We were supposed to lead for the day, but given the short notice and multiple route options to our destination I bailed on the responsibility as I was unsure about which border crossing to take. And given that each option involved a crossing of the Danube, the wrong choice could have meant a long swim.
Shiraz stepped up to the task as they had researched the routes and opted for the slightly longer, but main route along the A1 highway as suggested by Google, which skirted around Sofia (the capital of Romania. As a variation a short detour into the Central Balkan National Park for morning tea was planned. At a little less than 400k and 5 hours it should have been straight forward.
Things became unstuck shortly after we joined the A1 and were directed off it by the police along with all the other traffic. This sent us on a long detour through the picturesque national park along with every truck, bus and car that was also planning their trip along the A1. Unfortunately while the A1, with 2 lanes in each direction was more than capable of dealing with the traffic at 130kph, the back lanes of the national park were less so.
After a 3 hour detour and a guided tour of the mountainous regions of Bulgaria we rejoined the highway. We found out later that there had been a 40 vehicle pile up at 0600 involving a number of trucks, busses and many cars. From a distance we had glimpses of lots of mangled wreckage. More than 20 people were admitted to hospital, many critically.
Wile detouring we passed a number of factories, deserted and decaying remnants of the Soviet era and now unable to compete in a competitive world.
We eventually found our way to the Danube border crossing through the fields of yellow sun flowers and then got a better measure of the process. Passing the Immigration and Customs was straight forward. Both Bulgaria and Romania are EU members so it was more of a formality. However, the ferry only went in the direction we wanted every 2 hours or thereabouts. 1600 was the next scheduled service. When the ferry docked shortly before that time, we realised that things were going to be a bit delayed while they loaded all the trucks, cars and motor bikes.
While crossing the river we chatted with the other traveller, mainly those on touring motor bikes. A couple from Austria and a Belgian guy who had his parents following in a Ford Ranger SUV. They had travelled to Australia for 10 years to visit another son who lived in Adelaide.
We still had 100k to go to our destination when the barge eventually berthed, and we still had to do the Romanian Immigration and Customs. Although this was the main border crossing between the two countries, the road was only two lanes and shared by all the local and through traffic. Horses and carts, semi trailers in the fields loading melons and local speedsters unwilling to wait their turn for a decent space to overtake.
Eventually on our way the Romanian side of the river was a stark contrast to Bulgaria. I had equated both economies and presumed that both sides of the river would be similar. While the Bulgarian was very rich and intensive cropping, the Romanian side was sparse. Horses and carts were the new form of transport. I am not sure whether there was a rain shadow, or the soil was much less fertile, but this was a very poor region. I had spoken to a few people who had describe Romania in glowing terms, but on reflection they were referring to the northern Transylvania region.
By the time we had arrived in Craiova, had a shower and were back out looking for a place to eat, it was getting on towards 2100. What started out as a simple transit, had taken significantly longer.
Craiova was another university town. We headed for the old town centre to find the street cafes night life. Like Plovdiv, the beer was local and cold, as was the wine.