A Successful Day Trip to Sofia

Mission Star Trek was a success! ūüėÄ

The first thing that needed to happen for today to be a good day was for me to get to bed early enough last night that a 5:30 wakeup call would be reasonable. I’ve been staying up late, often to midnight, since I got here since my clients and friends are¬†online in my late evening, and then getting up between eight and nine (!!!). Well, I was beat yesterday and managed to not only shut the lights at 9:30, but fall asleep before ten. So I woke up without my alarm at 5:30!

The dogs were so confused by this early wake up call that they did something they’ve never done: took a runner. I walked a few minutes without being able to hear them and was rather concerned that I was going to have to wait for them to come home. I called for them and Sausage eventually came. I headed home with him and left the gate open for Mechka. She turned up as I was making their breakfast (which was much more elaborate than mine). So thank goodness! Max told me not to freak out if they run off and that they come home, but what I day this would have been¬†for that to happen!

I hurriedly gulped down some coffee and toast, dressed, double checked the contents of my backpack, and was out the door by 6:25.

I made it as far as just past the restaurant when a gal about my age came to a screeching halt beside me to give me a lift to Yablanitsa! Wow! That was a best case scenario because I’d have a choice of a lot more buses. We were in Yablanitsa by 6:40 and so I had a choice of two buses around seven and another at 7:30, which is the one I expected to be on. I flagged down the first seven o’clock bus. The cost was 6.50BGN.

There was quite a bit of construction and traffic and I’m pretty sure the buses drive only about 75KPH or so (it feels sloooow), so we didn’t get into Sofia until around nine. I was going to get off a couple of blocks before the bus station then realised that it was my only guaranteed bathroom stop before the mall, so I stayed on the bus! My breakfast had been meager, so I grabbed a still warm and flaky cheese croissant on my way out of the bus station.

It was only 1.5KM to “downtown”, so there was no point in taking a taxi. I just walked down boulevard¬†Knyaginya Maria Luiza to the Banya Bashi Mosque, stopping en route to get some more top up cards for my phone.

This is the Lions Bridge. If you squint, you can see a yellow Billa sign on the right. How convenient! I popped in to check it out and decided to do my grocery shopping there on the way home. All I really “needed” that I can’t find in Yablanitsa is more peanut butter!

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Before I knew it, there was the mosque!

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I took a slight detour to check out the synagogue:

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Behind the mosque, I checked the opening hours for the Sofia history museum, and it was 11:00. Dang!

Since I had so much time before the movie, I took my time strolling through the ruins of Serdica. Here I am looking through one of the street-level domes down to the ruins:

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In case you missed that in the text, here are remains of an ancient Roman sewer system! WOW.

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You can walk all through the ruins. There were placards in places I would have assumed I wasn’t allowed to walk.

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I took a closer look at this building in front of the Presidential building and learned that it’s the archeological museum, as well as a former mosque. Unfortunately, they didn’t open until ten. ūüôĀ

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I went behind the presidential building to check out the famous frescoes at the Church of St. George Rotunda. No photographs allowed, so you’ll just have to take my word that they were AMAZING. ūüėÄ

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Relative of my late Bitha? Very suspicious of me!

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There are more Roman ruins outside the church.

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Then, I just wandered! I grabbed a gelato on Boulevard Vitosha, then walked down Boulevard Aleksandar Stamboliyski towards the Mall of Sofia.

The architecture in this city never fails to stop me dead in my tracks.

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Surreal to see signs pointing to Belgrade!

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And here I am at the Mall of Sofia. I went in to make sure I could find the cinema and to confirm the showtime of 12:30. There was also one at 11:30, but it wasn’t in IMAX 3D and I decided that if I’d come all this way, I should do the whole experience. There wasn’t much of interest in the mall and it was about 10:45, so I headed out to explore the neighbourhood.

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The blocks of flats from the Communist era entranced me! They are all over Sofia, but this was my first time actually seeing them up close.

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This is across from the Mall of Sofia and translates to Sofia Technical School.

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Here’s a good example of how Bulgarian is often like French, only easier. –Ě–ł–≤–ĺ sounds like “nee-vo” and means “level.” It sounds exactly like the French word for level, niveau. Only it ends with O rather than one of French’s 50 billion spelling combinations that sound like O but look nothing like it.

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This building was rather interesting!

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As a new reader to the language, I read everything I come across and when I see something like¬†–Ņ–Ľ—é—Ā that looks particularly “alien” I make an extra effort. I laughed when I realised it says… “plus”! The word above means store and it’s one of the first Cyrillic words that I can just “read” rather than sound out.

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Not an abandoned building…

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I was rather put upon that this kid wearing what appears to be a Mexican sombrero is advertising a pizzeria!

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Loved this pink lady!

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By 11:30, I was feeling peckish. I didn’t have time for a proper sit down meal, so this sign across from the Mall of Sofia caught my attention, advertising pizza and donairs. I wasn’t in the mood for pizza (!), but Middle Eastern food would be a welcome change of pace!

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I scanned the menu and most items were immediately familiar — donairs, shish kabob, fattoush salad, shish taouk, shawarma, and… —Ą–į–Ľ–į—Ą–Ķ–Ľ! Falafel!!! A “medium sized” sandwich was only 2BGN!

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Since I’m not a picky eater, I just motioned for the guy to give me everything when he started to hold up each ingredient. I almost burst out laughing when he put French fries in my falafel! I took it to go and found a planter outside to sit on to have my lunch. It was nowhere near as flavourful or yummy as the falafel I had at the Holmes Grill on Baker Street in London, but the super garlicky sauce gave it ample flavour and I relished every bite! Speaking of relish, it had sweet bread and butter pickles, too, which totally worked!

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I photographed more flats after I was done eating.

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It was then time to go to the movie. I wrote “12:30” in my notebook and headed back to the mall. At the cinema, the cashier let me muddle through “One, Star Trek, *holds up notebook with the time,* please,” before asking me in perfect English if I needed a pair of 3D glasses. LOL Yes, I did. The ticket was 12BGN and the glasses were 1.50BGN, so about 10CAD total for both. Two reports out of Quebec put a 3D IMAX movie at being between $14 and $18CAD, so I got a good deal! I was amused that the tickets are printed on a dot matrix printer!

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Now, get this: I was the only one in the theatre!!! That worked out well since I didn’t like my assigned seat (too close to the screen despite my expressly sitting farther back than I normally do, anticipating this problem), so I was able to move back to a better one.

The movie was good and worth the trek (ha ha, see what I did there?). But the sound wasn’t great and with all the accents I know I’ll need to go back and relisten with English subtitles. I was surprised by how much did I manage to get out of the Bulgarian subs, especially when the aliens were talking their language and there would have been English subs at a US or CAD theatre. I would have just enough time to sound out the words/transliterations for things like captain, beware, Enterprise, Federation, etc. to get enough context to muddle through the plot. It was fun to see all the familiar Trek terms and names transliterated into Cyrillic.

Without going into any spoilers, I have to say that what I took from the movie was how it accurately, in my opinion, expressed the curse/blessing of having the nomad/explorer gene.

It was about 2:40 when I came out of the movie and I really wanted to make the bus to Teteven at four since that would save me a cab fare or, worse case, a 6KM walk, plus I was exhausted. I was a little disconcerted when I exited the theatre and was directed down a rather isolated staircase with no signage. I went down many flights until I saw a door marked “Mall of Sofia” and went through it to emerge on the main cinema level. I was surprised because I hadn’t realised I was sitting that far up!

I hoofed it to the previously scouted Billa, arriving around three. I didn’t get much and was a little (lot) annoyed with my language skills when I got to the cash register and the clerk pantomimed that I should have done “something” with my grapefruit and oranges¬†and that she couldn’t sell them to me. I imagine it’s something along the lines of the City Deli on Isla requesting that you have things weighed first. I apologised and motioned for her to leave them since I didn’t have time to start all over.

It was 3:30 at this point, so I headed straight to the bus station. There, I went to the bakery again and got a ham and cheese croissant for the ride home. What can I say, their croissants are really good! ūüėÄ

I double checked the schedule I’d put together for myself and saw that the bus at four terminates at Teteven and should be leaving from gate 30. So I checked the electronic screen and, sure enough, that was the info listed. I scurried over to gate 30 and was one of the last to board. It was the same driver as last time, so I knew I wouldn’t have any issues getting off at the junction 2KM from home.

While I waited for the ticket lady to get to me, I pulled a map up on my phone. I didn’t want to get charged full price to Teteven so I wanted her to be aware I was getting off early. She seemed to understand me quite quickly and said, “Seven. Five to Yablanitsa, two to Malak Izvor.” That was a good deal seeing as I’m told a taxi from Yablanitsa to Malak Izvor is six to eight BGN!

The ride home was sloooow. Around Botevgrad, I understood snippets of a conversation between a woman and the driver and from what ensued guess that she said that her child really needed a bathroom and the driver figured he’d use the time to get fuel. So he pulled into a gas station and what seemed like half the bus got off to pee! The bus was a sauna and I was beyond ready to get home and rather annoyed by this little detour, but it was what it was.

We then detoured to Pravets, got back on the highway, and finally reached the turnoff for Yablanitsa. Holy smokes, it felt like the ride took forever! My phone was dead by this point, so I couldn’t check the time.

No one got off in Yablanitsa. As we approached the Malak Izvor turnoff, the ticket lady caught my eye and shook her head, which is the equivalent of nodding in Bulgaria. She called to the driver to give him a heads up and I heard “bagag” (luggage). I called out that I had none (literally said “no luggage”) and she gave me a big smile even as she did a double take that I’d understood that part of the conversation. Yay¬†for my mother tongue again!

I hopped off the bus and took off at a pretty fast clip. Its only 2KM from the junction to “downtown” Malak Izvor, so really just a stroll. A few cars passed, but I wasn’t intent on getting a lift.

The dogs were super happy to see me when I got in! I quickly changed so I could take them on a short walk and then came in to collapse with a cold beer at 6:30. Dang was it a hot one today!

Max was right that a day trip to Sofia doesn’t make sense if you’re going exploring for the first time, but it was a perfectly sensible thing to do now that I have the lay of the land and was content to just have a couple of to-dos there. The bus fare is only 10CAD roundtrip and with lifts to/from Yablanitsa and/or being able to be picked up/dropped off at the junction cutting on my travel time considerably, it makes for a very reasonable day, no worse¬†than going on a supply run to Moose Jaw.

Today was a Good Day.

First Weekend in Sofia, Free Sofia Tour Sunday Morning

Checking into the hotel on Saturday afternoon, I saw a flyer advertising a walking tour. I realised that that would be the best way to get to know the city. So I got on Google to see what English-language tours were available (I never trust anything advertised at the hotel) and found the Free Sofia Tour. It’s a great business model — you get a super high quality tour by a qualified guide who will take you to everything you need to see in Sofia and then then they tell you about their paid themed tours. I did one of those tours Sunday afternoon and hope to be back for the other one at a later day! Even though the free tour is free, I, of course, gave my guide a decent tip.

The free tour started at the court house at 11AM. It was a huge crowd and we were split into three groups. The tour takes two hours so there is no way I am going to remember everything our guide, Nikola, told us, but I will do my best! Follow the links if you want more information.

Our first stop was the Eastern Orthodox Holy Sunday Church, which was razed during an assault in 1925 and subsequently rebuilt. It was the worst terrorist attack in history up to that point, especially considering that high ranking members of the military and government were assassinated. It was an attempt to kill the king, who happened to be late to the service.

Our next stop was the statue of Saint¬†Sofia, which is an embarrassment since Sofia was not named for this saint, but rather for a church. Adding insult to injury, the statue has pagan symbols and the woman’s dress is too revealing. Sofians are rather divided over this statue being the new symbol of their city. Personally, I love it. ūüôā

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This is the only Catholic Church in Sofia. It will have importance in a moment.

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The tourist info centre is in the pedestrian underpass across from the Saint Sofia statue.

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This is Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers. What’s interesting in this location is that you see how Sofia is a city that was built in layers and this is a prime location to see the major layers, from Roman to modern times. I was rather reminded of Seattle, actually. The church was built in medieval times from Roman structures. Those rocks out front are part of those Roman structures.

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Sofia lies over the site of the ancient city of Serdica. While excavating for the new subway lines, all manner of ruins were found and delayed the project. The exposed ruins have been made part of a “pedestrian zone” and you can walk through them. We will see more of them shortly!

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Behind the ruins is the only mosque in Sofia, complete with a minaret. I had hoped to visit inside, but they are doing renovations and weren’t allowing in tourists this weekend. I would have been welcomed under normal circumstances since I was dressed appropriately. Sofia does not have a large Muslim population and this is why there is only one mosque. There were others in the past, which were destroyed or repurposed.

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And here is the roof of the Sofia synagogue.

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So there is are an¬†Eastern Orthodox and Catholic church, a mosque, and a synagogue all within sight of each other in Sofia, forming the “Square of Tolerance.” This was my favourite part of Sofia!

Next stop was the former bathhouse where people would come for a day to pamper themselves and chat.

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I didn’t have time to go in this weekend, but appreciated my guide’s reaction when I painstakingly read the sign and said, “Oh, it’s the Sofia history museum!”

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The bathhouse was left to fall into ruin, but was very recently made into the museum. The inside is apparently glorious. It’s on my list for my next trip!

Here is Nikola filling his water bottle at the mineral spring outside the bathhouse. The water is hot and very stinky!

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Now, we come to the three buildings I photographed the day before not realising their importance. That one in the middle used to have a big red star at the top where the Bulgarian flag now flies. It was the former headquarters of the Communist party and now has government offices.

 

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This is the Presidency Building and the one across from it is the Council of Ministers building. Now, we will go underground and see what that glass dome is covering!

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Tah-dah! More ruins of Serdica!

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This is the eastern gate into Serdica.

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Guards standing in front of the presidency building. Let’s see if I can remember what Nikola had to say because it was hilarious. Something along the lines of, “There’s a changing of the guards you can see. It’s not Buckingham Palace, but it’s cute.” Bulgaria has both a president and a prime minister and the latter is the one with real power.

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Behind the presidency building is a treasure, the Church of St. George, dating back to the 4th century. Apparently, it’s still the original roof?! The church is known for its frescoes, but I didn’t get to go in on this trip.

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This is the national theatre.

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I loved this building with its cheery colour!

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This former police station became the royal palace…

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This is where we stopped to do a bit of a reenactment of Bulgarian governance in the 20th century, with members of the group reluctantly agreeing to be the German and Austrian who would each become a monarch of Bulgaria, the Italian who married the Austrian and produced the first true Bulgarian monarch in a long time, and the Bulgarian monarch. Once all these roles were cast, Nikola asked for someone to play the Communist. Yours truly promptly volunteered. ūüėÄ As it turns out, “I” did better than all the others in governing Bulgaria the longest since “I” was able to transition into democracy. Fun fact about Bulgaria: it is (as far as I know) the only country in the world that democratically elected a former king to be its prime minster!

The tour ended with Sofia’s famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

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There was a wedding at the Saint Sofia Church, from which the city got its name, so we weren’t able to get good photographs of it.

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The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is amazing!

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This is where the tour ended. I have not even come close to conveying all the information I got about Bulgaria and Sofia. This is a country with a very messy history and I couldn’t do justice to Nikola’s attempts to unravel it all for us. I will have more when I move to my review of the Communist tour.

Nikola gave me a discount coupon for their the Communist tour later that afternoon and then I headed off to find some lunch.

I found myself back the Council of Minsters building. I will have more to say about these buildings when I review the Communist tour!

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The pink building was not part of the complex, but was tied into it.

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These ramps are used to move goods up and down into the underpasses. Women also use them for their push chairs.

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These are really fancy. I saw some others that were just a metal rail going down the stairs.

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I went back and got more exterior shots of the Church of St. George.

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I thought this building was neat, with the way the windows were craved out of the corner.

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I wanted pizza for lunch, something that is so ubiquitous in Bulgaria that the guide on my next tour said that it’s practically “Bulgarian food.” So I had lots of options on Vitosha Boulevard and only had to try two restaurants before I got service. I ordered a large beer and¬†Margherita¬†pizza (sauce and cheese). I wish I’d had more of that tomato on it because, dang! The pizza was the real thing. Mmm…

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I’d walked for nearly three hours on the tour and knew the next tour would be three to four hours, so I decided to go all hog and order chocolate cake and an espresso after eating that entire pizza. I did not need to eat again all of Sunday, not even a before bed snack! So 15CAD for the meal, including a tip, was really good value!

I like how the restaurant built its roof around this tree:

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So this takes us to about 3PM Sunday, with my next tour starting at 4PM. More after I do some work today!

Guildhall Art Gallery & Roman Amphitheatre

I’d asked my best friend Bast what she would like to do in London. Most of her list was of interest to me, but the only thing on it that fit in with my itinerary was the¬†Guildhall Art Gallery & Roman Amphitheatre. It was about halfway between the Tower of London and St. Paul’s. Considering what an amazing find this amphitheatre was, it really isn’t that well known. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Bast!

London is really easy to get around. There is tons of signage everywhere, so even getting to something a little off the tourist path was super easy. I never did get a SIM card for my phone, so I couldn’t use it for directions and I also never got a paper map. I didn’t need either.

On the way, I decided to mail Bast a postcard. That was… trying. I passed¬†a business¬†marked “Post Office,” but it didn’t say Royal Mail anywhere. I logged onto the free WiFi provided by the Tesco Express a couple of doors down to confirm that “Post Office” is just that and that Royal Mail has been privatised. So I went back to Post Office and a very large and scary looking man demanded to know what I wanted. I said that I wanted to mail a postcard¬†and he looked at me like I was a complete idiot (maybe that’s not how you say that in the UK?) and told me to use one of the self serve machines.

I wasn’t keen on doing that and tried to get to a counter, but he blocked me and repeated that I had to use the self serve machines. I went to a machine and poked around the menus for a bit until I was fairly confident that I had located the¬†correct postage. I then had to figure out where to insert the coins I wanted to use for payment. That done, a stamp printed, but I had no idea where to mail my letter. I went back to the entrance and found two slots marked “Franked mail”, one for 1st class and the other for 2nd class. Mr. Big Scary Dude was gone and there was a long queue at the service counter, so I went back to Tesco for their WiFi to look up which slot I should drop my letter into and got nowhere. So I went back and stuck it in the 2nd class slot… Bast, I hope it gets to you. If not, I tried my best! ūüėÄ

I then found the Guildhall Art Gallery, located in a pretty courtyard. The amphitheatre is below it. The entrance is to the right where you can see people queuing. Admission is free, but you have to put your bags through a scanner, hence why it took some time to get in.

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The amphitheatre was found during the construction of the art gallery and was one of the most important archaeological discoveries in London in over a century. The discovery meant that major changes had to be made to the art gallery’s design.

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The amphitheatre would have been oval. You can see here a drawing of what it would have looked like.

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I liked this door. ūüôā

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Remains of the wooden drainage system.

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The ruins were amazing!

It was already past noon by this point and I knew St. Paul’s could warrant a couple of hours, so I didn’t visit the art gallery, although I did check out a couple of works that caught my eye.

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Visiting the Mayan Ruins at Uxmal and Kabah

Well, Tuesday was an amazing day. I went on a tour with Mayan Heritage to tour the Mayan ruins at Uxmal (Oosh-mahl) and Kabah. I picked Mayan Heritage since their recommendation by the tourist kiosk was supplemented by strong Trip Advisor reviews and they offered tours in English.

The cost for the day seemed low, but quickly increased when I learned that there were entry fees to both sites, that we had to pay for drinks with our included meal, and, of course, we had to tip. It wound up being¬†a nearly $1,000 day, but that’s nothing considering the value for what we got!

Cost breakdown:
$525 for the transportation, guide, and three-course lunch
$213 entry into Uxmal (payable in two portions one for a federal program and another for a state program, so you get two tickets)
$50 entry into Kabah
$65 for a bottle of water and a beer at lunch
$20 tip for lunch
$50 tip for our guide (we did research and this was the suggested amount per person for a group our size and what we each paid)
Total: $923

I was supposed to be picked up at a hotel around the corner from my apartment between 9:30 and 9:45, but was told they would likely be late. So at 9:00ish, I went to Oxxo to find a snack since I knew we’d get a late lunch and was delighted to find trail mix. By the time I got to the hotel, it was 9:15… and the bus was waiting for me! I was the last one getting picked up, so after a brief stop at their office, we hit the highway.

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The top part I’m used to seeing (no selling of liquor to youth). But the bottom part about not drinking in public was surprising. I don’t think much about getting a beer from a convenience store in Maz and drinking it on the sea wall on the Malec√≥n or walking with an open container.

This part of Mexico is like a completely different country. The roads have good signage, drivers more or less obey traffic rules, and everything is very clean and well maintained. I didn’t see any signs of abject poverty like I see in Sonora and Sinaloa.

It was about an hour to Uxmal, where our guide introduced himself as Jorge. His English, while accented, was flawless.¬†We all had about ten minutes to use the bathrooms and buy our tickets before entering the site. Before I get to the pictures, I’ll say that Jorge knew his stuff and was very entertaining! We had two hours at Uxmal, most of which was spent listening to Jorge talk about Mayan history and the complex while watching other people poking around the ruins. I was torn between wishing I was exploring and being grateful to be there with someone who had so much knowledge to convey and who could convey it well. We did have a scant 30 minutes to ourselves at the end, but that was barely enough time to climb one of the pyramids (!) and get back to the bus.

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This is commonly known as the Magician’s Pyramid, but I preferred the word Jorge used, soothsayer, as I know that’s more accurate.

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There were lots of iguanas running around at both Uxmal and Kabah.

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These are “false” or “corbel” arches lacking a keystone.

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The entire complex was essentially rebuilt/restored in the early 20th century so it’s not like these magnificent structures have beens standing for thousands of years.

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Jorge spent a lot of time explaining all the carvings. These columns have the elephant-like water god carved into the corners.

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This is an owl. The Maya name sounds like “such.”

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The complex is absolutely massive. This vast courtyard is just a small piece of the entire thing.

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These carvings represent their mathematical concepts. Jorge was very good at explaining how the Maya  came up with their math and how it related to the natural world around them.

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We passed through a false arch that was “blessed” with this handprint. I wish I’d thought to remember to ask if it’s an original or not.

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Looking from the first complex through the ball court to another complex.

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This is the ball court. You can sort of see a ring that the ball would have been thrown through.

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There is another pyramid hidden from view from the main complex. We are allowed to climb this one! The steps are quite wide, so I had no trouble getting up and down.

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Some folks needed to crawl up and down. I would have needed to do that with the narrow steps at the Soothsayer’s temple, but not for this one.

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This is how far I was from the Soothsayer’s temple after leaving the other pyramid and hoofing it back to the bus!

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I still can’t get over that we have stuff this old and complex in North America. The Maya share so many things in common with the ancient Egyptians. They were not a “primitive” culture. Jorge stressed how the Maya have survived through two things, bloodlines and their oral language, and have not just vanished.

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From Uxmal, it was about a twenty-minute drive to Kabah. I had time to inhale my trail mix on the way since there was no food allowed at the ruins except in a designated area with shops and such. It was almost 1:00 by the time we finished our tour and I’d had breakfast at 8:00, so I needed some quick energy! Trail mix was the perfect snack and I’m glad Oxxo carries it. It was funny that the guy ahead of me in line at the store also had some, but a different kind, with chocolate. I had gone for the fairly standard peanuts, almonds, cashews, raisins, pineapple, and papaya because chocolate melts!

It was a twisty route to Kabah, where we spent about a half hour, which was mostly spent poking around on our own. I felt that we got ample time there, surprisingly.

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I enjoyed a presentation at the beginning by a wood carver who is recreating rock carvings. I thought at first that it would be a sales spiel, but nope. The point really was education. Some of the carvings were explained and we saw how much work goes into them. The man uses a type of very rough leaf in lieu of sandpaper! This snake is one of his least elaborate works. He had some amazing tablets recreating steles. None of us felt comfortable taking too many photos because we weren’t going to buy anything. I loved the two-headed snake and would like to find a pendant with it, so that was the one picture I allowed myself.

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Kabah was also reconstructed in the early 20th century.

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These stairs were very narrow. I would not have wanted to climb much higher than I did!

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You an really see here how the false arches have no structural integrity of their own.

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Across the road and a short walk away is free-standing arch. I didn’t see any signage to it and am glad we were told about it.

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We then drove back to the general vicinity of Uxmal to have a late lunch in what appeared to have perhaps been an old house. It was decorated inside with bright yellows and oranges. Outside it had a very lush setting!

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Lunch had several choices, but none were vegetarian or pescatarian. We had a choice of three starters:

-lime soup (chicken soup with lime juice in the broth, a classic Yucat√°n dish);

-black bean soup;

-vegetable soup;

-salad.

The black bean soup was temping, but I knew to have the lime soup. It was soooo good. Very light and savoury. The chicken in it wasn’t yellow like the chicken back in Sinaloa and was very tasty. There was also tomato in the soup. We got totopos and a very spicy haba√Īero salsa to go with our starter¬†(very grateful our meal wasn’t “Gringoified.”)

For our main, we had, I think, six choices, but they were essentially all variants on chicken or pork done a¬†Yucat√°n way. I had tried all of the dishes already (!) and so I picked cochinita pibil pretty much at random. Cochinita means suckling pig and pibil means buried, as the dish used to be made by burying the meat under banana leaves and slow roasting it. I liked my main well enough flavour-wise, but found it very greasy and lacking in vegetables.¬†I had a pile of shredded pork with pickled red onion, black refried beans, and rice. I started to turn my meal into tacos, then asked Jorge if that’s okay in the Yucat√°n. He laughed and said to please keep eating like a real Mexican. LOL

Dessert options were flan and crema espa√Īola, both of which are egg-heavy, and fresh fruit, so I had the fruit. We got a slice of cantaloupe, watermelon, and pineapple, a perfect end to a rich meal.

Drinks weren’t included. Some folks had fresh juice blends, but I had beer and water.

When I consider that $525 included Jorge’s time and expertise, the fuel, and a good meal, I think we really got our money’s worth. I mean, the whole trip was worth just over $3,000, or 270CAD to the tour company.

I’m glad I went to Uxmal and Kabah for a couple of reasons. Chichen Itza might be the best known Mayan complex, but it is apparently not as large as Uxmal, is not an easy day trip from M√©rida, and is completely overrun by tourists and vendors. There was almost no one at Uxmal and Kabah and the only vendors were non-pushy shops at the entrance to the complexes.

If you go, please don’t make¬†the mistakes the other two people my age on the tour did: 1) not wear a hat; 2) drink soda instead of water. Do wear heaps of sunscreen, consider bringing a parasol, and if you go in the wet season, bring mosquito repellant (we didn’t need that yesterday, thankfully).

We got back to M√©rida around 5:15 and I was the second to last person to be dropped off. I asked Jorge if he could drive a block past the hotel where he’d picked me up so I’d only have a block to walk home. Certainly!

I was ready to go in and collapse, but one of the guys on the tour, C, was my age and he’d asked me and a Swiss gal about our age, too, to meet him at a bar for a beer around 7:00. Jorge told us to go to La Negrita. So I made the decision to go back out and meet C. The Swiss gal said she doubted she’d go as she was completely tuckered.

So around 6:30, I headed for the bar at the corner of 62 and 49, about 2KM from my apartment. I could have taken a bus down 62, but by the time I got to the corner of it and 35, there really was no point. I did not feel uncomfortable on the walk down.

La Negrita wound up being a great watering hole inside an old house. It had room after room packed with tables. It reminded me of one of my favourite pubs in Ottawa, the Heart & Crown in the Byward Market, only with a tropical twist. I’ve found my M√©rida watering hole, something I can’t say for Mazatl√°n!

I took a table by the entrance to wait for C. When he showed up, we were sure enough the Swiss gal wasn’t going to join us to move to a table inside. We ordered $49 local beers (yes, that price is correct, for beer in cans). I do have to say that my Belgian-style beer was so good I had two!

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And then we had a very reasonably priced ($25) XX Amber. I have to say that the expensive beer is somewhat offset by the amount of free munchies we got, but, of course, those are super salty and meant to keep us drinking! There was popcorn and some crunchy things covered in hot sauce, other types of crunchy things, chiles curtidos, peanuts, and mandarine and pineapple (canned) that surprised us by being very vinegary and hot. We drank, munched, and gabbed en fran√ßais for a solid two and a half hours. It was great fun and I’m glad to have had an excuse to be out after dark as Mexico is pretty much another world after 8:00 p.m.

I had thought to ride the bus up 60 to 35, but the night had cooled a tiny bit and I decided that I wanted to walk. I did so mostly up the Paseo de Montejo and was surprised to see how much more vibrant it is after dark, with plenty of places to get a drink much closer than Centro. I also discovered that I’ve been walking by something rather important and which I didn’t notice because of foliage until the sign was lit up after dark:

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I passed a dulcería (sweets shop) and popped in to see if they had ice cream. Nope, but they did have fresh fruit sorbet. $40 (including a small tip) got me a large portion of guava that was very refreshing on the rest of my long sticky walk home.

So that’s get home from a bar after dark and a few beers without feeling concerned off my to-do list for this week!

Tuesday was a full, rich day.

Today, Wednesday, is going to be a much needed rest day. I’ll do a little work, find a nice place for lunch, then go see a movie.

Pecos National Historic Park

John pointed out to me yet another national monument/park just a short distance from Santa Fe, the Pecos National Historic Park. Yesterday promised to be, and was, a gorgeous day, so I decided to go check it out. I got a late start because I was working on the project from hell (most projects of that type would have taken me three hours and it took seven), so I only arrived around 12:45.

The website made it seem like there was a lot to do, with two trails and two tours, but they were still on their winter hours and their Civil War trail was closed. There was a tour at 1:30 of a ranch house owned by Academy Award winner Greer Garson, a benefactor of the park, but that didn’t interest me. Despite that, even if I had had to pay the $3 admission fee, I would have come out of there feeling that I got my money’s worth. If you like history and are interested in ruins, Pecos is a must-do for Santa Fe!

The drive there felt longer than it was because there was a bike marathon thingamabob along a good part of my route to I-25 and instead of being able to drive 50MPH, I had to drive 25MPH. But I eventually got there!

Made it!

Made it!

Look at what I found in the parking lot, a car with a license plate from ARGENTINA!

A license plate from *Argentina*!!!

A license plate from *Argentina*!!!

I’ve heard that Argentinian Spanish is very different from European and Mexican, but this was too interesting to ignore, so I went up to the couple and said in Spanish, “Wow, big journey! How long have you been traveling?”

This is Spanish speaking territory, so they weren’t shocked by the Spanish and replied, “Two years!”

We then had a bit of a chat about their trip. They are arriving in Alaska this summer. I gave them some suggestions (do not miss Dawson City!) and answered their questions about the Alaska Highway. We could understand each other just fine! And just as I was leaving some time later, they came to grab me to act as an interpreter because they were having trouble with a Ranger’s accent. I’m really starting to feel like I speak Spanish now that I’ve communicated with folks from four different Spanish speaking countries (Spain, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina) and been understood. So cool!

But enough about that, you want to hear about Pecos!

Pecos is one of the most important Native pueblos of the area, home to some 2,000 people.  Archeologist Kidder found here perfectly preserved layers of history that enabled him to sort out timelines, tribes, and categorize pottery with methods that are still used today. He considered Pecos the place that helped to make sense of the until then scattered and conflicted information about the peoples of the region and work out a plausible chronology.

A 16th century report of the pueblo describes it as the “greatest and best” of the Indian pueblos, and is, “most thickly settled.”

You learn all of this in the visitors’ centre little museum, which does a good job of setting you into the context of Pecos. Then, you head outside to see the ruins.

From the visitors’ centre, there is a trail (accessible) that takes you around the ruins of the pueblo all the way to the ruins of 17th century and 18th century churches built by the Spaniards determined to bring Christianity to these ignorant savages.

I was surprised by how much there was to see. The pueblo had been like a large fortress, made of 700 rooms, four to five stories high, around a central courtyard, with the upper stories linked by balconies and walkways. It must have been quite a sight!

The pueblo would have had a wall all around it.

The pueblo would have had a wall all around it.

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The church in the distance.

The church in the distance.

The trail is a bit of a treasure hunt if you are loaned the trail brochure, several sheets of laminated paper with tons more information than you find on the sparse placards scattered throughout the site. I had fun looking for all the numbered markers.

I was loaned this trail guide.

I was loaned this trail guide.

Snow in the distance.

Snow in the distance.

Wheelchair accessible path.

Wheelchair accessible path.

Kivas were circular holes in the ground accessible via ladders. The entrance led to a ceremonial chamber where much of daily living, including weaving, was done. There are two kivas on the tour that you can actually enter!

Entrance to a kiva.

Entrance to a kiva.

Hey, you can really go down!

Hey, you can really go down!

I can never resist stuff like this.

I can never resist stuff like this.

Surprisingly light down there.

Surprisingly light down there.

Ceiling.

Ceiling.

This hole represents the journey of the Pecos people to this world.

This hole represents the journey of the Pecos people to this world.

Masonry of the kiva walls.

Masonry of the kiva walls.

Foundations are all that remain of what were four or five story buildings.

Foundations are all that remain of what were four or five story buildings.

Kivas.

Kivas.

There was a trash heap here.

There was a trash heap here, a goldmine for archaeologists.

So much open country.

So much open country.

You could have seen all around from up here.

You could have seen all around from up here.

More snow in the distance.

More snow in the distance.

This sign made me laugh.

This sign made me laugh. See how uneven the word uneven is?

Up a few stairs for a view!

Up a few stairs for a view!

Looking from the top of the stairs across another kiva.

Looking from the top of the stairs across another kiva.

Contemporary descriptions make it sound like a medieval castle, both in its construction and occupation, with all manner of trades, such as weaving and pottery, being practiced, and there being music.

What the pueblo might have looked like.

What the pueblo might have looked like.

Then, you get to the churches. What we see are the foundations of the 1625 church and the ruins of the 1717 church walls. The first church was destroyed in a 1680 revolt by the Natives, but they didn’t keep their independence for long.

Approaching the church.

Approaching the church.

What remain are bits of the newer church.

What remain are bits of the newer church.

It would have been white washed.

It would have been white washed.

Foundation of the older church.

Foundation of the older church.

You can see a lot of details of the construction.

You can see a lot of details of the construction.

The grass is trying to reclaim it.

The grass is trying to reclaim it.

The Pecos leaders gave each pueblo a knotted rope. Each knot represented a day. When there were no more knots, it was time to attack the Spaniards.

The Pecos leaders gave each pueblo a knotted rope. Each knot represented a day. When there were no more knots, it was time to attack the Spaniards.

I was shocked that we could enter the ruin and walk around! This is where I spent most of my visit, admiring the architecture.

I couldn't believe I could go in!

I couldn’t believe I could go in!

More foundations of the old church.

More foundations of the old church.

Entering the newer church.

Entering the newer church.

Narrow passageway...

Narrow passageway…

...into a courtyard.

…into a courtyard.

Another doorway to explore.

Another doorway to explore.

And another.

And another.

Look at the two angles of the masonry joining together.

Look at the two angles of the masonry joining together.

This buttress is perfectly preserved.

This buttress is perfectly preserved.

I like how the park uses these wooden fences to gently corral guests.

I like how the park uses these wooden fences to gently corral guests.

I should have asked if the flagstone is original or at least a replica of what would have been used.

I should have asked if the flagstone is original or at least a replica of what would have been used.

Also curious about the stairs.

Also curious about the stairs.

You can really see the detail of the masonry work here.

You can really see the detail of the masonry work here.

Vigas (wooden ceiling beams).

Vigas (wooden ceiling beams).

The construction is just like that of a medieval keep, with a flared base to distribute the weight of the building (and I thought my medieval history degree was never going to be useful in the real world!).

The construction is just like that of a medieval keep, with a flared base to distribute the weight of the building (and I thought my medieval history degree was never going to be useful in the real world!).

Two-toned masonry.

Two-toned masonry.

This drain is original! The holes in it are perfectly round!

This drain is original! The holes in it are perfectly round!

Oodles of foundations.

Oodles of foundations.

Another kiva.

Another kiva.

What is it with me and pokey places?

What is it with me and pokey places?

Oh, just like the other one.

Oh, just like the other one.

This would have been a turkey coop, with a cobblestone floor for easy cleaning.

This would have been a turkey coop, with a cobblestone floor for easy cleaning.

The directional signs made me laugh.

The directional signs made me laugh.

This would have been a 16th or 17th century residence or part of a farm.

This would have been a 16th or 17th century residence or part of a farm.

One last glimpse of the church.

One last glimpse of the church.

Pecos’ last inhabitants left the pueblo in 1838 and joined up with related tribes nearby in Jemez, where their descendents live to this day.

This boardwalk goes over the Santa Fe trail.

This boardwalk goes over the Santa Fe trail.

The visitors' centre had lovely architecture.

The visitors’ centre had lovely architecture.

Pecos pueblo taught me a lot about the geography of the region, the local peoples, the influence of the Spaniards on the development of the region, and more. I am leaving Santa Fe with a much better understanding of the history of this region and how it ties in to the history of my part of the continent. Thanks for another great recommendation, John!

Now, it’s time to move on. Work kept me up very late, two hours past my bedtime, last night, so I am up very late this morning and nowhere near ready to hit the road yet, but I am going! Next stop is Bandelier National Monument and then I’m pointing Moya towards South Dakota. I doubt I will get out of New Mexico today, but tomorrow will be a driving day.