To Turkey and back. 1. Getting out of Sofia.

16 Nov

Walking across the border from Turkey (Non-EU) and Bulgaria (EU) I observed, first hand, a border with friction. From Edirne in the north of Turkey, along the D100, which becomes the A4 motorway in Bulgaria, the carriageway was gridlocked with freight traffic queueing for access into and out of the EU at the Kapikule crossing. About five miles either side. Each lorry takes between 15 minutes or so to clear, we were told. Good job the drivers had sleeping accommodation in their cabins and board games to while away the day – or more-  that entry or exit would take.

Cars seemed to have few problems. We were a curiosity for Bulgarian and Turk border police. Little English is spoken at this edge of Europe and two near-septuagenarians trying to explain our plan to cycle from the UK to Istanbul next year, was stretching credibility in any language.

We had flown into Sofia the day before. Terminal 1 was a distinctly budget unit rather like the cramped hangars which greet you on arrival at an outpost of empire or a small Greek island. Little did we know that Terminal 2, a glossy, EU-sponsored erection, was a stone’s throw away.

Documentation to take a hire car across the border would take a week. We didn’t have that long and so we headed out of the capital on route 8 and were soon in pothole territory. We think that we have problems. Pot-craters more like. Jesus. Beyond the urban, rural Bulgaria doesn’t seem to have seen much EU cash injection in the decade since the Bulgars threw their lot in with Merkel. Poor peasant life is the norm and few, if any, spoke English. Our charades expertise came in handy. Luckily beer is beer in any language. The Cyrillic alphabet is suspended for Stella or Heineken.

We got ourselves lost as we were slaloming the craters. Google maps took us along remote tracks where chained dogs barked and local workers stared quizzically. After an hour or more we found our way back to Sofia and started again. Easier said than done since Sofia in Cyrillic begins with a C and ends with mirrored N and R. If I could press the right keys now I’d show you. Such is my level of incompetence. As for our journey to the Turkish border via Plovdiv, guesswork and blind faith in our sense of direction would have to see us through. The auguries were not good.



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