A mass exodus of motorists was expected from Sofia and other major cities on April 28 as Bulgaria headed into the country’s four-day Orthodox Easter long weekend.
In 2016, the Eastern Orthodox Christian Easter is from Good Friday on April 29 to Easter Monday on May 2 – a timeframe also covering Labour Day on May 1 – and the next week is to be a three-day one as Bulgaria celebrates St George’s Day and Armed Forces Day on Friday May 6.
The weather in Bulgaria will remain largely unchanged over the long weekend, with clouds and rain showers forecast for the foreseeable future, although some stretches of sunny weather are also to be expected.
The start of the four-day weekend will see high probability of rain on April 29, especially in western Bulgaria, followed by improved forecasts for April 30 and May 1, but more wet weather is expected at the end of the weekend. Some wind is to be expected, with occasional gusts reaching moderate speeds, especially on the Black Sea coast.
Temperature highs will remain in the 15C to 20C Celsius range seen over the past week, but the daily lows will rise – instead of near-freezing point temperatures recorded in some parts of the country in recent days, the lows will fall mostly in the 6C to 10C range over the weekend.
Traffic police head Boiko Ranovski said that extra teams of traffic police were being mobilised for the Easter holidays.
At the beginning of the long-weekend, the most critical points would be the exits from Sofia. There would be increased presence of traffic police on the Trakiya and Hemus motorways and in the direction of Pernik and Kalotina.
The busiest route was expected to be the Sofia – Blagoevgrad – Kulata route, with large numbers of motorists headed towards Greece. It was announced earlier this week that a threatened blockade of the Bulgarian – Greek border checkpoints by Bulgarian carrier associations, in retaliation for the February border blockades by Greek farmers, had been called off.
Another area where heavy traffic and road congestion was expected was the Varna region, for two reasons, the repairs to the Asparouhov Bridge and the anticipated arrival of thousands of Romanian tourists. Police officers will be posted at all key intersections.
Ranovski called on motorists to choose carefully their time of departure, adding that it was better to travel in daylight and to be well-rested.
On April 28, from 4pm to 8pm, the movement of all vehicles of more than 12 tons is banned. Similarly, such a ban by good lorries of over 12 tons will be in force on May 2 from 2pm to 8pm. Similar restrictions will be in force around the St George’s Day weekend.
Traffic police also will be stepping up checks for drink-driving, driving under the influence of illegal drugs, and speeding.
The Road Infrastructure Agency said that it has brochures that will be provided to Romanians about recommended road routes. These brochures, intended to inform Romanians about alternative routes to popular resorts at Bulgari’s Black Sea coast, will be provided to the visitors with the assistance of Varna municipality, the office of the Varna regional governor and tour operators.
A key part of Orthodox Easter celebrations is the distribution of “holy fire” on the night of Easter Sunday. Customarily, Bulgarians gather at churches, bearing candles and taking the flame back to their homes.
The Interior Ministry said that police would be on duty in the areas around churches before, during and after worship at Easter.
On the eve of the Orthodox Easter holiday, staff of the Fire Safety and Population Protection directorate-general had carried out checks at 1400 churches, monasteries and chapels throughout Bulgaria, the Interior Ministry said.
The purpose of these checks was to reduce the risk of accidents during the Easter festive worship. Special attention had been paid to arrangements for fire safety in churches, evacuation routes, the condition of electrical installations, and security at places for the lighting of candles.
Church officials had been briefed on the strict observance of fire safety rules and regulations. More than 405 documents had been issued regarding violations of regulation and in eight cases penalties had been imposed.
Large numbers of firefighers and 24 specialised fire engines would be on duty nearby churches in Sofia and in the regions of Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas, Vidin, Vratsa, Kyustendil, Lovech, Pernik, Silistra, Sliven, Haskovo and Shoumen.
Police called on people to be especially careful in the churches and when taking candles home, to put them in containers that were fire-resistant and wind-resistant and to keep them away from flammable items.
Large numbers of Easter travellers also are expected at major railway and bus stations.
Bulgarian state railways BDZ said that it had provided close to 20 000 additional seats on trains for the Easter holidays.