There were two possible routes out of the capital going in my direction: one shorter and on the flat, the other longer and climbing over the Balkan mountains. Now which would you choose?
After studying the shorter option, I realised I would have to break the law to take this one. Apologies for this blurred image of my map
(oops it’s upside down as well. Never mind) but if you look at the road going SE (top left now), you will see that, at the ring road, the road coming out of the city suddenly changes to motorway, then 6kms later it feeds onto a highway that cyclists can use.
I asked advice at the Information Office, and all they would say is: it is illegal to cycle on the motorway….but everybody does. You take your chance…..What would you do?
Well, after much deliberation, I decided not to take my chance, and took a country road going due south, and spent three hours climbing the 60kms to the top of the pass to this ski resort
at an altitude of 1400 metres (about the height of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis), followed by a scarily fast 10kms of descent…..my wheel rims were burning from the braking. But it was exhilarating.
Despite the increased distance and effort, it was a superb mountain crossing. The first 50kms were a gentle rise in elevation, but in the last 10kms it kicked sharply upwards
and brought my climbing speed down to just 10kph. On the descent I was hitting 55kph, and would have been faster but for the dangerous condition of the road. The road up from Sofia had been carefully maintained for the people of the capital to access the skiing slopes. The road down the other side was a different story…..
High up in the mountains, the lifestyle of the people has not changed in years. Subsistence farming is still the order of the day. You are more likely to see scythes and sickles than modern farming machinery, and families working together on their plots
or shepherds walking their flocks in search of pasture
What I observed was a stark contrast with the apparent affluence of the capital that I had just left.
Coming down from the top, I passed through yet another village that had a fighter jet parked on the green
glimpsed storks watching over their fledgling young
….and to warm through from the chill descent, I stopped at a roadside restaurant to have Bulgarian tripe soup, which was so heavily seasoned with paprika, that a glass of beer became obligatory
…such is life!
The Turkish border is now less than two days away, and I am beginning to observe a growing Turkish ethnicity in the people of SE Bulgaria.