Sat, May 25 2013
Driving from Sofia to Varna is probably the busiest and longest drive in Bulgaria.
For some, the 450km of road could be a real challenge during the hottest months of the year, but the drive is worth taking for the wide range of emotions it gives the traveller. Before taking on the road you must bear in mind two things: the speed limit on the highway is 120km/h and the limit on country roads is 90km/h. So all you need to do is to fasten your seat belt, check the tyres and the oil and water, put in enough petrol and head to the northeastern exit of Sofia on Botevgradsko Chausse boulevard.
When it comes to petrol and fuel stations you have two options when leaving for Varna. You can either fuel up the car somewhere inside the city or do so on Botevgradsko Chousse. The best choices there are the OMV and Shell fuel stations. The downside, however, is that these two are usually full of vehicles and sometimes it could take a while to get your tank filled. Another tip is about the Traffic Police post right between OMV and Shell. Be very careful when passing it because you might suddenly found yourself pulled over for a check and if you do not have red plates on your vehicle you might end up with a speeding ticket. The reason is that while the speed limit on Botevgradsko Chausse is 60km/h, a few metres before the Traffic Police checkpoint it goes down to 50km/h and it is very easy for a driver miss the sign. If you are not used to Bulgarian roadsigns, the most appropriate behaviour in this case is to watch what the other drivers next to you are doing. If you suddenly notice that everybody is slowing down despite the wide open road, emulate them immediately. There are always Traffic Police officers at this check point so be careful. Once you pass them do not immediately floor the accelerator. Although the road just outside Sofia might look like a highway it is still not classed as one, for at least another 15km. Not knowing this, many drivers speed up to 90 or 100km/h while the speed limit is actually 80km/h. Bulgarian Traffic Police officers are very innovative when it comes to "ambushes", especially in the area of Gorni Bogorov. So do not speed up until you see the green sign which marks the start of the highway. Once on the highway, all you need to do is to enjoy the ride. Overtake only when you have to, because most of Bulgarian drivers with fast cars usually do not bother to change lanes and drive only in the fast left lane. So if you do not want someone to aggressively flash his headlights at you, stay in your lane. The drive on the Hemus highway takes more or less an hour. At the end of the highway called Yablanitsa, there is a Shell fuel station which is perfect for the first pit stop of the journey. Right after you leave the station, turn right, otherwise you will end up in Pleven or at the Danube. The "interesting" part of the tour starts from this moment. You have 320km of country road ahead of you. The section to the town of Veliko Turnovo is satisfactory, with very few potholes. In the first 30km from Yablanitsa to Balgarski Izvor village you will have to pass a series of turns where there are usually road barriers; it might prove a little bit nerve-wracking, especially because there is always someone who is trying to overtake at the wrong place. Heavy trucks are another issue. They are the most common reason for traffic jams and one must have the patience not to overtake them. Do not try to do this while you are inside Balgarski Izvor. The road inside is long and wide and many people try to use the speed limit and overtake a truck or two. But the Traffic Police know this and monitor the road assiduously. Once out of Balgarski Ivor and the nearby Brestnitsa village you will not enter a village for the next 130km. Just drive and follow the road signs. It is a wide and open straight road with few turns. Watch out for the sigh to Lovech. It is at this intersection that the Traffic Police usually lie in wait. Thirty km before Veliko Turnovo, you will pass Sevlievo. Again you must watch out for a police presence. It is just outside the white factory near the road. You cannot miss it. The fuel station there is a wonderful place to stop for a short snack. It is clean and offers many products. Forty minutes later you will find yourself in Veliko Turnovo. Nine times out of 10, Traffic Police patrols are on duty at the entrance of the city. If you do not intend to stop to take a look at Veliko Turnovo's old town or the Tsarevets fortress, and have enough petrol in the car for the next 60km, avoid stopping at the fuel stations. They are always full of people and toilets are always jammed, especially the ladies. Passing through the town will take you no more than 10 minutes. You will be amazed how the traffic decreases after Veliko Turnovo. There will be moments when you will not see another car for 15-20 minutes which in small Bulgaria is a surprise. You will not enter villages or other cities, so the road will be entirely yours. Exactly 60km after Veliko Turnovo you can stop at Kyosevtsi village. It is where you can fill up the tank and have lunch at the nearby Happy restaurant. Back on the road you will notice that the surface is not as good as it was before. Potholes here and there and bumps might surprise you. The road has been constantly under repair for the past five years and indeed progress has been made, but "surprises" are usually in store. It is not rare sight for one lane of the road to be closed for repairs, so watch out especially during the night because there might be no proper warning signs. The best place for a stop before Varna is the small town of Targovishte. Actually you need not to enter the town, just stop at the OMV. The place is probably one of the finest OMV fuel stations in the country. After Targovishte you have 30km of road until you reach the Varna section of Hemus highway. Before taking on the highway, for those who like crabs there is the opportunity to buy some. Fifteen km before the highway will you see a lake and a house on the right side of the road. You will not miss it. They sell and cook fish and crabs from the lake. It is a really beautiful site, well worth seeing. On the highway you will have 70km of road. The first 40km are great because they are the most recently built section of the highway. After that it might be a little bit shaky, but if you do not speed too much, there need not be a problem. A tip when entering Varna. Driving on the highway for 40 minutes creates a habit of keeping the speed on 120km/h. When you enter the section outside Varna which has street lamps between the two lanes, make sure to go down to 80km/h and if you want to be on the safe side, go down to 60km/h. Police are always waiting before the first traffic light and they are never short of "clients".
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