First of the piles of dressed rock that we saw beside the road
Early morning frost
Views from Kiril Meadows
No words needed!
The glory of Rila Monastery
So this is where you buy bread!
Alexander Nevski Church. Sofia
The eternal flame outside St Sofia Church
Walking on past the vast Presidents Building, I looked through an archway and spied an ancient round brick building. On investigating, we found this to be the church of St Georgi Rontunda, dating from the 4th century. It was rebuilt in the 6th century after being destroyed by invading Huns! Scattered in front of it were excavated ruins. Quite a delightful little find!
A bit further on, the tall column of the Sofia Monument stood out above the skyline. We needed to get some money, so made our way towards a bank. This necessitated going down via a subway. While walking through there, we came to the delightful tiny ancient church of St Petka Samardzhiiska and more excavations. In the distance we could see the minaret of a mosque.
We reached the bank, and Adrian got some money from a hole in the wall before we made our way across the road to St Nedelya Cathedral. In 1925, communists had blown it up, intending to kill Tsar Boris 3rd. He actually survived, but over 120 people, including most of the cabinet were killed.
The changing of the guard, Sofia
The church of St Georgi Rontunda
The church of St Petka Samardzhiiska
A nearby mosque
St Nedelya Cathedral
Buskers while we ate lunch
After much more wandering, we were relieved to reach 'our' park, and the welcome sight of the Ixi!
We’d had a good glimpse of central Sofia on yet another fine day, but now it was time to leave.
It was 2.30 when we headed north out of the city. We needed some more shopping, so when we came to Lidl, that's what it had to be! Just after that we got some fuel, so then we were set to go!
We came surprisingly soon to countryside and the pleasant town of Novi Iskay. The road had recently been resurfaced, so it was a smooth ride as we journeyed into the forested hills. Our road wound on and on as we passed villages with houses dotting the hillsides everywhere. Of course nowhere to pull off again, especially as we were high above the River Iskar.
Just before the spread out town of Scoge, we pulled into the first space we had seen, intending to stay there. We were immediately followed in by a police car. The young policeman came over and asked 'problem?' We thought it best not to stay!
At just after 5 o'clock, we did find a spot right beside the river at Bov. Old railway carriages stood 'parked' on the rails behind us, with the village spreading up into the hills behind that.
Monument to the Soviet army, Borisova Gradina
The village of Bov
Beside the River Iskar
Wednesday 22nd October Fantastic gorge and remarkable rocks 105 miles
We’d heard 'Thomas the Tank Engine' type hoots very early in the morning! Sun was on the mountaintop, and the sky was blue. The dowdy carriages, with similar coloured houses up behind had a certain appeal! Adrian had worked on the Ipod, and had got it going again to play our music.
Going with the idea 'it's never the things that you worry about'- we had thought that we might be blocked in by fishermen as there had been one last night, but instead it was a car that had broken down, and was being fixed beside us, almost blocking us in!
We set off at about 9 o'clock, driving up the stunning Izar Gorge with its enormous white, and occasionally red cliffs towering above. Progress was slow, as we kept stopping to take in the splendour! We were so pleased that the road had been resurfaced, which made the journey so much more pleasant.
Near Gara Lakatnik we stopped at two separate little swing bridges where I bravely walked out to enjoy the sight of the cliffs, with the river rushing below us. It still felt pretty nippy!
Beautiful morning at Bov
With the railway carriages behind us
Just a bit further on, we stopped again where a waterfall gushed out from the rockface. We walked back beside a small clear pond past a decrepit restaurant.
The stunning Iskar Gorge
Then we came to Milanovo (Mar's name is Milan) so had to stop again to take a photo. A herd of goats surrounded us, and the two goatherds would have liked a chat.
More treasures of Iskar Gorge
At Ljutibrod, there were 'Great wall of China' (Oz) lines of rocks jutting from the mountainside.
Goatherd and the goats
Milanovo in Bulgarian and English!
We turned off here so that we could drive through part of large Pirodenpark Vrankanski Balkan. This was a mountain road, so we wound up and up, coming to the remote village of Celopek where there was a new tiny chapel with a little covered picnic table beside it.
‘Great wall of China’!
Tiny new chapel at Celopek with its picnic table
Strange rock formations at Belodradcik
Thursday 23rd October Return to Romania in the rain 139 miles
This was our wet day, after weeks of fine weather! We left at 9 o'clock, joining the main road at Dimovo. It probably wouldn't have looked attractive in fine weather, and definitely not today! Everybody looked different with their dark clothes, downcast faces and umbrellas! Once again the main road had been dug up, and left in a dreadfully bad state.
We continued on the main road to Vidin (written BИДИH in Bulgarian!) the border town with Romania. Lonely Planet had described it as 'forlorn and deserted'. It certainly did look forlorn today with its large derelict factories as we entered.
There is a new toll bridge over the Danube now, which we found our way to, despite there being no signs, and the bridge not being on our map. The wide Danube looked particularly grey today as we crossed into Romania.
At the far side, we stopped by the border police. The man looked at our passports, then said 'open'. He came into the van, opened the toilet door, then said 'goodbye'!
We paid our 12 Lev bridge toll, then Adrian went in to get our vignette (our previous one had run out) – 3 Euros for 7 days.
We had planned to drive into the border town of Calafet, but the new fast road system made it too difficult. We had hoped to change our remaining Bulgarian money into Romanian, and to stop for elevenses beside the Danube, but that wasn't to be!
We set off, driving through the village of Basarabi, which was right beside the river, but there were no roads down to it, or any views or places to stop. We soon turned off the main road north-westwards, driving through one long strung out Romanian village after another. We had forgotten about the villages of non-stop bungalows, with an open trench each side of the road, and even less places to pull off than Bulgaria.
In desperation, we took a small road down to the Danube at Cetate but there were no places to stop at all. After several kilometres, after driving through a really swampy area, we came to one or two smart buildings beside the river, with a park area with some strange and interesting 'statues', so this made a nice late coffee stop!
We drove back to the main road, continuing through the flat countryside, which didn't look very exciting in the bad visibility. It was nice to be able to read signs more easily.
We reached the Danube again at Hinova, but there was still nowhere to pull off. We turned off onto a small road beside the river, but there was nowhere to stop at all. A fisherman had just parked his car in the carriageway! In the end, at Ostrova, we pulled in by some buildings, and I made poached egg on toast for lunch, as we looked across the river to Serbia. We noticed how swollen the river is.
The Danube in dull weather at Cetate, Romania
We now decided to head for a campsite, and make the most of the miserable day.
We returned to the main road, which now followed up beside the Danube to Dobreta Turnu Severin, a large town which looked really dismal in the rain.
After that we had a lovely surprise, as the road went through wonderful gorge-like scenery high up above the river with the road cut into the steep hillside and crossing many inlets on big bridges. We had the consolation that even if the weather had been fine, there was nowhere to stop and take a photograph!
The road now turned north, leaving the Danube and following the very overfull Lerna River.
We had been noticing all the haystacks, looking very sodden today!
Just after Baile Herculane, we came to the 'campsite' - a small area behind a restaurant. The (Dutch?) owner happened to be by the gate, and directed us into the small saturated area, saying 'I'm not responsible for the weather'!
We had trouble in parking in a dry spot, and even then, it was like a lake outside the door! Adrian had some trouble with the electricity, as it hadn't been switched on, and everything is difficult in the rain!
We warmed up with a cup of tea, and after it had stopped raining, it all seemed better!
We had great trouble with the website again, losing what we had just edited for the second time, but succeeded in the end.
We couldn't get skype to work either.
The Danube still dreary at Ostrova
Friday 24th October Hilly country and full rivers 93 miles
The morning wasn't raining, but everywhere hung heavy and damp.
We didn't leave until late morning, having done 'useful things'.
We backtracked a short way to drive up the valley to the actual spa town of Baile Herculane. We hadn't expected it to be huge, squashed into the lovely steep valley, and not very attractive! The River Cerna was raging below.
The raging River Cerna
Traditional Romanian houses
We had an internet connection and spoke to all 4 of our 'kids'.
Damp overnighter at Bocsa
Saturday 25th October Timisoara - a fitting ending to Romania 95 miles
The night was noisy! The 'non-stop' restaurant did seem to be that – people left at 2.30 am with much loud chat and playing of music! Added to that, dogs were yelping, a lorry pulled in nosily, and a train went by just a few feet from us!
We left at 9.15 on a grey morning, soon leaving the hills and driving across saturated flat countryside, with the River Barsava looking extremely flooded. As we approached Timisoara, the heavy grey cloud lifted and the sun came out.
We drove into the large town, passing the unattractive outskirts as always, and headed for the centre, hoping to be able to park. We almost gave up, as it seemed an impossible task, especially with the added difficulties of both trams and trolleybuses, but we did find a car park in the end. It cost 4 lev (90p) an hour. We tried asking if it was free with a blue badge, but it appeared not!
We set off walking, and too late realised that it was really cool! (The sun had now gone in again) Every other town we have walked around has been warm, so we weren't used to this! The other thing was that ALL the central area had been dug up! We passed some pleasant buildings, but the task of negotiating the uneven surfaces made for a difficult time! There were great trenches, with just planks laid across at odd angles! Not just one bit, but everywhere! We negotiated two of the three main squares, the Piata Libertatii and the Piata Unirii, looking in at the Roman Catholic Cathedral.
We hoped that we would be able to see the exhibition of the 1989 Revolution, which was only open until 1.00pm on Saturday.
We did find our way there, and came to a once impressive building which had seen better days. We knew virtually nothing of this part of history, but had discovered that the Romanian uprising against communism had started in Timisoara in December 1989.
A young man opened the door, and led us enthusiastically into a room, where he set up a video of the revolution for us to see. It was in Romanian, but with English subtitles and lasted for nearly half an hour. Afterwards he led us upstairs where there were all sorts of exhibits, mostly photographs, related to the uprising. A woman who we thought was middle aged, but told us that she was 2 years old at the time of the revolution, explained about some of the exhibits. We felt a bit out of our depth, but were pleased to have got some idea of this dreadful but important bit of history.
Dug up Timisoara
Back in the cold, we photographed the part of Berlin Wall outside, then made our way towards Piata Victoriei, the third main square.
We were in need of lunch, so following Lonely Planet's guide, we found a restaurant called Casa co Flori nearby. It looked a bit smart, but was a good choice for our last meal out in Romania. No sitting outside today, but once again we enjoyed an excellent meal – vegetable soup for me and trout for Adrian. We were treated to a starter on the house too, and shared a beer. We have so liked being able to eat out without it costing the earth. This one was no smoking, which is unusual here, but suited us!
Warmed by our food, we walked through Victoria Square, passing the statue of Romulus & Remus. The paths of this square had been relaid, so we could get an impression of how nice the town will look when it is all completed. We could imagine that on a warm day, with people at all the outdoor restaurants, it would all look so much nicer.
A bit of the Berlin Wall outside the exhibition of the 1989 Romanian uprising
We looked in at the orthodox cathedral, which was attractive, with frescoes covering the walls. We saw several young girls who seemed to be dressed for their confirmation. One pale young girl in her flimsy dress and jacket looked frozen!
It was 2.45 when we got back to the Ixi. We were glad to have had this image of a town which had been so important in the recent history of Romania.
Now it was time to head out, to find somewhere to stay for the night before driving into Hungary tomorrow. As always, we had our problems! We stopped first to get some LPG, but after the chap had filled the tank, Adrian discovered that he didn't take a card, and we had not quite enough Romanian money! Fortunately, after some anxiety, he accepted a few euros to make up the difference!
Now the road that we took was dead straight, across absolutely flat land, so no chance of a pull off! After a long time, we followed a small road in a village, but it ended by a little church, and there wasn't enough firm ground for us to stay.
We followed another road with dreadfully bad potholes but after several miles found nothing, and the road we linked up with was unsurfaced, so we had to return!
Wondering what we would do, we turned off again and at 4.30 we did see a rough area beside the road, with another space opposite. At that moment, a tractor came to drive into the track beside us, so we made our way across the road to the other area, with a railway running behind us! And then the sun came out again!
We were near the village of Pesac. Later we read through our time in Hungary in 1999 and looked at the photos.
Piata Victoriei, Timisoara Romulus and Remus
Sunday 26th October Into Hungary with confusing time 132 miles
Clocks went back an hour here as well as in England, but as we would soon come into Hungary, they'd go back another hour! We thought 2 hours too much, so decided to keep to 'our' time for the moment – in the middle! A little train went by, and two horses and carts, before we left at 8.40 new time on a fine morning which stayed rather dull all day with just the odd glimmer of sun.
We drove back to the main road then through flat country to Sannicolau Mare, which had houses lining the road as ever. The pavement had been recently done, but they still had pipes coming out from the gutters of the houses above the path rather than buried. We drove on through Cenad - a long, long village of non-stop houses, so similar to other village. At 9.30 we reached the border and said goodbye to Romania. Then it was into Hungary. The official scrutinised my passport (I have a lot of stamps), had a quick look in the van, then said what sounded like 'have a nice sleep'! We were right in the country, so there were no facilities at all, so nowhere to change the Bulgarian money which we still had, or to get any Hungarian money. The countryside was just as flat, but did have some nice wooden fencing. We drove into the village of Mako, which had similar houses lining the road, with a ditch at the side and pipes coming from the houses! Following the sat nav, we came to the village of Maroslele.
A little train went by
We were following minor roads now. When we reached the small town of Soltvadkert, we stopped once again by the church - in fact by two churches - and had a short wander. There was a hand-turned water pump.
Pumpkins at Kompok
Adrian pumping water Soltvadkert
Monday 27th October Misty, cool Hungary 142 miles
It was foggy this morning – something we weren't used to! The road had been quite noisy. Trying to adjust to our new time-scale, we left at 9.40 (or 8.40) As we drove on, it was very wet on both sides of the road and still really flat. It must be dry in summer though, as we passed a large American style waterer.
After about half an hour, we came to the only bridge over the very wide Danube in this area at Dunafoldvar. The mist lifted a bit, and a watery sun tried to peep through, but the day stayed mostly cloudy and dull.
It was a battle finding our way down through the pretty tree-lined cobbled streets to the river, but Adrian persevered and we made it. We had a short walk along by the water – it felt very cool, as it did all day today. Adrian watched two men go down onto a pontoon with a wheelie bin, which they filled with large fish from beneath the pontoon and took back to a nearby restaurant. Whatever time it was, we decided to warm up with a tea/coffee.
We continued to Cece, where there were bags of potatoes for sale, along with pumpkins and chrysanths. After Simontornya, the land became slightly undulating, which was nice. We had been looking out all morning for a bin to put our rubbish in, especially as we ate fish last night, but there were none to be seen. We finally found one in a side street in the village of Mezoszilas, so diverted to reach it, only to find a 'no entry' sign (which we ignored)!
We noticed that the villages, although still having a trench beside the road, looked more westernised than Bulgaria and Romania. Also we saw 'recreational' signs – fishing, swimming, camping – there had been none of those. We passed large cultivated fields, with very dark soil. In one field we saw 5 or 6 combined harvesters at work cutting the sweetcorn.
At Enying, low hedges divided the 'lawns' in front of each house. The road was dug up here, as everywhere seems to be!
We came to the eastern end of Lake Balaton, but it was impossible to get to it, especially as the railway ran between the road and the lake. We finally came down to the lake, ignoring another 'no entry' sign. It was obviously a recreation place in summer, with waterslides adjacent. There was a sunken jetty, and a 'police' pedalo (with slide) by the water - a joke we think. It was all quite atmospheric in the mistiness as we had a walk around.
River Danube at Dunafoldvar
We came in and had lunch.
As we left Lake Balaton (which we'd visited in 1999 at the other end) the countryside became hilly. We continued to the smart town of Sarvar, where we were heading for a campsite. When we found it, it was quite pleasant and green, but not the 'wild, country camping' described in the book! The grass was very wet! I saw a lot of little birds - various tits and sparrows. The toilet block seemed to have seen better days. It was very cool, as Adrian knew when he did the 'emptying and filling'.
Misty Lake Balaton
Tuesday 28th October Into Austria in the sunshine 139 miles
There was both fog and frost this morning, but then we had a beautiful day of constant sunshine. We left at 9.30 actual time. We had talked about visiting the neighbouring spa, but it seemed too smart and 'posey' for us. Instead we went into nearby Tesco! We didn't really need anything, but it made a change from the uninspiring Lidl and Pennymarket which we've shopped in for weeks! We bought one or two things, but the best thing was that Adrian was able to change our Bulgarian money into euros at the bureau outside! Afterwards we enjoyed a passable 'pain au chocolat' – a change from the cheese pastries, which have been the only 'bun' available.
As we drove out of the town, we passed a castle, but with nowhere to stop. We had noticed lots of Czech motorhomes – some yesterday in another campsite in the town, and some at Tesco's. We saw many more as we drove towards the border. We think they must all have been, or going, to a 'get together'.
We stopped to photograph one of the many fields of sweetcorn which have been so typical of this area.
At Rabapaty we walked back to look at some roadside stalls, some selling baskets and some selling tripods with pots. We debated whether to buy a tripod, and after looking in at a couple more stalls, did buy one at Kophaza, when we stopped for lunch. Other people were buying the Christmas wreaths.
We had been driving through flat country, but it looked so much better in the sunshine! Things were looking very Germanic, and the road was much busier, particularly with lorries. We had lost the remoteness of Romania and Bulgaria, but a consolation was that I could at least recognise and understand the language. Stall holders had spoken in German - this bit of Hungary 'juts out' into Austria.
We drove on past Sopron without having passed a petrol station to get some diesel before leaving Hungary. We had almost given up, when just before the border we did come to one and Adrian was able to use the last of our Hungarian money on diesel.
At 1.20 we drove on into Austria, with no formalities at all. Adrian noticed a place to get a vignette on the other carriageway – we needed this for motorways in Austria. There were no signs to tell you, and nowhere else to get one. Having done that, we had to to a 'uee' and drive back into Austria.
We found the motorway towards Vienna, and from there we were driving west. We had toyed with the idea of visiting Vienna, which I had been to a couple of times in the early sixties, but Adrian hadn't visited. However, he thought that a huge city at this stage of our travels too much to contemplate!
We noticed how smart everywhere looked, with cut grass and well tended vines. We were pleased to see hills though!
I had suggested turning off to Melk, but knew nothing about it. We followed signs to the Stift (Abbey) and came to a parking area for a vast complex far below. Lots of people were visiting, but we just viewed from the top. It was still sunny, but very cool! The Abbey was very impressive, dating from 1089, and now a World Heritage site.
Having had our look, we drove down and across the wide bridge over the Danube, with the sun shining on it, to a road which ran along the other side. We stopped and looked across to the Abbey, as a huge boat went by in front of it.
Melk Abbey, Austria
A bit further on, we stopped again at a recreation area, looking back to the Abbey, and to the sun shining down on the water. It looked very beautiful. It was 4.30, and we decided to stop here as it now gets dark at 5.00 pm!
Melk Abbey from across the Danube
Sun going down over the Danube
Wednesday 29th October Silent Night then into Germany 180 miles
It was a fine, still morning. We saw the sun rise behind the trees as a red ball, but after that it was a bit elusive today.
We left at 8.45, driving through Weitenegg, which had a superb castle high above the river.
Melk Abbey lit up by the sun
We crossed the Danube - really wide already at this point - and rejoined the motorway A1 at Pochlarn.
We drove west in the mistiness, turning off at St Florian, where there was a symbol on the map showing something of interest. As we passed a Spar supermarket, we thought that we'd buy some bread and see how a supermarket in Austria compared with those we'd been seeing. There was a better choice, with higher quality, but the prices, as we'd expected, were much more than we'd been used to.
We drove on, realising that like yesterday, there was a massive abbey here. We had a pleasant walk around it, and looked into the church, which had a painted ceiling, but looked very light, with white walls. Outside was a well tended small graveyard with iron gravestones and all planted up, mostly with chrysanths. It felt really cool, so we warmed up with a drink and a large cinnamon bun we'd bought in Spar.
The castle at Weitenegg
We took a cross country route now through forests to join the motorway towards Salzburg, enjoying the magnificent scenery, with snow on the mountains.
We turned off at Salzburg, having stopped for lunch, and drove north a few miles to Oberndorf. This is where the Christmas carol 'Stille nacht' (Silent Night) is said to have been written in 1818. We had driven through here two years ago on our way from Poland to Geneva, and had passed the sign to the church, but hadn't been able to stop. It was peak summer then and very busy.
This time we were lucky - there was nobody about, and the afternoon had become pleasantly warm. We found the 'Heimat' Museum, which had much about the chapel and the carol, but also about local history things. We discovered that the church had been destroyed by floods many years ago. We were by a meander on the Salzach River, which regularly flooded. There is a little memorial chapel where it stood. We could listen to 'Silent Night' sung in three different languages - English, German and Chinese. I much preferred the Chinese version, sung by schoolchildren in Hong Kong. There was a lot on Mohl and Gruber, the writers of the words and music. Surprisingly, nothing was written in any language but German - very different from things in Romania and Bulgaria.
The Abbey at St Florian
Silent Night, Oberndorf near Saltzburg, Austria
Bulgaria to Home
In another room, there was information about the salt trade on the river, and on the famous 'son' of the town – Nobel prize winning philosopher Leopold Kohr, born in 1909. He sounded a really interesting person, who apparently had created the 'small is beautiful' idea, and supported small businesses.
Outside, men were laying turf and planting flowerbeds, and the whole area was really attractive. We walked up to the riverbank, where we had a good view across to the neighbouring German town of Laufen.
After looking into the little chapel, we walked back to the van in the warm autumn sun, leaving at 3.45.
We crossed the river and drove through Laufen, but had seen no signs to say that we were in Germany.
We now took a cross country route back to the motorway, through picturesque villages, with the mountains looking beautiful when the sun caught them, with snow lying in the folds. We were so aware of it getting dark early, and would have stopped if we'd found anywhere suitable, but were heading for a 'campsite' further on.
Things weren't easy, as we came to a 'road closed' sign for the way we were going, and had to find a diversion. This was along a very narrow road, with saturated ground to the side.
At 4.30 we joined the motorway towards Munich, turning off after 15 minutes to Ubersee, where we found the farm where we intended staying. We were disconcerted to see (and smell) a tractor muck spreading right behind the area. We pulled in - there were a couple of other motorhomes there - and walked out. A chap looking like a yodeller chatted in German, telling us about the site. He explained that we could order rolls for the morning and showed us the room to go into and what to do. By the time we returned to the van, it was getting dark.
Nice camping spot, Ubersee, Germany
Thursday 30th October To Lake Constance on our 500th night in the Ixi! 221 miles
We left here at 3.15, stopping to get fuel, and thinking that we had lots of time to get to the place we were heading for 30 miles further along the lake. We hadn't bargained on the massive hold-up for road works (as it turned out) that we came to! We'd had to negotiate the large town of Friedrichshafen, with the added problem of the sun shining right in our eyes, and then we came to the queue! Frustratingly we sat there, edging forward every now and again. At one point we turned off, making a diversion, and hoping that when we rejoined the road, we would have passed the problem, but no! We eventually came to the roadworks, and by 4.30 we were on our way again. Adrian worked out that the hold up was 3 miles long! We then drove past field after field of neat vines. There were some lovely glimpses of the lake, particularly with the low sun.
Beside Lake Constance, Langenargen, Germany
Late afternoon looking across Lake Constance
Model of the original Church
Inside the memorial chapel
Memorial window to Gruber
The museum, chapel and water tower
Copy of the original ‘Christmas song’ Silent Night
Looking across the Salzach River to Laufen, Germany
Friday 31st October Rheinfall and on through Switzerland 150 miles
Soon afterwards we passed a bakers but had no Swiss money. Adrian pulled in nearby and waited in the van, ready to move if necessary, while I crossed to the tiny bakers and asked if I could pay in euros. She said yes (in German, she didn't speak English), so I was able to buy some seemingly expensive rolls and a 'cream bun' to share.
After that, we found nowhere at all to stop – the story of today, and almost every day! It was 11.15 when we found a parking area in pleasant rural country to have our tea/coffee and bun.
Then it was into Germany for a short way, before crossing the Rhine back into Switzerland at Koblenz (not the German one).
We were driving through Switzerland on non motorway roads, as you have to buy an expensive annual motorway permit, ending in December, and we only wanted one day! We made a similar journey two years ago, and thought 'never again'. Today we felt likewise! The going was extremely slow!
We were driving through pretty country, having crossed the River Aare, but there was nowhere to stop again. There were parking meters in all the town car parks, and nowhere in the country. We ended up sitting in Aldi car park to eat our lunch (we could have chosen Lidl opposite - there seems to be one in every town!) We looked across to a huge fat cooling tower billowing white cotton wool steam and behind us was what looked like a new Buddhist temple!
We came to the town of Biel/Bienne, where some signs were in German and others in French. After that, everything was in French. There was a long hold up in the town - a repeat of yesterday. Once again we turned off, but still didn't get out of the traffic. It was 4 o'clock, so maybe just normal going home traffic jams.
We drove now beside the Bieler See. It was lovely, with snowy peaks in the distance.
The low sun shining in our eyes once again made the driving difficult. Neat rows of vines filled every available space. The land seemed very productive, but there wasn't a free spot anywhere. We drove through pretty villages, with wonderful views as the mist descended again in the valleys, giving different tones of grey, as the sun went down.
Distant snowy peaks
We were desperately looking for a place to stop for the night before darkness fell, and headed for a place at Salavaux at the end of Lac de Morat. The sun had gone down when at 5.15 we reached the parking area beside an apple orchard and a castle restaurant.
I set about making a Hallowe'en pumpkin soup.
Early evening light, Bieler See
This bit is Adrian!
500 Ixi nights ago, Rosie had just had her operation and the outlook we were given was poor. We tried to cancel the motorhome we had ordered the previous October but they wanted so much money to cancel it that we went ahead. At the time I would have given anything to have 500 nights in it with Rosie. Now 500 nights later we are so glad we took delivery of it. We have perhaps become complacent with her condition because nothing has really changed - except her tumour hasn't grown as we had been led to believe it would. Rosie still tries to make the best of everything even though her balance and swallowing make life difficult for her. But we have been so lucky in our unluckiness, can we hope for another 500 nights?
500 nights in the Ixi!
Last overnighter before Simon’s!
Saturday 1st November To Simon in Geneva 74 miles
It was foggy when we left at 8.15, but it soon cleared to give a beautiful day. A cow had watched us from the orchard!
It was a good road to Lausanne, through pretty countryside. Adrian negotiated large Lausanne, and from there on we found it all very busy. There was nowhere to park, and no bins for our rubbish!
At Rolle, beside Lake Geneva, we were diverted yet again because of roadworks. At the village of Versin we pulled into the first small car park we had seen. We had been surprised at the amount of vineyards, when we never see Swiss wine!
Now in familiar territory, we crossed into France, reaching Cessy at 11.30. We were greeted by Leon the cat, who we'd not met before. Simon arrived back soon afterwards then we enjoyed lunch together sitting outside in the sunshine.
Vineyards at Versin
Days away - 66
Nights in campsites - 19
‘Wild Camping’ nights - 47
Overall Mileage - 6270 miles
Saturday 1st - Saturday 8th November A week at Cessy 33 miles - Cessy to Geneva & back
82 miles - Sat 8th to Dole
The next day Simon drove us to la Mure to collect Manolo and Millie from Laure’s parent's house. We hadn’t been there since Simon & Laure’s wedding in 2003, and had last seen Albert & Christiane in Canada when Manolo was a baby. It was lovely to see them, especially as it was Albert’s birthday, and another little grandson Roman was with them too. The journey was beautiful, on a gorgeous day.
Our week in Cessy went amazingly quickly. We had our work cut out, taking the children to school and collecting them, and sometimes home for lunch as well. They each had activities to be taken to, as well as English school on one afternoon. Luckily, Simon had everything clearly typed up on a spread sheet!
Happy Birthday Albert!
On Saturday 8th, we left at 1.45, having just spoken to Emma, Felix & Ruby on skype. We'd already spoken to Paul & family, and to Tom, Mar & Rita. They had sent some video of Rita walking. Just before lunch, Laure had skyped from Zambia, where she's busy on her work project.
It was good to spent time with the energetic pair and to listen to Manolo practice his guitar. Millie had an obsession with Leon the cat, and gave him very little peace! We played one or two games, where Manolo showed his enthusiasm for maths! We even managed a small 'Bonfire Night' celebration, with a few fireworks and sparklers, eating supper outside by a little fire.
Manolo with his guitar
Millie with Leon the cat
Bonfire Night fun
We drove up in the sunshine to Col de la Faucille, from where we could just see the snowy Alps, through some light cloud. Earlier in the week, the mountains had looked glorious in the snow, and we'd just hoped that the Jura would be clear enough for us to drive through today.
Goodbye to Manolo & Millie
It was a beautiful journey now through the pretty Jura Mountains in the late autumn sunshine to Dole. This must be our favourite free motorhome overnighter. We have stayed here a couple of times before. The atmospheric town, dominated by its massive church, is situated right beside the River Doubs. There is a huge free carpark, where motorhomes can stay. We arrived at about 5 o'clock, so just had time to walk along beside the river, enjoying the wonderful reflections of the ancient houses in it, although there were no colourful flower displays, as there are in summer.
A glimpse of the Alps from Col de la Faucille
The snowy Jura
Dole - view from our overnighter spot
Sunday 9th November Back through rural France 162 miles
It was a disappointingly wet morning, followed by a damp day. Even so, several cars had parked close to us as a group of cyclists unloaded their bikes and set off.
As we had no bread, we ate mushroom tortillas for breakfast. We left at 9.30, taking a pretty route to Gray, with a lot of autumn colour. On the outskirts we stopped at a very busy little boulangerie and bought a loaf and a pastry, which we ate by the river, but not sitting outside as we had done in August two years ago! In fact Gray looked just that today - none of the amazing flower displays which we'd seen then. It was 11 o'clock before we left, stopping to remember 100 years ago, on this Remembrance Sunday.
We tried to find a different route up through France, and partly succeeded, but did follow some of our route of 2004 and 2011. We drove through many long, linear villages, making us think of Romania with their line of non-stop houses, but there wasn't the ditch in front here!
We kept thinking how much nicer the trees would have looked in the sunshine as we travelled on.
There was a speck of blue sky as we reached Bar le Duc, where we intended staying for the night, then the sun peeped out from beneath the low cloud, before descending almost immediately behind the hills.
We located the small motorhome parking area, between the canal and the railway, and pulled into an empty spot at 4.45. It was already busy. Two other motorhomes arrived just then, so we were glad to have got our place.
After supper we played yahtzee and 5s & 2s, thinking of Manolo!
A brief stop at Gondrecourt
Boat on Canal de la Marne au Rhin beside us at Bar le Duc
Autumn leaves by the canal
Monday 10th November Back to Calais 247 miles
We left at 9.15 for our drive to Calais on our last day of what has been a fantastic trip.
After a few drops of rain in the night, the morning started cloudy, but soon cleared to give a fine day with blue skies and sunshine.
At first we followed good rural roads, which we love so much in France. At one point large formations of cranes flew over – later we saw more in a field.
There were also huge stacks of sugar beet (we think) near the road.
We stopped for an early tea/coffee beside an amazingly clear, sandy stream, before joining the motorway south of Reims at 10.45. From there we had a good journey to Calais on the almost empty motorway, stopping to have lunch near St Quentin, where the weather was pleasant, but not warm enough for us to sit outside.
We knew from previous visits that the views of Northern France are great from the motorway, far preferable to driving through the non-stop towns and villages near Bethune.
We got to Calais at 3.30, and made our way to the ferry terminal to change our tickets to tomorrow. We had learnt from last time that you had to have tickets, even if you changed them, or pay about twice as much. Hence we had booked for the end of November with the idea of changing them.
Adrian rebooked the tickets for 10.35 am, the other choice being 7.30, which we thought a bit early. We then had a discussion about whether to shop in Auchan tonight or in the morning, opting for tomorrow. Now it was time to head for the motorhome overnighter place down on the front, where we've stayed several times before. We were surprised at how many other motorhomes were there, but still managed to get a front row position.We immediately walked out onto the sandy beach, enjoying the busy atmosphere with lots of people walking or fishing, before coming back for our last night of this trip.
Calais - the end of our trip
We couldn't resist buying some chips from the stall we'd patronised several times before. These made a welcome, if unusual, addition to our prawn stir fry while we watched the ferries coming and going in front of us.
We then reminisced about our many previous times staying in Calais.
Everything was fine, and we had a pleasant crossing on a nice day, which deteriorated the closer we got to home. The boat was full of huge lorries, so there weren't many passengers.
By 12.15 (11.15) we were on our way home from Dover, arriving in the wet at 3 o'clock, after a lengthy stretch of road works on the M4.
It had certainly been a great trip.
Tuesday 11th November Back home again 159 miles
We were up at 7 o'clock, and after dumping left at 8.00. No-one had come for our €7. It was a beautiful morning with the moon still in the sky.
Last night Adrian had looked on the computer and found that Auchan wasn't opening until 9 o'clock today, as it was a Bank Holiday in France (as we knew) for Remembrance Day. He didn't think that that gave us enough time to shop before getting to the ferry for 9.45, but we decided to try! We made our way there, stopping first to get fuel from the petrol station (which the computer also said wasn't opening until 9.00, but was in fact 24 hour by card).
We went across to Auchan, and would have been just right if it had opened at its usual time of 8.30! There were already quite a few people waiting, and by 9 o'clock there was quite a crowd! We dashed in, Adrian with a trolley to get wine, and me to get various food items. Amazingly we were out through the checkout by 9.30, by which time the shop was packed.
We now made our way to the ferry terminal – luckily yesterday’s road works had gone. We were aware yesterday and today of lots of French police vehicles around. We ourselves were stopped by British border control, and very pleasantly 'done over' – the first time anyone has had such a detailed look in the van.
Looking back to our overnighter at Calais from the ferry
Places we got to:-
Black Sea (A)
Silent Night Chapel, Oberndorf, Austria
Some impressions of Romania and Bulgaria:-
Many horses and carts
Very litter strewn
Lots of 'peasant people'
Young people very 'western'
Much sweeping of streets with 'besom brooms'
Poor quality of fruit/veg and lack of variety in supermarkets
Much ugly development – communist housing blocks
Some large, unusual advertising hoardings beside road
Road surfaces – some good, many really dreadful!
Really bad 'topes' (sleeping policemen)
People smoke more, including in restaurants
Very many tree-lined roads
A lot of women have dyed red hair
Romanians can often speak English, Bulgarians can't
Little stalls outside houses, particularly in Romania
Castles, churches, monasteries (particularly in Romania)
Huge piles of logs outside houses (Bulgaria)
Lorries full of logs (Bulgaria)
Different alphabet, so signs almost impossible to read in Bulgaria
Excellent and inexpensive (to us) restaurant meals
Good Places and High Spots:-
Giving lift to two young Belgian lads
Visiting Vera and Manfred
Decin, Czech – overnighter beside River Elbe, first meal out (450 nights in Ixi)
Wooden churches of Maramures, Romania
Walk across the border into Ukraine on Adrian's birthday
Forest steam railway ride for Adrian's birthday, Viseu de Sus, Romania
Sighistora – stayed in 'campsite' right by atmospheric town – another good meal out
Villages in Romania – unexpected Saschiz then Viscri (Prince Charles village)
Bran Castle – of Dracula fame
Sibiu unofficial 'railway museum'
Transfagarasan road (Top Gear's 'best road in the world') in the snow
Our only campfire, in valley beneath Poiemari castle
Bucharest in the sunshine
Trip on the Danube Delta
Balchik – nice town on Bulgarian Black Sea, and lunch beside it
Pomorie – real Bulgarian town by Black Sea
Sozopol – oldest settlement on Bulgarian Black Sea coast
Lovely campsite, run by English couple, at Dragizhero, Bulgaria
Veliko Tarnarvo – great town, another really good meal in great setting
Shipka Pass and stunning monastery in brilliant weather
Koprivshtitsa – wonderful 'house museums', including First World War poet Dimcho Debelyanov and 'rebel' Todor
Having seen the sights of the central area of Sofia that we'd wanted to, we now needed some lunch! We hadn't passed any eating places, but across the road we could see what looked like a fast food place, but thought that we'd give it a try. It was in fact great! We were lucky to be able to sit outside, looking across to the cathedral. Once more, our lunch, chosen from the vast menu, was excellent! Adrian's fish & chips were delicious, and my aubergine and salad were first class. We shared a bit of each others food, having to forfeit a beer as we were going to be driving out of Sofia later, but we really enjoyed our meal. We were entertained by two street musicians, who we gave a few coins to as we left. We found that the restaurant, Mr Happy, was absolutely vast, most of the seating being inside, but we couldn't fault it. Now it was time to wander back to the van. We took a different route, and it was nice to see some of back street Sofia. That is until we realised that we'd walked off course, and were getting weary! Of course, it was harder than usual to find our bearings when we often couldn't read the street signs, and only had a Lonely Planet map to follow! On our excursion, we passed the vast memorial to the Soviet Army, in yet another park, Borisova Gradina.
The road down to the main road was more straightforward. We reached Vratsa, whose ugly tower blocks masked the view to the marvellous mountains. The road in the centre was dug up (yet again) and the alternative road was very bad. We needed to stop for lunch, but as ever this was difficult. An added problem today was the 'ladies of the road' occupying each layby! We turned off the main road and stopped at the village of Sumer in their large roughly tarmacked 'square'. It was like being in an old fashioned French village, with just a few simple houses around it. There was a large pile of chippings, and as we finished lunch, a chap with brand new tractor/loader came to load this onto a massive lorry which arrived! We wondered if we'd we scooped up too! It had now become very hot as we drove on through the town of Montana(!), turning off at some roadworks where the JCB almost filled the road, hardly leaving room for us to get by. Our route was very scenic, initially past enormous Mala Katlovica Reservoir, and then following the pretty Ogosta and then the Lom Rivers. The hills were topped with amazing rocks formations, but by now it had become cloudy. As usual, there were no stopping places at all to admire the scenery. Just as we reached Belodradcik, we pulled into the only place we saw and walked amongst the fantastic deep pink rock formations.
We needed to stop for the night, as we were nearing the border with Romania. Our problem was that Adrian expected this wonderful fine weather to break tonight, bringing heavy rain, so we needed somewhere 'safe'. With luck, not long after Belodradcik, we found an open place where we could pull off, looking back to the town in the distance, with the outline of some of the rocks. A couple had come with their clapped out car to collect and load up with wood they had collected, but they soon left, so we settled down for our last night in Bulgaria. We had a frustrating time trying to do the website, as the computer was playing up. The rain did come, as expected, but not as heavily as we'd thought.
We drove back down on the other side of the valley, passing the rows of traditional one storey houses, all joined to each other. We saw several vans loaded with cabbages for sale. We have been noticing banners and posters for the presidential elections everywhere. Back on our route, we continued north, passing a hardly noticeable pass at 515m before stopping for lunch. We left here at 2 o'clock, now following the River Timis, which flows northwards, but eventually reaches the Danube near Belgrade. It was just as full as the other rivers! At Caransebes we turned off to take a route through the hills. This was pleasant, with a good surface, but was busier and not so pretty as we'd hoped. There was very little autumn colour in the trees. When we came to the large town of Resita, we saw a Kaufland supermarket in amongst the uninspiring blocks of flats and decided to give it a try. We won't bother again – it was the worst of Lidl or Aldi, without the good points! I was disconcerted at first, thinking that things were expensive, but I'd forgotten that we were now dealing in leis, not levs, and there are 5 to the pound, not 2½! Adrian did find some plastic bags for us to use as rubbish bags – we had run desperately low! Now 5 o'clock, we drove on through the hills, coming to a place to pull off at Bosca half an hour later. The sun came out briefly before going behind a building. There was a railway behind us, of which Adrian with Murray (Walker) intuition, said 'I don't think there will be many trains'. A few minutes afterwards, a train went by!
We stopped by a church in a square, with houses all around it. We had tea/coffee before walking around the outside of the church. It seemed very Dutch, especially when two people cycled by on upright bikes! We now followed a badly surfaced road, hoping to come to either a bridge or a ferry at the River Tisza. We did neither, as after some way, we came to a sign crossed out, and found that the road didn't go! There was nothing to do but drive all the way back to Mako! Having done that, when we passed a Lidl which was open, we went in for a loaf and a few other things. It was amazingly busy – Sunday morning seemed to be the time to come and buy 'Fall mums', as they are called in U.S. (autumn chrysanths) and ugly artificial Christmas wreaths! Adrian did get some Hungarian money from a 'hole in the wall', but at 400 florints to the pound, it was difficult to work out how much to get! We now drove on towards Szeged, passing through the village of Ferencszallas, which as well as barrow-loads of potatoes for sale, had really attractive autumn stalls with pumpkins. We continued through Szeged, which we had driven through in 1999, crossing the River Tisza on a good bridge. We had crossed this river much further up when driving down through Hungary several weeks ago. We carried on NW, stopping at the village of Balastya to eat our lunch, parked beside a church (again) on a quite road. The village looked very cared for, and still had displays of begonias. As we drove on, we passed fields of cabbages, and polytunnels with other veg growing. Also there were rows of vines, better looked after than those in Romania and Bulgaria. At Kompok, we passed a lovely Hallowe'en display, with carved pumpkins, which appeared to be a competition.
The roundabout had a display of pumpkins. Flat country isn't easy to find stopping places, so we now started looking for somewhere for the night. At Akasto we saw a track in front of a demolished house, and it seemed a suitable place to stop. It was 3.30 (or 4.30 or 5.30), but the murkiness made it seem later. We don't like this change of time! We walked across the road to a garage to see if we could buy a map of Hungary. No such thing – a blunt 'no' said the man! We had difficulties with the website again.
We enjoyed our Bavarian setting on a fine, cool morning. Adrian did the emptying and filling, which will last us until we get to Simon's. We’d collected our rolls for breakfast. The price for everything was reasonable. We left at 9 o'clock and made our way back onto the motorway. The scenery to the south looked splendid, with snow on the mountains. We turned off to a 'viewpoint' at Chiemsee, but roadworks filled the parking area, so there was nowhere to stop! We just glimpsed some ducks on the water as we drove by! We then passed the scene of the first accident of this trip, on the other carriageway. The box trailer behind a van had overturned. The queue that had built up went on for many miles. We crossed the River Inn, which looked very full, before coming to Munich. The fine day had turned to drizzle – it seems to me that like Manchester and Swindon, it always rains in Munich! After crossing the River Isar , we had to drive on a non-motorway stretch, including a tunnel. It seemed strange to think that Munich hasn't got a motorway right around it. After getting back on the motorway, we pulled into the first rest area, but it was full of lorries, so there was no room! We drove on, pulling in at 10.45 at Ammersee. The land was very flat, but productive, with well tended fruit trees and with snowy mountains in the distance. We continued westwards, and by the time we stopped for lunch it was sunny. Some people were even eating outside at a picnic table. We drove on to Lake Constance, on the north side, which is still in Germany. We found our way down to Langenargen, a small town on the lake, and stopped by a pleasant little park area. It was obviously a busy place in summer, popular with windsurfers, but today there were just a few people about. We walked along beside the lake before having an early cup of tea sitting on a bench. There was a nice communal barbecue ring and one or two playthings. A mother was having fun with her two children on a hanging 'swing/seesaw'.
When we reached the car park at Sipplingen that we were heading for at 5 o'clock, we were dismayed to find that it was really busy, and was a paying one outside a restaurant and beside a railway. We both knew that this was a no-go, but time was getting on and it would soon be dark. Luckily, as we'd come further west, it didn't get dark quite so early as last night. Adrian looked up another place a bit further on at Ludwigshafen so we rapidly headed there. This seemed to be a motorhome parking area close to a motorhome sales place. We pulled in just before it got dark.
We'd enjoyed our great free overnighter, with electricity and dumping facilities. We left at 9.30 on a lovely morning, but mist soon descended and was very slow to clear. When it did, the sky was blue and the sun warm. We drove towards Schaffhausen, and soon came into Switzerland, with no border control. We found everything painfully neat and tidy. We made our way to Rheinfall, the superb waterfall on the Rhine, which held many memories for us of the sixties. We’d also visited in 1981 with all 4 children – Tom only 3 years old – and then driven 750 miles home arriving at 6.00am next day! We could spy the wonderful, gushing waterfall as we went to park. It cost 5 euros for 4 hours, but we only wanted a few minutes! Adrian investigated, and found that there was Blue Badge parking at the foot of the long slope, which I'd already started walking down. He thought that he'd drive the van down and park there, but as he went to leave the car park, bollards popped up before him! We ended up by having a quick 'photo stop' and then leaving!
Kableshkov Plovdiv – super town, probably our favourite'Lost in time' village of Siroka Laka Magical town of Melnik Rila Monastery and surrounding autumn glory Sofia – unexpectedly lovely Stunning Iskar Gorge Timisoara, Romania – all dug up, but town where Romanian uprising (1989) was started 'Silent Night' chapel, Oberndorf, Salzburg, Austria
The monastery was very atmospheric, with a large tree in the courtyard – a Dawn Redwood – thought extinct, until one was found in remote part of China in 1944. There was virtually nothing written in English, except a notice saying that the bodies of two men who had stopped many more Jews from being sent to extermination camps were buried here.
We had passed a man with no arms begging on the way up, and put a few coins in his pot on our return.
We walked back past all the stalls, some of which had 'grot', but many with Bulgarian pots (we bought one) and others with honey and honey products. A van beside us when we'd had coffee had pots of honey for sale – and a beehive in the back!
We left this busy scene at midday and then had a day of constantly winding roads through the mountains. We stopped for lunch beside the river, enjoying the lovely autumn colours, but finding anywhere to stop was as difficult as ever.
We were coming to the area of winter ski resorts, but we did find one really genuine village Siroka Laka. We stopped by two ancient bridges over the stream, with a church tower up behind. The church itself was being restored. Inside, although very dark, it felt more alive than any church we have visited. The houses were of white stone with brown roofs, and an overhanging upper storey.
Saturday 18th October Bachkovo Monastery and the Rodopi Mountains 101 miles
It wasn't the restful night we'd hoped for, as we were disturbed by mosquitoes when we went to bed and by wind in the trees in the early morning (and the dogs).
The morning was sunny though, and the wind dropped so we had another good day.
I wrote the email for the website, and we sent it, though as usual it wasn't straight forward and gave us some anxiety.
It was nearly 10 o'clock when we left our campsite at Plovdiv. We’d become quite fond of it, despite its shabby appearance. We were very grateful to the chap Adrian had spoken to at Koprinka Dam for asking if we were going to Plovdiv, or we probably wouldn't have braved yet another large town.
We took the ring road around Plovdiv. It was lined with tall grasses, making us think of New Zealand. We could see the mountains to the south where we were heading.
We came to Asenovgrad, where once again the centre of the town was closed for road works. Then we started on the winding roads, quite busy on this Saturday morning, following the tumbling Cepelarska River to Bachkovo. We stopped here in the village, where girls were busy sweeping up the leaves, and had our coffee overlooking the river before heading for the monastery.
We parked beside the road before walking past the many stalls along the cobbled street towards the monastery which was founded in 1083 and is the second largest in Bulgaria after Rila.
It seemed lost in time, but wasn't quite, as we saw a satellite dish on one house, and a Hallowe'en display in a shop window. The centre of the town was smarter, with a pavement cafe and a sign saying 'Bike Parking Free'!
We wound on and on through the hills, arriving at the spa town of Devin. We passed many hotels, but nothing to interest us! We stopped by the town square, covered in autumn leaves, and stayed long enough for a cup of tea and some of the good sesame bar we'd bought from one of the stalls this morning. Apparently the town is known for its spring water. I filled my bottle from one of the many taps.
We continued on the mountain roads, driving through remote villages where logs were stacked on pavements and spilling into the road.
It was gone 5 o'clock when we found a place to pull off looking over the hills to the coniferous forests, just before Dospat.
In the evening we read through the last part of the diary.
It was cool – first time for ages.
Sunday 19th October The Magic of Melnik and the mountains 150 miles
The night was cool, but we are at 4,500 ft (1370m)! It was a lovely morning – we enjoyed seeing the sun come up from our hilltop situation. It had been really quiet.
We left before 9 o'clock and soon came to the silent, remote town of Dospat. It was steep, with rutted roads and no signs, just piles of logs everywhere, ready for winter. Adrian had trouble finding our way. When we did come to a sign, it was in Bulgarian only, as most today were.
A bit further on we drove through Satovca. There was a confusing 'no entry' sign ahead. A group of men were sitting outside a bar, so we tried to get their attention to ask if we could go ahead. In the end, they all joined in, (in Bulgarian) telling us that it was fine for us to proceed. We just waited for the police car to go past first!
As we drove on, everywhere looked really beautiful, especially when we left the conifers and came to splashes of bright orange autumn colour.
We stopped by some piles of cut rock beside the road, and just enjoyed the warmth, the stillness and the blue of the sky. We hadn't known that this was the start of a large area of rock dressing. Men seemed to be coming for a Sunday 'work at their rock piles' to produce neatly stacked piles of cut rock – what was it all used for?
The next town, Dolno Drjanovo appeared very different, with two minarets and large groups of swarthy men sitting at pavement cafes. Plastic sheeting was covering something hanging up - we think perhaps tobacco.
Now we made our way to the fast road north, following the pretty Struma River, which at one point went through a steep gorge. We pulled in to have a cup of tea, but once more litter spoiled things.
We carried on to the turn off to Rila, where we want to visit the monastery tomorrow, hoping to find somewhere to stop for the night. The mountains ahead looked starkly beautiful, but we hadn't counted on the massive amount of cars coming down from the hills on this late Sunday afternoon. They were almost non-stop! We were so glad not to have visited the monastery today.
Being a steep winding road above a river, there was nowhere at all to pull off. We had driven through the village of Rila, then on and on for the 14 miles to the monastery, where masses of people were still leaving.
We continued for a way, and at 5.45 found a parking space beside the road which would make a spot for the night. Then it was beans on toast for tea!
Monday 20th October Rila Monastery and on to Sofia 92 miles
As we'd expected, the night was cold - there was quite a heavy frost in the morning. The sun had just reached the mountaintops when we left at 9.15.
We drove on up the mountain road first for about 5 miles to Kiril Meadows. The beech trees lining the road looked absolutely beautiful. By the time we got there, the sun was just peeping over the mountain, but it was still pretty chill! There were lots of walks from this area, and picnic tables set up in the grass, but we just had a short walk around, with the sight of the craggy peaks above. The peace was broken by workmen with large noisy trucks setting to work.
Then we passed the incongruous sight of a stretch limo!
Just before Dabnitsa we stopped beside the road and sat on our bum mats to have coffee on a grassy slope, with blue chicory growing and butterflies hovering. It was quite gorgeous, but a photo couldn’t sum it up.
We had come down to the valley at Goce Delcev, and had now left the Rodopi mountains. I had wanted to go on to Melnik, in the Pirin mountains but Adrian had thought the road would be too winding and long. As we had made such good progress, and the weather was so perfect, we decided to go for it, and hope that the road would be OK. We drove past a large winery and all the Sunday roadside stalls – here selling cabbages and melons – and started to wind up through the mountains. The road wound on and on, up and then down, but the surface was good, and we arrived at Melnik at lunchtime.
This small village is known for its sandstone hills around, formed into pyramid shapes, and for its wine.
We pulled into a crowded little parking area, amongst many cars and two large coaches, hoping that they would have left by the time we wanted to.
What a fantastic village! It is really just one main street up beside a little dry stream. The houses were quaint and different, and although there were quite a few people about, it felt really quiet. Some of the little roads were of enormous rough cobbles, others were of rutted sand.
Things were written in Bulgarian, with very little English. We chose an outdoor restaurant in the sun to have lunch. I had bean soup and Adrian had trout. With two (large) glasses of local wine it came to less than £9!
Afterwards we wandered on up the little streets, seeing ruins on a hill high above us. It was all quite brilliant. On our way back down, we bought some wine from one of the many stalls, and some local honey.
We drove back down the mountainside, stopping about halfway back by St Luke's Hermitage. We had hoped to walk to this, but the 'path' was an 'uphill struggle' and very craggy - not suitable for me! There was now some sun and the trees looked stunning, so we just enjoyed the colours and the situation.
We continued back towards the monastery, stopping at our 'overnighter' spot, which was now sunny, to have tea/coffee before visiting the Monastery.
Rila Monastery is the largest and most revered in Bulgaria, being a place of pilgrimage for many Bulgarians. We had to pay 6 lev to park, although entry to the monastery is free. It was beautifully quiet today, with just a few visitors – yesterday would have been very different! The sun was just reaching it, so we had a very enjoyable walk around on the large stone cobbles. Inside the church (no photos) dozens of people were busy sweeping and scraping up the candle wax after yesterday's onslaught. The walls were covered in painted frescoes. A group was gathered by an open tomb, where a monk was taking a photo. We peeped in, and a monk quickly shut the tomb and covered it! Things seemed to be wrapped up inside, we're not sure what it was! Visitors were revering certain paintings, which always makes me feel rather uncomfortable.
Near the church was a 23m high stone clock tower, dating from 1335.
The rest of the monastery was painted white, with black and brown decorations and arched terraces. It was very attractive and well looked after.
Having finished our visit, we drove back down the mountain to the village of Rila, in isolation, unlike yesterday's frenzied hordes. We needed some bread for lunch, and wondered if we'd find some in Rila. The 'bakery' outside the monastery wasn't open today, although we had seen queues of people there yesterday.
Adrian spotted a man collecting something from an open window, and we assumed that it was bread, so stopped. The window was now closed again, but luckily a lady arrived just before us and pulled a string. Sure enough, the window was opened and a cheery lady produced freshly baked white loaves. She 'tore' one off for us, like you would with bread rolls, so we had our loaf! It was really good too! By the time we left, she had lots of customers.
Now that we had a loaf for lunch, we had to find somewhere to stop. As usual, this was pretty impossible. The weather and the scenery were beautiful, so it was very frustrating, as we would soon be reaching the main road towards Sofia.
At the 11th hour, we spied a rough track to the side, and on following up, found a lovely spot to stop. We sat outside on our seats in the hot sun, with views all around. It was delightfully quiet, with just the distant sound of traffic far below. We could hear birds and watch a dark yellow butterfly – a clouded yellow, we think.
We left here at 2.30 and were soon on the main road north to Sofia. We turned off some time later to drive a short way into Vitosa Nature Park, the large mountainous area south of Sofia. Just after the village of Bosnek, we stopped by a stony stream and sat in the sun to have our cup of tea before driving onto and around Sofia. This was often quite hairy, as the road surface was sometimes really bad.
At 4.50, following the sat-nav, and with Adrian's expert driving, we came to Camping Vrana, the 'campsite' we'd been heading for. There were no signs, and we had to drive under a long 3.15m high bridge – just enough for the van! The site was more pleasant than I'd expected, with tall trees, and fairly quiet for outer Sofia. There were cabins scattered around – we were given a key to one to make use of the toilet facilities. This was not without its problems, as Adrian discovered when he went to empty the loo – it all came back up through a hole in the floor!
At 20 euros, the site was dearer than any other site we've stayed at, but will at least give us the chance to visit Sofia.
The evening wasn't cold.
Tuesday 21st October Sunny COФИЯ (Sofia) 41 miles
The night had been mild and the morning was perfect.
The ipod stopped working, so we had to use the phone to hear any music. Tom had sent a photo of his Sunday half marathon, which he did pushing Rita in the pushchair!
We left at 9.45 and Adrian bravely tackled the drive down into Sofia. We had expected to have trouble parking, and we certainly did, but succeeded in the end in finding a blue badge spot beside Oborishte Park, one of the many green spaces in Sofia. We walked through the park, but without a good map, it was a worrying time until we reached the Alexander Nevski Church, the huge church which is a symbol of Sofia, and of Bulgaria. It was built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who were killed in the 1877-8 battle.
I actually preferred the nearby St Sofia church, which was built of brick, and much simpler. Glass panels in the floor let you see down to the ancient mosaics of previous buildings. Outside an eternal flame was burning by the grave of the unknown soldier.
We walked on, passing the attractive Archaeological Museum which had lots of ancient stones outside. We were now by the Presidents Building, and could see the guards. I had noted that the Changing of the Guard happened on the hour, and it was now 11.50. We waited, and sure enough we were treated to this spectacle, which was great to see, except that I hate the 'goose stepping'.
We looked into St Nickolai Russian church before coming to the City Park, where we stopped for a tea/coffee in the morning sunshine. Ladies were sweeping up the leaves. We wonder how different things will be when noisy leave blowers take hold!