Days 4-5 - Hungary to Greece
It was day 4 already and I still had a long way to go to get to Greece. I ended up at a campsite just past Budapest the previous night. Woke up early, packed my tent and set off towards Serbia.
Budapest – Serbia – Novi Sad – Belgrade – something-that-at-first-looked-like-a-nice-twisty-road-on-the-map – Bulgaria – Sofia – Dupnitsa
I was absolutely fed up with motorways, even though I was trying to take some small detours through Bohemian Switzerland in Czech Republic, Devin Castle in Slovakia and night ride through Budapest. But even then it was still mainly motorway miles so far.
I looked at a map and from Belgrade in Serbia I had two options to get to Bulgaria – the quickest option (motorways…) was just under 400km to Sofia and around 4 and half hours ride. I looked closer at a map and there was another – twisty – option which looked like fun. It was only 50km longer than the first option but estimated time was over 7 hours (which I sort of ignored – surely on the bike I could do it in less than 5 hours easily?). Obviously I picked the “nice and twisty” option.
Less than an hour past Belgrade I regretted it already. It was raining, there were a lot of villages which was making it slow, and open roads between villages were not in a great state. At first just past Belgrade traffic wasn’t super heavy, but there was enough traffic to make my progress slow even on open roads between the towns / villages. Especially in the rain as I didn’t want to overtake when I couldn’t see a thing on the roads that I don’t know (that were not in the best state).
I was hoping that the rain would stop soon and that the roads would get more “open” with nicer views as I go further south. I had no idea what state this road was going to be in – basically it was just a random “nice and twisty” road that I picked on the map without any prior research.
But road condition was only getting worse. There were not many potholes, but instead a lot of patches on the road, often multiple patches on top of another and all over the road, not just single spots. It was very bumpy so even the fact that the rain eventually stopped and that there was less traffic (almost none) didn’t make my progress any faster.
When I was entering town Majdanpek there was a rather strange landscape – strange to me as I had no idea what it was. I didn’t stop to take any pictures as I was so fed up with the roads and just wanted to keep going to get to Greece faster. There were some machines on the side of the road as if there were some road works or some other works to prevent land slides maybe? I googled it later and it turned out to be the copper mines.
Picture from Wikipedia – it was much grayer outside when I was there (it can be seen in my video further down in this post).
From Majdanpek I still had 4 and half hours to go. As a result of these bumpy roads my headlight broke off and oil started leaking. I was obviously more worried about the oil leak than the headlight but I couldn’t find the source of the leak. Headlight was still sort of in place but it was bouncing up and down a lot. Before I set off on my trip a mechanic from Thessaloniki in Greece has messaged me offering to check my bike for me when I’m there, so I thought I would just try and keep going and get it sorted once I get there.
At some point, maybe 1 hour from the border with Bulgaria roads started getting better but that’s when the rain came back on. Views were much better and if it wasn’t raining these roads would actually be really enjoyable.
Finally crossed into Bulgaria. It was getting late and I was all soaked so I was hoping to find some cheap room in Sofia. But it was still light outside and I wanted to get as close to Greece as possible so I rode past Sofia. It started getting dark shortly after and it got really cold (it didn’t help that I was soaked).
Finally after about an hour of riding in the dark past Sofia I stopped and went on one of the hotel booking apps on my phone. The cheapest room I could find was in Dupnitsa. I put the address of this hotel in my sat nav and started heading there. Sat nav took me to some small, pitch dark dead-end street with no street lighting at all. There were some old blocks of flats maybe 6 or 7 levels high but no sign of any hotel. Finally after half an hour or so managed to find it – the hotel was actually on the main street. Parked my bike in the side street beside hotel (hoping that there is more secure parking somewhere) and went to the reception.
It was a 1-star hotel but it looked more like 3-star (although it was clean, warm, comfy, no bugs or spiders so I would give it 5 stars easily). At the reception I checked in and asked about the parking. Turns out that they have underground parking under the hotel so once I checked in, went to move my bike there.
It was late so I went to my room, went for a shower, put my soaked gloves and gear on the radiator to (hopefully) dry overnight and went to sleep.
It was around 3 hours ride to Thessaloniki where I was planning to stop at the bike garage and hopefully sort my oil leak and secure the headlight.
I wanted to see more of the Bulgaria but I was already taking longer to get to Greece than I originally hoped and now with this oil leak, I decided to just go straight to Greece. Luckily weather was much better today and I got to Thessaloniki around mid-day. At first I couldn’t find the bike garage in small city streets in Thessaloniki so I messaged the mechanic and he found me.
Went to his workshop and he was happy to help me with the oil leak and to secure the headlight. He suspected it could be old rocket cover gasket causing the oil leak. He couldn’t get new gasket same day though but he said that he can put some super-strong sealant which would stop the leak. I thought that if it’s going to stop the leak then ok, let’s do that.
At first I was hoping to sort it out in couple hours and get back on the road quickly since I didn’t have much time for this trip. But to take rocket cover off tank had to come off, then the air box and carburettors which was time consuming. He then put sealant around the gasket and put it all back together. To secure the headlight he found some big bolt and made a hole on the inside of the headlight (behind the clocks) and secured it that way so it was solid. While I was there he also changed the oil and oil filter.
While I was there some of the mechanics friends were coming in and out and one of them stayed there for few hours, all of them were super nice. By the time we were finished it was around 6pm and everyone was hungry (well, me, mechanic and one of his friends who was there most of the time) so we went to take away shop to have some food. They ordered some traditional Greek wraps with chips, meat and salad, I chose chicken one. They both had two wraps each but I only managed one. I tried to pay but they didn’t let me.
Back in the workshop, I started getting ready to leave. The mechanic didn’t want me to pay anything but at the same time when he first offered to check my bike for free he probably didn’t expect stripping half the bike down, so I insisted to pay – in the end he needs to make money for living somehow. If it only took maybe couple hours then maybe I wouldn’t insist on paying and just thank him for his help but because it took so much time I wanted to pay.
I thanked them and set off. Unfortunately after 10 minutes or so my oil started leaking again… At least they tried to help and at least my headlight was secure now. Decided to just keep going and see what happens – I had a spare bottle of oil to top it up if I loose a lot of oil.
I had about an hour before I would have to start looking for a place to stop for the night. I wanted to start doing more wild camping rather than staying at paid campsites, so as sun started going down I started looking for some farm roads, small turn offs etc. Luckily there were a lot of farms and managed to find this perfect place to camp:
As I was about to start putting my tent up, a farmer went by on the tractor. I asked him if it’s ok if I stay here for the night. He didn’t seem too sure at first but then he said it’s fine and drove away. I put my tent up and went to sleep.
Here’s the video from Bulgaria and getting into Greece, and then this farm road where I found this place to camp:
Part 3 coming soon…