Wednesday, 6 August 2014

There And Back Again

Yesterday started much the same as many other mornings, only it was early and I was awake. It was still dark outside, and even the birds were sensibly still tucked up inside their nests. We were rudely awakened by the alarms ringing on mobile phones. It was time to get up and make the final checks. As well as trying rouse ourselves with that all important first cup of coffee, we were running through a mental check list to make sure that we hadn't forgotten anything. As we were both making the journey we needed somewhere safe to leave the car, luckily friends 'volunteered' and also kindly took us in to meet the bus in Veliko Tarnovo.

The trip into VT was uneventful, dawn's fingers were slowly making inroads into the night time sky, and as we drove past we were even able to notice how work had progressed on the Funicular railway. Cases were checked onto the bus, and people were generally milling around. In one way it was quite nice, as it was still quite cool, and slowly you could here the birds starting to wake up in the trees and on top of the surrounding buildings. Seeing as how it was the only bus there it was quite a good guess that it was the one that we were meant to get on. So with a fond farewell to our friends we went and found our seats.

Seeing as it is a popular journey we shouldn't have been at all surprised to realise that we were sat across the aisle from another English lady that we knew. So the ladies were happily nattering away as the bus drove towards Sofia. Well they were happy until someone further back asking them to be quiet, I didn't notice anything being said about anyone else talking, or using mobiles. So we must have been on the no talking in English bus, imagine that daft o'clock in the morning and on the naughty step already. We had both brought our kindles with us , but neither of us could really concentrate on reading with the motion of the bus. The bus had left VT at 0615, and there was still a fair amount of traffic on the road. We noticed this, because we got right up close behind a few vans and lorries until the driver swung out from behind them and overtook.

When people talk about Bulgaria to others back in the UK, the stunning scenery is often mentioned. Travelling by coach, rather than driving yourself, does give you the opportunity to enjoy it all. Another good way to also enjoy the countryside is to use the train, which we will endeavour to do at a later date. There is still so much of this country to see, and explore, but if we drove ourselves everywhere we would miss things as we would be too busy concentrating on the roads. I have driven the route quite a few times but not since they have made the changes at a place called Dolni Bogrov. Now the road totally bypasses it, which does tend to make things easier. So at least that is one positive step for the Hemus Highway. One day it will be completely finished, and both ends will meet in the middle.

The trip from VT to the central bus station is almost non-stop. We did have the normal, apparently, stop outside of Troyan to let someone off. There are buses which go via the airport, but they are not really convenient for those flying by Easy Jet, as the times are a bit out. We had taken our own breakfast with us. By which I don't mean I was cooking bacon and eggs in the aisle, and neither was Net throwing milk over cereals as we flew past another 'slow' HGV. We had taken drinks, fruit and biscuits, even I can't make too much of a mess with them. Alright I can, but I just put it down to a natural talent or gift. It's not everyone who gets challenged to two falls, a submission or a knockout whilst trying to open a pack of biscuits.

From what I could see most of Sofia looks to be undergoing major roadworks. Traffic is flying at you from either side, to your front and also behind you. Most of the commercial type drivers seem to have been culled from the ranks of failed Kamikaze pilots. So there are taxi drivers, bus drivers, van drivers, lorry drivers and tram drivers all aiming for that one spot that you are currently occupying. I know that I haven't done city driving for a while, but it all seemed quite manic. In a way it was a relief to get to the Central Bus Station, as at least you could have a quick breather before getting into a taxi and facing phase two of the dodgem car rally, and go from the bus station to the airport.

Hopefully most people will be aware of various, how shall we put it, less than honest taxi drivers who operate at these type venues. Going through the Bus Station we were asked to follow a bloke to a waiting taxi. I don't think so, we went out the front and got one from the taxi rank there. The drivers stay with their vehicles, they don't go inside and tout for trade. Always check that the taxi you opt for has a meter, that is actually running, at the end of the journey you get given a receipt. You should also see a current tariff of fares, and the taxi driver's ID licence. Have a quick look to make sure the bloke driving looks a bit like his picture. Fortunately the OK taxis seem to be OK.

The drive across Sofia was just as manic as the drive in, but we arrived at Terminal 1 in one piece, and in plenty of time to do the baggage check ins. I left the ladies as they were going through the customs type bit as my mission was complete. Now all I had to do was the trip in reverse. So it was another taxi from the airport, doing battle with the traffic and arriving unscathed at the bus station again. I decided to book the tickets not only for my return journey to VT that day, but also for when I have to do it all again and go and meet the ladies at the airport. The girl at the ticket counter even understood my Bulglish as I ended up with the right number of tickets, on the correct dates and at the correct times. I even had enough time to get round the outside of a large slice of pizza and a medium coke. A full fat, high octane coke for me, not one of those semi skimmed fat free cokes.

While waiting at the correct bus stop someone tried flogging me some dodgie perfume, so in my best Bulgarian I just shrugged and carried on eating my rapidly diminishing pizza. Oh joy of joys, even though it was a different coach, it was still the same driver, although this time he seemed to have a co-pilot. The co-pilot seemed to be in charge of the in flight movies. They might have been great but you would have needed binoculars from the back of the bus, probably even from the middle. The air conditioning was almost on, I could here the fan but warm air was trickling out of the vents, which seemed to defeat the object somewhat. Needless to say, as I am here writing this, I arrived back in VT in one piece. Rather tired, warm and sweaty, but in one piece. I even had enough time to book my next ticket up to Sofia. At this rate I will be qualifying for the frequent flyer bonuses.

The animals were pleased to see me, although I'm sure that it had more to do with the idea of me doing their tea. The house was a bit fuggy are having been shut up all day, and I took the chance to get back into just a pair of swim shorts (apologies if you are eating for that mental picture). The only downside to a packed day was that on the way home I picked up a puncture. So that can be attended to when I next go into Gorna. I am wondering if it might be a prudent measure to wear a blindfold when I do the next journey there. Then again in the words of Corporal Jones "Don't Panic", although I'm sure that "They Don't Like It Up'em" could also be utilised driving through Sofia.      


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