Saskatchewan Stopover

Approaching Regina’s airport, I got my first glimpse of my beloved coulees.

I’m home at Haven, “living off the land with Charles and Caroline” (that’s what they told me to tell you).

The first part of April has been about racking up as many billable hours as possible. I haven’t had much leisure time and haven’t been in the mood to blog. I’ll pick it up again as I head south and I do have a bunch of drafts in the pipeline, but there just haven’t been enough brain cells left at the end of the day to string together two sentences.

So my parents came back from their holiday on Friday (the 14th) and on Tuesday (the 18th) I headed to Haven. I had an absolutely uneventful and pleasant flights with Westjet, with a short layover in Winnipeg. It was a week where Air Canada and United Airlines were in the news a lot for being despicable to their customers so I want to publicly thank Westjet for reliably being the airline that gets me around without any drama and with smiling personnel who seem to love their job.

Charles and Caroline were waiting for me in Regina when I landed on time at 5:23PM. We were at our hamlet just past 8PM. I’m staying with them since Haven has no water, power, or internet, plus it’ll be easier to pack if I’m not trying to live and cook in my space.

Wednesday morning, Charles and I went to Haven to see if we could start my truck. He reconnected the battery and it took only two tries for my Moya to roar to life, no boost needed! Haven itself was in fine shape, just more mouse poop and spider webs than I expected. The only thing of note is that I now have a proper street address rather than just a land description!

It wound up being a pretty lazy day. I spent a few hours at home figuring out a plan of attack for packing, including reaching the conclusion that I’m better off using cardboard boxes rather than Rubbermaid totes. I plan to unpack quite a bit even while housesitting because I’ll be staying in the guest casita for six month and so it’s not like all my things will spend the summer in cardboard boxes getting mouldy. This way, I don’t have to buy new storage containers for Haven and I won’t have a bunch of useless Rubbermaid totes to store in Mexico.

I also made a call to schedule some service for Moya since she needed two new tires, an oil change, and a minor repair. They couldn’t fit me in till Monday, which didn’t work for me since I wanted to go to Moose Jaw to stretch Moya’s legs. Plus, I had to drive a certain distance and then have the wheels retorqued (the fact that Moose Jaw has a great all you can eat sushi restaurant is purely coincidental). The garage managed to fit me in today, Thursday, for the new tires and we put the rest to Monday.

It was an early morning since I had a largish job to do before heading out in the afternoon to run errands with Caroline in Assiniboia and get the tires put on Moya. I got it done in the nick of time, but, of course, Google is not compatible with the crap internet here. I remembered at the last minute that Bing works well here and was able to do the research I needed to do to get the job sent off. I then headed out with Caroline, dropping her off for her appointment before going to the SGI office (DMV).

There, I picked up the registration I’d paid for by phone on Wednesday. Moya will be duly registered and insured for the next 28 days. After that, she will have a valid plate, but not be street legal in the US and Canada since the Mexico insurance will take over. I also had a new driver’s license done since my current one expires next spring and I don’t want to have to fly back here to renew it! I want to keep it active so that I don’t have a gap in my Canadian driving history even if I end up getting a Mexican license as well. Slight hiccup, the new license won’t come for two weeks and I’m hoping to leave on Tuesday. So added to the list is trying to figure out how to DHL my license to Mérida. There’s always something!

I tested my new real address and their system took it, so it’s legit! It’ll be great to have a proper address on my driver’s license now. It also means that people who wouldn’t ship to me for lack of a street address would now. Actual unexpected progress. Getting an address was going to be my next fight…

The SGI stuff was quick so I went to the bank to drain my USD account to cover my meals on the way down. It’s not much, but whatever I don’t have to convert from CAD will be appreciated.

I then picked Caroline up and we went for a nice lunch at the Greek restaurant where my immediate neighbour works as a server. It was lovely to catch up with her. After, I left Caroline at the library to do the updates on her new Mac. I headed to the gas station to fill up and went next door to the home store to get house numbers for my property. 🙂

It was then time to drop off the truck and I kicked myself for forgetting the laptop so I could do a post, but they wound up being too fast for me to do that anyway! I was able to start the post on my phone and upload a photo, though, so that’s why you get a picture. 🙂

The tires weren’t cheap, but now Moya has shoes I can trust to get me to Mérida. She’s had enough service there for the mechanic to say that my road warrior might not be pretty, but he’d bet that she’ll get me there without incident, which was good news! I found she handled a lot better after the tire service.

I picked up Caroline, we ran a few more errands for her, and then we headed home. She made us a lovely dinner (coquilles St. Jacques!) while I was on standby to run to the basement to pick up pantry items as needed. 🙂

So tomorrow will be a Moose Jaw run for a 300KM run to work out any of Moya’s kinks in case I need the garage to look for anything else on Monday. I’m also going to Bulk Barn to pick up spices.

Saturday, I’ll do a thrift store run to drop some stuff off and start packing. Sunday will be another packing day. Monday will be an Assiniboia day and then I should be able to leave on Tuesday. We shall see if that comes to pass since I still have a bunch of paperwork to sort out, including my bilingual inventory. But I prefer to aim for Tuesday as that’s going to light a fire under my butt.

But let me tell you, I wish I could stay home for a spell.

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

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 Tarnovo, 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 Tarnovo 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 latter 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 Tarnovo 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 Tarnovo, 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!

I’m Always Surprised When I Find Stuff in Assiniboia

Shopping options in Assiniboia are rather dismal. I never plan on being able to find anything I’m looking for, but sometimes I get surprised. So when I went to town today to run a bunch of errands, I did have at the back of my mind four things that I wish I’d worked harder at getting for my trip, but I wasn’t going to make an effort to look for. I came home with three of the four!

Shopper’s Drugmart had the most unexpected item, a set of luggage locks, and they are better quality for less than the cheapest ones I’d found on Amazon. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to get some since they seem rather useless, but I thought I might sleep better on public transportation if there’s a minuscule added layer of security to my bags.

The Bargain!Shop had the second item, I decent pair of earbuds with an inline mic. They’re nowhere as sturdy feeling as the pair I’m using now, but they were super inexpensive and will mean I have a backup. The sound quality appears comparable.

Finally, Slice Athletic Wear is going out of business. I’d never been in the store and rarely go to that end of town, but I passed it on my way down 13 to take the 36 to Willow Bunch and thought they might have a fleece jacket since I’m not 100% satisfied with either one of my current options. Nope, but I did find a much better pair of black leggings than the ones I was about to leave with, which I knew I’d curse my whole time away, for a fraction of what I would have paid for decent leggings online, especially including shipping.

It was a very fruitful run to town. I also dealt with insurance matters for my truck, got my equity cheque from the Co-Op ($41), and had lunch. Then, I drove to Willow Bunch for an event at the museum that will be the subject of its own post later. Now, I have to get back to work!

Dinner and a Concert

I had a lovely last Saturday night in Saskatchewan!

Charles, Caroline, and I drove to town for dinner and then attended at the Shurniak Gallery in Assiniboia a concert by our friends Saskia and Darrel, The Great Plains. I saw them in Willow Bunch last year and had seen them at the gallery in 2013 as well.

It was lovely to catch up with them and they put on a great show as always. I was so touched that the first song in their set was dedicated to me, my favourite of theirs, “My Father’s Land.” They also do a hilarious song called “Cabin Fever” during which I always lose it when they get to the bit about the propane freezing.

A major rain storm hit while the show was on and the puddles were deep on the highway on the way home. I was relieved to get in to a dry bed. So it looks like I do have my roof leak tamed and doing some additional tarping will just give me peace of mind. Charles has me scheduled for Tuesday night to make sure the roof is secure and to do a few other chores around the property.

Well, I’d better get to bed since I called off early today and I have eight hours of typing to do tomorrow and… I’m invited to supper at C&C’s! Caroline is going to experiment and needs a lab rat. 😀