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October 3, 2008
Having driven across Eastern Europe from Estonia via Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, I was camped on the top of a high cliff overlooking Vama Veche and the Black Sea, in the southeast corner of Romania. This will be a great sunrise, I thought as I woke up. But I looked out to find nothing but grey fog and a drizzly morning.
Before crossing the border into Bulgaria, I stopped at a little shop and spent all my remaining Romanian cash. The helpful clerk even weighed out some grapes so I left Romania penniless (strictly speaking, Leiless).
Moments later, I crossed into Bulgaria, where I was confronted by a barrier and the need to buy a Vignette before driving on the Bulgarian roads. The vignette cost 5 euros and I could pay in Romanian Lei, Bulgarian Lev, or Euros, but I had no Bulgarian currency yet. I had just spent my last Romanian cash, and the smallest Euro bill I could find was a 50. No problem. I took the change in Bulgarian Lev.
I spent some time on Cape Kaliakra, climbing over ancient ruins and peering out over the Black Sea. Naturally, I couldn't resist stopping to look at the towering antenna complex of the Kaliakra Transmitter. These towers are 145 to 172 meters high and aren't being used. I was told that they were used by the Soviets to jam western transmissions. I don't know about that, but it sure would make a great ham radio location.
Comfortably camped in the parking lot beside the paraglider landing field with a convenient high speed WiFi connection, I decided to Google for local hams. That is how I connected with Gosho, LZ1ZF. Within minutes of sending an email, Gosho had replied and invited me to dinner in Stara Zagora, only 100 km away.
The next morning, I ascended Shambhala by the chairlift and waited until noon for the weather to improve. Instead of improving, it began to get worse, and seeing dark clouds approaching, I decided to quickly fly down. I was too late. By the time I reached the landing field, it was raining.
As I quickly bundled up my glider to protect it from the rain, a strange figure, dressed in a black cassock, ran towards me. That was how I met Sava, known locally as Pope Sava. Sava, LZ1ASP, is an active ham and is also learning to fly a paraglider.
Gosho had phoned Sava to tell him that his schedule had changed and that we were invited to dinner tonight. Sava had ridden his bicycle ten kilometers from Bogdan to meet me. We bundled his bike into the back of the van and headed to his house to drop it off.
Gosho’s ham station is located on a hill not far from Stara Zagora. His log periodic antenna is on a small tower, barely higher than the enormous tomato plants in the garden. But the location is a good one and we were able to have several QSOs on 20 meters with stations in California, using my LZ/G0RZJ callsign, valid in Bulgaria under CEPT regulations.
The ham shack itself is as traditional a ham shack as one can imagine. Located apart from the house, Gosho can make as much noise as he wants and operate the radio all night long.
Gosho and his family treated Sava and me to a great dinner with a lively conversation in English, German, French and Bulgarian. Before I knew it, I had accepted an invitation (I suspect the homebrew rakija affected my decision) to join Gosho and Sava in Troyan on the weekend for their ARDF Contest.
ARDF, also known as Radio Orienteering, is a Fox Hunt on steroids. This is a sport that the Bulgarian hams take very seriously. They hosted the World Championships in 2006 and the team regularly travels around the world to compete.
Fox Hunting in North America generally involves finding one hidden transmitter by driving around all day in an SUV equipped with directional antennas. ARDF, on the other hand, involves running over rough terrain carrying a portable receiver and finding multiple transmitters.
Just to make it more difficult, the transmitters are carefully hidden in the forest over an area of several square kilometers. Running through this terrain can be a good physical workout. This sport is not recommended for your overweight couch potato style ham radio operator.
It was also a pleasure to see the sport attracting so many young people. Clearly this is an event in which the whole family can and does participate.
The awards ceremony at the end of the weekend was a big hit and almost everyone went home with a certificate of some kind.
Gosho is a member of the LZ9W Contest Team. He asked if I would like to join them in Breznik at their multi-multi station for the SSB CQWW Contest.
LZ9W CQWW 2008
When Krassy, LZ1ZD, built the Hotel Bardoto in a forest reserve on a 900m hill near Breznik, he decided that he would allocate the entire ground floor of the hotel to his dream contest station.
There are two large rooms with operating benches for 6 bands plus a complete spare setup. Each station has a modern transceiver, an amplifier, and a computer.
Although the team is planning massive improvements in the antennas for next year, the current setup is pretty good. There are monobanders for all the bands and wires for 80 and 160. With two monobanders on 20 it was possible to switch directions instantly between east and west.
It was a great weekend. Considering that we were at the bottom of the sunspot cycle, we made a lot of contacts. I enjoyed operating a few hours on 20 meters and it was a pleasure to break so many pileups in one or two calls.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone on the team for making me feel so welcome.
I hope we can do it again.