How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

It was a dark and stormy night. (For real!) The rain was beating heavy against the windows, an incessant beat so heavy, you might have missed the second everyone’s heart stopped. A racing car, a slippery road and the car lost all control, madly sliding into a spin. For the briefest moment, time seemed to stand still. And then it sped up again, the car had come around 180°C and just when it caught itself, disappeared into the distance at a devilish speed. The direction didn’t seem to matter.

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How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

My Bulgaria Roadtrip Horror Story

Raging Storms and Standing Cars

At the sound
Of the first bird singing
I was leaving for home
With the storm
And the night behind me
And a road of my own

We exhaled a deep sigh of relief in unison. Our hearts were pounding fast. When was this nightmare gonna end? For four days we had been on the road, chasing the sun. Our mission: welcoming July morning by the coast of the Black Sea, a Bulgarian tradition stemming from the 1980s. The inspiration behind this was the song “July Morning” by Uriah Heep. Even listening to it behind the Iron Curtain equaled a small act of defiance against the anti-West Communist regime. To this day, young Bulgarians flock to the coast to enjoy life to the fullest and welcome in summer with open arms.

Right now, however, our arms were clutched in fear, gripping the wheel or our seatbelts. We had just witnessed an almost accident right in front of our car. Retaining control had been hard enough in this torrential rain that refused to leave our side. Now, it seemed to have become a matter of life or death. When would we finally meet the saving shores?

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

My arrival in Bulgaria hadn’t necessarily started on a good foot. I was to meet up with a friend I had met during a trip in Romania. True to form bloggers that we are, we pretty much right away fell to coworking on our laptops in a Sofia café. An hour later, the café was flooded from the torrential rain. (And I didn’t even notice until the staff advised us to unplug our cables and lift our bags)

While doing bus travel in Bulgaria is easy and affordable, our group decided to rent a car to stop wherever we wanted on our way between Sofia and Kavarna. But we wouldn’t be able to leave for quite a while. Renting a car became an ordeal. At the agreed time, our cars were nowhere in sight. The promised shuttle manifested as a member of staff walking back and forth, trying to locate the vehicles. An hour later, we were allowed to follow suit and witness him leisurely taking notes on the state of the rentals. Nothing was set up despite previous arrangements for our Bulgaria roadtrip.

(Next time I will definitely go through a trusted rental car company like Sixt.)

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

Sun Flowers and UFOs

With the day came the resolution
I’ll be looking for you
La la la la

Uriah Heep – July Morning

Fast forward 40 more minutes in our Bulgaria roadtrip, minus the casualty of our poor nerves, we finally hit the road. The goings were smooth, the rain came and went, landscapes flitted by and even eye rolling waitresses and stepping into dog poop didn’t dampen our spirits. Bulgaria was truly beautiful! We couldn’t wait to see epic Bulgarian sunsets and especially that one promising sunrise. One important item on our wishlist were rows upon rows of sunflower fields. The few we had already passed left us wondering if we had gotten the timing right. Only here and there flowers had opened yet.

We sorely needed a win and stopped at the next best acceptable field, albeit a hundred metres away from the actual flowers. Ah the things we do for the gram! Stubbornly, we beat our way through the tall grass and prickly burrs towards the yellow flower heads luring in the distance. The mud was clinging heavy on our shoes and we stamped between the rows of sunflowers. Had we known all the vibrant fields we would pass two days later, we would have happily skipped along, past this adventure.

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

But colours we kept on chasing even when the fog rolled in on Buzludzha monument, the UFO of Bulgaria. We marched on at Atanovsko Lake when the pink pools were nowhere insight. But boy did we ran when a women immerged from the reets at our feet, scaring the living soul out of us. Rarely did the skies clear, barely did we get to cover any of the stops on our roadtrip list. But our end goal we glorified as the redeeming factor. The golden July 1 morning sun would be worth it! We just knew it on our bones.

But our bones would soon start to shake as, instead of golden rays, we faced glaring teeth of wild dogs. Just before the crack of dawn, we had dragged our redbull fuelled limps to the shores of Kavarna, the birthing place of the Dzhulay festival. It was deserted. No partygoers. No campfires. No songs. What had taken up residency, however, were heavy clouds, shrouding the entire horizon. But it didn’t matter because the only way to see the rising sun was blocked by a solid cliff anyway. We had failed. Our trip had failed. But we couldn’t give up now.

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

The Sun Behind the Clouds

There I was on a July morning
I was looking for love
With the strength
Of a new day dawning
And the beautiful sun

My attempts at directing our steps towards the nearby hiking trails were met with weak but determined resistance. We could barely stand on our feet, spending the night working and eating crisps hadn’t done our constitution a favour. Exertion had to be limited to the bare minimum. Maybe the harbor walls would serve as a mediocre vantage point. Fishermen had already risen and busily packed their boats for a day out at sea. On we marched, soon accompanied by a local, friendly stray dog.

The same stray dog who nonchalantly guided us to fiercely guarded territory. The same dog we casually hid between us while a violently barking and snatching pack was snapping at our arms. Forcing myself to keep looking ahead and marching steadfast instead of running for the hills, I started sweating bullets. The dogs had fallen behind but just before we could take a deep breath, they were at our heels again. Only at our hotel could we finally crash and let the shockwaves rush over us.

The sun was now glaring through the see through curtains and my tense fingers fumbled at my phone. At least I needed to play that song. One thing that would work out. Just one win on this trip of mishaps. The song played silently, as soon as its ten minutes were over, I was whisked away into a world of tumbled dreams and wild colours. Happy July Morning!

(Also, on our way back, the sun shone like crazy, the fields were in full bloom, the traffic was blocked for 2 hours and someone debadged the emblem of one of our cars. It reduced our deposit considerably. Ah well.)

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

EPILOGUE

Despite all these hiccups and the missed end goal, our Bulgaria trip was certainly a memorable one. We are already planning for next year! The thing is, stuff goes wrong all the time when you travel. (I even wrote a book about my Australian travels because it was just THAT crazy.) It’s become quite normal for me and you start not wasting too many worried thoughts on these things. “Fix it or just deal with it” has become my new motto. Never let these setbacks stop you from chasing your dreams! After all, life on the road is a colourful once you stop painting your world black.

(Also a huge shoutout to my travel buddies Eternal Arrival, Our Escape Clause, Happy to Wander and Wandering Chocobo.)
How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

Bulgaria Roadtrip Resources

The key for a successful roadtrip in Bulgaria is preparation, planning and flexibility. Here are some things I learned along the way that I wish I had known in advance.

  • Plan very loosely – As always, you can’t predict driving time accurately. There might be traffic jams. You might not get your Bulgarian rental car on time. Getting your ordered food takes an extra hour as food isn’t simultaneously prepared. Generally, make a plan of all the places you want to see and expect to get to see only half of them. Prioritise!
  • Have travel insurance – Since things can (and will) go wrong a lot, you should be on the safe side. Even if you have crazy good guardian angels and are the luckiest person in the world. Just be safe. Have your health and belongings insured, check if holiday and car rentals are covered as well in case your emblem gets nicked.
  • Know rudimentary Bulgarian or at least main dishes – The further out you drive into Bulgaria, the less English is spoken. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t even feel entitled to people catering to your language anyway. So know basic Bulgarian phrases as a sign of respect and politeness. As most restaurant menus will be in Bulgarian and few have photos, know the names of staple dishes you would be interested in. Shopska salad is always great and filling, for instance.
  • Prebook your stays – Especially during high season, such as July, tourists flock to the West Coast of the Black Sea. Accommodation prices soar and rooms fill quickly. I highly advise to book in advance to avoid the hassle. Just be prepared that a few might keep asking you for exact arrival times. It’s a thing.

Have you ever had a roadtrip go wrong yourself?


Read next:

How to bathe in the pink lakes in Burgas
What you need to know about July Morning in Bulgaria
An Interview with an Actress from Sofia
Where to see epic sunsets in Plovdiv
How to get around on public transport in Bulgaria

How (Not) to Do a Bulgaria Roadtrip – A Travel Horror Story

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It had to happen, after ditching the 9-5 for a prolonged break, Annemarie's wokaholic tendencies led her to start a daily blog about her adventures. Realising how much travel has helped rebuild her confidence and and general #GirlBoss-iness, Travel on the Brain released a book about her adventures in Down Under and New Zealand and creates quirky video series focusing on story telling in destinations around the globe.
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