The crossing with the Festos Palace of the Minoan Lines to Piraeus was just as quiet and relaxed as the outward journey. The VIP seats we had booked – these are generous leather seats that can be folded down about 2/3 – served their purpose and allowed us a few hours of deep sleep. Arriving in Piraeus, we made our way to Thessaloniki. Contrary to our original intention, we decided to return via Bulgaria and Romania. A revisit to Albania was thus out of the question.
In the meantime, we had arranged to meet friends in Dresden and near Laucha in Saxony-Anhalt. It seemed more sensible to us to finish the return journey through Eastern Europe and enter Germany via the Czech Republic.
Greece challenges us again
After leaving the very tough morning traffic of Piraeus behind us, the situation eased and we approached northern Greece without further incidents. After an overnight stay, about an hour before Thessaloniki, we reached the Bulgarian-Greek border late in the morning. The Greeks caused a big traffic jam by very meticulous border controls, while the Bulgarians let people pass. Bulgaria is not a member of the Schengen Agreement, which served as a justification for the Greek behaviour. After about 90 minutes of traffic jam, we passed the border and were in Bulgaria.
Wines from Bulgaria
After buying a valid vignette, we had to find a campsite for the next night. We found one with the Englishmen John and Sara at their Eco Campsite Kamping Kromidoro. This campsite is wonderfully laid out and invited us to stay. Waste separation and recycling were as much a part of their good manners as advice about the wine-growing area in the vicinity. After a day of relaxation and regeneration, we set off on foot to Villa Melnik, the region’s leading winery, about 5 km away. The oppressive sultriness got to us, but after an hour we reached the winery safe and sound.
Even from a distance, Guido saw a white pavilion on the grounds and a suspicion arose: A wedding is being celebrated at this winery. This suspicion was confirmed when we arrived – the preparations were already in full swing. This in turn meant for us that an extensive tasting was out of the question. The staff was scurrying around, preparing tables or busy with flower arrangements. After a short conversation with the responsible employee, we were able to taste some wines despite the hustle and bustle and left the winery again about 20 minutes later. We could fortify ourselves with water and Guido brought the purchased wine back to the campsite.
The 7-Lakes Hike
Our way led us the next morning, under overcast skies and recurring rain, towards Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We discussed a lot about our next destination and in the end we agreed that we wanted to go through the Rila National Park and the associated 7-lakes hike. The weather conditions had put a damper on our journey so far. We were no longer willing to put up with it and became defiant. Hope prevailed that we would have a window of opportunity to do the hike up to 2600 m above sea level. We left the motorway and booked ourselves into the local campsite at the foot of the national park in Sapareva Banya. The people were extremely friendly and sympathetic and we stayed there for four days. On the first evening we saw this double rainbow. Isn’t that wonderful?
On the third day we dared to try and meandered up through the forest into the national park. The road ended at the Pionerska valley station at 1520 m above sea level. From there a chairlift took us up to 2135 m above sea level. The Rilski Ezera mountain station not only serves as the starting point for the 7 Lakes hike, but also houses a hotel and a restaurant. The hike along the seven lakes takes about three hours and includes about 550 metres of difference in altitude to overcome. The main trail is more or less well paved and includes repeated viewpoints from which to look at the more distant lakes, while an alternative path leads directly along some of the lakes over hill and dale.
A broken shoe and the ferry trip to Romania
As we saw a wall of fog in front of us after reaching the sixth lake, we decided against the further ascent and turned off to return to Rikski Ezera via the side route. Guido lost a sole of his hiking shoe on the way back, which didn’t make it any easier. The shoes were already ten years old and had been used regularly. The fact that it happened was perfectly OK for us – only the question of whether there could have been a better time was something we would have liked to discuss. In the end, we arrived safely in Rilski Ezera, drove back to the valley and spent another night in the village before setting off the next morning to leave Bulgaria for Romania.