We bade fare well to our German friends who had followed us from Kato Gatzea to Alexandroupolis, and were soon climbing into the mountains on a road our Sat Nav didn’t believe existed. Before our arrival in Greece we had encountered a few road layout changes, unrecognised by the Sat Nav, but it is in Greece where we have encountered whole roads unmapped on our 2017 mapping software.
Thick mist descended as we ascended, so not only did the sat nav not know where we were, neither did we. It was fog lights on and 20 mph, until we were brought to an abrupt halt by a stationary car ahead – through the murk we could just make out another stationary car ahead of that. We were in the queue for the Greco-Bulgarian border.
I think the queue was five or six cars – no commercial vehicles allowed at this border crossing, and when it was our turn I overshot the Greek window and went straight to the Bulgarian window – the officer had closed his window between cars to conserve heat – so I had to back up. The Greek bureaucrat took our passports and immediately passed them to his Bulgarian colleague and we rolled forward. A particularly careful examination was made of Ben and Jack, with windows being asked to be opened and a careful comparison made of the boys faces and their passport photos – both taken when they were just six months old so hopeless for identification!
Eventually we were released and I overshot the third window, had to park up and walk back to buy our vignette to use Bulgarian roads. €8 per week, €15 for a month or €50 for a year. We paid €15 for a monthly pass, which we think expires on 30 April.
I don’t know what they spend the money on. The roads in Bulgaria are the most potholed roads we’ve encountered. They make to country lanes of Kent look well maintained. I felt like I was playing the high tec game of my youth, Space Invaders: instead of darting left or right to avoid sonic blasts, I was darting left or right to avoid craters – sometimes getting it wrong with an agonising crunch as a wheel fell into a rain filled pit.
We made it down the mountain and out of the cloud into rather pleasant countryside of rolling hills, green and open. And then we entered a Stalinist town of wide boulevards and tightly packed tenement buildings – and a Lidl. We stopped for supplies.
With our shopping done we moved on and soon found ourselves on a rather good and empty motorway which carried us to the edge of Plovdiv.
I probably first heard of Plovdiv in the late 1980s. Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon first hit British off licence and supermarket shelves a few years earlier, and then a premium brand, Plovdiv Region, came along. I have not seen it recently, and the rumour I heard is the plethora of Bulgarian wines in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s was tankered over from South Africa and bottled as Bulgarian wines.
The potholes returned as we came off the motorway, and we soon arrived at our home for four nights. Our room is in one corner of a courtyard which is surrounded by four 100m long and 3m high white washed walls. On the middle of one wall is a large house, and in each corner a small apartment like ours. We feel very safe inside the compound. We have arrived at the start of a cold snap and snow is forecast.