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Josh and Karen's Gap Year

Bulgaria 27/07/16 - 04/08/16

BULGARIA | Saturday, 10 September 2016 | Views [155]

We purchased our train tickets from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo, but found out in very broken English that we would need to change trains in a town called Oryahovitsa which was only 15 minutes from our destination. The tickets were in Bulgarian and there were no times or platform numbers for our second train, the lady behind the desk was no help as her English was about as good as our Bulgarian. We boarded our first train which was suprisingly right on time and made our way to our seats, which happened to be in the middle of a bunch of other tourists who we hit it off with straight away. There were 2 girls from America who were living in Istanbul, a couple from the Netherlands and an older guy from Korea. The border crossing took forever but we enjoyed swapping travel stories and tips with our fellow travellers which made the journey seem quicker. We arrived at our connecting station very late (after another passenger had troubles with the passport police at the border) and were worried we would miss our next train, but after showing our tickets we were quickly escorted to another platform where our train was waiting for us.

There were no taxis available at the station in Veliko Tarnovo which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and while there wasn't a very direct route to walk to our guest house we worked out it wasn't too far and could get there quite easily. I decided to take over the navigation and give Kaz a break for a bit, how hard could it be...... I took us to where my map showed me there was a bridge to cross the river to get into town but realised something wasn't quite right when we got there and the bridge was about 50m below us down a cliff. I decided it was time to hand the navigation back over to Kaz but it seemed there was no easy way to get across without walking a long way in either direction. After about 1 hour and in the fading light we eventually made it to our guest house hot, sweaty and not really speaking to each other. We quickly learned that English is not so widely spoken in Bulgaria and some modern conveniences, like ATMs, are not so convenient! But it definitely had a certain charm and it felt like we were well and truly off the tourist trail. We spent our one full day there exploring the Tsarevets Fortress, museums and the windy cobblestone streets lined with colourful old buildings that really made you feel as though you had stepped back in time. For some reason the day we were there all of the museums were free, so we made the most of it and basically went to all of them just because we could.

We had no plans for our next destination, and after having had a rather hectic few weeks decided to head to the Black Sea coast for some rest and relaxation. This travelling business can be hard work too you know. We stayed clear of the rather touristy beachside town of Varna and opted for the smaller, quieter town of Pomorie, just north of Burgas. Since the Internet in our hotel was down, we really did have to disconnect from the world and relax on the sandy beaches working on our pathetic tans. I did have to make a trip to a cafe with internet on one of the days to listen to my football team play. I don't think the waiter was too impressed that I sat there for over 2 hours using their internet after only having ordered a cheap omelette, but then again we are in Eastern Europe where no one ever seems impressed with us.... The only real activity we did while here was go to the Visitor's Centre that overlooked Pomorie Lake. The guide there pointed out heaps of different species of birds through his telescope and we also had a bit of a chuckle at all the oldies who were slathering themselves in the healing mud on the lake's edge. Not that Kaz hasn't done it before in the Dead Sea.

After slowing down the pace for a bit in Pomorie we got on another hot, airless bus that took us to Plovdiv. Well it was supposed to anyway until the unpleasant driver left us and some other travelers behind at a stop on route! Thankfully some young backpackers realised what had happened and made a phone call to get the bus to stop while we all chased it down! I wish I could say this was the first time this had happened to us. We're now too scared to get off at any scheduled stop and are undergoing some serious bladder training on long rides.

While Plovdiv is quite a big city, the old part feels like a small town and has so much history as it's apparently one of the oldest cities in the world. We got a taste of history at Nebet Tepe ruins, which had been home to Thracians, Romans, Byzantins and more. We got more history and culture at the ethnographic museum, an antique house and old mosques and churches. It was fascinating the way that history mingled with everyday life, with Roman ruins buried under shopping malls and marble pillars lying in the streets. Our hostel overlooked yet another set of ruins, amongst which local kids were playing cops and robbers. A highlight was a huge dinner of a traditional hot clay plate of mixed grilled meats and vegetables at a nice pub overlooking the city. We had cats to keep us company while we ate, as is the case in many eastern European restaurants.

Our last stop in Bulgaria was the capital, Sofia. We were only here for one night but after having a fight over a taxi I decided to spend my very short time here sulking in my room watching netflix while Kaz was out seeing the city. She did her own whirlwind tour to check out important landmarks like the Holy Nedelya church (which was blown up by the communists in 1925 in an assassination attempt), the archeological museum with its treasures from Thracian tombs, the royal palace, Saint Sofia church (the oldest in the city and how the capital got its name), and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (built in memorial of the Russian soldiers who lost their lives fighting against the Turks for Bulgaria's independence). She arrived back to the room late in the afternoon and, after we both ate some humble pie, told me how amazing this city was and that I need to get out and see it. Kaz put on her tour guide cap and whisked me around the city showing me all the must sees and explaining everything along the way, I think we found a new profession for her. I was very impressed with what we were able to see in such a short time and wished we could have spent longer here. The next morning we exited Sofia via their very modern bus terminal en route to Thessaloniki in Greece.

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