The last villages we drove through in Turkey were very pretty. We stopped at the last major town (Kirklareli) and searched for a bureau de change. We had no luck but bought some groceries, delicious olives and the only Turkish Delight we could find. En route to the border a truck with five Czech guys flashed at us and we stopped to say hello. We said we'd see them at the border. They drove off and when Michael couldn't get traction on the road and we could smell diesel, we saw that they were leaking loads of diesel from their tank! We hooted and flashed at them for ages and eventually they stopped and sure enough, they had forgotten to put their fuel cap on. How frustrating for them. It turns out Martin owns the truck and he had gone down to Syria for three weeks with his brother Jan and three friends. We stood and talked for quite a while and a bit of mutual vehicle admiration went on. We exchanged details and went on our way (they went back to get their cap some 30km away).
Exiting Turkey was easy enough, although still the requirement to go to various different offices for stamping. I changed our remaining 300 lira into €177 and we headed for the Bulgarian border. The officials were civil, but nothing more than that. They didn't stamp our carnet, but we did purchase road tax for a week at the cost of 8 levas (US$5) and we paid €4 to have Nyathi "disinfected" (driving her through a muddy puddle). Michael bought 75 levas for US$50.
Our introduction to Bulgaria was potholed roads and very quaint villages. It seems their building standards are about as poor as Turkey's, no wonder everything collapses when there is an earthquake.
There were also a few old wooden cottages hidden in among the forests on the edge of large meadows, which were still inhabited. We saw quite a few bands of gypsies, both camped and a few on the road with their horses and carts. After a very restful sleep in one of the forests we drove to the Black Sea. A lot of the towns have an unloved feel to them and many of the old camps and chalets which were supported by Russian holidaymakers are deserted.
The area south of Tsarevo was a national park. There were many roads leading down to the beach cliffs. We saw a Freelander coming up from one of the swampy beach areas, where we went for a lovely walk.
The southern most beach we visited (Sinemorets) had one garish resort hotel and hundreds of permanent beach umbrellas across the sandy beach, which we felt spoilt the place a little. Given the amount of construction going on, it won't be peaceful for too much longer.
We found a lovely spot along a dirt road which was right above the sea. It got a bit windy in the evening, but the view was fantastic and I loved listening to the sound of the ocean. I made potato salad for the road and cooked up the remainder for the chilli chicken for dinner.
Michael took some photos of the moon rising over the sea. It got pretty cold so we didn't linger outside for too long. In fact we were lazy and decided to wash the dinner dishes in the morning.
It was wonderful to wake up to the soft lapping of the Black Sea on the rock shore. We had lovely hot washes and Michael loaded part of our Europe route onto the GPS software, while I went for a walk along the cliff top and down at the sea. We drove north toward Burgas and passed a few of the resort towns along the way. The Bulgarians have an interesting architectural style. Sadly we saw a beautiful beach fringed with wild flowers and lots of litter!
We stopped to fill up with diesel about 24km south of Burgas but the garage's Visa card machine wouldn't work. Annoyingly, only when we stopped in Burgas to fill up with diesel did Michael spot that he had left the fuel cap at the previous station. We met Martin and the guys again so we chatted to them for a while and then we drove back to collect our fuel cap. We were stopped by police again today and you could see he was looking for a reason to give us a hard time. First of all he shook his head at our road tax permit, which we know is valid until 30/5 and then he started complaining about our cracked windscreen. When we explained Bulgaria had no Land Rover dealer, he gave up on us and waved us on.
The drive to Veliko Turnovo (the capital of Bulgaria some 1,000 years ago) was very pleasant with mountain scenery as well as meadows filled with poppies, bluebells, daisies and other flowers. There is something very appealing about the idea of running through the fields with gay abandon, but we resisted. We visited the Tsarevets Fortess which is a large citadel positioned above a winding river and beautiful village below. It was great to wander about and they have restored sections of it extensively.
We found the most interesting part was the hill top monastery which had been painted in a very modern and macabre style inside. Sadly photography wasn't permitted but the imagery was very evocative.
We drove back to the centre of town and changed money, did a bit of window shopping and went to the internet cafe for an hour. Firestone received the images we couriered and Rod has told us our new tyres should ready for us in Thessaloniki in a few days. We decided to use one of the trip treats which we got from Andrew and Angela so we had a supper at a lovely (and very busy) restaurant with streetside tables. We each chose a traditional Bulgarian dish cooked in an earthenware pot. I have no idea what they were called but mine comprised mashed potato, chicken, mushrooms and cheese and Michael's lots of cheese, bacon, broccoli, chillies. We shared them and they were very tasty. For dessert we had a fabulous crepe with ice cream, chocolate and loads of lovely fruit - scrumptious. It all came to just 17 lira including tip. While we were sitting there we eventually worked out what the sign "PECTOPAHTИ" means. We have seen this sign all over the country, and wondered what it means. We sat and looked at our Cyrillic chart for a while, and finally worked it out:
An И is an I .
Not so difficult!
Veliko Turnovo is definitely the best Bulgarian town we have seen so far and will probably rank as our favourite in the country.
Afterwards we drove back out to the fortress and sat on Nyathi's roof and watched an impressive music, laser and lighting show with the fortress as the backdrop. Then we drove out of town and found a roadside quarry where we went to sleep. Sadly at midnight we were woken by police telling us we must go 5km further down the road to a truck park as there are 'bandits'. So we pulled down the tent and drove 8km to a restaurant come scrap yard where we asked the old grumpy-looking man if we could sleep for the night. He didn't seem too enamoured with us, but said yes, so we quickly thanked him before he changed his mind and jumped into the tent.
We woke up to the old wizened man banging his stick on the side of some old cars and scrap metal next to where we were parked. After a poor night's sleep with the police interruption and noisy junkyard dogs we decided to beat a hasty retreat. We waved goodbye to the old man shouted thank you (blagodariya) and set off. We stopped a short while later to freshen up. Then there was what appeared to be a long delay at some road construction as all the cars were turning around instead of waiting, so we did the same. It was the longest detour we could have chosen! One of the challenges of Bulgarian navigation is that transliterating the Cyrillic takes us a long time and the directional signs aren't clear at the best of times!
We ended up travelling through some beautiful mountain scenery up to a ski area , where we found a detailed roadside map showing the tiny roads and walking trails. We took a photo of it, loaded it up on Nyathi's computer and used it for navigation. The road we needed to take was narrow, sandy and muddy and had a few obstacles in its path, the last being a barrier across the road so we had to turn around and retrace our steps. All in all it took just under four hours, but at least the scenery was fantastic!
We stopped and had an afternoon nap in a field next to a river and then we continued to Plovdiv. En route we parked under a roadside cherry tree and I took great delight in picking fresh cherries. They were delicious! A short while later we were pulled over by the police (we may have been speeding), but he didn't say anything, in fact, apart from grunting "document" that's all he said! We have discovered the officials here range from mildly friendly to simply rude.
Plovdiv was wonderful, with a mix of old dilapidated buildings, old restored buildings and ugly concrete blocks. It was known by the Romans as Philippopolis in the 3rd century and thousands of years before, was populated by Thracians. We managed to find our way around quite easily and found good parking near the old town. We walked up to the Theatre of Ancient Philippopolis and got a view from "backstage". The theatre is still used for performances and commands a beautiful view over the older, more beautiful part of the city. We stopped at the local fresh produce market and bought cherries, lettuce and small potatoes. We put them in Nyathi and then walked up through the lovely old paved streets to Nebet Tepe hill top where the Ruins of Eumolpias lie.
They are apparently from a Thracian settlement, with evidence dating back to 5,000 BC. The views of the city are quite spectacular and it was interesting to see old tiled roof houses and modern buildings interspersed with lots of monasteries and church towers, along with a minaret somewhere in the middle. There is a restaurant and beer garden on the hill top and we sought refuge under the shade of a large umbrella and had some beer and wine. It was a good thing we were under cover as an almighty thunderstorm came crashing through and it bucketed down for a good fifteen minutes. Walking back down the alleys there were little rivers winding their way between the paving stones.
As we were driving out of the city we saw hundreds of cars decorated with balloons and people with bunches of flowers. Everyone was hooting their horns, waving, shouting and hanging out of their cars. It turns out that it is graduation day for all the schools and tonight was the equivalent of "prom night". It was fantastic to see so many happy people and the everybody joins in, including bystanders. The vibe was incredible and of course we contributed to the cacophony of noise with Nyathi's air horn!
Just outside of town we stopped at a motel with a big restaurant and had a lovely dinner there. We both had chicken dishes, mine was done "Branski Style" which means a large fillet rolled up into a sausage shape filled with tasty mushrooms and I am not sure what else. Stroyko, the waiter (and a huge Liverpool fan) invited us to join him and the chef to watch the UEFA Cup Final with AC Milan vs Liverpool. Needless to say it was a terrific evening with lots of excitement and nail biting right to the end. Liverpool won - hurrah! We spent the night in the restaurant car park.
We had lovely omelettes for breakfast and said our farewells to Stroyko. We drove through some interesting little villages and saw more evidence of of the poor building standards. Believe it or not, this house is one of the better built ones, with lots of mortar, even brick alignment etc...
After about 100km and we heard a horrible noise coming from the #2 diff. We decided to bite the bullet and fix and replace the broken half shaft in the front axle (which we were going to do when we got to Thessaloniki) and we disabled axle #2 by removing the rear axle and the half shafts. Interestingly, although loads of cars, trucks and buses passed us, not one person stopped to see if we were OK. We have in other countries always found that usually somebody enquires as to what is happening.
We were quite happy being left to our own devices. We also knew it was safe enough to have hot showers hidden behind Nyathi after we had got greasy and sure enough, nobody stopped. WE continued driving through the beautiful mountain scenery and on the long up hill it soon ecame apparent that the problem was far from over. Not only was Nyathi's #2 diff in need of attention but something else is amiss, probably the front differential. Knowing that if something in the front axle gives out, we will be unable to move at all, we decided it was safest to look for a good place to stop to fix one or both of the problems. We coasted down the mountain until we stopped losing altitude and we found (after a few tries) a lovely campsite down a dirt track. It was only 19h20, which meant we could still do two hours work before dark, but neither of us felt very enthusiastic, especially as we had both just bathed and were squeaky clean. We decided to relax for the evening and to the work tomorrow!
Neither of us felt like getting up this morning. We didn't sleep particularly well as the vehicle was parked at too much of an angle, but I think it was mostly because we knew we had a day of repairs and diff inspection ahead of us. We got the front diff out and back in within two hours. It looked fine, so we decided to look in new places to find the grinding noise. It looks like the transfer box is the most likely culprit (which we cannot do a whole lot about)!
As something is definitely amiss in the #2 diff we decided to try and reach Thessaloniki driving axles #1 and #3. So we put the rear prop shaft back in (but left axle #2's half shafts out). We also decided to put the free wheeling hub gear into the #3 axle on the right hand side and took the opportunity to replace the wheel bearings and oil seal, which have needed replacing for a while.
All in all it wasn't a bad day even though we were busy until 17h00. We were lucky with the weather. It rained briefly a few times, but we had pulled out the awning, so we just put the tools and spares underneath for protection. We never took a single photo during the day, because we were both too dirty. We both had fabulous hot washes and felt as good as new at the end of it. It was a pity we didn't have too much time to appreciate our surroundings of a rushing river, snow capped mountains and a green valley spotted with wild flowers. We did however, get to experience mosquitoes so large that when they buzzed they sounded like flies! We left our camp site and headed for Melnik which is a wine making village set at the base of the Pirin sand mountains. We drove slowly and listened carefully to the noise from the #2 diff and the quiet droning of the six wheel drive unit. We passed through beautiful countryside and saw lots of families working in the fields. We climbed up into the hills a little and passed a lovely village with the Pirin sand dunes in the background.
When we arrived in Melnik town square we saw three British registered motor homes and had a chat to one of the owners, Andy. We went out for a bite to eat and wandered up to the old Mitko Monalev Winery which is 250 years old. After dinner we caught up Andy, Ann, Dave, Marilyn, Derek and Christine. They were really interesting to talk to and we only got to bed after midnight!