The next day was anticipated to be the most stressful of the trip but not for the reasons I had imagined. Christine made her connection on time to Heathrow and met us there. The flight to Sofia was on time making it likely we would make our connection. The problem was our plane (British Airways) came with no luggage on it as was common for all of terminal 5 as well as 3 that day.
The flight to Bourgas went well; we rented our car quickly and headed to Nesebar, stopping at a Lidl to buy toiletries.
Nesebar is a small island connected by a short bridge to the mainland. It is the usual resort town with plenty of shops and restaurants. We walked around purchasing clothing and beach items. I had 3 days of clothing in my backpack but my 3 traveling companions had only what they were wearing.
We stayed at the Royal Palace which is a very nice hotel. Everything worked well and the included breakfast was pretty good.
That night we ate "Uncle George's". I had Uncle George lamb , Teresa had lamb stew, Christine had a pizza and Shane had a mixed grill- all good. I got some fake-out gelato on the way back.
After breakfast- a little late as it was Christine's jet-lag day we went shopping and museum visiting. We bought the 5 combination pass which was 4 churches and the archaeological museum. The churches had some interesting art and the museum was better than expected. I bought a cap and shorts that could double as bathing trunks.
Back to the room.
After a brief rest we headed to South Beach- about a 15 minute walk. We rented 4 lounge chairs and 2 umbrellas. Shane and Teresa went swimming in the Black Sea.
After sunning for a while we headed back, stopping for fake-out gelato, which was our lunch. Further along I found Mirindi carbonated lemonade which wasn't bad.
Back at the room we called BA again and found out our bags had been located and were now in the Varna Airport with no way of delivering them to our hotel there. We would pick them up at the airport.
After cleaning up we walked around the island, stumbled across a children's singing competition which we watched for a while.
For dinner we went to Plakamoto which was highly rated. Christine and I split a caesar salad with anchovies. Teresa and Shane split any ordinary salad. I had chicken stuffed with mozzarella, bacon and roasted peppers; Christine had mussels; Shane has Skadfish (large fried baitfish) and Teresa had chicken with dried tomatoes and spinach.
We wandered after sharing some fake-out gelato and back to the room.
In the morning we drove to Sunny Beach and walked around- very touristy- I bought post cards.
On to Varna airport to retrieve our bags and then to the hotel.
Teresa and I were upgraded to a studio- huge room.
We went first to the nearby cathedral which had back to back weddings so we didn't stay.
From there we went to the archaeological museum which had English and was very informative. It contained the oldest processed gold ever found- from 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.
We then walked the promenade and had some different fake-out gelato. We spent some time at the Cathedral on the way back.
Christine (who Mary Jo has spoiled in regard to restaurants) chose this night. It was called di Wine and it was di licious.
I had a beer, Shane a fancy one and the girls shared a half liter of white wine. Shane and I shared a frittered calamari salad- terrific; Teresa and Christine shared a beet salad- they thought it was good.
For the main course, Christine and I had duck leg confeit which came with garlic mashed potatoes. I had missed the potato part and ordered potatoes separately. Shane had venison over sauteed pear with a cabernet sauce and Teresa had salmon in philo pastry with bernaise sauce.
For dessert we had 2 slices of chocolate cake, one cake of Baileys Irish Cream and vanilla ice cream- there was also some fruit I was obliged to eat. The entire meal was wonderful.
In the morning, after a good breakfast we went to the Pedestrian area and on to the Sea Gardens .
We walked through most of the 7 miles of them and then came back partly upon the beach. We contemplated making the afternoon another beach day- our last chance- but it was only beach weather when the sun was out- about 25% of the time.
We then checked out another nearby garden before heading back to the pedestrian area, stopping in at a church we had been denied before.
We stopped and got some very good gyros- further walking brought us to the bar de Rouge where first I had ice cream, Shane had a Moscow Mule and the girls had aperol spritzes. When I finished the ice cream I had a De Rouge! - bourbon, apple juice, amoretto, triple sec, grenadine and lime- good enough for me to list the ingredients.
For dinner Christine again chose wisely- Staria Chinar. 3 of us had beer, Teresa had Bulgarian Cider. For starters we shared a shopska salad which included goat cheese, honey and walnuts and brown bread. For the main course I had oven roasted lamb according to an old Bulgarian recipe; Teresa had ribs, Christine had steak and Shane had duck margret with blueberries and rice; we shared potatoes in garlic and dill and steamed vegetables. Dessert was chocolate cake (think lava) with cherry ice cream, blueberry cheesecake, lime cake and Creme caramel- total about $75.
After breakfast we headed north to Adadza Monastery. Beginning in the 4th century AD they began carving into the limestone cliff face and eventually created a primitive monastery. It was in a delightfully wooded setting.
Next we backtracked south then west to the Stone Forest. Columns of stone occurred naturally here- various explanations. Unique as they were, the mystery was heightened by the fact that they were all hollow.
Further west to the Madera Horseman- carved in the face cliff- nicely done but not on the scale we were expecting. At that stop we climbed 486 steps to the top of the cliff and the fortress ruins. Halfway down we found the caves.
Next to Veliko Tarnova- a college town with some history. We decided to clean up first then head out- first checking out the shops.
Eventually we made it to Sammy's Garden Bar where we looked out over the river valley and drank 2 Apple Thief ciders, a sangria and a radler, - $8.40 with tip.
We then headed to Shtastliveca for dinner. The kids had beer- Christine and I shared a salmon pate and Teresa and Shane shared a salad. I had sausages, Christine had spring chicken with baked potato and zucchini, Shane had veal ribs and Teresa had spicy oblongs- with tip $53.00
We decided to go back to the room before gelato as it was next door. Finally very good gelato- large servings $11 for the 4 of us.
After breakfast we went to the Post office and then the TI which we discovered did not arrange English tours for the Fortress.
We then walked to the Fortress - a very large complex.
The Romans built the first walls and in the 6th century Byzantine Emperor Justinian created a citadel. Slavic tribes captured it in the 7th century but soon was fought over by the Byzantines and the First Bulgarian Empire.
The Second Bulgarian Empire took it over in its rebellion of 1185 but in 1393 the Ottomans capture the Fortress and laid waste. We spent quite a bit of time there covering the grounds.
From there we walked to the Monument recognizing the 4 men responsible for the revolt establishing the Second Bulgarian Empire which they claimed brought peace and prosperity.
We then walked along the main road until we happened upon Ego- a restaurant we thought would be good for lunch. Christine and I had cider, Shane a radler; Christine and I shared a tuna anchovy salad. Shane and Teresa shared a normal one. We all shared two large pizzas – one prosciuto cuedo and the other quattro frommagio. No way we should have been able to eat all that but we did.
We decided to take a short siesta.
After our naps I went down to the hotel fitness room and lifted weights while the others went shopping- Teresa lifted afterwards.
We had a fantastic dinner . Shane chose the most expensive restaurant in town. We had a bottle of a local rose and Shane had a radler. Christine and I shared a tomato, onion, lettuce, roasted peppers, bacon, baked cheese and walnut salad. Teresa and Shane shared spinach croquettes. For the main course I had a grilled whole bass; Christine had grilled octopus, Teresa had the equivalent of Chicken Cordon Bleu and Shane had a mixed pork grill -- $57
From there we walked to the fortress to see it lit up at night and allow Shane to take more pictures.
Excellent gelato on the way back. Tiramisu was the big hit.
In the morning we drove southwest. Our first stop was Shipka Pass and the monument dedicated to the 7,000 Bulgarians who held off 27,000 Ottomans. The monument was on top of a mountain in a picturesque spot.
Our last stop before Plovdiv was the tomb of the Thracian Kings at Kazanluk. Our path from there was through the valley of roses but the blooms had already been picked.
On to Plovdiv, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and the European Cultural Capital for 2019. We found our hotel and our parking spot. The 8 1/2 Art Hotel was very nice- great rooms great A/C and a good location. After check-in we walked up the pedestrian street which was flanked by beautiful architecture on each side. Our stroll took us by a small Roman theater and the end portion of a Roman stadium.
At the TI we were informed of a kebab stand- we got the $3 Kebabs which were way too much to eat.
After lunch we visited the Church of the Assumption and another one before reaching the fortress on Nepa Hill which had protected Plovdiv since Thracian times.
We stopped at a Billa supermarket on the way back to the room.
After a rest we took the 2 hour Plovdiv Free Tour. Our guide, Katy, was very informative and entertaining. We covered quite a but of ground and learned a lot of the history and culture of Plovdiv.
After cleaning up we went across the street to Hemingway's for dinner. I started with a Thessoloniki Salad and had pork ribs chocolate souffle and beer; Shane had bruschetta, risotto with veal, chocolate souffle and beer, Teresa had bruschetta, salad, bread and spilt a chocolate souffle with Christine, Christine had bruschetta, risotto with asparagus; the girls split a bottle of wine- again $57.
After breakfast it was first to the mosque and then back to the room to put on shorts and then to the Odeon at the end of the Roman Forum.
Then we walked toward the other end of the Forum. We then went through the Tsar's Simeon Gardens and fountain area.
Then to the Roman Stadium and first a 3-D movie about it. The stadium is 240 meters long and 50 meters wide. There are 15 rows for spectators allowing for 60,000 fans. It was much like the Circus Maximus in Rome and the largest in the Balkans. Only part has been excavated as it runs under the major commercial street of the city.
From the Trap to the major Roman Theater, again, one of the largest in the Balkans.
From the Theater to the Old Town where we visited three homes of rich merchants who tried to outdo each other in luxurious dwellings. Two of the homes had art galleries in them.
For lunch Christine and I started with McDonalds chocolate milkshakes- on to the Turkish sweets shop where we got chocolate baklava, pistachio baklava and Turkish delight. Shane and I split a pizza.
We went back to the room to rest and cool off a little. We then went out for more shopping which took us across the Pedestrian Bridge over the river. Back to the room.
For dinner we went to Atlas - much fancier than I expected. 3 large beers - (Teresa demurred), I had a margarita salad, Teresa a spaska salad; Shane and Christine split a green salad. We had an appetizer of grilled pate on baked apples, fruit chutney and blueberries- delicious. Christine and I had Duck L'Orange; Shane had spicy lamb cutlets and Teresa had linguini carbonara. We also got some very good bread -$75.
We then checked out the fountains at night.
We then checked out the fountains at night.
In the morning we headed to Rila Monastery, first part was on the A1 and then more scenic and slower roads through the mountains.
Rila monastery was a splendid complex in a lovely setting. St. Ivan had been a hermit here when Christianity took hold in the Balkans. His relics are claimed to be responsible for several miracles.
Next to Sofia airport to return the car to the understaffed agency. Took a taxi in and checked in at the Hotel Niky and left at 5:30 p.m. for the 6:00 p.m. Sofia Free Walking Tour. Again an attractive girl, this time Deni, showed us around Sofia as she related the history of the city and the country. We saw Roman ruins, churches, mosques and the synagogue ( all from the outside) along with buildings from the communist era.
For dinner we went to Nadjidrangovite Izbi and we got a table in the cellar. 3 of us had a half liter of radler; Teresa had cider. I had a shelyce salad, Christine a shaska salad, and Teresa some cold beans. For dinner I had a pork sausage kebab with potatoes, onions, coleslaw and beans; Shane's was similar- but with a sweeter kebab. Christine and Teresa each had the chicken cordon bleu thing again and everything was great- $47.
On the way back Shane and I had gelato- mine was lemon pie and strawberry- the lemon pie was fantastic
In the morning we decided to see the interior of all the building we had gone by the day before; this included the mosque, several orthodox churches including St. Sofia and St. Sofie, but no synagogue as it was Saturday and it was closed.
Next was the archeological museum which was quite nice and well laid out with some interesting artifacts beginning with the Paleolithic. We all got gelato on the way back to the room. As I had offered a sample of my lemon pie to everyone the night before, we almost exhausted their supply of it on this trip.
(Advertisement for an ancient circus)
(Advertisement for an ancient circus)
At 1:25 we headed to the Free Sofia food tour. We were lectured on both Bulgarian and Balkan cuisine. We had 5 stops where we sampled various soups, pastries, sandwiches, bread and spreads.
Back to the room. Going out we first went to get drinks on the Promenade- Vitosha Boulevard.
After drinks we headed to our restaurant- Monosterica Machelia. Its menu was based on old recipes from Bulgarian monasteries. We had great meals everywhere in Bulgaria- this may have been the best. Shane and I had craft beers, the girls split red wine.
For starters we had stuffed peppers- amazing, and tomatoes with bleu cheese. We also had bread with chibritsu and two spreads. I had lamb forestkye- delicious- Shane had deer meat with bacon in a tasty sauce; Christine had rabbit (Priest's wife party) and Teresa had pork and beans. The girls had cherry liqueur afterward; we had cognac- $79.
Next was travelling day- Shane had to get up at 3:30 for his flight home; Christine's flight home was at 2:30 and our flight to Warsaw was at 2:40 so in the morning we were able to walk in the large park and then pick up the dress Christine had chosen the night before.