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Cameras: Canon 70D DSLR, iPhone 4 and GoPro Hero.
Lovely ride to Tran, Bulgaria, after crossing border from Serbia.
The remnants of my ‘paunch’ soup, which turns out to be tripe. One stomach lining ingesting another just seems monstrously cannibalistic to me.
An ancient crones, sporting very similar footwear to myself, requests that I set her enormous pile of leaves on fire. Can’t help wondering if this is going to end in some kind of awkward Wicker Man scenario.
Some of the many enormous hounds prowling the streets of Sofia. But I shouldn’t worry, one local tells me. He only knows two people who have been killed by them in recent years.
Sofia open market, with some feisty robes in the foreground.
Endless shelves of garish religious icons.
The Sofia Synagogue, the largest in Southeastern Europe, opened in 1909. It can accommodate 1,300 worshippers, but reportedly only attracts a few dozen due to due to the exodus of most of Bulgaria’s Jews to Israel and the secularity of the local Jewish population.
The Banya Bashi Mosque, completed in 1576. Currently, the only functioning mosque in Sofia. It was built over natural thermal spas, and its name means ‘many baths’.
The Cathedral of St Joseph, rebuilt in 2006 after being destroyed in World War II. Sits on the same square as the synagogue and mosque, in a beautiful symbol of tolerance.
The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, built in the Neo-Byzantine style in the late C19th and early C20th. It is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.
The interior of the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, a strikingly charming Russian Orthodox church built in 1914. after the liberation of Bulgaria by Russia from the Ottoman Empire.
My host and her mother in Sofia.
View of ex-Comecon, Brutalist tower blocks from my second hosts’ flat in Sofia.
My third host in Sofia, who kindly takes me up Vitosha mountain and gives me a spork.
View from the top of Vitosha mountain.
Free natural spas along the route out of Sofia.
Celebrating bike stand #2, which my lovely Sofia host helps me fit. But will it last the distance? (spoiler: no)
A suspiciously dormant ‘non-stop mini market’.
One of many cheery Roma to pass me along the way.
Moving up into the lovely verdant green hills – which double as the local dump.
Going off-piste on my way to Koprivshtitsa. Who needs roads?
Beautiful autumnal colours glow from the mountainside.
Colourful timber architecture in Koprivshtitsa, perfectly restored to capture the atmosphere of the C19th Bulgarian National Revival period.
Statue of a mother waiting in the courtyard of the great Bulgarian poet Dimcho Debelyanov (1887-1916). Every year in August in this courtyard, hundreds of poets and musicians gather to perform Debelyanov’s poetry.
Monster cobbles, the scourge of all bummlers.
House & horse.
View of beautiful Koprivshtitsa from my guesthouse balcony.
View of mountains after glorious 40-mile swoop downhill towards Plovdiv.
Plovdiv: a bigger, more cosmopolitan Koprivshtitsa.
Comecon blocks & sunset, from the top of Nebet (lookout) hill in Plovdiv.
View from the top of Nebet, other direction. Evidence has been found that the site was settled as early as C12th BC as the Thracian town Evmolpiya.
The sweet, chatty owner of my guesthouse in Plovdiv. He ditched his cosmetics business for hotel management due to ‘over stress’, and loves it. ‘
Cheery Roma folk on the road. We have a pleasant ten-minute, entirely incomprehensible conversation before going on our way.
More excellent Bulgarian roads. A lethal combination when mixed with milk and donkeys.
My soiled ‘rape-proof’ cycling attire (in the words of Mother Lowe) after being distracted by a donkey and coming a cropper in a pothole.
A Bulgarian donkey. Not the one responsible for the unfortunate mishap, but complicit nonetheless.
Tending to Maud at the hotel and drying out all milk-soaked utensils. If I only take away one lesson at the end of this trip, it’s NEVER carry milk on a bicycle (or a ukulele). Everything ok, but laptop seems a goner.
My Shining-esque hotel in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I am the only one there and everything is locked up and turned off downstairs at 8pm.
The Wolf Creek-esque view out of my bedroom window. I wish I wasn’t the only person in this hotel.
Really time to fix those roads, Bulgaria. Blimey.
A group of Kurdish refugees from Syria, who are desperate to flee to western Europe. All live inside the camp here, in terrible conditions.
I am smuggled into the camp and find what look like windowless portaloos, but were apparently used as lodgings for refugees when the camp was overcrowded.
The main lodgings inside the camp.
A bedroom inside the Harmanli refugee camp: three bunk beds squeezed inside with dirty sheets and no room for other furniture or belongings.
The communal washroom, where several taps are on and overflowing onto the floor.
A sink inside the communal toilet in the refugee camp, covered in mould.
Another washroom, equally damp and dirty.
The filthy downstairs loo. ‘Watch out for the rats, they’re as big as dogs!’ my friend helpfully calls out.
Local computer shop in Harmanli attempts to fix laptop, but the destructive donkey/milk combo proves too resilient.
One of the Syrian refugees – who turns out to be a Turkish fugitive – decides he is ‘in love’ with me (and ‘all British women’), gets drunk, threatens to ‘kill’ me and ‘have sex’ with me (in that rather macabre order), attacks the hotel staff, gets arrested – and then apologises.
What I believe to be another Bulgarian refugee camp, viewed from the road.
Sheep en route to the ghost-town of Matochina, which now boasts only a handful of elderly residents.
More cheery Roma folk.
Seems to be distinct tarmac shortage in Bulgaria.
The ‘road’ to Matochina ghost-town, which I start down with gusto.
Fifteen kilometres later, the romance of the route starts wearing a little thin.
Final town before Matochina comprises one derelict house guarded by a pack of rabid mutts. Promising.
Two of the tiny handful of elderly residents still left in Matochina.
The local shop, which doubles as cafe and bar, selling basic foodstuffs, household goods, vodka and an impressive array of fridge magnets.
Shop focuses on essential supplies.
Shop, from the outside.
Local shepherd and her flock.
The abandoned school in Matochina, overgrown and boarded up.
Matochina overlooked by 4th century Bukelon ruins, as the sun dips low over the horizon.
Road blocked by sheep and goats; a common hazard these days.
The shepherds who rescue me from being eaten by five bloodthirsty hounds en route to Shtit. I give them six cigarettes in exchange for my life.
Odds of reaching Shtit before sundown not looking good.
Odds now fairly non-existent… especially after I get a puncture. And the jackals cackle ominously nearby.
Saved from being eaten by jackals by a kindly truck driver, who takes me to charming guesthouse in Shtit complete with cowboy and woodburning stove.
Walls lovingly decorated with Putin-esque horseriding pics and stuffed fish.
As well as pics of bosomy women being slain in battle.
Dinner! A potent combo of my favourite paunch (tripe) soup, salad, Coke and Johnnie Walker.
The cowboy’s lovely wife and paunch soup chef.
Fixing my puncture the next morning.
Locals in Shtit enjoying a sunny car boot sale as I leave at 7am.
And their menfolk watching the world go by nearby.
Finally leave this, erm, Shtit-hole.
A Brit who moved to a small village in Bulgaria ten years ago to escape the ‘rat-race’. Now spends his time happilly tending his garden and trading cars.
The refugee camp in Elhovo, where residents are locked inside.
A little boy stands in the window of the camp staring out through the wire mesh.
Roma people in Elhovo
Elegant wedding dresses in Elhovo
First attempt to leave Elhovo for the border reaches a watery impasse.
Ominous sign en route to the border. What awaits me as I finally leave Europe?
The 30km barbed wire fence between Bulgaria and Turkey to keep refugees out of Europe.