from Doug and Paul.
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meathead on

G,day Doug & Paul
Looks like a lotta fun over there fellas, glad to see you've got clothes on (more than the usual tank top & shorts.) Stay warm & keep in touch. Dad

pauly on

Re: :)
cyrillic illiterate? allow me to elaborate! i find it literally incomprehensible how anyone can be cyrillically literate!

say that three times fast, eh?

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