BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA

BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
Or more like Veliko Tarnovo >> Rose Valley >> Buzludzha.

The latter being the sole reason why we were in Veliko Tarnovo, a random must-see off the beaten track. Literally. Vince had heard about the now dilapidated communist monument through a friend and some research and he HAD to go check it out. In the meantime, while he figured out logistics to Buzludzha, we befriended a ton of fellow travelers at the hostel. All of whom also heard through the traveling grapevine of this famed 'UFO' fallen to ruins.

As we excitedly chatted about this communist remnant oddity and complained at how expensive the hostel's day trip to the site is, we all eventually came to the same conclusion: Why not rent a van together? It's so much cheaper when split 7 ways and this way, we can take our sweet time.

In 2 days time, we picked up our soccer mom van, appointed the youngest of the group as soccer mom (he's also one of a handful who can drive manual), and loaded up on road trip snacks. 4 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Argentinian, 1 Kiwi. A whole day's adventure ahead of us with a mini van at our disposal. How exciting! But first, quick stop to Rose Valley, the world's largest producer of rose oil. To Rosovo we go, hoping to catch a rose festival. After driving around for a bit, we couldn't find anything remotely related to roses or festival in this tiny village. Kind of a disappointment and a minor setback, so we backtracked to Kazanlak to figure out an alternative gameplan while we lunched it out.

So here's what we came up with. Check out a nearby Rose Distillery. That way, all our rose efforts didn't go to waste! And you know what? On our drive to the distillery, ALL these rose fields mysteriously popped up! What the what!

The rose distillery itself was a nice mini diversion. It smells fantastic here and it's a way prettier version to look at than the rogue rose fields we've passed up. V and I bought Rose Rakia for our hostel mates as an aperitif (and digestif!) for dinner later that night, wandered around for a good 30 minutes, then jetted off to Buzludzha.

On our drive up the mountain and through the numerous switchbacks, we hilariously tried to play some communist music. Not an easy feat, as the internet connection deteriorated the further we ascended. Not to worry, us Americans (4 of 7 in ze mini van) came prepared with commie jokes. And sure, we even threw in a few stereotypical 'Amurica! F yeah! We can do whatever we want - We're American!" jokes.

Yah, we went there. Gotta get into the Cold War spirit! =P

Buzludzha didn't disappoint. With flashlights, we climbed through a hole of the front entrance, straight into the damp foyer filled with massive fallen ceiling pieces. Meg had brought her fiddle along and started playing an Irish tune as we tentatively walked through the debris, up the stairs, and into the enormous circular meeting hall. Where it's just as dilapidated, with colorful tile mosaics stubbornly clinging to the walls and graffitti adorning every inch. The wind whipping through the exposed beams. It's an awe-inspiring feeling, walking amidst the past whilst in the present. We, as a group, eventually commingled in the center and lingered a bit, taking it all in.

Kevin: "What's a communist walk?"

Suddenly we all started walking in a circular congo line fashion, high kicking and fist-pumping in unison. While chanting, "Da! Da! Da!" This goes on for a few giggly minutes. I must say, one of our more funnier Communist vs. Capitalist moments! If only we took a video of it! Now off to scale the top of the monument ...

Which is only an exhausting climb of 15-20 flights of stairs (ladders?) in an insanely tight space. In the dark. Occasionally passing by open closets full of freaky, questionable objects and sometimes piles of empty beer bottles. Oh, the wild imagination! 25ish minutes later we've reached the top, pass the giant shattered communist red star and up on the tippy top roof, where presumably the Communist flag used to fly. But, oh! The views! An unobstuct 360 panoramic view of the Bulgarian rolling hills and lush green forests. The perfect spot for sunset gazing.

We've tried to linger as long as possible for the sunset, sitting on top of the exposed metal beams, still cracking Communist/American jokes and still trying to play Communist songs. Anything along those comical bits to keep ourselves entertained, which is not hard to do when you're in good company. =) Even had a good laugh over Kevin's stint of an American doing Commie pull-ups: "What's your favorite American number? ... 1776!" LOL. But, alas, sunset in these lands sets at an unusually late hour. 830ish? Maybe 9. We figured it wise to leave before it gets too dark as those horrendous Bulgarian roads ain't no joke. And so we've started our slow descent.

Once we've reached the bottom and out to fresh air, we were met by a curious Bulgarian wondering the outskirts of the monument. He asked where we're from, in which soon thereafter his eyebrows shot right up when he finds we're mostly Americans, "What are you doing here??!" Lol, we're not here to commerate anything. Purely for the Communist novelty, I assure you, sir. ;-) And with that we clambored into the mini van and zoomed off towards our hostel. Towards our late night dinner and towards our late night hangout where we rehashed memories from that day.

We came into this adventure as strangers with a common love for curiousity and unknown wonders. We left as friends. The magic of travel - it never ceases to amaze!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 75F
Stay: Hostel Mostel. 20BGN/person for 10 bed dorm. Breakfast and Dinner (with Beer!) included.

Recommend: Free Walking Tour.
Off the Beaten Track: Buzludzha. Day Trip as offered by the hostel is 80BGN. Highly recommend renting a car. In our case, we rented a mini van and split the cost 7 ways. Van rental is 50BGN. Gas is 40BGN. Please note: Bulgarian roads are not in the best shape and therefore may take longer to reach destination than expected.


-jin-

BULGARIA 2016 // SOFIA + RILA MONASTERY

BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
We were able to do a walking tour and free food tour on our brief stay in Sofia. Unfortunately, we didn't do it any photo justice. I know, I know. How dare us! Somewhere in between all of the above and meeting up Zory's friends, Maria and Vesela, for coffee and socializing with our hostel mates and catching up with the Korean dudes we've met a few weeks back in Kapadokya and waiting out the rain ... we somehow forgot to keep up with the photo documenting. Simply put, we were too caught up in the moment, so please excuse the lack of Sofia visuals! Everything's on snapchat, though! (Snapchat: missjinjin)

But I assure you, Sofia is not as bad as most travelers pegged it to be. Sure it's probably the least 'cultural' of the other Bulgarian towns, leaning more on the fast city life and vibrant night life. The very huge and very long Vitosha Boulevard full of trendy stores makes for a great leisurely stroll, and we hear from fellow hostel mates that hiking the Vitosha Mountain is quite nice, which is easily accessible at the end of the boulevard.

The one thing we did managed to photo document was our day trip to Rila Monastery offered by our hostel. Now we aren't fans of day trips provided by the hostel, mainly because it's kinda pricey and the allotted time given at these sites aren't nearly long enough for our liking. Also, these tours normally run in the middle of the day aka peak crowd hours. V and I like to spend a lot of time at certain places for photog opportunities and proper exploration, all preferably done early morn. But we didn't really have any choice as we lacked time to research the much cheaper option: car rental. (We heard roads in Bulgaria are awful.)

As expected, the 2 hours spent at Rila Monastery was way too short and rushed. The grounds were full of tourists and the noon day sunny conditions made for contrasty situations, a combination that no photog prefers. Though it's certainly worth the trip from Sofia, as it's the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Not to mention it's quite the looker with an undeniable personality. Unlike any monastery I've seen. The monks did great with this one!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 70-85F
Stay: Hostel Mostel in Sofia. 24BGN/person for 8 bed dorm en suite. Free Breakfast and Free Dinner (with beer!). If you don't want to rent a car to Rila Monastery, the hostel offers day trips for 40BGN/person.

Recommended in Sofia: Free Walking Tour and Free Food Tour.


-jin-

BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV

BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
Aside from Sofia and a dilapidated Communist building in the middle of nowhere, we really didn't know where else to go in Bulgaria after hunkering down in Istanbul for 1 week. So we sent out a 'plea' for recs via Instagram. There were quite an overwhelming preference for Romania, not so much love for Bulgaria. But ONE Instagrammer did pull through and his name is Henry (@humminglion). Not only did we lucked out, I mean, we really hit the jackpot with this guy, because his girlfriend (@zorymory) happens to be Bulgarian! And one from Plovdiv! A city we've tentatively contemplated about (seems many travelers prefer Plovdiv over Sofia), but weren't quite sold until Henry and Zory came into the picture.

So with Zory's extensive list of her hometown's recs, V and I set out to explore tiny Plovdiv, the future European Capital of Culture 2019 and one of the world's oldest cities. Plovdiv has a lot to offer, it's sights easily covered in 2 days time. A mixture of ancient Greek ruins and quaint medieval masonry, with remnants of Communism mostly seen outside the touristy parts. There's a beautiful huge expanse of park goodness, 6 famous hills to climb, a long strip of very modern shops set below very old buildings that looks like a century or 2 old, and an even older part of town covered with very wonky cobblestones. There you can stumble upon many historic markers and catch a panoramic view of the city from one of the famed hills.

Most of which can be covered with a walking tour. Highly recommend, though. It's always a good idea to catch one of these. A quick history/info rundown ain't hurt nobody. In fact, we try to go to one in almost every city we visit. Half the time we end up befriending fellow tourists along the way, grabbing dinner and/or drinks afterwards. In this case, that just so very happened. And we had the best time with our new friends! 1 Belgium guy, 2 English girls, 1 Turkish dude. We all happily chatted it up over Bulgarian cuisine, trading travel stories. Lots of jokes, lots of laughs. Even properly ended the very long dinner hangout over Rakia. Nazdrave!

Coming into Bulgaria not expecting much, I must say, Plovdiv was a nice surprise!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 70-80F
Stay: Best Rest Guesthouse. 45BGN for private room, 20BGN/person for 4 bed dorm.

Recommend: 2 hour Free Walking Tour
If you have 15 minutes: 3D Movie of Plovdiv in 2nd Century AD
Eats: Grazhdanski Klubb

***** AS RECOMMENDED BY ZORY *****
- Plovdiv Roman Theatre
- Contemporary Art Center
- Old Town. The old town is pretty much the star of Plovdiv. They are some churches and museums within the Old Town that are worth checking out if you are interested in how things used to be: Ethnographic museum, St. Constantine and Elena church.
- Kapana. Known for small shops and coffee shops. Young people like to hangout in the area.
- Tsar Simeon Gardens. Small park where locals like to sit and people watch.
- Alyosha Monument on Bunarjik Hill. The statue is interesting because it represents the way communist people used to do things - big with lots of concrete. The hill has 360 view of all of Plovdiv and it's popular destination for high-school kids the go watch the sunrise after prom.
- The Dzhumaya Mosque. There is a little cafe/sweets shop in the Mosque building. They have really good Turkish tea and sweets.
- Art News Cafe is one of my fav cafes, artsy people hangout there, the bartenders are usually up to date on interesting things that are happening around the city, ask them! Get the Mursalski Tea, it's a rare tea that grows very high up in the mountains near Plovdiv.
- Apartment 101. Popular bar. Sometimes it has live music.
- Vitex 90. Get Zelevi Sarmi (traditional fermented cabbage leaves + rice dish) , Kiselo Zele S Bob (also very traditional and they make it well, it's fermented cabbage with beans) and Salata Spanak (spinach salad) . For dessert: Mliako S Oriz (milk rice pudding). They sell the food by the Kilo so that makes it great for you to try many things.
- Popular day trips that you can do with buses out of Plovdiv are: Bachkovo Monastery (similar but smaller than Rilla Monastery), Asen Fortress, Seven Rila Lakes, The Wonderful Bridges, Koprivshtitsa, Veliko Turnovo, Arbanassi.


-jin-