“In Limbo, Between Two Countries” 🇧🇬 🇹🇷

Travel Planning

Sure, there are challenges, trying to circumvent this world, as we travel full-time, but, as long as we get to keep moving, we are happy.

After a full five-hours of travel planning this morning after I woke up; the very activity that is more difficult to do during COVID times, than ever, I finally had a plan for us that would get us out of Bulgaria, and in to Turkey. We have had different kind of challenges for this border crossing, unlike the other during the COVID pandemic.

Good thing we are flying, as the land border we were just at yesterday is now closed

At first, I lined up a local hired car and driver. The drive would take three hours from the Sofia Airport, where we had to drop our rental off at; here in Bulgaria. From the airport to the border would cost $135. He told me Bulgarian rules would not allow his driver to pass through the neutral zone to drop us off in Turkey… a little problematic, but we’ve walked these neutral zones before. I then asked the driving company if they had associates in Turkey we could line up the pick up with, on the Turkey side of the border. He said no, but I made a reservation for a 2PM pickup at the airport today. That was hours ago, so obviously it didn’t happen, as we are still in Sofia, Bulgaria in a hotel room, feeling a little stuck. The challenges at this border crossing have nothing to do with COVID19. We do not need a test to prove we are negative, and there is no requirement to quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Turkey had opened it borders for tourisms, some months ago

In the meantime, Daryl was working on getting our Istanbul Visa applied and paid for. This took several hours, but we just now got it. NOW, to get it printed. We hope the hotel reception will help. This was $193 we really did not want to pay for, again, but because we were locked down in Greece, and our travel limited for awhile, due to border controls, our Visa for Turkey expired. If the pandemic had not happened, we would have been able to return to Turkey to get our suitcase and do some more touring, after our time in the EU and non-Eu, while our first Visa was still good. Oh well, the world still turns.

After I lined up the 2PM driver, I contacted our host in Istanbul, where we will be staying, to ask if he knew of a driver we could hire to meet us on the Turkey side, we we figured for the two and. half hour drip, it would cost another $135, or around that. It was only then, that my friend told me “walking” across the neutral zone was forbidden by Bulgaria and Turkish authorities. WHAT? WHY? Apparently, there has been a surge of Syrian immigrants trying the breach the border, so for awhile nownow all visitors crossing by land, have to arrive by car or bus, and drive through. 

More info if you are interested on the border crisis: :https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/28/tensions-rise-between-turkey-and-russia-after-killing-of-troops-in-syria

I contacted the hired driver again and told him his hired service have little value to us, if we can’t get to the Turkish side. THEN he informs me it can be done, but it requires paperwork to be completed and approved, prior to departure. Since it’s Sunday, the admin offices are not opened. I said okay, let’s move our reservation to tomorrow (Monday) and make an earlier departure. He said they were fully booked. I told him thank you for his time, but we needed to cancel our reservation for today. I got the feeling he didn’t want to do extra paperwork.

Next up, I’m looking at buses, but same issue with crossing through the neutral zone there, too, without proper documents, unattainable on a Sunday. 11 hours on a bus is not our idea of a good time, anyway; though at around $30 pp, very affordable

BTW, yesterday, when we were at the border crossing, and were turned away because we did not have the right vehicle insurance, we did see a backpacker who was detained. We wondered why they had stopped the individual, as he/she walked across the lanes. Now we think we know, why. We did not want that for us.

Bulgarian Border side

Finally, as a last resort, I start searching for flights to Turkey. For an afternoon plane tomorrow, it would cost $1007.00 pp 😳 But, for an evening flight, we were able to get two fares for $300, total. Whew! The good news is, we will only be in the air for 1h 50m. We can easily get the local currency at the airport ATM, but at 11:30PM, not sure if kiosks will be open for SIM cards. The bad news is the distribution of the weight of our belongings for flying purposes we must contend with. We have limited luggage, so we are not sure how to fit everything into our one big suitcase, and other small suitcase to check. We have plenty of weight allowance, just not enough suitcases to distribute over.  We have not flown on a plane for six months! We will hope for the best and pack as good as we can. Our small carry-ons will be overweight for the cabin, but we hope to gate-check them. Did I mention the latches on our one big suitcase we do have broke? This is are very nice metal Halliburton. Daryl can replace the latches, but not till we get to Istanbul. In the meantime, he bought some heavy cord to tighten down the suitcase with, to insure it stays closed. He knows how to do fancy knots. Not a great plan for flying, but the lock still works, thankfully. We had not planned on flying with this suitcase till Daryl fixed it; after our Turkey visit,but continuing our rental car usage, the company was going to charge us 55 euros a day (it is a nice rig) from our contract amount of 25 euros a day, PLUS $200 and some dollars for insurance to leave Bulgaria, and not be able to go beyond Istambul! 

The hotel, here in Sofia, could extend our stay by another night, but we had to change rooms. After 1PM, tomorrow, we can pay by the hour, till we leave for the airport for our evening flight. Now, our room is over a car washing business with a few power washers running. Thankfully they will close, sometime this evening… we hope. 

We filled the rental up with fuel, and headed for the airport to drop it off. We were told to have it back by 3:30PM, today. We were all paid up on the rental, and I had purchased our plane tickets, so this was the next likely step; only nobody was working the rental car counter. Nobody was in the drop-off parking lot for rentals, and there was no drop box for the key. A security guard gave Daryl a hard time for entering the airport to drop the keys at the counter. No English of course, so that was 20 minutes we will never get back, before they let Daryl go to the counter and leave the truck key, insurance/registration and parking card. We hope the rental company finds it where he left it, but we were done with it and did not want to pay 55 euro a day for it. Why they told us to return it, today, when they were closed is beyond us.

Our friend and host in Istanbul, at Galatolia Suites was kind enough to change our room reservation for us, to arrive tomorrow night, instead of tonight. Our suitcase we stored with him six months ago is editing in our room, and it will be great to get into, as we need some supplies out of it, plus some warmer cloths for upcoming cooler weather in Europe.

It’s never dull in our world, but grateful for our health and ability to continue to do what we do, one way or another. One thing is for sure, that Turkish Bath is going to feel extra wonderful, for all the effort involved in getting back to beautiful Turkey! Getting a Turkish Bath is one of my favorite things, now; right next to massages

Incidentally, because there are tensions flaring between Greece and Turkey at this time, we have decided to only travel (driving ourselves) in the North and East of Turkey, and forgo the rest of our planned adventuress that are closer to the the southern border. Its alright, because going to Cappadocia to go ballooning is at the top of my bucket list for our Turkey adventuring on this visit!

More information on the tension between Turkey and Greece, if you are interested: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53497741

“Bulgaria, Our Quest, a Roman Bridge”

With dawn, our flasks of coffee were consumed with great pleasure. I eat my breakfast to regain my energy. We pack our bags and off we go. 

We took in the sites in the city, then searched out some mushroom shaped rock formations. 

We passed bright blue lakes and little villages as the road curved through the mountains. Cattle lined the roads, fulfilling their tireless duty of clearing the grasses. We hugged to the outsides of the road to be safe, as on-coming traffic take their half of the asphalt out of the middle! They barely leave a chicken trail between us. 

The road narrows as we drive closer to our destination, and it raised fear if we should meet an oncoming vehicle. A large group of cars are parked after the asphalt ended. We are very close to the bridge, or so we thought, so we parked and walked to the bridge, as we see other doing.

Down the stone strewn path we go. As we ventured further, we find many parking spots and we are still a quarter mile away. How stupid, we berated ourselves. Then, when we get in eyesight of the bridge, there was a small parking lot. Bunny kicks me for letting her park the truck so far away. I limp, as we walk up to this enchanting bridge. (I jest of course).

Lo and behold a short stalky man, about as wide as he was tall, jumped out of some rocks next to the bridge. He had dirty overalls on and a battered hat with a broken, bent feather in his tilted hat. On his nose he sported a wart on the left side of his bulbous snout. He had a long staff, which he used to block our way across the bridge. Loudly he spewed, “Lots eats, lots drinks. Big he be, steps big he, big he bash.” Bunny and I look at each other with mouths agape. I said, “Is a Troll.”the man bowed with his staff at his waist, allowing us to pass. 

We cross the bridge and take selfies and a few photos. We head back up the path, and the Troll, by the way, was nowhere to be found. 

After getting in the truck, we headed off to Istanbul for our next leg of our journey. We were turned away at the border, due to the lack of the right insurance. After driving back three hours, the car rental doubled our rate for further time, and insurance was over $220.00. We will turn our rental back in, tomorrow. Phooey with that

“Bulgaria 🇧🇬 ~The Devil’s Bridge in Dyadoctsi”

The day started our fresh and beautiful. There is Fall in the air, as the colors of the leaves are starting to change. It is still hot, but not as hot, during the day. Did you know we have not seen Fall colors in two years? Its one of my favorite times of years, and being born and raised in Oregon: (West Coast) I was used to seeing the colors change all the time. When I was young, I lived in Massachusetts, (East Coast) and I remember the beautiful Fall colors there, too! The Sierra mountains in California (my current home state) also is splendid during the Fall.

Last year we were in Mongolia for a month, and we did not see any color changes there, as the trees are limited, and when we saw trees on our pack trip by horseback to find the Reindeer Tribe, they were more of a pine nut or evergreen variety. The year before that, we were in Asia. Palm trees offer up a lot, but changing colors is not one of their gifts. This year, I am in awe, and soaking up the beauty, as we drive along and/or hike through the forests of colors. It also makes for some fun photography!

We only planned one more stop in Bulgaria, this morning, before we headed further south to cross the border into Turkey. We drove off-the-beaten-path, big time, to reach The Devil’s Bridge. What we did not plan on was a hike to get to it, but hike we did. As I mentioned, we had bursting Fall colors, so that with the clean water in the stream, and the Ancient Roman Bridge, well, it was absolutely stunning!

The Dyavolski Most aka Devil’s Bridge, as well as Sheytan Kyupriya, is a medieval bridge over the Arda river. It is situated in a picturesque valley about six mile northwest of the town of Ardino.
The bridge was built in 1515–1518, by the builder Dimitar from the village of Nedelino (which is a town, still) upon the remains of an ancient Roman bridge on the road, linking the Aegean region with Northern Thracian Valley (Gornotrakiyski Nizina) through the Makaza pass.
The bridge is situated almost 1,378 feet above sea level and is surrounded on both sides by steep slopes. Its length is 183 feet long, and its width is almost 12 feet.
The bridge has three vaults; it has holes with small arches in its side vaults, made for drainage, during flooding.
In 1984, the bridge was declared a cultural monument. The bridge can be reached by vehicle on a partially rough road.
Beautiful hike to the Bridge and the water.
We would discover, we could have driven the whole way to the Bridge, instead of hiked, but it was after the fact, and oh well, the exercise did us good, and though we were pressed for time, as we had that long drive to the border. In the end, it mattered little, because we didn’t make our destination, anyway.
We did enjoy the forest, but it was kind of silly at the same time. We parked where the other vehicles were parked, and people were getting out and hiking. “Monkey see, Monkey do,” in this case, because the signs posted were in Bulgarian. We had no clue.

After we were done with our adventure at the bridge, we made our way back out to civilization, and the route that would take us to Turkey. We would be several hours on the road to make this happen. We stopped and purchased our road tax, to show at the border so we would not get a penalty, and we thought we had it in the bag. Unfortunately, we were denied access to Turkey, because our rental car company said we did not have the right insurance for travel in Turkey. I talked to a lady on the phone, and I said, okay, let’s add the insurance to our rental. She told me we had to do that in person. It is a called a “green card,” and it would cost 200 Euros, which is almost $240! I told her we were over 300 miles from Sofia, so if decided to add the insurance, could we do so, remotely? Again, she said no, and if we wanted the insurance, I would need to request it in advance, so the paperwork could be prepared. I told her I would call her back. So, we turned around at the Bulgarian Customs, and started driving back to Sofia. During the drive, the big guy and I discussed our options. $240 is a lot of money, and we could probably fly from Sofia to Istanbul for a lot less, but a last minute ticket might be more expensive. Either way, we had to get back to Sofia to either return the truck or keep it, so that’s what we did.

So Close, but no go!

I also called our friend, Taskin in Istanbul. He had our room all ready, with our suitcase in it, he’s been caring for for six months! I felt terrible to tell him we would not be seeing him tonight. He is the best, and wished us well, saying no worries, and to be safe. He is just too kind. Our room will still be available, and we will get there, as soon as possible!

After driving three hours, we made it to the Sofia Airport, and Daryl went inside to the rental car company counter to ask more questions, and get clarity. He returned a half hour later, and the insurance issue became even more ridiculous. For $240 the insurance coverage would allow us to cross in to Turkey, but we would be limited to only Istanbul, and we would not even be allowed to cross the Bosphorus river! WHAT? So, Daryl did the right thing and said, forget that, and we would return the car tomorrow in the afternoon, and he paid up the extra two days we owed on the vehicle.

Now, we are in an overpriced hotel in Sofia, and completely wiped out and looking forward to a good nights sleep. I drove eight hours, plus our hike, so I know I will sleep well! In the morning, I will begin researching plane fare, and perhaps get to the bus station and check on our options there. The bus tickets for a night trip is about $10 pp, according to the “Rome to Rio” app; the bus option will be a ten hour trip, and doesn’t leave till 8PM, whereas, we have to check out at 1PM from our hotel, or pay extra and drop the vehicle off after that. So, hanging out at a bus station for six hours is not very appealing. In addition, during COVID travel, the buses may not be able to run us into Istanbul, and instead we will be dropped at the Bulgarian Customs border, which is a royal pain, with luggage and the possibility of not being able to get a taxi, easily, because as soon as we cross the border, we no longer have local currency till we find an ATM and we have no working SIM card; no phone or map, till we can find a phone store or kiosk. This part is never easy, during COVID times. We may also look into getting a hired driver, if the price is not too steep, this way, that driver would know another driver on the Turkey side (they always know people) and we can do the shuffle a lot easier.

Tomorrow will be interesting, but we will figure it out, as we always do! Turkey or Bust!

We were close to Ardino, when at the bridge. After we left that area, we would come within four miles of Greece, on our way to Turkey.