Day 52: 9 August 2016

A restless night! I slept badly because of an ill chosen dinner and fled the hotel without breakfast at 7 am. Breakfast would have to wait until Dragoman, the first Bulgarian town after the border – so I imagined. I was at the border at 8 and it took me an hour to figure out where to pass it properly due to the overall impression, that this is an ‚autoput‘ border only. In the end, I meandered through the double line of trucks waiting for their customs check. There Serbian police saw me and laughed about the crazy bike guy. They waved me over to the line of passenger cars and motioned me to proceed directly to the top. In no time I was out of Serbia and in no man’s land, strongly fenced in as it probably had been under socialist rule. Again I was gestured to the top of the cars queuing up for passport control, shoonly showed my passport and continued into the Bulgaria on an autobahn like road, which fortunately I could leave soon enough in favour of an old, partly overgrown cobblestone street: the old Dragoman pass road. It wound and wriggled between the new pass road, the rail tracks and a small stream through a lush, leafy forest and thus most of the time, I juddered and studdered slowly forward in the shade. On the pass (ca. 700m), I decided to go downhill on the smooth new tarmac road and raced into Dragoman, a 5,000 soul town which appeared deserted like after some nuclear fall-out – so, no breakfast here, that was sure.
I returned to the main road determined to get as quick as possible to 50 kilometre distant Sofia and only stopped at Slivnitsa, where in the 19th century the Bulgarian army had fought bravely gainst the invading Serbs, and at Bozhurishte for a cash withdrawal and a quick burger at a gas station. Then I approached Sofia through ever growing traffic and an ever worser road dotted with 20 to 30 centimetres deep potholes. At two I checked in at the Sofia Hotel Balkan – an old school luxury hotel, which I had decided to indulge me with at the end of this year’s (bike)hike. Situated right in the heart of the city, in fact exactly, where in Roman times Serdica’s (the name of Sofia in antiquity) main thoroughfares decumanus and cardo had met – and of course the perfect starting point for any tour to explore the city in the next two days.

On the old Dragoman pass road.
Dragoman: town hall and square.
The Slivnitsa memorial commemorating the fallen Bulgarian soldiers in the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885.

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