Bulgaria, Dublin to Nepal

East meets West in Sofia

It was still raining in the morning, and everything was damp. We had a host lined up in Sofia though, a guy from Couchsurfing named Dani so we knew we would be able to get everything dry once we reached the city, which was a little over 30km away.
The route to the city was a straight shot along the same road we had been following yesterday, so once we were packed up we rode happily right along through rain, safe in the knowledge we would be inside soon.
We had originally planned to meet Dani at 7 that evening, but given the rain we decided to take him up on the earlier time he was available at 12:30. We pulled into a petrol station to use the wifi to contact Dani, it was into then we realised that we had passed into a new timezone, we were an hour ahead of where we were yesterday.
So we peddled a bit faster in order to get into Sofia on time. There was a short delay as we navigated a complex situation of roadworks, diversions and off ramps to get into the city, but (with the rain still pouring) we made it to Danis address just in time.


the main road through the centre of Sophia

Dani was a great host, a really friendly dude who worked as a developer in a start up based out of the city. It was midweek (Thursday) so he had to get back to work after meeting us but very generously let us stay in his place while he was out, which gave us the chance to hang our gear out to dry.
Sofia is a very unique city, it has the East meets west feel at any city under Ottoman control and that close to Turkey would, but also the contrast of old Soviet style architecture and city planning and the new western shops, malls and cafes. It’s a great place to visit, and it’s also cheap!


old turkish baths, now a museum

We got a good look around the city and ran a few errand that had to be done too. All of the maps we’d used so far were posted back to Ireland by Finn along with some other items that weren’t being used and just dead weight at this stage. We also finally managed to find camping gas for the stoves, all though we had gotten pretty proficient with using petrol as a fuel.


Main Orthodox Cathedral

We spent some time hanging out with Dani too, who gave us some great insight into the more esoteric aspects of Bulgarian culture, including a crash corse in Bulgarian gypsy pop music Chaugra (not sure if I’m spelling that right.) He was also kind enough to take us around the city after work one day, his hospitality really made the time in Sofia memorable, thanks Dani!


Dani with our flag

The day we left we were cycling up out of the city and into the mountains that surrounded it when I started having trouble with my bike. The chain was slipping over the teeth of the chainring, the whole drivetrain was completely worn out – but we didn’t realise this at the time, the symptoms were similar to what Finn experienced with his loose hub. 
Incredibly fortunately we were passing a bike shop so decided to go and get the mechanic to have a look over it. His diagnosis initially that it was just the chain and maybe the cassette worn out.  


thank you serendipidous bike shop!

He was a really helpful guy and changed both out to see if that would fix the problem. It didn’t and I was sure no it was the hub but again I was lucky, it still wasn’t the hub that was broken, it was my chainring that was pretty badly worn out. I had planned to get the whole drive train replaced in Istanbul, but I guess it didn’t last as long as I hoped. Either way the it was going to be replaced at some point on the trip and here in Sophia was as good a place as any to get it all swapped out, and cheap too.


ready to ride, lets go cross some Bulgarian mountains

So a couple of hours later than we would have wanted, but still with enough daylight to get out of the city proper we left Sophia and starred climbing. We found a great spot in a field that overlooked the city we had just left, the last city we would stay in in Europe and the jumping off point for our ride into Turkey.

our fantastic spot overlooking Sofia


Post Script:

I haven’t been able to update the blog much, but expect a glut of posts to follow in the next few days. Our run to Istanbul was the longest between city stops we’ve done so far but we’re here (in Istanbul) now with a backlog of photos and posts to get through so keep your eyes on the blog over the next few days. 

Bulgaria, Dublin to Nepal, On Tour, Serbia

Day 47: Donja Kamenica to near Dragoman/outside Sofia (Into Bulgaria)

It’s always an exciting prospect when there’s a border crossing coming up. Today we would be crossing into Bulgaria, back into the EU, but also the last European country of the trip – after Bulgaria would come Turkey and a whole different part of the trip, but that’s future. Today, the last bit of Serbia and the start of Bulgaria.
The morning consisted of riding down out of the mountains and into the flat land that ran between the last big town in Serbia before the border of Pirot. The ride down was similar to the previous days, narrow roads that ran along the hills. But today was overcast, and with a blustery headwind which slowed us a bit (but not much)


looking down the descent into Pirot


Finn attacking the corner

Pirot wasn’t all that much to look at once we arrived. It bore all the marks of being s border town, lots of place changing money and selling cartons of cigarettes. We arrived a bit before lunch we stopped for a break. While we were sat outside a cafe a big tall Serbian guy came over to us and started chatting in English with us.
He had seen our bikes and heard is talking and wanted to find out a bit more. Never got his name, but he was an interesting guy. From Serbia originally he now lived most of the time in Sweden with his family and was back in Pirot visiting. He was very interested in the trip and after talking a while was suddenly struck with an idea!
He had friends who worked for a Serbian TV station not five minutes down the road, they would be very interested to talk to two Irish guys cycling to Nepal who had just crossed their country and he raced off to find them.
It would be great to be able to say we made it onto Serbian television, but unfortunately his friends weren’t available at the time and we had to move on.
The road from Pirot to the border was flat, straight into a headwind and boring enough not want further description.
We crossed the border a bit before three with no difficulty. The border was surprisingly quiet, I would have expect more people to be crossing over, maybe if we arrived in August there would be queues of people heading into Bulgaria to get to the seaside. 



first road sign for Istanbul!

After the crossing we climbed for a bit over an hour across the highland that separate the two countries geographically. The wind was starting to pick up and the sky beginning to darken. The fist Bulgarian town over the border was a place called Dragoman. We picked up some stuff for dinner at a market there and then checked the weather forecast and saw this:

The wind was blowing stronger and we figured we should start trying to find somewhere to camp before the storm stated to cross us. We rode out of Dragoman for a while, intending to stop as soon as possible but there were no suitable camping spot up here on the exposed highlands. As a result we ended up hauling our bikes through some bushes, across a train track and into a field where we took shelter from the wind in a little dip in the field at the corner, covered by trees on two sides.
That night just before the rain came we were chased into our tents by the most vicious mosquitoes we had encountered. It started raining early on and continued non stop, but our spot was thankfully sheltered from the worst of the wind.

camp spot the next morning