First thing Monday morning and the recovery vehicle and mechanic were with us, diagnosed a ‘kaput’ battery. After jump starting us the mechanic lead us to a battery garage where the diagnosis was confirmed, the battery we wanted wasn’t in stock so they lent us another one until the next day – service above and beyond as always in Greece.
The extra day meant we could visit the Evros Delta wetlands for a bit of bird spotting. Free to enter and even ok to take the motorhome in on many of the roads. We did to the first car-park but the pot holes could have stopped a tank, we parked up and walked along the lagoon in the sunshine but holy moly was it windy, walking back after a couple of miles was like walking into a hurricane. The weirdest thing there is that every so often there are military towers dotted around due to the sensitive nature of the border – a case of watching those Turks don’t come sneaking along camouflaged as storks maybe?
Loving the windswept walk on the Evros Delta – maybe not
Just outside the Delta was another thermal spa, whilst the big complex was all closed up the spring water doesn’t recognise holiday seasons and was flowing outside. The water is so hot it burns, no exaggeration I could not keep my feet in there for more than a couple of seconds – when we checked later the water comes out at 51-52 degrees Celsius (123.8 – 125.6 Fahrenheit) that is what you call very hot. One of those place you go, burn your feet and leave fairly quickly – glad we didn’t pay for the privilege but worth a 10 minute visit for sure.
Seriously hot water – I couldn’t stand in it
Despite Bulgaria being directly above Greece finding it was never going to be easy if you are us. Our first detour occurred when the driver and Sat Nav disagreed with the navigator and took the road signed Turkey, believing there would be a turn off for Bulgaria! I was confident this wasn’t the road we needed, our arrival at the actual Turkish border confirmed my thoughts. We pulled up behind 20 odd trucks in the Customs lane just a few yards from crossing into Turkey, so we did a swift U Turn, smiled our best “sorry we are British and a bit lost” and headed away from the baffled queue of trucks and officials. This meant we have arrived in Greece twice – this time we managed to take a photo of the border sign (we missed that on the way into Patras as 3 o’clock in the morning).
Welcome to Greece – as we are trying to leave it
Back on the right road and straight to the border, we showed a very sullen Customs man our passports and we were through. We pulled straight over in the car park just past border control, patted ourselves on the back and congratulated each other on making it as far as Bulgaria. We both got out of the van, took our first photos of Bulgaria and made our first lunch in our latest new country. After which Iain popped in the shop to ask if they sold the vignettes we needed for the roads – the answer was “no you need to be in Bulgaria to buy them”. Bugga, that was Greek Customs to leave the country but we were still actually in Greece! It was still well over a mile to the Bulgarian border so celebrations had taken place slightly too early.
Over a mile from Greek Customs to Bulgarian Customs – no-mans land in between the flags
So its back in the van and two miles down the road, and Bulgaria takes a major credit for having proper looking borders. Lots of signs saying Bulgaria, the first Customs point has signs saying “this is a video controlled border”, which disappointed us – but a bit further up is a real border with a control man in a proper old fashioned booth looking tough and ready to stop us. We pulled in, smiled weakly and offered passports, he scanned them briefly and waved us through Border control, this time we had arrived in Bulgaria 🙂 The Bulgarian border guard was much happier than his Greek counterpart, enough to even teach me my first Bulgarian words when asked, we thought it was going to be a bit dour and Eastern Bloc – first impressions not at all.
We need a vignette to drive on Bulgarian state roads – that means pretty much any road that isn’t a track or village lane. They sell them for a week, month or year, we plumped for a month as its only about £10, there was a shop selling them just over the border so we bought ours and then popped into the currency exchange shops for some LEVS. This is what border crossing is about, a tough guard, some rough old roads, buildings that look like they were put up in a hurry 100 years ago, a tax as soon as you get over the border and a wad of big foreign notes in your purse. The only thing missing was a passport stamp but the Bulgarian border still gets our vote for being the most border like border we have crossed.
Bulgaria – yes there are roads!
Bulgaria then, yes it is very different to Greece. It might be only a few miles but they make a massive difference. The first towns we came through pretty much resembled Beirut to us (no we have never been there but if we had they would). The roads come in two grades – brand new or horrendous, there are potholes you could seriously lose a small smart car in. This is a poor country and it shows, houses are built then left at the bare brick look, the sheer number of ancient Lada cars confirm that no-one is splashing a lot of cash around here. In the first couple of miles we passed several gypsies on horse and carts, the Roma’s don’t live in caravans here, they just live where-ever there are empty buildings. It doesn’t feel at all threatening, it does feel like another planet from Greece though.
A des-res and bijou homestead above Harmlani
We are staying with Martin and Shirley Jeffes at their beautiful home in a village in the hills above Harmanli. They own the Sakar Hills Campsite at Biser but as its currently still closed for the season they kindly offered us the use of their drive to park the motorhome, electric plug in and use the showers and loos in the house for a few days. The Jeffes drove through on a holiday 10 years ago, parked up in the village over-night, stayed 2 weeks and before they left had bought a house. Its not uncommon, there are several Dutch and British couples in this tiddly village and many more in the surrounding area. The average house price in the villages is £3000 – so its easy to see with the climate and cheap prices why so many Ex-Pats are in this region. The Bulgarians are happy with incomers buying property, if not it falls to ruin and villages are slowly becoming deserted as the young people move to the cities or abroad.
For the last two days we have been truly spoiled, supper and wine last night followed by lunch out today. Martin and Shirley, along with Eifion and Yvonne (originally from the Valleys) treated us in the village restaurant. Its safe to say Bulgaria probably isn’t a haunt of the true foody, far from it. On offer was fish (one literally exploded over Shirley as it has been over microwaved), meatball and tripe soup (the bowl was microwaved but the soup poured in after so hot bowl stone cold soup) or kebabs on toast. None of it appeared too apertising but in for a penny I had the tripe and meatball soup, not on a first choice list for the future :(. At the end of the meal the owners brought out their home-brew Raki for sampling – seriously rough, like sandpapering your throat and then some. Lunch for six, with wine, a total of just under £10 – it is seriously cheap to live in the part of Bulgaria.
The ex-pats here are just a little eccentric and a bit hippy, they make an effort to fit in with the locals and seem to integrate really well. In the Harmanli area there are a good many into the music scene and a couple of times a week sessions are held in gardens, bars or village halls where they get together and play music, a must to finish off a meal today then 🙂
On the weather front, the sun is out and the days are warming up. We walked into with the hills this morning and could see for miles down over the Turkish border with hardly a cloud in the sky. Tomorrow we will head a little further North but not before we have had a major shopping spree, we are told that grocery prices are on average 144% higher in the UK than Bulgaria, so hopefully we can stock up with tins of tripe and meatball soup to bring home and share around 🙂
Ex-Pat social lives in this area involve lots of music
Watch the Peanut Holders Band here – or go stay at Sakar Hills where live performances are held regularly 🙂