It’s been a very good first day in Bulgaria. I’ve visited a couple of cool places and seen some beautiful scenery. I crossed the border from Romania via the ‘Danube Bridge 2’ that opened in 2013 – but my Garmin doesn’t know it is there and tried to take me over the Danube on a ferry! The bridge crosses from Calafat in Romania to Vidin in Bulgaria. The border crossing was very quick. A quick look at my UK passport and I was waved through. Fortunately, I hadn’t cleared out all of my Romanian money as the bridge has a 27 Romanian lei toll fee!
Whilst in the town of Vidin, I stopped to fill up with diesel. At that point, I suddenly remembered that I needed a road tax vignette to drive in Bulgaria. Service stations sell the vignettes – 10 Bulgarian leva for 7 days (about $1 per day). I’ve passed several cameras today that scan for vignettes, so it’s a good thing I picked one up.
Also in Vidin, I visited the Baba Vida Fortress. This medieval castle of Vidin is located on the shore of the Danube River and is partly laying on the Roman town Bononia. The castle is closely related to the restless centuries of Bulgaria’s past and was important during the wars against the Avari, Franks and Magyars. It played a significant role in saving Bulgaria’s independence against Byzantium in the time of King Samuil. In 1003, the castle successfully defended itself for eight months against the army of King Vassilius II.
The castle/fortress remains in a basic state, which enhances its appeal, I think. It hasn’t been tarted up for tourists – in fact I was the only tourist wandering around the place today. There is a modest admission fee and most of the fortress is open for exploration. It’s the kind of place that kids would love to explore (with some supervision for their safety). There are several tunnel-type stairways or ramps that lead to small rooms. It is clear that this was a working fortress and not a comfortable castle for a lord. The rooms are all small and functional.
The fortress has two surrounding walls: a higher inner wall with nine towers and a lower outer wall with two towers. It also has a deep, wide moat.
Next up was the Belogradchik Fortress – an amazing place! Belogradchik is the next sizeable town south of Vidin, and is reached via the E79 road. As you approach Belogradchik, you can’t miss the fortress and rock formation as they tower over the town. But actually driving to the fortress was a nightmare. Road-works blocked the usual route and the infrequent direction signs didn’t help. After much driving around, I parked fairly close and walked the rest of the way.
It started out as a small fortress-rampart between 1-3 AD, when a defensive/observation structure was built into the natural rock formation. In the 1300’s, the fortress was enlarged and received more fortifications. Two partition walls and auxiliary buildings were constructed. Hanging wooden bridges and stone staircases were added to improve mobility within the fortress.
The Belgogradchik Rocks cover an area of 50 sq. km, being up to 3km wide and between 17-18 km long. They create dramatic scenery that is best viewed from the top of the fortress. Simply stunning! I can’t understand why there were only a handful of us tourists in the place, in late July. Perhaps it is due to re ore location in north-west Bulgaria. If this scenery were just outside Sofia, it would be over-run with tourists.
What an amazing place. I’m so glad that I changed my route to include Belgogradchik! After my visit, I set the Garmin to take me to Sofia, thinking we’d go via the E79. The Garmin had other ideas and routed me along the 102 from Belgogradchik to Montana. The 102 is a back road that connects several villages but it is a nice scenic route that follows the path of a mountain river, as it works its way down.
As I reached Montana, the Garmin still wanted to take me along the 102. I knew that the E79 was a better road and that it passed through Montana, so ignored the Garmin and got myself onto the preferred route (some of which the Garmin didn’t know existed). This proves the value of checking routes via paper maps and not simply relying on GPS.
I reached Sofia by 7.15pm but I hadn’t done my online research to identify suitable hotels with secure parking. I therefore had to rely on hotels that were listed in the Garmin and then driving to some of them to check whether they had secure parking facilities. I decided to try the hotel chains. Two Best Westerns didn’t work out (one was full and the other didn’t have parking) so next up was the Sheraton. Located centrally with private parking that is controlled by an attendant. A bit more expensive than the places I tend to use but it has the parking and I was already there! Booked for two nights.
Tonight, I just had dinner in the restaurant and updated the blog. Tomorrow I will explore Sofia. On Thursday I’ll probably drive from Sofia to Greece, so it will be a brief visit to Bulgaria.