A groggy start to Day 30 after staying up till 4am but it was a day off anyway, no riding planned at all. I went for a wander over to a shop I had been planning to visit (XMKD.com), they had been holding a part for me for nearly 2 weeks. I broke a clip that allows me to attach the Drift video camera to my helmet or shoulder. I searched everywhere for one but the only place I found was online and in Skopje. So I emailed them, and they had one left and said they’d hold on to it for me until I get there. Legends. I arrived and had a nice chat with the guy working there who I’d emailed.
Then it was off in search of some lunch at a place the people at the hostel had recommended for some typical Macedonian food, a Burek. I’d had something similar in Albania a couple of times, it’s basically filo pastry with meat or veg filling. Each Balkan country does it slightly differently though and this particular bakery had a put a Pizza spin on it. Basically a pizza cooked inside filo pastry. It was amazing. So wrong. And so right.
A nice long walk into the centre of town and around the old Bazzar, in use since about the 12th Century apparently. It feels a little exploited now, just tourist shops and expensive jewelry and clothing. Very nice to walk around though, lots of alleys and courtyards.
On the way back I passed a scooter garage and went in to see if they worked on big bikes. Luckily they spoke decent English and said they could definitely do an oil change on the bike, and might even have a new filter for it. I walked back and rode Donkey down to them, it cost about £60 for the oil, filter and work. Not bad at all. After they finished they rolled him outside and started cleaning him with a pressure washer. I watched carefully since you can wreck a lot on a bike with a pressure washer but they knew what they were doing. I was genuinely smiling while they did it, he’d got filthy in the last 4 weeks and he looked like new by the time they’d done. Well, compared to before anyway.
The rest of the afternoon was just chilling in the hammock catching up with things. Then out for some dinner in the evening. One of the volunteers at the hostel recommended a Macedonian restaurant 5 minutes away and came along for a meal. There was only us two so we just ordered a load of different small dishes, it’s almost tapas, but larger. We thought there’d be too much food and there almost was, but it was all so nice we just finished it anyway. When the bill came we were sure they’d missed some off, drinks and more than enough food for 2 came to less than £10. Score.
The plan for Day 31 was to get into Bulgaria and make progress toward Varna. I started getting ready and packing around 9.30 and hit the road about 10.15, pretty good start. I was originally planning to go to Sofia, but it wasn’t even close to half way to Varna and I really didn’t want to ride to a big city, without making it worthwhile with a day or two off. I figured I’d just ride as far as I could and camp when I was tired. I got mobile data back on my phone in Bulgaria since it’s the EU again.
Not a great deal of excitement along the way, the roads were OK compared to what I was used to. Just eating up the miles and taking the occasional break.
I didn’t have to work very hard to find the wild camp, though I was a little worried for a while. It got to about 6pm and I was still rolling around mountains with almost no flat ground, let alone any roads to get to them. But half an hour later it opened out to a huge plain with flat ground everywhere, I just had to find somewhere secluded enough with so much flat ground. After trying a couple of spots on the edges of fields that were utterly swarming with midge type flies I found a decent spot. It was a little closer to the train line than I’d have liked but it didn’t keep me up.
I woke up pretty early on Day 32, thanks trains. It was also pretty damn hot in the tent, even at 7am, it’s going to be a warm one. I set off nice and early and got a lot of miles done on the good roads. I headed up to see a soviet monument that was on my route, Buzludzha. It was an impressive building on a high hill but most of it meant very little to me. I really know nothing of the history of the Balkans, but I now I’ve been I really want to. I want to be able to come back here in 5 years and properly explore the whole area.
The road down the other side of the mountain was less of a good idea. It was more holes than tarmac, which doesn’t go well with a steep decent and hair pins. After about 10km in about 30 minutes my arms were aching from the effort. It joined a main road and most of the holes disappeared but they were replaced with deep patches of gravel or super slippy leaves, they don’t care much for road maintenance here. My tires are getting pretty shot too, they haven’t lasted nearly as long as I’d hoped. I was hoping to put some on before I left then them last 10,000 miles, maybe to Pakistan. But then I did 2000 miles on them before I left, and more miles than I expected in Europe so I need to get them changed in Turkey. The rear tyre is bald in the middle and the front has actually worn unevenly so I have to be really careful in the wet or gravel when turning left. I’m actually still trying to figure out why this is if anyone has any ideas. It could just be road camber mixed with too little pressure and the weight of the luggage, but it seems too extreme, they’ve only done 7,000 miles.
By lunch time I joined a major road for about 2 hours for the final stint to Varna. It was about 30 degrees though and it was getting a little harder to cool down, this is nothing compared to what India will be like sometimes though. Better get used to it.
Once I arrived at Varna it was back to city riding, filtering through to keep moving and keep cool, lanes really didn’t mean much so it was a case of squeeze in where you can. Finding the hostel was a bit of a task in itself. The city has been pedestrianised and my SatNav had no idea so I had to just wing it. When I got close I dumped the bike and found it on foot. The hostel website said they had parking, which was a lie, but they had a big hallway. I managed to maneuver the bike in, though I’ve no idea how. I was kneeling on it at one point, with one hand on the clutch and the other holding the foot peg up so it fit through the door. God knows how I’m going to get it out again, backwards with no engine power. There’s always a way though.