First Bite of Bulgaria

Is ‘real’ travel supposed to be hard? I have to confess that to avoid a 12 hour day with a train from Braşov to Bucharest, change to bus station, change bus at border and then a taxi – I booked a private driver….

It was hotel to hotel service, and a lovely treat to mark my two month midpoint of the trip. Tudor was a great driver, which I appreciated as it was mainly two lane highway with some wicked hairpin roads through the mountains.

The mountains in Transylvania are incredible, and I would love to come back and explore more rural areas.

The border between Romania and Bulgaria was interesting too. There was a single lane of trucks that stretched for miles as they waited up to two days for their paperwork to cross. Both countries are keen to join the Schengen, which has eliminated border checks in most of Europe.

It only took us about 45 minutes. When we finally reached the control, you gave your passport to the Romanian agent, who then passed it over inside the booth to the Bulgarian, so you drive ahead three feet and got it back.

So then it was a quick trip to Veliko Tărnovo. It is one of Bulgaria’s oldest towns, and home of the amazing Tsarevets Fortress.

View from my hotel, day and night

Construction of Tsarevets began in the 12th century and served as the Second Bulgarian Empire’s primary fortress. Remains of 400 houses, 18 churches, 2 battle towers, and a royal palace were discovered, and parts have been extensively reconstructed.

It is a huge complex and involved many stairs! My Fitbit registered 66 flights!

Church perched on the top was from 1235 but has been extensively restored. The modern murals inside depict 14th and 15th Bulgarian history.

The entire town is built up the banks of the Yantra River that winds through and loops back. Houses look like they are piled on top of each other.

There is a huge monument sandwiched on the river bend. It was built in 1985 to mark the 800th anniversary of the rebellion against Byzantine (Eastern Roman) rule which ended with the liberation of Bulgaria. The horsemen depict brothers Assen and Peter, and the tzars that succeeded them, who ruled when Bulgaria reached high political, economic and cultural prosperity (Assen Dynasty 1185 to 1241).

A friendly young busker

Of course, the food!

Gyuvech is the name of the clay pot and the paprika stew

Grilled meat with roasted pepper, tomato and eggplant, yogurt with herbs

Breakfast had some interesting choices that appealed to me as I prefer savoury to sweet.

Along with the usual there are roasted peppers, olives and banista (phyllo and cheese layers baked with egg and milk). Sirene is the Bulgarian brined white cheese similar to feta.

A nice lunch on a sunny terrace overlooking the river

The biggest challenge is the Cyrillic alphabet! Street signs are difficult too.

So after four days in Veliko Tărnovo, it is a three hour bus trip to Sofia for another four days.

As befits a capital City, Sofia is full of BIG buildings, churches, mosques, boulevards, and parks.

National Opera and Ballet

Aleksander Nevski Cathedral

Sofia Synagogue is the third largest in Europe

Banda Bashi Mosque

Everyone out for their Sunday afternoon walk. The weather has been a lovely 20-22oC.

Vendor with roasted corn and chestnuts

4th to 5th century Roman ruins found when excavating for the Metro in 2010-2012. There are parts of streets, houses, a church, and bathhouse.

Sveti George Rotunda from the 4th century AD

Sveta Sofia Church is the oldest church in Sofia

As a break from the city busyness, I took a day trip to two UNESCO sites.

First stop was Boyana Church, a tiny Bulgarian Orthodox church built in three stages – 11th, 13th and 19th century with 11th and 13th century murals. Visits were limited to ten people for ten minutes, with no photos.

It was a 2.5 hour trip up in the mountains to Rila, so I took the option of a small group tour. It was great with only six of us!

The church at Rila Monastery has beautiful murals inside and outside. There is also a protective tower and a whole circle of residences surrounding it.

And our guide photobombing my picture!

Today I’m off to Plovdiv. I still have three more weeks in Bulgaria, so will sign off here for ‘Part 1’

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