Tuesday 11 August 2015

Walking, Sightseeing and Camping in Bulgaria

Bulgaria, 6th – 10th August 2015

It’s like we’ve been driving on different roads in Bulgaria to everyone else, I can’t get over how good they are after expecting pot holes everywhere from what we’d heard, but barely encountering any. They’ve been in better condition than Greece and even Italy I’d say. Either there must have been a lot of road improvements in the last couple of years or we’ve somehow managed to avoid all the bad roads. The only exception has been some slip roads off the motorway in Sofia that had some nasty potholes. I’ve been keeping a closer eye on the speedo in Bulgaria in the lower speed limits, after Greece where nobody’s bothered, as I’d heard from other blogs that there are a lot of speed traps. A one point we got flashed frantically by an Audi Q7 coming the opposite way so guessed there was Police ahead, which
there was but the driver had his head back asleep!

Rila Seven Lakes

From our overnighting spot in Rila National Park we drove a couple of km up the road to the car park near the chair lift up into the mountains and paid 10 Lev for the day at the entry barrier. We got out our walking boots and went to buy return tickets for the chair lift (18 Lev each) and were glad we did when we found out how far it went, taking 25 minutes to reach the top. It got cooler as we neared the top and we were just in T-shirts and shorts but as we set off walking it was fine. We followed the direction most people went uphill up the mountain which was quite a steep climb before it levelled off at the top.

Three of the seven lakes
We passed four of the lakes before reaching the next mountain where we decided to start going back along the alternative lower path as clouds were coming over and Jo was concerned it might rain. This route involved some clambering over rocks along the path and passed another one of the lakes so we saw a total of five of the seven. The majority of people were walking just in trainers and there was a variety of people including families with young children and older people that you wouldn’t expect to see on terrain like this. It was an enjoyable walk with great scenery.

Pravets golf resort
After the chair lift down and some lunch we set off back to the main road north. We passed Dupnitsa where there was an area with lots of car sales yards together that are huge with loads of cars in stock. The road was mainly dual carriageway and easy going. We travelled into the suburbs of Sofia which was busy with cars and trams then around its ring road where there was a McDonalds, KFC, a large Sofia Ring shopping centre and car dealerships. There was also some interesting architecture in a few modern glass faced buildings too. Further along we spotted a Lidl and went in to investigate. Things in general weren’t as cheap as I was expecting but some things were including bread, with loaves from about 0.50 Lev (~18p), some 100g chocolate bars for 0.79 Lev (29p) and lager in large plastic bottles from 2 Lev for 2.5l (only 14p a pint!). They had some of the 2-seater inflatable kayaks like I’d been wanting to get to bring with us but haven’t so far due to the weight and space it’d take up, which was tempting. We drove on to our overnight spot at Pravets for the night to a small car park near a park area and sports centre (GPS: 42.89550 23.91159). Pravets is a small town known for its golf resort, City University and computers and technology high school. The first microprocessor factory in Bulgaria was located here and was the source of the first computers in the country.

In the morning Jo made use of the free WiFi picked up on our booster aerial to write a blog post although it was slow, and we had a walk around the nearby pedestrianised area where there was a couple of smart looking hotels and some of the university buildings. There wasn’t anything particularly notable about the place but it made a fine stopover. Moving on towards our next destination of Tryavna, we stopped at a Kaufland to have a look and got a few things including Mars bars that were on offer for 0.55 Lev (20p), less than we’d been paying in Greece for Lidl’s copy version so we stocked up. We stopped close to Tryavna for a late lunch at the side of a country road near a large stone monument with a paved and garden area around.


Arriving in Tryavna we managed to park in a small free parking area near the Police and Fire station that Our Tour had used (GPS: 42.86766 25.49168) and set off to explore the town. We walked along the attractive cobbled and paved streets of the town centre and along the side of the river, which was running low with just a stream at the bottom. I got a nice large whippy ice-cream for 1 Lev from a stand in the town centre and ate it while we sat on a bench for a while by a water feature.

We decided we’d eat out tonight and sample some Bulgarian cuisine so stopped at a couple of restaurants to look at the menu. After a quick freshen up back at the van we headed back to Gostilintsa as it was recommended on Our Tour and they said it was cheap! The restaurants were empty when we passed earlier at around 7pm but now less than an hour later were busy with most of the outside tables in use but we managed to get an outside table in the courtyard. The prices were cheap, we got food to share between us including stuffed peppers, snow white salad, meatballs in white sauce, chips and ‘chicken stew’ (pieces of chicken in a sauce with onions). The food came out an item at a time as it was ready but was good. I had a couple of nice pints of draught Kamenitza lager and Jo had two glasses of white wine. We were expecting it to be cheap but when the bill was only 27 Lev (£10) for all that it was a shock! We walked back to the van through the town which was lively with a lot of people about and a pleasant place. We found the top floor of the glass fronted building we were parked next to was a club or had a party going on with loud music and multi-coloured strobe lights but wasn’t too bad for getting to sleep, it either stopped or we fell asleep anyway.

A typical selection of cars here - 1970's Lada and old
Bulgarian van alongside a new Audi Q7

Our overnight spot in Tryavna viewed from the park behind 

Camping Veliko Tarnovo

In the morning we made our way to Camping Veliko Tarnovo (GPS: 43.06637 25.75342,  €18 inc electric & WiFi) as we were in the area and it had been highly recommended by other bloggers. The site is owned by British expats Nick and Nicky who set it up from scratch a few years ago. It’s located near the village of Dragizhevo, about 20 minutes east of Veliko Tarnovo, in a pleasant setting on sloping ground overlooking the surrounding countryside and fields of sunflowers. There’s a very good café-bar serving Burgarian and British food, more on that later, and a nice swimming pool area although this was unfortunately closed for refurbishment during our visit. The toilet blocks were the best we’ve used so far, being very clean with nice décor and having curtains to keep your things dry in the showers.

It was quiet when we arrived with only a few tents and were greeted by an energetic local girl working in reception. We spent the day doing internet jobs, I got lots of copies of others’ blog posts saved for offline planning and Jo got our GPS locations map finished for the website. A few motorhomes and more tents arrived later so it got a bit busier.

In the morning we went to the café for a full English breakfast complete with bacon and nice sausages, the first we’ve had for three and a half months since we’ve been away. We decided we’d stay another night to get some more jobs done and the steak and ale pie and chocolate fudge cake on the menu were too appealing! After another day of jobs in the van which got interrupted at times by our laptops not connecting to the WiFi correctly we decided we’d treat ourselves while we had the chance of good British food and went back to the café in the evening for dinner. We both opted for the steak pie, chips and peas which was nice, with a pint of draught lager and a carafe of wine. After we shared a piece of chocolate fudge cake and a piece of orange and chocolate cake, both of which were delicious!

We didn’t manage to get to talk to Nick or Nicky before we left, I think they were busy behind the scenes, and then were on a rest day off today. With more WiFi problems we didn’t manage to get some bits done that we’d hoped to before leaving. After settling our bill we got on our way after calling at the nearby fuel station for another week’s vignette as ours ran out yesterday. We called at Kaufland and Lidl to get some more cheap beer, Coke and other bits in stock. For lunch we sampled the snack bar outside Kaufland getting a hot dog each and a portion of chips, all only 0.99 Lev each. We were deciding whether to head to the Black Sea coast or go north towards the border and opted for the latter as from what we gather the coast is very built up and busy particularly with it being August, so saving a few hundred miles.

A stretch of road was rough in places where the road surface had been distorted in the heat by lorries, forming deep dips and ruts so had to actively avoid these. After about a couple of hours we arrived at the Rusenski Lom National Park near Ruse. From the approach road it looked in a state of disuse with an empty café/shop and the pavement overgrown a lot of the way. Arriving at the car park at the end of the road (GPS: 43.69467 25.98657) there was a souvenir and refreshment shop and a couple of other cars parked. We took the short walk along the path up to the Ivanovo Rock Monastery that’s built in a cave but didn’t go in as we’d heard it wasn’t really worth the 4 Lev entry fee.

Tomorrow we plan to head north over the border into another country, Romania.

- Matt

More Rila Seven Lakes photos:

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