Finally daylight came and we could at least see where we were going and we felt relieved. That relief lasted all of 2 minutes as the road was taking us up the mountains. The roads were twisty and steep. Our poor van was struggling as we tried painfully to climb them. Andy had to put it down to second gear just to crawl up the mountains at a painful 20mph. There was bend after bend, not just slight bends but sharp or hairpin bends. Every time we got to the top, there was a steep decline and that wasn’t much of a relief either. Every decline we approached, we prayed it was the last, only to find it wasn’t. Our stress levels were reaching breaking point, all we wanted to do was get to the border.
Traffic was quite heavy which didn’t help, it seemed that not even a mountain or sharp bends was going to stop them from overtaking in the most dangerous places. Every pain staking minute of the 11 hours that it took us was a do or die mission. Your probably reading this and wondering why it took so long, but when your van is fully loaded and your pulling a caravan and the fastest you can go in some places is 20mph then your certainly not going to win a gold medal for speed, it would have been quicker to walk !
Apart from the difficulties the mountains were beautiful and breathtaking and it was a shame we didn’t get to enjoy it. At one point, when we had finally completed the mountain course and was nearing the border, we turn off a road by mistake and found ourselves by a beautiful lake, so we decided to take a little time off and walked the dogs. It was so pretty and tranquil and in a way reminded us of why we was putting ourselves through all this stress, so that we can have a little peace of this heaven in Bulgaria. It gave us the push we needed because we knew it would be worth it in the end.
We arrived finally at Calafat to catch the ferry at 11am. We were greeted by a friendly man who asked for our passports and with a smile sent us off to the gate where we paid 10 euros ( although we were asked for 30 to start with ) to get in. Next we had to pay to get on the ferry, which was 66 euros, then our passports checked again as we’ll as our vignette, then off to queue to get on the ferry. At 12.30 we were finally on and making our way to Bulgaria. The end was near and we couldn’t wait. 20 minutes later, border checks, passport, purchase vignette, then more money for the pleasure then the last bit of driving to our house, at last the end of our journey and the start of a new adventure………to be continued
The Romanian border….what can I say, dark, not very well sign posted, oh and rude! When we finally worked out where to go , we pulled up at a booth with a man sitting there, beside the booth was another man in uniform, who was sat on a bench. We handed our passports to the man in the booth, he checked them, passed them back and said ok, so we proceeded to make our way, only to have the other man shout out waving to come back. As Andy reversed, I was looking in the wing mirror and saw the man wasn’t happy! Might be the fact that he had to get off his arse and walk a few yards! Turns out he was customs control. He proceeded to check our passports, then Andys driving licence, V5 and paperwork for the caravan. Ok not a problem, or so i thought, except he want a V5 for our caravan, so I told him we don’t have V5’s for caravans in the UK. He then hand signal for us to park at the side, then disappeared with our paperwork! By the look of his face, he was not a happy bunny! He kept us waiting for 15 minutes and I’m sitting there having visions that he’s going to make us unload the van so he can search our stuff. I was tired and my patience was wearing thin, so I was thinking he’s going to arrest me first before I was going to let that happen!!!
Luckily it was getting busy, there was a cue of traffic forming, that’s why I think he came back, handed us back our documents and signalled us to go but I do think if we had been the only ones there, my vision would have come a reality.
Off we trundled in the darkness down an extremely bumpy road, into the back of beyond. Although we had our sat nav, it was quite scary as we wasn’t sure we were going in the right direction. We had expected to be driving on a motorway or something like it but we weren’t. They were single roads full of bumps, which I’m guessing were the famous pot holes, but filled in! It was dark and bumpy so we were driving carefully because of the caravan, the las thing we needed was to damage the axle or a wheel fall off ! There was a lot of blind bends and, what I guess we’re speed bumps, that you only saw last minute when you hit them! Every time we did, we flinched, our poor caravan and van was getting a beating. To top all the stress off, the dogs needed to go to the toilet, they were wining and we were struggling to find any where safe to park, not that there really was such thing as a service statin or a decent lay by that we could pull into. The lay bys were small and not really big enough to fit a van and caravan. Eventually we did find one safe enough for us to let the dogs out and it was a relief for both the dogs and us!
We had been driving for a few hours and our stress levels were high. The roads were fairly busy considering it was the early hours of the morning and the drivers were nutters! It wasn’t a case of them speeding because you really couldn’t do that on these roads but they did like to overtake on blind corners. Every minute we spent on these roads was another strand of grey hair added to my already greying mop. I couldn’t wait till daylight, at least we would be able to see where we were going………
It’s Sunday morning, the sun is out and it’s getting quite warm. Andy managed a few hours sleep but I only managed an hour. Whilst waiting for andy to wake, I wrote a few notes, took the dogs for a quick walk, fed and watered them then sat an waited. Got a bit nervous when a man appeared at my window trying to sell me an iPhone 4, luckily the dogs started to bark which sent him on his merry way.
We set off at around 11ish, Andys hands were sore from having to grip the wheel so much, and our battle wounds consisted of sore bums, achy legs and backs and Andys knee was hurting( old rugby injury) but we knew it was only going to get worse. We decided that today that we would just drive through Hungary and stop just before the border to Romania, get a proper nights sleep and set off the next morning through Romania as we didn’t want to drive through there at night.so today was not going to be another 18 hours of driving as before and that meant we could enjoy it and the scenery more and I was happy about that. Hungary is a beautiful country, well what I saw of it anyway ( service stations were nice too haha ) ! We arrived at the final service station before the Romanian border, got ourselves something to eat and drink, which consisted of meat salad rolls and energy drinks, that’s all we’ve been eating since we left the UK and sorted the dogs out before we was going to settle in for the night until I found out we would be heading in the wrong direction! We were on the wrong side of the road and would have been heading for Serbia instead!
After half an hour discussion we decided to turn round and find a place to park for the night that was heading in the right direction and in hind sight I wish we hadn’t !
Found a place that had a few lorries parked up, there was a toilet block, no shop but it was quiet and that’s what we needed to get a decent nights sleep. How wrong could a person be!!!!
Andy settled in the caravan and I got comfy in the front of the van and fell asleep, an hour later I was woken by Andy as he came to check I was ok . A few cars pulled up full of people surrounding our van. The all disembarked and hovered around the caravan. Andy felt the caravan being rocked so decided to to make his presence know just in case they were up to something. You can never be too careful. Eventually they left and peace descended on us once again. This time i went in the caravan and and stayed in the van, then blow me, a convoy of vans pulled up behind us and we were surrounded by lots of people again, who also seemed to have an interest in the caravan. By this time I got slightly freaked ! Decision was made , as we wasn’t going to get the rest we needed, we might as well continue our journey. It was 11 pm when we arrived at the Romanian border and a decision I wish we hadn’t made……..
It’s day 2 of our journey, as stated in my earlier blog we arrived in Germany at 6.30 am saturday morning and pulled into a service station for some well earned sleep. I only managed to sleep( if you can call it that ) for 1 1/2 hours and Andy only managed 3 ! So after feeding and walking the dogs we set off at 11 am, on our merry way through Germany towards Austria. The weather was bad, heavy rain and bloody cold. The only good thing about the journey through Germany, was the autobahn, one straight road, so to speak and no turning off. The problem with it is that it just went on and on and on and seemed to take forever ! As for the traffic, well the Germans certainly like to speed and cut you up! I lost count of the times that happened and it was worse when a lorry over took because they would pull back in, in front of us, before they had even gone completely passed us! Really thought we might have been goners. The rain was bad too, at times we couldn’t see much in front of us, not that that stopped all the other drivers, bloody nutters ! We might have been slightly jealous at times as the fastest we went was 60 mph and that was downhill haha .
Anyway as I was saying, before I went off on one, the road seemed never ending but after several short stops to see to the dogs, we finally entered Austria just before midnight, took us 8 hours but we got there in the end. Seemed a bit weird there being no border control but glad there wasn’t, didn’t fancy getting stopped again. By that time we passed the tired stage, so we decided to carry on and try to make it to Hungary.
Well what can I say about Austria…. Very steep hills and sharp declines !! Not good when your driving a van fully loaded and pulling a caravan that’s also fully loaded to say the least. The last hill was the worse, so steep that it had to be done in third gear and we only managed to hit 20 mph, don’t think the traffic behind us was too impressed ha ha. We finally reached Hungary at 6.15am and no border control there either, just a few vignette stations, bliss. So after a further half hour on the road we have finally stopped to sleep after being on the road for 18 hours! Andy is asleep in the caravan coz there is only room for one coz of all the stuff we loaded in it and as he’s the driver, he needed it more. As for me I got the front seats of the van hence why I’m awake writing this post, its very hard to sleep with the sun beating in through the window and the seat belt anchor thingy sticking in my back grrr, think I will sleep for a week when we get to Bulgaria , seeing I’ve only had about 4 hours total sleep since 5.30am Friday, disturbed, broken sleep might I add! Well that’s day 2 over with and when Andy eventually gets up we will be on our way, who know how far we will get this time ……..
Well we finally arrived in Calais at midnight, after a very noisy trip. The ferry was full of French and German school kids, hundreds of them ! Getting off the ferry was interesting, we were trying to find our bearings as well as concentrate on driving on the other side , we were driving through customs, only to have some mad French woman jump out in front of us, waving a torch signaling for us to pull over, my heart sank and all I kept saying to Andy was I knew we’d be the ones. Five minutes later a young man came over , asked us a few questions and wanted to look at our dogs, luckily his girlfriend also had a staffy and he proceeded to show us a picture haha. He then waved us on our merry way as we sighed with relief ( I think it was the dog that helped ) . I had visions of them asking us to unload the van so they could check it, id rather get arrested than let that happen seeing as it took 2 days to load!!!
Off we went, ready for the onslaught of miles ahead of us. Amazing how busy it was at that time of night. Some of the roads weren’t too great, some stages it felt like driving over cobbles but all in all not too tragic. The dogs seemed to be coping quite well, which I’m so pleased about as I have been worrying it would be too stress full. We travelled through out the night till 6.30 this morning and have finally reached Germany ! It’s taken a while but we could only manage an average of 50 miles an hour because of the weight of the van and caravan. Andy has pulled into a big layby for a well earned sleep, so while he’s fast asleep in the caravan, I’m sitting in the van writing this blog, bursting for a pee and wondering why Andy pulled up in a place with no toilet!! ……….
Well we finally set off at about 12.30 after a nightmare start. After loading the last minute bits and hooking up the caravan, we realized we were far too overloaded. Panic set in…. what the hell was we gonna do. After a few minutes rushed thoughts I got my daughter to load her car with all the bits we could do without and one thing we could have done with keeping…. all the food we bought for our travels and to tied us over for the first few days till we found our feet. All of it was going to have to be skipped! The van felt heavy as we made our way slowly, making sure the caravan was steady. We could only go 50 miles an hour so it’s taken almost 6 hours to get to Dover but when we got there, they said we were too early as our boat wasn’t leaving till just after 11, so if we paid an extra £60 we could catch the next ferry or we could catch the 9. 25 ferry, no extra charge. Guess which we opted for ! Anyway just enough time to stop, feed and walk the dogs and finally have something to eat ourselves as we hadn’t eaten all day. Now we are just waiting……
Well today’s the day where our journey begins. In 6 hours time we will be making our way to the ferry and our long journey to Bulgaria. Can’t believe it’s finally here, no more dreaming, no more planning and no more wondering if we will every make this dream happen. Well this is it, there’s no turning back. I will be glad to say goodbye to the life we leave behind but not to my family, they will be the only thing I will miss. Mixed emotions today, excited to be leaving, looking forward to the journey but dreading it at the same time and tearful because I’m leaving my family behind, but this is the start of the next chapter of our lives…………( to be continued )
Well what a hellish 3 days its been and are we suffering! Monday was the start of it all. We had already packed the van with a few boxes and secured the rather large dogs cage, so the first job of the day was to gather all the stuff that was left to be dumped, load the van and take a trip to the skip. Amongst the stuff was our beloved king sized bed! Oh how I was going to miss our lovely comfy bed. I knew that from now until we get to Bulgaria we will be sleeping on an inflatable mattress till we depart then it’s the seats of the van and that’s one thing we are not looking forward to.
After we got rid of our junk, it was a trip to halfords to get a few thing we forgot, then off to a few other shops, then home to start loading the van and caravan, this is where the panic started to worm it’s way in. As we loaded the boxes, layer by layer, we also filled all the small nooks and crannies with anything we could find. We knew that every bit of space was valuable. By the time we sat down, the van was only half full, from top to bottom. The house looked like a bomb had hit it as we hadn’t finished packing but we were to tired to do anymore. By the time we went to bed we both felt like we’d been to battle. I was shattered and couldn’t wait to get a good nights rest but that never happened, the bloody inflatable was so uncomfortable. Andy couldn’t get comfy either hence why I found him fas asleep on the settee in the morning!
Day 2 and an early start again. Believe it or not it took us all day to load the van and pack the remainder of our stuff. The reason why it took so long was because we had to keep rearranging it so we could fit everything in. By the end of the day, the house still looked like a bomb had hit it and there was still the back end of the van to fill. We were both walking around like 90 year olds, moaning and groaning because we ached so much.
Day 3 and I woke up early as usual, but god did I hurt, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus! Andy was just as bad and neither of us had the energy but knew we had no choice, so onward and upward and we finally finished loading the van!! But it wasn’t over, as we are in rented and our final handover check is tomorrow, there was the house to clean! So of we went again, cleaning windows,skirting boards, hoovering,polishing tiles etc etc ( why the hell did we have to rent a 4 bedroom, 3 storey house!) well by 8.30 we really couldn’t do any more, our feet were throbbing, our backs were broken and our body’s were screaming for rest. And still we haven’t finished…….
Well we went to meet my parents today for the last time in the UK. It was lovely to see them and the meal my mum prepared for us was lovely, good English cooking is something I will definitely miss, but I’m sure Marie will master Bulgarian cuisine fairly quickly 🙂 .
We started the meal with a toast from Marie to new beginnings as we set off on our journey, my parents have sold their home of over 16 years and are downsizing. It is a completely new journey for them living in a smaller property but I know they will enjoy having a bit more free time.
It was lovely sitting in their conservatory telling stories from our pasts and discussing our new adventure and what we have to come. One of the discussions that will also stick in our minds in the urgent requirement to have a toilet installed which shall forever more be named as “Ian’s Throne” as currently we don’t know if we even have a toilet or where it might be of we do!
It is kinda nice to think that in some ways we are living out the “dream” of my parents of living out the “good life”, although it does add some minor pressure to ensure that we succeed with our dreams and make our house into a home as much as possible in time for their first visit.
There were some tears but overall alot of well wishes and I think some slight approval and admiration for what we are doing, as with alot of people when we mentioned what we are doing they were sceptical, but have gradually come round to the idea.
We will miss them and it will be strange not having them close by, but I am glad that things are coming together for them and with today’s technology we shall be able to keep in contact.
We now have our list of jobs to achieve before them come to visit and we look forward to that day and showing how far we have come.
Well I was at my last day at work today and I am now what you would call retired. Quite weird to think that at the age of 30 I have no future plans to be back in either full or part time employment, so I guess I am retired?
I’m not ready for my pipe or slippers yet, nor am I ready for my Zimmer frame, although the better half might disagree (years of playing rugby and alot of injuries have taken their toll).
So how can I be retired already, well with the relative low cost of living in Bulgaria coupled with the beautiful scenery, relaxed lifestyle, and being able to buy a house for less than the price of a second hand car, who wouldn’t retire as early as possible.
Although in reality I won’t be retired I will be working for myself, we have got a house to renovate, barns to either repair or renovate, gardening to do, rewiring, plumbing, kitchen and bathroom to build and install, the list really does go on. I already know that there will be days when I wish I was sat back in the office, behind my desk where I wouldn’t have an aching back, blisters on my hands, sun burn etc, but then alternatively there will be days when the weather is nice and I will be able to enjoy our little piece of heaven and not miss the rush hour traffic, the dreary UK weather etc.
I know that I will miss the guys I have been working with, after all they welcomed me into the company, supported me when I needed it, and guided me when I was learning completely new skills, products, etc. it will be a bit surreal not getting up in the morning and getting ready for work, or driving up and down motorways to do site visits, but I think I will be able to get over it when I am sat outside with my morning coffee, with nothing to disturb the silence but some birds, bees, and possibly the odd passing goat.
Our new adventure is going to take some adjustment as I’ve spent nearly the last year designing computer networks and now I will be designing chicken coops and planting schemes, but life is one big adventure and this will definitely be the biggest in our lives.
With less than one week to go before we hook up the caravan and set off on our journey we look round the house and realise just how much we have left to get done, but I suppose what we have left to do will seem like nothing compared what we have to do when we get to Bulgaria.
This will be a big adventure, but it will be ours!