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Entries about buses

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)

Further Plovdiv explorations

Plovdiv and Shipka


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Well, we certainly fitted a lot into this morning and the first half of the afternoon!

The very first thing I did after breakfast was walk to an internet café to print off Mum's boarding pass for her. Reception at our hostel didn't have a printer, but they told me how to get to a place where there was one. Something I've noticed in Bulgaria is that internet cafés are much rarer than they are in Ecuador - this was the first time I'd been to one in Bulgaria. It was mega-simple though - walked in, didn't even need to log on to one of the for-public-use computers as the girl in charge set up hers quickly for me instead; three minutes, cost about 20 stotinki (8p)! On my way back I stopped at a fruit & vegetable market and bought Mum a bag of cherries.

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First stop together was the Ethnographic Museum; I'd been there before, in March, but Mum hadn't. Our favourite exhibits were; the traditional musical instruments and mummers' costumes, the large wooden attar of roses container which had been steeped in the stuff for so long in the past that it still smelled wonderfully of roses, and the huge, fluffy (sheepskin?), colourful rugs on one wall. Mum also particularly liked the embroidery as well.

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From there we headed down the road to Hadji Aleko's House, via a souvenir shop where the owner's wife weaved mats and wall hangings on looms at the back of the shop (she wasn't actually in action when we went, but there were half-made things on them and the owner told us his wife made them).

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Hadji Aleko's House is a National Revival building now used as an art gallery. Downstairs was filled with contemporary paintings for sale, whilst upstairs had a permanent exhibition. My favourite contemporary painting was of a colourful Firebird. Lots of original antique furniture as well, especially upstairs.

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Once we had looked round the gallery we were feeling quite hungry, so I took Mum to a restaurant I knew of at the foot of Danov Hill. Back in March I tried to have lunch there but was thwarted by the public holiday crowds, so I was keen to return! My tarator and potato balls were delicious; the dish of cooked red pepper slices surprised me by being cold, but were nice all the same.

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Our last proper stop before returning to the hostel was done on an impulse at a small mosaic museum which I think was connected to a Roman forum excavation nearby. The mosaics were impressive and we also liked the well-lit and colourful collection of amulets and scent bottles made of Roman glass. It was just the thing to round off our Plovdiv visit!

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After picking up my stuff from our hostel and saying goodbye, I took a taxi to the north bus station. The bus journey back to Veliko Tarnovo was uneventful, though we did stop for ten minutes at Shipka. The golden domes of the Russian Church gleamed over the rooftops. Right in the middle of the parking area was a cherry tree absolutely dripping with ripe fruit; I enjoyed several ultra-fresh, sweet and juicy cherries before it was time to get back on the bus.

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Mum had a couple of hours to go in Plovdiv before her lift to the airport; apparently she went for another walk and saw a Bulgarian bagpiper performing outside a shop. This is something I really want to see before I leave Bulgaria.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art market museum buses traditions bulgaria mum plovdiv roman_remains house_museum bulgarian_cuisine traditional_customs shipka_pass Comments (0)

Return to Plovdiv - this time with Mum!

Plovdiv


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Half term has just started in the UK, so Mum has come to Bulgaria for a week! She's flown into Plovdiv this time, rather than Sofia. I've come to Plovdiv to meet up with her; tomorrow I return with her to Veliko Tarnovo, where we'll stay until next Thursday. She flies back from Plovdiv too, so on Thursday I've arranged for us to go back there via the Shipka Pass, Kazanlak and the Valley of the Roses.

Mum arrived in Plovdiv yesterday, while I was still in Veliko Tarnovo. I had work yesterday and this morning, so I wasn't able to come until this afternoon. In my absence she had a nice walk around, taking note of all the architectural details on the colourful buildings, before joining an excellent free city walking tour. Apparently, two days ago Plovdiv found out that it had won the competition to be European Capital of Culture for 2019, so the whole city is still celebrating. Before the tour started she saw people in traditional dress going down the street, and once the tour had started and had reached Nebet Tepe (the hill with ruins on it), they saw hundreds of helium balloons released in the distance. Credit to Mum for the following two sets of pictures;

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After the tour finished, she went back for a proper look round the Roman amphitheatre and some antiques and handicrafts shops, including one where she could see weavers at work in the back and another which had the most amazing painted wooden chests.

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Meanwhile, I was on the bus from VT; great weather, wonderful scenery... lots of poppies in bloom now, by the roadside and in fields. I arrived at a different bus station to the one I was expecting, but I'd cunningly brought the free city map I'd saved from March, so I found my way to the hostel easily enough. I arrived only five minutes after my ETA of 18.30. We're staying at the same place I stayed at in March - a hostel/hotel in a wonderful wooden National Revival building right in the middle of the Old Town.

We had dinner at a restaurant in a historic building which used to be the Muslim equivalent of a monastery for the mystical sect of Islam (Sufism) that had whirling dervishes in Ottoman times; in fact in the main dining area dervishes used to whirl. The building had two floors and a garden - there were extensive wall remains built into the main dining area. We ate in the garden; bread, tarator and a mixed grill of kebapche (flattened meatballs), kyufte (similar to kebapche but enlongated), a pork chop, two curly sausages on a skewer and some chips. We also shared a salad of roasted red peppers, raw onion, parsley, olives, tomato, cucumber, a mixed vegetable dip-like mixture and some large white beans in a garlic sauce. The beans had a taste and texture very similar to potato.

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After that we walked to Nebet Tepe and wandered around the ruins while looking at the sunset over the city spread out before us. The air was balmy and there were lots of locals sitting in groups on the fortress walls. Mum said it reminded her a bit of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, with groups of local youth congregating in the fresh air in the evening. The atmosphere was very pleasant.

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On the way back from Nebet Tepe we looked in some art and jewellery shops which were still open.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:39 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged night hostel buses bulgaria mum plovdiv fortifications roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Long wait in Varna

Burgas, Varna and Veliko Tarnovo


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As soon as we'd had breakfast at the hotel in Burgas, we took a taxi to the west bus station.

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We arrived at 10.30 and noticed that the next bus directly to Veliko Tarnovo wasn't until 13.30, so we decided just to get the next bus to Varna instead. I knew that about 20 buses a day go from Varna to VT, so hopefully we could just hop on one of them soon after and then arrive back in VT early.

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That wasn't to be, unfortunately - our bus arrived in Varna OK, between 13.00 and 14.00, but the next ETAP bus wasn't until 17.30! We were too knackered to go into the city centre to kill time, so we just looked round the Grand Mall Varna instead, which is right next to the bus station. We looked round, had some food and played a lot of 10-card rummy. It was very similar to shopping malls everywhere, though suspended from the ceiling were some beautiful decorations made from multicoloured paper.

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We didn't get back to Veliko Tarnovo until 9 pm last night, so before we went to bed and conked out we didn't do anything apart from have a hot drink with 'F' and 'R'.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:46 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged coast buses dave bulgaria burgas varna veliko_tarnovo black_sea Comments (0)

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