It’s late and we’re lying in a bulgarian meadow. A few hours ago we were still in Serbia, unexpectedly one of the most fun countries yet, and now, back in the EU, the birds are singing for us. Within the next days, a lot will happen: Quentin will crash and get injured, Daniel will turn 19 and I’ll become acquainted with Italians.
As we set off for Sofia the next morning, the cuckoo is singing again (or still?), and the sun cuts through the sharp peaks into our narrow valley. Spring made our days in Serbia, and it’s still impressive how green the world can be, the mountain panorama is breathtaking and all this natural space clears my head. I’m ready for a new country.
You can download movies in the Netflix app, and so I was finally able to see a movie that’s been on my watchlist for ages: American Beauty. The setting could not be more different from the one we ride through every day, but the underlying message of the movie is perfectly applicable to my situation: Life is beautiful, if you let it be, and instead of frantically trying to save and store this beauty you should appreciate every small moment of this great, great beauty as it passes by. That might sound absurdly corny – as all awkwardly summed up big concepts do – , but it leaves its mark on me these days, and while the hours fly by and we sweep across the mountains towards Sofia, my mind is free and I enjoy every drop of sweat rolling across my skin during the climb just to be dried by the descent.
Then in a flash, the crash: Suddenly, Quentin is lying on the side of the road, gasping in pain. Daniel came off the tarmac, skidded, and Quentin is bearing the marks: As we patch him up in the burning sun, we all recover from the shock. At least, our first real accident goes by with scratches and bruises and everyone survives.
Just as quickly as we were halted from 30 to 0, I am catapulted out of my dream state. Sofia is a fascinating city, and through my family we get to know someone who can open the gates to its history for us: Emilia, an elderly lady, who welcomes us for dinner, falling in line with the natural hospitality that is still so unfamiliar for us. During our cozy evening, we learn about her design studies in the former GDR, and for the first time we don’t have to explain our travel plans, our route and answer the usual questions („But isn’t there an ocean in-between?“). Instead, we learn about Sofias history and Emilia offers to give us a little tour. On the trail of Serdica, the ancient roman city Sofia is built on, we visit ruins all over the city, from active subway stations to age-old catacombs, here and there refreshing at the hot springs or strolling across the markets.
Needless to say, after these cultural highlights it’s beer’o’clock, and since Bulgaria offers our drink of choice in absurdly big 2-liter bottles, we end up in a lively pedestrian area, where I make friends with two Italians. I won’t go further into the details of our night in Sofia, but a lemon and a long scrap of barrier tape played major roles.
After saying goodbye to Sofia, we head up to the Rila mountains, an imposing range of snow-covered mountains. We’ll only scratch it, but still we climb to our highest point yet (1.3 km over sea level), where a thunderstorm surprises us. The death-defying daredevils that we are, we camp right next to a power line close to the peak. Not that clever, but we survive and are able to celebrate Daniel’s birthday the next morning and, after a long day of biking, evening: We take another risky route (over the tracks across a train bridge) to an extraordinarily beautiful camp spot and end the day with a campfire barbecue on a river island.
I developed a rule of thumb for finding extra nice camp spots: The harder a certain places to reach, the better it is. This rule is confirmed again and again in Bulgaria, starting with the mystic thunderstorm mountaintop, over to the almost tropical stone beach on the river island – situated within a dense jungle and only accessible with the risk of being run over by a train. Even our last night in Bulgaria is movie material; As we climb out of our tents, set up on a lush meadow next to a creek, a herd of goats stares at us. We stare right back, and after we emerge victoriously from this survival staring contest in wild nature, we are able to move off. To Greece!