Finally in Sofia together, we celebrated my birthday with some fine ale and a few days later rode out with fond memories of this fun interesting city. A local guide had given my mother a recommended route out of Bulgaria that she had ridden herself, and I was not one to argue with a local who knows her stuff, especially when a quick peruse of the map suggested that it looked pretty lumpy.
As with others in the Balkans, Bulgaria turned out to be one of those countries that I (ignorantly) hadn’t expected much from, but turned out to be a real gem – Sofia is a great vibrant capital and the relentlessly mountainous route south eastwards into Greece took us through endless lush forests, ski resorts, quaint rural villages, and wild mountains still inhabited by bears and wolves.
Waving the European Union adios for good, we crossed the river into Turkey, greeted by armed soldiers, seemingly just there as a symbol of strength against their ‘much loved’ Greek neighbours, their relationship being only ever tepid at best.
The cultural shift was gentle to begin, although the friendly nature of the people and regular bargaining were sure signs we were crossing a divide. Hopping on a ferry at the tragically famous WW1 battleground of Gallipoli, we crossed the strategically vital Dardanelle straits and I set foot in Asia for the first time. Only briefly letting my mind wander as to the vastness of this continent, what wonders and challenges I would experience and how long I might call this currently foreign land home.