The plane dumped us at Sofia airport at some ungodly hour of the morning; the downside of budget flights I suppose! We’d expected to be able to recuperate with a coffee and a snack in the airport lounge before collecting our hire car, but everything was closed (we later discovered that there aren’t actually any facilities at the airport!) and our hire-car agent was hovering about, anxious to get back home to bed! So we signed our lives away, got the keys, and found ourselves outside Sofia airport in a left-hand-drive people carrier (best upgrade ever!) with no idea where we were going. Oh, and we still hadn’t slept for 72 hours. First things first, a cigarette and a map check by the side of the road. Still no coffee.
Finally, we’re on the open motorway. At least I call it a motorway, more like a farm track with some tarmac down the middle. I was so glad to be negotiating this in the dead of night when there was very little other traffic about! As we wound our way up into the mountains the roads improved, and we started to relax. The sun was coming up and Bulgaria started to unfold before us; golden sunshine, rolling hills and just miles of trees, as far as you could see.
We slept for a while by the road, lulled by the rocking of trucks whizzing by the little lay-by where we pulled up. Driving through Vratsa was a bit gloomy, until I remembered that main roads rarely take you through the best parts of a city, and not to judge this place by the run-down, communist-era tower blocks that lined the pot-holed road.
Our first impressions of Bulgaria were a bit mixed. The countryside was stunning, but the human habitation we’d seen was all a bit run down and dilapidated. Huge, shabby tower blocks, broken masonry, and poorly maintained streets made us wonder if we were making a good move coming here. We’d come here knowing that Bulgaria is a poor country, but the reality was still a bit of a shock.
The road was so bad in places, and generally much slower going that we’d anticipated, that we were well behind schedule for our first meeting of our trip, with a couple who live near Vidin.
Vidin was a lovely little city, right on the banks of the Danube. We didn’t get any time for a proper look around, but first impressions were good, and this improved our feelings about coming to Bulgaria. We met with our hosts, ate a lovely meal and chatted about their experiences of living in Bulgaria. Feeling much refreshed, if still a bit tired from our long journey from Carlisle, we left them and moved on to visit Andy and Marie, spending a pleasant couple of hours being pestered by their two lovely dogs, before setting off on our travels again. This time we headed south to the town of Belogradchik, which was to be our first proper night at a Bulgarian campsite.
Our host at the campsite was lovely; she made us coffee when we arrived and for breakfast, and we soon settled down on our grass verge pitch.