VIII. TRAINS & ROADS IN BULGARIA



     1. The trains in BG

. -  main rail station - all the trains stop there; the map is not so correct - there are much more station all the trains are stopping.

      Due to many reasons Bulgarian trains are not fast averaging no more than 30 - 36 miles per hour, but using the train when touring increases possibilities for bicyclists.  I use trains very often while I am touring. The ticket prices are relatively low. For example (July 2015) the price of the ticket Sofia - Varna is 13/15 EURO for IInd and Ist class respectively; Sofia - Burgas - 11/13 EURO.

      Coaches Ist and IInd class are available (Ist class coach/cart is labeled by "A"), buying tickets you have to point which class you prefer. There are several trains having only Ist class coaches. On the ticket for Ist class it will be signed the number of your coach&seat. The Ist class coaches  have a yellow strip out just below the cart roof, I think it is an international sign.

      An additional very small (1/4 EURO) charge is necessary to book a seat number on your ticket for the IInd class. My suggestion is to have seat number for longer destinations and especially Friday and Sunday afternoons - usually these days more people are traveling by trains.

      Coaches with beds are available too. It is possible to book train tickets a month before your traveling, usually in the day of traveling tickets for such wagons are not available.

     Important for bicyclists:  For your bicycle you have to buy an additional ticket - 1 EURO/bicycle, never mind of destination and distance. Having such a ticket you will have not problems with the train staff.  

      Smocking in BG trains is forbidden.

      In  the main destinations across the country some of the trains drag a special baggage coach attached just behind the engine – very nice feature, when you are touring by bike.


      http://www.bdz.bg/index-en.php  -  a detail BG train schedule. There is a version in English!

      I know it is easy to work with it, never mind further I will give a little more detailed description for some Site features. Of first clicking on the link I have shown above, a version written in Bulgarian will appear (at least on my computer). You can choose the English version easily – I point it below.

      Click on TIMETABLE, a menu will appear; choose Time table – internal   -   for the train schedule in BG, or Time table – international.


      The next menu gives you possibilities to select train stations you want to travel. Notice that the schedule is valid only for pointed date. The schedule is different for days of the week and for the weekends !!!


      A schedule for your destination will appear; click on the Option and choose the train you want to use.

      For the next several picture I only will explain the type of available coaches (carts) – it is very important for loading of your bikes (below I have illustrated it by several photos).

          1. Ist class coach;

          2. IInd class coach;

          3. coach having both Ist class saloon and IInd class saloon.

(The Ist class wagons have a yellow strip out just below the roof, I think it is an international sign.)


      4. The train is electric motor carriage type.


      5. Coach for unable people.


      6. Sleeping coach.


         7. The train is diesel motor carriage type (just like in the photo below).


      As I have pointed on the photo above, there is a mobil version of the train schedule. Clicking on it, the next picture appears:

         Click in the blank rows (from/to station/stop) and write only  the first letter (in Latin) of stations you want to trave  - a list of stations appears - simlpy point your destination from the menu.

        Clicking on SEARCH, the train shedule will appear. Unfortunately no more details are available here except the ticket price.

          I think this mobil version is not convenient for use.


 Some pictures & suggestions.

      A. Trains having baggage coach

      It is the best case for the bike transfer. It would be nice to have a bungee cord to attach the bike to the frames available in the coaches.

      Unfortunately it is not easy to find out which train drags a baggage coach, even the staff in the train stations is not well informed about it because of the permanent reforms going in BG railway transport. 

      More usual is the case, when there is not a special baggage coach. Then you have to behave according the type of the train and types of coaches. There is a variety of available coaches in BG trains.  


      B. Trains having coaches for unable people

      Such coaches are labeled by "C". Look for the simbols I have surrounded in red on the photo. In such coaches there is enough place for several bikes, no problem to load several bikes in it.


      C. Wagons which doors are at both ends of the coach. (On the coach label you can see its number, class and destination.)

      Always use the last door of the last coach !!!

      There is enough place for 2 (even 3) bicycles. Of first you have to disattach panniers because wagon stairs are high, steep and narrow. Tight and lock (!) bicycles to the wall - bungee cords are very usable again. It would be better if change position of the hand bars, but it is not so necessary. Not nice is the situation, when you see already there are 2 bikes in this place, especially if it is not the first train station.  I can not give you an reasonable advice in such a case, maybe try the same in the first wagon - its first door, but it is usually used by the train chief ... never mind, it is an opportunity, let we hope, the train chief will help you.


      D. Wagons having 2 doors in the midle of them.

      Most of trains in BG are supplied with such coaches.  Load your bicycles again in the last one. The doors are wide, here loading of the bicycles is easier comparing with the previous case. Again you have to remove all the baggage/panniers attached to the bicycles  - it will make easier loading the bikes on the train. You can not leave bicycles next to doors, you have to behave depending of the wagon type - such wagons have 2 different interiors which can not be recognised looking at the coach outside. 

      In both ends of the coach you can see 2 smaller windows. It is the place where there is a box parted from the coach saloon, usually there are not people there. If in this coach end is placed the toilet - there will be enough place for 2 bicycles. If there is not a toilet (it is in the other cart end) it is possible to load even 4-5 bicycles.

      The first coach of such a train can be used for bicycles too.

 

      So, taking on the train, you have to move towards this box;  there is enough place inside to move your bike between the seats.

      The same place can be used also in the coaches having the 3 folded seats in the saloon (next photos).

      A better case is, when entering in the wagon, next to its door you see a place with 3 folded seats. It is the best opportunity. Here there is enough place for 3 bicycles. In this case you can load your bicycles in each cart of the train.


      E. motor carriages

      In some destination in action are "Siemens" type motor carriage: electric - photo 1 (having 3 or 4 sections) or diesel - photo 2 (having only 2 sections).

      Both types are convenient to load bicycles on.

      To load your bikes use doors where you see a label for bikes.

      Often the bike symbol is deleted, but nobody will stop you to load your bicycle. Next to this door is the toilet next to it there are several folded seats, where you can load 2 bicycles in the electric carriage and 3-4 in the diesel one respectively.

      Here is not necessary to remove panniers because the cart door is wide and its floor is not high.

      Have in mind, that trains coming mornings in Sofia often are overcrouded, on contrary, evening trains leaving Sofia are the same. Also, Friday in the afternoon and Sunday in the afternoon trains leaving and coming in Sofia (as well as in bigger towns) are full of passangers.


      F. The narrow-gage train Septemvri - Dobriniste

      In the Chapter  VII. Nice routes in mountains - Rodopi Mountais I have given information concerning the nerrow-gage train  serves the line Septemvri - Dobriniste. 

See the video - speaking in Germans:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JbJvinBQ8s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N2FfKQjvtg

 

      In the moment Central Line Station in Sofia is in reconstruction. When it finishes, I will post an information about it.

      From time to time on the rails can be seen such old steam engines. Such retro trains are purposed for tourists. I have not seen such an engine at work since 1982. Now it is the "Orient express" as a tourist attraction.

PLEASE ASK ME IF THERE ARE SOME SPECIAL QUESTIONS FOR TRAINS !!!

    2. The roads in BG

      As in the site I have given a detailed information concerning roads in BG, here I will say only some very common infomation.

      Bulgaria has a well developed road system. Several years already the European Union supplies us with funds for road maintaining, renovation, reconstruction and building of new motor ways. As a whole our roads are in good conditions, the traffic on them is not heavy, excepting several main roads near bigger towns and resorts. When I plan a bike tour, I AALWAYS avoid roads of heavy traffic as much as it is possible.     

      Last several years the traffic on more of the main roads is poor - it is better to avoid it as much as possible.

 

           My suggestion is to avoid the following roads:

 

           1. Balchik - Varna - Burgas - Primorsko (E87). The traffic in the touristy season especially July and August is extremely terrible, there are many narrow segments. AVOID IT !!!! It is one of no many roads in BG signing "Bicycling forbidden";

 

           2. Blagoevgrad - Border checkpoint Kulata. The traffic is very poor all over the year. The road is wide enough and it is possible to bicycle here, though I would not suggest you to do it;

 

           3. Botevgrad - Mezdra  - Vratsa - Montana - Vidin - Kalafat (in Romania) E79, especially the road segment Botevgrad - Mezdra. The road is narrow, poor traffic and many heavy trucks. (further - Mezdra - Vratsa - Montana - Vidin - the road is wide, but it is better to use alternative roads);

 

           4. Pazardzhik - Plovdiv - Haskovo (E80);

 

           5. Gabrovo - Veliko Tarnovo - Byala - Ruse (E85) - there is a very intensive traffic;

 

            6. Gurkovo - Veliko Tarnovo - Ruse (E85) - terrible traffic. Avoid this road !!!

 

            7. Lukovit - Pleven - Byala (E83). The road is wide enough, but there is an intensive traffic;

 

            8. Dupnica - Samokov (62). The road is not in a nice condition, narrow segments, it would be better to be avoided;

 

            9. Sofia - Samokov (82). Very poor traffic especially weekends;

 

            10. Sofia - Border checkpont Kalotina, Sofia - Vladaya - Pernik - very intensive traffic;

 

            11. Plovdiv - Asenovgrad - Smolyan - very intensive traffic.


      A little grumble now:

 

      HOW TO BEHAVE ON ROADS IN BG.

      You will be surprised, that drivers in BG usually are very patient and careful with bicyclists. They feel that bicyclists are exposed to dangers, and usually low the car velocity passing near them. Most of drivers will horn briefly seeing you, which here means "hello", some of them will salute you by hand, but please do not do the same, hold your hand bar tightly! 

      So the only simple rule on the road is keep you close to the right white strip – as you see on the photo. Please, follow this rule! Drivers (especially truck and buss drivers) will appreciate such a behavior very high. It is nice if the cycling group on the road is a compact one, I have noticed drivers are much more careful then.

      DANGERS on the road

      The best situation on roads is if God is by our side, but it always would be nice to collaborate with Him as much as we can. My long year bicycling experience shows me, that if we have in mind several road features, our touring will be relatively save:

  

- I hate it, but the helmet is really the most useful equipment for the bicyclist. Always use it! Glasses are very useful too;  

- NEVER bicycle in the dark part of the day, especially out of towns. I know that most of drivers have very poor eyesight in the darkness;

- Bridges are places of a bigger danger. No possible to leave the road quickly if  things are growing worse. Bicycle there as fast as possible, when you are assured there will be no cars on it. I always follow this my rule. Usually the scenery down the high bridges are beautiful and some tourists, I have noticed it, like to tak photos staying on the bridge. Do it only if there is enough place to stay out of the band;

           - Tunnels are dangerous too, especially when the road passing into it is not a straight line, luckily only 2-3 such tunnels in BG;

           - For a brief relax, stop only out of the road at well visible place from the both sides without any turns; when you go again on the road, there will be enough distance and drivers will see you are on the road again;

          - If the situation impose to stop on the turn, try to imagine, where would go a fast driving car loosing control while turning (tangentially to the road curvature), and stay at the opposite side;

           - Often dogs attack bicyclist, but they are only noise makers,  do not be afraid and do not pay them attention, only keep pedal rotating - they will not bite you. If you keep your legs at rest, the dog is able to bite you. It happened to me summer 2004;  Since then I always bring a spray against gogs and never hesitate to use it;       

            - Often is possible a bee to string you. Do not try to remove it before stop bicycling! The bee will not kill you, but if you lose control of the bike, the result may be really deplorable; I think T-shirts fitted tightly to the body prevent the bee stringing to the great extent; as far as possible keep your mouth closed while bicycling – a string inside it is really unpleasant, even dangerous some time. Some pills suppressing the allergy reaction always work in such a case;

            - VERY IMPORTANT: when passing near stopped car, always have in mind that somebody in it may open the car’s door suddenly. If you are too close to the car and too fast, no enough time for any reaction, that really may kill you;

            - Cross rails only perpendicular to them, other wise the bike may change its direction of movement suddenly, but not the one on it;

            - Sometime it happens, I know, we went out of the road because we are not so careful. The reaction is to go again on the road immediately, but it is very wrong reaction. Often the road is on a higher level, there is an edge – the effect will be the same as in the previous point. You may fall down on the road, and nobody knows what will do the car driver behind you.  ALWAYS  STOP  AND  LOOK  BACK  BEFORE  GOING  AGAIN  ON  THE  ROAD !!! .


    3. Healthcare services in Bulgaria

       I hope you will never need it when you tour in Bulgaria. The next link is the best one I found regarding this subjkect:

      http://bulgariatravel.org/en/dynamic_page/83

      I post the content of the material here, if you are not able to find out and use the link;

      Bulgaria has compulsory common healthcare insurance. All insured persons in Bulgaria select their family doctor (general practitioner), whom they visit when necessary. If the general practitioner is not competent to treat the illness, he or she provides written permission for the patient to visit a specialist also working with the National Health Insurance Fund. When visiting the general practitioner or the specialist recommended by the general practitioner, a small fee is paid. As of 1 August 2011, the fee was 1% of the minimum salary in the country, or 2.70 BGN (1.40 Euro). For each day of a hospital stay, the patient pays a fee amounting to 2% of the minimum monthly salary in Bulgaria, roughly two Euro. Children up to 18-years old, pregnant women, minors and unemployed members of the family, military personnel, and a few other groups are treated free of charge. Uninsured persons pay the full cost for provided medical care in addition to these fees.

      There are a large number of specialized private offices and medical facilities in Bulgaria. On receiving consultation and/or treatment at these facilities, patients pay the entire amount for the examination and/or treatment, regardless of whether they have health insurance.

      Interested parties may obtain more information about healthcare and the conditions for using healthcare services paid by public funds in Bulgaria by visiting the site of the Ministry of Health (www.mh.government.bg) and the site of the National Health Insurance Fund (http://www.nhif.bg/).

      Medical care for foreigners who are residents of the EU, EEA and Switzerland (Austria, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein, Switzerland).

      Citizens of any of the above member states who are visiting or residing in Bulgaria have the right to avail themselves of their health insurance. When obtaining medical care, they need only visit a medical facility or diagnostic laboratories that has concluded a contract with the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), or any of the state or municipal medical institutions (see the file entitled Healthcare Establishments Register) that are supported by the Ministry of Health. Tourists in Bulgaria can inquire with staff at hotels to gain information about medical care and treatment, and it is the obligation of hotels to provide a list of the addresses of medical facilities and doctors who contracts with the NHIF. (Please note that he healthcare specialists working at hotels often do NOT work with the NHIF, and their services are generally expensive.)

      By relying on their own insurance plans, European Union visitors and residents do not have to pay insurance installments to the Bulgarian National Health Insurance Fund. Instead, they need only present their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Under exceptional circumstances, this right can also be proven by providing a Certificate for Temporary Replacement of the EHIC issued by the same institution that issued the individual’s health insurance card, along with valid identification. It is also necessary to provide the medical practitioner with copies of these two documents. Likewise, by presenting the required documents non-Bulgarians only pay the consumer fee required of Bulgarian insured citizens for the following medical and dental care:

      Examination and diagnosis:

·         Issuance of a recommendation for consultation or for medical tests after the examination;

·         Determination of medical treatment, including prescriptions, after the examination;

·         Rehabilitation procedures;

·         Medical tests;

·         Treatment;

·         Prophylaxis.

·         Non-Bulgarian patients are also required to sign a declaration (Annex 2), by which they certify that they are not in Bulgaria solely for medical treatment.

      Emergency assistance

      In the event of a medical emergency, call the toll-free telephone number 112. This is also the number to call for any other emergency. The number can also be reached outside the range of your mobile network. The 112 operators also speak languages other than Bulgarian.

      Obtaining medicine

      If during your stay in Bulgaria, you have an urgent medical need, your doctor can prescribe you drugs. Ask if any part of them or the entire sum for these drugs is covered by the NHIF. If so, you can receive your medicine at a lower cost, since a portion of the cost will be subsidized, as it is for Bulgarian citizens, but you can only do that in a pharmacy that has an agreement with the NHIF. If the drugs are not covered by the NHIF, they may be purchased at any pharmacy, though at the full cost.

      Medical and diagnostic examinations and hospital treatment

      When additional examinations or hospitalization is required, the general practitioner is the one to provide the recommendation. The healthcare facilities are required to prominently post information regarding the price of medical services; the cases in which patients have to pay for the medical care; and the manner and terms of payment for the medical care.

      If the condition is urgent (for instance, in case of a stroke, car accident, heart attack, and the like), patients will be admitted to a hospital without a recommendation from the general practitioner.

      Certificate for temporary disability during a temporary stay in Bulgaria

      If visitors to Bulgaria would like to be compensated for a disability that occurs during their stay in the country, they must immediately contact a doctor who has an agreement with the National Health Insurance Fund. The doctor will then decide if the case is related to temporary disability or is a work-related accident. It is advisable to notify your employer as soon as possible, either by phone or by fax, about the immediate circumstances and the approximate duration of the disability, and to advise your employer as to your location in Bulgaria during the medical treatment.

      Obtaining medical care without the required documents or an identification document

      If upon obtaining medical care during a temporary stay in Bulgaria an individual does not present an EHIC and/or identity card, he or she will be treated as a private patient. In these cases treatment shall be paid entirely by the patient or by the insurer, if the individual has health insurance. The same also applies for cases where it is clear that an individual ahs traveled to Bulgaria for medical treatment without the official permission (Å112) of the responsible institution in the individual’s native country.

      If visitors are unable to present any of the required documents, however, this does not deprive them of the right to medical care under the provisions of the EU Regulations on Social Insurance. In such cases, the visitor’s personal medical practitioner needs to inform the Regional/National Health Insurance Fund about the case. If you have the right to obtain medical care in your country, the responsible healthcare institution shall confirm that fact by sending a fax to substitute for the temporary insurance form. If it is an emergency, so that confirmation by the responsible institution cannot be provided in time, it is necessary to pay for the medical service in full, at the fees established by the National Health Insurance Fund and the Ministry of Health. In this case, an invoice will be issued containing a detailed description of the medical services provided, including the respective contractual prices. After your return to your home country where you are insured, you can file a claim so as to be reimbursed for the amount.

      Medical assistance for citizens of other countries

      Citizens of a country other than member states of the EU, EEA, and Switzerland who require medical care in Bulgaria must pay for those services in full. If a patient possesses health insurance, the insurer is responsible to reimburse the costs, whether in their entirety or in part, according to the terms of the insurance agreement. In the case of an emergency, regardless of citizenship, place of residence, or health insurance status, every Bulgarian medical facility is required to offer the necessary diagnosis and treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, medical or otherwise, call the free telephone number 112. The operators also speak languages other than Bulgarian. There are different conditions stipulated for the residents of the states with which the Republic of Bulgaria has agreements and contracts for medical insurance. The right to free access to medical assistance for diplomatic representatives is established by some of those agreements, while others have the right to emergency medical care, and still others provide a wide range of social security and health insurance issues based on the existing bilateral agreements. Such agreements are now in force between Bulgaria and Armenia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Cambodia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia.


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