The Good

To be honest, Bulgaria had a lot to live up to, having spent a fantastic three weeks in Romania. We had no idea what to expect when we crossed the Danube…

(Now if you can’t be arsed to read the whole story, feel free to skip to the end for the photo slideshow…)

Having missed the boat quite literally by two minutes, we waved at it from the shore and waited the three hours until the next one. Riding west along the little road that runs parallel to the river to catch the boat seemed like a good idea at the time. We could have just driven over the bridge, but where’s the fun in that? Unfortunately, our little Serows can only go so fast…

Still, we made it into Bulgaria, paid for the crossing using Romanian Lei and Bulgarian Lev for currency and received Euros in change, and then had an hour of daylight to make the ride to Idilevo.

Idilevo? I hear you ask.

Ah, yes, an obscure, little village in the north of Bulgaria that happens to be where someone we know has just moved. If you know anything about adventure travel by motorbike, you probably know him too. Goes by the name of Graham, has written a book… or three.

Then again, if you happen to know anything about adventure travel by motorbike, you probably know of this obscure little village called Idilevo, since it’s where Motocamp Bulgaria is.

And it’s here, from this obscure little village called Idilevo, that plans started to change…

Rather than continue on into Greece, then make a tour through Albania and up through the rest of the Balkans countries, we have returned to Idilevo. And it’s not because we love it here so much, although we do…

You see, my chain and rear sprocket are rather worn. We took a gamble and figured the bike would make it home before having to replace them. But all of a sudden teeth are broken, the chain way too loose… So we arranged for the replacement parts to be shipped here. All good so far.

In the meantime, we took the Serows on a mini-tour of Bulgaria. We figured we’d be away a few days and come back in time for Jimmy to watch the MotoGP on Sunday…

It had been going so well – the first day we stopped off at the Dryanovo monastery and the Ethnographic museum, which is a street of traditional houses and mills, with traditional arts and crafts on display. From there we headed up the Shipka pass and around the hills to Buzludzha.

Buzludzha monument
Buzludzha monument - The Spaceship

Never heard of the Buzludzha monument? Well, imagine what a spaceship on the top of a hill would look like, and there you have it. Built by the communist regime, intended as a conference centre for the high and mighty, it was supposed to display the power and greatness of Bulgaria. Kind of like the Parliament in Bucharest that Ceaucescu had built, only on a much smaller scale. Although Buzludzha still stands after the fall of communism, it is a shell of a place, crumbling and vandalised. Still… there is a way in, through a little hole in the wall, if you remember a torch and don’t mind getting a bit dirty…

Inside Buzludzha
Inside Buzludzha

Next day, we rode (stopping in Shipka for breakfast where we met a Bulgarian who had lived in Edinburgh – Jimmy was happy to talk to him a while) to Plovdiv to see the Roman amphitheatre and wander around the old town. The old town has some lovely buildings; sadly, though, the larger new town is not so pretty. And from there we made a brief stop at Asen’s Fortress, which is perched on the hillside with a pretty 12th century chapel. The strategic location has been used since Thracian times in the 5th BC, although the fort itself was first documented in the Bachkovo monastery (which we also visited) records in 1083.

Asen's Fortress
Asen's Fortress

Towards the end of the day, we took a side road some 16 kilometres to the ‘Wonderful Bridges’, natural arches in rock, created by the river that flows through. We camped up there, and the following morning had the place to ourselves.

Rather than take the same road back, I checked the GPS and noticed a small trail leading to an unpaved ‘Roman Road’ that would take us south in the direction we wanted. We were up for an adventure… the small trail was more of a hiking track. But nobody was around and since our Serows are the mountain goats of motorbikes, we took those trails up and up the hillside. My worn sprocket and chain started to slip now and then.

Single Track
Single Track

‘Er… I don’t really want to get stuck up here. Do you think we should go back down the way we came?’ I said to Jimmy.
‘Nah, it’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘Call yourself an adventurer?!’
‘Well… er… if you’re sure?’
‘Well, I’m sure I’ll be fine. No problems with my bike!’
Yeah, very funny. Still, I took the bait and we carried on. And hell was it fun, slipping and sliding (and only three times dropping my bike) in the mud. There was no way only I would be getting muddy, so every time I dropped it, Jimmy got to get his boots dirty and help lift it. I mean, I could lift it myself, but why else have I brought him along 🙂

Gotta love the mud!
Gotta love the mud!

And as we had one hell of a time getting lost on the forest tracks, covering a massive 24 kilometres in three hours. I learnt something though – I’d always thought Roman Roads were straight, almost like the crow flies… well, this Roman Road was never straight. It twisted and turned til we hadn’t a clue which direction we were headed. We joked about what we would do if the chain and sprocket had completely given up… but it didn’t!

So we continued our mini-tour of Bulgaria and rode on south, through Shiroka Laka and on to a little junction village called Teshel, where we took another dead-end road towards the Devil’s Throat Gorge. It sounded cool…

The Not So Good

Never got to see it for ourselves though.

We were quite happily winding along the little road through the steep-sided valley when, all of a sudden, BAM…. and my rear wheel locked up and the engine cut out.
I stuck on the brakes and ground to a halt.

‘What happened?’ Jimmy asked
‘I dunno what happened,’ I said, after I’d looked down and checked that the chain was still on the sprocket.
I tried to start the Serow up again. Click. Nothing.
Click… Nothing.

I pushed the bike to the side of the road, we checked the fuse was OK, and then thought to try the kickstart.
Grind. Grind.
And the kickstart jammed.

‘Oh, that’s not good,’ says Jimmy. No. That is not good.
Well, since we couldn’t go on, we turned back, Jimmy towing me to the first house that was also a cafe.

And we called the insurance breakdown recovery service. Turns out they’d recover me to the nearest bike service place… 100 kilometres away. Except, by the time they’d figured that bit out, it was so late, they’d have had to pay for a hotel too. So we came to an agreement… I’d sort out my own accommodation, and they’d transport me to my final – preferred – destination.

And that is how we ended up back in Idilevo sooner than planned. Graham’s back in the UK now, and we’ve moved in to Motocamp…

This morning we prepped the Serow for heart surgery…

Serow - Going in for Heart Surgery
Serow - Going in for Heart Surgery

I’ll let you know how it went… on the plus side, the new chain and sprockets arrived!

In the meantime, here are more photos from Bulgaria:

(And if you can’t view the slideshow – see the Flickr album here)