Beyond Bulgarian Borders

When embarking on a backpacking journey in Europe, one is prepared to spend a fair amount of money on transport. After doing a lot of research and asking around, we decided to invest in a 3-month unlimited Eurail pass, which would allow us to travel within and between 22 European countries freely and easily. We booked our plane tickets very last minute and simply bought the cheapest ones we could find, which were one-way $280 tickets to Athens, Greece. We were ecstatic about the price, and Greece as a starting point wasn’t too shabby either.

We had seen online that due to Greece’s dire economic situation, its international trains were cancelled indefinitely. Since we spent so much money on the train tickets, this was very upsetting information, because it meant we either had to pay for a bus to Bulgaria or somehow walk across the border. After doing a bit of research, we found out that the latter (and more ridiculous) option was what people with Eurail passes were finding themselves doing.

What’s more, once we arrived in Greece, not many people had words of wisdom to help us deal with this unfortunate obstacle. We decided that grabbing a train to Greece’s most northern town, on the Bulgarian border would be the most cost-efficient and obvious step. After many change overs and a lot of waiting around, we reached the town of Strymonas (population 8,000) and asked around at its cubicle-sized train station for a taxi.

The silence was chilling.

In broken Greeklish, a man sitting playing Backgammon offered to drive us to Bulgaria for 20 euros. It seemed to be our only option, so we agreed. After a 15 minute drive in complete silence, we arrived at the border only to be let out 1km before the crossing (we had understood he would drive us to the nearest town in Bulgaria – oh well). We got out, forked over 20 euros, said the only word we know in Greek, thank you, and headed for the border.

Just a casual stroll on the Greek perimeter.

When we reached the border, we handed over our passports and waited a few minutes while they stamped them. We were then officially free to roam Bulgaria. Greece had finally set us free after several days of attempting to get out (although we loved it – proof here).

That's our cue.

What awaited us was an even smaller town, donkeys on every side street, no signs, no English, and a whole new set of problems. We were overjoyed when we discovered that the next train to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, was a mere 5-hour wait (…not). Thank goodness our bags were stocked with 2 euro wine, ready to make the afternoon a little more mind-boggling.

That was ...easy.

For more information on my EuroTrip, head to our Travel page! If you have a great travel story, we’d love to hear about it in our comments.

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