Historic sites and mad bus drivers in Bulgaria! (2010)

In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 14 of that journey (Bulgaria).

July 15th, 2010

Hi All,

I finally got to go for a swim in the Black Sea – the last day in Varna ended up being reasonably warm and sunny. Water was clean and clear…a bit cold but OK, nice white beach etc.

I also made a day trip to the UNESCO world heritage city of Nessebar, about an hour and a half by minibus down the Black Sea coast. Quite an adventure trying to find the minibus station, but got there eventually. The poor Canadian girl who accompanied me from the hostel for the day was pretty sure she would be murdered on those back streets whilst trying to find it!

Upon first impressions Nessebar appeared to be quite the tourist trap – people everywhere, restaurant touts hassling all bypassers etc, but it also turned out to be an interesting and nice place. Nessebar is set on an island connected by a thin land bridge to the coast, with lots of unique stone and wood buildings and many ruined churches etc. Apart from all the people it turned out to be a good day!

Nessebar UNESCO World Heritage Bulgaria
Gateway to Nessebar
Nessebar UNESCO Bulgaria Black Sea
Nessebar
Nessebar Church Bulgaria
Nessebar
Nessebar church ruins Bulgaria UNESCO
Nessebar church ruins
Nessebar church ruins UNESCO World Heritage Bulgaria
Nessebar church ruins

After leaving Varna I took a 3 hour bus drive to a small city in the mountains called Veliko Tarnovo – relatively quick trip and we only nearly crashed into a slow-moving car in front about 3 separate times! Cars seem to speed up and slow down constantly, and of course the bus driver would sit like a metre behind them! Veliko Tarnovo is a very nice place with houses perched on the hill sides and Tsaravets Fortress across the valley. My hostel has a great view of this place (some nights they do a sound and light show there, quite spectacular). Seems to be more locals here than tourists which is nice, it’s actually pretty quiet and there has been no more than 6 people staying at the hostel.

Tsaravets Fortress Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria
Tsaravets Fortress – Veliko Tarnovo
Tsaravets Fortress Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria Night Light show
Tsaravets Fortress – Sound and light show
Tsaravets Fortress Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria sound and light show
Tsaravets Fortress – Sound and light show

I had a minor adventure the first evening in Veliko Tarnovo…what started out as a casual stroll down a cobblestone path to get a pic of the town from down below on the river turned into avoiding a street of mangy dogs, walking through shoulder-high weeds, crossing a rickety old rail bridge, walking through a big road tunnel then through the outskirts of town and back up a steep hill! Got the photo though!

Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria
Veliko Tarnovo

Did a great hike the next day – over hilltops, along cliffs, through open plains and forests, across creeks, shoulder-high weeds etc. Quite the variety! Ended at a monastery up in the mountains about 7km away. Alas hurt my foot somehow during the hike so no long hikes for a little while now! It hurts to walk on, is swollen a bit but not black! Not black…must be ok right??? Dont worry have checked with brother in-law who is a Podiatrist and all sounds ok!

mountains Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria
Hiking above Veliko Tarnovo
hiking Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria
Hiking above Veliko Tarnovo
Monastery Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria
Monastery – Veliko Tarnovo

Whilst limping down the mountain I decided to take a different path, ended up walking through stinging nettles! Eventually I came across a road and flagged down a passing taxi, I must have been quite a sight? A limping, sweaty man appearing from the forest covered in red welts all over his legs! Apart from all that it was actually a fantastic hike!

Bulgarian food has also been a highlight. Delicious and cheap – stews, salads, meat skewers etc. For the beer lovers it is ridiculously cheap here and in Romania – pay about $0.85 to $1.50 depending on the drop for a half litre! For 2 litres in takeaway it is even less – for some reason they are in plastic bottles though??

Tsaravets Fortress above Veliko Tarnovo is mostly in ruins but must have been massive as much of the wall remains intact and it covers an entire hilltop. A large church remains at the top. There is an interesting spot in the fortress called “The rock of execution” on the edge of a cliff – used to throw people of there apparently!

Tsaravets Fortress - Veliko Tarnovo
Tsaravets Fortress Church Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

I am now in Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria, dotted with Roman ruins including an amphitheatre (which is still used today) and the ruins of a stadium. The 4.5 hour mini bus here was interesting…rough roads, driver stopping for very frequent breaks, me falling asleep and cracking head on window with every bump! Now I am going to try to work out how to get to Bulgarian Air Force museum South of here (next post).

Roman amphitheatre Plovdiv Bulgaria
Roman amphitheatre – Plovdiv
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