Tour05 Day65

The Strumma River in Bulgaria

Today was a big day for two reasons: it was my first time in Bulgaria and I reached my first 'routing point,' Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. It was a long day - about 85 miles, much of it riding 'uphill into the wind' - but, except for the worst parts, grinding uphill into a 15 to 20 mph wind in Greece - a very nice ride. I did get rained on and I did have a little unpleasant traffic, but it was a good day of riding.

Last night, I bought plastic wrapped sandwich at an Italian fast food place by the park in Serres They had them stored without refrigeration, so I figured it would be OK overnight. I had half of it for breakfast and the other half two hours later as I neared the Bulgarian border.

Riding in Seres on Sunday Morning

Leaving Serres on Sunday morning was pleasant riding with few traffic problems. The weather was great and the riding conditions near ideal. About 20 km later, just as I was getting cocky about the good riding conditions, the north wind started blowing in my face. About the same time, the hills became much bigger and, a little later, the great four lane expressway turned into a skinny two lane road with no shoulders and bad pavement ;-(. I went from 'damn, this is fun' to 'press on regardless' very quickly.

A beautiful town in northern Greece

Fortunately, the wind died down before I reached the Bulgarian border and stayed light for the next several hours. It got windy again just before I rode into light rain about half way from the border to Blagoevgrad.

The border

I chose this route - E-79 which is the main route from Greece to Sophia - because I was riding it on a Sunday. I hoped that would mean a lot less truck traffic from Greece. As I approached the border from the Greek side, I rode past the long place where trucks wait in line to be inspected. It was empty. When I got through the border, the line of trucks on the Bulgarian side was several kilometers long!

Trucks lined up on the Bulgarian side of the border

Riding in Bulgaria for the first time, I had only one problem; the taxis. They must make the trip between Marikostinovo, the first town north of the border, and the border. They seem to do it at full throttle and with little regard for bicyclists. After Marikostinovo, the taxi traffic is less of a problem. I suspect that if I had been riding during the week, I would have been much more concerned with trucks than with taxis. I stopped in Levunovo at a fancy service station/ store/ fast food place for lunch. I had a large beer, a sandwich and a big greek salad. Then I had coffee. The total cost was less than four Euro and the sandwich and salad were prepared fresh as I waited. Just the beer and the coffee would have cost more in Greece. It is nice to be back in Easter Europe. I noticed lots of places to eat as I rode today and lots of people eating. Part of the reason for that is that I was riding the main route so there were lots of services, but another part is the culture which is friendly and food oriented.

The place were the reconstructed road - darker pavement - starts

Riding was easy, if hilly, especially after I reached the renovated part of E-79. The renovation is EU sponsored and will reach from north of Blagoevgrad south to the border. The renovated part has good shoulders and wider lanes, so, even with heavy truck traffic, it would be relatively safe riding. The only exception to this is what I think of as 'the gorge.' This about 30 or 40 km south of Blagoevgrad.

The road and the river in the gorge

In the gorge, the road and river - which is white water in the gorge - share limited space. Moreover the road is curvy and there are several tunnels. The longest tunnel is about half a km long and curved, but the others are shorter and straight. All are lighted and have shoulders and walk ways, but the shoulders are covered with sand. It would not be pleasant going througha tunnel with heavy truck traffic, but, at least if you walked your bike, it would be safe.

The last tunnel

It started raining as I rode through the gorge. I stopped after the longest tunnel to put on my rain gear, then stopped again a few miles later to take it off when the sun came out. By the time I had my gear off, it started raining again ;-), so I just got a little wet as I rode into and out of several more bands of rain. The rain was never hard.

Traffic increased as I rode north and was sometimes unpleasant in the last 20 km of this ride. I was happy to reach the turnoff for Blagoevgrad and get off the expressway, but most of the riding on E-79 had been good. Riding on Sunday really helped.

It is about a km for the expressway to the middle of this city. The view from the expressway is dominated by soviet style high rise apartment building, lots of them, but it is prettier in the older part of town.

I saw one hotel (Xotel) in the outer part of town, and then rode around in the middle looking for others. I finally stopped and asked and was pointed to a place called 'The Cardinal' about half a block away. My room is very nice - in most ways, the nicest room on this trip - and costs less, 30 Lev or about 15 Euro - than any other room I've had since my last trip to eastern Europe. Supper was great at 10 Lev and breakfast was 4 Lev. I'd give both the room and the restaurant three stars.

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