Friday, May 30, 2014

To Bansko

Plovdiv to Bankso by train, certainly one of the top regular (not a tourist train) routes in the world. At Septemvri, 90 minutes west of Plovdiv, we change to a narrow gauge (diesel) and for the next 5 hours head more or less south up to Bansko at 1000 meters above sea level.

Not only is there never ending great mountain scenery starting with a narrow gorge and ending with towering snow capped peaks, but after Velingrad the local Muslim population uses the train like a local bus. Ladies wrapped in colorful smocks and scarfs carrying their Billa bags and satchels full of vegetables sit in pairs engaging each other in soft serious conversations while periodically checking their cell phones for messages. Cows and sheep graze at the the stations.

A group of 4 men also get on at Velingrad. They plop into facing benches behind us and out comes a deck of cards. The first two hands are played before the train pulls out of the station. They are loud and odoriferous as well. SL threatens to move cars but instead puts in her earplugs. The men are obviously locals and after a few stations the four are now one.

Down the aisle in the other direction a man sits down with his 2L bottle of beer and plastic cup. He's joined by a friend.

The conductor wears all black. A long sleeved black tee. Sharp.

Just before Yokoruda there is a thunderstorm but no one seems concerned. We see railroad tracks below and think our train may have come from down there. Tunnels.

There is a mosque with shining copper domes. And now, each small town has a mosque and maybe a nesting stork. Timber country.

After more than hour of serious tete-a-tete arm touching, nodding ascent, head leaning conversation, the two head-scarfed ladies across the aisle suddenly turn ask us where we are going and where we are from and where is SL from. Vietnam? SL pulls out her tablet dictionary. Kitaĭski. Chinese.

The older lady prepares to get off. She takes all her bundlees up to the seat right next to the exit. When she gets off the younger one hands her bundles down. Practiced.

The younger one sits now by herself and smiles at us and talks to heavy buxom woman with head scarf who gets on with a sleeping boy.

The younger one now gets off and is replaced by a plain  woman with a head scarf, two daughters and a son. Her older daughter in western clothes. Her younger daughter could be from Anywhere, USA with straighten hair, sexy outfit with one bare shoulder, makeup, long lashes, and professional jabs and taps to her mobile.

We see the mountains and Bansko in the distance. They get off at Razlog. The car is all ours.

We get off in Bansko just after the "Golf Course" sign.



On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

On the train to Bansko, Bulgaria

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Plovdiv

Rode the train southeast to Plovdiv. After a walk down leafy Ivan Vazov we hit the Central Square and installed ourselves in Hostel Gramophone. Unfortunately, for the first time on this trip we changed hotels after one night as Hostel Gramophone is perched on top of Bar Gramophone and although the young man in charge of the hostel told us everything is quiet after midnight; it was in fact only quiet until midnight.

We liked Plovdiv. They have an Ancient Roman Theater perched on a hill above the Old Town, a Roman Stadium under the lively pedestrian main street, and some stylish 19th century Ottoman/Turkish houses. Not to mention several other hills, Thracian ruins, a couple of outstanding Bauhaus buildings, and some pretty good pizza-by-the-slice.

One day we excurted to nearby Assenovgrad by train, walked 13 kms to Bachkovo Monastery; then rode the bus back to Plovdiv.

Pleasant hours on the train to Plovdiv.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Pedestrian Mall.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

There is a partially excavated Roman Stadium near the Mosque and under the main street.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria>

More than several shots of the distinctive 19th-Century Ottoman-style houses.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Looking over the Old Town from the ancient acropolis.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

A couple shots of the Ancient Roman Theater which was uncovered only in 1972! They are setting up for a political rally for candidate #18.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Pedestrian street.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Maritsa River and covered pedestrian bridge.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Leafy, shady Ivan Vazov Street.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Commuter train to Assenovgrad.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

St George Orthodox Church - Assenovgrad.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Assenovgrad Ancient Roman Fortress and Church.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Looking SOUTH towards Bachkovo.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Remnants of the ancient road.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Stopped in Bachkovo for a drink, water bottle refill, and chat with this man who built the fountain in memory of his father.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The souvenir stand and snack stand gauntlet on the walk up to Bachkovo Monastary.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Monastery with church, monks (lurking on the upper veranda) and grounds.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Sometimes one sees old shoes by dumpsters. Donations to the poor I suspect.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

And finally more between-the-wars Modern architecture from Plovdiv: a house and a school.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria



Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sofia

For the first time on this trip we arrived in a capital city on a day other than Saturday.

The train from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia was uneventful however the last 60 minutes or so are through the spectacular Iskar Gorge. We like gorges, right?

I'm not so impressed at first by Sofia as our hotel is located in one of the poorer sections of town even though it's just 5 minutes walking from the center of City Center. However, we have both grown to like Sofia over the past 2+ days. It has everything we like in a city except a waterfront or river: sites, vegetarian food, good public transport, livable neighborhoods, and lots of parks. Not to mention we scored some Bulgarian yogurt starter.

Our first evening we got oriented and ate at a vegetarian restaurant.

The next day we marked up our city map and did our own walking tour of the sites.

Our second full day, a beautiful sunny summer day, we first stopped by LLBulgaricum where we chatted with the Managing Director. He convinved us that the LBB freezer dried yogurt starter would probably survive the three weeks until we got home, particularly if we can keep in a frigde at our hotle. Then we rode the Metro out to the Museum of Socialist Art, walked back to ur hotel stopping to buy yogurt starter, have a salad and coffee, then beer and a lemonade, then dinner.

Iskar Gorge
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

Dream House Vegetarian restaurant.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Our neighborhood.
Sofia, Bulgaria

St George's Church is surrounded by a hotel.
Sofia, Bulgaria

The Mosque.
Sofia, Bulgaria

The Market House.
Sofia, Bulgaria

The Synagogue with it's Moorish architecture.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

We were mesmerized by the action at these public water fountains; mostly folks filling up plastic jugs with hot water btw.
Sofia, Bulgaria

The Guards and their plumes.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Orthodox Church.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Monument to the Russian Soldiers who helped liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

Metro Station.
Sofia, Bulgaria

The Statue Garden at the Museum of Socialist Art. Lots of Lenin and workers.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

Hey! They are selling made-in-Bulgaria Great Wall Chinese cars.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Buying yogurt starter.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Typical apartment  block and market.
Sofia, Bulgaria

There's plenty of western culture and traffic in downtown Sofia.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

The pedestrian streets are pretty lively but we could not find an outside cafe to have a rest and drink where we were not overcome with cigarette smoke...No smoking allowed indoors though - and strictly observed. 
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

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