Svilengrad, Bulgaria

Scott-Free’s blog
Steve & Chris
Mon 1 Jun 2009 22:03
Having secured ourselves a free, safe mooring in Istanbul, we decided to do a visa run from here.  Our visas were due to run out on 8th June and we needed to leave the country and re-enter in order to buy a new one.  As Turkey borders Bulgaria on the European side, and buses regularly run between the two countries, we thought we'd turn backpacker and set off to the otogar to find a bus heading in the right direction.  
To get to the otogar we needed to get a dolmuş to the ferry port, ferry to the tram, tram to the metro, metro to the otogar.  Fairly straightforward.  At the otogar we made enquiries and found a bus going to Svilengrad within the hour, and coming back the next day.  Perfect.  We bought tickets and some snacks and set off on the bus.
It made several unusual stops on the motorway, underneath bridges, where someone would pop up from the undergrowth and hand some black sacks or boxes to the bus attendant who put them in the luggage compartment.  Going through the border was a little time-consuming but no problem. We saw the coach driver hand some euros to the customs officials and our coach passed through without being boarded or searched!  We were just congratulating ourselves on how easy this all was when the bus stopped by a petrol station, apparently in the middle of nowhere, and we were told this was our stop!
So, there we were, in Bulgaria, where the tiny bit of Turkish we have picked up would do us no good at all, and there was no sign of a town!  We managed to make ourselves understood at the petrol station and they were kind enough to ring for a taxi for us.  As it turned out, the town was only a five minute drive away, but hidden from our sight behind a derelict factory!
We were dropped off in the centre of town and we checked into a hotel where the nightly cost of 60 Levras,about £30, for a double room included a full Irish breakfast.  They wanted payment in cash and we had assumed that as members of the EU they would use euros.  Wrong!   They apparently have to sort out their economy before the EU will allow them to adopt the euro.  No problem though, there were plenty of banks with ATM's on the main street.  The room was very warm and the air conditioning didn't work, but otherwise it was fine.  
We wandered around the town which was unremarkable.  The shops seemed to sell either clothes or electrical goods and we had to remind ourselves that this is a country that existed for a long time behind the iron curtain and these things are probably only fairly recently available.  Beer and food were cheap,if again, unremarkable.  We found the people rather unfriendly and unhelpful, but then we have got used to the Turks who are completely the opposite.  And they may just not be used to foreigners.  This was, after all, a small town near the border with Turkey, not the capital.  Surprisingly. though, it did have three casinos.  These are apparently frequented by Greeks and Turks from over the nearby borders.
We had been told the bus would be at the petrol station at 2.30 p.m. the next day for the return to Istanbul, so we had a leisurely lunch and then got a taxi and arrived at the petrol station at 2.15.  An hour and a half later we learned from a guy at the petrol station that the bus had been and gone ten minutes before we got there.  They phoned the bus company and found that the next bus was at 7 p.m. which was too late for us to make the ferry connection in Istanbul, so we had to get a taxi back to town and spend another night.
We decided to try a different hotel, and this one, by chance, was run by Turks.  What a difference!  We were welcomed with cups of tea and told where the best place to eat was.  We had a very nice meal that evening in a very nice restaurant, which improved our view of the place no end.
Next day we went to the petrol station in plenty of time, and a bus duly arrived.  Although there was concern over the date on our tickets and a phone call had to be made before we could board, eventually we were on our way back to Istanbul.  We had a very long wait at the border as we just happened to arrive there behind a coach full of Albanians and they seemed to take forever to get through passport control.  As we were the only people on the bus who needed visas,there was no queuing and that bit took no time at all, and we at last had our new visas - the whole point of the exercise!  Customs was not so easy this time, and we all had to pile off the bus while it went through a thorough search.  All our bags were searched and after an age we were allowed back on. 
We eventually arrived back at the boat late that evening and found her safe and sound.  We were very glad to be back, and decided we preferred sailing to backpacking!!