Ciao Bulgaria!! Thank you for the amazing foods, sights and people!
This visit was a bit different from the others so far. Mainly the difference is that we stayed with friends!! Laneys friend from school, Vali, visits Bulgaria with her parents every summer. When Dede (Vali’s Mom) heard about our trip she invited us to include their beautiful country in our tour and offered her home in VelikoTarnovo! A generous and wonderful offer. And, although I had never spent any extensive time with Dede, I was confident it was going to be great. And it was even better than I imagined!
Another way this was different was that Laney fell ill. Boo hoo. It was good timing though, and I will explain what I mean.
Laney and I flew into Sofia from Rome. The flight was pretty uneventful unless you count how I fell into the guy next to me when I fell asleep on the plane. Yikes!! how embarrassing. Lol. I was just SO TIRED!! Ha. He was not amused 😒
Upon arrival in Sofia we went through passport control and gathered our bags and hopped in a cab to the bus station where we bought tickets to Veliko Tarnovo. We had some time before our bus so we went to the food court area upstairs. One place was cafeteria style. Yay! ALL THE FOODS!! Nothing was in English so Laney went the safe route with a chicken breast and some potatoes. I took some risk. I got some salad and a mysterious casserole like thing. It was the only interesting choice that didn’t look cheesy or fried. Ha. Turned out to be pork and cabbage and wonderful! I also grabbed what I thought was milk. It tasted more like thin buttermilk. I found out later it was drinkable yogurt. But I was good so no worries!! Ha.
The bus ride was 2 or 3 hours. Funny thing about buses. They don’t tell you where you are. No announcements. And the bus station isn’t usually identified – No signs like you see at train station. So, when the bus stopped, I wasn’t sure if it was the right place to get off. But then, there was Dede waving at us! Yay!!
We piled our stuff in a cab and arrived at Dede’s apartment in just a few minutes. The apartment used to belong to her dad who was a professor at the university nearby. Dede’s dad passed away about a year ago and so Dede uses it now for her extended visits home. Dede’s mom still lives here in Tarnovo but in a different part of town
We unpacked settled in and Dede made us a ‘snack’. Ha! It was dinner. Shopska Salad. Banitsa bread, yogurt. YUM! Not that night, but Dede also made us a great type of Bulgarian sausage, called kebapche. It’s amazing. Sometimes in a link sausage shape. Sometimes in a patty like a small burger. SO GOOD.
Later when things were a bit cooler we headed into old town and saw the beautiful castle. It’s lit up nearly every night with music and everything. We didn’t catch the full show because of timing etc but it’s a beautiful sight at any time of day!
We got some gelato and then stopped for a drink and a snack at a bar/restaurant. It was beautifully set under some trees on an open terrace. I had missed this biergarten type atmosphere (like in Germany) while we were in Italy. Here It seems they call them summer gardens.
Here’s something interesting. There are cats and dogs everywhere!! The pub had a handful of ‘resident’ cats that demand attention and fight over scraps. Some are more friendly than others. Laney and Vali enjoyed the cats everywhere we went. The dogs don’t hang out in restaurants but you can see one almost anywhere you go on the streets. Apparently, in Bulgaria they don’t cage or euthanise stray dogs. They neuter them, vaccinate them as needed and set them free. Assuming of course they aren’t aggressive. And some of these dogs are quite adorable!!
After that it was home to chill. Again via taxi. We took taxis everywhere. We weren’t going far and they are quite reasonable and accessible. I should mention Tarnovo is not a big busy city. It feels more like a town. With beautiful views!!
While at her home, Dede was kind enough to share with me some of this very special liquor. It’s called Rakia. A fruit-flavoured brandy. It can’t really be described, but it was wonderful. Also, it belonged to her dad. He made it! So, it was an incredible feeling that Dede shared it with me.
Over drinks :), Dede explained to me some history and geography of Bulgaria. It’s a very diverse little country. There are the Balkan mountains that run though it. They divide the country into North and South. The south is somewhat warmer, and there are great beaches on the Black Sea, which used to be fresh water, but became salty (a long time ago) when a canal opened up between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. Cool right? Dede couldn’t stop talking about their recent trip to the Black Sea, in Sozopol, Bulgaria. You can read about the Bulgarian Riviera, here.
A perspective on Bulgaria within Europe
Specifically the Black Sea and Aegean Sea
This is the canal between the Aegean and Black Seas.
Some research in writing this, I’ve learned these are called the Turkish Straits. And there are multiples. I got this from Wikipedia.
For sleeping arrangements Laney and I were to sleep in the living room which had a sectional. Little did I know it converts into a bed! Like probably queen or king size. Not like a sofa bed on the states. It’s much cooler than that. And more comfortable too!!
The next day. Bad news. Laney started to not feel well. Laney and Vali opted to stay home while Dede, Dora (Dede’s Mom) and I went to the historical town of Arbanasi. It had some wonderful historic buildings and museums. Pictures below are from a house that is from the 1300s (If memory serves) and has been preserved as it was then, including the kitchen and other furniture. A few interesting things about the house. First, it’s kind of like a fortress. All the windows have inside and outside thick wooden shutters. And the locks on the doors (there is a pic below) are not kidding around. Neither are the doors – all very thick wood. the kitchen was beautiful and amazing. Each room had a fireplace of sorts, but most of these had 2 sides, not between rooms, but where you could put the wood in one side, and the heat would come out the other side. It seemed to me the main reason for this was to keep the wood, soot, dirt, out of the room. That part was in a little hallway leading to the room. This way, you could heat the room without making a mess. Pretty cool!
Beautiful doorways (above) and shutters shut tight
The stairs are made of very heavy wood, and the decorative tiles on the side were so beautiful.
The kitchen oven.
Dora! explaining all about the historic house. She could make a killing doing tours!
Pots and pans in a small room off the kitchen
Again with the beautulf archways, and see the dishes and bowls above. gorgeous
Above, is a door with a very serious locking system. Close the door and insert the metal weight, like a railroad spike, through the hole. Only it’s about 5x the size and weight of a railroad spike. Serious security!
After touring the area (which also included a small collection of animals. Rabbits. Ducks. Peacocks. And a Summer Garden. Next to a playground. Have I mentioned how much I love that idea? I keep picturing a corner of the North Street Playground with chairs, umbrellas and a bar. Perfect! HA!
The entire area was high on the hill so the view was incredible. There were also fruit trees everywhere (in Bulgaria in general, it seemed). Plum. Pear. Walnut. Dede, Dora and I had dinner there then headed back home to the kids.
The next day Dede decided we needed to see a doctor for Laney. First, Vali and Dede went to visit some family. In the afternoon we went to the doctor who diagnosed Laney with a sinus infection and gave her a script for some antibiotics and something for the congestion. We settled at a restaurant for dinner and Dede was kind enough to run to the pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled. This is why it’s serendipitous that, if Laney was going to get sick, she got sick here. Dede’s doctor is also a family friend so we were able to get into the doctor last minute, plus the visit didn’t cost much. Most importantly, we had a translator!
That dinner was on an outside porch type of restaurant. I had mussels and I think they might have been the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of mussels! It was a simple garlic and wine sauce, but so amazing! We also had some great sushi!
At that restaurant, there were window boxes of flowers on the outside rail. One was right next to us. In the middle of dinner, I saw the smallest little hummingbird. It flighted around the flowers for just long enough for everyone to see it (and, after a moment, BELIEVE me that it was a hummingbird) before taking off. So great!
The next and last day with Dede and Vali, we bought our bus tickets (for the next day) and then visited Dora at her home. She has recently adopted an adorable kitten so that was fun. She also put out an amazing spread of coffee, yogurt, banitsa, fruit, all the foods!
I have special place in my heart for Dora. I can’t 100% put it into words. But I think it is partly that she physically and emotionally reminds me of my moms mom, Stephan who passed away when I was 7 and was about the age Dora is mow. Plus Dora is so warm and loving. She and I can’t actually communicate directly (she know more English than I do Bulgarian, ha). I wish we could. But there is a connection there, for me at least, nonetheless.
Dede and I went to old town to do some shopping. The silver jewellery here is so beautiful. I picked up a couple pieces. 🙂
Vali and Dora joined us. We stopped to eat. Had pork tongue and a traditional Bulgarian dish cooked in a terra-cotta type pot with sausage, tomatoes, peppers, onions and of course feta type cheese and egg YUM!!
While at this bar/restaurant, I got to me He He Hitler. WHO? A cat with a moustache that looks similar to Hitler, so the name. HA.
After dinner, Vali and Dora left. Dede and I stayed a while and had a few drinks with some friends. Fortunately for me Dede’s friend Neven had spent several years in the US so his English was very good. Because my Bulgarian is awful. Ha. Really, it’s non existent. I can’t even gesture properly. I’m not kidding!! In Bulgaria nodding means NO. Ha. So try thinking yes, saying ‘Da’ and tilting your head side to side. And then try thinking No, saying ‘Ne’ and nodding!’ Seriously, give it a shot. Now do it after 4 glasses of wine. Ha! I laughed every time I tried!! Neven probably thought I was nuts!
The next morning Laney and I caught a bus to Sofia. On the way, there was some road construction. I saw a man using this machine to smooth the concrete. I mean, I don’t get around much, but I had never seen one before. It’s called a power trowel.
In Sophia, we were staying at a hotel close to the airport but expected to go into the city of Sofia on the bus first, and then grab a taxi out to the airport. I was pleasantly surprised when the bus stopped at the airport. Laney not so much. I rushed us off the bus to save a $20 cab ride back out to the airport. Ha.
We got to our Best Western Premier hotel. It was beautiful! Like a nice Marriott. Whoda thunk? We chilled for a couple hours. That means I napped and Laney got some screen time. Ha. Then took a taxi to Sofia for a walk about and dinner. We really had to push ourselves. Even though it was only 5 we were pretty tired. Laney from being sick. Me from all the wine and nodding the night before. Ha.
We didn’t find the restaurant we were looking for but stumbled across this place with bean bags on the lawn and couldn’t resist. We had a great raspberry drink there. and then dinner … octopus for me. Fettuccini Alfredo for Laney. Finally. She had been looking for it in Italy with no luck.
We walked around a bit more then headed to our room. I wanted to get to bed early for our 2 am wake up. (GRRR). The airline had moved our flight up from a barely- tolerable 7am to an insane 545. So we had to be at the airport at 345. Insert eye roll here. Ha.
The check in counter wasn’t even open when we got to the airport. And I felt like we stood out like sore thumbs. Obviously Americans. Like everyone else was related. Anyway we managed to check In and get through security and passport check. I can you they are serious about their security there. For some reason I set off the metal detectors and was searched rather thoroughly by a security woman. Ha. Very thoroughly. Thank god it was me and not Laney. I told Laney afterwards, she could have at least bought me dinner first! HA.
Off to France for us!!