Bulgaria

Bulgaria first impression… different again!

Straying from the mainroad, through agricultural fields (2)I cycled back to make this photo...What a smart bench

As soon as we enter this, for us, new land, we want to cycle back to Romania! We want authenticity. We 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.

Rooftop in RuseStart to spot bees on sunflowers and make photo's of yet more sunflowers...Our new tent without fly, as it start to become hot early morning

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.

First wild camp in Bulgaria, not very easy between the many sunflowerfieldsIt's about sunflowers in BulgariaTrying to spot details between the sunflowers

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.

New tires and cycle short found in RuseYoung siblings screaming for mom's foodMore sunflowers

‘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.

Mirror mirror on the carA reflecting in a window of our beloved friends (baby's)More carts!

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?

Quite many colors although it looks barrebVaguely beautifulUh.... need we see more sunflowers?Slow rolling hills

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.

A matching colored camp with our surroundings

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.

Much less than Romania, but we do see horse cartsWhat a beautiful label, a wine bottle

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.

Sunset over the sunflowers. How double beautifulAfter some climbs we meet with a village

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!

12 responses to “Bulgaria

  1. Clearly everyone has their own valid impressions, but yours is one so completely foreign to me that I don’t recognize the country as Bulgaria in any way. I’ve read other cyclist blogs (e.g., https://donthurrythejourney.wordpress.com/) describing their impressions of Bulgaria and they, like me, have found gorgeous nature, quaint villages, iconic small towns, friendly people, and interesting anthropological and historical sites. I don’t doubt you – it just seems you’ve been through a country that could be called Bulgaria’s evil twin and it just mystifies me.

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    • Hi Risabuzatova,

      You didn’t read that I call Bulgaria evil twin. That must have been formed by yourself through the maybe negative sounds/words I wrote. All I say is that I found Bulgarian people less enthusiastic and less spontaneous than Romanians.

      Also, what I found now (experienced now) could be completely different on any other given experience. For example would I have chosen another route. We cycled a route which I found not too interesting in natural landscape. I’m sure would we have cycled through the hills and mountains it would have been very different.

      We met friendly people. Of course we did. What I say here is my experience and it differs from country to country. That’s so interesting about cycling!

      This is how I experienced the country. On that route. In that space. On that very day. Put me alone in the country/on a different route and my view might be 100% different.

      It would take months to get a complete opinion about any country. This is mine at this moment, those days I (we) were there.

      Try to read the positive feedback too 😉 it really is in the text too!

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  2. I graduated in tourism, travelled a lot and worked for a long time in my home country as a tour guide. Sorry to say, but I have never seen so wrong impression of my home land. It is obvious it is not any objective. I don’t know where to start from. Why so many sunflower field – because it is a big industry, sorry if that upsets you. You did not see forest? 1/3 of the Bulgarian therutory is a forest.. oh I can keep going like that through every sentence of your article, but I’m sure this will be pointless. In every place there are nice and bad areas, but to visit a place and pick up all bad things and apply them as a main picture is far away from a open-minded spirit of a traveller.

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    • Hi Martin,

      Great you reply because now I have the chance to get answers! About the sunflowerfields, for example, is it really a good industry? If so, for whom? To me it seemed that local famers are perhaps forced to have such enormous fields, is it? Is it made for oil mainly?

      I did not see much forest, as a cycler we cycled through and not on each road, that is the reason I wrote about what I saw, not what IS.

      I am again surprised you read only the negative because I pointed out the positive too. Did you read for example how I like the driving style of Bulgarian truck drivers? Or how delighted I was to see the beaming smiles of people driving the horse cart?

      An open-minded traveler sees it all. An open-mined traveler sees not only the good but also the good in the negative. Which is rarely seen as negative, or, which I do not see as negative. I would surely cycle back through Bulgaria, and take another route. Through forest, yes.

      In my blog posts I write what I think and mostly feel. Sorry if that upset you, but try to read it from a cyclists perspective on that particular route. Not as a tour-guide who’s showing the tourists the highlights of the country. Which I am sure are plenty and abundant and wonderful, as each country has!

      And, try to read it with an open-mind ; )

      Regards Cindy

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      • I’m cycling too. What I’m trying to say is, one of main purposes of traveling is fighting with stereotypes, not building them. It is obvious you article is purposely negative and subjective. You have seen a bad area according to which you are now generalizing and stereotyping. Now you’re having an opinion about 7mln people living in the 3th oldest country in the world. Of course this upsets me, but don’t worry, what matters is the opinion of the majority. But it is sad when people do not travel, but just pedal. You are so negative that you didn’t even enjoy the beautiful sunflowers. You are even making conclusions about the sustainability of this industry, conclusions based on what? Now you’re asking questions, after putting this poor article online?! Take this advice, please, if you don’t know, just ask, and then write. Why did you even go to Bulgaria if you didn’t even try to experience the culture? Next time take the flight! Believe this is the first time when I’m criticizing someones travel article, but this one was not only rought and unpolite, but could give people wrong impression. It would be the same if someone vizit Amsterdam and is able to see only ungry cyclists and prostitution in the city center. Enjoy your pedaling!

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  3. I too cycled through Bulgaria, albeit taking an entirely different route than you through the country. I had an absolutely horrid time, encountering the most dangerous drivers in my entire journey (I felt safer on the roads of Iran and Kyrgyzstan which is saying a lot!) and also encountering some of the least friendly and aggressive people in my entire journey. In the entire country I met two people I would describe as friendly, just two! My impression of the country was very negative, the most negative of any country I’ve ever visited. And thus my blog posts on the country reflected this. I will not post a link as I’m sure I will be given out to there for having the audacity to write about my negative experiences and impressions while travelling instead of desperately searching for the good.

    Of course, Bulgaria is a large country, and many cyclists I’ve met have enjoyed cycling in different regions of the country. Mainly the rural, mountainous regions in the south. However this is not a reason to have to sugarcoat a blog post about travelling through a more unpleasant region of the country as the above poster would have you do.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I think you’re right to write about your experiences honestly. Travel encompasses the good and the bad and if one glosses over one or the other then it’s not really an honest account of any journey. I hope that your next country gives you a far more pleasant experience. All the best with your journey.

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    • I agree Liam, EVERYTHING consists of negative and positive. It is so normal to like something over another!

      Your experience of Bulgaria is not a very good one. I know from another cyclist that she loved it. It was one of her most favorite countries (while she had been on the Pamir highway and on to China!)

      And by telling the negative it doesn’t mean I did not enjoy. I got my enjoyment out of stealth camping for example. While in Iran thàt was impossible for me. There I loved (most) people. Not one experience is 100% positive! But the balance of those plusses and minuses could make it a perfect experience.

      We’re now in Albania and LOVING it!

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  4. Hi Cindy,
    Found your response to Bulgaria uncannily like mine! I’ve just finished the first draft of my book on my cross-continental cycle. This is what I say – particularly relevant with regards to the comments from your readers, and your response in turn.
    “They say that travelling broadens the mind, but in some ways the opposite is true. Travelling, by the very nature of its transience, narrows perceptions. It’s looking at unfamiliar places through the confines of a lens. True, our bikes slowed us down so that we could see better, but for all of that we were always moving on, never stopping for long; not really getting to grips with a place. At best, we were gathering ephemeral, half-formed impressions and picking up fragments along the way. Our view of a country was formed by the narrow strip of road that led through it; by the places we chose to pause in and by the strangers who wandered in and out of our line of vision.
    Travel is a fleeting response to fleeting moments. It’s not only a narrow lens, but a filter. We choose our colour and place it over the lens. There is a natural tendency to filter experiences and make subjective judgements. For me, the Netherlands was orange-bright; Germany, a rainbow; Switzerland, silver mists; Austria, gold; Bratislava, beige speckled with child-bold primaries; Hungary, paprika-red; Croatia the colour of pain; Serbia, the yellow of heat and Romania, the moss-green of folk-art and haycarts.
    Bulgaria was grey – with occasional touches of light and colour.
    Perhaps, if we had taken a different route, travelled through on a different day, a different month, a different season, a different route, stopped in a different place, the colour chosen for Bulgaria would have been brighter.
    As it was, Bulgaria had the same crumbling towns of grey concrete as Romania and villages of rusting iron-wrought fencing and peeling paint. But here there were no waving horse-and-cart drivers; no grinning children lining rural streets; no villagers gathered round squares and greens or in front of shop windows or neighbours deep in conversation on a street bench. Even Dobrich was a ghost-city, with its higgledy-piggledy offices and shops that seemed to stagger on the hill with us as we cranked our knees into action in the hazy start-of-day light.”

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    • Hi Helen,

      Traveling broadens the mind is what people usually say yes, but it depends really on the person. Some person may travel to near or remote places but are afraid nevertheless and will never accept an invitation nor eat the food on offer nor talk to people for a little while longer than mere directions. And traveling relies also on the mood of the day, the people we meet, the partner we are with (I found out being alone is the best way to interact with people, I get the most invitations and are most open, but only if I choose too).

      The fleetingness and filters we use while traveling, we too use while being at home in daily life. I think traveling is much more attractive as every moment surroundings are new, different and fresh. Though I try to apply this to daily life when ever I am somewhere longer, also at home.

      Yet, some countries are not as attractive as others, regardless of our mood, weather or with whom we are or are not. To others they may be the opposite to what we think… You and I think similar about Bulgaria, it seems : ))

      I like your writing style, Helen!

      Like

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