We woke up to a bright and sunny day at our spot overlooking Sofia. Since this was the day we started off on our run across Bulgaria properly, I should probably outline what our general route was going to be.
We weren’t taking the straight shot across from Sofia to Istanbul. While it was certainly the fastest and the flattest, we had heard (as far back as from Tom way back in Gent) that the mountains in the south of Bulgaria had some of the best scenery the country had to offer. The issue was that we couldn’t ride directly South from Sofia to get into the mountains properly, so the course we decided on took us back west a bit, then South for a day or two before finally heading east again towards Istanbul.
We climbed in the morning out of the valley that Sofia was situated in and down into another valley. We were on nice quiet roads most of the morning. Around lunchtime as we were coming up a hill we started to hear music off in the distance. It was a very rural area, there were no towns nearby, the last place we passed that could be called a town was over an hour ago so we were naturally curious as to what the source of the music was.
We crested the hill and saw a small house/cafe bar establishment by the side of the road. There was one full table outside of five guys, old and young, enjoying their Sunday with a big bottle of Vodka and a huge speaker, more like an amp, blaring the Bulgarian gypsie-pop Chalga that Dani had told us in Sofia. We had to stop there.
We went inside and tried to order some food from a tired looking woman, who we eventually got our message across to. While waiting for the for the food we had a very stilted conversation with her young son, maybe five or six, over the incredibly loud music.
After our bizarre lunch we made for the town of Dupnica where we could get on the route 1 South to the city of Blagoevgrad which stood just before the entrance to the mountains. The riding was flat and, once we had joined with the 1 really busy with traffic. This road was the main artery between Bulgaria and Greece.
Reaching Blagoevgrad in the early evening we found the city to be alive with people out to enjoy the sunny Sunday evening. After an ice cream in the square to cool off from the hot day we rode out along a path that followed a mountain stream and turned into a really nice park. The park, too, was packed with people and, I have to get this across, really nice. Probably once of the nicest I’ve been too, it had a load of play areas for kids, a natural mountain stream running through it, a zip line park, bbq and picnic areas, a pound filled with ducks and swans, bike paths and a few cafes all against the backdrop of the mountains.
We didn’t camp in the park, though we did look for an inconspicuous spot. Instead we followed the stream out of the park until we were able to get our bikes down into some flat land.
We found a small wooded area and a clearing therein and set up for the night. Later on in the evening a bar nearby brought in their live Chalga musicians which echoed over our campsite most of the night. So far Bulgaria has had a very distinctive soundtrack.