Category Archives: Bulgaria

Kid, you’ll move mountains/Skopje or bust

We left Sofia on March 22, a bit later than intended, but not too bad. In Sofia we heard a lot about the Rila Monastery so we decided to change our route a bit to check it out. We rode out of Sofia and immediately started climbing. It was astounding how quickly we went from being a fairly flat city, to in the mountains with snow and deep valleys. The total climb was about 25 km (15 miles), all with spectacular views of surrounding mountains. 

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant at the top of our climb (we didn’t realize this when we stopped though). We tried some homemade sausage, fries, and bread, all delicious. After our lunch we started down the mountain we had just climbed. The views kept getting better and better. Once we were in the valley, we could look back at the mountain we had just been on, which was a neat feeling. IMG_3048

We made it to Samokov where we stayed a little guest house. We made dinner at the guest house and prepared for the next day. We were a little worried because there was still a lot of snow and the route Haegan found seemed a little unreliable as the last bit of it looked like a hiking trail. After a lot of back and forth, we decided to take a longer route that we knew would be clear. We left Samokov early and rode at a pretty decent pace, it was mostly downhill. The incredible views continued. 

Eventually, we weren’t going downhill anymore, we were climbing. It wasn’t too steep, but after 68 km (42 miles) of riding already it felt a lot more difficult than the climbing the day before. The last 20 km were all uphill, and I was totally exhausted by the end. The two consecutive days of climbing certainly took a lot out of me, but I kept thinking about Dr. Suess’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. I kept thinking of passages from the book and how accurately they applied for this trip. The one I remembered especially was, “Kid, you’ll move mountains”. In my head though, I was thinking more “climb”. Just thinking about the book kept me going though. I thought about my dad reading it me when I was little and the very powerful message the book has. Doing great/cool/powerful/awesome things can be tough, but they’re possible. Ninety eight and three quarters percent guaranteed. Riding through Turkey was tough, but with that challenge we were able to meet some wonderful people and ended up loving Turkey. I never thought I’d be speaking Spanish in Bulgaria, but that also ended up being a great experience and now one of my favorite stories. And now we were climbing mountains, carrying all of our stuff, and seeing the mountains in their full glory. 

We had a delicious dinner at the hotel, I had local trout and “butter stewed” potatoes. It was probably one of the best meals I’ve had so far. I’m not exactly sure how to butter stew potatoes, but I intend on finding out. I want to have those potatoes again. Haegan had a Bulgarian stew, baked in a clay pot, which he enjoyed. Lots of the stews have egg on top, which is kinda growing on him.

Stew with egg.
Stew with egg.
Delicious.
Delicious.

The next morning we walked up to the Rila Monastery. It’s a beautiful old Monastery, started in 927 and named after Saint Ivan of Rila. We walked around the church, hands down the most colorful church I’ve ever seen, and the museum. We couldn’t take pictures inside the church or the museum, but outside the church there are paintings similar to the ones inside the church.

Outside the church
Outside the church
Inside the monastery
Inside the monastery
Bell tower
Bell tower
Images from outside the church. The paintings inside the church are similar.
Images from outside the church. The paintings inside the church are similar.

The museum had artifacts from the entire history of the monastery. We were most impressed by Rafail’s Cross. The cross is about two and half feet tall, and has over 100 religious scenes from the Bible. The artistry of the cross is absolutely incredible, each image is so intricate and delicate. We couldn’t take pictures so here’s one I found on the internet:

from: http://bgtourinfo.net/rila/images/monastery_29.jpg
from: http://bgtourinfo.net/rila/images/monastery_29.jpg

The monastery was beautiful, and so was the ride to get there. We were constantly stopping to take in the views, there seemed to be a new breathtaking view each time we turned. It’s humbling to know that the mountains here have been inspiring people for thousands of years.  I think there is something innately human that causes us to stand in wonder of nature. It doesn’t matter where we come from, how old we are, or what generation we were born, we have been and always will be astounded by what we cannot possibly create.IMG_3051

IMG_3052

After going to the monastery, we walked back to the hotel and started our journey to Macedonia. When we were riding to Rila, my chest had started to hurt a little bit, more so when I took deep breaths. As we headed to Macedonia my chest was hurting again and my throat was sore. I figured I could tough it out though, especially since most of the riding was going to be downhill. We didn’t get very far before the pain in my chest got to be too much. We decided to stop for the day in Blagoevgrad, just short of the border. We went to a pharmacy to get cough medicine and lozenges. Grocery stores in Europe don’t carry over the counter medicines, so you have to go to a pharmacy for everything. The pharmacist didn’t speak English so we played a desperate game of charades to get cough medicine. It ended up working out fine and we spent the next day resting. Being sick caused a bit of homesickness, especially when I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. We managed it though, Haegan took good care of me 🙂

We left to cross the border into Macedonia on March 26th. The first 20 km (13 miles) was all climbing and we passed the time by practicing Spanish. Haegan knows a bit, and I know a decent amount… but I don’t remember a lot of the rules, I just know what sounds right. Our conversations were quite humorous, especially since we often had to find round about ways of sayings things due to our limited vocabulary. I think we both got a little better, and laughed more going up that mountain than any other so far.

IMG_3088
One of the incredible views from our climb up the mountain to the border.
This guy popped out of the ditch when we stopped for a break and then made laps around us as we continued slowly up the mountain.
This guy popped out of the ditch when we stopped for a break and then made laps around us as we continued slowly up the mountain.

At the top of the mountain we crossed the border, got a super classy photo with the welcome sign, and continued down the mountain. We descended for a while and ended up in Delcevo, our original stopping point for the day. We sat down for coffee and soon after two other cyclists pulled in. They joined us for coffee and told us all about their touring adventures. Alessandro is currently touring from China to Italy, and Hera is riding back from China to the Netherlands. It was so great to talk with people who have so much experience touring. Haegan and I decided to continue farther as it was still early in the day, the weather was beautiful, and we still felt good. We headed out separately from Alessandro and Hera but met again later on and rode together for the rest of the day. It started raining the last part of the ride and we found a cheap motel in Kochevo, Macedonia.IMG_3095

IMG_3098
Yay touring friends!
Once we crossed the border we descended for the rest of the day, which was nice after mostly climbing the last two days.
Once we crossed the border we descended for the rest of the day, which was nice after mostly climbing the last two days.

The forecast was for rain the next two days. We had about 120 km (75 miles) to Skopje. Our choices were to either split up the riding, two days in the rain. Or, we could just go for it and make it in one long day. We decided the later, and made a reservation for a hostel to motivate ourselves to go all the way. Skopje or bust.

It wasn’t raining too badly when we started. We made good time for the first 50 km and met up with Hera and Alessandro again. We got lunch all together and continued separately afterwards. The rain was frustrating, especially since after about 30 km water started coming in the sleeves of my jacket. By 60 km we were both totally soaked and pretty uncomfortable. The views were great though. Macedonia is an incredibly beautiful country. The day before we had been riding through rocky cliffs with lakes in the valleys, and in the rain we passed green farm fields and eventually reached more mountains.

I apologize for the lack of photos of the mountains. Because it was grey and rainy most of the days we were riding in the mountains it was difficult to get good photos. Even if it had been good weather, it’s difficult to capture the grandness of the mountains, especially when they were completely surrounding us.

IMG_3110

IMG_3114

What wasn’t so beautiful was the number of squashed frogs on the road. I only mention this because there were so so many. About 60 km in we started keeping track of how many dead frogs we saw… it became a sort of game. No pictures of the frogs, I’m not that morbid.

At around 80 km we started climbing again. It was a maddening climb. It felt as though we were in an endless loop. We would be climbing what appeared to be a small hill, and it looked like once you turned left around the hill, there would be a descent. Instead, it was just another seemingly small hill with another taunting turn. We could never see the next hill, and it seemed like this pattern continued six or seven times. To make it worse, the road turned to a strange loose gravel. It looked as though they had tried to fix the potholes by just throwing gravel on the road. It all got to be a little much for me at this point and it took some effort to get my confidence back to make it all the way to Skopje.

The gravel roads continued as we climbed to the top and had a great view of the valley completely filled with fog. We started descending on the gravel on a very windy road. The rain had washed out the gravel in the potholes so now we were going down a fairly steep road, on gravel, trying to avoid potholes, and making very sharp turns. It was a long descent, and my arms were a bit sore from gripping my brakes tightly the whole way down.IMG_3119

Once we were down the hill we were about 20 km away from Skopje and we were so ready to be done. As we rode the final miles into Skopje I thought about how grateful I am to be traveling with Haegan. I couldn’t imagine a better travel companion, and that’s a nice thing to realize 3 weeks into a five month trip. We made to the hostel after 8 hours on the bikes, tired, soaked, and exhausted. We happily ate leftover pasta and went right to bed.

FINAL FROG COUNT

Haegan: 5

Autumn: 30

Total dead: 34

Total live: 1

Advertisements

Sofia

Autumn: It took two days to ride to Sofia. The first was long one 110 km (68 miles) to a motel on the side of the highway. It was flat, with mountains all around us. The mountains continued to astound us as we got closer and closer.

Mountains getting closer
Autumn as we approach the hotel

The roads weren’t too bad, a few were very bumpy due to a road repair technique I’m calling “tar confetti”. I hate it. We arrived at the motel, which was so much more. It had a bar/cafe, a restaurant, a fast food restaurant, a clothing store, a shoe store, a perfume store, and if you couldn’t find what you need among those options, there was a grocery store that had everything. Hunting knives, Mexican beer, lamps, and lots of Flintstones snacks… sounds kinda like a bar Stefon would recommend, but it’s not.

We got an early start the next morning to ride our last 65 km (40 miles) into Sofia. Despite the shorter distance, it was rough day riding. The roads were in much worse condition, with potholes that resembled craters, and water all over the roads from melting snow. Going down a rather steep hill, I accidentally cut in front of Haegan to avoid a pothole, which caused water to spray in his face, and he hit a huge pothole. He got a flat, and then realized the pothole put a big dent in his rim. Not good. He got a new tube in but realized his rim was pretty much ruined. This kinda put a damper on the rest of the day. After a spat getting into the city, we arrived at Hostel Mostel and got settled into our room. We went on the Free Tour of Sofia, and absolutely loved it. Despite the cold weather, the tour was engaging and very well done.

Alexander Nevskey Cathedral at night
Our Free Sofia Tour group

A friend of ours put us in touch with Milena who used to live in the US. We met her after the tour to get dinner and made plans to meet up the next day. The next day was Haegan’s birthday, pretty cool to get to celebrate your birthday in Sofia I think. It would have been a little more fun had the weather been nicer, wet snow had us cold and soaked after a morning of touring around. We were still able to see some really neat sites around Sofia.

Haegan (with bits from Autumn): It was a bit surreal to spend my birthday in Bulgaria, not somewhere I ever would have expected to have a birthday but it was a really good day nonetheless. We some some really cool stuff. Learned a lot, and had a great meal with great people. We first visited the St Nedelya Church which happened to be in the midst of prayer when we entered which was quite cool because Eastern Orthdox churches have a very different feel when full of people and with candles burning all around. After listening for a few minutes we headed out and went to try to go into a church located in and underpass. When we got there we were told that it was closed and would be open the next day. The Mosque was also closed. We were 1 for 3. We decided to head over to the Sofia Synangogue and give that a try. When we got there it was open. The Sofia Synagogue is one of only a few, and the largest at that, Sephardi Synagogues in Eastern Europe. While the outside of the synagogue isn’t all that spectacular, the inside is incredible. Overhead there is a magnificent  chandelier and the paint and marble is beautifully detailed.

The Sofia Synagogue
The chandelier
The Sofia Synagogue interior

Next we walked through the “Ladies Market” a large open air fruit and vegetable market. We would have spent a bit longer wandering around the market, but it was about one degree Celsius and snowing. The snow wasn’t sticking, but instead melting once it hit a surface. We were wet and cold, but were determined to see the sites of Sofia. As a last site before the wet snow got the best of us we set out to find the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which took us a bit longer to find than it should have. By the time we found it we were cold and wet and glad to be inside.

“Can we go in already, I’m cold”

But it was certainly worth the walk. As impressive as it is from the outside the inside is equally so. Almost every surface is covering in colorful paintings of Bible stories or intricate stone carvings. Pictures aren’t allowed inside Orthodox churches, but imagine byzantine style paintings of every saint and every character in the bible. The icons, pictures of the saints, are often adorned with etched metal coverings to protect them from people kissing and touching them in prayer. Overhead huge domes covered in stories support large chandeliers with complex designs. We spent a while just walking around soaking in all the art. After the cathedral we decided we were done with being outside for the day, it was just too gross out. We walked over to the indoor central market to warm up and get lunch. We had more chicken Düner sandwiches, but not even close to as good as Alex Foods.

Enjoying a Duner sandwhich

I even got a little mini cake in celebration. A bit after we finished eating Milena and her husband Boian met us and we drove over to the National Museum of Military History. The museum was fascinating because you can see about 3000 years of military history of the area in one building. They had everything from Thracian artifacts to modern weapons and a little bit of everything in between. Our great tour guide walked us through the many stages Bulgaria has been though, which is a lot. Because of the strategic location of the country it was a part of many empires and home to a lot of war. Boian knows a lot about the history of Bulgaria and was able to answer a lot of questions and point out some really cool artifacts in the museum. What we found most interesting was to hear about world history from an entirely new perspective. World War I and II were especially neat to hear about because we got to see a side that would likely never be taught in a school in the US.

Boian explaining some cyrillic

After the museum we went to a traditional Bulgarian dinner for my birthday. We started off with a salad full of all sorts of different stuff.

Awesome salad

Fresh fruits and veggies are a big part of Bulgarian food, and although it’s not the best time of year for produce everything was really good. However Milena and Boian said we need to try a Bulgarian tomato in season as it will be the best we have ever had. We also had some great flatbread drenched in butter and garlic which we really liked. For dinner I got something that roughly translated to “beef for the connoisseur” and Autumn got a chicken skewer that came on what was basically a sword. All the food was incredible and we had a great evening talking with our great hosts, hopefully they can visit us in the states soon 🙂

Delicious
With our great hosts, Milena and Boian
The menu was overwhelming

The next day didn’t involve nearly as much sightseeing or exciting things but was very good for other reasons. We had breakfast with our new friends from the hostel, Jannik and Frauke from Germany, and worked on the blog for most of the morning. In the afternoon we set out to find a bike shop and see about making my rear wheel a little bit better. The rim was really bent and had a big flat spot in it causing it to not be very round anymore. I was hoping to true it a bit and improve it slightly to get some more mileage out of it while I figured out how to get a new rim. After the first two shops being a bust we found our way to Fix to Ride, which looked promising but didn’t appear to be open. We took a guess that they were out to lunch and went to do the same ourselves. After we got lunch the door was open! We went in and talked to George who was happy to let me use some tools and try to fix it. I got it a little better but realized it was really a hopeless cause. When I inquired about picking up some tubes George said they didn’t have them but could order them for the next day. That got me thinking. He said he could get a rim for the next day too so we started looking for one that would work. After searching for a while with no luck, all seemed out of stock, he went in the back and pulled out a rim that he had. It was the right diameter and would work! He said it would be no problem for me to hang out and rebuild my wheel. So while Autumn walked around I spent most of the afternoon rebuilding my wheel. I don’t know that it is the best wheel I have ever built, but it is pretty good and should work just fine for a long time. On top of all that George charged me just 35 leva for the new rim and using his space for 3 hours, I was very grateful. We ordered some tubes and a few other bits for the next day and headed back to the hostel. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the hostel with a few women from the US travelling through Sofia from Istanbul: Jill, Harimah, and Olivia. Later we had free pasta and beer at the hostel for dinner with Jannik, Frauke, and Salam, who grew up in Morocco. We decided to go out to the nightly pub crawl with everyone from the hostel at 10. The first bar was the “American” themed Road 66 which was kind of funny. It had all sorts of random “American” decor that didn’t really go together. In celebration of my birthday we did some tequila shots which we had to be taught about how to do. We met some other cool people from the hostel and heard about peoples travels past and present. Autumn and I made it to the second bar but didn’t stay long. It was 1:00 am and we were exhausted. The next day consisted of seeing some more sights with people from the hostel. We went out with Jannik, Frauke, Salam, and Colin who is from the UK. The weather could not have been more different from the rainy snow a few days before. The sun was out it was warm and everyone was loving it. We went to the mosque, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral again and a little Roman church built in the 4th century, the little one in the underpass was still closed. The 4th century church is surrounded by old ruins and was really cool to see. The inside was fairly simple but it was striking to be in a church that people have been worshiping at for over a thousand years.

“I love old stuff!”
Pretty sure these were for making pizza
4th Century church
derp.

Jannik and Frauke had a train to catch so we said goodbye and then the rest of us headed to lunch. We found a great little spot with a patio in the sun, which was really all we cared about. We had a great view of the mountains and the food was really good as well.

yum.
moar yum.

Our favorite part about staying at hostels has been the people you meet there. Everyone seems to be on some sort of incredible trip or has stories to tell. The conversation is never dull. That night we went out to a bar with some more new friends: Emeline, Etienne, and Titouan from France who are studying in Istanbul and Zoe and Lucy from Germany who were headed to Turkey. We talked about all sorts of interesting stuff and had a great time. We didn’t stay out too late as we had a long day planned the next day, towards the Rila Monastary, but that’s a whole nother story.

No problem, hasta la vista baby!

March 13-16, 2015

Haegan: Even though we didn’t have a long day planned, we decided to try to get on the road early on the way out of Edirne, seeing as we had to cross an international border. The weather was nice and we rolled out of Edirne and headed towards the border. As we started getting close to the border the right lane was full of parked truck after parked truck. We got in the left lane and continued. Soon we had been riding past parked semi’s for over a kilometer when it dawned on us that they must all be lined up waiting to go across the border. The drivers were all just hanging out, it seemed to be a pretty normal thing for them. Some were sitting with their feet out the window drinking coffee, others sitting and talking on the guardrail. We even saw a vendor with a cart going around selling coffee and tea to the drivers. After about 3 kilometers and what must have been at least 300 or more trucks we were at the beginning of the border crossing.

So many trucks

There are a lot of little windows to go through. We snapped a picture on the way out, got two new stamps in our passports and were in Bulgaria!

Good Bye Turkey!

We were pretty disappointed that there was no “Welcome to Bulgaria” sign anywhere, I feel that is something that should be at any border crossing. We continued on through the very nice Bulgarian countryside and through Svilengrad along the E8 towards Biser where we planned to camp for the night. A few kilometers outside Biser we ran into the tiniest, most runty kitten you can imagine on the side of the road. Autumn was really close to bringing it with us in her handlebar bag. It chased after us for a few hundred meters as we road off, mewing at us the whole way.

Tiny, adorable, cat that we couldn’t take with us

We arrived at the campsite in Biser only to find that it was closed for the winter. Apparently the website I looked at had the info wrong, so we headed into town to see where we might be able to set up camp. Biser is very small and very quiet. It’s a bit eerie because aside from an old man or two walking around we didn’t see anyone on our way into the center (if you can really even call it that) of town. We saw that there was a school and a church and thought we could ask if we might be able to camp at one of them. Everything looked empty but we could hear some faint music coming from up the road so we followed it and found a little store/bar with a few people in it, all chain smoking. An old man motioned to us to sit down so we did and he started talking to us in Bulgarian. We tried to explain that we didn’t speak any Bulgarian but we’ve realized that telling someone you don’t speak a language does not stop them from continuing to try to talk to you in that language as if you should understand. The only two things he said that I understood were “no problem” and “hasta la vista baby” which are not particularly useful for conversation. He had a lot to say to us and kept talking and talking even though it was clear that we had no idea what he was saying every now and then he would reach over the table and grab my hand. Eventually he started talking about Christ I think and grabbing his heart. He gave us some plastic coins that I have in my handlebar bag. Not really sure what the significance is though… Using our phones again we were able to communicate to the lady working there that we were riding across Bulgaria and needed somewhere to camp. We asked about the school or the church and they said to wait while the guy working there (Valco as we found out his name was) made a few phone calls. Possibly the funniest part of this whole ordeal was when this little old lady with a cane came in and after our friend “hasta la vista” guy said something to her she hit him on the back with her cane. She looked and walked like she must have been at least 100 and looked like the classic stereotypical old eastern european lady. Eventually they asked if we spoke Spanish which Autumn does fairly well and not too long after the Priest’s son showed up and he and Autumn talked some in Spanish. It was a bit bizarre to be in the smallest town you can imagine middle-of-nowhere Bulgaria and speaking Spanish. The kid said that his dad would come open up the church soon. Not long after they realized we couldn’t stay in the church but Valco assured us “no problem” we could set up the tent at the school. He walked us down there and unlocked the gate and we got the tent and everything set up and started to cook ourselves some bulgur.

Yummy bulgur food
Yummy bulgur food
All set up, but soon to be taken down

While we were cooking, kids were zooming back and forth on mopeds and doing doughnuts in the dirt street. As we were sitting down to eat another man showed up and started talking at us in Bulgarian. The only thing we understood at first was something something police. At first this had us a little worried as he was motioning that we should pack up our things. Where were we going to sleep. We got him to type what he meant into the translator on my phone and eventually figured out that it wasn’t so bad after all. Valco showed up and after a while it became clear that they were concerned that it was going to rain so they had found us a place to sleep in a house. Great! we packed up our gear and followed Valco as he drove across the town to an old somewhat abandoned looking farmhouse. There were horses and some other animals outside but in the house it didn’t really look like anyone lived there. It was mostly empty with a thick layer of dust on most surfaces but it did seem like a farmhand might stay over every now and again. They told us “no problem” we could sleep here and put our bikes inside. We thanked Valco and his friend profusely and then they left. We finished our food and were just starting to think about going to sleep and that it was going to be cold when we heard someone coming up the stairs. Valco was back with another guy and a bunch of firewood. They proceeded to build us a fire in the woodstove, “no problem, no problem” and they were gone again. We set up and slept on the floor by the stove very comfortably until about 4 am when we were woken up by footsteps and saw someone walking out of the room. We both freaked out just a little bit. Someone walking around the room at 4 am? that seemed a little weird, but we decided not to worry about it and figured it was probably just a farmhand using the bathroom. We arent really sure who it was or why they were there but that stands as our best guess, someone doing early morning work on the farm had to pee. We got up at 8 or so and headed back to the bar/convenience store/cafe/only business in the whole town to get coffee, which the guy there insisted on giving us no charge. We waited around a bit hoping Valco would show up so we could thank him again but didn’t see him. Eventually we told the other guy working there that we wanted to thank Valco and he called him to come down. He told us “no problem”  once again. We got him to write down his address for us so that we can send him something when we get home. It’s all in cyrillic so we have no idea what it says but hopefully we will be able to  send something as a thank you. We said ciao which Valco also knew and rolled off in the dreary rain towards Haskovo.

 

The riding that day was pretty miserable. 50 km in the cold rain is never fun.

The picture doesn’t convey the discomfort

By the time we arrived in Haskovo we couldn’t feel our hands and our legs and feet were soaked. (our rain jackets did quite a good job however) We arrived where we thought the hotel was and the building was empty. Not what you want to see when you’re halfway frozen. We decided to find somewhere to warm up and regroup before figuring out the hotel situation. We found a little diner and went in. Autumn got some rice with chicken (which apparently is a traditional Bulgarian dish) and we both ordered coffee. We soon discovered that the norm for coffee in Bulgaria is a double shot of espresso, not exactly the nescafe we had become used to in Turkey. As the feeling was coming back into our hands the waitress saw Autumn sitting there shivering and brought her over a jacket to warm up. I ordered some lunch and the waitress gave us some tea because we looked cold. After just sitting and warming up for a while we figured out that we were looking in the wrong spot for the hotel and decided to go find it. We tried to return the jacket to the waitress but she insisted Autumn take it to the hotel with her. We got into the hotel which was ok, but not as nice as the last few places we had payed to stay at. But hey, it was dry. The next day the bad weather had passed quicker than expected and we had a nice dry ride into Plovdiv. We stayed in the Gramophone Hostel in Plovdiv for the two nights we were there which was really nice and surprisingly empty.

 
Autumn: The ride to Plovdiv was awesome. It was the first day of riding that was pleasantly uneventful. We rode into Plovdiv and were immediately struck by a house on a hill that was very close to the tunnel we rode through. The rocks on the hill were tied up, they looked as though the cables were the only thing keeping them on top of the hill.

Rolling into Plovdiv

Someone on couchsurfing told us about Gramophone Hostel so we decided to check it out. Gramophone is known mostly as musical venue, it used to house performers when they came to Plovdiv to perform. A little while back they added more rooms and turned it into a hostel with a joined bar and outdoor stage. It was pretty neat and the guy working there was very friendly. We were the only ones staying at the hostel, I guess Plovdiv is not a popular spring break destination. We got a bit cleaned up and then started to wander around Plovdiv. The hostel is in this pedestrian area with lots of shops, a few fast food restaurants, and quite a few cafe/bars. A few casinos too, those seem to be very popular in Bulgaria. Right in the middle of the pedestrian/shopping area is the Roman Stadium. It was built during the 2nd century AD, and a lot of it is still intact.

Oh, look! Ancient ruins right in the middle of town

After wandering around the stadium and the area they’ve built around it (which is very cool: you’re walking along and see a giant hole in the path, in that hole is the stadium), we decided to go find some food. Earlier I had seen a kid with a giant pancake with stuff inside so I wanted to find that. Haegan got a chicken kebap which has thinly sliced chicken, tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, yogurt, and fries. All in a wrap. He loved it. He loved it so much that I’m still hearing about how the design of the wrap and its contents are perfect. I had one too the next day and I have to say it was definitely very good.

Alex Foods, you have created the perfect food.

I found the pancake place and was completely overwhelmed by the menu. It’s one thing to walk into a fast food place and not know the language on the menu… it’s another when you walk in and you don’t the alphabet on the menu, especially when there are over 200 options. I was completely overwhelmed and the staff could see my look of confusion so they pointed to me a small menu on English next to the register. I’m indecisive, so even that menu was overwhelming. I got a pancake with salami, mushrooms, and pickles and decided I needed to come back the next morning for breakfast. It was dark by then and we continued to wander around. Haegan found these rocks behind the shopping area and discovered there were paths leading up them. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been terrified of walking or climbing up, or even just on, rocks. My fear doesn’t really make sense, I know my chances of falling and actually hurting myself are slim, but it still scares me. I wouldn’t call it a phobia… but I’ll admit it’s probably close. Despite this, I followed him up a semi-maintained path of stairs and rocks to the top where we had a fantastic view of the whole city. I didn’t love the climb up but I loved the view, it was so neat to see the whole city lit up.

Cool graffiti at the base of the Tepe
Not a bad view

We were hungry after climbing so we went to find more fast food. Bulgaria has little stores that display pizza in the window. You just point to the slice you want, they grab it for you and you’re on your way. Window pizza, best thing ever, besides chicken kepab of course. Bulgaria is getting a lot of points for fast food.

The next morning we went to a little cafe at the mosque close to our hotel. I decided to order a latte because I now know that if I just order coffee, I’ll get straight espresso. I love coffee, and espresso, but I’m not that serious. It came in a neat glass with a straw, the glass I liked, the straw seemed like a bad idea. After coffee and tea we went to get pancakes, which were much better as breakfast food (go figure). We went to find the Roman Theater first, but stopped at two churches along the way. Bulgaria is Eastern Orthodox so their churches are set up differently from the ones we’re accustomed to seeing. People sit in pews on the sides of the church, facing the center. The back wall has beautiful portraits of Mary, Jesus, and many saints. The walls and ceiling have pictures depicting stories from the Bible. The churches are stunning and unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside. I’m excited to see more of these in Sofia. After the two churches we got to the stadium, got our tickets, and then were let into the theater. I was astounded at the lack of security. The theater is about 1800 years old and the entrance to get in is blocked only by a small rope and a sign that says you need to have a ticket to enter. After that you’re let free to roam around the ancient theater, there are no metal detectors or guards or anything. We were the only ones at the theater, no other tourists. We played around with the acoustics of the theaters and walked around on the stage and in the seats. It was crazy to think we were sitting where people sat hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Roman Theater
You can walk around and sit on it!

The theater and the churches we were at earlier are part of Old Town. Throughout old town there are plaques on most of the houses that tell about a politician or merchant who built the house and lived there. Each house is historic and has something unique about it, and in most them there is a museum about Plovdiv’s history. It’s a neat idea and liked reading all the plaques about each house. A lot of places were either closed on Mondays or just not open at all. We realized later that Plovdiv is in the process of making the city more tourist friendly because in 2019 they will be the European Capital of Culture. I’m guessing most of the work they’re doing is new so not everything was up and running. It was still neat to walk about the Old City. We went to another church, Church of St. Constantine and Helena. This one was my favorite of the three we saw that day, the colors were so rich and all the paintings were breathtaking. We continued to wander around and found some ruins on the edge of one of the hills. Plovdiv has six hills called tepes. It used to have seven but they destroyed the smallest one a while ago. Haegan and I were climbing on of the tepes the night before but hadn’t realized what it was. The Old City is built on one of the tepes and the ruins were at the edge of the tepe, there used to be a watch tower there. We wandered around the ruins and then just sat enjoying the view of the entire city, this time from the other side of town.

Ruins at the top of the Tepe
Derp.
Autumn being afraid of heights
That thing in the corner used to be a watchtower
Haegan not being afraid of heights
Haegan not being afraid of heights

We headed back into the main part of the city and stopped at another one of the house museums. This one had displays of modern Bulgarian art. The guy running the museum let us in for free because the museum hadn’t been finished. Old Bulgarian houses in the Old Town are typically very symmetrical, the rooms and staircases all mirror each other. The ceilings and banisters had beautiful woodwork.

Neat painting in the house
Neat painting in the house
Intricate woodwork
Intricate woodwork

After walking around the house a bit we talked to the man running the museum a bit more. He is so passionate about the house and some of the art in it. We walked around a bit more and found another church on another tepe, which we wandered around and enjoyed some apples.

The rest of afternoon was fairly uneventful, we got in a little spat, made up, saw some Peruvians performing pop songs in stereotypical “native american” style (this was probably one of the most bizarre things we’d seen), and then found pizza and had fancy dessert.

Look how fancy we are

After walking around and talking a bit longer (and witnessing a freaky cat interaction), we went to the bar right below our hostel. The night before we tried Rakia as a welcome from the hostel. We didn’t want to do that again because Rakia is disgusting. So I got a Bulgarian beer, Haegan got a cider and we played foosball for a while.

Bulgarian beer, not sure what the name is exactly
Bulgarian beer, not sure what the name is exactly