Arriving in Sofia, we feel a little better. On regret to have gone through Serbia so quickly, and to have only seen the country through the windows of buses and trains. We can feel that in our pictures. They don't look as funky as we would like them to. But it is for a good cause : we are expected on the 20th of december 2009 in Zhelen, in a farm near Sofia. We will stay there two weeks for the christmas period, to help in the farm, and to learn as much as possible about organic farming and discover about the rural life of Bulgaria (WWOOF project).
In Sofia, it's very cold. We walk around the city center with 5 layers of clothes. Not very interesting city. Except a couple of monuments, the city has nothing special in winter, and we are feeling we will not come back here after the 2 weeks at the farm.
On the 20th of december, we take the train to Svogue. It snowed last night. In Svogue, the covering of snow is big and it is very difficult to ride the bike, so we have to push the bicycles. With -10°C, the wheels are freezing and can't move anymore, and Diabolo (Stef's bike) refuses to go further. In total, we neet 4 hours to get to the farm, and we are a little bit tensed. Hopefully, in the end, a good hot meal is waiting for us... it works for us everytime!
Ian is English and Catriona is Scottish. They have this farm since 2 years and they are fixing it everyday a little bit better. They have a lot of ideas and we can feel their motivation in every word they say. Unfortunately for us, in winter there is not so much work to do except wood chopping and cooking. But we also came here for the Christmas celebration and we ended up having a wonderful time with wonderful people and wonderful food. We eat more than we should and we meet great friends : Paddy and John.
After two weeks, we didn't do much but the experience was fun anyway. We will try WWOOFing again in more proper season!
And for New year's eve, Paddy took us to his friends in Sofia. We had an amazing night with food tasting and a great concert of Goran Bregovic (!!!!!!!). And meeting new people, always...
We are leaving the farm and heading to Veliko Tarnovo, where one of Paddy's friends will host us.
On the 4th of december 2009, when all french and belgian students go back to school, we have to go back on the saddles. After a three weeks break, we have to get used again to the rythm of cycling. We start over by shopping : soup, bread, cheese, fruits, honey, pasta, chocolate (of course) and polenta. We spend or first night in an abandonned train station with a chilling -7°C (estimation based on Stef's shivers).
In Bulgaria, the first difficulty is cyrillic alphabet. We have to get used to it quickly, we improve slowly. But another problem appears then : bulgars have the bad habit to shake their head to say yes, and to nod to say no. Strange situations happen and we need to ask sometimes three times to be sure of the answer. It's funny for us, and also for the people we meet.
The weather is moody. The next day we get trapped by the snow. At 2:00 PM, it's snowing too hard and the snow flakes are hurting our faces. After a quick glance around the village, one third of the houses are abandonned, and we start to wonder where we will spend the night. But luck brings us Rosa. She is 64, teacher and economist, and she fills the rest of her free time being the mayor of Gorna Bishovitsa. Rosa offers her best homemade turshia (pickled vegetables), bread, homemade peach juice, cabbage juice (not so good) and of course a few bottles of Rakija!
She is very patient and she takes her time to explain a lot of things despite the language barrier. She even offers her own Banitsa recipe!!!
The next day when we leave, Rosa kisses us with a frank 'I LOVE YOU' and she shades a tear. For her, we are now part of the family.
The roads are still covered with snow, but it's melting fast so we head to Veliko Tarnovo.
Sixty kilometers from Veliko Tarnovo, we stop in a small village. With our three words of bulgarian vocabulary, we ask for a place in the garden for the tent, and we end up in Margarita's warm kitchen, eating turshia and drinking rakija! She even offered a pyjama for the night...
The road is a little bit boring : long, straight, monotonous and full of cars. The huge commercial signs are planted along the road, like ugly trees. One is for a new cellphone, another has Bruce Willis looking down at us with a little smile for a cheap vodka, or another one shows three responsible drivers cheering to our trip and to the new Shumensko beer.
From time to time, in the background we can see the snowy mountain summits, emerging out of the clouds.
After 5 days on the bike, we are finally in Veliko Tarnovo where Tysho is hosting us. We discover the Tsarevets fortress, the city up on the hill, the bars and the bars, the mayonnaise on the pizza, and we go climbing with Tysho. All his friends are climbers, and all they think about is mountaineering.
The temperature went down a bit, but we leave VT with almost sunny weather. According to our map, we will have to go through a 1097 meters pass. on the road, we camp near Elena and we leave the next day under the snow. Over 15 km/h each snow flake is like a finger poking our eyes!
After some eye poking, a truck stops ahead of us. We understand after a few minutes that there is too much snow at the pass and that we won't be able to go through. We put the bikes in the back of the truck and we climb at the pass on the icy road. Ivan, the driver, is not very talkative but we prefer that he keeps his hands on the wheel instead of talking with his hands! At night, same deal : invitation, wine, turshia and rakija!!!
Now the road to Elhovo is flat and nice.We cross very traditionnal villages with chickens in the streets, like in a Kusturica movie. The sky is clear, and John welcomes us like the king and queen! Nice food, nice talking, nice programm for the next days.
We stay 6 days at John's place. It's more than scheduled, but the half-meter of fresh snow made us change our plans. In winter, except playing petanque, cooking, eating and have a party in the village's bar, there is not much to do, but it's already a lot!
The road is slippery when we're off to Turkey and an icy wind makes the temperature go down to -15°C. The border is 35 kilometers away.
İn Bulgaria and in the rest of the Balkan countries, we learnt a lot about hospitality. When we'll be back home, amongst many projects, we would like to have sleepers for guests and a door wide open to strangers. We will never forget all these people who welcomed us like their own family and who offered all they could and even more.
We heard great things about the hospitality in Turkey and we'll tell you about it very soon!