A Mexican Themed Second Day in Belgrade

Warning: Today’s post features photos and discussion on the subject of torture that some readers may find upsetting.

One thing I didn’t expect coming to Europe was that I would have to essentially become a night owl again. It’s been really hard to get to bed early because my friends and colleagues get online late in my evening, so that’s the best time to get in touch. Moreover, things seem to just start later in Europe and there is more nightlife. So midnight has been a normal bedtime for me since I got across the pond, but I haven’t necessarily been able to get up late enough in the mornings to make up for that late bedtime. If the dogs weren’t whining for their walk by 7:30 or 8:00, there was a worker at the house or I was holidaying and needing to get going.

So one of the things I expected is that I was going to need to crash at my next stop. This was one of the reasons why I chose to rent an apartment for the week rather than, say, stay at a hostel in a private room, and also why I was adamant about being downtown. This way, I can rest up, take it slow, and not have to go far to soak in the ambiance. So that’s why my daily plans aren’t particularly ambitious. Moreover, Belgrade isn’t really a city of museums or lots of set things to do. It’s really the perfect place to just amble and see what you stumble across.

This morning, I set off for Belgrade Fortress to visit the military museum and see more of the fortification. Spoiler: I need to go back there a fourth time. There’s just so much!

I finally headed out around eleven and didn’t get farther than Republic Square before plunking myself down at a café and ordering an espresso macchiato. I used some Serbian for the first time, hvala, which is rather like saying “thanks.” Both it and please are two-word expressions, but my tour guide yesterday said that I can just say the first part. So I made sure to use “molim” and “hvala” a lot today, even when doing transactions in English. Baby steps! Hvala (Хвала) has the dreaded X sound that can be like the ch in “loch,” like a k, or like an h, depending on its place in the word, and followed by a consonant. Not an easy word. Serbian doesn’t seem to like vowels much. Trg (square) and vrt (garden) are words!

After my coffee, I took a street that parallels Knez Mihailova Street, but there wasn’t much on it, so I took a shortcut through this magnificent courtyard to get there. Can you imagine living in one of those apartments?!


I got to the fortress and ambled for a bit, finding this tennis court:


The clocktower is one of several bits in the fortress that you have to pay to see. I will do that later this week!


I went through the outer Stambol Gate, built in 1750-1760. On our tour yesterday, there was a young Australian guy who said that the fortress is really cool because they don’t have anything like that in Australia. Then, he turned to me and said, “You must feel the same way!” Um, no, we Canadians actually have several fortress-type things dating back to the 18th century! Citadel Hill in Halifax was fortified in 1749, the Fortress of Louisbourg (also in Nova Scotia) was constructed between 1720 and 1740, and the Citadelle in Quebec dates back to 1673!



I was not expecting to see dinosaurs today…


The fortress site is massive!


Yeah, this was definitely not on the list for today…


Holy smokes they look real and scary!



As a medievalist, this sounded interesting, but also rather disturbing. After some debating with myself, I decided to check it out.


It was on the way to the military museum.







The entrance fee wasn’t expensive, about 300RSD, and I was rather disturbed that the cashier told me to enjoy myself… I stepped into this creepy dungeon setting that had really disturbing audio playing. There were no sounds of torture or anything like that, but the effect was very disquieting.


This panel immediately put me at ease, with the curators addressing my fears that the exhibit might be gratuitous and explaining that their motives are to present  an unemotional, factual overview of a terrible subject that is still a problem today.


A “break-knee.”


This was a type of horrible gag.


The bit on the chastity belt was a revelation to me. They pointed out how it was most likely used voluntarily by women to prevent rape. “We wish to however point out that the belt was nevertheless an instrument of torture to which women had subjected themselves to escape the violence of men.”


The rack:


It was here that I started to have enough of the terrible things humans do to each other. I’ll leave it up to your imagination what this did:


A throne of spikes…




“The idea of mechanizing torture was born in Germany…”




A cloth of very rough fabric that would flay the skin.


This was a horrible exhibit, but well worth going to. I’m getting a little upset revisiting it, but I’m glad I went and I think it was exceedingly well done. Many of these methods — and worse — are still in use today. We are not as civilised as we think we are.

Next up was the military museum. To be honest, I had mixed feelings about visiting it, not sure I wanted to pay to look at a bunch of tanks and various weapons. But entrance was only 150 dinars so I took  a chance.






Coming in, we start with the weapons of the ancient peoples of this land. I really liked how they are presented in this mosaic. Already, I knew this museum was going to be special.









So many of these exhibits, like this map, were beautiful and represented a lot of hard work.



14th century quotes about a battle between Bulgaria and Serbia. Serbia won.



Armour that is a work of art.


Giant cannonball?



First time I’ve seen “Bosnia and Herzegovina” in its own language.














We eventually entered the early 20th century. The museum doesn’t go much further than that, except for showing tanks and missiles outside. While I wish more contemporary history had been displayed, I felt that this was a jewel of a music, well laid out and with really interesting exhibits.






I loved the moss growing inside this gun!




It was past one by the time I got out of the museum and I was famished. I headed back to Knez Mihailova Street and took a side street at random where I found a sushi restaurant next to… a “Mexican” restaurant, Zapata Ciudad! Having had sushi in the last week, I decided to try the Mexican joint. The food descriptions were only in Serbian, but the Spanish dish names were enough for me to have an idea of what I would be ordering. I went with the “burrito traditionale.”


That was rather a lot of food. No, I did not come even remotely close to finishing it!



Here’s my TripAdvisor review of Ciudad Zapata:

I live in Mexico part-time and spend a lot of time traveling through the southern US where there are several American interpretations of Mexican cuisine. So I was curious to see how Serbia would interpret the various cuisines of this part of the world.

My first impression was that the portion size was insane (two huge burritos!) and I wished I’d realised I could order a half portion for 30% less.

Then, I noticed the chips and salsa. The chips are real Mexican tortilla chips like they make in restaurants from their leftover tortillas, not the yellow corn chips that are more commonly used in the US! While lacking in chiles, the pico de gallo was exactly like what I get in Mexico, with perfectly proportioned onion, fresh tomato, a squeeze of lime, and even a little avocado. I was immediately transported back to my Mexican village, even with the lack of heat. Very impressed!

The burritos were… interesting. It would have been nice if they had been heated up. They were wheat tortillas stuffed with kidney beans, plain white rice, mushrooms, marinated sweet peppers, and your meat of choice (I went with chicken, which was marinated and tender — so yummy!). I don’t like mushrooms and picked them out, then found the burritos quite tasty thanks to those peppers. To my great amusement, the only hot sauce on offer was Thai (a Sriracha knock-off), but it added some much needed kick to my meal. The size of these burritos was very American, but there was none of the Tex-Mex/Southwest heaviness since there was no meat or sour cream.

I really enjoyed my little taste of Mexico and the Southwest in Belgrade and would definitely come back to Ciudad if only for the chips and salsa!

After lunch, I ambled down towards Belgrade’s Museum of Science and Technology. Entrance was free!


It was very loud in there at the beginning because a lady was playing this giant organ.


The museum is a series of small collections of themed items showing the evolution of technology. I’m always disturbed when something from my childhood is presented as an antique in a museum!



What a massive camera!


Utensils for roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee:


A mainframe analogue computer. WOW. There were also other similar components that were just part of a bigger computer!



I remember these…






These instruments were used to fasten boats to undeveloped shorelines.






I was smitten by this pretty blue phonograph!



Interesting stove, so antiquated on top, but with rather fancy knobs on the front.


So pretty!



They don’t make appliances like they used to!


What a lovely printing machine!



Typesetter cabinet:



The Science and Tech Museum was small, just one room at the top of the building, but it was filled with treasures. I would have felt I got my money’s worth if I’d had to pay a few hundred dinars in admission.

I decided to head home for a break (it was almost 4:00) and passed the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky (Crkva Svetog Aleksandra Nevskog), which was really beautiful!




There’s always an interesting building around you in this part of Belgrade.



The house of Nikola Pašić, an important Serbian/Yugoslav politician and diplomat for more than 40 years.



I was surprised to see that AXA insurance operates out in Serbia. They are the company that did right by me after my toad was murdered in West Virginia.



I walked up Skadarlija Street, crossed an intersection, took a right, and… realised I was behind my building! I couldn’t believe how close I was to the Bohemian Quarter and promptly made plans to have dinner there!


The reason that I had gone back to Skadarlija Street was that I’d spotted an earring vendor on my tour yesterday. This woman hand makes earrings in a découpage style. I was surprised by how unattractive these look up close when they are so striking from a distance. I think that’s part of why I fell hard for them. They were only 400RSD! So that’s now two pairs of Serbian earrings! These are light as a feather despite their size.


I love the filigree detailing on the bottom.


I went back out to have dinner around six, opting for Dva Jelena (two deer) as it was highly recommended. I started with a cold glass of chardonnay.




I was brought this bread that I didn’t ask for and which was not included, but which was rather yummy. Check out that huge clump of garlic, Vicki! Shame there was a bit too much salt. I ate about half of it.


I forgot to take a picture of my dinner, but wish I had because it was hilarious. Like at lunch in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, I ordered the bacon wrapped chicken, completely missing that it was actually ham wrapped in chicken wrapped in bacon! I was so glad I’d done the grown up thing and asked to substitute cooked vegetables for the potatoes! The veggies were just frozen carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, but perfectly tasty. The meal was nothing special, to be honest, but it satisfied my need for some meat and veggies.

After dinner, I ambled down Skadarlija Street to the other end. It’s a very short street! It was still rather early (about 7:30), so music and other entertainment were just starting.



I found another one of those helpful directional signs!


At the end of Skadarlija, I turned left to do a loop back to my place. I passed a hardware store, which fascinated me for some reason.


It was dark, but there were actually a lot of people milling about. Most shops were closed, but there were a lot of fast food places open.


Not the best shot, but it shows one of many buildings, including my own, with blinds on the outside of the building. I find that a mixed blessing in that I have tons of privacy, but they block some of the light.


I popped into a convenience store for an ice cream and got a sandwich. I burst out laughing when I opened it. I found an amazing ice cream sandwich in Mexico where half has the wafer and the other half is chocolate covered. Guess what I bought tonight? It wasn’t quite as good (not as chocolately), but still yummy!

I’m really pleased with how my day turned out. While I did stick to familiar streets, I started to venture outside my comfort zone a bit now that I’m better orientated.


Most tourist attractions are closed on Mondays, so tomorrow will be an ambling day as I don’t expect any work. I will have at least a little bit of work the rest of the week, so I’ll probably just go out in the afternoons. I have to check out on Friday, so I’ll definitely have to come up with my next move in the next day or two. I am debating whether going to another Serbian destination or heading straight for Sarajevo. I have a lot of research to do!

First Day in Belgrade, and a Walking Tour

After returning home with groceries this morning, I did some research and then went out in search of lunch before the 2PM walking tour. As I turned onto Knez Mihailova Street I heard the amazing violin playing and discovered it was coming from this little girl:


She needs to be in a world class music school, not busking. 🙁


For lunch, still craving meat, a burger made sense and Burger House seemed like my best bet for an “American-style” burger. But this shot is more about the beautiful building at the end of the street!


Next door to Burger House, these were the pub’s specials of the day…


Burger House is a “build your dream  burger” joint. I asked for one patty with cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled onions, and honey mustard sauce, with a side of half-and-half — fries and onion rings.


This may be the best burger-fry combo in the world and that is not hyperbole. I am going back there before I leave!!!

At the end of Knez Mihailova Street, you get to Belgrade Fortress. We’ll come back here later on the walking tour, but, basically, it’s a giant park that you can wander freely.




Looking down at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. The Danube!


Notice that bridge in the distance? It so reminds me of the Provencher Bridge in Winnipeg, which is also at the confluence of two rivers, that I wonder if there is a connection.




I’ve seen a lot of this graffiti with Nikola Tesla’s name and this date. I wish I had remembered to ask my guide about it!


One of the words I learned in Bulgaria is “pesh” (on foot). The word carries over to Serbian in that “peshachka” means pedestrian. My guide told me that Bulgarians and Serbians do not understand each other despite these similarities.



I got back to Republic Square around 1:50 to wait for the walking tour. Since I was a bit early, I walked up a side street beside the National Museum and found a jewelry vendor with lovely wares. I was really disappointed to leave Bulgaria without a pair of earrings, but I didn’t find anything I liked there, not even in Nessebar, and, really, I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to browse as I passed maybe five earring vendors total in the three months I was there. There just weren’t stalls and markets with them the way I’ve seen in Mexico. Here in Belgrade, in just the short span of time I’ve been here, I’ve seen heaps of such stalls, running the gamut of prices. I tend to know what I like and be quite impulsive in my earring purchases. These beauties spoke to me and were just 400RSD (5CAD):


I then went back to Republic Square to start the tour, but something weird happened. The guide said to me, “You’re looking for another tour. Go wait at the clock.” I didn’t question why I couldn’t join his tour. I’d done some research and knew there are several different walking tours by different outfits and that the 2PM tour didn’t really have much of what I wanted to know more about. So I took that as a sign to go home for a rest and try again at 4PM with a different tour.

I got back to Republic Square at 3:45 and the guide said we would start at 4:05. It was chillier than expected after the hot afternoon, so I said I was going to go home and be right back, which I was, fleece in tow!

Republic Square is Belgrade’s anchor. People meet at “the horse,” even though the person on the horse (Knez Mihailova — Prince Michael) is more important. But the statue has been called “the horse” since at least the early 19th century.


I learned that the National Museum has been closed for ages and that the reopening keeps getting delayed for lack of funding. 🙁

But the National Theatre has been in continuous operation since it was built in the 19th century, its programs running even through all the wars.


We headed off to the Bohemian Quarter, Skadarlija or Skadarska Street. Let me pause here to say that, like always, my review of a city tour is in no way going to encompass everything I learned. There’s just too much to remember!


This street is lined with pubs and “kafanas,” the Serbian answer to the pub. It’s a drinking district. I asked if it’s safe for a single woman to be out after dark and have a few drinks and our guide, Luba, said absolutely and that Belgrade does not have any “bad” neighbourhoods. The worst that will happen is you will get scammed by a taxi, something that even happens to locals!

I am definitely going to come back here to have a drink!

By the way, it was here that I learned that Serbia is the only European country to have two writing systems that are used equally and interchangeably. Most Serbians favour using Latin letters.


Since it is a drinking street and people have a hard time staying on their feet, this helpful sign tells drunks that the moon is that way, so, obviously, the ground is the other way…


These are kafanas. They have booze, coffee, light local fare, and live music past 8PM. I think they are best described as a cross between a bistro and a pub.


This is where Luba pulled some rakia (fruit brandy) out of her bag for all of us to try!!! I had rakia in Bulgaria, where it is also popular. This was honey rakia and it was really lovely!


This is a statue of a famous Serbian poet outside the house he shared with his wife and ten children. He wanted a house on the drinking street and died from an alcohol-related disease at the age of 40. What a shame. He was actually lauded in his lifetime, so he must have been very good!


This is a chimney from an old beer brewery owned by a Czech.


We continued on and stopped here to talk a bit about the history of Belgrade in terms of armed conflicts and the geo-political situation. Way too much there to get into in this post! The damage on this wall apparently dates back to WWII! Luba explained that Belgrade has such a hodgepodge of architecture — Turkish, 19th century, and Communist, among others, is that every time a building was destroyed in a bombing, a modern building of the day was erected in its place.


This is the Museum of Vuk and Dositej. From Wikipedia (echoing what the guide told us!): “one of the most important memorial museums in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Founded in 1949, it depicts the life, work and legacy of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), the reformer of the Serbian language, and Dositej Obradović (1742–1811), a writer who was the country’s first Minister of Education. The museum is a crucial site for understanding the revival of Serbian culture at the time of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire.”



This is where I won a prize for being the tour member who has made the most progress with the Serbian language! Really! LOL This is a special glass for drinking rakia. I’m wondering if I can find a place in my luggage for it as I really would love to get it home…


Here’s the minaret of the last remaining mosque in Belgrade. Most of Serbia’s Muslim population is in the south.



We then made our way to Kalemegdan Park, which is open 24/7, and which is also the site of the Belgrade Zoo and the Belgrade Fortress. The zoo boasts the oldest known alligator in the world!

The fortress is a series of fortifications, but there’s no castle in it or anything like that, as such construction kept getting destroyed and so there was no point to making the effort to build anything. The fortress is on prime real estate to protect the city and so has been a prized treasure during many conflicts.




Here, you can see some of the original Roman limestone that once surrounded the city and gave it is name, ie. “the white city.” Beo is white and grad is city. I forgot to ask how Beo became Bel in English and French.




Looking again at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers.


This is the Sava.



This giant statue of a naked man represents victory.


Looking out to New Belgrade, which was built after WWII on reclaimed marshland. It’s mostly a residential and business zone and Luba told us it’s not worth a visit by tourists.


As we finished our tour of the fortress, Luba spoke some more about conflicts in Belgrade, including the 1999 NATO bombings. I’m exactly 10 years older than her and was 20 when that was going on, so I have a pretty clear memory of news reports about the bombings. It was fascinating to hear what it was like over here compared to the media coverage in Canada. The bombings were announced and were strictly on infrastructure, so there was little loss of life and not much disruption to daily activities. Serbia has yet to recover financially from the bombings.

Again, there is way too much history to go into here, but Luba emphasized that the bombings had nothing to do with the conflicts going on in nearby areas, including what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, but were in response to Serbia’s relationship with the disputed state of Kosovo. This is a part of the world with a particularly convoluted and complicated history and 20 years beyond peace, it is obvious that there are still tensions that keep Serbia from moving forward.


We then headed out to our final stops. While we were told that New Belgrade isn’t worth a visit, we were advised to try to make it to Zemun, an old community that dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire and which is now part of Belgrade.


I wish I could remember what this building is all about, beyond it being the home of the mother of Knez Mihailova.


This is the top of the largest Orthodox cathedral in Belgrade.


I learned that each country has its own Orthodox church with its own leader. There is no central Orthodox leader like the Pope for Catholics. This is the seat of the Serbian Orthodox church.


This is the palace of Princess Ljubica.


An example of three styles of architecture side by side:


The Question Mark kafana. It was the kafana by the church, but the priests complained to the authorities. The owner removed the sign and put up a question mark while he searched for a new name, but the question mark stuck!


Our last stop was a school where basketball was first played in Belgrade.



This is where we learned about the time that Bulgarians were billionaires, during a period of hyper inflation. This was around the mid-1990s and Serbia’s hyper inflation was second only to Zimbabwe’s. We all got one of these bills!


The tour was free, but a tip was welcome. I thought 500RSD would be fair and that turned out to be the suggested tip. This was an amazing tour! Luba was very knowledgeable and her English was excellent. I did not come close to doing justice to all that she taught us!

It was just past 6:00 at this point and I was done for the day. I just wanted to unwind with a beer and then get a takeaway to eat at home.

Going down the pedestrian street, I was amused to hear a bagpiper!


In my comings and goings from home today, I had spotted a kafana, Zora, on the opposite side of the block from where I live (basically across the street) and decided to check it out since they make their own beer. I went in and the bartender spoke English, so I was able to ask for recommendations. He said they do a number of fruity beers, but he recommended their lager. That sounded good, and it was! It was a bit cloudy and citrusy. I nursed it for almost an hour, enjoying American music from the ’90s (interesting, that’s what frequently gets played in Bulgaria, too), especially the Bon Jovi! A pint of good beer here was 200RSD (about 2.50CAD). Wow! A pint of average commercial stuff in Canada is about 5CAD and it’s about  7CAD in London!


I then headed across the street to get a slice of pizza. They were down to the dregs, but this looked good, and it was! The salami was super spicy, but the sesame seeds on the chewy crust were inspired. Pizza out here in the Balkans has yet to disappoint! But like Bulgarians and Mexicans, Serbians put mayo, ketchup, and sometimes hot sauce on their pizza and look at you funny if you decline!


It has been a really full and great first day in Serbia’s capital. I will do a few museums tomorrow since they will be closed on Monday. I’m not sure yet what the rest of the week will look like and it will depend on my work load.


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.


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.


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!


Looking down from the hotel parking lot.


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.







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






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).



The wooden bridge felt very spongy!







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


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


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!





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


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…


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









“Monastery complex” ruins ahead.


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.






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

IMG_1473 IMG_1474




This shows where the kings lived and governed.




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


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!






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. 🙁


No stairs either!




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!


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






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






Sumac, just like back in Quebec!



















Something about a gate. *wry grin*






These stairs were fun in a long flowy skirt!





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!




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!







Back near the entrance was a catapult.







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.



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!


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





This “Tequila Bar” made me laugh.




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





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.







This is where I had dinner last night:


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


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.






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



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




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!


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!


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.


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!






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








“Here…” something happened? 🙂



I was happy to find cold water!





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





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.


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 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:


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:


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!

IMG_0417Starting off:





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!







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!



I am convinced the architect was a Star Trek fan!



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


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.




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







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!








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.


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:


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….



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.


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:


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!

Free Plovdiv Walking Tour

I was feeling pretty burnt out by late afternoon yesterday, but really wanted to do the free Plovdiv walking tour straight away from 6PM to 8:30PM as a) it would be cooler than between 11AM and 1:30PM and b) so that my time would be my own on Thursday. I knew about this tour because I did the free tour in Sofia.

My post from yesterday left off just before the tour, but I forgot to mention something. As I headed for the tour, I started to feel a bad headache coming on, a combination of too little sleep and too much heat. There are several pharmacies along the main pedestrian street (Knyaz Alexander) so I decided to try again to find some nurofen (ibuprofen). Every place I’d been to so far had at least some service in English, so I asked the pharmacist if she spoke English and she said no! A little taken aback, I then said, “Nurofen?” and she replied, “Yes! Express?” I figured that had to be the fast acting formula, so I said yes. I examined the box she handed me to make sure it was ibuprofen, which it was. It was about 5CAD for 10 gel tablets, which sounds expensive to me, but I was in pain! I then went to sit by the fountain to scour the informational pamphlet in the box to find the dosage. It was all in Bulgarian, of course, but I could recognise numbers as they are written like ours and also the words “hour” and “day.” So even if I couldn’t understand anything else, I knew I was at the dosage section and that I could take one tablet every six hours, with no more than three tablets per day. So I took one and it worked almost immediately. I was really impressed!

So now, the tour. First off, there is no way I can do justice to everything I heard yesterday. Bulgaria’s history is incredibly long and convoluted and each one of you has a different amount of world history knowledge. I got a lot out of the tour, more than can convey here. I hope you will enjoy the pictures and go do your own research if you want more in depth information. I will say that Plovdiv claims to be the longest continually inhabited city in Europe. That’s contested, but what is not is that Plovdiv is 6,000 years old. I can’t even wrap my brain around that! Plovdiv was built over and around seven hills, but there are only six left, with the seventh one mined for building materials. The city was once known as Philippopolis (city of Phillip) and it is the second largest city in Bulgaria.

Our tour started in front of the municipality building at button plaza. These seats are supposed to represent buttons. Our guide, Lora, admitted that she had yet to have a group that saw buttons out of these things!


We then went to one of Plovdiv’s seven hills to look at some commissioned graffiti. You can see that there are a lot of faces, and these are all important figures of Bulgarian history. I was rather amused that the artist claimed to have been inspired by Mount Rushmore.


Across the street is more commissioned graffiti.


This is Vanga, Bulgaria’s “Nostradamus.” Apparently, a lot of her predictions have come true and recently the news here proclaimed that she foresaw that Barack Obama would be the last US president…


We then headed back down to Knyaz Alexander. This staircase is across Knyaz Alexander from the street my hostel is on. This is a statue of local vagrant Miljo (Mil-yo). He was rather well loved figure in Plovdiv, a little deaf and not right in the head, but very funny. I think it says a lot about the character of the city that he was immortalised in bronze. His knees are shiny because local lore is that if you rub them as you whisper a wish in his ear, your wish will come true!


Interesting spelling. They’ve used the Serbian J for the “y as in yoyo” sound.


Here’s the mosque again. I asked yesterday if anyone could tell what’s unusual about it and why and I didn’t get any guesses. The answer is that the mosque is not round and does not have a dome. This is because it was built on the ruins of a church.


This is a miniature representation of the ancient Roman stadium (not to be confused with the theatre!). It was discovered sometime in the 20th century and excavating the whole thing would have been too costly because of all the construction above it. So only the very end (the rounded bit) is excavated.




We then went into a neighbourhood called The Trap (Kapana). This used to be an area full of shops, way back in ancient times. The buildings were all appropriated by the government during the socialist era and trying to sort out ownership after 1989 and the fall of Communism was such a mess that many of the buildings were left to ruin. Now, efforts are being made to revitalise the neighbourhood since money is being pumped into Plovdiv as it was named European Capital of Culture for 2019. There are two guesses as to how the neighbourhood got its name. One is that it is very easy to get lost in it. The other is that there were so many shops it was impossible to get out without spending money!




We then started to climb UP to the old part of the city.



This is one of two tourist information centres. The building you see on the right is the Ethnographic Museum (more on that later).


Eastern Gate.


This is a “gossip tower,” where ladies would gather to watch what was going on in the streets.


The Ethnographic Museum was highly recommended to us by our guide, but, spoiler, when I went today it was closed because of renovations.


We went to the top of Nebet Hill to watch part of the sunset and to see some of the other hills. On the left here you can see Clock Tower Hill (all the way to the left are the TV satellites and almost in the middle of the picture is the eponymous clock tower). The other hill was considered a wild place full of snakes. To the right of that is another hill with a giant statue on it.


Looking across the Maritza River to “new Plovdiv.” My guide told me not to waste my precious time in Plovdiv going over there.












An interesting hole in the ground. 🙂





We came back down the hill and passed the church of St. Constantine and Elena. We will return here. 🙂


I then completely geeked out when we stopped at the house where famed French poet Lamartine stopped for three days on his way back to France from the Orient. He is one of my favourite poets!



I immediately emailed my mother to share these pictures and this is what she had to say (translated):

“Plovdiv is 2,400KM from Pars, 23 hours by car on highways. Can you imagine the time spent traveling in the olden days? In 1833, we were on boats and horses, on bicycles and some richer countries had trains, never mind all the walking that was done.”

I replied, “We travel fast today, but do we really see anything?”


Right before the ancient Roman theatre, we stopped in front of this statue. I wish I could remember his name. He was a violinist and irreverent comedian who had no fear of speaking out against the socialist regime. He was made to disappear to a labour camp, where he survived 11 days. His statue is meant to represent all those artists and cultural icons lost to this dark period of Bulgaria’s history. I have to say that I am impressed by how Bulgaria does not shy away from the darker side of its history


The ancient Roman theatre at last! This venue is still used for concerts. Our guide says that the acoustics are amazing and you can’t even hear the traffic from the boulevard down below when a show is going on!



I had seen this house from below and was glad to get a closer look at it.


We finished our tour at a church where we learned a bit about the reunification of Bulgaria in the 19th century. More on that later as I went to the reunification history museum today.


From this church, it was a very short walk back down to Knyaz Alexander. I was famished, but also exhausted so I just wanted something quick and maybe an ice cream. Earlier, I’d spotted a donair place across from the sushi restaurant, so I headed there. I ordered a small donair on “Arabic bread” for a mere 2BGN. The cashier asked me if I wanted tomato and I made a motion that everyone I’ve made it to has thus far understood to be, “Give me everything.” My sandwich was really good! Just the right size, with lots of seasoned chicken, fresh veggies, and the right amount of garlic sauce. Yum! I then got a strawberry gelato for the two block walk back to the hostel.

My first few hours in Plovdiv were very positive. I’d read many times that Plovdiv is more tourist friendly than is Sofia and has more to recommend it. I tried to go to both cities with as open a mind as I could, but I have to say that I agree with those critiques… Plovdiv just felt more welcoming. More in my next post!