goes East - 10
and Jennifer Hesketh-Jones have been making their way through France
and Italy, and have now moved on after attending the MG Italia event
in Greece. This report comes from Romania because Gordon was not
able to find a computer for an email report whilst in Bulgaria!
The MG Italia group visited Olympia on the Saturday morning - we
stayed for the visits to the museum and the archaelogical site then
headed North to continue our tour. I had planned to get as far as
Katerini then to peel off the motorway to find a hotel in one of
the fishing villages so we pressed on to Thessalonika, a name I
remembered from reading Greek mythology (in Latin). Unfortunately
this town now looks a bit like Sheffield in the 1950s - dirty and
very industrial - so we pressed on. Northern Greece is rather like
Wiltshire or Norfolk - a green desert with very few towns and no
hotels, despite our searching. The Noble Navigator was becoming
rather tense but a petrol station girl told us that there were hotels
at Serres, just 25 miles from the border with Bulgaria so on we
pressed. By now it was after 9.30pm and frost emanated from the
It was of course dark and now it was not the time to find that an
intermittent fault meant that I only had dipped beam headlights.
A somewhat hairy drive brought us to Serres which was incredibly
busy at 10.30pm. A young boy on a scooter stopped by and said "Nice
Car" so as he had some English, Jennifer asked him for a hotel.
He lead us to the Hotel Elida where we were lucky to secure the
last room. Why the last room - well on that Saturday night they
had motor racing, kart racing and stock cars so the whole county
came to town for the fun. The hotel restaurant was closed (and it
was only 11.00pm) but there were plenty of other restaurants to
choose from and a bottle of good red wine thawed out the Ice Maiden.
Later the waiter told me that on race car night they would stay
open until 3.30am!
Entering Bulgaria the following morning meant going through
seven different stages of officaldom, the first of which was to
drive through a trough of disinfectant for which I was charged 3
Euros. Passport and customs were routine, then all of my car documents,
and recovery and personal medical insurance certificates were carefully
checked and entered onto the computer. The next stage related to
the car itself and the Bulgarian computer did not list MG as a manufacturer.
After some delay I gritted my teeth and told them that the car was
a Rover - just to break the log-jam. At this the car was then photographed
by the computer and I could pass to the next stage to buy a vignette
(10 Euros) to allow me to drive on Bulgarian roads for 7 days. Finally
we were free! The process took some 45 minutes - simply of officaldom.
Fortunately we were not queuing behind other cars. We saw however
long lines of lorries waiting to pass through in both directions.
Driving into Bulgaria the first thing that struck me was
the total absence of fences, hedges or ditches to separate the fields,
which could easily be of several square miles in size - so different
from the patchwork quilt effect of fields in England. Presumably
these huge open fields are a remnant of the Soviet State Farms.
Next - a surprising number of horses were being used - to take the
workers and tools (eg harrows, scythes and chain saws etc) out to
the fields and woods and then in the evening to bring back loads
of timber, hay or silage. Very few tractors were in evidence and
the ones we saw were all two-wheel drive and smaller than the David
Brown 1212 in which I spent many hours on my farm. (In the UK ,
95% of tractors now are 4 wheel drive). From all this we could see
that Bulgaria was (in agriculture terms) still a peasant economy
so this will preent some problems if they join the EU as planned
in 2007. Bulgaria is already a full member of NATO and is very proud
of its excellent Law & Order reputation!
The road quality was pretty good for our first drive up to
Blagoverad (site of an American University) but later we turned
off onto minor roads to head for the famous RILA monastery (more
comments later). It was at this stage that we found out that (a)
the road and village signs away from the main roads were entirely
in Cyrrillic (b) where Roman script was used, the spelling was very
different from the map and (c) although the map gave road numbers,
the signs did not! Jennifer had to do lots of dead-reckoning navigation,
but with her experience of 1960s rally navigating coped well.
We had pre-booked
our hotels and this Sunday night we were at the Pchelina Inn a few
miles from the monastery. So we were approximately 4,000ft above
sea level, surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains of up to 8,000ft.
We had approached the monastery along a deep river valley and the
river was at full spate with the snow melt.
Many years ago
I remember hearing on Radio 4 "From our own Correspondent"
(also reading first reports by new reporters on their first postings
to Moscow etc) how there were never any plugs in the wash basins
or baths, but I assumed that since the end of the cold war this
would have changed. WRONG. We just had to improvise. The next shock
was to find out just how cheap eating
in restaurants was. For our evening meal we had cold cuts (a plate
of mixed cold meats) to start, then large trout caught less than
100yds away in the river, and a bottle of local "champagne"
and coffee. Including VAT at 20%, that came to just under twelve
pounds! After the meal
I went up to the manager (who spoke some English) to ask if the
(local) people on the next table would mind if I smoked a cigar.
a great deal of discussion
and I wondered if I was to be defenestrated but being asked this
question was simply a new expereience for them. They all stood up
and toasted my health, then in the following morning the father
went out and picked a bunch of lilac and other flowers for Jennifer.
During the night there was a violent storm so I could wash the Greek
dust off the MG; while doing this a farmer walked down the track
behind the hotel followed by his cow (rather like a Guernsey but
bigger and darker) with its tenor bell ringing; later came 60 to
70 sheep and lambs but at least 10% were badly lame, the older ewes
also having bells, and all unattended. Then a full five minutes
later came the goats (soprano bells) galloping at full speed and
mentally shouting "wait for me". All very amusing and
an indication of the old close relationship between a peasant and
The following day we headed up towards Sofia but bitter experience
of its so-called outer ring road means that it is a place to cross
off our list for any future visit. There were huge holes in the
roads, dust, abandoned LADAs and lorries everywhere, and jam after
jam after jam. Never again! There is obviously no MOT system or
concept of regular servicing of cars there and we saw countless
lorries with blown tyres, and typically 12 - 15 broken-down cars
Our hotel for the night had been booked (and paid for) at Veliko
Turniko but the town was like a mini-Thessalonika so we decided
to laugh and ignore, and pressed on. Two incidents though; trickling
through the traffic jams two teenagers rushed through the cars,
patted the MG on the bonnet, gave the thumbs up sign, and in good
English asked many questions. Later on a man in a brand-new Audi
A4 drew alongside and said "you drive all way England in lovely
car?" then when I confirmed this point he said "you very
brave". I couldn't really work out how to take this.
Another petrol-station girl told us that there was a hotel in Bahja
some 40 miles further on. Now if you think of the American Western
movies and the phrase "one horse town", then you have
Bahja. Actually it has eleven bars, one cafe, one restuarant and
one hotel. I tramped into several bars asking for the hotel but
received blank looks, however a man came after me to say that he
knew of one and would drive me. Jennifer was a bit worried but I
accepted the offer and we tore off along bumpy streets in his Transit
van. Arriving at the hotel (2 star it said on the sign) I was about
to get out when he selected reverse and hurtled back across the
deeply-pitted cobbles to the MG. So, not having seen the room I
drove the MG very slowly across the deeply-pitted cobbles and went
in to the "hotel". English and French brought blank stares
but school-boy German worked. The room was up on the 3rd floor (no
lift) and was shall we say basic..... Anyway I explained to Jennifer
that after 10 days of enjoying 3 or 4 star hotels we should see
how the locals lived and to her great credit agreed to the challenge
- however it is not an experience to repeat. In their basic houses
they do not have sink plugs (of course) but neither do the loos
have cisterns - you simply turn a valve in the agricultural plumbing
and some water flows.
Later on we went out to THE restaurant, having parked the MG in
the square in front of the town hall and police station for security.
Seeing the MG parked in a row of boxy LADAs and DACIAs makes the
MG look very svelte! When we returned later there was a crowd of
over 25 people - teenagers, men, old men, even police - all circling
around the car - not touching, just talking and admiring. I politely
said "good evening" and they parted and watched as I opened
Jennifer's door and were fascinated as I helped her into the full-harness
safety belts. I had just fastened my own belts when a thin voice
piped up "show engine plis" so I opened the bonnet - there
was a collective shout of awe and joy from over 20 throats at the
sight of the V8 nestling low in the engine bay. Complicated explanations
about engine size, car age, car mileage were made and then this
same voice piped up "start engine plis".
Now the engine was still hot and the RV8 exhaust produces a delicious
bark at 3000rpm so even more people came running across the square!
Eventually I had to go but sadly could not do a rapid get-away as
the cobbled surface had huge dips in it, but at least I felt that
I done my bit for Anglo-Bulgarian relations.
I don't know if ours was the first MG to visit Bulgaria but that
is the overall way we were received - continous enquiries and admiration
which in fact were magnified greatly when we were in Romania - but
that is another story. It is too soon to draw proper conclusions
but the Bulgarian people seemed reserved but fairly friendly.
Reports from Gordon
Hesketh-Jones so far
goes East 11
goes East 10
goes East 9
V8 goes East 8
V8 goes East 7
V8 goes East 6
V8 goes East 5
V8 goes East 4
V8 goes East 3
Preparations for the trip
Reports from Bob Owen on the MG Italia
Additional photos from Bob Owen
Final report from Bob Owen
Second report from Bob Owen
Report from Bob Owen on the MG Italia