Across Continents

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Roads to Harmanli

The plan was simple enough. Myles and I would ride east together to Dimitrovgrad, stop the night and then go our separate ways the next day. He’d head for the Turkish border and Istanbul, I’d divert north for a while to stay at a friend’s house. Thirty kilometres or so outside Plovdiv we’d switch from the main road to the quieter roads and lanes. This would avoid the heavier traffic we expected once the motorway that ran parallel came to an abrupt end.

It started well enough. Good progress to the village of Poppvica. Lunch. The familiar Bulgarian ’Shopska’ salad. We then branched off the main road, a more direct route to Dimitrovgrad. No sign of the first turning we’d expected to see. Asking for directions always got the same response – head back to the main road. We persevered, determined to follow our plan. Two hours later, conscious of only a few hours of daylight remaining, we found ourselves back on the main road, just thirteen kilometres from where we’d left it.

Traffic wasn’t too bad. Not the large motorway over-spill we’d expected. Besides, we hadn’t any choice. We took it in turns to lead, setting the pace and allowing the other to rest a bit in the slipstream. Then a motel. It looked closed. It was. But a helpful lorry driver explained that there was another about five kilometres further on. Final push as the light began to fade. He was spot on. We’d not made Dimitrovgrad as hoped, but we’d a decent place to stay.

Over dinner we re-assessed our plans. We’d continue on together the next day to the town of Harmanli, about seventy kilometres from the Turkish border, and part company there. Leaving promptly after breakfast, we made good time, taking it in turns to set a very respectable, steady pace, despite the many long, drawn-out climbs.


(Photo Myles Mellor)

Then fog, on the long descent into Harmanli. Thick. Fifty metres visibility, maybe less. Condensation on my glasses made it even harder to follow the road, always wary of potholes. Eventually reaching the town, a visit to the cash point led to a chance encounter with Shirley. Together with husband Martin, she ran a campsite nearby. They’d moved here from the UK four years previously. Over lunch in a local cafe we explained our respective missions. We were joined a little later by Martin and a few friends.

Myles and I contemplated our next move. The fog had slowed progress somewhat, thwarting our respective ambitious plans for the day. I’d learnt that the road north into the hills was not good, a long climb up to the town of Topolovgrad fifty kilometres away. Daylight was not on my side. Decision. Remain in Harmanli overnight. Start again fresh in the morning.


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