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BULGARIA UPDATE > The Road To Hell.

happy Independence Day to all my American readers and friends!

Am doing well in Serbia now.

July 4th 48km

Total 45,848km.

Please watch out for a picture blog of Iran coming soon, about 30 photos.

I hope to do same for Turkey in a week or two.

I thought it would be wise to wait a few days in Serbia before posting this just in case Bulgarian border patrol are reading! :)

Thanks so much to Barry Drennan for sponsoring my two night stay in Zoran’s hostel as mentioned in last blog.

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First night in Bulgaria I got rained out. Let’s just say I didn’t put my tent up properly, I learnt a big lesson as I spent the whole morning trying to dry my down summer sleeping bag out. I decided to run with it on Nirvana in the afternoon.
I run as far as the outskirts of Svilengrad town. Just been thinking to myself that I ran Iran and Turkey and did not see a single church. That is not to say these countries are intolerant as Iran has a sizable Jewish community living unhindered in Tehran.
In Istanbul one man told that churches are there its just they prefer to be discrete. I was especially surprised in Turkey.
I stop at a cafe to take a photo of a statue of a border guard and his dog which is just across the road.

“Communist? “
I ask a man called Dimitri. He tells me no.
The inscription says 1972 so I don’t know
As I  drinking my tea a Bulgarian Orthodox Catholic priest called Father George comes in and gives me some chocolate with my tea.

That's Father George in the middle.

I am just about to go when the proprietor puts a knife and fork down on my table.
I am told to sit down and eat a huge Bulgarian salad compliments of Father George  This gives my gear an extra half hour to dry outside on Nirvana.

That afternoon I was lacking energy. At a corner store rest stop I bought a box of 20 liquors to munch with my coffee.
When I got going again I was full of energy running very hard pushing Nirvana ahead as I ran.
Unfortunately she does not roll straight always heading for the ditch due to the road camber. I have to make a correcting slight lift and push to the right every 20 metres or so as I mostly run towards the traffic. This maneuver can be pretty tiring and sore on my wrists.
At times like this I long to keep going when I got the energy buzz. Often other factors like thunder and lightning with imminent rain call the shots.
So I finished just before a downpour at a village TIR restaurant. Some restaurants provide parking for truck drivers in large compounds. I got talking to the security guard who said I could sleep on a bench in a sheltered area.
36km that day. I have started  easing down my daily distances since the big push to Istanbul as I am getting back on schedule and want to try and get some recovery going through Europe.

Next day 32km to finish at another TIR restaurant in the village of Byalo Pole. It was another sluggish day running along the quiet roads in the Bulgarian countryside. I ran over short rolling hills past wheat fields where quizzical farmers stopped to see what I was up to. People always address me in their language expecting me to be fluent in every language under the sun from Thai to Myanmar, Hindi, Farsi, Turkish and now Bulgarian. They surprisingly almost always seem surprised when I can’t answer!

A woman seemed to be asking me how long I was travelling so I showed her my forearm tattoo with my starting date. Embarrassed she backed away, I guess a case of me being Vulgar in Bulgar!

People may have been wondering what I was looking forward to as I was running towards Europe and may be surprised to know one of my desires was to be able to have a good shop in Lidl supermarkets :)   Ah yes, wine gums, American hard gums, oatmeal, good chocolate and more. Well that’s what I bought in Harmanli’s Lidl.

More power to the sheep :)

 

Also another box of liqueurs which I didn’t get to eat on the road. Think I am becoming a right old Sheila as my Aussie friends would say! I need the calories is my excuse.  I hope I can stop eating when this is all over!

In the TIR restaurant in Byalo Pole that night I watched the world cup match between Iran and Nigeria. Two Islamic nations.  My support obviously was for the Iranians after my wonderful time in their country. Surprisingly Nigeria is sponsored by alcohol giants Guinness. In the crowd I noticed many Iranian women with tattooed green white and red faces  without head coverings.
No doubt affluent supporters probably living outside Iran
I say this as an Iranian actress was recent in trouble after he recent Cannes Film Festival for not refusing a peck on the cheek kiss at the awards ceremony. The talk in Iran is she may be whipped. Apparently scholars still argue whether Mohammad meant all women should wear a head covering or just his own wives.

It’s a complicated world we live in. We want to respect all cultures and traditions, there is room for everyone of every belief in this world. I find it hard to understand why a government wants to interfere with a citizens  beliefs and harmless actions even when they are abroad. Yes we call this harmless, others do not.

When I was leaving this particular restaurant I felt I was being steeply overcharged as the proprietor was quoting euro and when I inquired why euro when we are in Bulgaria which has two Bulgarian levs to the Euro. He was speaking in Turkish to Turkish truck drivers and when I left I noticed the place was called ” Istanbul Pub” even when they leave some Turks  can’t break old habits. I camped at the side of his property.
That was the only time I felt ripped off in Bulgaria. The people are so friendly. However I am told there is a lot of crime and perhaps for that reason many petrol stations won’t let me camp there. They usually quote the boss wouldn’t like it and seem to be uncomfortable asking him. The forests and grassland are like jungles for nothing seems to be maintained.


This makes camping very difficult for me, finding a safe place where there is no guardrail to climb over as I am now pushing Nirvana is so difficult.
Grass and shrubbery growing out onto the road, the worst hard shoulders on my whole run, that is when there is a shoulder as the roads are very narrow and dangerous.


The Bulgarian drivers just like the Iranians and Turks are very courteous.

I ran through Badeshte, no that was the name of the place.


Stopped for a snack where a very nice man was trying to get his cafe business off the ground after opening about four months ago. He struggles as he has no electricity in his roadside cabin which must be cold in the winter. He gave me a couple of pieces of chicken and told me he speaks decent English as he regularly visits his sister  who is married in Malta, an English speaking country.
That day I saw a coiled up snake on the side of the grass as I ran by. There are a lot of dead snakes on the roads of Bulgaria but I am sure this one was alive as was another I saw a week later near Roman.

Some days I took back roads for there was less traffic and it is always a joy, even when tough going as was my running through the Tara Planina mountain range. A lot of drizzle had me running from village to village sheltering wherever I could which was usually petrol stations or cafes.

Another wonderful day with 41km as a bonus took me to a scruffy town called Gabrovo. On the way out I broke Nirvana’s front axle, probably because some weight shifted to the front and I tried to mount a pavement too fast. Luckily I have two spares. I may be well equipped in spares but I pay the price pushing it.
I ended up sleeping behind a ditch beside a river just four kilometres north of town, another petrol station camping refusal.

I am getting the best food now since Myanmar and Bulgaria is very cheep. I can get a huge meal, pork steak, fries, salad,soup, bread, coffee etc for about five euro.

Turkish food was just like Iranian food, just less of it and more difficult to get as many cooks just seemed to prefer serving easy stuff like bread cheese, tomatoes and olives. When I got meat there it was almost always chicken or lamb kebab, a bit MUTTONous!

I am told Bulgarians don’t find it cheap living here. A couple of people told me they earn about 200 euro a month. In Iran a head master told me he earns 500 euro a month while a petrol pump attendant earns the same in Turkey.

 

That day I ran 37km on the glorious back roads through some nice villages called Dushevo, Gtadnitsa and Berievo.

Many elderly people stopped me and like babies trying to communicate without a language I always know what they are asking… Where are you going Where are you from and what are you doing…
I swear all that changes is just that order!
Sometimes I stop and take their photo but always wave and smile.

Ladies on the road to Hell!

That night in Berievo I went into a restaurant and stayed late for there were a lot of people watching world cup football. A man and his cousin said I could stay in his cousins house that night. We communicated in Spanish as this man lived in Spain and many Latin American countries for twelve years. His and his cousins  names I never wrote down, shame on me!

Mr. Road to Hell!

Like most people here they drink too much alcohol unfortunately. The shops are used as bars which sell 2.4 litres of beer for about 1.25 euro.
He told me the cousin earns 120 euro a month when working but there is not much work.
He also tries to dissuade me from taking the road I am taking for it is like a Chris Rea  song he says… The road to Hell! Because of the Gypsies and bandits and the ticks in the forests which can transmit Lyme disease.

Yes the latter is the one that concerns me most but I did think he was too much of an alarmist especially when he told me my map was wrong, a new edition I add and the roads were closed. His advice was to go via Sofia over 100kilometres longer, so that would take me over the 50,000 exact figure I want for the finish.

I was invited to stay in his cousins house that night and we mended a puncture in the morning.

I continued on my way without any major problems.

However on the road to Hell on the way from Vratsa towards Montana many hookers plied their trade some wearing lingerie which could be sexy night dresses as they stood on the side of the road or sat on small fold up chairs. They had bags of food and a couple of litres of water to keep them going while waiting for the frequent cars and trucks to stop. I was told they were gypsies.

Once I took a photo which enraged the girl. I ran faster for a while!

Some more days, some good distances and I feel I am really on the road to Heaven and not Hell!

Ah Yes we are a long way from Iran... The road to Hell for sure! I couldn't help thinking of Chris Rea's other hit... I don't know what it is but I like it!

There is very little traffic on the back roads but the roads are in poor condition. It seems truckers use the main road from Vidan near the border with Romania so as not to pay for a ferry. Most trucks are from Poland and Hungary. I would have thought the European Union would have updated. Perhaps they did, perhaps the funds have been embezzled.

Thats what happens in this part of the world. I remember about ten years ago when Romania and Bulgaria were preparing their EU bid the payment they got for their preparation fund was ripped off!

I very well remember hearing on George Hooks radio show on Newstalk 106 an astonished George and am sure  most Irish readers can hear his charismatic tones in their minds ear…

” But hold on minister, Hold your horses….Are you seriously trying to tell me the EU knew that the hard earned tax money me and my listeners work hard for has disappeared into thin air….. Down the Swanney said George.

(Well maybe the Danube George!)

” And, And we got to pay this preparation fund to them again?? Is that what you are seriously saying to me for crying out loud? ” Continues George.

So the minister or whoever he was replies.

” Yes George. We Know they are corrupt but how do we sort them out. We have decided we will get them into the EU family and then straighten out their corruption from inside the European Union ”

There is little or no shoulder on the narrow roads but I don’t need it here as there is so little traffic on the back roads but I wonder about bandits, perhaps lonely roads are better for them.

Grass and shrubs grow out onto the road. It is like a jungle, Bulgaria does not seem to maintain the hedge ways either. It is difficult finding camping as I got to wade through this jungle when I finish for the day. Most garages refuse me to pitch a tent, only the odd one but I got to ask many. It seems people are scared and I am not sure if this is because of crime or still in their mindset from communist times. There was a night when I asked a man who stopped me in the village of Slavotin. He was standing in his doorway and I stopped to talk as I was angling for a safe camp spot in his spacious backyard. He had been conversing with me and surely could see I was harmless. He flatly refused. End of conversation, sorry no more road show!

I have been told the winter temperatures drops to around -30 C in these parts. I remember the USA and how people housed, fed me and looked after me on the road during the only real winter of my run. How people came up to me and asked me what I was going to do when the storm blew in,

My mind is very tired now, just as tired as my body. I write a blog and hope I am communicating well and indeed if I am correct in calling this man ‘ mean spirited. ‘ Do I have any expectation, No I guess I shouldn’t have, that’s his decision. Perhaps I just impose myself too much on people.

All the time I am worried about the ticks in the forest, the Lyme transmitting ticks. I don;t see any but have been warned, I know of two or three athletes that read this blog, they are from the New England area of the USA who have had terrible illness from reoccurring infections.That is why I prefer safe camping locations in towns and villages. There are very few hotels available. Usually too early in the day I spot them.

Another night after a 45 km run I put my pop up mosquito tent in a field. I am carrying a regular tent also but absolutely hate putting it up. I cant determine if I am too lazy or too tired. So that particular night it was a starry night and within two hours it was raining, It rained hard after some unexpected thunder and lightening. that was the only time in my life and I examine the sky most nights that I remember rain during the night with a starry clear sky. So I just pulled my tent flysheet over the mosquito pop up, I want to get a proper pop up when I see one, but haven’t seen any yet.

No more messing with pegs and fly sheets and all the rolling up in the morning. Yes Michael Gillan in the Aussie Outback won me over on that one.

I am getting renewed energy now and running well and strong, well strong for me anyway. I can sense the end of Europe now, the month after next I will be running the UK. But I wish and long for a rest day in a nice suitable place but can’t find anywhere. At least I don’t stick around to ask. Some days my legs feel like wobbly jelly, perhaps like footballers cramp, I never experienced that in my life. I am taking plenty of electrolytes and water.

I meet a security guard manning a factory entrance. He is a security guard with a difference for he is a runner. When I ran by he was doing hill loops back and forth about 100 metres each side of the factory entrance! He is getting paid while he trains for his next marathon! I wish we could have communicated better!

So I run on towards Dimovo, I am getting close to Serbia now. I am not running Romania as I would have had to have taken a ferry and here is an alternate route, all be it an alternate country.

There is a Red Cross centre there. I ask if I can lay my sleeping bag down in a corner. I am told no that it was not a hotel, fair enough. So I ask the question again why am I pissed off with them, do they really have a duty to look after me. Surely it’s my duty and nobody elses to look after me?

I go into a bar and drink a couple of energy drinks there. The people are nice, though don’t talk to me at all. one of the workers takes me into the kitchen. There are six large sacks of large mushrooms and he really wants to give me some for the road! No sorry to disappoint, not sure if they are magic mushrooms and I wouldn’t be able to cook them.

Everyone confuses the Irish flag I fly from Nirvana to be Italian. Even an Italian trucker waved his green white and red tri-colour out his truck window. Bon Journo and Ciao I get all the time and Italia, Italia.

I have already picked out my location for that night. Directly outside the bar on the pavement there is a really good shelter from the roofing which extends all the way across the path. I will just pitch my mosquito pop-up and sleep beside Nirvana where she is parked outside the bar window and hope I wont be asked to leave. I really wanted a hotel that night but this town has none. Ah Yes The Road To Hell, Gypsies and bandits or am I being irresponsible.

Luckily the owner just wished me a good night when he was locking up, Half an hour later it rained so hard, almost sounded like hailstones on the metal roofing, It lasted most of the night. A dog and a cat slept under a car, for I frightened the life out of them when they came towards me!

It took me about half dozen coffees to get going next morning, not much as the coffees are almost like shot glasses of Guinness!

Some more beautiful running through small picturesque villages with monuments dating back to the First World War and even the late nineteen century. Some gypsies continue to ride their horse and carts. Yes I was warned about the gypsies but they gave me no harm only the biggest smiles. Jesper Olsen my great friend said the same about the Romanian gypsies when he ran through there on his world run, a much maligned people.

Here in Bulgaria 20% of the work force earn the minimum pay of just one euro an hour.

It has to be said in all fairness that too many Bulgarians drink far too much alcohol. Every village I run through no matter what time there are people out drinking outside their houses, shops and cafe bars.

Next night my last night in Bulgaria I am about eight kilometres from the Serbian border. I had run a good 36 that day and decided to stop in a village called Kireevo. I went into a grocery store where an exceptionally friendly, a motherly figure of a woman greeted me. I bought some snacks and coffee noticing there was a community room of sorts next door. The door was ajar and I could see there were posters of the village dead posted on the walls, This is what Bulgarians do, It’s a bit morbid as one man said it seems there are more people dead than alive here.

There was a table and two benches inside so I asked the woman if I could sleep there. No problem she said. So I popped my pop up mosquito net tent on the table!

The community room with the dead posters. Hoping when the Bulgarian police read this blog I wont see my poster here!

No sooner had I settled down when three officers of the border patrol stopped by. There were some city workers in brand new high-viz vests drinking beer as they sat on a park bench just across from where I was. I am certain they called, just like old communist times, And one of the police officers that spoke English to me stank of beer. Just like old communist times also, no I don’t mean speaking English.

So they ask me where I have been and going, take a look at my passport and get back into their jeep and drive away.

Tomorrow in Serbia will be the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1. I will be crossing tomorrow,

Trouble follows me everywhere!

In Turkey there was a mining disaster when 301 miners were killed when I was there. Here in the east of Bulgaria 12 people were  drowned in flooding in Varna and another village.

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7 Responses to “BULGARIA UPDATE > The Road To Hell.”

  1. kevin scanlon Says:

    brilliant update tony. i hope you see more lidl shops on your route for the next few weeks. you are doing great. kevin

  2. Ivan Says:

    It seems you are the only one ever respected by the bulgarian police …

  3. Tey EngTiong Says:

    Run safe !!! Keep it up ! Tks for sharing with pix…!

  4. Ann Says:

    Great read Tony and a really interesting variety of tales. glad you are enjoying the food in Bulgaria. Take care and enjoy the wine gums Ann -:)

  5. Serena Says:

    Very good read one of the best to date. Some funny one liners. Stay safe away from them snakes and ticks! Was in the jungle in Chang Mai in Thailand this week and couldn’t stop thinking about u running in the blistering heat in so many counties with the dangerous wild life! Keep it up you’re doing great. Serena x

  6. Tony Says:

    Hi Again. Spot not updating this morning. I am in Becej about 80km from Hungarian border. i hope to cross on Thursday. I will be heading for Baja where I got an invite from well known Hungarian race director Gyula Erdesz
    I expect to arrive Friday, Thanks Gyuala :) I look forward to the goulash you and your mom have promised me and also the shower!!
    I hope Hungarian ultra runners can come out and run. I will not be running into Budapest, sorry heading for Bratislava. Where I got another invite from Josef who is Vlastik’s brother. Some may remember Vlastik from Burnie, Tasmania, he is an ultra runner also. He made a daring escape from former Czechoslovakia. I blogged it then if interested in archives around end of Feb 2013. It will be interesting to hear from his brother.
    Oh almost forgot 46,000km yesterday, I am taking these things far too much for granted. I tell you that thousand was amongst the toughest, pushing Nirvana on the very narrow roads with no shoulder. I remember estimating pushing her is about an extra 20% effort and obviously I am a lot more tired now. Fergus Owens will be sad to hear that me and Nirvana are having ‘ relationship problems ‘ at the moment, for she is like an unwanted child to me now, I wish I could escape her!!
    Thanks to the man who stopped on the way into Becej and stopped his car on a narrow bridge to hand me a burger. I have to be honest I was thinking to myself East Europe has many nice people but people seem so afraid to help as mentioned before… I am afraid to say cold is the word that comes to mind There was a man w cyclist who gave me an invite in his house but I would have had to go back 3km and was a bit too much pushing Nirvana. However I agreed if we could get someone to mind Nirvana overnight, in a barn and there were many. A man did but I would have had to return before 5am before he left for work. I didnt accept the invitation, I just ran another 5km and camped in a field. I was not asking for much, just to park Nirvana, so this was still playing on my mind but this man handing me the burger put a smile back on my face. Thank you mister :)

  7. Alex Says:

    Hi Tony,

    Greetings from Bulgaria! Your blog post was pointed to me as a negative one regarding the country and my town ( Gabrovo ) in particular. When I read it, I did not see any subjective negativity, it is all as you wrote. No Heaven on Earth (as the national anthem goes), but we manage.
    Anyway, had you pulled over in front of our house, you would’ve gotten a bed and a meal :)

    Good luck with the final part of your run!

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About Tony

I have always considered myself to be an average runner. In school, I was even bullied for I was a sports wimp. Through hard work, dedication, perseverance, self-belief and a strong mind I succeeded in not only running around the world but breaking four ultra running world records during my competitive career. Having previously cycled around the world I didn't start running until I was almost 30. Then I had a dream of running around the world. For many reasons, I waited for over 20 years. One reason was to establish my pedigree as an endurance athlete. I started and finished my world run as the current World Record-Holder for 48 Hours Indoor Track 426 kilometres (265 miles), a record I have held since 2007. I also broke and still hold the World Record for 48 hours on a Treadmill 405 kilometres (251 miles) in 2008. When I retired from competition, more pleasing than any of my world, European or Irish records I had the respect of my fellow athletes from all over the world - in my opinion, sports greatest reward - an achievement I am most proud of. Then I finally put myself out to pasture, to live my ultimate dream to run around the world! This blog was written on the road while I struggled to find places to sleep and to recover from running an average of 43.3 kilometres or 27 miles per day for 1,165 road days. There were many nights I typed this blog on a smart phone, so fatigued my eyes closed. Many journalists and endurance athletes have referred to my world run as the most difficult endurance challenge ever attempted. During my expedition I rarely had any support vehicles, running mostly with a backpack. In the more desolate areas I pushed my gear, food and water in a cart which I called Nirvana, then I sent her on ahead to run with my backpack once again over altitudes of almost 5,000 metres in the Andes. I stayed in remote villages where many people had never seen a white person before. I literally met the most wonderful people of this world in their own backyard and share many of those amazing experiences in this blog. My run around the world took 4 years. There were no short cuts, I ran every single metre on the road while seeking out the most comprehensive route across 41 countries, 5 continents, I used 50 pair of running shoes and my final footstep of the run was exactly 50,000 kilometres, (almost 31,000 miles) I eventually finished this tongue in cheek named world jog where I started, at the finish line of my city marathon. I started my global run with the Dublin Marathon on October 25th 2010 and finished with the Dublin Marathon on October 27th 2014 at 3 05pm! Thank you for your support, I hope you can share my unique way of seeing the world, the ultimate endurance challenge! Read more...

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