After a late night watching old Bulgarian comedies we were up early packing the bags in preparation for our ride from Bulgaria to Niš, Serbia. It’s been a great three days in Sofia couch-surfing and learning a bit about life in Bulgaria.last night we watched an old Bulgarian comedy and listened to some Bulgarian music including some which was sent into space.
With a new battery the bike started first attempt, waving goodbye to our hosts and we were on our way. (Well we didn’t get very far because Michele hadn’t sorted the satnav out). It’s nice to get the goodbyes over and done with anyway.
The ride out of Sofia took us through the heart of the city and then a nice ride out through the hills and forests to the west of Sophia, until we suddenly realised we were heading for Montana in the north west of Bulgaria towards the Romanian border.
Once we realised our 30 km mistake we stopped off for a coffee and breakfast. To pick up the road from Sophia to Niš in Serbia. The satnav took us along a road which would’ve made “the road of bones” in Siberia look like a high speed freeway. Man did it have an absolute shitload of potholes. The tractors and trucks which use this back road had carved up the road really badly. Cars and trucks weaved from one side of the road to the other as they tried to find the best route through the minefield of potholes. Luckily having only one set of wheels we could thread through the potholes a little easily, however there were a few times we hit holes which shook all our fillings in our teeth.
We felt sorry for the locals who lived in the area. The little dusty towns obviously only get their roads fixed once a year (if that)and for the rest of the year they break springs, axles, and hang up exhaust pipes on the potholes.
Despite the bad roads the countryside was just beautiful with fields of young wheat and cow pastures.
Once we got back on the road from Sofia to Niš we realised we were only about 5 km’s from the border, almost on empty and with no Serbian dinara.
Luckily right on the border there were a few fuel stations so we could use every last Bulgarian lev and stotinki in my wallet. At the cashier I just emptied my pocket full of coins onto the counter.
The line up at the border was horrendous, with six lanes of traffic all jostling to get through the gates to line up at the customs checkpoint. The sun was at its hottest and its rays were just boring through our black helmets and jackets. We were just glad we weren’t driving a truck for their line stretched back five kilometres from the border with the drivers all standing around smoking and waiting. After getting through the three Bulgarian checkpoints we lined up at the Serbian border gates. It was slow going and just when we thought we’d picked the fastest lane fate stepped in, in the form of a van load of Chinese and we watched as the other three lanes of vehicles past us. Eventually despite wanting to lean on my horn so badly the van in front were handed back their passports and we were moving once again.
Passing in to Serbia we picked up the highway and were soon shooting along it at a decent clip. I know it sounds strange but the countryside looked totally different. Although the crops were the same as Bulgaria the farms were laid out differently with acre sized family plots of corn, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, beans and the occasional patch of fruit trees. Red brick houses were dotted about the landscape and out in the fields farmers were busy on their little red IMT tractors. The colour of the landscape was a little different with a darker green hue of wheat fields and patches of trees.
After sitting for so long in the heat on the border we decided to stop off at Bela Palanka for a break. It was an interesting town which, judging by the way everyone looked at us, doesn’t get many tourists. We found a bank, a toilet and a cafe so we ticked all the boxes. It was interesting watching people around town. Old ladies with bent backs, dressed all in black shuffled along the pavement whilst locals slowly drove past on walking tractors attached to farm carts. Around town a few zastava’s putted along whilst audi’s zoomed past.
When we returned to the main highway we travelled the last 40 odd kilometres to Niš in about twenty minutes.
Arriving in Niš we crossed over the river and headed towards the centre of the city. Many of the streets around the centre of the city are lined with trees which keep the place quite cool and add a certain charm. We struck roadworks on the street near the hostel so had to reverse our course and cast wide around the area to get back to the hostel.
Eventually we found it and parked up. The hostel was great and looked almost brand new inside and featured large well setup common areas, balconies and large private rooms. It was probably the best hostel we’ve stayed at during our travels and the staff were really friendly. After shedding our bike gear, and a shower to cool down, armed with a map we headed into the city centre. Along the way Michele finally spotted a sports shop selling discount shoes so after trying on a few brands came away with a new pair of runners.
In the city centre there was a large pedestrian mall with all the brand name shops which were pretty busy. We’d been suggested a few restaurants down tinkers alley which were impossible to find amongst the hundreds of umbrellas and people which choked the alley. Eventually we just gave up and found a local taferna which was fairly empty. It was an interesting local meal of schnitzel stuffed with bacon and cheese whilst Michele’s schnitzel was stuffed with bacon and mushrooms.
The afternoon sun really had some bite in it as we wandered around town. Along the banks of the fast flowing Nišava river men with long fishing rods waited patiently for a catch, but it seemed nothing was biting. Eventually we arrived at the Niš Fortress. It dates back to the Ottoman occupation and was built around 1719 over older fortifications. The site is so intact that it could still be used. The interior of the fort has been transformed into a public park with trees, cycle ways and playgrounds. There are even three kiddies trains doing the circuit of the park. Around the entrance to the park are a number of bars, ice-cream stands, restaurants, and cafe’s. After walking around the city it was the perfect place to stop for a cold drink.
Walking through the park we found areas which had been excavated to reveal roman ruins. A few tombstones were even on display. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Late in the day we headed back to the hostel. We originally had plans to visit the concentration camp on the edge of own and the memorial but didn’t achieve too much today due to the heat. Maybe tomorrow morning we may be able to visit one or the other as we head towards Belgrade.
Again apologies about the lack of photos this is due to a damaged hard drive