Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

A big shoutout to my high school friend Barbara for today’s amazing excursion!

I slept like the dead last night and was still exhausted when I woke up, even after nine solid hours of sleep! It was sheer will power that got me up and on the trail with the dogs. I didn’t want to over do it today since I do have another couple of full days of travel ahead of me. I had originally thought that today would just be an errands day, but Barbara posted a picture to my Facebook wall last week that blew me away after I confirmed it was not Photoshopped and meant a half day excursion!

The Eyes of God. I have not been able to determine ownership of this picture and it is all over the web. If it is yours, just drop me a comment and I will remove it or give you credit. Thank you.

The Eyes of God. I have not been able to determine ownership of this picture and it is all over the web. If it is yours, please drop me a comment and I will remove it or give you credit.

Barbara posted this picture because it was taken in Bulgaria, so she immediately thought of me. I did some research and discovered this amazing geographical formation is in a karst cave known as Prohodna, very easily accessible, and… 30 minutes from Malak Izvor.

I did my work for the day and set off around 10:30 or so. I turned on Google Maps once I got to Yablanitsa and they directed me without any wrong turns to the cave site just north of Yablanitsa. I passed one sign in Cyrillic only just past the town of Karlukovo indicating I was on the right road.

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Just as Google Maps insisted I had arrived when I was in the middle of nowhere like I didn’t know existed in Europe, I saw a second sign for the cave. Woohoo!

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I still cannot get over how much Bulgaria reminds me of southern SK or maybe the Okanagan.

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I parked right near the sign, not realising that I could go straight down to the cave opening. But the road down was just a teeny bit rough and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in a rental vehicle anyway.

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Getting into the cave isn’t very difficult. I think anyone who can walk could get to the formation, especially if they have someone to hang onto.

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Standing in the cave looking out towards the parking lot:

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This cave system is popular with rock climbers and spelunkers.

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And tah dah!!!

 

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I couldn’t believe that the formation was right there and that I could easily take a good shot of the “eyes” without special equipment or having to climb or whatever. Even in daylight, the effect was profound and unmistakable.

 

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You can really see the “nose” as you move towards the back of the cave:

 

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The complex is truly massive and there are hiking trails throughout it.

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The hiking terrain wasn’t that different from what I get in Malak Izvor, so I didn’t go far. I did climb up this mini cliff to explore a large cave opening.

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Amazing view from up there!

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What goes up must come down… Some scrambling on my butt was required!

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When I’d had my fill, I went back up to my car and then decided to check out that little building.

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Okay. Possibly my dream house. SO CUTE! 🙂

 

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There’s a monastery to the left.

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I then retraced my steps to Yablanista and headed west towards Sofia to get groceries at the Kaufland in Botevgrad. I drove around town a bit, but there wasn’t anything that would have made it worth paying to park so I could walk around. So I just went to get my groceries. First, though, I wanted a bit of lunch and I knew that there was a grill right outside Kaufland where I could grab a quick bite.

I could understand the menu well enough, but was glad that it had pictures confirming exactly what you were getting for your 1.70BGN. I picked a kufte plate, three meatballs with a bun and sauce. The transaction went smoothly. I ordered and she told me the price. Once I paid, she put my kufte in the container and said, “Sauce?” I saw I had a choice of ketchup, mustard, or lutenitsa, the wonderful Bulgarian answer to ketchup, a pepper and tomato based sauce that can be mild or spicy. I’ve had spicy homemade lutenitsa in Yablanitsa, so I decided to see what the commercial stuff is like and replied, “Lutenitsa, please.” She had her hand on the ketchup pump and appeared surprised by my choice, but made the switch. Finally, she rattled off something I didn’t understand. Instead of rolling her eyes or making assumptions, she tried again, more simply, and said just one word as a question, “Here?” Ah, takeaway or eat in? I said “Here, please,” and she smiled before adding the bun to my container and telling me to enjoy my meal.

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I was hungry. 🙂

I enjoyed my quick lunch. The commercial lutenitsa is very different from the homemade, being completely smooth and mild. There’s just something about red peppers that elevate the most boring dish. I really liked this version of the sauce and could see myself eating it more regularly than the spicy homemade stuff I had that made me sneeze!

After that, I did my shopping. This will likely be my last big shop before I leave. I think the thing I was most excited to come home with was a broccoli! I know I’m already at the point where I have to start eating down some things, like the rice and pasta.

One of my favourite things at these bigger grocery stores is the better cheese selection. Bulgaria has two cheeses — sirene, a crumbly feta-like cheese, and kashkaval a mild white or yellow cheese that you can slice and melt. I’ve found some good uses for the sirene, but all the kashkaval I’ve had has been a disappointment. I’m glad to get to a bigger grocery store for some rich Red Leicester from England (which has displaced sharp Cheddar in my cheese hierarchy) and some Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, whichever is on sale. Kaufland has the best sour cream I’ve found yet in Bulgaria, so I made sure to grab some.

I headed home after that and it wasn’t until I got to the exit for Yablanisa and Teteven that I realised that the signage was only in Cyrillic. When I research driving in Bulgaria, I read that you can count on road signage to be in both Cyrillic and Latin letters, which is complete horse hockey. Even on main highways (like the one between Sofia and Varna that leads to Yablanitsa), you often only get Cyrillic right until the exit, where the Latin letter sign will be posted just after the exit. Unless you have eagle eyes, you will miss it! I met an American in Plovdiv who is living in Germany and is in Bulgaria for two weeks. She figured it would be a waste of brain space to learn Cyrillic for that short amount of time (same thinking I had about learning more than absolute barebones Bulgarian), but she said she regretted it as soon as she started driving here. Driving here is almost as stressful as in Mexico and I know I eliminated a huge chunk of that stress when I made the decision to learn to read Cyrillic.

I know I mention this quite a bit, but the more travelers (and even expats!) I meet who cannot read Bulgarian, the more I understand just how different my experience has been from most Western tourists because I can read the language. I chatted extensively with the hotel clerk in Veliko Tarnovo and she had me reading all sorts of stuff because she couldn’t believe that I could. In just two months here, I can get through a basic menu, recognise some stores (pharmacy, bookstore, supermarket, butcher shop, etc.), recognise some buildings (police station, town hall, library, museum (and of what), match the street names from my English tourist map to the Cyrillic characters on a street sign, and more. The American living in Germany said she tried to memorise what some words and names look like, rather like trying to memorise Japanese or Chinese characters. Not particularly efficient!

So it’s been a pretty low-key day. I’m debating attempting a long road trip tomorrow, but am cognisant of the fact that I’ll be away Friday and most of Saturday and may not want to spend another three solid days on the go. I just need to come up with a backup plan that needs the car and that is a little closer. Off to walk the dogs and then do some research while I enjoy a beer!

Tsarevets Fortress, a Taste of Veliko Tarnovo, a Stop in Teteven, and on to Maluk Izvor

I slept soooo well in Veliko Tarnovo. That bed! The room was also dark and despite all the traffic in the evening, things quieted down around ten. I woke up just past eight (!), took a moment to wake up, and then went to have breakfast. I only had four hours till I had to vacate my parking spot and that felt like just the right amount of time for the day, but that I should not waste any of it.

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Quite a nice view from my room. Soon as I opened my curtains, these guys waved at me and yelled good morning!

Breakfast was an acceptable buffet. The coffee was out of those popular Nescafe dispensers and too sweet for my taste, but the food was good. I enjoyed a selection of meats, bread, jam, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, which I understand is a fairly typical Bulgarian breakfast.

This is what parking looks like in these car unfriendly towns, people parking almost on top of each other. Both myself and the folks in the light grey car had said we weren’t leaving till noon, so that dark grey car was parked behind us.

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That reminds me that I forgot to recount my adventure getting out of my parking spot in Nessebar! It looked like I had a lot of room to get out, but it was all in the wrong places. To avoid a bollard, I would hit a taxi. To avoid the taxi, I would scrape the car on my passenger side. I had to do like I did with Miranda and mentally imagine all the manoeuvres I’d have to do with the car to get it out. I was reasonably confident I’d figured it out when a man knocked on my driver’s side window. All I got of what he said was “Not good.” He made some motions that rather mimicked how I had planned to get out and then he pointed from his eyes to me. It was clear that he was saying, “I’ll spot you.” Well, he did, and it was a great job! I slid out of that spot smoothly, with no extra steps, in a couple of minutes. On my own, I would have had to continually get out of the car to check my clearances. He was my hero of the day!

Back to this morning, the first thing I wanted to do was visit the medieval stronghold of Tsarevets. It was the primary fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 to 1393. My hotel happened to be right by the entrance. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have parked closer to it!

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Looking down from the hotel parking lot.

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Around the corner from the hotel, looking towards town, the fortress behind me. When I left with the car, I drove up from the left in this picture and turned left to where that car is in the middle of the picture.

Tsaravets fortress! The ticket booth is right before it. 6BGN to get in.

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The man in pink is the ticket checker. He had his hands full a few hours later as I came out of the fortress!

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My mood was giddiness. Remember that I’m a medieval history major! This would be my second opportunity to explore medieval ruins (first time was, of course, in Scotland).

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The wooden bridge felt very spongy!

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This maps shows just how massive the complex would have been. There is quite a lot left still to see!

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This was one of the only English signs on the whole property. “You might encounter reptiles” AND medieval ruins? 😀

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There was a very clear PA announcement in a couple of languages, including English, which recited the warnings and gave additional information. It sounded like it was narrated by a poor man’s Alan Rickman (RIP), especially when he said, “You may encounter reptiles,” in that flat bored sounding tone of Rickman’s. Made me laugh every time I heard it!

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I liked how they hid the modern pipes in these old broken ones:

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One of many bells on site.

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All the signage was in Bulgarian, what I assume is Russian, and German. Between the Bulgarian and the German, I could get just the gist of what I was looking at. We know from the above sign that I’m at Baldwin’s tower and I’m pretty sure that the site was restored in 1933…

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The ceilings inside the tower were low. The main floor reminded me a bit of my house in Malak Izvor.

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“Monastery complex” ruins ahead.

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Tsarevets was a huge city and had many churches, monasteries, and residential and commercial buildings in addition to being a centre of administration and governance.

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The complex is huge, but felt like it had a logical flow. I found myself climbing higher and higher without really noticing it.

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This shows where the kings lived and governed.

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These are the steps leading up to the church. I rounded the corner and heard québécois accents!

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I said to the group of men that it was good to hear my accent again. They laughed. We did small talk for a minute. They are from the Outaouais, where I lived until 2008!

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I came out of the church and heard some folks complaining in Spanish about the chill this morning (much appreciated), but that it was better than the unrelenting heat that was worse than anything they’d experienced in Hermosillo. Wait. What?! I had to intervene and asked if they were from Sonora. Yes! I said that I spent two winters in Mexico. We chatted for a bit and I offered to take pictures. I sure didn’t expect to get in some good Spanish practice this morning, but there you have it!

I went around the back of the church hoping to be able to get even further up, but my hopes were dashed by the elevator being closed. 🙁

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No stairs either!

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I was as far up as I could go, so I headed down, eager to find the “Cliff of Death” the loudspeaker announcer kept on warning us about!

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There is a light show here at night. Must be spectacular!

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And behold the Cliff of Death! This picture does not convey the sheer drop. Rumour has it there were executions carried out here.

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Sumac, just like back in Quebec!

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Something about a gate. *wry grin*

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These stairs were fun in a long flowy skirt!

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Well, that’s graphic! The point of the exhibits up here is for folks to touch them, so there were kids playing executioner and condemned!

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I had heard shrieking on my way up, which I initially thought was the kids recreating the executions, but it was actually two gals who got their long hair caught in these very heavy helmets!

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Back near the entrance was a catapult.

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It was only as I left the complex, a full two hours after I arrived (I can’t believe how quickly time passed!) that I saw this lettering on the walls. Something about restoration in the ’70s, I believe.

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I had just over an hour before checkout time when I’d had my fill of Tsarevets, so I decided to check out Veliko Tarnovo.

I would not want to be a bus driver in this town!

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This ice cream brand has so many different names! No, I did not indulge…

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This “Tequila Bar” made me laugh.

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A statue of Bulgaria’s four kings. I didn’t have time to get right down to it.

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There were many panoramic view points along the main road, but this was my favourite, a strip of steel and wood leading into the abyss.

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This is where I had dinner last night:

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You can sort of see how their rear windows overlook the city. I ate downstairs.

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I found a Raffy’s gelato stand somewhere around this point. They are all over Bulgaria and, in my opinion, the best. The gal at the hotel agrees with me! I had my favourite, chocolate hazelnut!

This shop name made me laugh.

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I headed back to the hotel through an alleyway behind the church.

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Notice how modern life is squeezed into this ancient towns, cars parked where they can, rubbish bins under the bridge arches.

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Last night, I completely missed this sign saying my hotel was thataway. But guess what? Even in broad daylight, sober, and with my glasses on, I still made a wrong turn getting there. It’s a wonder I found it in the first place!

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I thought this wood being chain sawed was very pretty. As I took a picture, I heard one of the workers make a comment that had the word tourist in it. I bet it wasn’t flattering!

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I’m so pleased I went to Tsarevets and Veliko Tarnovo! My morning and short evening were just the right amount of time. It was then time to head back to Malak Izvor and work. 🙁 It was surprisingly easy to get out of Veliko Tarnovo, just a couple of turns and then straight west.

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I made a small detour to Teteven, a nearby town I’ve been wanting to go back to, to get a late lunch and some groceries. The town’s setting is spectacular!

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This is the stand where I had my very first ice cream in Bulgaria. 😀 No, I did not get any today.

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“Here…” something happened? 🙂

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I was happy to find cold water!

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I crossed the river to find the produce market, so reminiscent of Mexico!

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A quick slice of pizza sounded ideal for lunch and I found one. I was shocked that the stand had a guy who spoke perfect English. The woman who started to serve me threw her hands up in disgust when she realised I don’t speak Bulgarian. Funny how some people are. The guy at the ice cream stand in Veliko Tarnovo spoke slowly to me and I was able to understand him fine even if I couldn’t always answer (eg. “Cup or cone?” and I’d point to the cup).

Well, it has finally happened; I’ve had pizza with sweet corn! It was actually good! The pizza slice had been there a while, but I actually prefer my pizza at this temperature, so I found this quite good.

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I got a few groceries after my pizza and then it was then a very short drive to Malak Izvor, where the doggies and cat were happy to see me. I put on laundry, hoping the threatening rain holds off long enough for my things to dry, and took the pups on a short walk. Now, work! 🙁

I plan to work tomorrow morning and head off in the afternoon to view a local sight or two and then go further afield, past Sofia on Thursday. We shall see how that works out.

Nessebar to Veliko Tarnova By Way of Buzludzha (and 50 Billion Wrong Turns)

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Amusing photo from last night’s dinner. I figured out that “blackboard erasers” are aptly named mushrooms!

It was not an easy day, one of those where I found myself wondering multiple times why the hell I can’t just be content living a “normal” sedentary life. And then, I remembered a tee-shirt I saw last night that said, “No growth ever came from a comfort zone.” I’m starting to understand that a large part of this urge of mine to go and to do new things has to do with the angry, timid, fearful thing I used to be, that it’s a way of distancing myself from someone I loathed and had no patience for. Heavy stuff, I know, and probably not what you come here for, but it was a day for reflection.

I was up fairly early and went down to the lobby to use the hotel wifi since I’d used up all my free Telenor credit and was burning really fast through my balance. It was too early for breakfast, but the hotel clerk slipped me a coffee, with just the right amount of milk. What service!

Last night, I’d almost booked accommodation in Veliko Tarnova, but I couldn’t commit to anything. It was the same thing this morning. It was just going to have to be one of those days where I landed where I landed, even if the thought of looking for a hotel “cold” in a country where I don’t speak the language filled me with dread. To be honest, I had a very strong suspicion that I would sleep at “home” tonight in Maluk Izvor.

Breakfast came, the same as yesterday, but with a red juice and pears for a change. I was asked where I was headed today and when I replied, the clerk was taken aback and said it was in the middle of nowhere, so she’d pack me a lunch! And she did! Talk about five-star service at a one star price!

I headed out around 8:30, with the plan being to get another top up at the Telenor store in Nessebar, just in case. Well… There is almost no street signage in Nessebar and what should have been a 10-minute trip took me about an hour, including a detour into Sunny Beach against my will! It was so ridiculous I had to laugh! But as it turned out, the Telenor store wouldn’t didn’t open until 9:30 anyway, so I would have had to wait or leave without a top up. Things work out!

This wound up being the Telenor store visit I wish I’d had when I first landed in Bulgaria. Sunny Beach is a Brit resort town, so there is English everywhere and this was the first time I encountered a Telenor store employee who spoke absolutely fluent English and could give me some tips. He was appalled that I’ve been paying for my data piecemeal rather than getting a plan and pointed out that I went from a 26BGN to a 0.10BGN balance in about 10 minutes of surfing last night. Woah!!! I’ve only ever used my phone for the odd surfing before, never for anything as intensive as the last couple of days, and had no idea I was paying so much for my bandwidth. The clerk added 20BGN to my account and then walked me through buying a 1GB plan for one week for just 4BGN. Better late than never! But, really, this was the first time since I got here that I felt that I got “taken” for bandwidth and I can’t be too upset since Telenor gave me 1GB of data with my last top up, in addition to tons of other gifts of bandwidth since I got here.

That done, it was finally time to hit the open road. I wanted to get to Buzludzha Monument and after that decide if I was going home or to Veliko Tarnova to see the Tsaravets fortress.

I was stuck in a traffic jam just outside of Burgas when I realised I’d left my camera at the hotel! DANG. The battery went dead mid-day yesterday and I’d set the camera aside after transferring the photos to my computer, then forgotten to put it somewhere that I’d see it. I got through Burgas (much more easily this time) and pulled over to call and email the hotel. Long story short on that, they found it and I’m reasonably sure I will get it back. I love my camera and felt no need to replace it, but it is seven years old and starting to get spots in the lens if the sun hits it the wrong way. I will be happy to get it back, but am ready to accept its loss if it doesn’t get back to me.

But that leaves me with my phone for a camera, a phone with super crappy battery life. I’ve been using it as a GPS, which really sucks the life out of it. So I knew that if I only had my phone for a GPS and camera this week, I really needed a way to charge it on the road. Spoiler on that, I bought FOUR different car chargers today and not one of them worked with my iPhone. *expletive deleted* Apple. I might get it if they had a car charger of their own, but they don’t! I have to say that my day would have been much less stressful and exhausting if I’d been able to charge my phone and use the GPS as much as needed. I was able to return three of the chargers, so I’m only out about 7CAD, thankfully. When I get to Sofia on Saturday, I’ll go to an Apple Store and ask about a secondary power source for the phone. I’d like to once again point out that I only have an iPhone because it was free! Yes, I am a Mac and iPad geek, but, really, the iPhone is a huge disappointment all around. Aaaaaaaanyway.

I retraced part of my Saturday route to Plovdiv before swinging north at Yambol and then west at Sliven:

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I got turned around at Sliven because of a badly marked roundabout and was getting really frustrated with the lack of signage as well as on the verge of heat stroke despite the AC in the car. I was really tempted to just give up and go home. But Buzludzha was the one thing I really wanted to see in Bulgaria before I knew anything about Bulgaria, that unique gem off the beaten path that embodies the spirit of an era. I made it to Kazanluk and, to my immense surprise, came across two signs directing me to Buzludzha! That was not expected. The signs had a different transliteration, but I could recognise the name for what it was in Cyrillic. I was down to about 5% battery power at this point and really grateful to have made it, even if I had no idea how I’d get anywhere from there. I pulled over and had my very nice lunch. What a gift.

A few more turns and then, nothing mattered anymore because I had finally found Buzludzha. I pulled over and just stared:

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My phone died just after I took the above picture and I was devastated to have come all this way and have no camera to record my adventure. Then, I remembered that my computer has a camera. It would be clumsy, but better than nothing. Then, I laughed at myself when I remembered that I also had my iPad, with its own camera! Rather funny for someone who traveled for many years without a camera that I now have all these gadgets with cameras!

So Buzludzha… It is a monument to socialist communism, the construction of which began in 1974. The building was abandoned and left to vandals after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. It is crumbling and after tourists were injured a few years back, the interior has been blocked from access, but there are now plans to possibly revive this building before it is completely irreparable. My best friend Bast sent me a video about Buzludzha just before I went to Bulgaria and I knew that if I could only get away from Malak Izvor for a day, I would have to find my way to this monument.

To get there, I had to follow a very long and meandering road up that reminded me of the Devil’s Backbone. At the end of it was a place to park, with a very long climb ahead of me. I didn’t realise the climb was that long and felt rather unprepared, with not enough water, but there was a lovely cool breeze at that altitude, so I decided I would start and see how far I got. I have to admit that I asked myself multiple times on the climb if I really needed to get to the top, it was that difficult of a hike!

I have to say I’m rather pleased with how my iPad photos came out!

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I look so close here, but it was still so far! My heart was pounding and I had to remind myself that I didn’t need to break any speed records to get to the top!

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I was done the worst of the climb up at this point, but still wasn’t there. I took a breather as I laughed at just how much it looks like a Starfleet vessel!

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I am convinced the architect was a Star Trek fan!

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I was shocked when I actually made it to the top! There appeared to be a spectator facility in front of the monument:

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As I saw the monument from the front, I was really pleased I’d made it all the way up. There was something so spooky about it that I had not felt from further away.

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Transferring a little of my energy to this place of immense power…

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It was incredibly creepy and I heard weird noises, so imagine my surprise when I rounded the building and found workers! I wonder how they got their vehicles up there!

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I got my fill of Buzludzha and the view and then headed back down to my car. There was a group at the the trailhead who asked me if the climb up was as hard as it looked. I replied that I’ve been hiking up a mountain twice daily for two months and found it tough, but it was worth it. At last view, the group was heading up. I wonder if they got there.

It was rather a fun descent back to a “main” road. I turned north towards Gabrovo, where I would have to decide if I was going west to Malak Izvor or east to Veliko Tarnovo. This wound up being a sinewy mountain drive, the kind I love in a zippy manual transmission car!

I was feeling very parched by this point and hoped to pass a store soon to get more water when I rounded a corner where there were a bunch of cars parked and people milling about. I knew I’d started to understand some things about Bulgaria when my first thought at the sight was WATER.

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There are so many fountains and mountain springs scattered all over this country, and sometimes in the most random places! I buy water when I really need to, but I’m learning to look for the fountains. I haven’t had bad tasting water yet nor any that played havoc with my fragile digestion. I filled up my water bottle, drank deeply, and then filled it again. I’m actually finishing off that water tonight, as I’m writing this post.

At Gabrovo, it was time to make my decision. Home or the unknown? It felt very important to me that I pick the later option, that I was at one of those watershed moments of my life. I could seek the easy path or push forward through my fear. I’d successfully landed somewhere good and safe in Mexico after going off script on my first drive down to Mazatlán. And, really, nothing tonight could be as bad as landing in Edinburgh with a 20 quid a day budget to find all the hostels full. I chose the easterly route. Veliko Tarnova or bust!

There was decent-ish signage for me to follow, but at one point, I saw signs for the town that pointed in different directions! I stopped for fuel and asked the attendant if he spoke English. He had just enough to tell me to, “Go that way and if you get to Romania, you go too far.” LOL LOL LOL That was my favourite moment of the day! I couldn’t believe I was less than 120KM from the Romanian border, just a bit further than Assiniboia is from the US border.

I made it into Veliko Tarnova, a medieval city with narrow winding streets, occasionally pausing to take in the majestic view of the fortress of Tsaravets. Sorry, there was no chance to pull over and get a better shot than this:

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I drove aimlessly, trying to find a hotel with parking. I finally passed a hotel with a parking spot right in front of it and wondered if I could really be that lucky….

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Parking spot, hotel with English speaking clerk, and even at a whopping 80BGN per night (by far my most expensive hotel stay so far), very reasonable by Canadian standards. I also get breakfast and a discount at local restaurants. Fortune favoured the bold!

Not to get too graphic, I really needed a shower after marinating in the car all day and climbing up to Buzludzha, so I did that, changed, and headed out to find some dinner.

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IMG_1415It began to POUR as I got close to the restaurant the hotel clerk had highly recommended, Shtastlivetsa, so I was quite wet when I arrived. They were super busy as it’s apparently the most popular place in town and has an amazing view. I somehow managed to get a seat with a bit of a view (too many people in front of me to make it worth taking a picture) and ordered a glass of white wine to sip while I perused the menu. Everything was super fancy and there were ingredients like spelt and quinoa. Prices seemed suspiciously low, especially the main that most appealed to me, what sounded like a pork schnitzel with roasted potatoes, for just 8.60BGN (6.50CAD).

Well, this is what came:

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A green veggie would have been nice, but, wow! It was so good! The white thing was cream cheese with dill, which was yummy with the potatoes.

I wasn’t ready to call it a night, so I ordered a second glass of wine and asked for a dessert recommendation. They brought me “biscuit cake” which was three small balls of chocolately something (no pic because my phone was dead again). It was really good! Dinner would have been a real bargain if I’d just stuck to the main and wine, but even with more wine and dessert, I came out at 17CAD! I got a hotel discount of 10%, so I gave a slightly better tip than I normally give. 10% is actually a good tip in Bulgaria, but I sometimes give 15% if I felt service was particularly attentive. Food was was slow to come tonight because the restaurant was very crowded, but I didn’t have to wait long to be seated, order, get wine, etc. It was excellent service by Bulgarian standards!

I got very lost on the way back to the hotel. It was dark, pouring rain (so I couldn’t wear my glasses), and my phone was dead again. I ended up going around in circles twice before I finding a familiar landmark. Rae’s travel tip of the day: have just one glass of wine before going out into a dark rainy medieval fortress city with no street signs and a bunch of narrow streets that all look the same!

Well, it’s been another long one. Lots of good, some bad, plenty of character growth. I have the room till noon, so the plan is to have breakfast at 8:00 when it starts, then spend the morning at the Tsaravets fortress before vacating my parking spot and heading home. But my adventures are not over. I have the car till Friday and a laundry list of things I still want to see on day trips!

A Day In Old Nessebar

I did a lot of research about the “Bulgarian Riviera” and got heaps of testimonials. I wanted a quiet seaside holiday, but it quickly became apparent that that’s not really feasible. The entire coast is developed and there are many resorts. It’s basically like my worst Mexican nightmare. The only village that really stuck out was Old Nessebar because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many people I spoke to, including a few who have had a few weeks to know me, said that the Bulgarian Black Sea coast’s atmosphere would not be to my liking, but if I simply had to have a taste of the Black Sea, then at least Nessebar would give me something substantial to enjoy. So that’s how and why I ended up here and why I will be happy to leave the coast tomorrow morning.

It was a fairly good night in Nessebar. The room was stuffy and I eventually got up to open the balcony door after things quieted down a tad, then slept very well. I was tired and in no hurry to go anywhere this morning. Breakfast was served between eight and ten and I didn’t go down till well past nine, and with very low expectations.

Well, my day got off to a great start! When I read I would be served Bulgarian fried bread, I had a vision of a cold greasy commercial pastry and certainly didn’t expect cooked to order little pillows of doughy delight! They reminded me a lot of bannock. With them, I was given a slab of sirene cheese and two different types of jam. The salty and sweet combination was wonderful! My meal also came with an orange drink that was cold and refreshing as well as two small cups of excellent coffee to which the server had added just the right amount of milk. To round everything off, I had about a half dozen slices of crisp watermelon! Needless to say, I was stuffed when I got back to my room to pack for my day. I am so pleased with my stay at this hotel and still can’t believe it was only 95CAD for two nights!

I was going to take a bus to Old Nessebar, 3KM away, but by the time I got to the main road, there was a nice breeze and I didn’t see any need for a ride. It was pleasant, albeit boring, stroll to the entrance to Old Nessebar:

I’ve seen mobile libraries before, but never a mobile bookstore!

Old Nessebar is a peninsula. The way it is built up, I could see water on two sides of it.

Its famous windmill:

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I’m not sure if that’s a real bird because it was still there at the end of the day!

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I was surprised there is this much parking in Old Nessebar, but I would not have wanted to drive there!

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I took two shots of this sign in rapid succession. Notice what’s changed?

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I’ve seen a lot of transliterations of the name НЕСЕБъР. The ъ sounds appears to be problematic, as I’ve seen the same issue with Malak Izvor, where transliterators cannot decide whether ъ should be an A or U. Since ъ is meant to be the U as in turn sign, I favour that and would translate the name as Nessebur, with two Ses being necessary to convey the correct sound in English. But Nessebar and Nesebar are the  most common transliterations I’ve seen.

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Western fortress walls.

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They mean salon, but I love the idea of a place where I can get beer and ice cream! 🙂

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Beautiful map outside the history museum.

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Nessebar “world heritage.”

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What kind of museum? Oh, the history of Nessebar.

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I opted to pay 20BGN for access to five churches and seven museums. Spoiler: that’s the way to do it. Every attraction is really small (most can be done in at most five minutes), but still well worth seeing so you save a lot going that route. They give you a map with a route to all the sites and you collect a stamp at each one.

So this first museum was about the history of Nessebar. Lots of wonderful artifacts!

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I did a double take when I saw this ring because I have similar one in silver that I bought in Mexico!

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We were not allowed to take a picture of this room full of icons, but I got this shot before I saw the sign!

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Map of Nessebar when it was still known as Mesambriya.

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This prehistoric pottery shows abstract thought that is very advanced for the time:

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Document certifying Nessebar as a UNESCO world heritage site. “Placement on this list honours the exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural good so that it may be protected for the benefit of humanity.”

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Here’s my map of Nessebar showing the route to all the sites. You get a lesser quality copy to collect stamps on.

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This is old Nessebar, all tiny cobblestone alleys and homes with stone foundations and wood upper floors.

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Duck!

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St. Stephen Church:

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Can anyone explain what the heck happened with this photo?!

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I went inside and was bowled over by the unexpected frescoes!

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I thought that was it, but then I saw a door that was a little ajar, so I cracked it open and realised there was more to see!

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I may get thrashed for this, but this rivaled St. Paul’s in the beauty of its decorations!

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This church was built in the 11th century and later reconstructed. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

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Next stop was Christ Pantocator Church. Nessebar has a record number of churches. I’m pretty sure the last time I visited so many churches in such a short span of time and distance was in Tuktoyaktuk! Spoiler: the churches in Nessebar were all unique and I never got a moment of “Okay, that’s enough churches for one day”!

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This church had a bonus exhibit of cartography featuring Nessebar. On this map, its name in red signifies it was a port of importance.

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So many maps! I went through twice and would have returned to my favourite ones a third time, but the church was tiny and getting crowded.

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There were a lot of taxis outside. The prices are insane! In Sofia, a reputable taxi charges only about 0.75BGN per km!

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Next up, St. John the Baptist Church:

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It was built at the end of the 10th century and is one of the best preserved medieval monuments in Nessebar.

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There was an informational plaque on the floor and nothing around it. I had to really squint to see this image on the wall. This is the only photo I retouched for today so that you could all see this ghost of an image from the 14th century!

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Next stop, St. Spas Church:

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I loved the stonework outside of this one:

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Inside, so many beautiful frescoes!

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I was ready for ice cream after this church, especially since it had a shady place to sit. The pimply teen who took my order ignored my request for a small cone and gave me a HUGE one. Holy smokes, almost 4BGN worth of gelato! I was torn between seeing it as a gift from the universe and refusing it. The money wasn’t the issue here, but the calories! One thing I love about buying ice cream in Bulgaria is that they sell it by weight so you can order just a few bites and no one thinks you’re weird for doing it. This is how I can eat ice cream several times a day — I really only have the equivalent of one cone. This was the first time I’d seen cookies ‘n cream since I got here, so I decided to go with door number one and consider the huge treat a gift from the universe. 🙂

I then came across the ruins of St. Sophia Church (free to tour):

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The dark side of Old Nessebar is that it is a tourist trap, just one store selling tchotchkes after another. There were some articles of genuine quality (like lace), but, really, it was mostly junk. The sellers were adamant no photos of their wares be taken and so it was often hard to get a shot of a nice building or alley. At least, the vendors were not aggressive!

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I forgot to make a note of the name of this church. Its museum was not included in my pass.

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On to St. Paraskeva Church. Loved the exterior archways on this one:

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This was another church with a bonus exhibit. I should add that there was a lot of English in Nessebar, most of it very good. This whole area is to the Brits what parts of Mexico are to Canadians, so you can’t get away from English. The best rated restaurant in Old Nessebar is an English pub serving only English food!

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The colour and detail of these murals were exquisite.

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I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to realise what these pokey things are for!

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The torment of St. George in prison. OUCH.

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There was a hole in the floor with coins in it:

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St. Todor church was not open:

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I have to say that I was tempted by some of the breezy dresses for sale! But the point of this picture was the second floor. So pretty!

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My final stop was the Ethnographic Museum.

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This exhibit was about the town’s history from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. A lot has changed, but not the recreational uses of the area!

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This plaque had the first major typo I’d seen all day, leaving rather than living. I was really impressed by the effort made to get decent translations!

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See, just like today! 🙂

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The building itself was also interesting. I loved the ceilings.

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There are about 80 preserved “Black Sea style” houses left in Nessebar that date back to the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The major difference with inland houses is that the second floor of these homes do not have a large open veranda because of the strong winds coming off the water.

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This dress looks very risqué despite the centre panel!

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The population of the town was once overwhelmingly Greek, but the two Balkan wars and the First World War changed that.

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Craft magazine from the beginning of the 20th century:

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Embroidered lampshade with layers of muslin. Not my taste!

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Wedding album:

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A very favourable report of bustling Nessebar in 1786:

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Fifty years later, a contrasting report:

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More about the changing ethnic composition of Nessebar:

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That blanket looks rather similar to what you’d find in Mexico!

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Traditional Bulgarian clothes:

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A very low table and stools:

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Stairs down out of the museum:

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Exterior of the museum from the courtyard:

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I then wandered aimlessly, trying to orientate myself.

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Ruins of the Basilica “Virgin Merciful” (Eleusa):

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I should have ended my day in Old Nessebar here and gone back to the hotel for a swim. But I was stuck on the idea of having a seafood or fish lunch. I went to TripAdvisor to get a few restaurant reviews and then tried several ones, but could not get service, whether I waited at the entrance to the restaurant or sat down at a table (and in both cases, asked for service). Reminded me of my experience in Sofia. One person even yelled at me for perusing their menu, which was displayed on a stand outside the restaurant! This did give me an idea of prices for seafood, and it was high, like 35CAD for a whole grilled octopus or over 100CAD for a lobster!

I finally found a spot with a view and service, but pretty much got robbed blind for a whole small grilled fish (delicious, I do have to say) with a beer, sliced tomato and slice cucumber. It was by far my most expensive meal in Bulgaria. I wish I’d listened to my instincts and not pressed on to have lunch in Old Nessebar. 🙁

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(no picture of my lunch because it had eyes and I know some of you have sensitive constitutions! *g*)

I wandered some more and found this lump of a gem!

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Lovely door into a restaurant:

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Back to the western fortress walls:

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There was a low street full of shops right by the entrance to Old Nessebar, so I decided to check it out before heading back. This building was interesting:

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That was it for my day in Old Nessebar. Half of it was really good, the other half reminded me to avoid Gringo Mexico. 🙂 I still wasn’t exhausted, so I decided to walk back to the hotel. En route, I passed this sign that made me wonder why the YA sound letter Я was backwards! You know you’ve been in Bulgaria a while when… In my defense, the rest of the sign is in Bulgarian. This was my laugh for the day. And, yes, I actually Googled, “SOYAK” before going waitaminute…

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I missed this sign this morning, announcing a protected natural site of sandy dunes. Notice the yellow writing, which is Russian. So similar to Bulgarian, yet so different!

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I came in and was no longer in the mood for a swim when I saw how crowded the beach was. Introvert burnout was imminent after all the crowds today! Instead, I had a long cool shower, then sat on my balcony to enjoy a breeze. Aaaaaah.

I thought I’d get his blog post out before dinner, but WordPress was being stupid. I gave up around 6:30 (I’d come in near five) to get dinner. There are a few restaurants behind the hotel and with the pizza last night being so cheap, I figured they’d all be like that and picked the Hawaii Grill for its extensive menu, which included Chinese food (which seemed very popular). I went through the menu a few times and was surprised that the most appealing thing was… spaghetti with cheese, broccoli, and chicken. I’ve really been in broccoli withdrawal! It was one of the cheapest mains on the menu at 6.20BGN, so I assumed it would be very skimpy. My lunch had been very light and felt a million years away, so I asked if I could add a kebapche to my order, knowing that was the cheapest way to get some solid extra protein. The lovely server said that of course I could do that. Well, my pasta wound up being very substantial! What amazing value compared to my lunch! Even with a “small” (I’d hate to see their large) beer and a generous tip, my supper cost me all of… 8.74CAD. Here’s my Old Nessebar tip for you: eat in New Nessebar. 😀

It’s been a lovely weekend on the coast, especially the hotel, and I am very happy with the quality of the historical sites I saw in Old Nessebar. I have no desire to see anything else on the coast (had been toying with going to Sozopol), so I’m heading back inland tomorrow and thinking of spending the night in Veliko Tarnovo. I’ll make a final decision over breakfast. There are a few sites near Ruse on the Romanian border that I’d like to see en route, but I can’t imagine leaving early enough tomorrow to manage all of that.