Bulgaria has become a bit of a revelation to us, it was down as a transit country – it was here or Albania and this looked easiest. Now we are here we are counting ourselves lucky that it was ‘in the way’ of our route, this is for us a seriously under-estimated destination. Whenever we have said we are going via Bulgaria people looked shocked and asked why, we were warned it wasn’t a good place to visit, it was poor, it was dangerous and the Roma were a real problem. We agree its very poor, other than that its totally amazing. The countryside is a mix of very green farmland, mountains and rolling hills, the people are as friendly as anywhere we have been, we have yet to drive past a horse and cart and not be waved at, the Roma have not bothered us in anyway and without exception when we speak to people they respond with a smile. For us the worst thing about Bulgaria is they shake their heads to mean yes and nod for no – no matter how hard you try its nearly impossible to to do this whilst using the appropriate words.
Water fountains everywhere, with the added bonus of a cup on a chain to drink from 🙂
Driving from Harmanli to Boyanovo we took the country route and in an hour saw only three cars but at least five horses and carts. Then we had the experience of joining the main TIR route from Turkey – it’s worse than anything we could imagine – potholes do not describe the state of the road. At Elhovo, the ring road was such a shocker, we had been advised to avoid it and drive through town instead. The trucks didn’t have that option though and we watched them crawl along the ring road, at less than 5 miles an hour in places. Everywhere we have been there were empty and derelict factories, when the Russians left they took the money that kept these Soviet owned businesses running, its gives an understanding as to why there isn’t any money to fix the roads when there isn’t any work to start with.
Empty and derelict factories are everywhere
We stopped off for a couple of nights in Boyanovo, at a brilliant little campsite called Gemmagos right in the village. As with much of Bulgaria the village is very old, very poor and really does seem like stepping back in time with cobbled streets and outside loos. The housing was once of good quality with most property having very large gardens, many still in use for growing vegetables; keeping chickens, sheep and even a few cows in some. Dotted around the town are several derelict apartment blocks on which demolition has stopped midway, these were where many of the 10,600 Russian troops who were stationed at Boyanovo military base on the edge of the village lived before the Russians headed home. If and when they get around to completing the demolition then the village will be an attractive place again. Many of the houses and some apartments in the centre of the village were also semi-derelict but they were inhabited and the lack of windows, doors and in some cases walls seemed to be something they accept as a way of life, some of the poorer people have no choice.
Not the best side of Boyanovo
Away from the derelict apartments – very lovely
As with much of Southern Bulgaria even the better housing was in need of either a little of an awful lot of repair and renovation, the obvious exceptions were those owned by the ex-pat community. Again in a small town of less than 800 residents there were over 100 Brits in town, it was easy to spot where they live as the houses are well renovated and the massive satellite dishes really give them away. For the local Bulgarians there is very little work, as we walked through town a young Roma lad approached us and asked if he could work on our house – he assumed we must be the latest to buy a house there. Many of the Bulgarians prefer the freedoms they have now but the older generations miss the Soviet control which gave them security of work, money, food etc. However, there doesn’t seem to be any resentment towards the high numbers of ex-pats moving into the villages and towns, really the opposite as they bring money and work.
We were told we could pick up a Trabant for a couple of hundred LEV – that’s around £80 (Iain is not keen on towing one around for the next 7 months though).
As we had gotten used to the abject poverty in Southern Bulgarian then as we moved North towards Veliko Tarnovo things changed slightly. The villages were not quite as poor, plenty of young and old men standing around with not much too do but everywhere seemed a bit more hopeful. Without a doubt the fact that spring had sprung played a major part. As we drove through Sliven the sun came out, clouds disappeared and temperatures rose, lucky for us then as we were heading over the mountains. There was a little snow left but in general it was clear, a good road for a motorhome and very beautiful. The mountain pass was probably in better condition than many of the main roads, hardly another vehicle around, except for a couple of trucks and several horses carrying logs, in over 35 km.
Sliven – covered in tramway wires but we didn’t see a one
As we neared our campsite we came across a road closure, always a pain as we really had no idea where we were so what route to take instead. Deciding the best plan was to wave down a car and use my multi-language arm waving skills, we do and a lady slowed and wound down her window. It is the best feeling ever when you say a bit too loudly and slowly “can we use this road” and the reply is “no it’s closed, but do follow us” in a very well spoken Home Counties accent! Bulgaria must have more British than they know what to do with, said very kind lady led us the 25 km to Lidl (we spend way to much time in there, we know) where we were stunned to find things were the same cost as in Greece! After a few minutes it clicked cereal that was €2.99 in Greece was LEV 2.99 here (£2.16 vs £1.11) i.e. same price different currency so our budget goes so much further here 🙂 Likewise campsites here are coming in between £5 and £7 with electric, showers, wifi etc. and to be honest the three we have used here have been three of the best sites anywhere we have been.
Spring has sprung – or as they say here Chestita Baba Marta
We are now in the village Dragizhevo, roughly 25 km from Veliko Tarnovo. After the poverty of the South it is certainly more prosperous here. Still plenty of horses and carts and a good few village matriarchs (known at the Baba) sitting on wooden benches outside the houses whiling away the late afternoons. The village is known as ‘the Cherry Village’ due to it producing the first crops in Bulgaria, and they say the best. Camping Veliko Tarnovo is at the end of the village and overlooks the mountains, its just us on the site – the campsite doesn’t officially open for another week or so. We had emailed the lovely couple who own the site, Nick and Nicky (yup more Brits), who said of course we can stay, they have put on the electric and opened the showers so we are being totally spoiled again with top class facilities and not a soul to share them with.
Today its been a corker, wall to wall sunshine and temperatures in the high teens / 60’s. We have therefore been somewhat idle and sat in the sun for most of the day, the forecast here it will be progressively warmer over the next few days – what is not to like about Bulgaria? 🙂
Dragizhevo village – who needs a car?