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Easy Rider

A straight forward border crossing into Bulgaria. Only about six cars going through so no queues. Also no touts or pushy money changers. Everything done in a very orderly fashion in the bank near the customs office for money changing. Best thing is that the price of petrol dropped to about half the price of Turkey’s gas and I get more for my Lev so I’ll enjoy that while it lasts!

Had a great stay at Gypsy Smith’s camping & guesthouse – Villa Tikaani at Nikolovo, Bulgaria. An expat from the UK, Gypsy’s a keen motorcyclist, a lover of nature and a fantastic cook. Each morning he & I enjoyed a long walk from his home which is situated in an old tobacco producing village. A great place for visitors to relax and take in real rural life.  I was fascinated to see four baby storks in a huge nest near the village & watched the mother arriving with building materials while scores of smaller birds were building nests off the bottom of stork’s home. Talk about living in harmony! For anyone into nature like me, just listening to all frog sounds, observing different bird species such as eagles, peregrine falcons and other raptors made the stay here extra special. Thanks Gypsy – you’re a good bloke and I hope lots of riders stop in and enjoy your hospitality.

One real surprise here in Bulgaria has been the size of the bottle of beer. I thought I was having my leg pulled when I was offered an ale. It comes in 2.5 litre plastic bottle and yet is cheaper at only 1.6 Lev than a small can of Ozzie beer. Now that’s a serious difference !

Some maintenance on the bike meant taking out the rear wheel and adjusted the crown wheel. All is looking great, just as it was when new. I’ve been able to slowly reduce my luggage and have throw away spare petrol containers and am using only a smaller emergency oil container. By the time trip is over I’ll know exactly what it is I need to carry! I managed to find a replacement set of tyre levers for the ones that went missing with my gear. I wasn’t looking forward to changing another tyre with a plastic set as the new tyre is so strong. I’m still hunting down a tyre inflator that screws into the spark plug hole but had no luck so far. Fingers crossed I’ll get through the journey without needing it again.

This country is small so it’s very easy to get from one side to the other which makes a difference to schedules which is great as I’m able to do a bit of sightseeing on my way north to Romania for the Dracula Rally in Turda. I stayed a couple of nights in Plovdiv, a fascinating old town and did something really different here, going to a concert in a roman amphitheatre – a great experience surrounded by so much ancient history.  I’ve been pigging out on cherries for only 2 Lev (3 lev is 1.50), and enjoying peaches, plums and nectarines. So nice to eat fruit in season, rather than have it trucked halfway around the world and end up tasteless. When I’m not camping I’ll opt for a hotel, usually nothing flash, but just so I can shower and catch up with washing my gear. Not sure why, but I loved the name of one place I stayed – The Raisky Kat.

Lynne & I met up again in Sofia. We tucked into some fig conserve she’d made in Istanbul after seeing fresh figs in the market – it brought back memories of Conondale with all our homemade preserves from the orchard. I’m really enjoying Bulgaria. Roads might not always be in as good a condition as the previous couple of countries I’ve been through but I’ve been travelling on the hard shoulder which is swept clean so have avoided any potholes. There’s a wildness about the countryside I like. In some respects it reminds me of New Zealand with the mountains, rivers and forests. And yet in other ways it’s so different with endless fields of sunflowers, freshly mown hay and donkey carts on the roads & fields, unlike anything I’ve seen up until now, and I especially enjoy the beautiful old stone bridges. Sofia the capitol has some beautiful buildings, tree lined avenues and fantastic trams that run up and down the streets every few minutes. Outdoor dining is a popular pastime, especially the Gelaterias where mountains of icecream are decorated with chocolate chips and a variety of berries and other fresh fruits. Not everyone has prospered after communism and there is obvious poverty, but there’s also a deep sense of pride as the country finds it’s feet and moves forward.

We took the “Free Sofia Walking Tour” – a two plus hour walk around the city with a great young guide, who kept the group well entertained. From what I learned these walking tours are springing up all over Europe and if the one we were on is anything to go by, they’re very popular. It was fascinating to see how unearthed Roman ruins in the underground have been preserved, with a new rail line being diverted in order that nothing of historical value is lost. Walking on the smooth cobbled roadway under the present main street, picturing what life must have been like back in Roman times is kind of exhilarating. Speaking of cobbled streets, they’re a bugger to negotiate on the FN, but I’ll need to get used to them as we make our way across Europe. I remember steep cobbled streets from Mexico all those years ago and they’re even harder to navigate now than when I was riding back then on a much bigger bike.

On my own again, the ride from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo, the old capitol of Bulgaria was pleasant. Effie is managing the hills well and we’re setting off early in the mornings in the cool before the heat gets too bad. I’ve met a few riders along the way, certainly not as many as I expected, though that may change as I get further west. I see the odd bike with European number plates, but most people only have a few weeks holiday, so no time for them to stop and chat. Me, I can bop along at a snail’s pace, enjoy the scenery and listen to the hum of a happy engine. What more could an old bloke want?

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