31.05.2017 - 31.05.2017
Day 7 Wednesday, May 31 2017
Belgrade to Sofia / 394 km
- Fine, sunny and 28 C at 10 a.m. It's becoming hotter by the day. We're getting ever closer to Turkey.
- Despite initial reservations about Boutique Hotel Townhouse 27 ( shabby street, graffiti on the walls etc ) we actually leave able to recommend it. The staff are friendly & helpful, we have a reasonable night's sleep, there's a small coffee machine in our room and breakfast is good.
- In fact we are mellowing towards Belgrade. We have not had sufficient opportunity to explore all the old town - neither the parts with grand government buildings nor its various museums & art galleries. You should stay a bit longer, especially if you come in a few years time when building work in the Old City will be complete.
- As we leave the city, there is heavy traffic heading into town. Belgrade may not yet have the class of its Croatian neighbour but it does have size. It is by far the biggest city in Serbia with a population of 1.65 million and has long enjoyed capital city status.
- We are not sure if May 31 is a significant day in the Serbian calendar but still within the old part of town, police are controlling the traffic and overriding the traffic light system. With the usual chaos that human intervention creates. Maybe some important politician (s) is expected to arrive imminently. We are glad to escape before the possible closure of the road system.
- it's another motorway day to Sofia the capital of Bulgaria and of course a border to cross. The last one in Europe on our outward journey to Georgia. Thereafter border days will assume greater significance with the possibility of delays.
- It's wonderful that by luck our mother tongue is the number one universally spoken language in the world. Despite what Monsieur Juncker may think or hope. Serbian is difficult to read, let alone understand. The Serbians we meet all have an interest and ability to converse with us in English.
- The motorway SE towards the city of Nis is good, the service restrooms clean & free. Road tolls are payable in euros and you even get change back in euros - notes & coins. It's good this eurozone system!
- SG uses the 250 km stretch of motorway to read up on the collapse & disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. It is complex, but recent European history. It is embarrassing that we know or remember so little: the ethnic fighting in Croatia between Serbs & Croats, the bombing of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnic, Slobodan Milosivc, Lord Carrington, the utter failure of the European Community to negotiate a diplomatic solution, the Siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian War and finally the intervention of UN troops to bring an end to hostilities in former Yugoslavia. SG requires all of 250 km, and more, to understand the regional tensions of this part of the world.
- At around 250 km the motorway route to Bulgaria ends. The rest is normal single carriage road. But it is evident that new infrastructure is being built and that there will eventually be a fast road connecting the capital cities of Serbia & Bulgaria.
- We fill up with diesel just before the Bulgarian border and pay nearly 10000 Serbian didgeridoos. Exchange rate?!
- The Serbian / Bulgarian border means crossing into a new time zone. We are now 2 hours ahead BST, 3 hours ahead of GMT. For the first time in Europe we must also show vehicle documentation. A sensible control, don't you think?
- We have to buy a vignette for use on the Bulgarian road system. There aren't many motorways. This vignette business - I am sure you are getting the gist of the story by now. And a good idea why SG believes that we should be doing something similar in the UK.
- With the aid of SatNav and a decisive navigator we successfully find our way to the Sense Hotel in Sofia. It is superbly located, just a few minutes walk from the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral . It also claims to be a 'design hotel'. And it is. Having lived so long in a charming 1920's house with normal fixtures & fittings, we struggle to even function the lifts. Everything requires technical intuition to operate. It's a challenge for both of us - one that we have no option but to embrace!
- We must separate from the truck. The chassis is too tall to park in the hotel underground carpark. AG has to drive it a short distance away to park.
- The hotel has a fitness centre & swimming pool. The pool is a design feature in itself. It is essentially a 15 m stainless steel tank. SG prioritises and goes for a swim. It is sheer bliss to stretch out and do some exercise.
- We decide to eat in this evening. We have been on the road now for 7 consecutive days and are very tired.
- Sofia represents the first rest stop of our trip. We are spending 2 nights here. This also means a washing day. We never do hotel laundry. The beautifully designed modern bathrooms of the Sense Hotel do not lend themselves well to drying wet clothes. Hooks, door frames, shower screens are all lacking. Fortunately SG has brought a laundry kit with washing line and pegs and can improvise. Goodness knows what the cleaning staff will think when they come to clean!
- After an average fish supper but a glass of fine Bulgarian Chardonnay ( we always drink local ) we head up to the hotel Roofbar for city views at dusk. A highly recommendable venue.