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.
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.
Making my way up:
Such a pretty view:
Up near the top is a nice, shady place to take a break:
Then of course, there is this still looming up top:
Do you want to know what is up there? I did. So I kept going. Look how high I am now!
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.
You 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.
On my way down, completely burned and soaked in sweat, NOW the clouds come and the sun goes away. Sigh.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
When 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.
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.
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.