A trip to Thassos with a Bulgarian turnout
20 - 30 May, 2004

Preliminaries

We were in the middle of the winter when Tomi (HA4DX) phoned me to think about a good dx-expedition. We realized quickly that we should go to a Greek island cause there's hot weather, the sea is blue, there is ouzo, the people are friendly, and in any way, for at least 3 years we haven't been on Greek land. We connected Géza (HA4XG) to the conference call and he supported the idea.
We searched throughout the Internet, but the Hungarian travel agencies were not ready yet with their program offers for this season.

Where to go?

I suggested Thassos immediately, for two reasons.
1. Five years ago I was there on a family trip (I have already made 6 thousand QSO's within 2 weeks as SV8/HA0HW/p) and the pleasant impressions are living in me until today.
2. During the IOTA revision - in the year 2000 - the Island received a new reference number. The former EU-049 became EU-174. During the last few years there was no serious activity from the island, so the interest could be sure.
Tomi opened a private mailing list for us, so we had the possibility for a cheap and quick information exchange.
In the middle of February I visited a few travel agencies but a trip to Thassos was not among their offers or they were not ready with their offers.
So Géza searched the Internet starting from the homepage of the Greek Tourist Office, searched for genuine Greek offers.
Meantime we thought to give the plan multiple chances, and thus asked for authorization of operation for more islands and more dates, as plans could change anytime (family or office programs, travel problems, and so on).
On the 1st of March I sent a license request by fax to the Radio Frequency and Authorization Department of the Greek Ministry of Transport and telecommunication.
I could not believe my eyes when after 3 (THREE!!!) days, also by fax, we received the copy of our license, in which we were authorized to use of the requested special prefixes of J45, J48 and J49 between May and October 2004. Of course, a few days later we received the original document by mail, too.
Being "encouraged" by the unbelievably quick and positive attitude of the authorities, upon the suggestion of Géza we included in our plans a short SV7 radio operation in Thrake. I faxed a new request to the Greek Ministry in which we asked for the use of J47 prefix. There were probably some problems, because the new authorization had arrived only after a week... :) !
While I corresponded with the Greek Office - and this is a completely positive attribute - Tomi and Géza have sent many faxes and e-mails to different apartment owners in Thrake and Thassos, asking for rent conditions, especially for the date in May, which is a little early for the season.
We did a last attempt at the Hungarian travel agency who could probably offer us a trip to Thassos - but without any success.
At the middle of March it became clear that the first charter plane departs only on the 28th of May for those who want to travel to the island, which seemed to be a little late for us.
So after a few e-mail changes Géza had agreed with Nico, we hire the first story apartment of one of his houses situated in Scala Rachoni on the beach, on the north western shore of the island. We managed to choose the SV7 QTH planned for the returning trip, there Tomi made the arrangements by fax.
It was merely a routine to decide who brings what, which devices, aerials, what other tasks to fulfil before the trip and during it. We decided quickly to bring with us food, soft drinks, beer only for the travel, because we can buy everything there and the prices are almost the same.
We "learned" our route by our Internet mailing list. As we wanted to travel by car we wanted to choose the most favorable route. The computerized route planning software gave us a few options depending on what we asked for: minimum distance , quick travel, cost effectiveness (highway tolls!). It seemed suitable the HA-YU-Z3-SV route, but we quickly get it off our mind when it came up that a trip through Macedonia requires a visa. There was the HA-YU-LZ-SV option which was a little longer and we heard no good news about the quality of the Bulgarian roads. On one of the portals we read that in Serbia the foreign tourists are stopped by the police from mile to mile - they especially like to pick cars with H sign (Hungary) ...- and you can hardly continue your travel without an official penalty or some bribe.
Meantime I sent a few mails to the e-mail addresses of the Radio Amateurs Associations of the countries to be crossed potentially, asking if there are special rules, laws, orders which have to be met when we transport a radio equipment through these countries. As the first and sole, YT1AD Hrane (who arrived home only a few days earlier from his Pacific Ocean expedition ...) called us by phone and told us that there are no problems in Serbia if we make a list of devices at the entrance border and we made it stamp both at the entry and exit border control stations.
Returning to the possible adventures of the travel, as an alternate route we thought about HA-YO-LZ-SV, too. We asked Pali's, YO5BRZ, opinion on this, especially regarding the crossing point of the Danube river at the Iron Gates, but we are in Serbia, too, or at Giurgiu, which is too far and it would meant a great go round. Between these two places there is no bridge, although there is somewhere a ferry, but without a precise "timetable", and you should be there "in time"(?) to have your place on the board with your car too...
We started to study the Serbian route once again. We asked for advice from the Hungarian Consulate in Subotica (YU9VK/HA7VK ...) if there are true the news about the harassment? We were reassured somehow by the answer: if we travel according to the laws, we respect all speed limits, there is less probable to enter into trouble.
We talked to lorry drivers, bus drivers to get a precise picture about the quality of the 1000 km long route, and the time needed. They generally talked about 15-16 hours (including the 3 border controls) and about roads with changing quality.
At that time came the extraordinary idea of Tomi. Let's do the route in two parts. First day to travel to Sofia, to sleep there, and in the morning, even not too early to go to Greece. We liked the idea, because no one of us have been in Sofia yet. We started immediately to study the LOG's of our earlier expeditions, and based on the callsigns found we started to browse the homepages of LZ1 amateurs, who could help us in offering and booking accommodation? Tomi found LZ1PJ, Ivan first. After quick mail exchange, he would help us happily as he could. He books us accommodation if we can finalize the date and give him the parameters. We needed an accommodation easy to find and not too expensive.
Ivan, assured us that everything will be all right, to trust in him and organize our expedition. A week before the travel he informed us that the accommodation is reserved and, of course, he would have the time for a short discussion during our stay in Sofia.

The travel

I was in holiday for the whole week, to check and to prepare the whole equipment. The plan remained a plan. Even Thursday morning I had to go to the office. But the other two members of the expedition were in the same situation, and due to this the last days before the departure were very intensive. Fortunately the routine acquired during the previous mutual trips, the knowledge of the others helped us to pass through the problems.
After a very quick packing I could start to Rácalmás to Tomi only at 2PM local time. Before the target, I entered to Kisapostag to HA4XG QTH, taking on board Géza and his luggage, and after a quarter of an hour we landed at HA4DX.
A fine dinner, the selection of our things - it is unnecessary to bring 3 of the same thing ... Hi! - packing into the car. A quick sleep.
We started in the morning, not too early, we planned to arrive to the border at 6 o'clock.
Crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border we felt us awkwardly at once. Firstly no one felt himself authorized to let our radio "enter", than they declared directly that radio broadcasting equipment are not allowed "to be introduced" in Serbia. Sanyi, YU9VK, and our declaration written in Serbian language finally helped us to receive a stamp on our papers, but they warned us "not to open the suitcase and in no case start the radio on YU (Serbian) territory, and unconditionally take the radio out of the country on the other side"...
We make a short visit at the QTH of YU9VK in Subotica (Szabadka) and we departed. The Bácska landscape is like you were on the Hungarian Plains (Alföld), the houses, villages, even the town of Subotica itself - if there were no Cyrillic inscriptions (too) - could be a landscape in Békés county. The Serbian roads are various, i.e. regarding their quality. Everywhere there are policemen (besides their western made cars) and check for speed. They install 60 - 40 - 20 km/h speed limitation signs even on excellent roads and after 1 km distance they measure the speed from ambush. It was of great help for us a very-very detailed description downloaded from the Internet, and meeting its every recommendation we crossed the country without any atrocities.
We crossed relatively quickly the YU/LZ border and made stamped the "export" certificate of our radio. We were a little surprised when the Bulgarian passport control lady asked for the green card (international car insurance) and car documents in Hungarian language ... The road from the border to the capital has more pits than intact surface. The 60 km/h speed was not respected here due to the traffic signs. (SRI) It was a pleasant surprise, that Bulgaria didn't show that Balkan sight as we expected. Everywhere there were constructions, tidy houses, well-maintained gardens. Along the roads the same agencies, distributors of all western multinational companies are present like in the western part of Europe! (for example: OMV, Shell filling stations, identical to the western standards in quality, appearance, tidiness and very polite, friendly service). But we saw METRO and TESCO supermarkets, Lindab, YTONG and Bramach, respectively Bosch stores. I could continue if I could remember those well-known brand names ... Hi! We found at once our hotel in Sofia, which in fact was a small private pension below the Mount Vitosa, in an exterior, high-level district of Sofia. The intensive development is more characteristic for the capital, there are beautiful houses everywhere, well-groomed people, and we practically met only up-to-date, western cars. At about 100 m of our hotel we found out a 6 elements 3 band Yagi and we know: "we are at the right place"... Hi! At the previously agreed time had arrived our Bulgarian friends, led by Ivan, LZ1PJ. He was who had arranged our accommodation and had helped us in other items, too. After the tasting of the liquid version of the Hungarian and Bulgarian plum we went to a nearby restaurant for a dinner and to continue the "druzhba" (friend making). We found us in a 3 storied (plus garden) club frequented by the youth. We had to wait some time to find a table for us, so we had enough time to see over the beutiful Bulgarian girls ... Hi! We had in our company Ivo - LZ4BU and Panayot - LZ1US, who is the president of the Bulgarian Radio Amateur Association, and a member of the Governing Committee 1 of IARU. Time went very well, and it was after midnight when they walked us to our place. In the morning we left to South, and to our great pleasure we drove on a European quality highway to the Greek border. An Approximately 50 km part from Sofia was in reconstruction. There were great soil, especially rock works. We traveled on a various, mountain landscape in full sunlight. The next was the LZ/SV border.
The border crossing had an interesting choreography. We were helped here too by the driver of a car with Bulgarian license plate who originally was next to us in the queue than got out and went forward. I went after him to see why the queue was standing. Simply the administration was not working. During our return to the cars he said something in Bulgarian, I asked in English and he, in a perfect English said to be attentive and to follow him. We by-passed the queue and we stopped in front of the passport control point. I passed the three passports through the window, they asked for the green card, and in return they gave me a card with the number 3 (they had 3 passports controlled). We got back in our cars and after 50 m, yet on the Bulgarian territory we handed down the card no. 3 denoting that we were three who passed the border and we were already on the Greek land, because the Greeks only looked at our car and waved to continue our travel. Of course, we were already at home, i.e. in the European Union! On the Greek side we stopped for a lunch as well as Bulgarians. The "guy" shouted us to give him a beer for his help. Quite in a joke I brought him a Hungarian one, he began to make excuses he had only been joking. His wife with a played indignation had said: not to give the beer to his husband because he was driving, rather to give her. We all laughed and felt that we did something for the improvement of the Bulgarian-Hungarian friendship. :)
Anyway we draw the conclusion: you have to be very much on the ball if you don't want to stay in place for hours. And of course, the Bulgarians taxed us for a few Euros for car "disinfection" ... (Hi!)
The Greek land slowly began to show the formerly known landscape, the roads were good and we felt good, too. We stopped in the first hill from where we could see the sea; the life was humming below us in Kavala. The ferry departed from the port of Keramoti; there were little cars and passengers; of course, the season had not yet began. Disembarkation, and go to Skala Rachoni, the small seaside resort village.

J48

To our great pleasure our apartment was really on the shore, no other house nearby, no noisy discos, restaurants and mad youngsters riding their motorbikes. And all this in the middle of an olive-tree forest at least 100 years old. And above all these the flat roof was full of bog reinforcing iron bars (according to the Greek tradition ... Hi!), so we could immediately install our aerials. Our host, Niko (Nikos) and his wife were very friendly and helpful. Friday afternoon - following our plans - we went on air.
We are J48! (Hi!)
The bands were quiet, they heard us well, we were happy. Three stations, IC-706 to HF and 2 m, TS-450SAT, Ft-840, 80 m Inverted Vee, fishing-rod mono-band verticalfor 40 m, 20 m fishing-rod Gp, DunaX Gp for WARC bands, and an 8 elements Yagi for 2 m, and attached computers worked at our station. So the "production" could start.
During the day we made trips, we looked around, but the nights we worked hard on radio. We went to the QTH I used a a few years ago to see what had changed. We took a few pictures to cause heartache to the rest of our families left home. After several minutes a woman, the owner of the house (who was Belgian!) came out asking why we had taken pictures of her house. I just started to explain I had been there in holiday, but she stopped me saying, of course, the radio amateur. It seemed we had left long-standing memories with our strange "holiday customs"... (Hi!)
All the three of us liked the pile-ups. Tomi first made a trial on 80 m to dump the Hungarian circle QSO's without any results. His CQ was answered only by those being very on the ball (with S7-S6 report!), although on the Pannon list and on the bands were promoted the 80 m timetable.
Géza in the mornings made constant trials on 2 m with meteorscatter partners in WSJT mode. The KN20GR grid became very demanded, many partners asked for time schedule agreement by phone ... It's not a miracle, it is the ninth of the most wanted European grids.
Out of the previously agreed 10 skeds 5 completed connections were perfected with the following stations:

HA3UU JN96jo 27/27 800 km 9B 5p 160msec S7
HA5LV JN97 27/27 850 km 4B 3p 140msec S3
DL8EBW JO31nf 27/27 1776 km 6B 5p 120msec S5
DF7KF JO30 38/27 1888 km MniB mnip 11sec S9+20 dB !
PE1AHX JO21os 27/27 1921 km !!! 8B 5p 880msec S8 580msec S9

Unfortunately we did not experienced ES propagation, yet on the 50 MHz frequency which that was not permitted to us (in Greece only "domestic" amateurs are authorized to this frequency, foreigners are not!) almost every day we could hear on ES propagation the major part of Europe. With tropo we managed to realize two LZ's, two SV-7's and the farest YO3FFF/p from KN24 from Bucharest.
All these connections were made with an IC-706 base radio (tnx HG4GHJ) with 60-65 W output (DLA 80H power amplifier with preamplifier - tnx HA4GBG) and an ultra-light 8 elements, 4.4 m long DK7ZB-type Yagi (of course, it was ready only in the evening before our departure). Unfortunately, during the meteor scatter trials we had to stop the short wave work to prevent the jamming, so we had no opportunity for other trials. In the future it would be worth to organize a VHF expedition to this excellent QTH in August for the Perseidaes, with a more professional equipment.
Sometimes we lost our tempers in the pileups. We repeated regularly our callsigns, the QTH, IOTA, QSL manager information, yet there was always someone, who were not capable to wait for 3-4 (very quick!) connections, and kept on asking anxiously. The worst of them were not satisfied with the basic information they unconditionally wanted to know the geographic co-ordinates, the name and age of the operator, the power of the station, etc. They had no minimal community feeling, they were not bothered by the fact that meantime many people were waiting on the frequency for the possibility of collection of a new prefix or IOTA point. It happened frequently that the caller stations gave adversary greetings because many of them had situated in their minds the J4 prefix somewhere in the Caribbean. Several stations could not be convinced of their failure...
You could almost "hear" from the part of several Hungarian stations the knock as their chin drop down when we used "SZIA" and "SOK SIKERT" ("HI" and "GOOD LUCK") in our very quick QSO's. They weren't informed previously that a Hungarian team was working from J4 (Hi!)
The results of the almost 7 day operation were 11 thousand QSO's, an immense amount of DX, 5 complete meteor scatter QSO's, 400 BPSK31 connections.
The week passed on quickly and it was already Friday. After an abundant breakfast we packed our equipment, but with not too much convincement, cause in a few hours we had to install it at the J47 QTH.

J47

An other ferry travel, and we got out of our car at 200 m from the Keramoti port at the previously booked apartment house, but we found noone there. Finally we found an Albanian chairwoman and a painter, who understood only German, but we managed to resolve this situation ... (Hi!) He called the owner, and the wife had arrived in a few minutes telling us she was expecting us for Saturday. We showed her the fax confirmation with the Friday date. Than she couldn't excuse herself. She quickly opened the first store apartment of the house (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, living-room and big balconies). All these in a beautiful environment in a modern, high quality apartment. (Unfortunately, the roof had not reinforcing iron bars ... Hi!) We started with the installation of the aerials. At this site instead of the WARC GP, a DunaX "brand" 14/21/28 MHz stood on one of the balconies, the rest of the aerials were the same as those at the J48 QTH. We turned on the equipment, and we almost broke out in tears: S7, S9 noise on every band. We hoped, maybe it ceases for the evening, when somebody somewhere shuts down something but it didn't! We wrestled to the end with the WPX competition, we made painfully 3000 QSO's. There was a a 20 kV power distribution station with many commuters only about 150m away. Probably this was the source of the strong power line noise. (Nothing for all, from the Internet offer you couldn't know about this ...)
On Monday morning, after the breakfast served by our host we started to pack - this time more carefully! - and at noon we were on the roads again.

The way home

We traveled well, and we were not in hurry as, we only had to get to Sofia. Ivan booked us the already proven accommodation again. The owner lady was happy to see us telling we were decent people, because "we didn't smoke up the house", and for this she cooked us some sweet cookies! At the "tradidional" restaurant Ivo waited for us. Ivan went to the owner of the Yagi formerly photographed by me, Rumen, LZ1MS to invite him to a discussion. We know him better as V31LZ, from his stay in Belize and he was very active in the morning hours at 7, 10 and 14 MHz on CW.
Meantime we ordered dinner and fine Bulgarian beer. Ivan had come, telling: it was not sure that Rumen could came, he had to take back his son - who was LZ3RZ - to the barracks that evening, because he was in the army.
We discussed, drank when a tall, jovial gentleman entered the restaurant and came directly to our table. He introduced himself, he was Rumen. We talked about Belize, the DX life, aerials, radios, QSL sending, etc. After 20 minutes Rumen excused himself, he had to go to take his son.
We took our departure, and a new round of beers. Than Ivo asked if we knew who Rumen was? But he told the answer at one: he was the professor of the Economic University of Sofia, he's a university professor at the Chicago University, in Cyprus, a professor at Galen University in Belize, he was Deputy Prime minister and Minister of Economy in the Bulgarian Government in the late 90's. He was also the president of the Bulgarian radio Amateur Association for 4 years, before he went to work abroad. Besides these he was multiple telegraph operator champion, at Bulgarian and foreign competitions. So, in this manner it is understandable the low profile of the Bulgarian boys. Meantime Ivan took his farewell, he works for the Bulgarian civil aviation, that day in the night shift.
Sasho - LZ1FW came. The spirit was high. They came with us to taste "zipporo". This was a homemade liqueur we got from Niko in Thassos. We looked to photos (we had taken 1000 digital pictures in 2 weeks ... Hi!). We talked about the LZ DX competitions, Sasho was doing the log checking for many years. Then we had to go to sleep, as it was midnight again. We asked our "hostess" for a wake-up at half past four. We already thought of home time (Central European Time) so we were surprised when she woke us up at half past three (local time was half past four ... Hi!) As we were awake, we departed early, since we had a long way to go - although not in terms of distance, but more in travel time...
With the help of the already mentioned road description document, and with the "knowledge" of the route we managed to reach home without special problems.
We thank for the interest to the expedition and for connections!
We would like to express our thanks to Mr. Nikos Kasaplis - Scorpios Apartman for the J47 QTH, Ivan - LZ1PJ for accomodations in Hotel Luna, Mr. László Dénes.and HA1AG - Zoli for English translation.

J47/48HW - Laci - (HA0HW), J47/48DX - Tomi (HA4DX), J47/48XG - Géza (HA4XG)