I managed a good night of sleep and woke up around 6:30 this morning. There was no work waiting for me, so I rolled over and went back to sleep for another two hours. I needed it! When I was finally up, I made my decision to head straight for the coast and booked a hotel for two nights. Even though Bulgaria is tiny, there really is no way I can see everything this week and I didn’t want to put extra pressure on myself my first day of driving in this country.
I took my time dressing and packing before leaving the hostel around 9:30. I stopped at the café next door and decided to try their “brioche” as it appeared to be savoury. Sure enough, it was a pastry filled with sirene cheese, the salty and lemony flavour a nice contrast to my coffee. So a successful final breakfast in Plovdiv!
I then headed to the car rental place, a few blocks across the Maritsa River and a straight shot from the pedestrian streets, so very easy to find. I needed a top up for my phone, but the Telenor store en route was closed. I didn’t have any luck yesterday either — the first store only had 40BGN cards and the second store was closed by the time I got there.
I reached the rental company office around 10:15 and my car wasn’t back yet. The clerk barely spoke any English (he said I had more Bulgarian!), but his English speaking colleague had briefed me on everything last night, so the paperwork process went smoothly enough since I was able to use my phone for translations as needed. What did we ever do before Google Translate? I was annoyed with myself for not having foreseen that I’d be asked to prepay in cash, so I had to go to an ATM and use my main debit card since it would take too long to transfer funds to the secondary account. I did have the deposit, though, thank goodness.
10:30 rolled around and the car still wasn’t back. I’d actually expected this and wasn’t irked. I spent time reading a (French!) brochure about the coast and memorising the directions for getting out of Plovdiv. At one point, the clerk passed me his phone to talk with his English speaking colleague, who admitted that he was concerned because he could not reach the folks with my car. I said that I was absolutely fine for the moment and took the opportunity to ask him where I could buy a road map of Bulgaria. He said that if I didn’t mind one in Cyrillic only, he’d ask his colleague to lend me one. So glad I didn’t shell out for one!
I suddenly remembered that I needed a phone card, so I did a search and found a Telenor store nearby. I told the clerk I was going there and would be back in about 20 minutes. This store only had 25BGN cards, which was fine since I knew I’d be going through a lot of bandwidth with Google Maps this week!
I got back and within minutes, the car showed up. Woohoo! The clerk settled with the driver and then took me out to inspect the car. I was happy to see that it was full of dings and scratches… and amused that it’s a Chevrolet. There went my dreams of having a really European car, like a Peugeot or Citroen! The clerk was very thorough explaining everything about the car and was very relieved when he started on the spiel about the reverse (with lots of miming) and I was able to cut him off and explain that I had the same type in my last car (where you have to pull up a ring and move the gear stick into first). I hate that type of reverse, but at least I have a lot of experience with it!
Reader Dee had some comments about driving in Bulgaria, including whether they drive on the right (yes) and if we can get automatic transmission cars. As long-time readers know, I hate driving automatics, so I wasn’t looking for them, but I did find one company whose Varna office had a few automatics… for twice the cost of the equivalent manual transmission model!
Here’s my car (parked in Nessebar):
With the paperwork all signed, it was time to take a deep breath and hit the open road! To make things easy for myself, I decided to just follow the signs for Burgas and once there, use Google Maps on my phone to get me to the hotel. Here’s a visual of where I started on Wednesday and where I am tonight:
Getting out of Plovdiv was easy enough. Most of the signage was in both Cyrillic and Latin letters, but often, an exit was announced head of time in Cyrillic, with the Latin being right at the exit. I was once again very glad I can read the signs!
The drive to Burgas was unexpected. There was just a whole lot of nothing. It was like driving to Moose Jaw or across northern Ontario! No towns, few services, just a lot of empty space bordered by mountains. Bulgarians either drove like they were wading through molasses or like the devil was at their bumper. It reminded me of Mexico in that I couldn’t just settle into a speed, but would often find myself having to break or accelerate hard. I was glad I’d refused the radio since I wouldn’t have used it because driving required such concentration and I’d been under strict orders to take it out of the car at every single stop (even just for fueling).
I stopped for fuel twice, the first to get an idea of how much a fill would be and the second to actually fill completely. The fuel I had to use was about 2BGN/L (1.52CAD/L or 4.5USD/gallon). The service stations were just like back home (in fact, the second was a Shell), with modern pumps and a convenience store. I was pleased that there was service! I showed the attendant the paper explaining what fuel to put in (A95H gasoline) and held up bills to show the amount. I’d then be told my pump number and be directed to go inside to pay, where I did so with my Visa. Paying took a lot of time because the cashiers were also short order cooks! Bulgarian “efficiency” reminds me of that in Mexico. 🙂
Finally, Burgas was upon me:
I used my Mexican city driving experience to get through — ie. do whatever I need to to not get hit (or hit someone else) and not worry about going around in circles. I made a couple of wrong turns, but eventually got through. I wish I had my GPS and regret not leaving out a pair of underwear to make room for it in my baggage. 😀
After Burgas, I pulled over to capture my first view of the Green, I mean, Black Sea!
And then, Nessebar!
I made about 50 billion wrong turns getting to the hotel and once I found it, I couldn’t find so much as a place to drop the car for five minutes to go in to ask where parking was. I was caught in a warren of super narrow streets and had to do some crazy manoeuvres to get through. It was too much after the end of a stressful day. After going around three times, I decided to just block traffic and run into the hotel, what I should have done the first time. The clerk immediately ran out to remove a bollard that magically opened up a nice wide space for me to slip into! There is no way I’m getting out of that stop tomorrow. I’m staying parked till Monday!
The hotel clerk greeted me in good English and asked for payment in cash. Doh. Off to the bank I go again tomorrow! I was surprised when she asked me to pick a breakfast from a list of choices. I asked how much breakfast is and she said it’s included. Oh! I asked for a traditional Bulgarian breakfast, which, if memory serves, is just a pastry with jam, cheese, and coffee… I was also told I was being upgraded to a different room than what I’d booked. Hmm…
I went up to my room and discovered something that made me really glad that I watch so many travel shows. I had no power in the room, but I didn’t have to go ask at the front desk about that. I have no idea where I saw or read about this, but I knew there was a place into which I’d have to slide my room key to get the lights. I was right! This is an energy-saving thing, but it’s a pain because it means I can’t charge anything while I’m out and the fridge is pretty much useless.
I’d booked their cheapest room, which I’d read would be really small with no ocean view. The bathroom turned out to be humongous, and a wet room again.
After my Plovdiv dormer room, this room seemed very spacious!
SURPRISE. Sea view with balcony! WOW. Guess where I’m sitting to write this post. 😀
I took advantage of the drying rack to hand wash a few things!
It was past four by this point and I hadn’t eaten since my pastry this morning. I went out in search of food and idiotically didn’t realise that the food would be along the beach! So I walked up and down a condominium-lined boulevard for almost an hour for nothing. Thankfully, I found a beach access and from there, a bunch of restaurants. I wanted to save a pricy seafood meal for Old Town tomorrow, so I just went with a pizza and beer for 11BGN with a tip (8.36CAD). I’m apparently in the expensive part of Bulgaria… By the way, Bulgarians know how to make pizza!
The beer really did me in, but I found the strength to go to a store across from the hotel to get water and ice cream. I was so hot and sticky and miserable by this point (even though the car did have AC) that a cool shower wasn’t going to be enough. I didn’t have a bathing suit with me, but figured my boy shorts and sports bra were bathing suitish enough. So I went back to my room to drop my valuables, stripped to my undies, wrapped a towel around my waist, pulled on a tee-shirt and went down to the beach for a swim! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. The water was cool, very shallow (too much to properly swim), and saltier than expected. I just bobbed there for a good 30 minutes before pushing out a bit further to get in a few strokes. The water never got deeper than my waist. Swim in the Black Sea was never on my bucket list, but it should have been. 😀
The plan for tomorrow is to explore Old Nessebar. It’s about 3KM to get there, so I’ll probably walk to it and then pay for a taxi to come back. It just doesn’t make sense to stress about getting the car out and finding parking there, then hoping I still have my spot when I get back here.
Parking nightmare notwithstanding, this was a pretty good day! It’s rather exciting to have a car and to know I’ll be able to visit a bunch of things this week. My budget is taking a beating, but with July having been so inexpensive, I’m not feeling a pinch. Besides, what else am I going to do with my money if not spend it on wonderful experiences like these?! Thankfully, hotels have so far being super inexpensive and I have to eat anyway, so, really, the car and fuel is the real splurge.
By the way, my hotel is 125BGN (95CAD). For the two nights!