I remember a group quiz I participated in during my trip in Venezuela, 2006. One of the questions asked was “what is the capital of Bulgaria?”, to which no one had the correct answer. Now, in 2013, I find myself targeting Sofia as a destination on my mission to the Caspian Sea. The prospect excites me more because of my failure during this quiz.
We began the day optimistic of finding a hitch to Sofia, but knowing that Nis was a far more sensible and realistic destination. This became evermore obvious during the early part of the morning as we struggled to find a decent stop away from the highway, especially as we had not had much luck with the Serbian police on the motorways.
However, we did find a spot that we felt would get us a hitch at around 9am. This was our first couple. They were a bit nuts. The women in the car was far too excited about having too foreigners in her car. The man, who was driving, was in his boxer shorts and a t shirt. The boxer shorts were ripped up the side, which hardly made them shorts at all. Both myself and Fletch have decided that we would be more than willing to pick up hitch hikers in England. However, neither of us would think about picking up strangers with our worn out boxer shorts on show. Still, we appreciated the 4km lift, even if it meant being dropped in a less desirable position where a man already appeared to be hitch hiking. However, he was lazy and sat down without his thumb out. This meant we felt less guilty about getting our hitch before him.
This man had eyebrows like a million spiders legs. Eyebrows that were so stringy that we couldn’t take our eyes off of them. Still, he was kind enough to take us thought the toll station (‘Rampa’) and dropped us in a lay by before the next highway. Here we were able to put our thumbs out to the slow moving traffic coming through the toll gates.
Within minutes we had our next hitch, and perhaps our most outlandish yet. It was our first truck.
The man pulled over beside the toll gate and I opened the substantial door to his cock-pit. A red bull can fell from the cabin as he shouted for me to get in. I was stuck in two minds as Fletch had all the luggage and I was being called onto the truck by what appeared to be a mad man. He continued shouting aggressively for me to jump on. I gave in to the aggression but left the door open to ensure he didn’t drive off without Fletch. Fortunately, Fletch was able to carry both of our bags before we departed without them, or him.
The mad man did not calm down throughout the whole journey towards Nis. He constantly beeped his horn at any vehicle that overtook us travelling greater than 90kmph and also beeped at anyone who was positioned, rightly or wrongly, on the hard shoulder. He also enjoyed driving between two lanes. However, we were on a long stretch of rod and both felt comfortable enough to map until the next inevitable beep.
Traveling by truck was a far more entertaining experience. On this journey I was sat on the bed of the driver but unable to lie down without taking off my walking boots and revealing very smelly feet.
The man very kindly brought us a slice of pizza to share. After our very British polite refusal of food he reacted, once again, angrily. This meant we ad to eat it even if we didn’t want to. I can’t get across how unpredictable this man was in his mood. He even shouted at people on the phone. We were a little on edge throughout the journey.
Despite his tone and manner, the man very kindly took us all but 3km from Nis. He dropped us, ironically considering Te beeping, on the hard shoulder. Where his mate was able to take us the short dust e to the toll gate.
From the toll we once gain got told off by the Serbian police. This is probably the one police force that you do not want trouble with. He told us that we could not hitch from this part of the motorway, but instead wanted us to walk along the hard shoulder to the next garage. We were in no position to argue so persevered to walk along the fast moving motorway once more, with our backs to the traffic.
We eventually arrived at another garage and attempted to ask people for a ride into Nis, like beggars asking for spare change. We were not greeted welcomely here. After 1 and a half hours we had another idea and decided to go under the under pass to a hotel on the other side of the motorway. It turned out to be derelict.
Having run out of ideas we decided it might be best to camp beside the garage and begin our hitch again in the morning. However, one simple thumb from Fletch changed our fortunes completely. As we were walking along the road Fletch stuck his thumb out and a car pulled in. They were heading for Macedonia but told us that they would drop us towards Nis. We were very grateful.
However, they missed the turn off for Nis, and instead of pulling into the next junction they pulled over and dropped us off. Tis left us in the middle of a busy motorway with bags to carry. We literally had to run across the motorway for the relative safety of the hard shoulder.
Despite this, our luck had changed in an instant. We were picked up by another truck within minutes of putting our thumb out in the afternoon sun. The driver was a more friendly chap than the last one, and had a sense of humour. He also has a son who works in England, which is why we think he might have picked us up. He sees his son in trouble and wonders if he would help us and someone in England would then help him.
As we got closer to the Bulgarian border the terrain around us began to change. It was now becoming more and more mountainous. This also meant that we were becoming closer to Kosovo. The closer we got, the more political the conversations became. George, our driver, was very passionate about Serbia and took an active dislike to Albanians and Kosovans, even dropping the ‘terrorist’ card. It was great to hear a political argument from an ordinary man, something that would not happen if we travelled the conventional way.
We arrived at the border at around 6:30 and didn’t cross is and customs until about 10pm. This meant a very long and frustrating wait, especially for George. In fact, I think myself and Fletch went a bit delirious during this wait, particularly as we set off at 8.
However, we arrived within Sofia at around 11pm. George kindly dropped us off at a motel where we grabbed some cheap food before deciding a room, at 21 euros, was too expensive for our budget. Instead we headed into Central Sofia for a hostel.
When we arrived at a hostel only to be told that they were full because of the deaf Olympic Games. We were told of 2 other places within walking distance but had no luck. In fact, one lucky event happened when a pigeon died and fell from the top of a building and thumped the ground, missing us by metres. We were both a bit spooked about the dead pigeon.
Rather than being disheartened by having nowhere to stay aft a very long day we decided to make use of our tent. Despite being in a capital city we headed towards a park in the south. Her we attached a touch to our head in order to find an appropriate place to pitch. We thought we found a nice flat area but it was hard to tell in the 2am darkness. Still, despite our tiredness, we were quickly able to pitch our tent and cosy up for a few ours sleep. I love camping!
We had arrived in Sofia and enjoying our first night with the insects, birds and dogs of the night. I don’t think it gets better than being outside!