Ruth: We are both surprised that there are still so few foreign tourists in Romania and Bulgaria, especially if you venture a kilometre from the tourist spots. Perhaps the tourists are all on the Black Sea, one of the areas we have not yet explored. Romania and Bulgaria are excellent for cycle touring and yet we encountered only 16 others in our two month trip in the region.
All countries have their problems. One of the negatives in Romania was a few aggressive drivers in black luxury vehicles who believed in their immortality despite the memorial crosses lining the highways. Passing at high speeds on blind corners is never a good idea. Doing it while holding a cell phone or a cigarette is simply insane. We heard tales of young men selling the family land just so that they could be driving that new Audi.
The last time we cycled in Romania we encountered some aggressive dogs. This time we still saw some, but it seemed like less of a problem. Perhaps I was just more confident carrying a can of pepper spray.
These problems were only occasionally hair raising and were easily overshadowed by all the beauty of cycling the quiet back roads of Romania. Most of the time we shared these roads with only a few cars or horse carts. Romania is well worth at least a month of exploring. The food is hearty and good and the country offers a huge variety of different sites to visit. Highlights include the wooden churches and traditional life in Maramures, the painted monasteries of Bucovina, and of course the Carpathian mountains and Transylvania.
Bulgaria is also a sensational place to explore on bicycle. Cars are the main challenge once again. There is more car ownership per capita in Bulgaria than in Romania and the accident rate is staggering, mostly due to a few rogue motorists who do not play by the rules. Otherwise the majority of drivers gave us room and drove reasonably well. It is best to plan with weekends in mind and try to avoid the major roads at this time, as they become much busier. We also encountered a couple of spots where highways turn into motorways with no alternative routes for cyclists. A little planning can avoid these places.
Bulgaria’s number one highlight for us was the Rhodope Mountains. This area is perhaps one of the best places we have ever cycled. Beautiful shelters with tables and water springs are frequent along the well graded roads through these spectacular mountains. Whether you are wild camping or staying in the readily available guesthouses, this is a fabulous place for touring. We happily spent several days climbing up narrow gorges, exploring caves and staying at end-of-the-road villages.
Veliko Tărnovo and Plovdiv are wonderful Bulgarian cities rich with historic sights. Our route took us through many other lovely places with only a few “uninteresting” days. Generally, Bulgarian towns are modern, beige and run down, but the few exceptions where Bulgarian revival architecture has survived and been preserved are gems.
The trip by the numbers
Kilometres cycled: 2150
Numbers of Passes over 1100 meters crossed: 9
Highest pass: 1667 meters (in the Rhodopes between Dospat and Batak)
Number of speed traps encountered in Romania: zero
Number of speed traps seen in Bulgaria: 2
Number of times we cheered policemen at speed traps: 2
Most baclava eaten in one sitting: 1/2 pound
Ill effects from excessive baclava eating: Ruth had palpitations & Gord started sweating profusely
Bedbug bites: zero!!!!!!!
Dog bites: one (Gord was savaged by a hyperkinetic but hopefully non-rabid chihuahua)
Flat tires: zero
Lost items: one mechanical pencil
Other cycle tourers met: 10 in Romania and 6 in Bulgaria.
Things we packed and never used:
2 of the 5 pairs of socks I brought
Essential things I would never leave behind:
Small collapsible coffee filter
Mugs, bowls and cutlery
Small inflatable pillow from MEC
And, of course, Gordon