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.

16 thoughts on “A Day In Old Nessebar

  1. Wow, that’s was alot of info, pictures, history, facts & ect to digest!
    Wonderful review.
    I’m pooped, if you’re not 😉

  2. Rae,
    I have been a silent follower of your posts since Croft recommended you in one of his blog posts. But I cannot be silent any longer! This post was extraordinary… As have been all your posts. Thank you for the time and talent that you put into these stories. I just wanted to express my appreciation, now I’ll go silent again.
    Thanks, Joe

  3. Rae, I noticed a lot of your pictures in Plovdiv had, what I call, cantilevered second stories to the residences, and I noticed a few of the same in Nessebar. I wonder in olden times if the Bulgarians built the ground floor to live in and later built the second floor. You notice that the second floor extends pretty far over the wall of the ground floor to create a lot of square footage and braces for support are wedged between the bottom of the second story floor and the recessed wall of the ground floor. Did you know that a lot of very old cantilevered barns in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee are built that way? Beach and I take our old truck up these dirt and rock tracks into isolated parts of the Smokies and Blue Ridge mountains and find these old barns. I wonder if Bulgarian architecture made its way to the USA in the very early days.

    Dee

    • Dee, good catch re the architecture. The reason for the style is because the owners were taxed on the square footage of the ground floor! So they made it as small as possible and made a bigger upstairs.

  4. That’s spirit in the one picture where you asked what’s going on. My favorite of all are the churches – the frescoes are outstanding!

  5. My feet hurt just reading about all you did in one day! Such an adventure. Too bad about the lunch but mostly you get great meals.

    As to that photo, Colin says to clean your lenses. You have a smudge either on the outside or on the inside. What type of camera are you using?

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