Visiting the Ruins of Dzibilchaltún

Today was the first day since I got here in May that I was caught up on my chores, my sleep, my work, and my financial goals and I really wanted to do something special. The obvious choice was to visit some more Mayan ruins. Thankfully, there are some only 30 minutes away!

Interestingly, my hamlet in SK is best known for being home to one of two sites in North America with petroglyphs on a horizontal surface. You could call that the “place where there is writing on the stones.” Well, Dzibilchaltún, the name of the Mayan city nearest where I’ve chosen to put down my first Mexican roots means… the “place where there is writing on the stones.” What a coincidence.

Dzibilchaltún is ridiculously accessible, just 5KM from the Progreso/Mérida highway on good roads.

Access to the site is quite pricy — $25 for parking + $142 for admisssion. Mexicans and permanent residents get free access on Sundays. There is no incentive for folks from the area who are temporary residents or who come down every winter. That’s rather a shame because it makes it less likely that I would want to come back here with guests. It would be nice to be able to buy a yearly membership or to get a break on admission for future visits as it’s such a lovely place to get out of the city.

From the parking lot, you take a meandering path in the forest to get to the ticket booth.

There was quite a bit of signage throughout the site in Spanish, Maya, and English. So any info I share is from there since I opted not to take a $350 (or 25USD…) guided tour. I learned a lot at Uxmal, but did not get much time to wander around. Today, I just wanted to enjoy being outside and poke through ruins at my own pace rather than hear a lot of information.

Dzibilchatún, with its proximity to the northern coast of Yucatán had both a marine and agricultural economy. The site was occupied from about 300 B.C. and was populated until the Spanish Conquest. It peaked from 600 to 900 A.D, with a population of 20,000. It was about 9KM square and had a concentric layout. The central part of the settlement had grand plazas connected by roadways in an area of 3KM square. It was in the central part that lived the administrative and religious elite. The population lived around the core. It was this population that contributed to change the concept of “ceremonial centre” to one of “urban centre.”

Here’s a map of the site:


Like at Uxmal, there are two separate fees to pay to enter the site. Here, I was able to pay the whole thing at one window and then collect my ticket at the second window. After that is a booth where you can hire guides and beyond that is a covered market area (very disappointing) and clean bathrooms.

Behind the entrance area, you can access the “archaeological zone.” To the right are the ruins I explore below as well as the cenote, which, unfortunately, was closed today. To the left is another ruin we’ll get to in a bit.

This is the area of the grand plaza. It covers about 12,240 metres and would have had a stucco floor (!). It was surrounded by buildings with stairs leading to the plaza. Most of the surviving buildings date to the early Middle Ages, 600 to 1,000 A.D., but a couple date to 1000 to 1200 A.D.

The cenote is a popular local swimming spot, but it seemed a bit uninviting to me.

Can you spot the giant iguana?

On this site are the ruins of a 16th century chapel. As a reminder, that’s the time of the Renaissance. You don’t need to go to Europe to visit old buildings!

These are part of the ruins of a 17th century ranch.

I must have been a mountain goat in a past life. Up I went!

I’m starting to think about getting myself a selfie stick. Not. 🙂

The wooden lintels make me suspect that these structures were also part of the ranch.

Back of the chapel.

There were way too many people to climb the pyramid, so I decided to head to the other part of the site.

It was only about 10:30 and while the sun had been unrelenting since I’d gotten up at 8:00, there was a wonderfully cool breeze running through the site, making it very comfortable. I walked on a 20 metre wide road called a “sacbe.” It begins at the east of the central square and connects 400 metres later with the building called the “Seven Dolls.” The road was mainly in use from 600 to 100 A.D. There are 11 of these roads in Dzibilchaltún, all beginning in the centre and going to peripheral structures, giving the site its urban character. The inner roads have been interpreted as evidence of ties between families.

I took a short detour into the woods to see what’s left of the housing complex, a cluster of buildings in an area of about 4,000 square meters. The dwellings had different heights, speaking to different social status. The inhabitants were buried beneath the floors of the platforms. There really wasn’t much to see, but I enjoyed the shady trail.

Back at the main road, I came across Structure 12, a quadrangular platform with access points on all four sides. Upon it is a monolith, which would have been decorated with stucco and functioned as one of the 20 stelle on the site.

In front of the Seven Dolls are three adjoining rooms aligned with a double open hall. To the south is another double room and to the east a single room. They were inhabited circa 800 A.D. Beneath their floor were offerings of shells, fishbones, stingray tails, small objects made out of green stones, grey obsidian, and other marine materials.

The Seven Dolls building owes its name to an offering of seven coarsely made dolls found inside. It is a one-story quadrangular building with a central chamber surrounded by a corridor. The roof was tower-like and it projected itself upwards from the vaulting. It had four access points and a window to the side of each entrance facing east and west, giving it the characteristics of an astronomical observatory. It was constructed on a pyramidal pedestal, with sloping corners, with sets of steps on all four sides. The frieze of the building was decorated with eight stuccoed masks upon a base of carved stone, two intertwined serpents and glyphs, and beads, feathers, and sea creatures in modelled stucco. Towards 800 A.D., it was filled with stones and covered by another, larger, building, whose remains still partially cover it.

I then headed back towards the entrance to find the museum, when another stone structure caught my eye. I quickly realised from its roof that it was a tad more modern! 🙂


The museum is in two buildings, is small, and is really informational. The Grand Museo del Mundo Maya is really a must, but this little museum does a great job of giving the folks who are coming to Dzibilchatún as a day trip from the cruise ships a primer on the Mayans.

The museum starts by situating the Maya in their geographical context, explaining that there are very distinct ecosystems in their world. Where I am, in northern Yucatán, is more desertic and flat, but you get into mountains and rainforests as you move south towards Honduras.

The serpent is a very important part of their mythology.

This is a hoop from a ballgame that I learned today was usually a prelude to human sacrifice.

Map of Mayan settlements in Yucatán. I still can’t believe that I was taught in school that there is no history in North America before the Europeans came.

There are a lot of parallels between the Maya and the Egyptians, such as the fact that they wrote in hieroglyphs set in cartouches. The Dresden Codex is the Maya equivalent of the Rosetta Stone that decoded Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Pretty purple flowers by the entrance to the second half.

While the first half was about the Maya in general, the second half was more about Dzibilchatún and also the Spanish Conquest.

Here are the Seven Dolls!

I’m not going to retype all of the information I got in the museum, but here is something of particular interest. “Scarcely five metres above sea level, very close to the coast, located on the difficult, calcareous and porous soil of north Yucatán, Dzibilchaltún is an example of a successful Maya urban dwelling. It was a challenge to life. Without rivers to justify the decision to build, its inhabitants obtained water from more than a hundred wells and some neighbouring sinkholes. The largest of the later, the cenote of Xlacah in the very centre of the city, quenched thirst of rulers, priests, merchants, and pilgrims.”

The section about the conquest was very well done, showing how the Maya evolved and yet kept old traditions and knowledge alive.

The Maya were expert stone craftsmen and their “artistic ability was demanded as tribute,” to build churches, mansions, streets, and aqueducts of Spanish towns.

I’m trying to remember where else I saw this system of currency, where employees of a hacienda were paid with tokens that could only be used at that hacienda’s store.

A bale of henequen, which is an agave (yes, the same stuff used to make tequila).

Very old map of Mérida.

There was an ecological path outside of the museum… that was closed. 🙁

There were a couple of dwellings to check out.

There’s an impressive meeting area with a woven roof.

And a lovely covered walkway back to the main entrance.

I spent about two full hours at Dzibilchaltún, which was plenty for me. I learned a lot about the geography of Yucatán, more about the Maya, got to explore some ruins, spent some time outside, and got scratches and bruises from my adventure. I’d call my morning seized. 🙂

It was still breakfast hour at this point (just before noon), so I had no trouble finding myself some tacos for lunch.

Al pastor tacos in Yucatán are very different than in Sinaloa. I haven’t decided yet if I like them as much or if I need to find a new favourite taco. But these were really good. I couldn’t believe I got all this (which has a very generous portion of Tex-Mex style guacamole under the totopos!) and a real strawberry agua fresca for only $79.

Since I was practically in Mérida, I did a quick blip over to Costco. I was amused to find actual Korean people (there is a sizeable Korean community in Mérida) debating the possible merits of the very kimchi dumplings I was coming to pick up. They put them back…

I got in around 2:00 and by the time I’d played with Puppy and had a swim, it was time for a long chat with a friend by phone, then dinner. It’s now almost 9:00. I forgot how long these posts take to write! At any rate, I hope you enjoyed my morning at Dzibilchatún as much as I did!

A Day In Old Nessebar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its famous windmill:

IMGP5517

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

IMGP5518

IMGP5519

IMGP5520

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

IMGP5521

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

IMGP5522

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

IMGP5523

Western fortress walls.

IMGP5524

IMGP5525

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

IMGP5526

Beautiful map outside the history museum.

IMGP5527

Nessebar “world heritage.”

IMGP5528

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

IMGP5529

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

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

IMGP5531

IMGP5533

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

IMGP5537

IMGP5538

IMGP5539

IMGP5540

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

IMGP5541

Map of Nessebar when it was still known as Mesambriya.

IMGP5545

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

IMGP5547

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

IMGP5549

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

IMGP5550

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

IMGP5551

Duck!

IMGP5552

St. Stephen Church:

IMGP5554

IMGP5555

IMGP5556

IMGP5557

IMGP5558

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

IMGP5559

IMGP5560

IMGP5561

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

IMGP5562

IMGP5563

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

IMGP5564

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

IMGP5565

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

IMGP5567

IMGP5568

IMGP5569

IMGP5570

IMGP5571

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

IMGP5572

IMGP5573

IMGP5574

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

IMGP5576

IMGP5577

IMGP5578

IMGP5579

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

IMGP5580

IMGP5581

IMGP5582

IMGP5583

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

IMGP5584

Next up, St. John the Baptist Church:

IMGP5585

IMGP5586

IMGP5587

IMGP5588

IMGP5589

IMGP5590

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

IMGP5592

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

IMGP5593

IMGP5595

Next stop, St. Spas Church:

IMGP5596

IMGP5598

I loved the stonework outside of this one:

IMGP5599

Inside, so many beautiful frescoes!

IMGP5600

IMGP5601

IMGP5602

IMGP5603

IMGP5604

IMGP5605

IMGP5606

IMGP5607

IMGP5608

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

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

IMGP5609

IMGP5610

IMGP5611

IMGP5612

IMGP5613

IMGP5614

IMGP5615

IMGP5616

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

IMGP5618

IMGP5619

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

IMGP5620

IMGP5621

IMGP5622

IMGP5623

IMGP5625

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

IMGP5626

IMGP5628

IMGP5629

IMGP5630

IMGP5631

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

IMGP5632

IMGP5634

IMGP5635

The colour and detail of these murals were exquisite.

IMGP5636

IMGP5637

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

IMGP5638

IMGP5639

IMGP5640

IMGP5641

The torment of St. George in prison. OUCH.

IMGP5642

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

IMGP5644

IMGP5645

IMGP5646

IMGP5647

IMGP5648

St. Todor church was not open:

IMGP5649

IMGP5650

IMGP5651

IMGP5653

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

InG_1319

My final stop was the Ethnographic Museum.

InG_1320

InG_1322

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

InG_1324

InG_1325

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

InG_1326

See, just like today! 🙂

InG_1327

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

InG_1328

InG_1329

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

InG_1333

This dress looks very risqué despite the centre panel!

InG_1334

InG_1335

InG_1336

InG_1337

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

InG_1338

InG_1340

Craft magazine from the beginning of the 20th century:

InG_1342

Embroidered lampshade with layers of muslin. Not my taste!

InG_1343

Wedding album:

InG_1344

A very favourable report of bustling Nessebar in 1786:

InG_1346

Fifty years later, a contrasting report:

InG_1347

InG_1348

InG_1349

More about the changing ethnic composition of Nessebar:

InG_1350

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

InG_1351

Traditional Bulgarian clothes:

InG_1352

A very low table and stools:

InG_1353

InG_1355

Stairs down out of the museum:

InG_1356

Exterior of the museum from the courtyard:

InG_1357

I then wandered aimlessly, trying to orientate myself.

InG_1358

InG_1359

InG_1360

InG_1361

InG_1362Boondocker?

InG_1363

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

InG_1366

InG_1367

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

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

InG_1369

InG_1370

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

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

InG_1372

InG_1373

InG_1374

Lovely door into a restaurant:

InG_1375

InG_1378

InG_1380

Back to the western fortress walls:

InG_1381

InG_1382

InG_1383

InG_1384

InG_1385

InG_1387

InG_1388

InG_1389

InG_1390

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

InG_1392

InG_1393

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

InG_1394

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

InG_1395

InG_1396

InG_1397

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

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

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

A Second Very Full Day in Plovdiv

It was a very late night yesterday, yet again. One of my clients had an “all hands needed on deck” express job and the pay compared to the effort I’d have to put out was such that it was extremely worth powering through and doing my share even though I was exhausted. But, thankfully, I had a good night’s sleep. I was up too early to even think about going out to look for coffee, so I did a bit more work for the client. Fridays are pay day with them, so after two slow weeks, I was keen to pad my current invoice with small jobs that would only take 15 or 30 minutes of work and not feel like a huge effort. Eventually, though, I couldn’t ignore my growling stomach, so I dressed and headed out.

I did some research last night about Bulgarians and breakfast and it confirmed my impressions, so I conceded that I wasn’t going to do any better than a plain croissant and a tiny coffee at the bakery right next to my hotel (they didn’t have food yesterday). It was a meagre meal, but I have to confess I like the excuse to eat croissants! 🙂

I then headed towards the Maritsa River to visit the Regional Natural History Museum. En route, I passed this truly remarkable map showing all the points of interest in Plovdiv, right down to public washrooms.

IMGP5357

IMGP5358

Research told me the natural history museum was under heavy renovation and there was barely anything to see, but for 4BGN, it was worth assuaging my curiosity. After walking through a construction site and being led to a smelly basement with a few fish tanks, I really wondered why they didn’t just close down as, really, the “museum” wasn’t worth a detour. And then, I saw that there were a couple more rooms I could visit and one had snakes! I enjoyed watching a couple of boas, hurried past the tarantula tanks, and spent a few minutes ogling a chameleon. Its eyes were really neat, reminiscent of a camera lens. I also got to see a bearded dragon.

I then went to an upstairs room to see a working beehive, fossils, and some mounted butterflies. No photography was allowed in the museum, but I couldn’t resist sneaking a pic of these giant lobsters!

IMGP5359

I think the museum will be incredible when the renovations are complete, but, for now, I suggest you skip it.

A man at the tourist info centre had told me yesterday that if I liked the archaeology museum, I just had to visit Trakart. He wouldn’t tell me why and suggested strongly that I go in cold! So that was my next stop this morning, but I took my time getting there, just enjoying the sights of Plovdiv. I liked this street a lot.

IMGP5361

I passed this statue of a family. Do you see what’s on the tree stump in the foreground?

IMGP5362

IMGP5363

IMGP5364

IMGP5366

Like Sofia and London, Plovdiv utilises barriers to discourage people from crossing busy streets at places other than crosswalks or underpasses.

IMGP5367

I was curious about this obviously Jewish monument.

IMGP5368

I got shivers when I read this. Remember that Bulgaria saved all its Jews during the Holocaust!

IMGP5369

There are coffee vending machines all over Plovdiv and Sofia. People actually use them, even this disgusting looking one! I don’t get it, even with the price of 0.40BGN per cup. I guess I should try it one day!

IMGP5370

Nice mosaic on what appeared to be an abandoned building.

IMGP5371

IMGP5372

Isn’t this smart? Folks coming into Plovdiv can see where there is parking available. Downtown is extremely car unfriendly so it would be a relief to me to know where to go to drop my wheels.

IMGP5373

I knew exactly where Trakart is because it’s really near my hostel and I opted to get there through the tunnel under the Old Town. It was neat to see familiar sites from below.

IMGP5375

Crossing the tunnel on foot sucked. It was loud, echoey, and smelly. 🙂 I emerged and noticed this interesting church:

IMGP5376

Trakart is located in the underpass below Tsar Boris at Patriarh Evtimiy.

IMGP5377

I got a shiver as I read this, beginning to understand why the tourist info guy had sent me here!

IMGP5378

I paid the 5BGN entry fee. The lady apologised and said that they were out of English programs, but they had French and German. French worked! 😀

IMGP5379

And so, this is Trakart. Mosaics from an ancient house excavated in situ! I spent so much time ogling everything and went around multiple times to make sense of the space and match up what the guide said with what I was seeing. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mr. Tourist Info Guy!

IMGP5380

This is the entrance floor. That broken bit in the middle would have been a fresh water fountain.

IMGP5381

On the walls are mosaics from other sites.

IMGP5383

IMGP5385

This space dates from the time of the transition of apostolic Christianity to the official Christianity of Emperor Constantine the Great! Above the fountain is text that says, “Welcome. Have a happy and peaceful stay.” Unlike other buildings of the era, this one did not have heating.

IMGP5387

I liked how they showed that we could walk on the glass.

IMGP5389

IMGP5392

IMGP5395

IMGP5396

IMGP5397

IMGP5398

IMGP5399

IMGP5400

IMGP5401

IMGP5402

IMGP5403

The swastika is a truly ancient symbol.

IMGP5404

IMGP5405

Part of the original lead sewer system.

IMGP5406

IMGP5407

IMGP5414

IMGP5415

IMGP5416

IMGP5419

IMGP5420

IMGP5421

Besides the mosaic, you can see Proto-Thrace artifacts dating from prehistory (4-3,000 years BC):

IMGP5424

IMGP5425

IMGP5426

The venue also has a stage.

IMGP5427

Trakart was absolutely amazing. Please give the tourist info centre guy a raise!

I got an ice cream after and then headed back to the hostel to do a bit more work. It was not even 11:30 by the time I got there! By 12:30, I was ready for lunch and really wanted a burger. Research didn’t come up with a definitive place to get one, so I decided to head back to Happy Grill, where I had sushi my first night, to see if they had a burger on their menu. If not, worst case, I’d have sushi again. 😉

Well, they had a burger… with bacon. Cheese. Fried onions. And… honey mustard sauce. Dang was it good! Even the fries were yummy! Only 9.50CAD with the tip, including a small beer. Amusing moment: me opening that red packet expecting ketchup and being disappointed by the moist towelette!

IMGP5428

I then had to walk off my heavy lunch. It had been positively cool this morning and still wasn’t too bad, so I decided to climb the Clock Tower and Liberator Hills. First stop, Clock Tower Hill (Sahat Tepe or Danov Tepe).

IMGP5432

IMGP5433

IMGP5434

IMGP5436

IMGP5437

IMGP5438

IMGP5439

I made a new friend!

IMGP5440

IMGP5441

Looking towards the Unknown Russian Soldier.

IMGP5442

This little guy was so affectionate!

IMGP5443

IMGP5444

Looking towards Nebet Hill in Old Town, which I climbed my first night.

IMGP5445

Graffiti made this fountain scary!

IMGP5446

I headed down to go find the evangelical church before going to the next hill and took some time to enjoy the Roman stadium again:

IMGP5447

It was getting hot by this point and I was tired, so I couldn’t decide what I wanted more, a fresh pressed grapefruit juice or a coffee. I came to a halt when I passed this sign: coffee and juice (including grapefruit!) for 3.50BGN! Now I understand why I see so many Bulgarians with both juice and coffee in front of them. This must be a common pairing for them.

IMGP5448

The restaurants in Plovdiv are so much less intimidating than those in Sofia. I just plonked myself down at a free table and a server came immediately with a menu. I pointed to the sign and confirmed that I just wanted coffee and grapefruit juice. She returned momentarily with this:

IMGP5449

The juice really hit the spot. Yum! I prefer coffee with a bit of milk, but they know how to make espresso here, so I can enjoy it black (no sugar!). The little rolled up piece of paper was kind of like a fortune cookie, but with what I assume is a proverb:

IMGP5450

IMGP5452

Ooookay. LOL

I meandered through some residential streets and was amused by this sign posted on several gates, announcing that work was going to be done. Love the picture!

IMGP5454

Here’s the evangelical church, worth the effort made to find it!

IMGP5455

Wonder what those are. They are related to parking.

IMGP5456

IMGP5457

IMGP5458

IMGP5459

IMGP5460

The road here was in bad condition.

IMGP5461

I finally got to the Liberator Hill, Bunardzhik. It’s off of my tourist map and all the street signage around there is only in Cyrillic!

IMGP5462

There are two choices to get up to the statue. You can follow a meandering path with a gentle rising slope around the mountain or go straight up using stairs. I started with the stairs until I realised that the path would take me to the same place. No problem climbing a tall hill with a gentle slope, but it’s a lot of effort to lift your legs to climb stairs!

IMGP5463

IMGP5464

IMGP5465

I stopped partway to enjoy the view:

IMGP5466

Notice that gold and blue dome?

IMGP5467Getting close!

IMGP5468

IMGP5469

My tour guide mentioned that after the Monument to Communism was vandalised in Sofia and the soldiers painted to look like superheroes, some very enterprising folks enveloped the unknown Russian soldier with a red cape. What a feat!

IMGP5471

Looking towards the clock tower.

IMGP5472

IMGP5473

IMGP5474

I headed back down, partially using the stairs.

IMGP5479

IMGP5481

It had gotten increasingly hot as I climbed and I’d used up all my water. So I was really glad to find this fountain. Tap water is generally excellent in Bulgaria!

IMGP5484

The crest of Plovdiv and its motto: Ancient and…

IMGP5485

eternal.

IMGP5486

This informational sign in English was surrounded by thorns!!! There was no way to get close enough to read it. 🙁

IMGP5487

I passed this car as I headed home. The Bulgarian counterpart to El pollo loco?

IMGP5488

I came in and did another small job before starting on this post. I got a call as I was doing that — a rental car company with a car for me at a price I was willing to pay for a week of freedom on wheels! I have mixed feelings about that in that like many of the smaller car rental companies in Bulgaria, they only take the deposit in cash. So I have no protection if something happens to the car or if they say something happened to the car (my credit card has a car rental insurance policy). I know, I know, I’m a worry wart but 300BGN is a lot of money. The only reason I agreed is that any of the larger international companies had prices that were at least twice what the little companies charge, so even if my deposit is stolen, I’ll still be ahead. We shall see… I’m still not sure yet what sort of route I’m taking to the Black Sea, but I suspect I will not be there tomorrow and rather arrive on Sunday. Working out my itinerary will be tonight’s project!

By 6:30, I was famished, so I headed out to Gusto, which is in front of the Happy Bar. I’d checked out the menu today and it had something I hadn’t seen since I got to Bulgaria, so it was on my mind all afternoon!

Behold broccoli! Oh, I’ve missed you ssoooooooo much! 😀 With it is a chicken breast and a blue cheese cream sauce. Yes, I had blue cheese yesterday. Hey, I haven’t had blue cheese in ages either. 🙂 One thing I knew about more traditional Bulgarian restaurants is that you don’t get any sides with your meal (which is why prices seem so low). The mashed potatoes were inexpensive and would be a good vehicle for sopping up the sauce, so I went with that.

IMGP5489

It was sooooo good. I haven’t had a bad meal in Plovdiv yet! I cannot believe the prices I’m paying. I would not be able to afford meals like these in Western Europe or in Canada:

IMGP5490

I gave a 2BGN tip, so that came out to 13.30CAD, and it includes wine! Contessa, notice the price for the wine glass, 2.66CAD. Then, you have my potatoes and finally the chicken and broccoli. I still had a bit of room after and wasn’t ready to go in, so I grabbed an ice cream (cherry cheesecake!) and went for a walk towards the stadium. I passed a store that sells Ipanema sandals! Love mine. What a great buy they were!

IMGP5491

There was an event going on at the stadium, the DroneUp IFF, and they had cushions out for the spectators.

IMGP5492

A drone.

IMGP5493

The crowd was a bit rowdy for my taste, so I headed back to the hostel, where I settled up my bill. I’m expected to pick up the car around 10:15 and I didn’t want to have to chase down the host in the morning. My total was 90BGN (68.40CAD) for the three nights. Great deal! I am going to reconsider my stance on hostels. I wouldn’t want to be in a huge one sharing a crappy bathroom with 50 billion other women, but it hasn’t been an issue in a small place like this and they are fastidious about cleaning. Of course, I’m past the dorm room scenario and would only stay in places with my own room.

Well, I’m off to figure out where I’m going tomorrow. I am so stupidly nervous about having the car that like when I RV, I want to know where I’m parking it tomorrow night before I go anywhere and I want the route to that parking spot mapped out! 🙂

I’ve had a wonderful time in Plovdiv. An evening and two days here has been just the right amount of time.

A Very Full First Day In Plovdiv

It was a pretty good night at the hostel. Other guests were quite noisy until about midnight, then it went quiet. The bed was very comfy and the temperature good thanks to the fan. I didn’t get enough sleep, but it was better than expected and I was surprisingly raring to go this morning.

First order of the day, find breakfast. After wandering for close to an hour here in Plovdiv and my experience in Sofia, I came to the determination that Bulgarians don’t eat breakfast. Oh, you’ll find them drinking teeny cups of coffee and smoking in cafes, but you don’t see anyone actually having a meal. Those who are are having a pastry and coffee to go.

I ended up at a Costa Coffee, which I knew would be expensive, but would at least have a good sized cup of coffee. I went to the cashier and said in Bulgarian, “Please, I would like a not small, not big Americano with very little milk and a croissant with jam.” The lady rang me up, gave me my order, and then said in perfect English, “Have a nice day!” *shakes head*

I passed this sign post near the central post office:

IMGP5222

I am more than the equivalent of a round trip to Maz from Haven away from the East Coast of the US!

IMGP5223

I asked a couple of people today about this mosaic, but no one could tell me what it means. First line is Plovdiv, second line is Leningrad. I think the date is 1980?

IMGP5224

I went back to the hostel and did a bit of work and translation before heading out for a few hours. I decided to check out the history and archaeology museums as they are right by each other. So I headed towards the Maritza River.

IMGP5226

Like Sofia, Plovdiv has pedestrian underpasses for crossing busy boulevards.

IMGP5227

My first ice cream of the day! I was asked how I deal with the heat. Ice cream. Lots of ice cream. I have small portions (sometimes multiple times a day!) and get it in a cup if I can. This is Kit Kat flavour.

IMGP5228

Plovdiv is difficult to get around as it is laid out in what I consider the exact opposite of a grid pattern, so there is a lot of signage in the touristy part of town!

IMGP5229

This is the monument to the unification of Bulgaria, outside the unification museum.
IMGP5230

This says history museum, but that’s really misleading as it’s strictly about the unification of Bulgaria in 1885.

IMGP5231

IMGP5232

I was greeted in English and shown where to start, then was left to my own devices. A decent chunk of the museum had good English translations and I spent some time reading quite a bit of the Bulgarian (got in lots of practice with the lower case script). I am definitely picking up some vocabulary.

This appears to be a map of trade routes:

IMGP5233

A bunch of stamps:

IMGP5234

Plovdiv’s original name:

IMGP5235

IMGP5236

What I got from this is that it’s about a bank safe:

IMGP5237

Yeppers. 🙂

IMGP5238

Old currency.

IMGP5239

Bicycle produced in France:

IMGP5240

IMGP5241

Cultural life in East Rumelia, one of the provinces that would become part of the state of Bulgaria after Unification.

IMGP5242

This newspaper is called Maritsa, just like the river that divides Plovdiv.

IMGP5243

Administrative organization of East Rumelia:

IMGP5244

IMGP5245

The establishment of the province of East Rumelia. It lasted seven years until Bulgarians showed they had the potential to manage their own affairs.

IMGP5246

The Congress of Berlin is what split up the original Bulgarian state, in 1878.

IMGP5247

IMGP5249

IMGP5251

IMGP5252

IMGP5253

This is the only man who was killed after unification. According to the guide on the walking tour yesterday, he went into a post office to send a missive about unification and the post master, scared of who knows what, chased this man into the street and shot him dead!

IMGP5254

“At the gates of Plovdiv, September 5, 1885.”

IMGP5255

IMGP5257

IMGP5258

IMGP5259

This is a turtle shell. I think it was turned into an ink well.

IMGP5260

Army medical supplies.

IMGP5261

Manifesto for the Bulgarian People: Bulgarians… and that’s as far as I got. 🙂

IMGP5262

Map of the route of the movement of the Bulgarian army from the southern to the western border during the Serbo-Bulgarian War.
IMGP5264

It was only on my way out that I found the English signage explaining the point of the museum!

IMGP5265

IMGP5266

IMGP5267

IMGP5268

IMGP5269

IMGP5270

And here’s a bit about this gorgeous building:

IMGP5271

IMGP5272

IMGP5273

This was my first Bulgarian museum and I’m surprised by how much I got out of it! Little did I know what awaited me next door at the Archaeological Museum…

IMGP5274

This museum did not allow photographs, which is unfortunate because it was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to! I went through twice and spent the whole time saying, “WOW!” under my breath. It covers the history of Plovdiv from prehistory to the Middle Ages and is very professionally done with flawless English translations. I made a note on my map of some of the incredible things I saw.

In the prehistory section, I really liked the ancient pottery and tools, which ranged from flint knives to Bronze Age hatchets. The room about the Thracians, a collective of ancient peoples with no written tradition, had ancient giant safety pins that looked rather like modern ones. I immediately envisioned that the Thracians wore some sort of toga-like garment.

There was a small room about the history of the museum and the building, how both fell into ruin and were restored. This room also had some old coins.

There was a large room about Plovdiv in the classic and hellenistic periods, featuring black on red pottery, ornaments, and weapons. Nothing I’d never seen before, but the first time I’d seen them in their point of origin! Off of that was a tiny room about the coins of Philippopolis. They were tiny! This was the first currency of the region.

And then… what I will remember as the mosaic room, but which is the ancient Philippopolis room. It had lots of other things besides the mosaics, but that’s what I remember best. This is a representation of one that you can see from outside the museum:

IMGP5276

This is a very important piece as it is the first (and only) proof of an ancient synagogue in this region!

The final room, Plovdiv in the Middle Ages, had some belt buckles that look strikingly like modern design.

I highly recommend the Plovdiv archeological museum. I suspect visiting it will be one of the top highlights of my Bulgarian summer!

The restaurant where I wanted to have lunch was right behind the archaeology museum, so I considered that a sign: Restaurant India! For someone who didn’t like Indian food most of her life, I’m making up for lost time!

IMGP5277

Beautiful decor inside. I wanted to eat outside, but there were no tables.

IMGP5278

This is the first menu I’ve seen in Bulgaria that I found to be expensive (reviews support that impression). I just went with a beer, butter chicken, and plain naan. I would have liked rice to go with all that sauce, but just this represented 20BGN with the tip:

IMGP5279

Thankfully, the food was wonderful! I was asked how spicy I wanted my meal and said, “A little.” The chef understood that perfectly and I got just enough heat to make my nose run, but not so much that I couldn’t taste my food. After a couple of months of my cooking, these still exotic flavours really hit the spot! Shame it’s so expensive, but it was a worthwhile treat.

Then, since I was right at the Maritza River, I crossed it using the pedestrian overpass. It was like a sauna in there!

IMGP5282

The Maritza River.

IMGP5283

Starting to think it’s impossible to get a picture of a city in Bulgaria without a McDonald’s being in the way! I thought the house to the left was quite interesting.

IMGP5285

See the RV?

IMGP5286

The archeological museum had inexpensive post cards, so I bought one for Bast. The central post office is right by button plaza, so I headed there to mail the card. What a contrast to my post office experience in Sofia! All the necessary signage was translated (badly, but let’s not quibble) into English so I knew which room to go into and then which wicket. I said to the lady in Bulgarian, “I would like a stamp please.” She looked at my card and said in fluent and bored sounding English, “One lev and 40 coins please.” There’s so much English in Plovdiv! After I got my stamps I went outside to post the card, but was puzzled that there was no mailbox, until I saw this:

IMGP5289

I was pretty sure my post card didn’t warrant priority, so I put it in that “forein countries without priority” slot. Hope it gets there!

I then wandered up the hill back into the Old Town, soaking in the atmosphere of this truly ancient city.

IMGP5290

IMGP5291

The cobblestone streets are the worst I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe cars drive on them. This is a good patch!

IMGP5292

This translation amused me.

IMGP5293

My Mexico dresses would not look out of place in Bulgaria!

IMGP5294

Here’s the exterior of that St. Constantinople and Elena church we passed on the tour yesterday:

IMGP5295

IMGP5296

IMGP5297

More bad cobblestones!

IMGP5298

Our guide had told us to visit the Hindlyan House to get an idea of 19th century Bulgarian architecture.

IMGP5299

I love these narrow passageways. They remind me of Edinburgh.

IMGP5300

The house is behind another one and down a bit:

IMGP5302

IMGP5303

IMGP5304

The information panel for the house was in Bulgarian, English, German, and French. I can’t speak as to the quality of the Bulgarian and German, but the French had more info than the English! The house was built between 1835 and 1840 and is about 2,000 square feet over two stories. It was restored in 1974, but the exterior paint and frescoes are all original. It is the only  house with a well preserved bathroom that had hot and cold running water.

This was the bathroom!

IMGP5307

IMGP5308

The ceilings in all the rooms were works of art:

IMGP5309

IMGP5310

IMGP5311

IMGP5312

IMGP5313

IMGP5314

This was a fortified storehouse:

IMGP5315

IMGP5316

IMGP5317

I continued wandering around. So much beauty!

IMGP5320

IMGP5321

IMGP5322

Remains of Byzantine fortress walls!

IMGP5324

IMGP5325

Unfortunately, the ethnographic museum was closed because of renovations. It might be open tomorrow. This is what the exterior looked like:

IMGP5326

Today, there was a lot of demolition going on!

IMGP5327

Here’s the back of that gossip tower from the tour yesterday:

IMGP5328

IMGP5329

IMGP5330

IMGP5331

I went back to Lamartine’s house and ogled:
IMGP5332

I found my way back to the Roman amphiteatre and dropped! The full heat of the day was upon us at this point. I had no idea I could move this slowly, but there I was, just slinking through the streets of Plovdiv’s Old Town and trying not to melt!


IMGP5333

IMGP5334

IMGP5335

And back to Lamartine’s house, but not by design!

IMGP5336

Is that perhaps a chimney?

IMGP5337

IMGP5338

IMGP5339

Another bronze statue, no idea of whom:

IMGP5340

IMGP5341

IMGP5342

I wish I could come back to see Tosca at the Ancient Theatre before I leave!

IMGP5343

Here’s a map of the tourist part of Plovdiv:

IMGP5344

I headed back to my hostel for a mid-afternoon break, stopping at this fountain right by the hostel to get a cold drink to fortify me for the climb up to my room!

IMGP5345

I cooled off and rested for a bit, writing my post about the walking tour and trying to decide where to go for dinner. I came up with two possibilities. While all of this was happening, it began to rain, which I hoped would cool things down!

Around six, I headed straight up to the Old Town again, right to the summit of Nebet Hill, to check out a Bulgarian restaurant I’d spotted yesterday. It ended up not being that appealing, so I headed to my second choice in The Trap. I have to say that I’m shocked by how little of an effort that climb was, especially since it wasn’t as hot. All my dog hiking is paying off!

My second choice for dinner was the Italian restaurant Maramao.

IMGP5348

I loved the bricks outside of it:

IMGP5349

I was greeted warmly in English and took a seat in their covered courtyard. The menu was in Bulgarian, English, and Italian. I settled on a glass of white wine and a main, but was tempted by one of their appetizers. I asked the server about the main portion size and if he thought it would be too much for an appetizer. He asked what appetizer I had in mind and when I told him, he said he was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be too much for me as the appetizer was quite light. So I ordered it!

Here is my roasted pear with gorgonzola (blue cheese), balsamic vinegar, and walnuts. *drools at the memory* This would have made a good dessert for me!

IMGP5350

I took some pictures of the courtyard while waiting for my main and drinking my crisp cold Bulgarian white wine:

IMGP5351

IMGP5352

And here is my main. These are “tordelli,” a type of ravioli, with a ragú sauce that had cinnamon or maybe nutmeg in it. Very good!

IMGP5354

With the tip, my meal was just 3BGN more than lunch,which really shows how expensive my lunch was. Every other time I’ve spent around 20BGN for food, I’ve had a main with an alcoholic beverage and either an appetizer or dessert.

I headed back to the hostel after dinner and was just two blocks away when it started pouring! I was rather glad to have an excuse to call it a night!