Serres – Sandanski, 8th April
The hotel laid on a buffet breakfast and I feasted on yoghurt and honey, bread, cheese, jams and cakes washed down with strong coffee before setting off in search of new lands and adventures in Bulgaria. In comparison to the previous two days the winds were calm and the roads free from challenges. I coasted along enjoying the changing countryside and taking stock of the Greek landscape for one last time.
At the boarder I obviously posed a bit of an attraction to the bored customs officers who played a few of their personal jokes (the oh-so funny trick of pretending to beckon me over for questioning) before letting me cross the line. On the other side an officer in a little cubicle also made me stop and, after some poorly mimed explanations of what I was up to and demonstration on his behalf that he was married with two children, he left me his phone number with the assurance that his wife spoke English. I was almost tempted to get in touch when I arrived in Sandanski, 18km down the road, but the fact that I hadn’t yet got the measure of the Bulgarian people and that he seemed to live 8km into the hills in Melnik put me off.
Despite only travelling a few kilometres the landscape across the border seemed instantly changed – not just that the fields and land management was different, the hills seemed greener and less sharp against the paler skyline. The first houses I saw near the border resembled ramshackle English council housing semis thanks to the predilection for hipped roofs covered in cruddy heavyweight roof tiles that didn’t seem to fit together properly and were determined to lose their footing almost as soon as they were installed.
In Sandanski I opted for a little family run hotel off one of the main roads. I didn’t yet speak a word of Bulgarian and so we communicated in mime and by the proprietors writing what I took to be “20 BL” (Bulgarian Lev – about 10 pounds, so a bargain) on a bit of paper. This was a bit of a surprise since the sign behind the counter suggested it should be twice as much but I figured it was low season and they needed the business. I’d arrived early, about 5pm, and so took a tour of the town and paid witness to a local festival that seemed to involve lots of beer drinking, popcorn eating and watching a variety of acts in national dress and paraphernalia. I didn’t find an internet cafe so instead munched on takeaway pizza slices and headed back to the hotel for an early night.