The day dawned peacefully.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing.
We had stayed overnight in a tiny site on the outskirts of the Serbian town of Jagodina.
Ahead of us, a leisurely journey of around 260km to the Bulgarian capital Sofia. It was going to be leisurely because, for some reason known only to her, my satnav kept telling me not to exceed 80km per hour on the Serbian motorways.
But first we had to get out of the campsite, and in our usual unhurried fashion, we were ready to go around 10:45.
The exit required a sharp 90-degree turn from our pitch up a steep slope.
And our beloved Hymer couldn’t make it.
In fact, the hill was so steep the handbrake wouldn’t stick, and we glided ignominiously back to where we had started.
I had images of having to find a local garage with a tow truck to get us out, adding hours on to our day, if even such a thing were possible.
But I got a better angle on the second try, and with plumes of black smoke and burnt rubber (literally!), we managed to get up the hill and out on to the road.
Downhill all the way
My sense of achievement was quickly forgotten a few hundred metres later when I encountered the next challenge: the steepest downhill road of all the steep downhill roads I have driven during our travels.
There was no warning sign to say if the incline was one in six, five or four – but after taking a couple of deep breaths, we descended, slowly.
It was yet another extreme test of the brakes – and thanks again to the Sicilian garage that fixed them!
On our route to the motorway we had to cross, again with no warning, a narrow bridge where the oncoming traffic had priority.
After a couple of minutes, it was clear that there was a never-ending stream of oncoming traffic, so I inched my way onto the bridge, but in my keenness to avoid said traffic, I overcompensated and was startled by a loud thud as the passenger-side wing mirrors thwacked into one of the struts of the bridge.
Fortunately, there was no real damage to the mirror, and after a bit of a shove my visibility was almost as good as before.
And so without further adventure, we reached the motorway and my chance to relax after the adrenalin-fuelled start to the trip.
What the maps didn’t tell me was that when the motorway ends, just past the city of Nis, the road for the next 30-40km becomes one of the most scenic it’s been our pleasure to experience.
It goes along a river valley surrounded by two very steep sets of rocky hills on either side.
The rocks are so close that at times they literally overhang the road, and there are also quite a few tunnels to pass through.
The tunnels were only 50-100 metres long, so when I saw none had lights, I didn’t worry too much about our notoriously weak Fiat Hymer headlights.
That is until we reached the one longer tunnel, and I spotted a stream of half a dozen huge trucks coming straight at me.
I didn’t quite close my eyes and hope for the best, but my grip on the steering wheel was, shall we say, a bit tighter than usual for those few hundred metres until the blessed sunlight appeared to guide me.
The Serbs are building a new motorway from the end of that section of road to the border with Bulgaria, but, sadly for us, it’s still a (very long) work in progress.
So for the next 40-50 minutes I had to drive through roadworks.
Crossing the border
I realised as we approached the border into Bulgaria that we had passed through the same crossing nine years ago during our first motorhome trip.
On that occasion, we were fleeced by Bulgarian border police who told us we had to give them dollars in order to enter the country.
Luckily there were no such problems for us this time, and we sailed through a very efficient and friendly checkpoint.
It didn’t look quite so efficient for the huge queues of lorries on both sides – I really felt for them and their long wait in the humid heat.
We needed to stop to get some Bulgarian currency, and found a cashpoint in the small town of Dragoman.
With its poor quality housing and evident hardship, this was a sharp reminder that we had just entered the poorest country in the EU.
All that remained now was to drive the 40km or so to our destination, a camperstop on the outskirts of Sofia.
Not so much a camperstop, really, as Ivan’s backyard, still in use as a timber cutting facility and formerly for car servicing. But a fine place to stay nevertheless!
Which was just as well as it was by now almost 6:00pm (Bulgaria is an hour ahead of Serbia), and I really needed that cold bottle of Croatian beer that had been chilling in the fridge all day.
- Serbia is well worth a visit, and according to Lonely Planet, likes to party.
- Ivan’s backyard in Sofia is a great base to explore this fascinating city.