Heading back west
I had been toying with the idea of popping into the Ukraine on this trip, but decided against it as I think it’s probably somewhere to go at least 2 up so I set off for Sophia, via the Black Sea coast.
I took a quick blast down the motorway to Varna the headed south for Burgas, looking for a very windy road I had spotted on Google maps the night before. Eventually, after asking some locals, I found it. It looked promising with an ‘Open’ sign at the start, so I headed along it with gusto but was soon to regret it. The road surface deteriorated very quickly and, without warning, there was a huge BANG and bits of the dashboard went flying everywhere as I hit a huge hidden pothole. It was so hard I waited for the heart sinking woofle of a flat tyre, but thankfully it didn’t happen, and so, after giving the wheel a few wiggles to make sure everything felt OK, I pressed on very carefully. This turned out to be a pretty un-enjoyable road to drive as the surface was so poor. Once on the main highway again, I stopped in the first fuel station to check the car over. There was a great ding in the front driver’s side wheel but, at least, it wasn’t buckled.
Setting off again. I soon picked up a hitch hiker complete with huge backpack and bongo of all things. Once we had shoehorned everything in, I set off again. The road was a fairly fast highway, but with innumerable road works which made swift progress difficult. Again from Google maps, I had spotted a nice windy road through the mountains to a village called Troyan. Setting off up it was great and a grin broke out on my face as the road climbed and twisted into the mountains. The hitch hiker was grinning too as we screeched through the bends, he had been hitch hiking for 15 years (not continuously) and said this was the best car he had ever been in. Nearing the top we spotted a huge monument with 1944 on it, and as we got nearer, we spotted a small track that looked as if it would lead to the monument, so, in typical fashion, I headed off for a great photo opportunity. As I was taking photos, the hitch hiker had a cigarette.
The descent wasn’t as much fun as the road surface deteriorated again but, once back on the highway, I pressed on for Sofia. The guy seemed pretty impressed with the way such a small car disposed of car after car on the single carriageway. Shortly after he fell asleep, it seemed the ‘cigarette’ was a little stronger than he expected. We belted along the highway and managed to squeeze 97.5mph out of the little beauty – not quite matching the 98.6 we achieved on the S2N rally a few years earlier.
We arrived in Sofia about 8pm . It was very handy having a Bulgarian speaker in the car to ask for directions. I spotted another Mini in the melee of the early evening and, with much tooting and waving, we weaved our way through the traffic. We got a big thumbs up from a guy on a scooter at a set of traffic lights. He turned out to be pretty helpful too as he guided us to the hostel. In the ensuing conversation, he asked if he could buy the Mini – I politely declined.
Once parked, the hitch hiker said a big thanks and walked out of my life as quickly as he’d entered it. I checked into the hostel (Mostel Hostel) and went to my dorm. I was chatting away with an American guy there when a Japanese girl walked in with a full paper looking face mask glued to her face. She looked like something from a horror movie but didn’t seem to appreciate the Halloween quip from the American, claiming it was for her skin. I couldn’t think of any other reason for doing such a thing to yourself.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.