Saved the Bulgarian Best for Last

Trip Start Mar 28, 2010
Trip End May 31, 2011

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Flag of Bulgaria  , Rousse,
Friday, July 9, 2010

With poor weather forcing us to adapt, we chose to begin our adventure north to Ruse a little sooner than planned. We wish we could say the bus trip was uneventful but the truth is, it wasn't. For some reason we were convinced the only way to get to our destination was to travel first to the port city of Burgas, connect to the next port city of Varna and then transfer to a final bus bound for Ruse. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the second minibus ride that we realized we could have caught a direct bus to Ruse via Burgas, a move that would have saved us a little cashola and more than a few hours on the road. Rookie mistake but oh well, that’s part of traveling. Once in Varna we were told the next available bus didn’t leave until 6pm, another 5.5hrs... what are you going to do? Tickets bought, we settled in for the wait, passing time with planning, internetting (free wifi!) and a few snacks. When the time came, we boarded the bus and set off on what was to be a four hour ride.

While Bulgarian buses are very nice, they, like Turkish ones, do not come equipped with washroom facilities. Normally not an issue – unless something you ate at lunch decides it’s not finished with you. About thirty minutes into the ride, Lyndsey’s belly began to roll and when it became too much, she had to ask the bus driver about an emergency toilet stop (through the translation of fellow passengers). Her options, she was told, were to either wait until the next gas station (location unknown) or use the side of the road... bravely, she opted to try to wait it out. Thankfully, the bus was able to stop about ten minutes later. Once on the road again we were happy to discover the bus we had boarded was actually the express bus to Ruse and instead of 4hours of transit, we would only be traveling for another 55minutes. Perhaps karma is smiling after all? The rest of the ride was quiet and we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery that sprawls across northern Bulgaria – lush green trees, rolling emerald hills and fields of blooming sunflowers.

Arriving at dusk in a sodden Ruse, we settled in at our hostel, the English Guest House, and then set off for our evening meal. We will admit we were a little sketched out as we ventured off to find food as we discovered the first few blocks around our hotel to be virtually deserted and a little worse-for-ware. Even the main pedestrian street we came across seemed quiet, considering it was Friday night. However, we soon discovered a small cafe serving what looked to be decent food – and it was packed with locals. Apparently we weren’t the only ones the rain was keeping inside. As we walked across the cafe threshold, we got the distinct impression we were possible the only non-locals around - one could almost hear the music screech to a stop as everyone in the place turned and stared at us. The moment was short lived however and ultimately the meal was good, the drinks were wet, and afterward  we were exhausted. Time for bed.

After a fitful sleep, we rose to discover the weather was only marginally better in Ruse though the rain did seem to be much lighter. Our purpose in traveling to this spot was less about sightseeing – though with its rich history of Roman, Slavic and Ottoman occupations, sights are not entirely lacking – and more about experiencing Bulgarian people and the culture. We did spent a few hours wandering the area around town centre, taking in various Soviet monuments, a few overgrown parks  and people-watching at the town’s main square, boasted to be Bulgaria’s largest. We then ventured to the banks of the Danube River, an area we discovered was popular with locals for everything from chess games to swimming. That evening we went on the advice of our hostel owners (and our Lonely Planet!) to a local eatery famous for its traditional food, entertainment and rustic display of Bulgarian culture – we were not disappointed. Our hotpot of food was so good it was hard not to stuff oneself just to get 'one more bite’. Our surroundings were reminiscent of a hunter’s lodge, complete with animal pelts covering our seats and hay insulation poking out of the spaces in the walls. The entertainment consisted of traditional Bulgarian songs sung live by two singers which sparked numerous spontaneous traditional dances from other patrons of the restaurant. We could have spent more than the few hours we did taking it all in however sadly, food coma called us home.

Ruse turned out to be an almost picture perfect end to our time in Bulgaria. Being able to experience a culture up close, without the usual throngs of tourists, has been something we’ve been treated to more often than not on our adventure in this country however nowhere has it left us with such a sense of fulfillment as in Ruse. We are sad to see this little land go.
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