Travel Through Bulgaria on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Bulgaria on a Harley (17/8/99 - 24/8/99)
Distance 1252 km (158749 km to 160001 km)

This is part of the fifth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Romania

 17/8/99 The entry to Bulgaria was slow with officials processing about one vehicle every five minutes. Busloads of workers heading for Turkey, where wages can be up to three times that of Romanians, were lined up waiting their turn. We proceeded to the head of the queue and were in in about 30 minutes without payment for visas (Australian, German and Netherlands passports) or motorcycles. A surprise as we had been informed that a road tax and insurance were necessary. This north east coast of Bulgaria is littered with dead and dying oil wells. Small pumps pumping mainly water with a little oil floating to be collected in rusty tankers. Horses have been replaced by donkeys as wagon pullers but otherwise the coastal plains similar to Romania's. Changed a small amount of money at the border and used the Bankomat in Varna for a better exchange rate before camping at Medara beneath a sheer rock wall and site of many ancient civilizations back to the fourth century BC.

18/8/99 We like to read (Lonely Planet) about a country before visiting, this gives some insight into its politics, people and places to visit. FromOld oil well and tank this information we plan a loose route we would like to follow and usually see only about half what was planned. Because of the rapid changes occurring in Eastern Europe the now two and a half year old Lonely Planet is recommending sites, accommodation and restaurants that have not made the change to a market economy. Campgrounds supported by "party" officials on holidays have either disappeared or at best only a couple of cabins remain serviceable. Restaurants have sprung up as day trippers replace holiday makers. A new government policy of not allowing free camping prevents the poor from having holidays while in Romania free camping, free Romanians, dot the hillsides with tents everywhere despite their economy being worse than Bulgarias. The larger hotels are empty but smaller privately run ones dot the cities. Some hang over from the old system occurs like being charged five times the local price to visit an open air (reproduction) museum of rural Bulgarian life in Etar. The weather hot at 40 degrees and the countryside dry as we slowly head towards Istanbul where the BBC advised us of a devastating earthquake in the region.

19/8/99 After camping in the cool mountain pass we descended into the valley of the roses, where 70 % of the worlds rose oil comes from, but unfortunately flowering in May/June. Koprivshtitsa, a historically preserved village in the mountains at 1000m was a great place to avoid the heat and rest.Anke's first dropping of her motorcycle, a little embarassing This now touristy growing village has hundreds of traditionally built stone and wooden houses in a wooded setting and cobbled stone streets. Jan and Anke are settling into the routine of travel just as we are looking ahead to finishing this section of our trip.

20/8/99 We are never in a hurry when we travel, only in a hurry to leave where we are. Yesterday evening Anke braked a bit hard on wet grass and had her first "bike down" for the trip. No damage to either body. The incident brought back "war wound" memories, the dents in the mufflers from the stones in the volcanic ash in Iceland where we went down many times, the scratches on the fairing from Darjeeling, pannier and crash bar scratches avoiding a bicycle in India, all slow speed "downs". The first scratches always the worst but later you realize they are memories for the trip. Into the Rodopi Mountains, close to the Greek border where under communism a 20 km exclusion zone was enforced to prevent would be escapees getting away from communism. Recently the zone has been reinstated, this time to stop workersKoprivshtitsa, a historically preserved village looking for higher wages in Greece from crossing over. It doesn't seem to prevent the hundreds of Gypsies from Yugoslavia and Romania from camping in the mountains in summer to collect blueberries and mushrooms. They set up makeshift camps out of pine sticks and plastic sheeting, with pine branches to keep out the sun, inside, room only for a bed and stove. Small stoves are set up for basic needs and the blueberries and mushrooms sold to city buyers. This ethnic and religiously diverse area seems friendly to foreigners and each other. We were invited and visited a local border village for a beer, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, Serbs and Bulgarians.

21/8/99 Found a broken bolt, supposed to be holding the pannier to the frame, this morning and after replacing it and tightening about six more loose ones we left our free camp spot lakeside. I have been a bit slack checking for loose bolts lately as the motorcycle has been running so well. Still in the mountains, now at Pamporovo, a winter ski resort where we relaxed riverside for a picnic and washed the bike, driving it intoGypsy camp in the mountains, collecting summer mushrooms and berries the river.

22/8/99 With changing water and food we left Jan and Anke to rest their grumbling stomachs while we climbed the forested mountain to the meadowed top. This change of diet and water introducing new bacteria to a system not used to it attacks us usually at the beginning of each trip, catching the western clean body unawares but then the body seems to get into a routine of fighting off different bacteria without too much inconvenience. In the afternoon we joined the Sunday pilgrimage to Bachkovo Monastery, with an 11th century start and additions and sackings over its 900 year history. The frescoes in the church darkened to almost oblivion by the burning of candles by worshippers.

23/8/99 Thinking of the end of the trip now, Istanbul, 300 km of lovely winding mountain roads to finish just 30 km before the Turkish border. The countryside dryer, more like Greece than Bulgarian mountains. The people more Turkish with the women more Muslim dressed. ThisRoadside motorcycle wash border area of three totally different countries a real mix of cultures.

24/8/99 Bulgaria a rather surprising ex-Soviet country. The whole of eastern Europe a pleasure to travel. Economical, things to see and friendly people with vastly different backgrounds and ways of handling their independence from the USSR. Out of Bulgaria without a problem in 20 minutes.

Move with us to Turkey or go to our next visit to Bulgaria




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