I was headed for Macedonia, but, at a fork in the road, I went left when I should have gone right. 20 km and around 1 km of vertical later, that road ended at a small church on a (big) hilltop and I had to ride back the way I came. That was some of the most beautiful, and peaceful, riding I have ever done. For 95% of the time I was climbing, I hear no noises other than bird song and cow bells. The climb was rough - mostly 6 - 8% or so, but a few stretches were around 12% - and long, but the ride was lovely.
I realized after the first, and biggest, climb that I wasn't on the road to Macedonia, but I also realized that I was seeing a very beautiful part of Bulgaria that I would have missed if I taken the right road. Since, after climbing that much, I wasn't going to be able to make Velles, my first destination in Macedonia today, I decided to just ride until the road ended or I needed to turn back in order to get back to Blagoevgrad to clean up before supper. The facts that the riding was superb and the hotel I've been staying at in Blagoevgrad was both one of the nicest and one of the least costly places I've ever stayed, made it easy to make that decision.
Hay spread to dry in one lane and guys working on a broken truck in the
It brings back memories of Romania!
When I got back to the hotel, they not only welcomed me warmly, but they gave me an even better room. Maybe the fact that I left a good tip for the staff when I checked out influenced their choice of rooms when I got back. They also called, without being asked, to check on my visa situation when I said I was going to Macedonia.
Just in case you happen to be thinking of coming to Bulgaria <grin>, you should realize how remarkably inexpensive it is to stay in a nice hotel here. It cost me less than 25 Euro a day for this two star + hotel. That included two meals - breakfast and supper - and I had a half liter beer with each supper and coffee after supper.
My first room here was very nice, and very comfortable, if not very spacious. The room I have now is spacious too. The hotel, 'The Cardinal' is a few block from the center of town and a block from the river. The service is excellent, the food is great, and someone from the US could live here, in luxury, on their social security check!
To put things in economic perspective, a good starting salary for a college graduate is the equivalent of $300 or $400 a month. That sounds almost like Romania, but Bulgaria feels much more prosperous and its currency, the Lev, is quite stable. The Euro - Lev exchange rate has changed less than 1% since the Lonely Planet Eastern Europe book I am carrying with me was printed. The Euro - Dollar exchange rate has changed - the dollar has dropped - by about 30% in that same period.
My deluxe lodging here is as inexpensive as my lodging in a tavern in Brasov or in a home in Racu. When I stayed in hotels this nice in Romania, it cost, meaured in Euros, more than twice as much. I'm sure, if I stayed at an inexpensive hotel and ate inexpensive food, it would be easy to tour Bulgaria for less than 15 Euro a day. I don't know of any other country in Euro that is as cheap.
The countryside is beautiful. The people are friendly. The food is great. The signs are indecipherable ;-), but, even if you get lost, it is a great place to tour.