Thursday, 9 June 2016

Thurs 9 Jun 2016. Belgrade (Serbia), to Sofia (Bulgaria)

Thurs 9 Jun 2016. Belgrade (Serbia), to Sofia (Bulgaria)
Bright sunny morning, glare reflecting off Danube. Emptied toilet cassette, checked emails, showered inside, definitely declining outdoor one provided! Filled barrel with fresh water and soap, put in washing, barrel into back box, and departed. 

On road past Belgrade heading south east, fuel, cleaned windscreen, 400 kms to travel today. Surprised to see permanent shelters over headstones in cemetery. Along road composed emails eg to PacknSend in Oz to see if package can be delayed or held as we have decided to try and fit in a few weeks in Turkey after all. We can’t come this close without seeing such an alluring country (not Istanbul or Ankara though given the advice to travellers about terrorism) Toilet stop at Boboviste, bought tasty spinach and feta horseshoes. Bright green lizard crossed road as we pulled out. Turned right towards Sophia, following Roman Emperors’ Route (which in spite of being a major highway is very bouncy!) 

Passed turnoff to City of Nis, birthplace of Constantin the Great. Mountains appearing. Beautiful drive through mountain pass, villages and monasteries in lower slopes, many tunnels, river coursing through bottom of valley. Quarrying stone. Land drier after mountain range, most signs in Cyrillic. Train tunnels running parallel. Roman ruins (pre-Ottoman Empire). 

Extensive roadworks on drive to border at Dimitrovgrad, funded by UN money if we interpreted the signs correctly. Border crossing no problem on Serbian side, but woman on Bulgarian side most unfriendly, wanted original of car rego, green card, "why number plate no numbers?", "why you want go Sofia? Holiday- huh!" She called her boss who turned out to be happier with our answers and waved us through. No issue at customs, bought vignette (€10 for 10 days), changed €50 euros for local currency to pay tolls and campsite. Drove into Sophia - what a difference to Belgrade, modern buildings, relatively prosperous, quality cars (although drivers pushy and unpredictable!) 

Hapless traveler laying bare all possessions

City easily laid out, drove straight through main street and out other side looking for first of two camping sites marked on Pocket Earth (nothing on ASCI, nothing on Garmin). Arrived at creepy horrible place hadn't been mowed in years. As it was late we walked through to see if amenities were any better, but were shown into one of the derelict cabins by a shifty Mafia-looking bloke who was proud to say had a working shower (by which he meant the taps moved...). With prickles rising on the back of the neck we hightailed out. Got caught in home-time traffic crossing to other side of town. Coordinates for second campsite took us to empty paddock/forest on top of 4WD only hill surrounded by houses, not at all promising. On speculation we drove into back carpark of a swimming centre and a young lad came running out to see why we were there, and eagerly introduced us to "boss". The owner looked at our tent icon on map and asked patrons in restaurant - turns out there'd been no campground in the locality in anyone's lifetime. Fortunately he said we could stay for night in their carpark at no charge, but invited us to eat there, which we diplomatically did. Seeing they didn't take euros or cards, we had to show how much local currency (lere) we had to see if we had enough to eat.  When we paid equivalent of €11 later for 3 drinks, appetiser and 2 meals, we understood why they laughed at us! They said the gates would re-open tomorrow at 8am - fine by us. Our young friend Daniel adopted us and followed us home, watched everything intently, practicing his English with smart questions. He said "Wow" to everything, and "this my dream", took photos on his iPhone, looked up our blog immediately we gave him our card, and some Aussie flag tattoos. Says he'll see us in the morning before school...

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