Once our adventures in Sofia were over (see Exploring Bulgaria – PART 1), we packed our bags and jumped into our black rented Hyandai Getz, only 26 Euros per day, dropped off and picked up by a very friendly Phillip (who paid our parking and even let us keep it an extra night as we couldn’t get back in time at the end of our trip). We then drove out of the city. It was the first time we realised just how inadequate our GPS really was. It had a lag equivalent to that of dial-up internet. Not the best thing when you’re in a busy capital city and need to be on the “perfect highway” which will take you through the mountains to Velikov Tarnovo, our hilly little mountain escape.
Well, with a combination of a dodgy GPS and a Sofia map, we made it out and sailed along the perfect highway with our custom-made captain map pirate hat and a specially purchased Bulgarian rock band which provided us with lots of entertainment. For your enjoyment, I’ve included a music video of James Crow, Chocolate.
We stopped at a very small town for lunch where we were given menus in Bulgarian that thankfully had a couple of pictures as there was absolutely no english spoken except for ‘no meat’ and we weren’t sure whether they thought we were vegetarian or they actually had no meat. Although the pictures should have been fail proof, upon ordering we got completely confused with the fact that Bulgarians shake their heads for ‘yes’ and nod for ‘no’. After general confusion from everyone, we thought we ordered a lovely looking plate of steak and mushrooms but instead we ended up with a plate of mushrooms and sliced tomatoes. Disappointing, but thankfully our typically Bulgarian shopska salad did not let us down.
The rest of our drive that day included our GPS taking us off the highway through heavily pot holed roads, under beautiful big highway roads, past shepherds and their cattle, past wandering horses and the most baffling – to the middle and around the centre of a town seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
We arrived late and in the middle of a storm in the beautiful, mountainous Veliko Tarnovo. Finding our hostel and driving along narrow, steep roads was no easy feat. Our reward was a cozy tavern, a beer and a plate of chicken hearts (as mentioned in Not to be eaten on an empty stomach).
On our way to Varna from Veliko Tarnovo the next day, we wanted to stop by a
world heritage site known as the Madova Horseman (a life-size carving of a horseman and his dog high on the cliff side). Again, we let the GPS take us off the main highway through some little towns and towards a dead-end. Never mind. We found another highway and headed east. Along the way we saw an incredible sight, a flintstones petrol station! After stopping and taking some ‘we’ve just travelled back in time’ photos, and explaining to Hannah how to use the hole in the ground toilet, we powered on to reach a highway where we got the chance to push the Hyandai Getz’s small, already struggling engine up to 130km/hr (legally). We were finally on the home stretch.
We arrived at our Varna Yo-ho-ho hostel late (the fact that we had a captain map pirate hat was a success). Varna is a party beach town and we’d already decided that this was going to be our big party night together (after all, I hadn’t celebrated or partied like an Australian in a long time!). We made friends with some other travellers in the common room and headed to a bar which was playing very loud, very Bulgarian heavy metal. The kind of music which made it difficult to talk to your newly made friends. As we’d never previously seen the town during the daylight besides driving in and had been drinking, we found it slightly difficult to navigate our way back to the hostel, we ended up seeing quite a bit of Varna by night.
Our mission in Varna was accomplished, a big party night, fish and chips on the beach (european style ie, in a restaurant sitting on a table, not actually on the beach using butchers paper as a plate) and swimming in the (very cold) black sea. We had one more thing to tick off our road trip list, a small quiet beach town as Varna was much too touristy for this. The hostel staff gave us an excellent recommendation: Balchik, a quick forty-five minute drive away. I did a quick search for a place to stay, jotted down the name, address and phone number and afer eating the biggest ice-cream I have ever eaten (they priced it by weight), we set off.
The quick forty-five minute drive ended up taking us two and a half hours. Balchik was a simple drive from Varna and was exactly what we wanted, small, quiet, devoid of tourists and beautifully surrounded by white cliffs. Finding the hotel however, proved to be quite a mission. The GPS apparently recognised the address and without a map of Balchik, we followed it devotedly. Mistake number one. It took us everywhere. It told us to take steep roads down the cliffs and if drivable, we did. We found the village area of the town where chickens roamed free and houses had broken windows. When we thought we had reached the point the GPS had said was the final location, the thing would recalculate and tell us to move.
We asked a large number of people who couldn’t speak english, the ones who seemed to know this hotel pointed us in a direction out of town. Finally someone knew and two and a half hours after setting sail, we found it. It was a nondescript place with a large sign in Bulgarian and a very, very small sign with its english name to the side. We had passed this place three times, it was a five minutes drive from the town and on the highway. Whilst the address was correct, I’ve no idea why both in google maps and the GPS, it pointed us in the wrong direction.
We were very disappointed and after talking to the landlord (who was frustratingly unhelpful on the phone earlier telling us to ask people) we decided to forfeit our reservation and cop the cancellation fee. We jumped back in the car and drove around in circles again, but this time for another reason. Just like the rest of our time in Bulgaria, when something went wrong, something else went really, unexpectedly well. At the late time of evening, when most places were shut, we found a beautiful hotel, right on top of the beach. As it was low season, we could negotiate a room on the top floor with a view and we were just in time to see the beautiful sunset.
On my last day in Bulgaria, I had my last creamy Bulgarian coffee at a cafe on the black sea, we drove back across the country through beautiful mountain scenery, thunderstorms and small little towns with people travelling by horse and cart. Hannah, our damsel in distress who had to remain in Bulgaria for her replacement passport, had lined up a date with Stoyan, the man in the shiny suit from Exploring Bulgaria Part 1 (who outside work hours was still the perfect gentleman, paying for her drinks). Matty was planning his way west through Macedonia and Albania to meet me for my last week in Italy.
Bulgaria has leaved me wanting to spend months exploring Eastern Europe and the Balkan countries. And this is exactly what I plan to do…