Heading south to the border that seperates Romania and Bulgaria we finally hit the check points, this check point is next to the Danube river which seperates the two countries. Well did this place look run down! Whether they just don’t take it seriously anymore I wouldn’t know. Passports checked not even a peek inside the van and we are given the all clear, you read the stories of what happens but it just seems like Europe as a whole don’t care anymore, easy come easy go.
Driving through, vignettes purchased and we are in Bulgaria, ever seen their language? Here it goes “Вие не разбирате български” got that! …. Basically that said you don’t understand Bulgarian! They have their own alphabet and good luck trying to decipher it! We drive on in hope to find a campsite outside of Ruse along the Danube, as you do, read reviews and comments about campsites and making sure they are used and up to the job. Well this one had been shut a tad too long, rusted buildings, overgrown fields and basically dogs running havoc. Looks like we will be moving on and bite the bullet to drive abit further to an area we know that has campsites.
Driving towards Veliko Turnovo we notice little tribal like paintings on the power poles, little universal signs for tent with count down of KM’s to how far away it was. Should we check this out? Well down a rough old driveway heading down into what seems like a farm is Trinity Rocks Farm. Looks like a camping plot and we give the bloke a call. Who answered? Worrying if he can understand, well he speaks English ’cause he is English! Run by another English bloke who decided to buy land here and live in the whop whops. Apparently there are 3,000 English people living here and it’s easy to see why, one is the countryside is amazing two dirt cheap! So the owner is called Cliff and he say’s you can acquire a good plot of land and an ordinary house which you would do up, I’m not going to put figures on here but let’s just say I choked a fair bit followed by a taken aback laugh. Things here are very cheap, food, alcohol, LPG and parking! Pensions here are minmal so therefore taxes can’t be risen so say’s Cliff, easy to see that’s for sure. So this campsite as basic as they come along side a little river with pretty much nature untouch it was the perfect spot to just sit and relax, catch up on loose ends and chuck a line hook and sinker in the river and hope for something, apparently large Carp and Barbells. Nadda caught.
Climb up the tree to hang up Karen’s yoga hammock and she would be excited as a child with her first bike! Next lot of trees along and I hang up the parachute hammock from the Nelson market stall, kick back and play a little guitar. In this area we did a walk around the surrounding hill plateau up top and generally chillaxing. Washing done with heating up a steel watering can on the gas and pouring that into the faulty machine, she’ll be right! This is our time up on what was a good way to just stop.
Veliko Turnovo would be our next destination, stunning rolling hills with trees coming out to the warmth of spring. This is an old spot of history, first the main point of interest is the Tsarevets hill with the fortification being the entire hill. Here this was the main fortress of the medieval Bulgarian capital town of Turnograd “the town of Turnovo” in 12th & 14th century. In the early stages Bulgaria had become the largest and the most powerful state in southeastern Europe, the hill itself was inhibited as early as the 2nd millennium B.C. Taking a walk through this old fortress it’s amazing to see how much a panoramic view it had surrounded by the river Yantra, with such a strong imposing structure it was easy to see why this was an important place. At the very peak of this hill is the the Ascension of Christ, the Patriarch Church, this proclaimed in 1235 was referred to as “the mother of all churches in the Bulgarian Kingdom” this church had been restored and has graffiti like paintings of moments in history of medieval Bulgaria, it really was pretty fascinating art work. A little fact about the town itself, in 4300 B.C in the western part of the town was a neolithic settlement which had existed for more than 1000 years. This was an area no greater than 4.5 hectares. The Tsarevets and the Trapezitsa Hills have entered the end of the 2nd millennium B.C with the Thracians setting alongside the Yantra river, just a little something to throw you off in terms of how old this place is, nothing major!
We walk around the town itself and take in the way of life for the Bulgarians, new buildings mixed with old run down shacks dogs everywhere, stray dogs it’s really sad to see. One dog had made eye contact with me and followed us throughout town for half an hour, that’s code for Karen lets home this dog! The poor thing even waited outside the cafe for us and sat down till we were done, then commenced walking with us. We lost her in the end due to a freindly scratch of the head from a bypasser. Bought some traditional pastry from the local bakery from the area we stayed the night, no idea and won’t begin to explain what it was called. Basically it is filo type soft pastry with a really light version of feta cheese sandwiched in the middle, the others were bread pastry with chocolate filled and apple. Delicious!
Also asked a local from the information centre about good proper beer in Bulgaria, tried two of the local ones to this town one being Brittos the other Bolyarka. Also tried a black beer Stolichno (Столично пиво) which I am enjoying to this day.We are ready to move on after enjoying the sights and taste of this interesting town and head towards Plovdiv.
Arriving into Plovdiv would have to serve up as one of the best vibrant old towns yet in Europe, buzzing with people old cobble streets leading to ancient archeological finds of Roman ruins. Hot sunny day delivered this was a cracker. We park very central to the main town down some cobble lane and pay a fee of 50p or a $1.00 an hour it’s somewhat cheap. Head into the middle and we stroll down the old architecture visible both sides of the street, we hit straight away the old Roman Stadium dates back to 2nd century this stadiums capacity was 30,000 and was host for various sports. Here it is directly under the main street of Plovdiv and fully on show to passersby, incredible stuff.
Phillippopolis was the most important city within the Roman empire of Thrace, Plovdiv is the the oldest of the European cities and historians understand it dates as far back as the 6th millennium B.C in the middle of the Neolithic Age. Here we encountered something that was incredibly awe inspiring, The Ancient Theatre, as one of the most important cities on the territory of the Roman Empire, Phillippopolis has it’s own theatre. Dating back to the beginning of 2nd century this would be host to classical drama, dances and music. This was one hell of a find and what a back drop it had behind the theatre, it’s capacity is 6000. Here the photos will do the rest of the talking. What’s amazing about this is how well it has preserved.
Walking around town cafe’s buzzing it’s Thursday shouldn’t most people be at work? Market stalls line the length of streets sell all sorts of crafts clothing and food, it was time for a feed ourselves. I will note there are tonnes of Roman ruins scattered in this city I just named the two most stand out historical sites. Our day is coming to an end here and I got to say, Plovdiv is a must see if you’re in Bulgaria or Eastern Europe. They are vying for a place in 2019 for Capital culture, which Sibiu Romainia won it in 2007..
Next on our journey is Borovec, high up into a well known ski resort in Bulgaria. Here we look for a campsite and set off up the gondola to 2,350 metres to do a walk around the mountain. We reached as high as 2,550 metres and the veiws are stunning, in the ranges themselves they are in spring and have up to 5 metres of snow. They had a full on winter it seems. On the other side of this moutain range is the Rila Monastery in which we will head round the other side in the Green Machine, too much snow for us to battle with to walk on over.
On ourway over to Rila Monastery the temperature is rising quite quickly, sweaty armpits here we come, fan cranking on the dashboard and the next 5 months are going to be quite toasty! Bring on summer. Rila Monastery tucked away deep into the valley we park the night past the Monastery at a campsite sitting next to a noisy little river that’s collecting all the melting snow. All set to go in the morning the Rila Monestry is quite something, the architecture and art work is amazing and the stunning contrast of black and white on the buildings surrounding the monastery. Inside as elaborate as they all seem to be the interior is decorated with artwork. The residential area being built in 927 A.D and heavily restored in 15th century. The Church itself built in 19th century, all this became of a monk called John who for 8 years lived in a cave in this valley before this area formed.
Now onto wine making territory! And Red at that, Melnik is an area that is renowned for its deep dark red wine. Perfect. We drive further into the area and you see why the area is perfect for it, sandstone and limestone and hot dry conditions is what is suited for these wines. Stopping into a small winery that has been around roughy 4 years is a small timer compared to the others, but hey you got to start somewhere and it’s more personal when you get in there and feel the time and effort they put in to what is essentially in their culture and blood for years. This place is called Villa Melnik Bulgarian wine greeted by a young Bulgarian lady who spoke good English gave us a great tour around the vineyard and cellars. The underground cellar which is tunnels and caves dug deep under their Villa took 1 year, the winnery a year and the vineyard itself 10 years for it to be suitable to harvest. They have been making wine for 3 years now and Germany are their top market so far along with other European countries. Now this tour was free along with 5 tastings! We may or may not of bought wine, that is the question! Now these red wines are much stronger than your usual ones as the extreme heat causes the % to go up, all grapes are hand picked and seperated by hand, the bottle machine bottles 700 an hour. The area of the vineyard is 32 hectare. The Merlot we tried was immense along with their other typical Bulgarian reds they are even more intense than normal reds and are said to be a mans drink, I think from memory that the % was around 16 %. The rose was 14%, what a kick! A bonus from this trip is that Karen is not usually a fan, liked some of the reds, excellent stuff!
Melnik with its small shops and pubs along the old cobble stoned road, with many stalls selling red wine in plastic bottles, why not buy one would be rude not to! Walking up till the back of the town we approach an old Bulgarian trading house where trading took place with merchants from Greece, built in early 18th century it was typical how they built and furnished, from underground cellars which is the oldest in Melnik, to a sauna room next to the dining room with the same room also being a trading room to the cupboard next door secretly being a room for a man to listen on the offers being delivered, to work out if it was dodgey dealing or not. Don’t blame them, those greeks ae!
We set off out the valley and there was one yard/garage that took my eye driving past up the valley, I made sure to pull in on the way back. What a find this place was, an old Bulgarian man collecting memorabilia which was essentially a hoarders junk yards dream, old school cars to old tvs and record players to farming equipment it had everything. Why? All because he wanted people to remember what we used to have, what we used and how we used it. Donation was all he asked and it was one hell of a yard of treasure. He would make an absolute killing but is not interested in the slightest.
Our last night in Bulgaria we stayed up the valley from Melnik village in a locals patch of grass with gorgeous scenery, the back drop with the sandstone peaks with the low setting sun shining brightly on its face, this served the perfect spot to reminisce our time in Bulgaria. Again nothing prepares you what to expect in this country and it’s great to just go somewhere and learn something new with a different perspective. This country is bouncing back from the heavy soviet influence and finding its roots again on what they were best at, good luck to them they showed us what a stunning country it is with its superb scenery and old heritage. This is our time in Bulgaria and we set off to Greece with Thessonlonikki being our first stop.