Posts Tagged ‘Bulgaria’


Week 37: Lazing About

   Posted by: Rhona    in Bulgaria, Ukraine

This week has been uncharacteristically lazy. We’ve spent quite a few days lazing about in hotel rooms, sleeping late and not achieving much at all. It’s been really nice! Sometimes you need those days and we haven’t taken many yet this trip, the weather has been so fantastic and there’s been so much to see that we haven’t slowed down. When we got to Nesebar the weather had changed to winter and to be honest there wasn’t much to see once we’d done the short wander around the small old town. The isthmus that the old town is on was almost deserted in the winter season, pretty much all the churches, shops, restaurants and even Tourist Information were closed. All that remained of the summer tan-seeking throng was a few chilly postcard sellers, construction workers preparing for next year’s rush and a taxi driver who was so desperate for business that he promised to take us anywhere we wanted to go for bus fare prices. We ended up paying him a bit more than bus fare price for the trip to Varna (1.5 hours) and he was the most excited and happy taxi driver I think I’ve ever met. Our measly 30 leva (USD25) fare won’t go far toward the 1,000 leva he pays monthly to rent the car but it’ll help.

Varna is also on the coast but being a big city (3rd largest in Bulgaria) most sun seekers head to one of the smaller resorts nearby (when they come in summer). We got in on a Saturday and the next bus up to Odessa, Ukraine, wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon. Once we’d wandered the beachfront, been to the cathedral, seen the Roman baths and wandered the streets a bit we spent the rest of the time hanging out and doing mundane life stuff like laundry, catching up on emails and watching lots of interesting shows on the History Channel. Did you know that in WW2 homing pigeons were actually a really important means of communication for both the Allies and the Axis? So important that both sides trained peregrine falcons to take out enemy pigeons. The British actually trained their falcons to retrieve the Nazi pigeons instead of just killing them, with messages and markings intact, thereby enabling them to plant double agent pigeons behind Nazi lines. When the Nazis released these devious birds they returned to their roosts in the UK carrying important enemy intelligence. The things you learn when you can’t be bothered to leave the hotel room…

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Week 35: Ruins and Mountains

   Posted by: Rhona    in Bulgaria

The train from Bansko was deliciously slow as we trundled past rural villages and farmhouses. On arrival in Plovdiv we rented a room in an older couple’s house and set out to explore the city. It had a nice vibe to it – despite being Bulgaria’s second largest city it had more of a village feel to it with plenty of small shops, fruit and veg markets and people wandering the streets. Every now and again a Thracian or Roman ruin would stick up out of the modern city and remind us of the incredible history that this part of the world has seen. Underneath the pedestrian shopping mall are the remains of a Roman stadium and up on the hill we went to on the first night are the remains of a fortress, the earliest incarnation of which dates back to the Bronze Age. There is evidence of a Thracian settlement on the site, which was conquered and further fortified by Phillip II of Macedon in 342 BC. These days it’s a hangout for teenagers and cuddling couples who enjoy the view across the city and, apparently in summer, a few beers.

The old town was where we spent a lot of our time; it was a picturesque tangle of cobblestone streets lined with houses that overhung their lower levels. It seemed that very few blocks of land were square and so the upper levels simply hung out over the misshapen street frontages so that the upper levels had regular shaped rooms. Along some of the narrower streets the houses almost touched above our heads as we wandered through. Some of the old houses were open as museums and we explored the revival era (1762-1878) houses with their hand painted murals and decorative flourishes. The Koyumdjioglou house (built 1848), which is now the Ethnographic Museum, had some of the most incredible wooden ceilings I’ve ever seen. Actually, I should say some of the most incredible ceilings as I haven’t seen many wooden ones. They were carved and intricate and my favourite was a huge starburst that erupted away from the chandelier in a way that defied gravity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Week 34: Bulgaria!

   Posted by: Rhona    in Bulgaria

I have to say, our first impressions of Bulgaria were a little underwhelming. It was a grey day and Sofia’s outskirts didn’t look like much. However after 10 minutes of shocked silence and culture shock digestion things looked a bit better. In a way the dull light suited the flaking paint and crumbling concrete of Sofia’s aging apartment blocks better than a brighter sun would have.

We spent our first full day wandering around the city, but first was a very important visit to the German embassy where I finally picked up my new passport in my married name. We’ve been married nearly 8 months and have been trying to sort this out since March 25th so it was quite an achievement to finally hold it in my hands. We celebrated with some delicious ice cream in a 1909 shopping market in the centre of town.

Nearby was the Sofia Synagogue, built from 1905 to 1909, which has recently undergone an EU sponsored restoration project to celebrate 100 years. There was also a mosque nearby, not to mention the many (many) churches. Quite a few of the ruins and buildings we saw dated from Roman times, around 100AD, when they controlled the lands that are now Bulgaria. The Thracians were here before them (from the 4th century BC) but there are no remains from that era in downtown Sofia, though we may see some as we travel around the country. Bulgaria was also part of the Ottoman Empire from 1396 to 1878. In WWII they aligned with Germany (though saved their Jews from the Nazis) but then changed sides to the USSR after the war. They never actually joined the USSR, but were communist, and Russian is still commonly understood.

One of the more impressive sights we saw in the capital was Alexander Nevski cathedral. It bubbled up from the ground with layers of rounded domes and flourishes with its golden domes glinting in the sunlight and reflecting the brilliantly blue sky. Construction of the cathedral started in 1882 but actually the majority of the building happened between 1904 and 1912. It honours the Russian soldiers who died fighting the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878).

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