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Balabanov House, the Roman stadium and more

Plovdiv


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At lunchtime we were due to catch the bus to Veliko Tarnovo, but we managed to fit quite a lot into the morning.

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The first place we went was another gorgeous National Revival house (the Old Town is full of them).

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In the courtyard we admired the roses - right now we are in the middle of the rose season in Bulgaria.

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From there we walked down the road to the Roman stadium remains, popping into one or two antique shops on the way (one of these shops had lots of amazing old painted wooden chests - we both coveted them, but potential transportation difficulties put us off buying any).

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The stadium lies in front of Dzhumaya Mosque, in the middle of the main shopping street. The seating in the stadium is made of the same gleaming white marble as those in the Roman amphitheatre.

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Our next destination was the intriguingly-named 'Singing Fountains' within Tsar Simeon's Gardens. I visited this park back in March, but it was still a bit wintry-looking then, plus I didn't go as far as the fountains. This time all the trees were fully in leaf and the flowers had bloomed. The fountains turned out to look quite impressive, set within a massive pool which I was desperate to swim in. The sun was very hot and the water looked so inviting! No evidence of singing though...

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After staying there a while we suddenly realised what the time was. Quick march back to Guesthouse Old Plovdiv! On the way back we saw part of a procession celebrating the Day of Culture & Literacy. This public holiday celebrates the Cyrillic alphabet in particular.

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We took a taxi to the North bus station, where I bought our tickets to Veliko Tarnovo. We had a bit of time to kill then, so we took turns to go next door to Lidl while the other person stayed to look after the bags.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:47 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art mosque museum hostel roses bulgaria mum procession plovdiv roman_remains house_museum 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)

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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