After landing in Bulgaria with Maremoto Jan, we decided to travel across the country to Sofia. Traveling with Jan makes always a difference.
Bulgaria is a Balkan country, the first of my RodTrip. As most of them, it is a melting pot of cultures and it’s full of history. Their language is heritage of the Slaves, with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, their folklore and gastronomy is more related with the Balkans. The majority of the country is Christian Orthodox, but there are still Muslims from the Ottoman Empire.
Bulgaria is now a day is a member of the European Union, but still it is not part of the Schengen Zone nor the Euro. Europe requires them to end up with the corruption. As if we had no corruption back in Europe. Even though the quality of life I felt it was as good as the European standards. In terms of economy, it is a cheap country. Not as cheap as Ukraine, but approximately.
My journey in Bulgaria – I may say “our journey”, as I travelled with Jan – started after we disembark from the Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta 2016. I sailed on board of the Atyla Traing Ship and he controlled the Regatta communications from the Bulgarian vessel Royal Helena.
Varna is the mayor city of Bulgaria in the Black Sea. It is the summer destination not only of Bulgarians, but also of Russians and other Balkan citizens. As you may imagine, it is full of hotels, restaurants and activities for tourists. Varna, it is also a business and university centre, seaport, and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine.
Thanks to Jan travelling at the Royal Helena we made a good friendship with several citizens. Among them, the Captain of The Royal Helena, Stoil, and his engineer. Super gently people that let us stay on board of the vessel while we were in the city.
After the regatta as I was saying in the previous post, few vessels rested in Varna with the Royal Helena and the Kaliakra. One was the Akela, which young sailors were about to rest a couple of weeks after their long journey from Saint Petersburg to the Black Sea. The second one was Pogoria from Poland. Pogoria, due to a problem in their engine had to rest to be repaired.
Pavel, the engineer of the Royal Helena, in his great generosity helped the crew from Pogoria to get ready to depart in a couple of days. Meanwhile, we had the chance to meet and eat with their crew. I must say that Krzysztof, Captain of Pogoria, was a storyteller worth meeting. Pilot and now captain of the Polish training ship he told us about the discipline on board and about many anecdotes in his adventurous life. He made us laugh in every dinner and drink. In his generosity, Kryzstof, even offered me to travel with them on board. Unfortunately, they were going to Poland and I was supposed to be heading East.
We shared many moments all together as a big gang until Pogoria left Varna back to Poland and we left to Veliko Tanovo. I felt so comfortable with all of them, the captains, the crew and the liesson people that helped us while we were in town.
I visited Varna on my free day while I was on board of Atyla. Among the interests of the city I might highlight the monument at Park-pametnik na balgaro-savetskata druzhba, the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, and my favourite, the Primorsky Park.
The Primorsky Park is a long park in the coast that separates the city from the sea. It is a garden dense of vegetation with an open-air theatre, a dolphinarium and several monuments. As it is next to the seaside but elevated from it, there are several point of views with nice panoramas of the Black Sea. The long alleys and the zig-zagging paths are perfect to have a walk or some workouts. In the weekends and sunny days, it is full of people. Still I think that what I liked the most of the park is how a green open space separates the city from the beach.
With Jan I visited again most of the sightseeings in the city centre and some other places we found in our way like the puppets or the marine museum. We also liked to get lost in the city around the residential areas looking for good places to eat or have a drink, on our own or with our new polish friend Marta.
Known as “the city of the Tsars”, it is a small city among three hills capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Thanks to his history and the architecture it attracts many tourists. Even though, there are only few hostels in the old town and few restaurants.
It took us a while until we finally remembered the name of the city. For some reason since Varna, until we were in Veliko Tarnovo we weren’t able to say where we where travelling to. Thanks to the walking tour we not only learned about the city history, but also that the name came from “Terranova” and to distinguish from another Tarnovo was added the Bulgarian prefix “Veliko” that means “Great” attending to it’s relevance during the Second Empire.
The old town is located among the three hills what means that walking in the city is going up and down steep streets and stairs. As well there are nice panoramas of the city from the top and of the city from bellow.
In the old town there are magnificent architectural remains of the old capital, Orthodox churches, patios, houses and streets.
But the main sightseeing is the Tsarevets. It is a Citadel in one of the hills where is the Palace of the Bulgarian Emperors and the Patriarchal Church.
Here we also learned about the Baldwin I. It happened that the first Latin Emperor Baldwin I and count of Flanders died in one of the towers of the Tsarevts after being captured by the Tsar Kaloyan. According to the legend, the wife of the Tsar felt in love with Baldwin. He rejected her several times not to betray his marriage. In revenge, the Tsar’s wife accused him of raping her for what he was hanged in the tower. Now the tower where he was prisoner is named after him.
The other main sightseen of the city is the Monument Asenevtsi. It is in the other side of the river and it represents the four emperors of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
As it started to be usual in our journey, Jan and I, in between visits we liked to try the local gastronomy. As Bulgaria wasn’t an expensive country we didn’t mind to visit the three main restaurants of the city. We really enjoyed eating and drinking well. In one of our romantic dinners we get to try a local wine called “No man land” according to Jan it was our place to be.
It is considered one of the oldest cities of the world with remains from the 6th millennia BC. The city has known Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Slav-Vikings, Crusaders and Turks. All of them left behind a trace of their culture and architecture.
Plovdiv is crossroad in the Balkans and a commercial city from it’s very origins. Plovdiv, as Rome was settle among seven hills. However, only 6 of theme remain. In difference to Rome, it is located in a great fertile esplanade where the hills that reach even 250 metres are the landmarks that makes a difference with the environment.
Our next stop in the way to Sofia was this historic city that we didn’t get to find so interesting. The little cheap hotel where we stayed didn’t help so much, but we overcame that fact by meeting new people. In this case other travellers.
To visit the city as it came to be common in our travel we take advantage of the Free Walking Tour. With it we visit the remains of the romans in the city centre, the main street, the old town, the area of Kapana and walked up one of the hills of the city. By our own we visited two other hills. The clock and the big monument.
We stayed in Plovdiv two nights, more than enough. Unfortunately, we left before the fest in Kapana It looked great. That was the area of the city where we used to eat at. It is kind of an alternative square with plenty commerce. Just note that the service in the Balkans is not like in Europe.
IT was in Plovdiv where I visited my first Mosque in this trip. We were already in a former Ottoman region and getting closer to the Middle East.
Sofia is the mayor city of Bulgaria and its capital city. It is as well one of the cosmopolitan cities of the country with Varna. Among its population there are many Muslims, Jews and Catholics even if the majoritarian religion in the country is the Orthodox Christianism.
We get to Sofia by bus as we used to travel all around Bulgaria. The station was as always far away from the city centre, and we walked to our hostel having a preview of the Bulgarian capital city. In our hostel we slept in a 20 beds dorm to save money. It was a dark mansard turned into a room on the top of the building. There were 10 beds in each side and ours where at the end of the room. The roof was low and as it seems common to me and Jan found out fast, I like to hit my head daily. At the room, I increased my average. The good thing is that the lobby of the hostel was always full of life but not all the staff were nice.
The time we stayed in Sofia the weather was rainy and a bit cold. Winter was coming. Between rain and storm, we visited the city. It is not a big city and the old town is easy to visit it in one or two days.
The first day there, after the rain we catch the Free walking tour of the afternoon. We ended it frozen. With the Free tour we learnt about the Romans visiting the roman remains and walked the “Cardos” of the former settlement. We crossed the Byzantine walls and visited the cathedral. Also, we passed by several Ottoman mosques and the Communist political headquarters.
Among the particularities of Sofia my favourite is that you can find a temple for the different monotheistic religions around the main square, must of them preserved by the communist as cultural buildings.
After such an overview of the city we visited some museums and the more urban areas looking for nice places to eat, chat and hang out. As we had three days in Sofia we had plenty nice meals together and we even share some of them with people we met on Couchsurfing, Tinder or just in the bars.
Bulgaria is a country with a nice wine region in the south. We didn’t visit although we thought about it. We hadn’t the time to visit all. But we knew to taste it there was no need for it. We found a nice-looking wine bar next to the city centre. We tried to take a wine there every night but there was always an event there. Hopefully the last night we slept in Sofia the event was a Wine tasting that we could join even if we get there late.
We get to taste 5 Bulgarian wines for less than what we expected to spend. After everyone from the event left, we stayed at the bar talking with two American girls from next table talking with the waiter and a girl that came to meet us there.
That was the beginning of a crazy night that will end up with Jan missing his next-day morning flight after several Raki.
Raki is a strong alcohol that in Bulgaria is made from grapes and is not sweet at all. It’s about 70% and Bulgarians say won’t cause you a headache. Not true!
Even though, the night was kind of magical and special. Unfortunately, I had to sleep in the couch as when we finally manage to get home Jan’s bed was taken by someone else so I put him into my bed.
Living in a rush after waking up, Jan get it to the next plane back home, unfortunately for him, he owes me a great big hug plus the interests. ;P
That same day after visiting all the temples in the main square, I left Bulgaria.
Thanks again Jan fur such a magical experience with you in Bulgaria.
The best way to travel in Bulgaria might be by bus. It is a cheap way and connects almost every city. However, do pay attention at the schedules and that the bus stations are rarely next to the city centre.
Regarding safety, it is a safe country were you just need to pay attention to pickpockets and some scams for tourist, mainly by taxi drivers next to the airport, bus or train stations.
Food is great in Bulgaria, really tasty and perfect to marriage with local wines, and generally is cheap.