Land Tour of Bulgaria
The pictures of this trip are on http://picasa.google.com/. most have captions which identify them.
June 11 - 17, 2009
At 0830, we left our boats in Sozopol Marina, loaded up the rental car and off we went. The first part of the trip was across the eastern part of the country, full of farms and small villages nestled up against the mountains. Right away Al, the DD, (designated driver), notices how agressive the Bulgarian drivers are. They seem to be fearless (and stupid!!) the way they pass on hills, curves, etc!! We pass all sorts of trucks, horse drawn carts and cow crossings which don't seem to bother them. Giving us all a few scares!! The roads are not in the best of shape, nearly all just 2 lanes. But Al is a great driver, and we manage to safely maneuver our way all throughout this beautiful country with all parts in tact!!
The first day we visit Sliven (from Harry Potter???), cute small town. Find the market, busy with shoppers, and sit down for a sausage lunch at a little cafe. Back on the road to to our hotel in Kasanluk.Here's the link to see it: http://www.zornica-bg.com/engl_e.html. At dinner tonite, Ron tried a dish with rabbit. He's very adventuroussome.
Next door to our hotel is the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, a very small 4th century BC tomb accidentally discovered during the construction of a bomb shelter in 1944. It's now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Very beautiful, covered in murals.
June 12, 2009
From here we traveled to the Museum of the Roses. The gardens were very beautiful. One particular variety, a pink rose, is cultivated for the production of rose oil. it is picked between 5 and 10 am in the morning, only for a couple months of the year. It smelled very nice.
Next was a visit to the Shipka Monestary and Nativity Memorial Church, gorgeous golden domes and 17 bells. We could see the golden domes from the highway, miles before we arrived. There are pictures of these places on picasa.com.
After leaving the Monestary, we started through the Shipka Pass, a 13 kilometer winding road north through the mountains. This was a harrowing experience!!! More than once, Al had to avoid an oncoming vehicle!!
We stop at Etar, a small Ethonographic Village Museum. It was fascinating seeing the craftsmen at work. Nearly 50 different workships set along a creek bed, showing how they used water to power their machines. It was really interesting. All buildings had slate roofs, furniture carved out of tree trunks and cobble streets.
After another sausage sandwich lunch, we visited Dryanovo Monastery. This monastery was tucked beneath limestone cliffs and pine trees with a stream running just behind it. Just gorgeous.
We traveled on to our hotel in Veliko Tarnovo, called the Lucky hotel. It faced the ruins of Tsarevets Fortress originally built between 500-700 AD. It is huge, and has remains from 400 houses, 18 churches, numerous monasteries, dwellings, shops, gates and towers. The walls are built more than 10 feet wide. There is even a spot called "Execution point", where traitors were pushed into the Yantra River below. I am always amazed and impressed at the building construction so long ago.
After walking around the fortress, we strolled into town and found a spot for dinner. I was looking up at the names of the restaurants, and not watching my step, and of course, I tripped, sprawling out on the sidewalk!! more embarrassing than anything, but my wrist did get sprained. so if you notice a wrap on my arm in the pictures, don't be alarmed.
A nice dinner, Ron tried beef tongue!!! A good Bulgarian wine helped......
From our rooms we watched the Light Show from the fortress. It was pretty.
June 13, 2009
Just 4 km from Veliko Tarnovo is the village of Arbanasi, a historic monastery-village. Wealthly folks live here today, but even new houses are build in the style of the old ones. We found a guide at the monastery, and she escorted us through the monastery and the house-museum in the town. The monastery was built during the reign of the Turks (Ottomans), and they didn't like Christians much. But they allowed churches to be built as long as they were low buildings, with no towers, and had to blend in with houses. They could not outshine any nearby mosque. So they decorated the insides elaborately instead. Every inch is painted, just beautiful.
The houses were built with big, wide, high stone fences for protection. And in each house, escape routes were built in. Once again the interiors were elaborately decorated. Women and men kept separate rooms for daytime, but the whole family slept together in one room.
Leaving Veliko Tarnovo, we drove west toward Troyan. We toured the Troyan Monastery, and happened upon a wedding taking place. We were shocked at the bridal dress, with it's lacey bodice (more like a bustier than anything!!), and the outfits of some of the guests. (check out the pics at the picasa site). but once again, a gorgeous monastery decorated with frescoes on every inch. We then stopped at the National Fair and Exhibition for Arts and Crafts Complex, the site of the annual festival (I'd call it the state fair type thing) in August. Good, well organized displays of traditional crafts. The woodworking skills of the Bulgarians is fabulous.
We stayed at Hotel Oreshak for the night.
June 14, 2009
Drove over more mountain roads towards the capital city, Sofia. On the way we stopped at Koprivshtitka, another museum-village. This town had several beautiful homes, restored to their original beauty with intricately hand carved ceilings and colorful interiors. We spent several hours wandering the cobbled streets, had lunch at the Pear Restaurant. Very, very pleasant.
Arrived in Sofia late in the afternoon, had a devil of a time finding our hotel. Bulgaria does not believe in street signs - let alone anything in English. But we finally found it, right behind a gas station. This was a disappointing place: located 20 minutes outside the city center, no air conditioning, no internet except down in lobby, only 1 restaurant nearby, and strange oriental room decorations!! Fortunately we didn't spend much time here, just dinner and breakfast, and we were off again.
First visit of the day was city center. This is the capital city of Bulgaria, and had many, many beautiful churches, museums, old palaces, parks, etc. We found a good parking spot and just walked around. www.http://picasa.google.com for pics.
for lunch we stopped at an outdoor coffee cafe located on the side of a park, and in front of a former palace. What a mistake!! The menu was only in Bulgarian, but it had pictures. We ordered 4 pictures: 2 chicken and 2 sausages and 4 waters!! Waiter brought the waters. Then he came back and said they were out of the chicken picture, so we ordered a different chicken picture. one chicken dish arrived, followed by the french fries, followed by the other chicken dish. The 2 sausage dishes never arrived, and when we asked, he said they were "finished" (we wondered why he didn't bother to tell us)!! so we ordered 2 other sausage pictures, and they arrived one by one. This took about an hour. Good thing we appreciated the rest!!
After downtown, we headed to Boyana, a small town on the outskirts of Sofia. There we toured the former palace of the communists tzar, now a museum. Quite a place, with marble everywhere,fantastic carved ceilings, and crystal chandliers. Outside was an old military helicopter which of course, the guys liked. Nearby was the Boyana Church, a quaint little church set in the tall pine woods. Beautiful church in a beautiful, peaceful.
Back in the car, we drove to Rila Monastery, arriving about 7 pm. Got checked in with the monks, and settled in to our rooms. It reminded me of church camp days, including bunks with springs, and no hot water. We walked over to the hotel, next to the monastery, for dinner - grilled trout. Set up in the hills among the tress with a creek running through. Nice chilly night. Tony, our waiter, was most accommodating. He even let us borrow 4 glasses from the restaurant to take back to our room. See, we had bought a plum brandy - a Bulgarian speciality - and wanted to try it. We returned them the next morning, when we had breakfast there.
June 16, 2009
Left the monastery about 10 am, and drove through the mountains again to Plovdiv. The drive was harrowing as usual, but beautiful, too. It took us through a gorge, where we had the train track on one side of the road, and the creek on the other. Really awesome. Our hotel was right downtown, a small, but nice. It was a wonderful change from the last 2 nights!! The man who checked us in was very helpful, and spoke English. He helped us organize reservations for a dinner/show. This turned out to be quite fun. The food was good, as was the wine, of course. The show was entertaining, too, especially when the dancers gave each table a private dance!!!! It was a really nice way to end the trip.
June 17, 2009
We enjoyed a leisurely morning, while Al and Sally did a little walk-about town. Then we were on the road by 1100 - many miles to go, and most of them through the plains again. Stopped at the "Happy Cafe" for - surprisely - a chinese lunch and it was delicious!! Arrived back on boats about 4 pm. good to be back.
The trip was fast and furious, we saw so many churches, monestaries, museums, etc to make your head spin. Bulgaria is a pleasant country to visit, the food is good, the wine is very good and cheap, souveniers plentiful:Bulgarian pottery is pretty and cheap. (Couldn't find a doll for my granddaughters, though, which was disappointing.)
Recommend visiting Bulgaria to anyone.