Recap of the Best Year of My Life

If I measure 2016 by the one yardstick that matters to me, how much I travelled, it was the best year of my life. That’s hard to reconcile with how horrible the year was to the world in general, but it’s my truth.

This was a rare year of my life where there was enough money to do what I wanted to do. I prioritised paying for the big stuff, like making sure I had a roof over my head, could get from point A to point B, and that I stayed healthy. I savoured the little stuff I could afford. I refused to be a glass half empty person and bemoan that I couldn’t do X, Y, or Z because of a tight budget and instead celebrated that I was wherever I was at that moment.

I covered so much ground this year that you might have forgotten where I started. So here’s my 2016 travel retrospective.

January started in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was the second year of my life starting there and the novelty hadn’t worn off! I spent many hours cantering on a beautiful tropical beach, a weekly ritual that made me feel like the richest and luckiest woman in the world.

The lagoon at the Isla de la Piedra botanical gardens.

The lagoon in Mazatlán’s Bosque de la Ciudad.

February brought me to Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán, on a scouting mission in anticipation of possibly moving there!

I saw ancient Mayan ruins!

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

March had me discovering the wonderful botanical gardens right in my backyard on Isla de la Piedra.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra's botanical gardens.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra’s botanical gardens.

April found me seeing Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

…and exploring Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

…and the town of Moab, Utah.

May took me to Cody, Wyoming

downtown Cody, WY

downtown Cody, WY

…with plenty of time to explore the Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

… and a Japanese internment camp

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

… before going home to Haven…

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

… before getting on a plane and technically visiting my last Canadian province.


So June took me to London, England (really!)…

London from the St. Paul's Cathedral

London from St. Paul’s Cathedral


… and to Bulgaria!

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria


July took me on two trips to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

August took me to Plovdiv

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

… and across Bulgaria in a Chevy to Nessebar

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

…to Soviet ruins



Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

…the scenic town of Teteven



Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

…the Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

…and a the magnificent 15th century Glozhene Monastery.

inside the Glozhene Monastery

inside the Glozhene Monastery

September saw me quit Bulgaria for Serbia and finish the month in Belgrade.

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

October found me in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, BiH

Sarajevo, BiH

Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

…blipping through Albania

an Albanian fortress

an Albanian fortress

…staying out too late in Prizen, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

…not being impressed by Skopje, Macedonia

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

Archaeological Museum, Skopje


…ambling through Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona


… then through Alicante

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

… before settling in Almería for seven weeks.

The port of Almería

The port of Almería

November was spent in lovely Almería learning to live in the real Spain.

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

December saw me in Málaga for a few days…

Málaga from the top of the itinerant Ferris wheel.


…before jetting off to end the year and ring in 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Quintessential Amsterdam scene


What a journey 2016 was, from getting more and more comfortable in Mexico to becoming a seasoned European traveler!

But the most amazing thing that happened? I was offered my key to Mexico. So my 2017 is well plotted. But before I return to the blistering tropical heat of the Yucatán, England, Quebec, and Haven beckon. So clichéd as the saying is, the best really is yet to come.

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers!

A Shout-Out to Villa Amadeus in Nessebar

I had a really lovely stay at Villa Amadeus in Nessebar. It was a two-star hotel with five-star service. The gal at the front desk (Ana, I believe) deserves a raise as there is no way she is being paid enough for the amazing job she does. I’m not a particularly fussy traveler and I’m so new to not being a bare bones budget traveler that my hotel expectations are still quite low. A harried front desk clerk remembering my coffee order and getting it perfect each time from one day to the next is huge to me. Add in that she made me a lunch for the road on my departure day and, really, what more could you want?!

Well, imagine my disgust with myself last Tuesday when, hours after I checked out, I realised that I’d left my camera in the room! I still can’t get over how I can travel with so little and still manage to forget something so important! I do know how it happened, and it’s because I had the car. I didn’t have to pack as well as I normally did and I brought some loose items down to the trunk, so I didn’t realise I was missing something in my purse. Routine is important!

I promptly contacted Villa Amadeus through and asked if the camera could be sent to me here in Malak Izvor. They got right back to me promptly saying that my camera had not been found. I was disappointed and thought that was that. But a few hours later, I got another email back saying that they found it!

Yesterday, Monday, I contacted them again to confirm the camera had been sent to me. Yes, and I got a tracking number that put the camera at Ekont’s office in Lovech. A few hours later, I got a call in Bulgarian that I couldn’t deal with, obviously, and the person hung up. Moments later, I got another call from the same number, this time from someone who spoke English, saying it was Ekont and I could come pick up my package. Um, slight problem on that, I don’t have a car! The man said he would call (Ana?) and call me right back, which he did.

This time, he said someone would bring me the camera on Wednesday. Reception here is very poor and I had to confirm four times that I’m in Maluk (Little), not Bulgarski (Bulgarian), or Golyam (Big) Izvor (Spring)!

This morning, I received a text message that I translated to mean the camera was coming today and that I owed 11.80BGN. But it also put my street as being Maluk Izvor. Augh, what happened to the perfectly formatted address info I’d sent Villa Amadeus?!

Around noon, I got a call, which I understood to be from the driver. He had some English and said he was in the “centre.” I tried to get him to confirm that he was here in the village, but he kept telling me no and hung up. Confused, I went back to work. Moments later, he called to ask me where I was, saying he was waiting in a big white van in the “centre.” I asked if he was near the store and he said yes, so I said I’d be right down, not for one second believing that he was there, imagining him in Golyam or even Bulgarski Izvor!

Well, ye of little faith! I did indeed owe 11.80BGN, which, of course, was not a problem.

My camera was super well packaged for the journey:


It is a super robust camera and waterproof, so I wasn’t worried about it being manhandled, but I have to say I’m really pleased with how it was packaged.

And here it is back with me, after a week apart!


Thank you so, so, so much, Villa Amadeus!

Tsarevets Fortress, a Taste of Veliko Tarnovo, a Stop in Teteven, and on to Maluk Izvor

I slept soooo well in Veliko Tarnovo. That bed! The room was also dark and despite all the traffic in the evening, things quieted down around ten. I woke up just past eight (!), took a moment to wake up, and then went to have breakfast. I only had four hours till I had to vacate my parking spot and that felt like just the right amount of time for the day, but that I should not waste any of it.


Quite a nice view from my room. Soon as I opened my curtains, these guys waved at me and yelled good morning!

Breakfast was an acceptable buffet. The coffee was out of those popular Nescafe dispensers and too sweet for my taste, but the food was good. I enjoyed a selection of meats, bread, jam, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, which I understand is a fairly typical Bulgarian breakfast.

This is what parking looks like in these car unfriendly towns, people parking almost on top of each other. Both myself and the folks in the light grey car had said we weren’t leaving till noon, so that dark grey car was parked behind us.


That reminds me that I forgot to recount my adventure getting out of my parking spot in Nessebar! It looked like I had a lot of room to get out, but it was all in the wrong places. To avoid a bollard, I would hit a taxi. To avoid the taxi, I would scrape the car on my passenger side. I had to do like I did with Miranda and mentally imagine all the manoeuvres I’d have to do with the car to get it out. I was reasonably confident I’d figured it out when a man knocked on my driver’s side window. All I got of what he said was “Not good.” He made some motions that rather mimicked how I had planned to get out and then he pointed from his eyes to me. It was clear that he was saying, “I’ll spot you.” Well, he did, and it was a great job! I slid out of that spot smoothly, with no extra steps, in a couple of minutes. On my own, I would have had to continually get out of the car to check my clearances. He was my hero of the day!

Back to this morning, the first thing I wanted to do was visit the medieval stronghold of Tsarevets. It was the primary fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 to 1393. My hotel happened to be right by the entrance. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have parked closer to it!


Looking down from the hotel parking lot.


Around the corner from the hotel, looking towards town, the fortress behind me. When I left with the car, I drove up from the left in this picture and turned left to where that car is in the middle of the picture.

Tsaravets fortress! The ticket booth is right before it. 6BGN to get in.







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






My mood was giddiness. Remember that I’m a medieval history major! This would be my second opportunity to explore medieval ruins (first time was, of course, in Scotland).



The wooden bridge felt very spongy!







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


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


There was a very clear PA announcement in a couple of languages, including English, which recited the warnings and gave additional information. It sounded like it was narrated by a poor man’s Alan Rickman (RIP), especially when he said, “You may encounter reptiles,” in that flat bored sounding tone of Rickman’s. Made me laugh every time I heard it!





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


One of many bells on site.



IMG_1455 IMG_1456


All the signage was in Bulgarian, what I assume is Russian, and German. Between the Bulgarian and the German, I could get just the gist of what I was looking at. We know from the above sign that I’m at Baldwin’s tower and I’m pretty sure that the site was restored in 1933…


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









“Monastery complex” ruins ahead.


Tsarevets was a huge city and had many churches, monasteries, and residential and commercial buildings in addition to being a centre of administration and governance.






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

IMG_1473 IMG_1474




This shows where the kings lived and governed.




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


I said to the group of men that it was good to hear my accent again. They laughed. We did small talk for a minute. They are from the Outaouais, where I lived until 2008!






I came out of the church and heard some folks complaining in Spanish about the chill this morning (much appreciated), but that it was better than the unrelenting heat that was worse than anything they’d experienced in Hermosillo. Wait. What?! I had to intervene and asked if they were from Sonora. Yes! I said that I spent two winters in Mexico. We chatted for a bit and I offered to take pictures. I sure didn’t expect to get in some good Spanish practice this morning, but there you have it!

I went around the back of the church hoping to be able to get even further up, but my hopes were dashed by the elevator being closed. 🙁


No stairs either!




I was as far up as I could go, so I headed down, eager to find the “Cliff of Death” the loudspeaker announcer kept on warning us about!


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






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






Sumac, just like back in Quebec!



















Something about a gate. *wry grin*






These stairs were fun in a long flowy skirt!





Well, that’s graphic! The point of the exhibits up here is for folks to touch them, so there were kids playing executioner and condemned!




I had heard shrieking on my way up, which I initially thought was the kids recreating the executions, but it was actually two gals who got their long hair caught in these very heavy helmets!







Back near the entrance was a catapult.







It was only as I left the complex, a full two hours after I arrived (I can’t believe how quickly time passed!) that I saw this lettering on the walls. Something about restoration in the ’70s, I believe.



I had just over an hour before checkout time when I’d had my fill of Tsarevets, so I decided to check out Veliko Tarnovo.

I would not want to be a bus driver in this town!


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





This “Tequila Bar” made me laugh.




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





There were many panoramic view points along the main road, but this was my favourite, a strip of steel and wood leading into the abyss.







This is where I had dinner last night:


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


I found a Raffy’s gelato stand somewhere around this point. They are all over Bulgaria and, in my opinion, the best. The gal at the hotel agrees with me! I had my favourite, chocolate hazelnut!

This shop name made me laugh.






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



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




Last night, I completely missed this sign saying my hotel was thataway. But guess what? Even in broad daylight, sober, and with my glasses on, I still made a wrong turn getting there. It’s a wonder I found it in the first place!


I thought this wood being chain sawed was very pretty. As I took a picture, I heard one of the workers make a comment that had the word tourist in it. I bet it wasn’t flattering!


I’m so pleased I went to Tsarevets and Veliko Tarnovo! My morning and short evening were just the right amount of time. It was then time to head back to Malak Izvor and work. 🙁 It was surprisingly easy to get out of Veliko Tarnovo, just a couple of turns and then straight west.


I made a small detour to Teteven, a nearby town I’ve been wanting to go back to, to get a late lunch and some groceries. The town’s setting is spectacular!






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








“Here…” something happened? 🙂



I was happy to find cold water!





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





A quick slice of pizza sounded ideal for lunch and I found one. I was shocked that the stand had a guy who spoke perfect English. The woman who started to serve me threw her hands up in disgust when she realised I don’t speak Bulgarian. Funny how some people are. The guy at the ice cream stand in Veliko Tarnovo spoke slowly to me and I was able to understand him fine even if I couldn’t always answer (eg. “Cup or cone?” and I’d point to the cup).

Well, it has finally happened; I’ve had pizza with sweet corn! It was actually good! The pizza slice had been there a while, but I actually prefer my pizza at this temperature, so I found this quite good.


I got a few groceries after my pizza and then it was then a very short drive to Malak Izvor, where the doggies and cat were happy to see me. I put on laundry, hoping the threatening rain holds off long enough for my things to dry, and took the pups on a short walk. Now, work! 🙁

I plan to work tomorrow morning and head off in the afternoon to view a local sight or two and then go further afield, past Sofia on Thursday. We shall see how that works out.

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

It was not an easy day, one of those where I found myself wondering multiple times why the hell I can’t just be content living a “normal” sedentary life. And then, I remembered a tee-shirt I saw last night that said, “No growth ever came from a comfort zone.” I’m starting to understand that a large part of this urge of mine to go and to do new things has to do with the angry, timid, fearful thing I used to be, that it’s a way of distancing myself from someone I loathed and had no patience for. Heavy stuff, I know, and probably not what you come here for, but it was a day for reflection.

I was up fairly early and went down to the lobby to use the hotel wifi since I’d used up all my free Telenor credit and was burning really fast through my balance. It was too early for breakfast, but the hotel clerk slipped me a coffee, with just the right amount of milk. What service!

Last night, I’d almost booked accommodation in Veliko Tarnovo, but I couldn’t commit to anything. It was the same thing this morning. It was just going to have to be one of those days where I landed where I landed, even if the thought of looking for a hotel “cold” in a country where I don’t speak the language filled me with dread. To be honest, I had a very strong suspicion that I would sleep at “home” tonight in Maluk Izvor.

Breakfast came, the same as yesterday, but with a red juice and pears for a change. I was asked where I was headed today and when I replied, the clerk was taken aback and said it was in the middle of nowhere, so she’d pack me a lunch! And she did! Talk about five-star service at a one star price!

I headed out around 8:30, with the plan being to get another top up at the Telenor store in Nessebar, just in case. Well… There is almost no street signage in Nessebar and what should have been a 10-minute trip took me about an hour, including a detour into Sunny Beach against my will! It was so ridiculous I had to laugh! But as it turned out, the Telenor store wouldn’t didn’t open until 9:30 anyway, so I would have had to wait or leave without a top up. Things work out!

This wound up being the Telenor store visit I wish I’d had when I first landed in Bulgaria. Sunny Beach is a Brit resort town, so there is English everywhere and this was the first time I encountered a Telenor store employee who spoke absolutely fluent English and could give me some tips. He was appalled that I’ve been paying for my data piecemeal rather than getting a plan and pointed out that I went from a 26BGN to a 0.10BGN balance in about 10 minutes of surfing last night. Woah!!! I’ve only ever used my phone for the odd surfing before, never for anything as intensive as the last couple of days, and had no idea I was paying so much for my bandwidth. The clerk added 20BGN to my account and then walked me through buying a 1GB plan for one week for just 4BGN. Better late than never! But, really, this was the first time since I got here that I felt that I got “taken” for bandwidth and I can’t be too upset since Telenor gave me 1GB of data with my last top up, in addition to tons of other gifts of bandwidth since I got here.

That done, it was finally time to hit the open road. I wanted to get to Buzludzha Monument and after that decide if I was going home or to Veliko Tarnovo to see the Tsaravets fortress.

I was stuck in a traffic jam just outside of Burgas when I realised I’d left my camera at the hotel! DANG. The battery went dead mid-day yesterday and I’d set the camera aside after transferring the photos to my computer, then forgotten to put it somewhere that I’d see it. I got through Burgas (much more easily this time) and pulled over to call and email the hotel. Long story short on that, they found it and I’m reasonably sure I will get it back. I love my camera and felt no need to replace it, but it is seven years old and starting to get spots in the lens if the sun hits it the wrong way. I will be happy to get it back, but am ready to accept its loss if it doesn’t get back to me.

But that leaves me with my phone for a camera, a phone with super crappy battery life. I’ve been using it as a GPS, which really sucks the life out of it. So I knew that if I only had my phone for a GPS and camera this week, I really needed a way to charge it on the road. Spoiler on that, I bought FOUR different car chargers today and not one of them worked with my iPhone. *expletive deleted* Apple. I might get it if they had a car charger of their own, but they don’t! I have to say that my day would have been much less stressful and exhausting if I’d been able to charge my phone and use the GPS as much as needed. I was able to return three of the chargers, so I’m only out about 7CAD, thankfully. When I get to Sofia on Saturday, I’ll go to an Apple Store and ask about a secondary power source for the phone. I’d like to once again point out that I only have an iPhone because it was free! Yes, I am a Mac and iPad geek, but, really, the iPhone is a huge disappointment all around. Aaaaaaaanyway.

I retraced part of my Saturday route to Plovdiv before swinging north at Yambol and then west at Sliven:


I got turned around at Sliven because of a badly marked roundabout and was getting really frustrated with the lack of signage as well as on the verge of heat stroke despite the AC in the car. I was really tempted to just give up and go home. But Buzludzha was the one thing I really wanted to see in Bulgaria before I knew anything about Bulgaria, that unique gem off the beaten path that embodies the spirit of an era. I made it to Kazanluk and, to my immense surprise, came across two signs directing me to Buzludzha! That was not expected. The signs had a different transliteration, but I could recognise the name for what it was in Cyrillic. I was down to about 5% battery power at this point and really grateful to have made it, even if I had no idea how I’d get anywhere from there. I pulled over and had my very nice lunch. What a gift.

A few more turns and then, nothing mattered anymore because I had finally found Buzludzha. I pulled over and just stared:


My phone died just after I took the above picture and I was devastated to have come all this way and have no camera to record my adventure. Then, I remembered that my computer has a camera. It would be clumsy, but better than nothing. Then, I laughed at myself when I remembered that I also had my iPad, with its own camera! Rather funny for someone who traveled for many years without a camera that I now have all these gadgets with cameras!

So Buzludzha… It is a monument to socialist communism, the construction of which began in 1974. The building was abandoned and left to vandals after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. It is crumbling and after tourists were injured a few years back, the interior has been blocked from access, but there are now plans to possibly revive this building before it is completely irreparable. My best friend Bast sent me a video about Buzludzha just before I went to Bulgaria and I knew that if I could only get away from Malak Izvor for a day, I would have to find my way to this monument.

To get there, I had to follow a very long and meandering road up that reminded me of the Devil’s Backbone. At the end of it was a place to park, with a very long climb ahead of me. I didn’t realise the climb was that long and felt rather unprepared, with not enough water, but there was a lovely cool breeze at that altitude, so I decided I would start and see how far I got. I have to admit that I asked myself multiple times on the climb if I really needed to get to the top, it was that difficult of a hike!

I have to say I’m rather pleased with how my iPad photos came out!

IMG_0417Starting off:





I look so close here, but it was still so far! My heart was pounding and I had to remind myself that I didn’t need to break any speed records to get to the top!







I was done the worst of the climb up at this point, but still wasn’t there. I took a breather as I laughed at just how much it looks like a Starfleet vessel!



I am convinced the architect was a Star Trek fan!



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


As I saw the monument from the front, I was really pleased I’d made it all the way up. There was something so spooky about it that I had not felt from further away.




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







It was incredibly creepy and I heard weird noises, so imagine my surprise when I rounded the building and found workers! I wonder how they got their vehicles up there!








I got my fill of Buzludzha and the view and then headed back down to my car. There was a group at the the trailhead who asked me if the climb up was as hard as it looked. I replied that I’ve been hiking up a mountain twice daily for two months and found it tough, but it was worth it. At last view, the group was heading up. I wonder if they got there.

It was rather a fun descent back to a “main” road. I turned north towards Gabrovo, where I would have to decide if I was going west to Malak Izvor or east to Veliko Tarnovo. This wound up being a sinewy mountain drive, the kind I love in a zippy manual transmission car!

I was feeling very parched by this point and hoped to pass a store soon to get more water when I rounded a corner where there were a bunch of cars parked and people milling about. I knew I’d started to understand some things about Bulgaria when my first thought at the sight was WATER.


There are so many fountains and mountain springs scattered all over this country, and sometimes in the most random places! I buy water when I really need to, but I’m learning to look for the fountains. I haven’t had bad tasting water yet nor any that played havoc with my fragile digestion. I filled up my water bottle, drank deeply, and then filled it again. I’m actually finishing off that water tonight, as I’m writing this post.

At Gabrovo, it was time to make my decision. Home or the unknown? It felt very important to me that I pick the latter option, that I was at one of those watershed moments of my life. I could seek the easy path or push forward through my fear. I’d successfully landed somewhere good and safe in Mexico after going off script on my first drive down to Mazatlán. And, really, nothing tonight could be as bad as landing in Edinburgh with a 20 quid a day budget to find all the hostels full. I chose the easterly route. Veliko Tarnovo or bust!

There was decent-ish signage for me to follow, but at one point, I saw signs for the town that pointed in different directions! I stopped for fuel and asked the attendant if he spoke English. He had just enough to tell me to, “Go that way and if you get to Romania, you go too far.” LOL LOL LOL That was my favourite moment of the day! I couldn’t believe I was less than 120KM from the Romanian border, just a bit further than Assiniboia is from the US border.

I made it into Veliko Tarnovo, a medieval city with narrow winding streets, occasionally pausing to take in the majestic view of the fortress of Tsaravets. Sorry, there was no chance to pull over and get a better shot than this:


I drove aimlessly, trying to find a hotel with parking. I finally passed a hotel with a parking spot right in front of it and wondered if I could really be that lucky….



Parking spot, hotel with English speaking clerk, and even at a whopping 80BGN per night (by far my most expensive hotel stay so far), very reasonable by Canadian standards. I also get breakfast and a discount at local restaurants. Fortune favoured the bold!

Not to get too graphic, I really needed a shower after marinating in the car all day and climbing up to Buzludzha, so I did that, changed, and headed out to find some dinner.


IMG_1415It began to POUR as I got close to the restaurant the hotel clerk had highly recommended, Shtastlivetsa, so I was quite wet when I arrived. They were super busy as it’s apparently the most popular place in town and has an amazing view. I somehow managed to get a seat with a bit of a view (too many people in front of me to make it worth taking a picture) and ordered a glass of white wine to sip while I perused the menu. Everything was super fancy and there were ingredients like spelt and quinoa. Prices seemed suspiciously low, especially the main that most appealed to me, what sounded like a pork schnitzel with roasted potatoes, for just 8.60BGN (6.50CAD).

Well, this is what came:


A green veggie would have been nice, but, wow! It was so good! The white thing was cream cheese with dill, which was yummy with the potatoes.

I wasn’t ready to call it a night, so I ordered a second glass of wine and asked for a dessert recommendation. They brought me “biscuit cake” which was three small balls of chocolately something (no pic because my phone was dead again). It was really good! Dinner would have been a real bargain if I’d just stuck to the main and wine, but even with more wine and dessert, I came out at 17CAD! I got a hotel discount of 10%, so I gave a slightly better tip than I normally give. 10% is actually a good tip in Bulgaria, but I sometimes give 15% if I felt service was particularly attentive. Food was was slow to come tonight because the restaurant was very crowded, but I didn’t have to wait long to be seated, order, get wine, etc. It was excellent service by Bulgarian standards!

I got very lost on the way back to the hotel. It was dark, pouring rain (so I couldn’t wear my glasses), and my phone was dead again. I ended up going around in circles twice before I finding a familiar landmark. Rae’s travel tip of the day: have just one glass of wine before going out into a dark rainy medieval fortress city with no street signs and a bunch of narrow streets that all look the same!

Well, it’s been another long one. Lots of good, some bad, plenty of character growth. I have the room till noon, so the plan is to have breakfast at 8:00 when it starts, then spend the morning at the Tsaravets fortress before vacating my parking spot and heading home. But my adventures are not over. I have the car till Friday and a laundry list of things I still want to see on day trips!

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:


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




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


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


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.


Western fortress walls.



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


Beautiful map outside the history museum.


Nessebar “world heritage.”


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


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!



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





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


Map of Nessebar when it was still known as Mesambriya.


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


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.”


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


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




St. Stephen Church:






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




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



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!


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


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






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”!




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





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.





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


Next up, St. John the Baptist Church:







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


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!



Next stop, St. Spas Church:



I loved the stonework outside of this one:


Inside, so many beautiful frescoes!










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):









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!



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






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






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!




The colour and detail of these murals were exquisite.



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





The torment of St. George in prison. OUCH.


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






St. Todor church was not open:





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!


My final stop was the Ethnographic Museum.



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!



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!


See, just like today! 🙂


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



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.


This dress looks very risqué despite the centre panel!





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



Craft magazine from the beginning of the 20th century:


Embroidered lampshade with layers of muslin. Not my taste!


Wedding album:


A very favourable report of bustling Nessebar in 1786:


Fifty years later, a contrasting report:




More about the changing ethnic composition of Nessebar:


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


Traditional Bulgarian clothes:


A very low table and stools:



Stairs down out of the museum:


Exterior of the museum from the courtyard:


I then wandered aimlessly, trying to orientate myself.







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



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. 🙁



(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!




Lovely door into a restaurant:




Back to the western fortress walls:










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:



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…


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!




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.