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J144 - Tuesday, March 9: Levunovo – Blagoevgrad

72.46km – 10H38’
Altitude : 350m
It stops snowing this morning and the sky is white.  Serge’s toes are frozen from the start, for the past 3 days he has had a pain in his left knee and he is cold.  All this doesn’t keep him from covering the kilometers and achieving his goal of no less than 72km.
The main highway 1 (=E79) it not a pleasant road because of the traffic, especially the trucks but so far it is the only artery that follows the Struma River.  After Sandanski, the road narrows and there is only room for it and the railroad through the Struma Gorge. The Pirin Mountains are on the right and run north-south.  They have several winter sport resorts and their highest peak reaches 2,914 meters.
After Blagoevgrad, at Dupnitsa, we could have chosen a quiet itinerary through the mountains; however, since we have a schedule to keep, the road and weather conditons make us decide not to change our route.  Tomorrow we will stay on the main highway with the trucks, and we should reach the gates of Sofia in the evening.
René and Bertrand spend all day in the van, at Serge’s side, while Daniel and I leave for Sofia to pick up Laurent, a new cameraman.  By the end of the morning, the highway still has not been cleared of snow.  At an altitude of 550 meters, Sofia is covered in white.  
The Bulgarian police are everywhere:  checking and more importantly obliging the trucks to put on chains.  René and Bertrand are able to talk to some law enforcement men who want to know what they are doing in their fluorescent vests.
In both Blagoevgrad and at the airport of Sofia, I saw people wearing “Martenitsas” in the form of red and white tassels.  Tradition has it that on March 1, the day of Baba Marta, these amulets are worn and kept on until spring arrives, which will not be tomorrow because the forecast is for more snow until Thursday.

Town : Blagoevgrad

GPS : N 42.01433° E 023.03288°