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Entries about buses

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)

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Istanbul


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Edit from March 2019: Altan Şekerleme is still going and still appears to be very highly rated!

Today, our last day in Istanbul and Turkey, there were three priorities; A) to revisit the Spice Market, B) to go to a specific shop for some Turkish delight and C) to catch the correct night bus back to Bulgaria.

A) came first, after a typically satisfying breakfast at Piya Hostel. We were keen to return to the Spice Market to get some more spices for ourselves and some presents for people. No fake saffron this time!

Between the Spice Market and Altan Şekerleme

Between the Spice Market and Altan Şekerleme

One thing we didn't get at the Spice Market was the Turkish delight. I had been recommended a different place to buy that from instead. It was only round the corner, in a back street - a shop called 'Altan Şekerleme'. The Turkish delight, ('Lokum' in Turkish and Bulgarian) is hand made on site here. As soon as we stepped inside and started looking at the piles of Turkish delight on offer, some pieces of it were handed to us as free samples by the lovely old owner and younger female assistant. Delicious! I could taste the natural ingredients; it was not at all artificial-tasting, like some Turkish delight can be. I bought two kilogram boxes of different flavours; one for my family and one for us two to share. For his family Dave bought a kilogram box of mixed sweets - some Turkish delight, some marzipan pieces coated in dessicated coconut and some hard candies like boiled sweets. There was a funny moment at the end when I tried to take the bag of boxes from the owner - he shooed me away and gave the bag to Dave to carry instead!

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On the way back from there we got off the tram two stops later than usual so I could buy another two pairs of cheap trousers from the same stall outside the Grand Bazaar that I had been to before we went to Cappadocia. Once I had bought them and we had taken the tram back two stops, we walked back to the hostel on a rather circular route via Kennedy Caddesi, the road that runs along the seafront.

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On our way along that we came across the ruins of the Byzantine Bucoleon Palace; only some high walls remain now, almost completely taken over by climbing vegetation.

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Back at the hostel we rested for an hour or two in the communal area. The girl at reception, who turned out to be the daughter of the owner, was really nice and helped us by ringing the otogar (main bus station) and checking bus times for us. As I expected, there was only one bus to Veliko Tarnovo - a night bus. Apparently they couldn't reserve tickets for us over the phone, but they said that so long as we got there a decent amount of time beforehand, tickets wouldn't be a problem.

We arrived over an hour in advance. The main otogar is absolutely huge, so beforehand I was worried that it might take us ages to find the right bus company (Huntur). Almost as soon as we stepped out of the metro station we were accosted by a guy asking where we wanted to go. As soon as I told him, he insisted that if we followed him he would be able to get any ticket for us. My suspicions were raised so I said no thank you, we already know where to get our tickets from and how much they should cost. Just then I looked up and what should I see on the other side of the station but a 'Huntur' sign - so we headed off at a brisk pace, saying no thank you again to the dodgy guy.

Buying our tickets from Huntur was easy. We had a lot of time to kill after that so we went inside the main station building to explore. We bought some dinner, drinks and snacks to have on the long journey.

The bus was comfortable enough and we managed to get a decent amount of sleep. The journey took 12 hours this time and seemed to go smoothly. I remember waking up once and seeing that we were stationary at the side of the road, but thinking nothing of it and going back to sleep after ten minutes. Well, later on (after we'd arrived in VT) it turns out that the bus had broken down and we'd been there for about three hours!

Goodbye Turkey - we will definitely return!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged market palace turkey istanbul hostel buses dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Back to Europe

Istanbul


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Edit from March 2019: The restaurant we went to was called Ahırkapı Balıkçısı - it's still going! Definitely a place I recommend! Piya Hostel is still going too and I recommend that as well.

Dave woke up not feeling well at all - but he made it OK to Istanbul. By the end of the flight he was feeling better. Instead of getting the bus, metro and tram to our hostel, we took the more unusual route of a bus to the Asian seafront (Sabiha Gökçen Airport is on the Asian side, but miles and miles out of the city itself), with a view then to take a ferry to the European side and lastly a tram and a walk to Piya Hostel, the same place we had stayed at before our Cappadocian and Aegean adventures.

Before we got on the ferry we had a great Balik Ekmek each for lunch on a café-boat. I really recommend Balik Ekmek - such a simple idea (freshly-caught fish boned, grilled and stuffed into a crusty roll with some optional salt and lemon juice) yet it works so well.

On arrival at Piya Hostel we went straight to bed for a nap - we had had an early start in the morning. Late afternoon we started out on a walk round the corner to the Arasta Bazaar and the Istanbul Handicrafts Market, but only about 100m away from the hotel Dave stubbed his toe and it was bleeding, so we went back to our room and I patched it up for him. The market would have started packing up by the time I finished, so we decided just to have some dinner instead.

We had tried to visit this restaurant before, but if was closed for Ramadan then. Ramadan has finished now though, so as soon as we realised it was open again we were there like a shot. It was a tiny seafood place just round the corner. I had a swordfish skewer and Dave had shrimp salad; the shrimps were massive and the chunks of swordfish on my skewer weren't far behind! We shared a cold (but cooked) aubergine and tomato appetiser as well, plus some baklava when it came to dessert and we still had space. The food was great and the owner/waiter was very softly spoken and charming, not pushy at all like some of the waiters are round here.

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After dinner we walked back to the waterfront in order to fulfill a long-held desire of mine; to at least dip my fingers in the Strait of Bosphorus. This was a little more difficult than it sounds, because the 'beach' consists only of big boulders piled up so closely together that there's no space on the ground to stand. I did, however, manage to get my hand in the water; mission successful.

Posted by 3Traveller 01:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged airport turkey istanbul hostel buses ferry bosphorus dave turkish_cuisine 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 (2)

Relaxation before our night bus to Istanbul

Veliko Tarnovo


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We arrived back from Sofia at lunchtime, so since we didn't have to be at the bus station until 20.00 for our night bus to Istanbul, that meant we had a nice long break to relax and get our stuff together for our Turkish travels in the next two weeks.

The first couple of hours were spent having tea, coffee and some snacks on the terrace with F, R and her brother G, who had arrived back in VT yesterday. The sun was shining and it was just so idyllic, sitting there with grape-laden vines above us, and a spectacular view in front of us. Apparently the grapes will become fully ripe in August - just after I've gone! Oh well.

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Late afternoon, Dave and I decided to go out for a meal at Stratilat Café - the last proper meal we'd have until we arrived in Istanbul the next day. A salad for Dave and tarator and rice pudding for me. More lovely views - you get one at every turn in Veliko Tarnovo - from the balcony.

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After our meal we made sure we were well stocked with drinks and snacks for the long journey. I have some kashkavalki and other cheesy rolls for us, plus some fruit mentos and one or two other things. On our return, we rested again for a bit and then packed. Passports - check, electronic Turkey visa confirmation print-outs - check, cameras - check... So excited about Istanbul!

Posted by 3Traveller 10:04 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged buses dave bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

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