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A taste of Slovenia

Maribor


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The end of a full day in Maribor, Slovenia. I arrived here yesterday after almost a whole day of travel; one Flixbus from Bregenz to Munich, then another one for six-and-a-half hours from there to here.

The following is a series of moments, impressions and experiences from the last two days.

The beauty of the frozen Bavarian landscape muffled in snow; long stretches where every branch and every leaf of every last tree and bush looked as if it had been dipped in snow or heavy frost. Snow as far as my eye could see...

The Old Vine of Maribor; the oldest vine in the world to still bear fruit, it has been producing grapes for 400 years, and even now these grapes produce about 25 litres of red wine per year. The Old Vine grows next to the River Drava, where apparently timber rafting was a big industry in bygone years.

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The streets of Maribor. The colourful buildings with crumbling plaster reminded me a bit of Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

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I can see some Slavic similarity between Slovenian and Bulgarian, though they're not that close. I've recognised a few isolated words; the words for great (as in big), water, honey, milk, ice cream, pancakes, street, bridge, town, Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday all only have a letter or two different, or in a couple of cases are identical.

Standing in the peaceful silence of the beautiful incense-scented cathedral, the only person there apart from a nun who I didn't know was there for quite a while because she was mostly hidden in an almost-screened-off side chapel.

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Maribor Regional Museum, contained within the old city castle. Highlights of the permanent collection included a set of painted fascia boards of beehives, medieval weapons, a mammoth tusk and huge wicker clogs worn by firefighters.

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There was also a great temporary exhibition on the flowering of classical concerts and other cultural offerings in Maribor in the 18th - 19th centuries (apparently Maribor was second only to Vienna, in a cultural sense, at this time). Highlights of this exhibition were the collection of historical musical instruments and the room where Liszt played one of his first international concerts.

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Tucking into some Styrian specialities for lunch - a delicious 'game ragout' which came with local Styrian potato noodles on top, plus 'grits pudding' - sounds unappetising but it was lovely; a bit like thick rice pudding but a type of very small grain instead of rice, with blueberry preserve and another type of preserve I've forgotten on top.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:50 Archived in Slovenia Tagged snow museum buses slovenia bulgarian explorations natural_wonder maribor styrian_cuisine Comments (1)

Last stay in Sofia; the Ladies' Market calls

Sofia


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Yesterday morning Dave said goodbye to Veliko Tarnovo as we caught the 10.30 bus to Sofia. When I bought the tickets it felt strange to be speaking Bulgarian again after not having done so in the previous two and half weeks.

The 3.5 hour journey was uneventful, though we did see some sunflower fields. After taking a taxi to Hostel Mostel and settling into our private room, we headed out for a late lunch at our favourite place; if you've read any of my recent Sofia entries, you might guess where this is - a small pizza café at the junction between the Court of Justice and Boulevard Vitosha. Delicious, handmade on site, large slices and cheap.

After that we thought about going to the Ladies' Market, but then had the thought that it would probably be better to visit it in the morning. Stalls might be running out of stuff and packing up by this time in the afternoon. With that in mind, we headed back to the hostel and had a nap, played pool, had our free dinner and used the internet until it was time for an early night.

We went to the Ladies' Market in the morning, as we had intended. This market was the one place I had seen recommended but hadn't actually been to yet in all my previous visits to Sofia, so I was particularly keen to go. Not only was this Dave's last time in Sofia, it was mine as well. When I leave Bulgaria in a few days' time, it will be by train from Gorna Oryahovitsa, a town five minutes' drive from Veliko Tarnovo. The market was well worth a look-around, as it seemed to have some of pretty much everything. We didn't buy any of all the fresh produce around (though if we had been here for another night I would have bought some to cook for dinner), but I did get some crystallised kumquats.

Once we got back from there, we packed up, checked out and took a taxi to the airport. I was sad to be leaving Hostel Mostel for the last time. The staff were all nice but one girl in particular was always especially so. At check out I made sure to tell her how much I had enjoyed coming here.

After saying goodbye to Dave at the airport, I took a taxi to the bus station and got on the next bus back to Veliko Tarnovo.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:11 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market airport hostel buses dave sofia bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Arrival in Istanbul; the fulfilment of a dream...

Veliko Tarnovo and Istanbul


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The bus was only 5 minutes late from Veliko Tarnovo's Yug station.

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The driver didn't check our passports and tickets (so there was no need for us to have arrived half an hour early) but the 'road hostess' did, after walking up and down the aisle offering people splashes of lemon water. We just held out our hands and she poured it on.

The bus only had three or four people on it apart from us. Just before we started moving the old man in the seat behind us leaned over and started talking to us in Bulgarian. He asked where we were from, so I told him (also in Bulgarian). At that, he said something else but I simply couldn't understand what he said. Dave broke in at this point and said that the man had said 'Margaret Thatcher'!

The journey to the border took almost exactly four hours. We went by a highly scenic route with forested mountains on every side; the beauty was heightened even further by the sunset, which created silhouettes of the mountains and turned part of the sky pink. Although there were almost no clouds in the sky, for a while only two stars were visible; one of them was so incredibly bright we thought that it might actually be a planet. When the moon appeared, it seemed particularly large and yellow.

The border crossing took an hour and a half, much longer than it took between Bulgaria and Macedonia. It was physically much larger, with some duty-free shops in between the two countries' passport control that we stopped at for ten minutes, and there was much more traffic. There was also a baggage x-ray room to go through. This time I did get a passport stamp, although the writing and dates on it aren't clear!

On the resumption of our journey the road hostess made another round with the lemon water and then the TV, which had been showing a foreign talent show ever since Veliko Tarnovo, was turned off. It was now past 2 am and we could finally get some sleep.

I woke up to a very pink sky, pale and delicate very early morning light and... the city of Istanbul spread before me, with minarets silhouetted against the sky! I was bleary with fatigue, but still a great thrill of excitement ran through me. We were clearly on a hill, for I got a real sense of how large the city is.

It was 05.40 when I woke up. About twenty minutes later we got to the big otogar (bus station). This is about ten km from our hostel, so we had to get on the metro for a bit and then a tram for five stops. We passed mosque after mosque. On our walk from the Sultanahmet tram stop to our hostel we went through some gardens with the Hagia Sophia on our left and the Blue Mosque on our right. I almost couldn't believe we were there! The sun shone and although it was so early, it was already quite warm.

Although it was only about 07.30 when we got to the hostel and check-in wasn't until 12, they very kindly said that if we waited for half an hour, they could get our room ready for us by then.

We set the alarm for 12, but when it woke us up we fell back asleep as soon as I'd turned it off. Then I woke up again later due to the calls to prayer wailing from the mosques, but fell asleep as soon as they finished. We finally woke up for good at 15.20 - we clearly needed the sleep!

When we stepped outside, two women were sitting on a doorstep nearby, shelling peas. Someone was playing a flute inside. We passed them on our way back to the gardens we'd gone through earlier.

Our destination was the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art, close to the Blue Mosque. We took some pictures of the mosque and of Hagia Sophia, the gardens and of the Hippodrome (where the Romans used to race horses, but is only really a long public square now, with one or two archaeological sections left) on the way.

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The museum was excellent - really well presented, and with exquisite examples of calligraphy, Medieval Turkish carpets, carvings, colourful glazed pottery and suchlike. It also gave a lot of information about and had artifacts from the Ottomans, Seljuks, Timiruds and other ruling dynasties of Turkey and Asia Minor. I remembered studying some of these in one of my first year History modules at Swansea.

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We stopped at the hostel for a short while to rest our feet and have a refreshing cold drink; then we headed round the corner to the seafront. Finally I was standing on the European side of Istanbul, gazing out at the Asian side across the Strait of Bosphorus! This was something I'd wanted to do for many years...

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We walked around for a while before going back to the hostel and then out for dinner. We shared bread and hummous; then Dave had a salad and the soup of the day, while I had sautéed chicken which turned out to come in chunks with a tasty tomato and onion sauce.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:32 Archived in Turkey Tagged mountains mosque turkey museum istanbul buses bosphorus dave bulgarian bulgaria hagia_sophia veliko_tarnovo roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine 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)

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)

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