Slow train to Bulgaria

Trip Start Aug 29, 2005
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Onto Bulgaria - where rural means rural, dyed hair is the current trend - 'RED', bronze, gold, etc. but a hair cut for both of the kids only cost $2.50, and you will meet some of the friendliest people ever. Just be sure not to misunderstand a nod of the head for yes - this means no!
БЗФР Љеб - am sure this means hello, how are you?! Of all the traveling we have done over the years, the roman alphabet is primarily in use. Throw in a different alphabet and you complicate matters a great deal.
Lesson #1: When renting a vehicle it is always a good rule of thumb to know what direction your village is and how to spell it in the Cyrillic alphabet! The way we were spelling Mindya, we thought it was NW of Veliko Tārnovo when in fact it was SE - thank you to the gas station lady for pointing us in the correct direction!
We were always able to 'find' a friendly Bulgarian grandmother who ignored the fact that we did not understand ANY Bulgarian, and prattled on telling us that we must get those hats, hoods, and mitts on the children.... It is + 1 o C after all! There was always someone who would jump to our assistance with bags or stroller when clamouring off buses and trains. Once again - travelling with kids does have its advantages......
We didn't see the Black sea - another visit. We had a short stay and at the cusp of spring but enough to see what beauty there is in central Bulgaria. We saw only a small part of Bulgaria - in the North - but with being close to Veliko Tārnovo, we saw city life and the rural life of Mindya. Every morning and evening in Mindya, goats and sheep (and their shepherd) passed by the house - excitement for all. We really enjoyed being based in one spot for 6 days, toodling about exploring and relaxing. Given the speed of the trains, distances, and the fact that we needed to retrace our steps into Romania - the decision to stay in one spot was just idyllic.

Veliko Tārnovo was once the capital of Bulgaria. The move to Sophia was a recent political move (19th century) in order to bolster their claims to Macedonia and other parts of the Balkans. What a shame, the city of Veliko Tarnovo was built on a gorge on the snaking S-shaped Yantra River. It has the natural defenses of the gorge system and the splendor of being located on a river valley with many majestic views. We arrived at 8pm and with the lights overlooking the city, the castle/fortress was an impressive sight. From what we were told, Veliko Tarnovo is the heart and soul of Bulgaria. All the history is in this one city and once here why would you go anywhere else. We would have to agree....
Lesson #2 Don't try to mail anything to Canada from Bulgaria (and to some extent Romania), not only is it next to impossible, the postal workers would not have any idea as to how much it would cost. So few people can afford to mail goods abroad, that the post offices rarely offer international postage service. Bulgaria has applied for EU membership but we are afraid that it will be many years before Bulgaria attains western European standards in just about every sector. Services are quaint but any service that requires connections beyond Romania are not that common. Presumably different in the capital cities....

We also noticed that throughout Eastern Europe the air quality or lack of it is something you quickly become aware of. One can see the air in many of the Eastern countries. Clear days are rare and the 40+ years of Communist rule has taken its toll on the environment and the landscape. How can we ever really understand (and not in 3 weeks) what these countries have gone through over time and history.
But if you want the charm of a European country the way it was 40 years ago then Bulgaria is the place for you. It is a country where horse carts are common, outdoor plumbing normal or Bulgarian style bathrooms where you shower and wash the bathroom en meme temps, and small scale farming with labour intensive practices still in use. Of course the hiking/walking in the hills and mountains, beaches are all raved about but having not explored those parts.....
We thoroughly enjoyed Bulgaria.
Train north at the end of March entailed a LONG (2hr) border crossing inclusive of a medical questionnaire re avian influenza contact! Back to Sinaia for our final 4 days of gypsy life.
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