Tag Archives: bulgaria

Tsarevets Fortress – Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The main attraction of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria is Tsarevets Fortress.  I had specifically picked my hotel for the balcony view overlooking it.

tsarevets fortress, veliko turnovo bulgaria,  view from balconyI saved visiting the fortress until my last day, when I had several hours to kill before heading to Istanbul.

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I checked out of my hotel.  The woman working tried to hand me a pre-packaged sandwich.  I shook my head “no,” forgetting again that Bulgarians shake their heads left to right to mean “yes” and up and down to say “no.”  It took a few tries of rejecting her offer before it finally took.

Today is a hot day, as it has been for most of my trip.  It is also very sunny.  I have on so much sunblock and I just know I am going to be burned anyway. I am honestly considering a Kentucky Derby style hat for my Asia adventure in May/June.

Entrance:

Tsarevets Fortress entrance Veliko Tarnovo, bulgaria

This sign freaked me out.  First you prey on my fear of twisting my ankle and falling to my death, then you cleverly work in that I may have the shit scared out of me by random reptiles.

reptile sign veliko turnovo bulgariaMaking my way up:

Tsarevets Fortress Veliko Tarnovo bulgariaSuch a pretty view:

up high tsarevets fortress veliko tarnovo bulgaria

Up near the top is a nice, shady place to take a break:

resting spotThen of course, there is this still looming up top:

Tsarevets fortress, veliko tarnovo, bulgaria

Do you want to know what is up there?  I did.  So I kept going.  Look how high I am now!

Tsarevets fortress, veliko tarnovo, bulgaria

Tsarevets fortress, veliko tarnovo, bulgaria

When you reach what appears to be the very top, you may miss that there is an elevator, unless you know to look for it.  It is up a very scary (to me) staircase, behind a metal door.  I thought I had a picture, but I do not.  i found amusement in that there is an elevator to take you up the tiniest last bit of way, after you just hiked up this high.

Once you take the elevator up (it costs $2 BGN if I remember correctly) you are at the back of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God.

Church of the Blessed Saviour entrance, Tsarevets fortress, veliko tarnovo, bulgariaYou can sign in upon entering.  Here is a very blurry picture of my sign in.  I wrote the date, “Jennifer from Brooklyn, NY” and my blog name.  I love that the lyrics of my favorite band,  used for my blog name, now reside in a sign in book of a cathedral on top of the world.

blurry sign inInside:

interior The Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God, tsarevets fortress, veliko turnovo, bulgariaOn my way down, completely burned and soaked in sweat, NOW the clouds come and the sun goes away.   Sigh.

storm coming in tsarevets fortress, veliko tarnovo, bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria – Where My Worst Travel Fear Was Realized

Today I woke up in Sofia, Bulgaria and attempted to go to the bus station.  At first I could not find the tram station.  Then I got on a tram going in the wrong direction . Of course I did.  I finally got to the bus stop, bought a ticket and I was on my way.

Before arriving, I was all kinds of confused about the bus station in Veliko Tarnovo.  It appears there are two bus stations, the South bus station (Yug) and the West bus station (Zapad).  I was never sure which bus station I would be getting out at prior to getting there.  When we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, I wasn’t even sure we were in Veliko Tarnovo since there were no signs.

It turned out that my bus didn’t drop us off at either bus station.  Instead, we were dropped off at Hotel Etar, which is used as a bus stop for only one bus company (Etap.)  I didn’t even know this stop existed at all.  Note, this is way more of a convenient stop than either bus station.

At the time I got off the bus, I was so confused about where the hell we were since nothing matched the map I had.  Rather than deal with it, I took a cab to my hotel.  It cost me $4 BG which is about $3 US.  The driver even tried to give me change from a $5.

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Veliko Tarnovo is shaped like a horse shoe.  At the very bottom is the main bus station.  Up a bit is the bus stop I was let off at.  From here, you continue around the horse shoe.  Once you are at the top, you can see the Tsarevets Fortress.

Here is a map.  On the bottom left is the main bus station.  Up the horse shoe, you see the Hotel Etar bus stop (only used by the bus company Etap)  I still have no freaking clue where the West bus station is.

http://www.hostelmostel.com/wp-content/themes/default/images/VelikoTarnovoMap.gif

Hotel “”Etara” is actually named “Etar”  Either that, or the “A” fell off the sign.

I got to my hotel and checked in.  Have I ever mentioned how Bulgarians are the nicest people on the entire planet?  Well they are.  The woman checking me in didn’t seem to speak English, and I don’t speak Bulgarian.  We mimed our way through the conversation and we both had a laugh when we ended up playing “who’s on first” with her trying to give me the wifi password.

She brought me up to my room and showed me which remote was for the television and which was for the air conditioner.  From there I was all set.

I splurged on my hotel room.   I normally like staying near whatever transit I am leaving from.  I get lost a LOT and I don’t want to have to worry about missing a bus or train.  But for this leg, I had no idea where the bus station I was leaving from was.  So I instead, opted to pay more for a room with a private balcony overlooking the Fortress.  Look how pretty!

tsarevets fortress view from balcony

As an added bonus, the wifi extended to the balcony. Score!

This is a night view.  I promise that before my next epic trip, I will be investing in a better camera.

balcony night view

It took me at least three full minutes to notice the shower in my bathroom.  I was seconds away from going downstairs to ask if the shower was shared and outside my room.

shower

Today was a lazy day.  I walked around the town and took some pictures.  Below the Fortress is a quaint little bridge and the Holy Forty Martyrs Church.  I, idiot, originally thought it was named “Holy Forty Marty’s Church”.  You know, as if some guy named Marty opened a church in his name on his 40th birthday.

Yes, they let me travel the world by myself.

view of veliko tarnovo bulgaria from hotel balconypark near bridge veliko tarnovo bulgariaHoly Forty Martyrs church Veliko Tarnovo, bulgariatsarevets fortress, veliko turnovo, bulgariaWhen you get to the bottom of the hill below the Fortress, you can either walk back up or take a bus.   The bus is is (or back in May was) .70 BG, which is about $.50 US.  What you do is once you enter the bus, walk past the driver and go sit down (or stand or whatever you choose).  Someone will come to you to get your payment.   You do not pay when boarding.

On some nights, there is a sound and light show at the Tsarevets Fortress.  The schedule isn’t a set schedule so it is impossible to find.  There is a phone hotline however, so you can ask your hotel to call for you.

I tried taking pictures, but the ones on this website do it way more justice than my camera ever could.

http://www.velikoturnovo.info/en/sound-and-light/

I don’t really have much planned for my time here.  I really wanted to be in Plovdiv today.  But I thought that with all the high speed flashpacking I was doing on this trip, I would welcome some down time.  Well I was wrong.   Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed sitting on my balcony with a liter of San Benedetto Peach Iced Tea, getting work done while watching the light show at the Fortress down below.  But I kind of wish I would have seen Plovdiv as well.

So maybe now you are wondering what the hell my worst travel fear was.  If so, you missed it.  That’s okay, I did too.

A few months after this trip, I had a friend contact me asking for advice on backpacking Europe.  He was concerned about the language barrier.  I assured him it will be okay.  Hotel workers know that when you walk in with a bag, you are looking to stay there.  They know the drill. Then I started to tell my anecdotal story of the nice woman in Veliko Tarnovo and how we mimed our way though.  That’s when it hit me.  I am such a jackass. For SO LONG I had put off going to Europe because I was scared of so many things.  One big thing I was absolutely terrified of was that I would have problems because I do not understand any language other than English.   Then when I am in Europe, and this stupid fear reveals itself to me, I didn’t even recognize it because it was such a non issue.

Lesson learned:  Do not let stupid things keep you from living  your life to the fullest.

Bulgaria: Rila Monastery and Boyana Church. Featuring Bonus Adorable Dog Pictures!

This morning, I woke up late and had to rush to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral to join up with the tour group I was going to be traveling to the Rila Monastery with.  This was my first time joining a tour group.  I had originally wanted to go on my own and spend a night at the monastery (how cool is it that you can sleep there??)  But as I went about fine tuning my itinerary, it turned out I was not going to have enough time for this.  Getting to the monastery on a day trip seemed like a complicated nightmare.  So tour group seemed to be the best option. I was kind of hesitant since the introvert that controls me thought it would be hell on earth.  But it turned out that the only downfall was for the other people who had to deal with me being late to meet them, causing us to leave a few minutes late.

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The tour included Rila Monastery, Boyana Church and an optional stop for lunch.

I left my hotel in a rush and ARGH I got lost.  How am I lost?  HOW AM I LOST?  The other day when I was here, I had done a trial run to make sure I knew how to get to the cathedral from my hotel.  But I didn’t finish the trial run.  I got sidetracked by a DUNKIN DONUTS and jumped off the tram too soon.  God damn me and my need for iced coffee.

So now I am so lost.  Lost lost lost lost lost.   LOST.

My tour group leaves at 9:00.  I get to the cathedral at exactly 9:00.  I run around it like a maniac looking for a bus.  There is one bus.   I ask the driver if this is my tour bus.  Here is when Bulgaria having the nicest people on the planet actually backfires.  No, this is not my bus.  She asks me to show her the confirmation paper in my hand.  I do.  She reads it, then goes and asks someone else about it, have they heard of this company/have they seen the bus/maybe I could call the number on the confirmation…

The entire time this is taking place, I am FREAKING out.  I have to go.  It is now 9:05 I need  to find my bus GIVE ME BACK MY CONFIRMATION PLEASE.

I do another run around the cathedral.  Now I am positive that they left without me.  I try to not cry and instead start to walk back to where I think my hotel is.  While still in the parking lot, I spot it.  A VAN.  A VAN WITH A MAN STANDING OUTSIDE, WATCHING ME.  OH MY GOD ARE YOU MY TOUR GROUP?

Yes, yes it is.  I believe the tour guide had been watching me run around like a maniac this entire time.

The company name was V Travel.  I recommend them.  The driver was awesome and patient and despite my fears of joining a group, it was actually quite pleasant.

The tour company website is here (I paid for my trip, they did not sponsor me, nor do they have any idea I am writing this)
http://www.rilamonasteryshuttle.com/

I slept the entire way to the monastery.  When we arrived, we were greeted with this beautiful entrance.  I love the mountains in the background.

Rila Monastery BulagariaThe Rila Monastery was founded by St. Ivan of Rila, who was a hermit.  I was pretty excited to see how a hermit lived.  On days when I am not wanderlusting, my day dreams revolve around me becoming a hermit.

This place is absolutely beautiful.  I can never get enough of greenery up against a perfect sky.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Taken from the parking lot.  I want to build a tent and sleep here forever.

rila mountains blue sky

And the oh so colorful:

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Rila Monastery, BulgariaRila Monastery, BulgariaRila Monastery, BulgariaRila Monastery, BulgariaI saw two dogs who live at the monastery.  Okay I am sure they are strays, but allow me the fantasy that they have actual beds and food bowls, okay?

The first one I saw, fell in love with me and followed me around.  He broke my heart.

dog

Then came the second dog. Oh no.  Please no.  Do not make me cry.  See this dog here?

rila dogThis is clearly a twin sister of my sister’s dog, who is named Gertie.  See?  This is Gertie:

IMG_0147And this is Gertie as a princess:
gertie

Identical twins!  I kept running after Rila-Gertie yelling “Gertie” This really got me nowhere at all, except maybe on the list of “Crazy American tourist anecdotes” the bus drivers in ear shot of me share with their families over the dinner table at night.

Sigh.

After leaving the Monastery, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant where I got to actually talk to the rest of the tour group.  As always, people seem really surprised that I am a solo female traveler.  I don’t really get it.  I mean, you got here so why can’t I?  Companions aren’t required to board a plane, train or bus.

Here is the backdrop to the restaurant.  If there is ever blue sky behind green, I will take a picture.

blue sky behind restaurant

After lunch, we had our final stop at the Boyana church. This church is actually older than the country I live in.  It’s crazy when you think about that.

Being that the frescoes inside are very fragile, there are strict limitations on entering.  No pictures are allowed, and visitors are limited to 15 minutes at a time.

If you choose to enter, and you hear a voice speaking words you can’t really make out, assume that this voice is saying “Mind your head” and avoid smashing your head into the stone entrance like I did.  That really hurt.

Here are some pictures of the grounds:
Boyano Church BulgariaBoyano Church bulgaria entranceBoyano Church - Bulgariagrounds outside Boyano Church BulgariaAnd finally, how could I ever possibly mention Gertie without showing you the two greatest Halloween costumers she has ever worn???  I apologize for the quality but they were taken way back when my sister had a cell phone that was shittier than the one I have now.

Awwwww.  She is quite beautiful, isn’t she?

gerteeyore gertie

Sofia, Bulgaria: the Adventures of an Idiot (a)Broad

So remember when I went to Europe back in May?  And I posted about it regularly?  But then I stopped suddenly and never finished it?  Well I think that was because subconsciously I did not want the trip to end. So if I held out forever, never finishing up blogging about it, it would not be officially over.  But now since 2013 is dangerously close to being over, while I still have four more trips left this year, I figure it is time to get cracking.

When we last left off, I had returned to Sofia from Belogradchik. I also got to use my very first squat toilet.  Oh the adventures one has when one travels.

squat toilet

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So after arriving back in Sofia, I was done.  Hot, burning, filthy, squat toileted, exhausted, hate.  I broke my “no cab” rule and took a cab to my Sofia hotel.  It cost me about $4 USD, which is quite a bargain.  The driver offered that I could smoke in the cab, since he was already lighting up.

I got to my hostel.  I don’t do dorm type rooms because I am old and crabby.  I also don’t like walk ups because I am old and arthritic and don’t use a back pack. Finally, I avoid shared bathrooms like the plague, because you know, PLAGUE.  (I am just kidding there, I know shared bathrooms are relatively clean, I just cannot resist a pun, no matter how bad it is.)

So when the check in guy hands me my key and tells me I am on the fifth floor and it is a walk up AND we are on floor zero, meaning it is really on floor six…I am sure he is mistaken.  Why would I book a fifth (SIXTH) floor walk up?  In Sofia?   One of the cheapest places on the planet?

But I do not argue.  I know damn well I am an idiot and very well could have booked this room.  I just figure I will lug my crap up all those steps and check my confirmation when I get to the room.

I get up all the steps.  I am dying.  Did I mention I was hot, burning, filthy, squat toileted, exhausted, hate?

I open my room door and there it is.   A room without a bathroom.  Up six flights of stairs. In Sofia, where hotels cost less than a pack of cigarettes in New York.  Okay I’m slightly exaggerating there.  It would be equal to TWO packs of cigarettes.

Okay there has got to be no way in hell I booked this. Let me check my confirmation.   I pull out my laptop type thingy and GAH.  I did not ask for the wifi password.  DO. NOT. MAKE. ME. WALK. BACK. DOWN. AND. THEN. BACK. UP. SIX. FLIGHTS. OF. STAIRS. JUST. TO. BE. SURE. I. BOOKED. A. ROOM. THAT. IS. UP. SIX. FLIGHTS. OF. STAIRS. WITH. A. SHARED. BATHROOM.

People!  Are you not listening to me?  I SAID I AM HOT, BURNING, FILTHY, SQUAT TOILETED, EXHAUSTED, HATE.

GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

I walk back down the stairs. While I am down on ground level, I go to the supermarket and pick up some bread and cheese for dinner.   Have I ever mentioned Bulgarians are the nicest people ever?  Well they are.  I tried asking the cashier if they sold Chapstick.  She had no clue what I was talking about.  I pulled out an empty tube and mimed it.  She got so excited understanding what I meant.  She then told me in broken English that there was a DM nearby and began trying to explain to me what a DM is.  Now was my chance to get super excited.  I KNOW WHAT A DM IS!!!!

(DM is a chain of health and beauty supplies, kind of like a Walgreens or CVS in the states)

She gave me clear directions.  I got back to my hostel with dinner, Chapstick and enough brain cells to remember this time to ASK FOR THE WIFI PASSWORD YOU ASSHOLE.

Back up six flights of steps to the room.  I log onto the internet.  I log into Booking.com.  I review my reservation.  It clearly states shared bathroom.  I then look at the hotel page.  It clearly states there is no lift.  I am just too stupid for my own good.

The beds were comfortable and I did have a balcony so I didn’t fuck up completely.

Hostel Lavele, Sofia Bulgaria

Hostel Lavele balcony, Sofia Bulgaria

This was the view.  Very pretty.

Hostel Lavele view, Sofia Bulgaria

After showering, I ate dinner and got all cozy in that comfortable bed and stayed there doing blog stuff.  There is a genuine comfort in doing “normal” things while traveling . It makes you feel like you are at home wherever you are.  I love that feeling.  It just makes me want to push myself to live this life forever.

Belogradchik, Bulgaria – V.1.5

I had originally  made an “out-of-chronological-order” post about my trip to Belogradchik, which you can find here.

I loved it there so much that I could not wait to do it in chronological order.  But there is some information I would like to add, specifically about getting there and back.

When I was researching this, I found out there was a bus.  But the information was really lacking and completely conflicting.  Now that I have been there, I can help.

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At the Sofia bus station, I was told by the information desk that the only bus company that runs to Belogradchik is named Montana.  The internet says there is a second company, I know nothing about this.

The bus leaves at 16:00.  It runs seven days a week, even though some sites on the internet say it does not run on Sundays (I took it on a Sunday).

The Montana ticket window opens late on Sundays since they do not have any early buses going anywhere. I believe it opens at 11:30.  I could not read the Cyrillic sign announcing this, so I spent a few hours trying to not have a nervous breakdown in front of the window, while wondering if it was ever going to open.

The bus was mostly empty.  The seats were fancy and very comfortable.  The air conditioning worked perfectly. We made a couple of stops where we picked up people who were just standing in the road, with no bus signs anywhere.  We also had to stop for a herd of sheep crossing the road.

Here is the only clear picture I have of the scenery outside the window:

bus view sofia to belogradchik

Belogradchik was the place I was the absolute most excited for on this trip.  As we got closer and the rock formations came into sight, I wanted to scream.

Going back to Sofia from Belogradchik:  I confirmed at the Montana ticket window that the only bus they have running back leaves at 6:00 am.   The internet again, has a bunch of other information.  I don’t know anything about anything else first  hand.

I did not want to leave at 6:00 am because it meant I would need to spend two nights there in order to see the Fortress. I did not want to spend two nights in Belogradchik (side effect of having a full time job and needing to see everything RIGHT NOW as you are doing this only on vacation time).

So I decided to take the train back to Sofia.  Advice: do not take the train back to Sofia.

The internet advises you to take the train from Vidin.  There is a bus between Belogradchik and Vidin.  I think this is terrible advice.  Take the train from Oreshets.  It is on the Vidin line, but closer to Sofia than Vidin, so less time on the train.  I took a cab, it was shared with two other people (that the cab driver picked up at the bus station, after leaving me in the cab by myself for about fifteen minutes with no explanation).  It cost me 4 lev, which seemed about right since I had read it was 11.  So he must have charged each person 4.

The train ride is very long.  I believe it was about 4.5 hours (the bus is only 2.5 hours)  There is no air conditioning, it was hot and the train was PACKED.  We also made some random stop for about half an hour, where everyone except me seemed to understand they could get off the train and get some fresh air.

I will never take a train in Bulgaria again.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to post 3298473 pictures of Belodgradchik (even though you may have clicked the original link in the first paragraph of this post, which has lot of pictures in it) because BELOGRADCHIK DAMMIT.

This little guy followed me for a long time, barking at me.  I asked him if he was going to bite my ankles.  He then ran and got some backup in the form of a HUGE dog that was really mad that I insulted the little ankle biter.  I wish I had Huge Dog’s picture.  But he was HUGE and MAD.

little dog

Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik rocks, BulgariaBelogradchik rocks, BulgariaBelogradchik fortress, Bulgaria

Goodbye Niš, Serbia, Hello Sofia, Bulgaria!

I was taking a 4:30 am bus from Niš, Serbia to Sofia, Bulgaria.   My Niš apartment was on the third floor of a building that had a cement spiral staircase, and no lighting at all in the hallway. Being that I am leaving at this ridiculously early hour, there is also no sunlight in the hallway.

I gave myself an extra half an hour to sit down on the stairs and scoot down them with my suitcase in tow, to avoid breaking my neck and killing myself.  It is times like these that I almost wish I were not solo, just so that someone else could witness how stupid my life is.

steps death

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The walk to the bus only took about fifteen minutes.  As I was boarding the bus, I was shown that on my ticket, it clearly states that there is a charge for storing luggage on the bus.  I cannot recall the exact amount, but it was less than $1 USD.  I flashed back to the conversation I had with the driver’s assistant back in Sarajevo and now realized that I was probably about ten cents short with paying for my luggage on that route.  I had no idea what was even going on.  Now, I know.

The bus ride was relatively uneventful, save for the beautiful scenery outside.  When we crossed over into Bulgaria and had to show our passports, it became clear to everyone that I was from America.   This caused a lot of the usual interested stares I have gotten this trip, but the only person who commented on it was the driver’s assistant who seemed very surprised I was traveling solo.

We arrived in Sofia at around 9:30 am.  I did not even realize we were in Sofia at first.  We were let off at an annex to the main bus station.  All that is over on this side is rows of store fronts that contain only specific bus company ticket desks inside.  It took me a bit to realize that the main bus station was right next door.

I had approximately eight hours to go see Sofia before heading on a bus to Belogradchik (I would be back in Sofia tomorrow for more time to spend here).  I did not want to leave the bus station until I had secured my ticket for Belogradchik.  Finding out the bus information for this route was not the easiest thing.  The internet is so not clear on anything.  As a bonus, today was Sunday and the schedule I had, clearly stated “every day except Sunday”, which I had not realized until I was getting my stuff together when leaving my hotel back in Niš.  Oh I feel a migraine coming on.

The counter for the bus company that goes to Belogradchik was not open yet.  It did not open for two hours.  I spent two hours in the bus station waiting for it to open.

Once I got my ticket, I checked my luggage.  Then off to the tram to head downtown.  This was a headache as well as I could not figure out how to buy a ticket.  OH HEY you can buy one on the tram.  Duh.

My main plans in Sofia for today are:  (a) follow the tram directions for the hotel I am going to be staying at tomorrow night, so I know how to get there tomorrow  to avoid getting lost (I AM ALWAYS LOST) with luggage and (b) visit St. Alexander Nevsky Church.

My plans were slightly thwarted when outside the tram window, I spot the holy grail – DUNKIN FREAKING DONUTS.  AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!  DUNKIN DONUTS.  THERE IS ICED COFFEE AT DUNKIN DONUTS.  I HAVE NOT HAD ICED COFFEE SINCE LEAVING HOME.  I NEED ICED COFFEE.  GIVE ME ICED COFFEE NOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

I get off the tram and bolt back to the Dunkin Donuts.  I was so excited.  I think the guy working there probably thought I was a bit off with HOW excited I was.  Not only did they have iced coffee (well, iced lattes, close enough!), they also had donuts with smiley faces on them.  Of COURSE I am going to buy a donut with a smiley face on it.  I am so happy ICED COFFEE (OKAY LATTE, CLOSE ENOUGH).  I place my order in pretty much a sing song voice, which was even singier when i asked for “smiley faced donut please!!!”

EEEEEE!

dunkin donuts

As if this wasn’t cool enough (it totally was!), I managed to then walk to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral without getting lost!  I read a map correctly!  What a fantastic day.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is gorgeous.  Insanely gorgeous.  One picture will never be enough.

alexander nevsky alexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgaria, sofia, bulgaria alexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgariaalexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgaria

I was really surprised at how empty it was inside.  There were maybe about ten people in there, with about eight of them praying.   You are not allowed to take pictures inside.  Of course, the two other tourists were ignoring  this and doing it anyway until they got told to stop.  I sat in here for quite some time just admiring it.  It was so quiet and peaceful.

After leaving, I wandered a bit around Sofia before heading back to the bus station.

former communist party house, sofia, bulgariarussian orthodox church, former communist party houseCIMG0899central military club, former communist party houseCIMG0890CIMG0889monument to the tsar liberator, sofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgaria

How beautiful is Sofia’s backdrop?

sofia, bulgaria

Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria: The Time I Almost Got Murdered by a Bee.

I am going to be going out of chronological order with this one but I am just dying to post about it.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a bus from Sofia to Belogradchik.  I got picked up at the bus station by the owner of the guest house I was staying at (Drakite Guest House).  For a whopping $19 usd, I had a very nice room with private balcony and a shower so big that you could take every shower I have had to so far on this trip and fit them all inside.

This morning I am up so early go to see the fortress.  I cannot wait.  I pause to take a morning photo from my balcony.

morning balcony view, belogradchik, bulgaria

Then off I go.  To get to the fortress is a very strenuous walk uphill.  Up many hills. But the walk features GOATS!!

GOATS!  Belogradchik, Bulgaria

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I make it to the entrance and it is only 7:45.  Good, I have fifteen minutes to recover.  8:00 comes.  No sign of life.  I Google and find out it opens at 9:00 DAMMIT I AM HERE TOO EARLY.

fortress closed, Belogradchik, Bulgaria

I take some pictures around the entrance.

Belogradchik, Bulgariabelogradchik, bulgaria

I wonder if this is really Belogradchik’s post office?

Belogradchik, Bulgaria post office

Then I go return to sitting and waiting.  The next thing I know, a cat comes out of nowhere and starts rubbing all over me.  I hate cats.  Get OFF me.  It will not leave me alone.

cat Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Then the bees come.  BEES.  I am so scared of bees.  I have never been stung so the anticipation of what it would feel like has grown so big over the years.  As an added bonus: when I was very  young, I saw my sister take a drink from a can of soda that had a bee floating at the opening.  She swallowed the bee, it stung the back of her throat.  Her throat completely swells up and off to the hospital she goes.  I am still traumatized by this.  To make it even worse, after telling this story for literally three decades, someone points out the obvious to me.  That she probably was allergic to bees and went into anaphylactic shock.  Since she is my sister, I probably have the same bee allergy.  WHY WOULD YOU TELL ME THIS.  I am so scared of bees and you tell me THIS?

So now I am up here an hour early with a cat and some bees.  The bees will never go away.  I try and be nice to the cat (which really just amounts to me no longer telling it to go away) thinking maybe it will kill the bees.  It doesn’t.  It just keeps purring all over me.  Yuck.  More bees come, more freak outs.  No matter what I do, I cannot escape these stupid bees that keep flying all over me.   I am FREAKING OUT at this point.  If there are cameras up by the entrance, then there is video of me looking completely insane battling these elements.

Then I look down and see this:

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Clearly it is a Rorschach of a headless woman.  Is this a sign?  Am I doing to die up here from anaphylactic shock?  The next thing I know, THIS appears:

CIMG0968

It just sits there, staring at me.  For a good ten minutes.  Just sitting and staring.  I am so going to die up here oh my god.

FINALLY people start showing up. I feel better knowing that there is someone around to call 911 (or whatever the number is in Bulgaria) should I lose my head, go into anaphylactic shock, or get my eyes gouged out by a black cat.

At 9:01, the ticket booth isn’t open yet.  But this is Bulgaria, where the people are the nicest people on planet earth.  I am told by someone who works at the booth next to the ticket booth that I can go in and then just pay when I am done.  Honor system.

I walk in and take the same picture every person who has ever been here has taken.

Belogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, Bulgaria

While hiking to the top, it worked well for me to spend every moment gripped with fear that I was going to fall and die.  I was so focused on that, that I didn’t even really feel the physical part.  When I actually got to the top, I was surprised that I was there already.

At the halfway point, you have to choose to continue up stone steps that are all uneven and scary as fuck.  Or you can choose the metal steps, which seem too narrow.  I pick the metal steps. As I walk up to them, the four workers that had been sitting there say something to me.  I don’t understand Bulgarian. I point to the steps and do sort of sign language asking if it is okay for me to go up.  I get two head nods and two head back-and-forths.  You know, because in Bulgaria, they move their heads up and down for no, and then right to left for yes.  But to make it more confusing, Bulgarians will also change and do it the “correct” way for foreigners.  So when I ask if it is okay for me to go up and I get the different reactions, I still don’t know the answer.  I just turned and went back to walk up and this time, no one said anything.

Once at the top, I took 832473298467329874 pictures and admired the insane beauty of the world.  I had so looking forward to being RIGHT HERE and now I am. It was just completely exhilarating.

Here is a small fraction of those pictures.

Belogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik Fortress, Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Afterwards, I took a train back to Sofia.  I got to use my first squat toilet in the train station.  It was quite the exciting day.

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2013 European Extravaganza Itinerary!!!!

So after close to two months, I have FINALLY cemented the itinerary for my next trip.  This one was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Being that I’m going to be in countries that don’t have useful train service,  and bus schedules that are impossible to find online, it was so hard to plan.

For example, I could not figure “Okay I need this amount of time so let me see when the bus leaves……” because I can’t find any information on the bus other than finding someone’s blog from 2009 where they barely mention having taken that bus…..

I also wanted to cry after I worked out the first leg of my trip and then realized that the night I had planned to take an overnight ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik was the one night of the week that the ferry simply does not run.

But as of right now, my itinerary should be:

Brussels – Paris via Eurostar

Paris – Naples via flight.  Naples will feature a side trip to Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius and Capri

Naples – Rome/Vatican City

Rome – Sarajevo via flight. There were two flight options for this, one had a long layover in Belgrade. I wanted to book this one, so I could spend ten hours in Belgrade.  But that schedule was only available through a third party website that Google tells me is unreliable.  The airlines own website never offered this option.  So now I’m just in Belgrade for 3.5 hours.

Sarajevo – Mostar, with a side trip to Dubrovnik

Mostar to Nis (this will be an annoying travel day for sure)

Nis – Sofia with a side trip to Belogradchik and another one to Rila Monastery

Sofia – Veliko Tarnovo with a stopover in Plovdiv

Veliko Tarnovo – Istanbul

Istanbul – home

Although my trips are way more hectic than the average Europe vacationer can stand, they start off even more crazy.  Then once I get deep into reading travel guides and looking at specific train schedules, I end up having to adjust down in order to see everything I want to see.  For this trip I have already cut out Switzerland, due to me deciding that while in Italy, I want to spend a day at Capri.  This cut out my night in Bern.

I had also wanted to visit Chamonix-Mont Blanc, but after reading a guide book, I realized it would be better to visit in a month that is not May, so that more lifts would be open and I could see more.  So that’s on the back burner for now.

This is the second trip where I am spending a lot of time in Italy, which was never on my “must see” list.  It just works out that it’s convenient along the way.  Once I started looking into it, it just seemed a shame to pass by so many things without stopping.  So once again, I have a bunch of time in a country I never had on my list of “places I need to see before I die”.  It works like that.  It’s all part of the planning process.  You never know where you are going to end up once you start working out the minute details of your itinerary.

I keep a diary of my travels.  For my last trip, I went to Target to buy a fresh book to write in.  I was so excited to find one with the leaning tower of Pisa on it, since I was going to be in Pisa.  How cool would it be to take a picture of my diary in front of its front cover in real life???  That was one of the top highlights of my trip, as you can tell by the picture on top of this page!

I also fell in love with Florence.  I never in my life had any desire to go to Florence. It just worked out to be along my route so I went.  I’m so glad I went and got to stare lovingly at the Ponte Vecchio.

When you start to get deeper into booking, you will find that any mental plans you had before you started really planning, can easily turn into the exact opposite of what you thought you were going to be doing.  For me this is exactly what happens and I have fallen in love with everything I have done, even if it wasn’t on my life long “to do” list.

Now I get to spend the next 77 days formulating more specific itineraries for each place I’m visiting. The more I do this, the more I realize just how ignorant I am to everything that planet earth has to offer.  I love learning and more importantly, I love seeing everything I’ve learned about.