Walking 680 Kilometers on Bulgarian Train Tracks: Vilian Stefanov Made It

Written by on December 4, 2016 in Latest, Leisure, Tourism - 4 Comments
Train tracks in Bulgaria. 680 kilometers of them. This is the kind of view Vilian got used to. Photo by Velian Stefanov.

Train tracks in Bulgaria. 680 kilometers of them. This is the kind of view Vilian got used to. Photo by Velian Stefanov.

The Bulgarian adventurer Vilian Stefanov just walked 680 kilometers, from Kalotina in western Bulgaria, to Varna, at the Black Sea coast. 

In August of 2016, he had crossed the country from south to north, on foot and in a kayak. This time, it was an even bigger challenge. After walking for 30 days straight, over this huge distance, Vilian is now back in civilization. His latest endeavour made him expand his limits. During the long road, he felt solitude, but also met people, dogs, cats, goats and snakes. He brought home lots of great photographs, and memories of an adventure he will be telling his grandchildren about one day.

Day 1: Vilian begins his crazy hiking trip in Kalotina, a quiet border village in western Bulgaria. While taking his first steps on train tracks, he asks himself whether he will make it all the way to the Black sea, and what kind of adventures might lie in front of him. 

Hundreds of kilometers of train tracks lie ahead. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Hundreds of kilometers of train tracks lie ahead. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 2: His next goal is Sofia, Bulgaria’s vibrant capital. On this second day, Vilian intends to cover 30 kilometers. About half way down the tracks, he notices how this hike literally sucks his strength and energy out of him. Could it be that his rest, since his last big adventure, did not last long enough? He tries to concentrate on walking the tracks. On his way, he looks at many old train stations.

Day 3: With temperatures below the freezing point, which have hit Bulgaria rather early this year, Vilian spends the nights in the tiny tent he carries in a his back pack. On the third day, he leaves Sofia behind and keeps on walking towards Varna. On his way, he befriends a stray dog which really liked those cookies he threw at it. The puppy follows him all the way to the next village, hoping for more.

Nobody will ever board any train at this station again. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Nobody will ever board any train at this station again. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 4: Vilian is still in Sofia County. With that heavy back pack, he is trying to kill as many kilometers as possible, but not without inspecting those deserted train stations on his way. At Botunets station, nobody has seen, heard or boarded trains in decades. The decayed building houses a stray dog and a snake, which moves across the station’s platform on this day. 

Day 5: In tiny villages along the way, Vilian meets kind people who are happy to see a stranger. So, he wants to walk all the way to Varna? They are having issues believing what they are hearing. Along the train tracks, the adventurer walks this desterted road, which would be just the right filming location for some B-movie about the last person on the planet. Until nightfall, Vilian has covered a total of 120 kilometers. Not bad for a start.

This road is located next to the train tracks, in the middle of nowhere. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

This road is located next to the train tracks, in the middle of nowhere. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 6: Vilian needs to pass the first mountain range. A station master tells him about the upcoming tunnel, with a length of 3.3 kilometers. Since walking through the tunnel would be extremely dangerous, he decides to climb the mountain on its western side, in order to come down again on the eastern side. On his way, he slips several times, on wet leaves. Thanks to trees, he does not slide down all the way. In a huge mud hole, he loses one of his shoes. It takes him a while to find it.

Day 7: He walks through countless villages with inhabitants who want to know all details about his adventure. Even those four-legged fellows, stray dogs, look at him in disbelief.

These guys can't believe it either. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

These guys can’t believe it either. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 8: This eighth day of the endeavour does not go too well. Vilian is being woken up by light rain, which quickly turns into a storm. While trying to get those kilometers behind him, he gets bitten by two shepherd dogs which are trying to protect their herd. The shepherd himself saves him. Better late than never. At the end of the day, in his tiny tent, Vilian hopes for a better day ahead.

Day 9: At the tiny train station in the village of Koprivshtitsa, the station manager looks at him as if he was a suspect on the run. During a conversation, Vilian learns that “two foreigners” had recently entered the longest train tunnel in Bulgaria, which is close by. The man explains he was forced to halt all train traffic, when this happened. That tunnel has a total length of more than five kilometers. Vilian promises to choose the route via the mountain. This stretch will be a tough one.

Day 10: This day starts with a rather cold wind. A bit later, in the mountains, it gets so hot that he decides to keep on walking in shorts and a t-shirt. There is an issue with his cell phone battery, which he badly needs because of the GPS application he uses. After some pleasant meetings with village people and goats, Vilian comes closer to the town of Sopot, in which author Ivan Vazov was born. This evening, Vilian does not have the time to think about his tiredness and exhaustion. He wants to find out how much pain and tiredness he can take, and keeps on walking.

The long and winding road. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

The long and winding road. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 11: After a long, exhausting hike, Vilian Stefanov reaches the town of Karlovo, where an inhabitant angers him by calling him crazy. He looks at the decaying mosque, the oldest building in Karlovo. It is dark and late, as a kind restaurant owner offers him a space for his tent, in the back yard.

Day 12: While Vilian his climbing mountains again, every step feels a hundred times heavier than ever. It is getting foggy. There are little villages, complicated directions and a sudden thunderstorm. The tent has a hole. Vilian repairs the damage in the dark, and still has a few hours of sleep afterwards.

Day 13: Today, Vilian feels rather sad. Also, his legs and arms hurt. But this will not stop him from walking. He takes a peek at the village of Gabarevo, in which a wood factory pollutes the air a lot. As the sun sets, Vilian is happy to have covered about half the way from the western border of Bulgaria to Varna, in the very east.

Looking at something? Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Looking at something? Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 14: This is the night of the Super Moon. Vilian keeps on hearing noises and seems to be having thoughts which convert into a nightmare. So he waits for the sun to rise. He does feel the weight of the additional food he purchased. He does nit want to make deviations through villages, just to buy food. In the last villages he enters on day no. 14, he meets very kind people, whom he talks to, about travelling and his experience, for two hours.

Taking lazy naps in the sun is nice. Unless you want to cross Bulgaria on foot. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Taking lazy naps in the sun is nice. Unless you want to cross Bulgaria on foot. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

Day 15: After sleeping for 15 hours straight, Vilian looks at Kazanlak. He finds decayed buildings and a train station which is operational. He is happy to have reached this point. After 15 days, half the trip is up, the second half begins.

The second part of this adventure can be found here

A destroyed house in central Bulgaria. Not a nice sight. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

A destroyed house in central Bulgaria. Not a nice sight. Photo by Vilian Stefanov.

The second part of this adventure can be found here. 

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