Thursday 30th July a decision was made, due to the severity of the driving conditions around Dover, as reported ad finitum, by the media that we would set off at 9pm rather that midnight to ensure we met our 5:30am sailing the next day. The dogs and cat were in the safe hands of Dani and Alfie so we climbed aboard the Transit, set up Madge II (sat nav) and set off on our journey to Bulgaria. We nervously drove towards Dover, having made the decision to divert via the A249. As we approached Kent Madge had what can only be described as an attack of nerves! “Take next left” for the last half hour of the INCIDENTLESS drive. We made it to Dover without chaos or queues and we were ridiculously early. Terry decided we’d just take our chances and go through early. We nearly got through, in fact we were within a hairs breadth of boarding at 1pm but were turned away when it was discovered our sailing was not till 05:30. We were directed to a car park where we joined the other sad, early travellers. We soon realised it is not possible to sleep in the cabin of a transit van.
At 3am we made a dash to the terminal having checked that we had no British immigrants trying to leave the country 🙂 The boarding was effortless and we arrived in France at 07:30. France proved an easy drive and acclimatised Terry into driving continental style, ergo, no indication, no speed limits and certainly no road etiquette. He was quite literally a pig in the proverbial!
Belgium was quietly well presented and epitomised Hercule Poirot with his beautifully waxed moustache and immaculate dress sense. It was also full to brimming with very expensive prestige cars and kit cars
The AA road map that came with the Europe safety/driving pack didn’t feel the need to put borders on their maps and neither did the countries we passed through signpost their borders. Hence the border from Belgium to Germany was marked by the change of language on the road signs. Madge the sat nav kept us quiet company with her metallically dulcet tones. Terry had been awake since Thursday 30th and had been to work, driven to Dover and had only 1 hours nap on the ferry. As it was now Friday 31st and 2pm I told him to pull over at an Autohof with facilities and take a nap. I got out with a crossword puzzle and sat on the bench whist Terry slept across the front seats. I managed 2 hours in the sun, 16 rounds of the car park and 3 visits to the shop before returning to the van. Terry woke up and we grabbed some excellent German food. My German is rusty but not half bad.
Germany proved a monolithic drive, endless names and roads sped by. It seems that Germany, at first glance is well ordered and presented but scratch the surface and things are not quite what they seem. This sprawling country is slightly seedy and on the verge of unkempt. We pulled over into an hotel just before Austria because we’d been awake over 36 hours. The Ibis was basic with a double bed and bunks above, no fridge or kettle and a shower that you held your breath in to enter its tiny plastic lined domain!
Sunday 2nd August – the back-end of Germany and into Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria
After a refreshing sleep and a hot shower Terry and I slunk out of the Ibis and set forth for Austria which is quite obviously an extremely rich country. Chocolate box pretty, quiet and tidy we drove through the back roads admiring the countryside. I was surprised at the slightly Ottoman influence to the many churches generously scattered through the country
Hungary was a definite change both in the countryside, the GDP of the locals and the quality of the roads! There is a saying that you should never have 2 women in a car with you giving directions.
Madge II and I were at loggerheads by the time we reached Hungary. As far as I could tell Madge II seemed to have no concept of Motorways and consistently overruled my paper AA route. Terry as driver and with evening approaching decided to take Madge’s advice rather than mine. We started down a B road that turned and twisted more times than a grass snake around a bamboo shoot. As nightfall fell we found ourselves on a C road that was unlit, uninhabited and desolate. Madge insisted on continuing down 22 miles of bone shaking, heart quaking, terror inducing pot holed, horror story hell hole. It is fair to say we were very much awake and in need of fresh under crackers!
We eventually hit the Romanian border at 2am. The border crossing started and finished badly. Just before entering the border crossing the engine management light had started winking at us menacingly at us. We rolled up to the barriers only to have a swarthy poker faced guard tell us to turn round and re-enter. He wasn’t explicit about what we had to re-enter and after turning around twice and attempting to re-enter he actually walked the van (now christened Dirty Gertie from Gosport) to another area. A blonde, pony tailed young woman toting a revolver sauntered over to the van, shouted something unintelligible and a tall, rangy and stone faced guard strode out of an office. He told Terry to turn the engine off and when Terry explained that if he turned the engine off it might not start again the guard leaned in and screamed “I’m not interested, get out of the van”. He gesticulated at Terry to open the van whilst I sat sticking to the seat and watching the blonde womans face for a clue as to how things might go. I heard Terry undo the locks to the van and then the saw the male guard start screaming into Terry’s face as he failed to understand what was wanted of him. I caught the word “auto” and leaped out of the van with the vans paperwork which was snatched unceremoniously out of my hands. After half an hour we were eventually released and found a miserable lay-by and parked up behind a truck to sleep for a couple of hours.
The remaining journey through Romania was uneventful and the countryside was stunning. We decided to try the ferry crossing into Bulgaria. The road down to the port was horrendous and wouldn’t have met a d classification. We were escorted to the ferry terminal by a very friendly young woman after our lack of Romanian and her lack of English broke down the explanation as to the ferry terminal whereabouts. She cheerfully drove her car and guided us to a very, very Heath Robinson port. The ferry turned out to be an old barge set in a very industrial area of the beautiful Danube.
The ferry took minutes to get across to Bulgaria in the now blistering sun. Two wizened and leathery old geezers and their gentle mongrel guided the rusty old metal barge to the Bulgarian shores. The Bulgarian customs seemed thrilled that we had bought a house in their country and waved us happily through their border
It seems trite to say but entering into Bulgaria felt like coming home. The drive up through Nikopol was bumpy and hot but only 40 minutes away from our house. We had, after talking to my Mom, decided to book into a hotel in Pleven because Terry had been driving for over 17 hours non stop. However, we both wanted to see the house first. We arrived as dusk was falling and over wrought and over tired there was that moment when we looked at each other and thought “what the hell have we bought”! We headed out on the 45 minute drive to Pleven and to a hot shower and a bed for the night.