A Travellerspoint blog

January 2019

Dave arrives - ready for 3 weeks of adventure!

Sofia


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Yesterday I returned to Sofia and checked into my old favourite, Hostel Mostel. The journey from Skopje went smoothly and the border crossing was quicker than on the way in.

Taken on my walk to the hostel;

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Once I'd checked in, I walked down the road to another old favourite - a particular pizza kiosk/ café I know of round the corner from Boulevard Vitosha and the Court of Justice - for a late lunch. After that I just relaxed for a few hours at the hostel, before having their free dinner of pasta, sauce and salad. I met up with 'R' and her brother for a bit before going to bed - I was in a dorm room that night, but after Dave arrived today we moved into a private double.

This morning, before Dave arrived, I took 'R' and her brother to the Monument to the Soviet Army. After looking round it for a bit I left them to explore further, because I needed to get the bus to airport.

Once Dave and I had checked into our double room, we didn't do all that much for the rest of the day. He had had to get up very early to go to the airport, so he was now knackered and needed a rest.

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We did go out for a walk with his DSLR camera, however; we revisited the wonderful pizza place and Dave got a few shots of the Court of Justice and Boulevard Vitosha.

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This pizza place makes all their pizzas by hand; we saw a woman getting freshly-made dough out of a huge tub and then rolling it out into a massive circle. I've seldom seen such massive pizzas before. Every now and then she'd get delicious-looking, well loaded pizzas out of the oven, cut it into slices and transfer them into the glass cases from where customers can take their pick.

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In the evening we played some pool, had our free dinner and saw 'R' and her brother again. Tomorrow we've decided to go to Mount Vitosha, the mountain that provides a picturesque backdrop to Sofia.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:48 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged airport hostel dave sofia bulgaria boulevard_vitosha soviet_monument Comments (0)

Highlights of Skopje

Skopje


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The maze-like big bazaar

Stall after stall of fruit, vegetables, other foods, clothes, household goods and electronics... I passed stalls piled high with hen and duck eggs, cabinets filled with loose frozen chicken legs and fish, stalls with huge mounds of loose rice and beans; the scent of spices filled my nose. I kept walking and walking and at every turn there was something interesting to see! No tourist trinket type stalls at all - it was clearly a place for locals rather than tourists. I would have loved to have taken loads of photos, but although not unfriendly, the stallholders looked at me quite strangely whenever I stopped walking for more than a second or two, so I only took one or two and didn't have time to stop and see if they came out OK. I didn't buy anything as I will be in the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul with Dave soon, where I'm sure I'll be able to get anything I could have got here.

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Wandering the old town

The streets were filled with goldsmiths, silversmiths and wedding dress shops, with the occasional kebab counter, antiques shop or other shop thrown in.

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For example, there was one shop that only sold honey, and a tiny one which only sold syrupy batter sweets made in-store by the owner. I bought myself something a lot like the Bulgarian tolumbi, but longer and in a different shape.

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At one point I was just passing a mosque when the muezzins' calls started booming out over loudspeaker from mosques all over the city. One or two minutes after it began, men started streaming past me from all directions. None of them were in traditional Islamic dress, but they all took their shoes off and gathered to one side. I sat down in the shade on a handily placed bench at a discreet distance and watched as the calls continued and the men knelt down and prayed.

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The church of Sveti Spas was in the old town, too. It has the most magnificent iconostasis; the sheer amount of detail the carvings had was simply spectacular, with each section carved from a single piece of wood. I was given a free tour of it; I was shown the figures from the Bible who the artist carved in 19th century Macedonian traditional wedding outfits, and the executioner of St John the Baptist who was portrayed as an Ottoman Turk.

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The shiny new Archaeology Museum of Macedonia, which contains exhibits which were formerly held within the Museum of Macedonia. World class!

Macedonian denari

Banknotes come in 1000, 500, 100, 50 and 10 denari denominations and coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50. The MKD has become among my favourite currencies to date, because the banknotes are very colourful and instead of having portraits of famous people, they have pictures of icons and artifacts, birds and flowers. The coins also have pictures of native animals, plus a stylised sun (like on the Macedonian flag).

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Kale Fortress

This provided some panoramic views over Skopje and was nice to walk around, though part of it was fenced off.

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I also visited Macedonia Square, which was very impressive...

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...plus the Museum of Macedonia, which was less so. For a national museum the lighting wasn't very good, plus the exhibition of 20th century history wasn't very imaginatively displayed and the signage was poor. In the ethnographical section the lighting was also very poor in places, but had some interesting traditional musical instruments, painted Easter eggs, facsimiles of old photos of traditional buildings (my favourite was the one that looked like it was all made of wicker) and traditional fishing equipment.

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I also had time to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was small but held a lot of sobering information about the fate of the Balkan Jews in WWII, plus more general information about their history until then and their traditional lifstyles. I was particularly interested to read about Ladino, or Judean-Spanish, a language which developed from the Sephardic origins in Spain and has not completely died out yet.

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Something I think Skopje could improve on is the state of their river - the water itself looks OK enough, cleaner than the Thames at any rate, but they haven't really done anything to the banks. The concrete is filled with weeds growing through the cracks. It looks quite incongruous actually, because there are so many obviously shiny new statues and monuments everywhere, plus new walkways further back from the banks.

Pictures from my walk back to the hostel at dusk;

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Miscellaneous pictures of Skopje;

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:19 Archived in Macedonia Tagged bridges mosque market museum skopje macedonia fortifications orthodox_church traditional_customs Comments (0)

Arrival in Macedonia

Skopje


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On the journey from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia I was unlucky enough to miss all the sunflower fields by the side of the main road (I think I dozed off right at the wrong moments), but luckily I didn't miss any of them in Macedonia. The sunflowers are blooming right now and they are a magnificent sight! Aside from fields of waving sunflowers, the landscape in Macedonia was a mixture of dramatic mountains, grassy hills and farmland.

At the border our bags were checked once and our passports twice, but we weren't given passport stamps unfortunately (I was really hoping I'd get a stamp!) Our baggage checks took longer than they should have done because a small group of young British guys had theirs checked extra hard; after the rest of us had been finished with and got back on the minibus, the guards were still out checking their bags with an extra-fine comb. The others told me they they thought it was because when the guards had originally got on the bus to check passports, the guys had annoyed them by laughing and joking around! Nothing dodgy was found though, clearly, because eventually they were allowed back on the bus.

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Just as we drove away from the border there was a moment of shock - we passed right next to an overturned car in the road, either incredibly rusty or burnt out, with policemen next to it. No ambulances were there.

About an hour into Macedonia, the sun set; it looked incredibly pink. My photo doesn't do it justice.

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On arrival at Skopje's main bus station, I found my way to the hostel OK - it was only about 15 minutes' walk. Macedonia also uses the Cyrillic alphabet and in fact the language is very similar to Bulgarian. The girl at reception just told me that there's been a mix-up and I'm actually supposed to be at Shanti Hostel 1 rather than Shanti Hostel 2, and when I said 'nyama problem' (no problem) she asked if I spoke Macedonian! I had to say "no, but I do know a little bit of Bulgarian!"

Just about to move down the road to Shanti Hostel 1! Macedonian time is an hour behind Bulgarian time, so it feels a bit later to me than it actually is. After over seven hours of total travel time today, bed is certainly calling.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:06 Archived in Macedonia Tagged hostel buses bulgarian skopje macedonia Comments (0)

Money-changing in Sofia


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A short time in Sofia to change buses - a much smoother process than I was expecting. I'd heard that I might have to get my ticket to Skopje from Serdika bus station, rather than the central one; my only previous experience of Serdika being my unsuccessful attempt to find a bus to Koprivshtitsa back in April, I thought it might turn out to be a lot of hassle to find one to Skopje. As it turned out, however, I managed to get a ticket for the next bus to Skopje from the central bus station very quickly and easily.

I had a bit of time to kill, so I tried to change some leva into Macedonian denari. No such luck, so I decided to walk along to Serdika bus station after all, just to find another bureau de change. Luckily I managed to find one quickly and got my hands on some denari for the first time. It looked quite exotic to me, very colourful. The name is evocative of the Roman denarii, too - after all, Macedonia did used to be in the Roman Empire...

Posted by 3Traveller 06:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged buses sofia bulgaria Comments (0)

Last teaching day

Veliko Tarnovo


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Today was the last day of the language school's academic year, and so my last day of work. It has been slowly winding down for a while though - the young learner classes all finished at the end of May (when they finish their academic year) and the exam preparation classes have also already finished. I only actually had one class today; a small, absolutely lovely Elementary class which I've really enjoyed teaching. They were very kind when I was saying goodbye!

I forgot to mention it in previous blog entries, but speaking of kind goodbyes, I was taken to Stratilat Café for lunch last month by a one-to-one student as a thank you for helping her pass the CAE (Cambridge Advanced exam). After we'd finished eating she gave me a novel called 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett, set in the 1960s and described as 'the other side of Gone with the Wind'... sounds like an interesting read! She said that she hoped I would remember her every time I read it. Of course I will - she was an absolute pleasure to teach!

Last Sunday 'R' and I had a leaving party which was supposed to be held on the terrace in the sunshine, but unfortunately for once the weather failed us and the rain forced it into my flat instead. We had a great time anyway! Lots of people came and we had loads of food - mozzarella & tomato salad with red pesto, homemade hummous, flatbreads which I cooked ultra-fresh so people could eat them straight from the pan, green salad, a ham selection, strings of preserved sausages, sirene (feta-like) cheese, snezhanka (a yoghurt & cucumber salad), bottled roasted red peppers, olives, salted & buttered popcorn... There was cake which someone made, too, but I didn't have any space left for any!

Last Thursday I paid a visit to VT's Archaeological Museum. I know it sounds a bit silly but I didn't realise it was there until only about a month ago! The entrance is quite hidden away and there is a distinct lack of signage and advertising of it, compared to other attractions here. I love visiting archaeology museums - wish I'd found out about this place a lot sooner. Anyway, although not quite at the same level as the archaeology museums in Varna and Sofia, it was definitely worth visiting. It had some prehistoric objects, finds from the nearby Roman town of Nicopolis ad Istrum (which I visited on 21st March; see my blog entry here), Tsarevets Fortress when they were reconstructing the Patriarchate Tower in the 1980s, some votive tablets and figures of gods and goddesses, some Roman toys made of clay and some other interesting artifacts.

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One or two other out-of-the-ordinary have happened within the last two or three weeks - small enough not to merit a separate blog post each, so I've saved them up to put in one together;

- A couple of weeks ago it was a very misty and cloudy day; so much so that little sun was getting through. Both windows in my kitchen/ living room area were open. All of a sudden a swallow flew inside one window, circled the room and flew out of the other! When I looked back out of the window I saw loads of them circling round. My flat is on a ridge with valleys on both sides, so I have a wonderful view. I'd never seen so many swallows in the air in one place before, let along so high up yet level with my eyeline.

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- A week or two before the swallows incident, I was sitting in my flat doing something or other when suddenly I heard a voice on a loudspeaker getting louder and louder and then fading away. I rushed to the window and looked down but I was just too late to see what was going on. Ten minutes later it came back again and I saw that it was a circus advertising ploy - a small truck with colourful billboards on the back. It was clearly going round the town in circles, raising awareness. The third time it came round I was ready with my camera and managed to get a picture.

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- Two Friday evenings ago there was a Sound & Light Show with the accompanying soundtrack available to all - not sure what the occasion was (usually the soundtrack, apart from the bells, is only for a group of paying customers). It was a lovely balmy evening with a clear crescent moon. It was wonderful to hear and watch the show again, though bittersweet for me because I knew it was probably the last time I would hear it.

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As I said, tomorrow I am off to my first post-work travel destination; Skopje, Macedonia! I will have to go via Sofia. This is my plan for the next month and a bit; all of this worked out by ourselves, as we are travelling independently rather than with any tour company.

Veliko Tarnovo - Sofia - Skopje (Macedonia) - Sofia & maybe Mount Vitosha (Dave joins me here) - Veliko Tarnovo - Istanbul (Turkey) - Cappadocia - Izmir - Selçuk - Ephesus - Selçuk - Izmir - Istanbul - Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) - Sofia (Dave flies home) - Veliko Tarnovo - Bucharest (Romania) - Sighișoara - Budapest (Hungary) - Home (UK).

Now that I've finished writing this, time now to down the road with 'R' to meet up with the other teachers for a drink or two at The Bestseller. A cocktail I think, or some Kahlua on ice or Malibu & Diet Coke.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged parties birds museum bulgaria veliko_tarnovo english_teaching fortifications roman_remains tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

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