Adventures on the Bulgarian Highway (and side roads) With a Dog!
Our time in Bulgaria had a road trip vibe to it. We would all pile into the white minivan, our hosts Radmila, Slavcho, Pepi, the bipeds and myself and off we would go! We drove from Sofia to the black sea coast through woods and small towns, over mountain tops and along beaches. I had heard that the road between Sofia and the Black Sea was a death trap; but honestly there was no reason to fear. There is a new highway and it is stellar.
Warning: The cars drive fast, much like the autobahn; as long as you stay in the slow lane you are alright.
What I enjoyed the most was the scenery. It’s really wonderful. It started off all woods and hills as we left Sofia around the Vitocha mountains. Soon it flattened out and we saw field upon fields of sunflowers. Turns out that Bulgaria is one of the world’s largest producers of Sunflower oil! My greatest regret was not having a biped around that could really do the “sea of yellow” justice in a photograph. It was enchanting, with the Balkan mountains brooding in the backdrop, the dramatic play of sun and cloud over the golden, cheerful expanse. There are no words really.
The signs on the highway are easy to read once you get use to the idea that it is Cyrillic on top and Latin below (that is what alphabet English uses). Train your eye to read the slightly smaller print and all is well.
Tragically, Bulgaria suffers from a great big case of “Not knowing what you got”. Seriously … the country really is splendid and has so many gems but nothing, absolutely nothing, is done to draw attention to these treasures. You have to stumble upon them half hazardly, by accident. Sometimes a single odd sign will give you a clue. Most of the time it’s just a question of keeping your eyes wide open or just plain dumb luck.
At one point we really needed to stop to relieve ourselves. Our wonderful host Slavscho took the next exit and after a short drive on a small road we stopped in a big parking lot. There was a wonderful field of sunflowers on the one side and a building on the other. We went to take some photos of the sunflowers and ahmm… answer natures call.
Then we went to see what the building was and wouldn’t you know it… we had stumbled upon an ancient roman garrison! Oh yes folks complete with elaborate museum and a walking trail and everything! The outside part was FREE! Taking full advantage of this little discovery we had our fun and stretche our legs while soaking up a some history.
Could I tell you where this museum was exactly? No. Why? Because I never saw a sign for it! But it was so neat and very well put together! Honestly if I were to be on that road again I would want to stop and actually take more time to enjoy it. I am happy we saw what we did and talk about a fun surprise!
Later, on another stretch of road between Sofia and Rilla Monestary we saw a sign that made no sense. A sign indicating “pyramids”. We all just looked at each other? Pyramids? That couldn’t be right. So we decided we had to check it out. Following little signs, we went through two tiny villages on rough dirt roads, stopped to ask a local for directions and in time we found what we were looking for.
And then, there it was. Once again, totally AWESOME!
We got out of our mini van and following the path, I breathed in deeply. There was wild chamomile everywhere and it filled the air with its calming scent. We laughed and chatted – happy to stretch our legs and all curious because we still had no idea what to expect.
Turns out the place is known as The Stob Pyramids and they are a natural rock phenomenon (a set of earth pyramids) located 7 km (4.3 mi) to the northeast of the village by the same name. Encompassing 74,000 m2 (800,000 sq ft), the Pyramids have been under state protection since 1964. They are 30-40 meters thick and 6-10 meters high, reaching a height of 12 meters in some places. Some of the pyramids are pointed and needle-like, while others are round and topped with sandstone “hats” and resembling giant mushrooms. Their bases are wide and often joined to neighboring formations. Most of the pyramids are on the south slope and range from yellow to dark brown and red.
Many of the formations have been given names: The Towers, The Hammers, The Wild Woman’s Chimneys, The Snaggletooth, the Brothers, The Wedding Couple, and so on. I can only imagine how beautiful they must be at sunset or by moonlight. The Stob Pyramids may be viewed from above by hiking up the ecological trail, or they may be seen from below by using the road that winds past a scenic stream – that was where we were.
Note: The Tourist Center in Stob provides guides and offers free brochures in Bulgarian, English, German, and Italian.
So although not pyramids in the way we understood it, we ended up learning a lot that day about an amazing natural rock formation. The best part were the stellar amenities: A parking lot, porta potty, and two ladies at the entrance to answer questions. It’s pet friendly, has a really well kept path you can follow for the easy viewing with lighting, benches … you name it! You can also undertake the long hike, but we took the easy way since it wasn’t a planned stop and Rilla Monastery was waiting. I think I would have absolutely loved that hike though!
What boggles the mind is the disconnect between the stellar site and the lack of proper signage or an actual street leading to it.
Back on the road, I we had fun. We stopped at the many large resting zones, or under bridges to take our breaks. Along the edge of the road you could easily find a huge array of foods sold by locals under their little red umbrellas. From watermelon to local honey and if you needed a coffee there was always a proper gas station with a espresso vending machine not too far.
We even drove past and stopped at the village where our hosts are building a summer get-away. Folks one word: STORKS! So, yes the roads of Bulgaria are fun. And I will forever have fond memories of our crazy finds along the way!
What’s the most surprising site you have found on a highway or road?