After leaving Plovdiv, I had several long days. The distances weren't all that great, but it was well past nightfall when I arrived in Parvomay, Haskovo, and Harmanli. As I mentioned in my "brief update," the walk to Parvomay was not an easy one. After a good stay in Plovdiv where I met several wonderful people, my body was reluctant to get moving again. (I'm not planning to take a break day again until I reach Istanbul.) My arrival was eased somewhat when I discovered the hotel in Parvomay had a heated floor in the bathroom, and a bathtub!
I'd actually arrived on the outskirts of Haskovo shortly before 7:00, and paused for a break at a gas station. While there, I got to talking with one of the attendants, who has a friend who moved to Canada some years back. The city of Haskovo is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and in 2003, the city officially unveiled a 31m tall monument consisting of a chapel in the base of a 14m tall statue of the Virgin and Child. I'd asked Vasil (the gas jockey) about the statue, and he in turn offered me a ride when his shift finished at 8:00. I was tired and sore and had another 4 kms to cover before I arrived at the hotel I'd marked as my destination, so I decided to take him up on his offer. He left me at the base of the monument, which saved me making a detour to visit it in the morning. From there, I used my GPS app to locate a nearby hotel. The first one was closed, but the one around the corner from it was open. The hotel restaurant was closed, but I'd seen a hole-in-the-wall donair place in the neighbourhood. Dinner taken care of, I washed some clothes in the sink and crashed out hard. As in Parvomay, the cost of the room included breakfast, but just like so many of these breakfast deals, it wasn't geared to someone walking 30+ kms in a day.
One of the things which had made the walk to Parvomay challenging was the lack of places to stop along the way. The walks to Haskovo and Harmanli had villages or gas stations about 7 kms apart, which is an ideal distance for me at this stage in my journey.
My experience so far in Bulgaria has been markedly different from the rest of the Balkans. In Albania, it was next to impossible for me to pay for my coffee, and roadside fruit vendors kept waving me over and giving me fresh produce. In Macedonia, I was welcomed into peoples' homes twice. In Greece, an inquiry about directions turned into a three hour meal and conversation. Everyone I met was curious about where I was from and what I was doing, and everyone understood what I'm doing. (In Italy, people were impressed by the distance I was going to cover. In the Balkans, it was the destination which people focused on.)
I arrived in Harmanli quite late, in part because I'd met people along the way who were interested enough in this strange character to strike up a conversation. The hotel was at the far end of town, and I passed a supermarket on the way there. I was probably their last customer of the day, but I picked up a few supplies for dinner and breakfast. These late starts have not been helping me any, and the complimentary breakfasts have been relatively insubstantial. It's a good thing that I did, since the hotel in Harmanli was pretty basic. That also meant that I was on the road before 9:00 - still much later than my norm in Italy, but an improvement.
Tuesday started out bright and sunny, for the first time in almost a week of walking. (No rain except for one day in Plovdiv, so I'm not complaining!) Unusually, I woke up feeling very stiff and sore. Even with my trek through the Alps and my last long days in Italy, this has not been a problem, but it took longer than usual for my legs to warm up and settle in to the business of walking. The sun was glorious, but once I left town, the wind out of the north picked up. It was cold, and strong enough to keep me listing to the left against the constant pressure.
Shortly after noon, I spotted a place that was both out of the wind and in the sun. In the time it took me to unpack my food and settle down for a lunch break, it had clouded over and the wind shifted. It was still the best shelter I'd found for hours, and there was no temptation to linger! I continued on, but the wind kept getting stronger. As I approached the first town I'd seen all day, I decided that if I spotted someplace to stay along the route through town, I'd make it a half day and continue on to Svilengrad tomorrow. By 2:00, I was speaking with the proprietor of a seven room motel and by 3:00 I was fast asleep. After a five hour nap, I woke up and had dinner, and started typing this update. In spite of the long nap, I don't think I'll have any difficulty getting back to sleep tonight.
Tomorrow it's only 16 kms to Svilengrad, and then 20 kms to the Turkish border on Thursday, and the next stage of my journey.