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Bulgaria

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Old Nessebar

Nessebar


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Our day trip today was to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Nessebar, which lies half an hour away by bus from Burgas on a tiny peninsula joined to the mainland by a narrow man-made isthmus. It is stuffed full of historic ruins and buildings, including Ancient Greek ruins, early Christian and medieval churches and fine wooden houses built in the coastal version of the Bulgarian National Revival style.

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We wandered around for a long time, enjoying the sunshine, architecture, cobbled streets and the white and light blue fishing boats in the harbour. Swallows flitted from building to building; a cockerel crowed down to us from someone's bedroom window.

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We came across lots and lots of old churches; some in ruins, some not ruined but locked and some neither ruined nor locked. Most of them had a distinctive green ceramic pattern running in a line across the archways above the doors and windows. The big ruined church of Sveta Sofia was impressive, as was the smaller church of Christ Pantocrator, which is now a small art gallery. I went in and looked round an interesting exhibition of facsimiles of historic maps of Bulgaria, the Balkans and the Black Sea coast (focussing on Nessebar).

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The church of Sveti Stefan, which was last up, had a spectacular interior. For once I was allowed to take photos (though still without flash), so I took full advantage. The frescoes were amazing.

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By the time I came out of Sveti Stefan, the sunshine had disappeared. We walked back to the old town walls, looked at the bus times and realised we didn't have time to go into the Archaeology Museum - a shame. As we looked out over the bay, we saw clouds and rain envelop Sunny Beach and then sweep towards us... The downpour hit us suddenly, with thunder, lightning and an absolute deluge of rain. I managed to get a good photo of a lightning strike, before running for the cover of the bus shelter.

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Before too long the bus came to take us back to Burgas.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:42 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art birds coast beach old dave bulgaria black_sea orthodox_church nessebar unesco_world_heritage_site extreme_weather Comments (0)

Fine dining in Burgas

Burgas


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Edit from January 2019: Restaurant Rose is still going strong!

After we arrived back from our lovely outing to Sozopol, we topped the day off with a fine dining experience. This was definitely a notch above where we usually eat when we go out for dinner, but with even fine dining in Bulgaria costing the same as an inexpensive restaurant in the UK, we thought why not?

Our destination was a place round the corner called Restaurant Rose. Usually in Bulgaria (and Ecuador), dishes just come out when they're ready; apart from desserts, courses aren't adhered to. This has never been a problem for me at all, but it did mean that when our starters here came before the main courses, it felt like a novelty! We both had soup - Dave had chicken, I had cream of spinach with crumbled goat's cheese. Both were extremely tasty.

Our mains were just as delicious. My pappardelle pasta with mushrooms and cheese sauce was amazing - the mushrooms in particular were absolutely divine, so incredibly flavoursome and juicy my mouth still waters when I think about them! Dave had a chicken fillet with hazelnut quinoa, cucumber and a white sauce that he raved about.

For pudding we had intended to have a chocolate ice cream from the ice cream shop opposite, but while we were still inside the restaurant we saw it close its shutters. This was a shame, because it had pictures of a Mr Whippy- type of soft ice cream made up of normal and chocolate ice cream swirled in together. I was particularly keen to try it. I suppose it was for the best that it had closed, though, seeing as we were a bit too full for it really after our mains. To help our digestions a bit, we walked to the seafront and back after leaving the restaurant.

Dave saved the day for us back at the guesthouse. We were lying in bed with both the main light and a lamp on, but the lamp was out of our viewpoint. Suddenly Dave said he could smell burning! It turned out that the lamp, which had no lampshade round the bulb, had tipped over and started burning the front cover of my paperback. If left longer, the book may well have started smouldering, or even gone up in flames! Well done Dave!

Photo taken from our balcony earlier;

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Posted by 3Traveller 05:59 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged coast hotel dave bulgaria burgas black_sea Comments (0)

Sozopol: Gem on the Black Sea coast

Sozopol


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Day trip to the historic town of Sozopol today.

For our free breakfast we had to walk down the road for 30 seconds to Hotel Fors, which is in partnership with our guesthouse. We took our pick from the buffet of cucumber, salami, scrambled eggs, frankfurter pieces, boiled eggs, mini croissants, cheese slices, slices of cake, jam, fruit juice and hot drinks; then we headed straight off to the south bus station. I had been told that all buses to coastal destinations leave from here. It was only five minutes' walk. Once we got there, however, a large construction site was where the station should have been. Ah. I suddenly realised why the bus had taken us to a different bus station yesterday. Just to confirm my suspicion, in Bulgarian I asked the lady at the nearby ferry service hut where we should get the bus to Sozopol. "Avtogara Zapad" she said. That's the west bus station. Suspicions confirmed!

A short taxi ride later we arrived at the west bus station. The driver asked us if we wanted to pay him 30 leva to take us to Sozopol - no thank you was the answer, as I happened to know that a bus ticket there only costs 4.50! At the station, first of all the lady at the ticket desk helpfully said we had to pay the driver, not her; then the kindly lady at the snack kiosk gave me a short impromptu lesson on the exact pronunciation of the Bulgarian word for a specific type of flattened chocolate doughnut! We finally boarded the bus ten minutes before it set off.

We arrived in Sozopol thirty to forty minutes later and immediately began walking around. It was a beautiful day. We saw fascinating old wooden buildings, of a type neither Dave or I had seen before, and lots of old stone buildings with terracotta tiled roofs. We passed at least two street stalls selling fig jam, but neither of us bought any.

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After a lovely wander around the cobbled streets, we came across a place I had heard about and was keen to visit; the church of Sveta Bogoroditsa. Like all churches built during the Ottoman period, it was wasn't allowed to be higher than a mosque, so it was built partly below ground level; when we entered the purple flower-filled courtyard we had to go down some steps to reach the entrance.

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It was small but wonderful inside. Nearly everything was wooden! Even the pillars were made of wood; I could still see the marks of the plane. The ceiling was wooden and the iconostasis and pulpit were made of fantastically carved, darker wood. I loved the contrast between the darkness of the wood and the vivid colours of the icons. I bought and lit a candle before leaving. Unfortunately there was no chance of taking any photos of the interior because the woman at the candle/ icon card stall inside the church would have seen me.

From there we walked on to Sveti Georgi church; today is the Bulgarian St George's Day, a big deal in Bulgaria, so I thought there might be something special going on there in celebration. It was lunchtime, however, and I noticed a sign saying that it didn't re-open until 2pm, so we went off to search out some lunch instead.

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Lunch was at an Italian restaurant. The pizza was simple but absolutely fantastic - mine was definitely one of the best I've ever had. We also shared a tasty tuna salad and some garlic bread.

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By the time we finished lunch it was past two o'clock, so after buying postcards, we headed back to Sveti Georgi. This church was built in the 19th century, so although there was a lovely picture of St George & the Dragon over the entrance, the interior looked newer than that of Sveta Bogoroditsa, and wasn't quite as atmospheric. I didn't notice any signs of celebrations apart from some tulips which had been placed in front of a big icon of St George. The other icons didn't have them.

Next to the church of Sveti Georgi were the remains of another church. Not much left now though apart from a few arches and wall foundations.

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The beach was our next destination. It was very pleasant, with a great view of the Old Town of Sozopol on the headland on our left. Like in Varna, the sea was very clear but also very cold! Dave swam but I just paddled. I went beachcombing but didn't see much apart from purple and white mussel shells.

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From the beach we wandered back to the Old Town, where we were due to catch the 17.30 bus back to Burgas. We had a little bit of time to kill until then, so we walked over to a shop with an ice cream cabinet outside the front with jars of fig jam on top. Dave almost bought a jar but then backed out. An ice cream kept me going until the bus arrived.

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Posted by 3Traveller 04:43 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art coast beach buses dave bulgarian bulgaria icons sozopol black_sea orthodox_church Comments (0)

Roman baths and the Varna Gold Treasure

Varna and Burgas


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Our bus to Burgas didn't leave until 15.00, so we had all morning and early afternoon to explore Varna further. Our destinations were the Roman thermae (public baths) and the Archaeological Museum.

After breakfast we checked out and put our rucksacks in the hostel's luggage storage before heading out to the thermae.

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These ruins are expansive and well preserved; enough of the walls survive for the layout of the different rooms to be seen clearly - the changing rooms, frigidarium (cold pool), tepidarium (warm pool), caldarium (hot pool)...

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...an amazing hypocaust and the toilet area (down a level and in a cloistered area).

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Our experience was heightened even more by the sunshine, lush greenery and flowering bushes. We were also the only people there the entire time!

From there we walked on to the Archaeology Museum, via some lunch and a lovely small park containing fountains, a flower market and lots of purple-blossomed trees.

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The museum was very interesting and we had enough time to look round all of it at a leisurely pace. We saw the famous Varna gold treasure (possibly the oldest worked gold in the world), very early Christian crosses, Thracian and Roman artifacts and statues, a large mosaic from the Episcopal Temple of Odessos (Roman Varna), the skeleton of a Copper Age 10/12-year-old child, some wonderful vividly coloured icons (some very old) and weapons and pottery from the Stone, Copper and Bronze Ages.

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Back at Yo-Ho Hostel their printer wasn't working, so instead of printing out a street map of the route from the bus station to our guesthouse in Burgas, I drew it on a piece of paper. We took a taxi from there to the private bus station, where we got straight onto a minibus to Burgas. The woman at the ticket desk had told me we had to pay the driver, not her, so we did so before we got on. 14 leva each for a two-and-a-half-hour journey - not bad!

We saw some incredibly green, lush, hilly scenery in the first half of the journey, with occasional views of the sea. Every now and then we passed through a small village with leafy vines growing on frames over the pavements and in people's front gardens. Once we had passed the unlovely town of Sunny Beach, the landscape flattened out into fields.

On arrival in Burgas we had some problems getting to the guesthouse. They'd said that they were only five minutes' walk from the bus station, but we couldn't find them anywhere - and the roads didn't tally at all with the ones on my drawn map. One of them had the same or very similar name. We wandered around for a while before giving up and getting a taxi. It was only once I'd got my hands on a free Burgas city map from the guesthouse reception that I realised what the problem had been - we'd arrived at a different bus station to the one on my map. My guidebook had said that all arrivals from and departures to coastal destinations are at the south bus station, but we'd arrived at the west one, quite a way out from the city centre! Oh well - we'd got there in the end and were settled into our guesthouse, which was a very clean, modern one, like a hotel.

We had dinner at a pizza restaurant round the corner; I had tarator and we shared a pizza and some mozzarella balls. Fireworks went off as we waited for our food to arrive, but we couldn't see them, only hear the bangs!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:40 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged coast market museum hostel buses dave burgas varna black_sea roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Varna: Maritime Capital of Bulgaria

Varna


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On our return from Pobiti Kamani at about half past one, we spent the rest of the day exploring in the sunshine. First impressions were of a very pleasant city, filled with colourful buildings, flower stalls, leafy trees, pink blossom and the unmistakeable smell of sea air.

The taxi dropped us off by the cathedral - I nearly went inside, but then realised I only had a short-sleeved top on, so I decided to come back later, or tomorrow, instead. We walked through a flower market along one side of the cathedral, past a couple of antiques stalls round the front and then through a fruit, vegetable & flower market lining the pavement of the street in front of our hostel.

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After dropping off the postcards and fridge magnets we'd bought at Pobiti Kamani, putting on our flipflops and picking up a towel, we headed off to explore the city. We knew that the museums and the big Roman Thermae would be closed, as they are every Monday, so we just headed to the beach, via the old town. The first thing we did was stop at a pizza counter for a late lunch; then we stopped at a supermarket to buy drinks to share and an apple for me. We walked along, admiring the colourful stucco architecture as we went, until we reached the main road that passes by the docks.

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We carried on until we reached the beach, but on the way there we passed by some smaller Roman baths of which we could view everything from the pavement. The road was on our right and the baths remains were on our left.

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We both paddled in the sea, but due to the sheer bone-chilling cold of it, neither of us swam. That was the coldest sea I'd ever been in, including the sea in New Zealand! The water was very clear and looked very inviting - shame it wasn't September or early October really, as I've been reliably told by people who have visited it then that the sea is very warm at that time of year; like bath water, apparently!

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After staying on the beach for a while, we moved on to the park a bit further along. Primorski Park is right next to the beach and was lovely to stroll around.

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We passed by the Naval Museum - it had lots of mine casings and warship equipment clearly on display in their garden. We could see it all through the fence.

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A little bit later on we passed a building with sculpting going on behind fences outside. First we saw a man sculpting a tree trunk with a chainsaw; then round the corner we saw two or three men with facemasks on, sculpting massive blocks of marble. They were surrounded by piles of offcuttings. Both the tree truck and the marble sculptures hadn't got to the stage where any shape or pattern was recognisable, but it was still interesting to watch for a while.

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On our walk back to the hostel we stopped at a sweetcorn stall for a cup each of sweetcorn mixed with butter, salt and grated parmesan cheese - delicious!

We finished the day with some dinner at the place we'd been recommended last night and then some internet time back at the hostel.

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Posted by 3Traveller 02:39 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art coast beach market hostel dave bulgaria varna black_sea roman_remains Comments (0)

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