Tuesday 30 August 2016

Bad service, great service

Toma, our host in Pleven, drove us to the bus station to help us get our tickets to Ruse. After being redirected to two different ticket windows by indifferent employees, the one where we were supposed to buy our tickets was closed with a note indicating a lunch break from 12:00 to 12:30. It was already 12:45 and the bus was scheduled to leave at 1:10. Tomi called the phone number posted on the window and found that the the clerk was paying personal bills at another kiosk in the bus station. She basically told Toma that she would be done when she decided. So we waited and in the end got our tickets just in time.

In contrast, the next day we took a local bus to a nearby monastery. The fare for the trip out was 2.80 BGN (about $2.10). When we got on the bus for the return journey, I had 2.80 BGN ready to pay. I handed the ticket seller (a guy in his twenties) the cash. He promptly handed some of it back and said with some pride that "on this bus you only pay 2.40". He asked where we were from and then thanked us several times for coming to visit his country.

The guesthouse in Ruse

Our room

The Basarbovo Rock Monastery near Ruse

Monday 29 August 2016

Pleven, Bulgaria

We spent two nights in Pleven. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes it as "a languid and fairly lacklustre place". We thought it was a great town with a wonderful and extensive pedestrian zone with lots of caf├ęs and park benches for relaxation.

The day before we were to arrive, our original accommodation reservation was cancelled because of a plumbing problem. The host, Toma also rents a room in his apartment and offered that to us instead. That would not be an arrangement we would normally choose, but we thought it might be an interesting experience.

The apartment was in a typical  apartment block on the edge of town. A lot of older apartment buildings in the region have run down entryways and stairwells. Most of the owners don't have enough money to fix up the common areas of the building. Owners that do have some money will fix up their individual units but the rest of the building could be quite shabby. Toma's apartment was very modern inside.

Toma told us his whole life story until late into the evening. The next day we walked around downtown and toured the local museum covering the 1877 Siege of Plevna.

Catching the train to Pleven

The apartment block where we stayed

Our very modern and comfortable room

Socialist monument

Pleven Panorama museum

Friday 26 August 2016

Day hike from Vratsa, Bulgaria

We were in Vratsa for two full days. The first day we went on a day hike in the nearby Vrachanski Balkan Nature Reserve. Our hike started with a walk to the nearby village of Zgorigrad. From there a trail went to seasonal waterfall. At this time of year the creek was already dry. The trail, known as the Vrachanski Ecotrail, had been built in 1999 included a lot of wooden stairs, ladders, and walkways to get over otherwise difficult hiking terrain. From the top of the waterfall the trail went through forests and meadows. Along the way we were stalked by sheep dogs, lost the trail a number of times, and eventually followed a very steep direct trail back to civilization (which amounted to sliding down a gully for and hour and a half). Our reward was supper at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant surrounded by the mountains.

Cliffs outside of Vratsa



Farmstead in the middle of nowhere. When we got close, the sheep dogs started barking and then continued to follow us for at least a kilometer after we has passed by.

Vratsa, Bulgaria

We took the train from Sofia to Vratsa. Vratsa is a town of about 70,000 on the edge of a plains and the Balkan Mountains. Our hotel was a little worn, but for $36 per night including breakfast, we are not complaining.

On the train

Our hotel

Street scenes

Bike & walking path outside Vratsa

Bulgarian barbeque

A not uncommon scene