Who knew that there were all-inclusives in Britain… wait we mean Bulgaria? We couldn’t tell as there were only Brits around! While it has been nice to have a couple of days on the beach we are very happy we did it just before the busy season as the entire beach is now covered in paid lounge chairs except for a couple of small free zones and nudist areas.
Our excursion out to Nessebar couldn’t have been better with the weather being almost as gorgeous as the small island itself. Fortified walls and turrets dating back to the 5th century AD greet you when arriving on the island. Nesebar was a key religious centre resulting in over 41 churches being built and claims the title for the town with the most churches per capita in the world! It is extremely easy to get lost and mixed up in the web of Nesebar with the medieval street plan and a church at every corner. But hey, it’s a gorgeous island steeped in history and we had nowhere to be so that didn’t bother us!
After a long-delayed and anxiety-inducing train ride we made it to the old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tărnovo. While the town has existed for millennia, it became an important city when Asen and Peter announced the uprising against the Byzantines in a local church. They would then go on to successfully overthrow the Byzantines and become Tsars of the Second Bulgarian State with Veliko Tarnovo as its capital. The city was very prosperous over the next centuries due to an excellent location on the Yantra River where they created the heavily fortified city of Tsarvetes. Due to the limited amount of tourists through the region, it was incredible how open the fortress was for us to explore. Weaving between the 600 residential, religious, and administrative buildings and walking along the edge of the wall, the site was ours to explore. We were even lucky enough to be there on the last Thursday of the month as it is the free day for tourist attractions! Being the frugal people we are, we took full advantage of this by running around town visiting the fortress and numerous museums. It seems as though Derek couldn't keep up with Jacki and he paid the price! (See picture below)
Due to the price of accommodation, we decided to book a private room at a hostel which ended up being a great decision. Not only did it feed us two, albeit vegetarian, meals a day, but we made some friends who toured around with us the next day! During our Bulgarian research, we found out that the country is quite famous for roses and even has a large festival dedicated to the flower so we decided to check it out! With our new friends, we rented a car and hit the road south and over the mountains. Derek was very excited as not too far from Kazanluk, where the festival is held, is the Buzludzha Monument, a site that has interested him for many years. Sitting on a peak in the geographical centre of the country, the communists built a massive circular meeting place similar in look to a UFO topped with an impressive tower and of course red star. The site was abandoned when communism fell resulting in nature claiming back its peak. While you are no longer able to go inside, the exterior of the bizarre building and the view from the peak was fascinating. After a short visit, we continued on to the Rose Festival which is now celebrating its 116th year.
The usually sleepy town of Kazanluk comes alive for this 3-week festival which is the peak season for roses. While we were not able to attend the rose-picking rituals as they were early in the morning, we did enjoy the rose museum, rose garden, and walking through hundreds of rose related vendors. We also were able to try rose water, rose oil, rose perfume, and an incredible rose, lavender, and orange Slurpee that we would go back specifically for. The small valley around Kazanluk produces nearly half of the world's rose oil with just one gram costing about $23 CAD.
With no crashes, we dropped off the car and headed toward the train station for our journey to Romania.
We plan to try and take as much advantage of our last few weeks on the road and soak up as much as we can. Our first stop will be Bucharest, the capital of Romania, before moving onto the home of Dracula, Transylvania!