Admirable Bulgaria

Gepubliceerd op 29 september 2023 om 09:49


back in Skopje, 38 degrees, acclimatizing 

the landscape reminds us of Spain

rolling, yellow, dry

big snakes on the road

the harvest is shared

figs, almost jam

grapes, so sweet

tomatoes, flavour bombs

a few rest days in Valandovo

on a lawn under the trees near the sports fields

here too the children are brought by car

people wonder, are they refugees?

near the border with Greece, lots of Border Police

with Google Translate we explain who we are

the circulating gossip works, we are accepted with a lot of warmth

youth join us, complain about Bulgaria, Germany is the place to be

the shepherd of four goats comes to us a few times a day to smoke a cigarette in the shade

he rattles on in Macedonian, which we don't understand at all

but it is cosy

the school teacher brings us the traditional biscuits from the first day of school, baked by his mother

we get so many figs and grapes that we can hardly stand to eat them


through the Pirin and Rhodope Mountains

covered with pine trees that smell so good

rivers with crystal-clear water

remarkably many drinking water sources along the way

remote valleys

traditional villages built on the slopes, some abandoned

stockpiles of wood for the winter are laid out

tiny shops, street sales of fruit and vegetables

we make many altitude metres on the Eurovelo 13

to Paril in 6.5 hours pushing each other's bikes 7 km uphill

suffering and enjoying

we find it incredibly beautiful here



an extinct volcano

thermal baths

we stay there for a few days at a tiny campsite

with its own baths

buses of Bulgarians come to the pilgrimage site of Baba Vanga

a blind believer and clairvoyant whom people queued up for

we cycle to Melnik and walk along the sandstone pyramids

to the Rozhen monastery

we see the remains of a Greek city


it is the people

that make Bulgaria so admirable

some of the many encounters


Ilja is 71 and lives in Nova Lovcha, a small mountain village in the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria. To supplement his € 250 pension, he works. Every morning he walks from his house to the main road where his colleague picks him up. They are building a house in Paril, a very small mountain village 5 kilometres away with a church and something resembling a shop. In the shop, their working day starts with coffee. Besides coffee, they also sell soft drinks, beer and croissants with chocolate filling. We pitched our tent in the picnic area next to the shop. Wen makes her move and buys a supply of croissants. The shop is run by a woman, sallow clothes, she walks hunched over on slippers with a long wooden stick but has a friendly energetic look in her eyes. Using Google Translate, a conversation ensues. Later the woman beckons, she has her granddaughter on the phone. Who tells us that her grandmother is inviting us for lunch. The woman leaves and the shop is locked. Around noon, she returns. She orders us to join her in the shop. Ilja and his colleague also come for lunch. Potato soup with threaded meat and a tomato salad with olive oil and salt. Ilja puts the Rakija on the table. And after the Rakija, a glass of red wine accompanies lunch. Ilja invites us to dine and sleep at his place in the evening.The afternoon flies by, we break up the tent and at 5.30 pm we follow the colleague who is taking Ilja home again. The boiler is fired up with a few logs and we walk with Ilja to water his horses. While Ilja takes a shower, we cut the tomatoes and make sticks of mince. With a few logs, Ilja has the bbq ready in no time to cook the minced meat on and toast the bread. We eat deliciously with the requisite Rakija and red wine. He makes it all himself. The patio is full of grapes that are harvested at the end of October. Ilja has another house in Goce Delcev. His wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live there. They don't want to go to Nova Loche. We can kind of imagine that. There is no commotion here and more and more houses are becoming uninhabited and turning into ruins. At weekends, he goes to his family, just 25 kilometres away. During the week, this 71-year-old gritty hardworking man sits alone and he enjoys the company around him. The next morning, Ilja toasts bread dipped in scrambled eggs on a gas burner, like we used to have at the campsite. Then it is seven-thirty and Ilja walks to the main road. He very much wants us to stay another day, but we say goodbye. Life is primitive. Iron window frames with cracked single glass in putty. Worn rugs on the floor and rickety chairs. Wooden shelves on the wall with a curtain in front of them. Electricity wires knotted together. But what warm people.

Ayshe and Birol

In Momchilgrad, we are in a field on the outskirts of town. Houses are being built but it is like a zoo we are in the middle of. Horses, cows, geese, turkeys, dogs, cats. It just runs around freely here. Shade we have from a tall bush forest. Birol, a middle-aged man and owner of the turkeys, comes over and teaches us how to peel, crack and skin young fresh walnuts. 'Healthy, natural penicillin' he says. He lives in one of the houses in the distance. In the field where we have pitched our tent, there are also 3 fig trees. They belong to him and we are allowed to pick as much as we want. He speaks a few words of Dutch, having worked in Rotterdam for a few years. The next morning, Wen peels some fresh walnuts herself. Yellow-brown fingers you get from them and it looks like that colour will stay for a while. Delicious with figs in the yoghurt.

Later in the morning, Ayshe, a young lady, comes to our tent. The cat that has been with us since yesterday and slept in our tent last night belongs to her grandmother. She brings us a bag of delicious fruit and vegetables from grandma's garden. She lives and studies in Germany but is currently on a holiday and staying with her grandma. We chat very pleasantly with her for a while. We are allowed to get a shower and go to the toilet in their white house across the river. Sweetly offered, but we can manage,ourselves, we say. If we need some water. We don't, we say, because we can get water from the tap at the construction site in front of us. Not much later, she returns anyway with a mega 11-litre water bottle.

After dinner, we enjoy the cool evening. By the time we want to go to bed, Ayshe returns. 'I hope you haven't eaten yet' she says. She has brought hot chicken, sausage and peppers from the bbq, a salad, bread, nuts, bottles of drinks, biscuits and chocolates. We eat the chicken and save the rest for tomorrow's lunch. Ayshe's cat gets promoted and sleeps in between us all night. The next morning, Jo has barely luminated the burner to make us some coffee when Birol arrives. He has brought three cups of coffee, börek (warm filo pastry with feta in it) and cups of Ayran (Turkish salty yoghurt drink) for breakfast. He grew up in this town along with Ayshe's father, his comrade. He talks about his work as an electrician at the hospital where he repairs equipment. Today, he has breakdown duty. Meanwhile, our coffee is ready and we share it with Birol. It's the least we can do, but is disproportionate to what the Bulgarians share with us. After coffee, Birol gets up, the turkeys are hungry.

to Istanbul

the border from Bulgaria to Greece

2 wooden barracks, we have to walk across the road for Greek customs

30 kilometres through Greece

lunch on our green seat mats against the side wall of a dated restaurant

the owner doesn't like it, we have to sit on chairs at the table

he heats up our sandwiches in the microwave

cotton and corn

the border from Greece to Turkey

an impressive collection of customs buildings

whether the water in the toilet is drinkable?

the customs officer gestures us into his office

we are allowed to tap from a large jar with chilled water

our tent next to petrol stations

water and toilet available

we always find a place to hang our shower bag

small villages with men in the café

they want to know where we are from

we get tea with sugar

dogs, lots of dogs

we end up in Tekirdag on the coast, not far from Istanbul

a few days rest at the hotel

we can't get through Syria, Iraq and Iran

so we fly from Istanbul to Israel

to explore the Middle East


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