Across Continents

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Food for thought

I was glad I’d not flown into Bulgaria. I’d been given an English language guide to the country by a helpful border guard. It contained an extensive Prohibited Objects List for air travellers, and I was scoring pretty highly in every category except firearms. He’d seen from my passport that I was born in Manchester and wondered which football team I supported? Not exactly my game, but I’d realised a while back this was a good ice-breaker. So I’d adopted United. It was going well until he mentioned one of the team, Bulgaria’s star player. I had absolutely no idea, and he knew it. They’re all foreigners these days, I said weakly.

Beyond the border crossing, swift progress under clear blue skies towards the city of Vidin. Looked industrial. I’d go around, pressing on to the town of Lom, aiming to reach it by dusk. At first along a national route, joining Romania with the Capital. No potholes, just a steady stream of lorries. Smart petrol stations. Back in the EU. More Hungary than Serbia. Then off onto quieter roads. The residents of the small town of Arcar were getting a new one, even if there endless other better possibilities for improving their lives.

I’d begun to resign myself once more to finishing riding in the dark. But then a small hotel, isolated. I’d a phrase book of course, barely thumbed, but you’d probably guess I wasn’t the Avon lady. A room quickly sorted, breakfast included, and dinner could be provided. You never knew quite what you’d get, but judging by my evening meal, breakfast would be a generous affair.

Sufficient calories are rarely a problem, but a balanced diet is a serious challenge. Dare say if you’re staying in expensive hotels it’s a bit easier, but I’m not. Breakfast of late has typically been ham and cheese omelettes, a welcome change to cold meats and breads. Lunch is usually what you find in small village shops or cafes, healthy options a bit thin on the ground. Fruit, even fresh breads, not as widely available as you imagine, except in the bigger places.

Few establishments offer an evening meal. I was grateful that this one did. You always ask of course, just in case they’ll rustle something up. Otherwise its foraging in the local shop, which is just like lunch. Never good. Or worse, take-aways. At least Eastern European hostels usually have a self-catering kitchen, which opens up the world of fresh vegetables. But earlier staples, tins of stew or pre-cooked chicken, are something of a rarity now. Fortunately I’m just passing through.

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