Day 18, Sofia to Turgovishte, BG

Out of Sofia

I worked on web pages until almost noon, then packed up and checked out of my expensive room in the center of Sophia. I talked with the staff about hotels on my route - not many - and picked up a piece of pizza - I had two for supper last night - from a vendor near the hotel. I ate my pizza standing up and then went another vendor to get a couple of bananas and a liter of apple juice drink. Then I tried to ride on through the center. That was quite an experience! Gridlocked streets and one-way streets, and trolley tracks all slowed me down but, with the help of a Turkish man who didn't speak English and a young Bulgarian woman who did, I finally managed to find my way out to the east. Note that this wasn't a frustrating or dangerous experience, in fact it was fun, and, in the half an hour it took me to get through the center, I saw lots of interesting stuff. Sofia is a civilized place to ride a bicycle. It reminded me of riding in Florence during rush hour. You just have to go with the flow and enjoy it.

Once out of Sophia and on the highway, things were a lot faster, but also more stressful. I was, as usual, sharing a busy road with a lot of mostly big truck and bus traffic. Again, it was safe, but the margin of error was much smaller and the edge of the pavement wasn't good. Then the highway I wanted to be on turned north and climbed a over a ridge on an even worse road. I stopped for stress break on that section ;-{.


Finally the road became A2, the expressway to Varna. Most of that expressway doesn't exist yet, but much of what does exist, is quite nice, especially in the section I rode today.

The first bridge on A2
The road is climbing gently but steadily

The part of A2 I rode is like a US Interstate, but much better. It has three lanes for each direction, and the outer lane is the shoulder, except at the, rare, entrances and exits and when the side is doing serious climbing. It has full lane wide shoulders with no rumble strips and most traffic moves a lot slower - 80 to 100 kph - than traffic on interstates, so it is much quieter.

There were several long bridges, all with all three lanes and several long - over 1000 M - tunnels, all well lighted with all three lanes. It was really quite a treat to ride it. The problem was lack of any services and few places to get off. It is riding that requires going relatively long distances through, beautiful, mountains while carrying food and water for at least half a day of riding. If you want to stop and eat, or do other bodily functions ;-}, it can be difficult.

Descending into a valley

After a long - 10 km - first climb, mostly a moderate grade, but with a steeper section at the end, A2 descended into a lovely valley. The first exit was in that valley. I stopped to eat lunch - banana, bread, and applejuice. There was spring there and several vehicles stopped to get water from the spring while I was there.

Right after that stop, the second climb began. Again, it was long and gentle, and ended with a steep section. That section wasn't very long, and it ended with tunnels

The first tunnels

I rode into my lanes tunnel with some concern over what I might find. I rode out at 30 mph onto a bridge and a continued descent on a 6 to 7% grade for a km or two. Wow! That was fun!

Bridge and second set of tunnels

I rode into the second tunnel, which had both lanes going through it, and that was fine to. With three lanes in each tunnel, one can be closed for work and the traffic flow safely diverted through the other.

Then I passed the gas station with a restaurant, but it was on the other side of A2 and I couldn't get to it. I figured I'd be OK because I had les than 20 more km on A2 before t went back to being a regular highway. Shortly after this I passed a big, very nice, TIR truck stopped on the shoulder. That truck passed me a few km later and pulled over on the shoulder again. This time, the drivers door opened and he waited for me. We said hello, and he asked me if I wanted a ride to near Varna, over 400 km away at that point. I said sure and we loaded my bike into the rear of his empty trailer. I climbed up into the passenger seat of the Mercedes cab and he took me and my bike to Turgovishte where he was picking up a load of drinking glasses to take to Paris.

Our conversation was limited, he was from Sofia and spoke Bulgarian, and a few words in German and French, but I got about three days of riding in four hours and got to appreciate how challenging it is to drive a big truck over some bad roads. Riding with big trucks passing me, I always assume it was harder for me when the road was bad. Now I appreciate that it isn't easy in the big rig either. We bounced around a lot!

The most challenging driving was when we came upon a short constructions site, at speed. where they had cut away pavement leaving only one narrow - like as narrow as the truck - strip of pavement for perhaps 30 feet with drop offs on either side. The truck had three mirrors on each side, one looking down, and he used that mirror on my side to place the edge of his tires on the edge of the pavement. He indicated that dropping a tire off would mean rolling the truck.

TIR driver

High mountains in Central northern Bulgaria
With my camera reflected in one of the mirrors

When we got to Turgovishte and unloaded my bike, it was almost 9 PM and getting dark. There was a gas station-motel-restaurant right across the road, so I headed over to get a room and a meal. They send me to fairly fancy motel-restaurant close by. They were full. They sent me a fancy resort about 3 km back toward Sofia. They didn't want me ;-{. In the process of finding the resort, I had stopped at a small, family run, restaurant where the owner was friendly and spoke English. I went back there, explained my situation, and asked if I could eat there and camp in the field next to restaurant. He thought about it briefly, and said "Welcome!"

Before I set up camp, he fixed me the, new, best meal of this tour. Then I set up camp using my headlight, went back the restaurant and worked a little on this web page until he was ready to to close for the night. Then I went to my tent.

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