I regretted suddenly leaving our friend’s house in Sofia, but I was trying to get out of town before it got too late, and the weather intensified. It had been a test of our patience driving through the traffic last night, but it went quite smoothly this afternoon. As forecast, the rain continued to get heavier as the evening went on. This proved to be quite scary with the supremely dark mountain roads that we found ourselves driving along, especially as the rain started turning to sleet…
It wasn’t too much night driving before we reached our camp location in the tiny village of Koprivshtitsa (which I still struggle to pronounce).
We’d arrived in pitch darkness, so it was nice to see the town and the area this morning. I was a little worried that we’d wake up to flooding, or even snow, but luckily we had neither – only grim skies, and lingering fog. The smell of burning coal and timber hit us the moment we opened the door to leave.
The park was just a short walk from the centre of town. We had plenty of curious stares, and had yet to see another tourist. However, no sooner had we arrived in the centre of the old town, a busload of Japanese tourists arrived!
The main ‘museum’ we wanted to visit was also the same that the Japanese tourists were attempting to visit – and it happened to be closed, for no understandable reason. There were many other preserved houses that could be visited in town, so we grabbed some tickets and went off with a map in our hands to explore the town. Tickets were the bargain price of €3 to enter 3 houses. However, it turned out the map was terrible, and wasn’t much more than a scribble on a napkin, copied to a nice piece of paper. Thankfully the town was quite well signed – in Cyrillic.
The first house we visited was Dimcho Debelianov’s house. I’m sad to say that I hadn’t heard of him (nor any of the other owners of houses that we were going to visit today). He was a somewhat famous poet, who unfortunately passed away during the fighting of World War 1. The house is said to be in more-or-less the same state that it was when it was used by him, with similar furnishings and decorations. It was an incredibly vivid shade of blue, with a deep dark timber second layer.
It was incredible how small the ground floor was – Risa’s head touched the roof! The rooms were decorated with beautifully colour rugs, for which this town was quite well known. There was lots of history and information about the former owner, and for fans it would be quite amazing.
The second house was the larger and grander house of Todor Kableshkov. He was one of the rebels/heroes that helped overthrow the Ottoman control of the country. I look at these houses now, and can’t believe that a station master could have such a grand house. I couldn’t imagine being able to afford such a large and stately house.
Anyway, depressing thoughts of future property ownership aside, it was a beautiful house, inside and out. The second floor had a beautiful open arrangement, with rooms radiating out from the central opening. This house was also a museum, telling the stories of the freedom fighters and their rebellion. I’m still amazed at how much new information we continue to learn about the wars of the twentieth century.
In between houses, we stopped by a small old church, also painted a most unusual shade of blue. It was both vivid and bright, but also quite dark. Inside it felt more like a town hall that was holding an antiques sale than a place of worship. The layout, decorations and adornments were absolutely unique for us.
Our final stop was at the Lutova House Museum. This house, like every other building we’d visited today creaked in such a manner that it’d be impossible to sneak up on someone in their sleep. It was truly incredible how much it noise each and every step we took made.
This house turned out to be the most elaborately decorated of the trio. There was amazing decorative wooden panelling on the ceiling. The same vivid shades of blue made their way inside this house, and I questioned how long I could live somewhere like this.
It wasn’t just these preserved houses, the entire town felt like a museum piece – but not in a sterile way. The tiny alleys, bridges, and cobbled lanes were a pleasure to stroll through – even in the near freezing conditions.
All this walking around in the cold had really given us an appetite – in all honesty, just being awake gives the two of hunger pains. There weren’t too many restaurants serving food at this time of the season, but one of the recommendations from Lonely Planet, Mehana Pod, happened to be open for customers. It was heavenly warm inside, and we felt supremely cosy and warm. The food was obscenely cheap, which might have been one of the reasons that we (I) ordered so much food. I started with some deep fried cheese, which was delicious, until it started to cool down about a quarter of the way through the first slab – something half the size would have been too much. I had more deep fried goodness, with a croquette with more cheese (local fetta), as well as a large plate of beans with an insanely good sausage. Risa also ordered some soup and mains, and our total bill was only just double digits – €11.
I wish that the weather could have been more pleasant for wandering around, but even with the two of us shivering and slightly damp, we loved this timeless village.
We enjoyed the hot springs in Rupite so much that we wanted to visit some more. Our friend’s children told us about the town of Pavel Banya (Banya means bath/sauna here, too). After seeing barely any tourists the past few days, we found them all here. The town was filled with luxury hotels and resorts, which to our poor fortune, didn’t take in day trippers, as they were full.
We had noticed these large grassy hills in the area, which looked quite out of place. We accidentally ended up at one and found out that it was an ancient Thracian Tomb – but it was closed for the day. We planned to return in the morning – but regrettably, our drive north into Romania didn’t take us past any others.
Buzludzha is one of those places that are likely famous due to social media. It’s an abandoned and enormous UFO-shaped former communist building sitting proudly on top a mountain. The giant tower featured a glowing red star that was said to have been visible from both Greece to the south, and Romania to the north. We saw it from quite some distance away, and had been driving towards it for most of the afternoon. After leaving the Thracian Tombs behind, we climbed up a steep and equally disused road, filled with potholes and soft shoulders. There was a thick layer of dead leaves covering the road, which were decaying and slick, and not the kind of thing you want to be driving over in a front-wheel drive motorhome.
It is still a sight to behold, absolutely dominating this area, but getting closer you can realise how poor condition this building is in. The forecourt is being taken over by weeds, and you can see daylight through the enormous holes in the roof. There is something so powerful about the design from this era, and Risa and I both absolutely loved it.
Entrance is officially closed to tourists, however, plenty of cunning folks have been finding ways into the building. The main doors are all shut quite solidly, so people have gotten creative. I’d read how to enter, and thought we’d give it a go. So, if anyone is reading this, at the time we visited the way to enter was to walk around to the left of the building, and look for a small manhole on the floor about half way along the building. You can slip down through this hole, and shimmy along some sketchy looking rusted shelving, and then make your way inside. We took a second look at it, and after grabbing some torches decided it truly wasn’t worth it. We were overtaken on the drive up here, and we could hear the other group of tourists inside. Of course, a huge part of me was jealous, but I wasn’t going to risk injury – especially since Risa can’t drive a manual car.
We’d caught the very tail of the day’s sun, and we could now see the area visibly becoming darker by the second. We were a little disappointed to have had so little time to look at the building, so we decided to spend the night up here nearby. It was the best of intentions, but probably quite poorly thought out. The wind howled all night, bringing with it freezing cold sleet and rain.
It had been one of the coldest nights in the van we’d experienced, though maybe it should have been expected, since we were at 1500m. My phone said it was 1˚C in the town below, and with the thick layer of ice on the outside of the car, and covering all the plants, it wasn’t hard to believe.
We’d parked up here in the cold to get another view of Buzludzha, however, we could barely see the exit to the car park that we’d camped in. I had the thick layer of ice from the windows before we could even consider leaving. Thankfully the road was free of ice, as this road was sketchy enough in the wet with all the slick leaves, let alone with the chance of black ice!
The fog eased a little as we entered the forest, though we could still barely see beyond the next corner, and this is how it continued for the next thirty minutes – me desperately squinting into the distance, hoping to catch some clues of the road ahead.
The town of Veliko Tarnovo sounded quite interesting, and we’d planned to visit – if for nothing more than somewhere to have a nice lunch. But, we missed the turn off to get to the old walled off part of town, and unbelievably, it was going to be more than 20km detour to turn around. The weather was still miserable, so we regrettably gave up on it.
Continuing on the theme of things that we had good intentions of doing, but missed out on, were the monasteries at Ivanovo and Basarbovo. They were only a short detour on our path to Romania, but from the searching we could do, they looked closed for the year…
This was our last stop in Bulgaria. Romania was just across the river, and we’d be there before it gets dark for once.
Lonely Planet described this town as ‘like a little piece of Vienna that has floated down the Danube’. At the time, I hadn’t been to Vienna (this blog is about two months out of date) and was having second thoughts about visiting. I’ve since been to Vienna, and I can kind of see where they were coming from with the comparison – but it’s a stretch, as there were only a few buildings that were a shabby version of the grandiosity of Vienna.
Anyway, we had missed lunch, and were now in that terrible zone between lunch and dinner. It was too long to wait for dinner, and we were now too tired and uncomfortable to search for a restaurant open at this crazy time of the day.
As luck would have it, the recommended restaurant in our guides, and the highest rated in Google Maps, Chiflika, was open – even if we were the only guests in the cavernous interior. It felt a little like a tourist trap (not that I imagine all that many tourists come to Ruse?), but the food was actually fantastic. I had a fantastically seasoned dish of fried pork, with onion, peppers and garlic, while Risa had some rich soup.
We were bloated and lethargic after our shameful display of gluttony. I talk about being embarrassed of how much we eat sometimes, but I can’t truly feel that way, because I never change and always over eat at restaurants. Correction: I always over eat when my money stretches far enough to allow me to.
Romania was on the other side of the Danube River, which we’re going to be visiting a few more times over the coming days. There was a small temptation to follow it towards the Black Sea, but it just doesn’t feel warm enough to enjoy the water. Plus, I can’t imagine it being as good as Croatia and Greece, both of which were still fresh in our minds. There was a small toll road to cross the bridge into Romania, followed by a 15-minute queue at the border. It was lucky we weren’t truck drivers, as their queue stretched for kilometres. We finally made it to the border and handed over our paperwork. After 10-minutes sitting and patiently waiting, while other cars came and went, we started to get worried. But, eventually they returned our passports and our car’s registration information and let us on our way into Romania with only a few minutes of light left in the day.