Bulgaria first impression… different again!
As soon as I enter this, for me, new land, I want to cycle back to Romania! I want authenticity. I and my cycling partner want clear friendliness and recognition. We want waves and smiles. We want a little of that simplicity, that farmer style life.
Is it because we enter Bulgaria via Ruse? From a route along the sleepy Danube and small villages we are now suddenly in a city. On an avenue with people shopping, dressed up and strolling with children? It is a sudden change for us. From village lifestyle we are surrounded by stylish city people.
We don’t want to see skinny -real skeletal- women who think food is only for the weak species among them. We don’t want to see men imitating bull frogs. We don’t want a scale in our room, only to prove I am fat compared to the anorexic Bulgarian bony women.
Away with faces not to read. Away with faces without a smile. Away with wannabe bodybuilder men! Away with wannabe women models! We miss the simplicity from where we just come from; Slobozia, Zimnicea and Bistret.
We are seriously thinking to cross the border at Ruse again and go back to Romania. But we want to cycle to Istanbul and arriving at the Black Sea is not the most straightforward direction to do so. We stay 2 days in Ruse and leave, not adjusted to the artificial atmosphere of this country, as it is how we feel it at the moment. We decide to leave the city and give the countryside a fair chance.
No horse carts but hookers
Cycling out of Ruse goes with a gradual descent via de E70 towards Razgrad. We see dogs with tagged ears and many cars are passing us. No horse-carts, let alone donkey carts. ‘It’s a city, things will change Cindy,’ I tell myself. And so they do. Soon we pass prostitutes along the road. They are dressed in a slip and a T-shirt. Sometimes they sit, legs widen open, on parking lots. I can see right between their legs. Truck drivers are able to do the same, although their perspective is much higher.
Bulgaria doesn’t have cycling routes anymore and the roads are busy with traffic so the two of us cycle behind each other. On a few occasions I think my lover has abandoned his bicycle to await me and is doing some yoga stretches on the road. From a distance I see him spreading his legs and drawing out his arms. I smile. He’s on the road. Coming closer I don’t see his high-viz yellow T-shirt though. And coming very close I see it’s a woman offering sexy business to passerby’s, although not to me. We smile at each other, that’s all I get, and that is perfectly fine with me.
‘Put your hand in my pant’
Music is another thing, every time we eat somewhere, we hear music: it is testing our patience. Since The Netherlands we get to hear soft American crappy music, or soft English faecal-matter-kind-of-sounds. I am used to it but I start to notice the anti-atmospheric touch of it and to be honest, I start to long for authentic music. Just as I long for black tea. Not green Pickwick drab. So now, while having no tea I listen involuntary to ‘can I go to bed with you’ from the comprehensive performers ‘Touch and Go’ and ‘put my hand in my pant’ from Bloodhound Gang. Meanwhile men with fat bellies showing it off by pulling up their T-shirts. Women, on the other hand, prefer not to smile to me, instead attiring themselves as Russian queens.
Sunflower-seed-oil; how many liters can an average family use in a year?
I haven’t said a word about the agriculture. It is more unattractive than ever before. Fields are massive, reaching to the horizon, further than my bespectacled eyes can see. Mostly sunflowers and I seriously start to question the meaning of sunflower-seed-oil?! So another ‘Why’ question pops up.
Why so many sunflowers? How much oil production does a country want? Why must Bulgaria produce so much sunflower-seed-oil when Serbia and Romania have plenty already (cycling the other direction the question shift)? All production is obviously mass production for a giant corporation. I don’t see many farmers around. While I was taken aback in Sierra Leone by the absence of forest (understandable after a war), here I ask myself hard why there are no patches of forest. Nothing. Only agriculture. Why so much?
I also wonder why a river or a border has that much influence on the difference between two countries. People on one side of the river appear to be friendly and seem to be happy and open. Here in Bulgaria I find people have a dark glance again and a moody appearance. A few remarkable, and very positive, changes are that the dogs are all tagged and we don’t see one dog on the road surface as a stain (in other words: hit by a car and dead). Another happy fact takes long before we finally got to see it, but when we do we are elevated: horse carts. Not with rubber car tires but, even better; with wooden wheels! It gets very authentic when we pass farms built up from mud and stone and thin wooden battens. We see remarkable few churches. And very few people waving or lounging on multi mono-style benches.
Outside villages and towns we see not one cyclist, not one walking, no sales along the road other than sexual pleasure, no factories nor melons. There are no advertisements, no farms. And no shoulder to admire the nothingness of massive rolling fields with sunflowers. There’s no litter, no roadkill, no dogs nor donkeys, no cats and no dogs. No horses and not one donkey. Even the village we take a detour through is lifeless. It is far from being dull as I found it in Hungary but it is a sad contrast with Romania.
Boulevard of broken dreams
When we stop in Šumen we start to be exposed to Bulgaria in a deeper way and how things must have been. Although Romania was ruled by Russia too, Bulgaria seems to have had more production in general. We pass more and bigger towns and less villages. The whole set up of the country, as far as I can tell, is different. The boulevard of Šumen is gloom, yet the communistic abandoned buildings has a certain charm. The soft pastel colored fronts and deep orange roof tiles make up for the bare concrete buildings and the loose colorless sidewalk tiles. Purple light flickers from the hole-in-the-wall alcohol shops, 24 non-stop shops and gambling halls. People dress up, eat hamburgers from a fast food restaurant other than Mc.Donald. We do the same. We also eat fish in a restaurant where family is gathered and where we get a taste of a close-knit family bound. Although my first compulsion is to run from the soggy Italian music, sung by a skinny woman and a man hidden in a hackneyed car-part. Yet, the atmosphere is cozy and the food delicious.
Praise to the truck drivers and Indian descendants on horse carts!
Our route goes through the ends of the mountainous area on our right, East, coming from the Danube. We leave the river behind us and have some up and downs for a few days. Our view is controlled by woods, switching roads and heavenly downhills (and of course uphill). Bulgarian truck drivers don’t dare to pass us when we rush with 59 kilometer an hour down the hill. Praise to their save driving skills; perhaps coming forth out of so few horse carts they have to pass, they feel insecure? We do see a few horse-drawn carts and are delighted to see happiness on the faces by whom incite the horse. Their flowing smiles wrapping our sweaty heads. Our waves are digested immediately and answered with a radiance which I can only describe as full recognition for our lifestyles! Their appearance is fully Indian, except for the head wobble, and seemingly utterly content with the minimalistic natural way of living.
The full meaning of machismo starts
Passing through sleepy villages along the hilly area does good. To have left behind the mass production of yet more sunflower fields is having left behind an insane kind of greed, so normal in many parts of Europe. We are being watched by gentlemen gathering around their cars, parked in such a way that it marks the evidence of the town center. Their shirts shoved up their torso, for every one to see what they’re worth. A most unappetizing appearance it is.
Finding a place to camp is not always easy as trees are hard to come by. Our last night in Bulgaria is one along a sunflower field. The next morning a farmer who’s collecting grass is surprised to see two cyclists passing his cart. We wave each other good morning and cycle on to Turkey…
Turkey isn’t new for me. I have been here 3 or 4 times but never as a couple. I am curious how (easy?) it shall be!