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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)

Strawberry and cherry season is upon us!

Veliko Tarnovo


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So late afternoon yesterday we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo after an uneventful bus journey. We had dinner at the Lucky Man and straight after that we were lucky enough to get a great view of the Sound and Light Show with the accompanying soundtrack.

In the morning today I was at work, but while I was away Mum walked down to the river on my recommendation. The sun was very hot. She had a lovely poke about by the river, watched the fish from the bridge and picked some elderflowers. She didn't manage to get into any of the churches down there because they were closed - probably because it was a Monday.

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I finished work at one, so I came straight home (via a shop for some bread, tomatoes, milk and Coke Zero) and we had lunch at my flat. Along with the bread, we had herby soft cheese, Edam, smoked salmon, roasted peppers from a jar and some pesto, plus Mum had black olives and the tomatoes as well.

After lunch Mum showed me the pictures she'd taken on her walk earlier. Then we walked to the fruit & vegetable market via the craftsmen's street - we did some window-shopping but didn't go into any shops. We knew we would have plenty of time to return before Thursday, after all.

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Before we got to the market we stopped for some ice cream first; then we nipped into the supermarket to get some things for our meal tonight and for Wednesday night - eggs and chicken breasts, plus Mum said she'd make some coconut & jam slices for us, so we got butter too.

At the market we saw that strawberries and cherries are most definitely in season now! There were stalls almost filled up only with trays and trays of both; who were we to resist? We bought a kilo of strawberries and half a kilo of cherries, plus a punnet of peaches and a bag of broad beans which also looked very fresh. The whole lot came to just over 12 leva - £4.40!

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After that it was just gone 4 pm, so I had to go back to work. I didn't get back until ten to ten; Mum had already had her dinner, but cooked mine for me; a lovely mushroom omelette with broad beans. She hadn't had pudding yet though, so we had that together. She'd made a syrup using Kate's rosehip jelly and we had it poured over some of the strawberries. Delicious!

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:09 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo 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)

Dave arrives - the Black Sea beckons!

Sofia


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Dave was due to arrive late this evening - he's going to be with me for the coming week. Through a combination of school holiday, national public holidays, my usual days off and two days of booked holiday, including yesterday and Thursday I have a total of 11 days off. A perfect time to make a trip to the Black Sea coast!

He didn't arrive until past 9 pm, so I had the whole day in Sofia with Kate first. While we walked around town going to various different places, Andrew wanted to go to the Military Museum, which is quite a way out of town, so he set off to walk there.

Kate and I went out twice, actually. The first time, I escorted her to the Archaeological Museum, wandering past the 4th century Rotunda Church of St George on our way. We admired the outside and the ancient ruins of the Roman city of Serdica that are next to it, but decided to come back later in the day to explore properly. Kate then went inside the Archaeological Museum, particularly keen to see the room of Thracian gold Mum, Emma and I had all recommended to her. Unfortunately for her, that exhibition had been taken down, but she enjoyed the other exhibitions.

While she was inside, I admired the tulips outside and then walked to the central bus station to buy mine and Dave's tickets to Veliko Tarnovo tomorrow. It's a public holiday weekend, so I didn't want to risk the chance of leaving it until tomorrow and then the tickets selling out before I get there. After buying the tickets successfully I walked back to the hostel, where I met back up with Kate. She wrote a couple of postcards before we set off again on our next excursion.

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Our first stop (other than to grab slices of pizza for lunch) was the post office, where she got stamps for the postcards she'd just written. Our next port of call was the Rotunda. It is the oldest building in Sofia and looks incredible, the ancient red bricks, the unusual shape and the Roman ruins behind it contrasting greatly with the much more modern hotel and President's building that surround it. I visited this last October with Mum, but Kate hadn't been before.

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We decided to go inside, and were glad that we did because we caught the end of a service in what were extremely atmospheric surroundings. The priest and congregation were facing away from us, with the priest in a central position facing a table and the congregation standing on two sides, in a semi-circle with an small aisle down the middle. The priest was chanting something that sounded like plainsong. At first we wondered what he was doing, because the table had every-day foods and other objects on it, but then I noticed that he seemed to be splashing holy water over the items so I think he must have been blessing it all. Soon after that the service ended, the table was moved to the side and the congregation came up and started picking up items that we presumed were theirs. People had been going in and out of the church while we were watching from the door, by the way, so we don't think we were intruding at all.

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We then carried on to the St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, popping into a Russian Orthodox church on our way just to see what it was like. We also looked round the icon and handicraft / antiques market in front of the cathedral.

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The cathedral is the one of the biggest Orthodox cathedrals in the world and contains a small case of Alexander Nevsky's relics.

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As with the relic at the church we visited on our first day in Sofia, Kate regretted looking at it! After that I took Kate to the crypt, which has been turned into a gallery holding the largest collection of Orthodox icons in Europe. I'd been there before so I waited outside while Kate paid to go in.

When she emerged we walked to the Sveta Sofia Church nearby, which gave the city of Sofia its name back in the 14th century and is the second-oldest church in Sofia after the Rotunda. As we walked round to the front entrance we passed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame. I went to this church back in October with Mum too, and had told Kate all about the wonderful interior and the extensive Roman ruins in the crypt, so she was particularly interested to visit. She wasn't disappointed! The church and its predecessor churches were built on top of the necropolis of the Roman city of Serdica, and restoration work on the remains have opened up a walkway under the church, so you can wander round and see intact Roman tombs (some with frescoes) and early Christian mosaics. The main part of the church is interesting, too, because unlike all the other Bulgarian Orthodox churches we've been in it doesn't have any frescoes in it at all, just thin bricks with areas of white plaster. Apparently it did have frescoes originally, but they were destroyed when the church became a mosque in Ottoman times and when the building was converted back into a church again new frescoes weren't created.

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We had a quiet evening in once we'd got back. Andrew had arrived back safely from the Military Museum earlier. I checked back in (I was in a dorm last night but was moving into a private room with Dave tonight). We had our free dinner at the hostel and then after a while after that, I took a bus to the airport to pick Dave up! A taxi back to the hostel and I took Dave to our double room - which turned out to be exactly the same one we had when we were here at Christmas. At Hostel Mostel the private rooms are in separate buildings from the rest of the hostel.

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Posted by 3Traveller 14:40 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art market airport museum cathedral hostel buses sisters dave sofia bulgaria icons explorations orthodox_church roman_remains Comments (0)

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