This time not only did I slake my thirst to experience once again some of the "true" Bulgaria, but I also showed my abilities as a "guide". Relying on my own feelings, 90 percent of the guests of Sunny Beach are not interested in the "real" Bulgaria, they only need the sea, the beach, the nice weather and the relatively low prices. I will not criticise them for that, everyone is free to spend their vacation as they like it. However, I am glad when some tourists show interest in the real Bulgaria. Because it has nothing in common with Sunny Beach, which is an artificial holiday destination.
I found exactly four interested persons among the guests of the Sun Palace hotel, namely David from Crediton/Exeter, Ralf from Cologne and Rolf and Petra from Halle/Saale.
David, Ralf and I hired Kalin as a taxi driver. On the first day, we set out from Sunny Beach and passed through the villages of Tankovo, Orizare, Gyulyovtsa, Goritsa, Prosenik and Sini Rid to the foot of the Balkan Mountains, and then drove back. My "clients" were impressed by the villages with their free-roaming chickens and geese, where rural life still flowed on the benches in front of grocery stores and on the big squares. In Gyulyovtsa we visited Kalin’s property where he treated us to honey from his own bee hives and homemade brandy. We had lunch in Goritsa in a small and inexpensive restaurant.
From left to right: Ralf, I, David
Our driver Kalin
On Kalin’s property
Kalin detects the alcoholic strength
A view of the village
Lunch in Goritsa
On the way
On the second day we went back along the same way, but at Prosenik we took off to Ruen and thence to Aytos. From Aytos we headed for the small village of Peshtersko where our taxi was likely the topic of conversation for days to come. Or at least this could be assumed by looking at the wondering eyes of the residents, the hens and the geese. For lunch we went to Burgas, to the restaurant "Balkan." It’s run by Ivan, who was the chef at our hotel Sun Palace until last year and whom we knew from our previous holidays. Ivan and his daughter Gergana were very surprised by our visit and were very happy. In their restaurant you can enjoy excellent Bulgarian meals at bargain prices.
Together with Ivan and Gergana in Ivan’s restaurant
The three of us - Rolf, Petra and I, hired a Toyota Yaris for three days and travelling in it we made some one-day trips within the country. On the first day we drove along the already familiar road to Ruen in order to gain an impression of the Bulgarian villages. To the north, towards Dobromir, we stopped to look at "Chudnite Skali” (The Wonderful Rocks). Then we went on to the northwest in the direction of Smyadovo. We were already at the north side of the Balkan Mountains when we had to stop at an interesting railway crossing with closed barrier.
The Wonderful Rocks
The railway crossing
Then something unexpected happened - a real shock. When the train passed and the barrier went up, our car refused to start! The cars behind us kept beeping impatiently, but that did not vex our Yaris. It just didn’t want to leave! What did we have to do? We were in the middle of the wilderness. Even if our mobile phones had have network coverage, how could we describe our location and when would the assistance come? We were in luck and after some time our car gave up. So we gradually learned: Because of the electronic ignition lock we should simultaneously turn the key and press the clutch. At least in theory. In practice things were different: First, repeatedly press the clutch and only then take into account the operational instructions. At the second attempt the car started.
Finally, at Smyadovo we reached the Veselinovsky Pass where we crossed the Balkan Mountains southwards. There we experienced our next "adventure." In a small village we stopped at a restaurant as it was already noon. We also needed to go to the toilet. And it was really Bulgarian one! Well ... The tablecloth looked dirty at first glance. However, it was not really dirty, there were just a number of holes through which we could see the table. And there was no menu. Thanks to my negotiations with the owner, in Bulgarian, we got grilled pork with garnish and drinks. Thankfully, there were beer bottles! Generally, I drink draft beer, but the bottled variety came just at the right time! The food, by the way, was good and at a good price. We had to pay 20.70 levs in total, it makes about 11 euro. We gave 23 levs and the owner protested in force. He pointed at the money and said: "Less." I was helpless and again checked the bill. The amount was correct. What did the owner want? You won’t believe it: He found the tip too big! He returned two levs, taking only 30 stotinki (about 15 eurocents) as a tip. As I didn’t accept the money, he finally took all of it. By the way, the other guests in the restaurant looked at as if they had just jumped from the travel notes of Karl May "In the Gorges of the Balkans" - picturesque and gloomy. If I had had no companions, I would have been very depressed. In fact, I can imagine that we were the first foreign visitors there and people spoke for us for a long time thereafter.
On the way
After the festive lunch we continued our way to the south, until in Karnobat we joined the main road Burgas - Sofia. We drove along it westwards until we reached Sliven where we admired the “Blue Stones” from the bottom. Then, again on the main road we went back to Sunny Beach. Along the way we stopped in the village of Lozenets, at a new resting place (coming from Sofia, it lies on the left after the exit of the village and from Burgas - when entering the village on the right). It offers a good service and well-maintained European toilets. I can just recommend it.
On the second day, we went to the south of Burgas to Strandzha Mountain and through Malko Tarnovo to the Turkish border. On our way we stopped at Breshlyan, a picturesque historic village, which was the meeting point of a big jeep safari. We did some sightseeing in the historic school and the church and had lunch at a nice and affordable restaurant with traditional Bulgarian dishes.
The entrance to the museum and the church in Breshlyan
The students used to sit there
The teacher used to sit here
From the so picturesque town of Malko Tarnovo we headed directly to the mountain, along the Turkish border eastwards to Tsarevo on the Black Sea coast. Although the map showed that it was a main road, the good asphalt pavement was often riddled with potholes. It took us almost three hours to travel a distance of 60 km. We passed through villages where you could hardly imagine that people lived. If, away from any settlements, you see a horse in the woods, then most likely there is a gypsy camp nearby, sometimes guarded by police. We did not photograph this, of course. There were mobile border police points. While we passed without being stopped, a car traveling behind us was stopped for a check.
The Turkish border
The church inMalko Tarnovo
Finally, reaching Tsarevo, we came back to the civilisation. After short refreshment we headed back home along the coastal road. The word “coastal” is somewhat misleading, because the coast is not visible at all. In Burgas we stopped at Ivan’s place, whom also Rolf and Petra knew from the previous year.
During the first two days we enjoyed mostly landscapes and nature. That’s why we decided to devote the third day to culture. We departed early from the hotel. We drove along the main road towards Sofia until we reached Kazanlak. On our way we were subjected to a police check. After being stopped, we pulled right and waited. When the policeman came, we cheerfully greeted him with the German "Guten Morgen!" It was obvious that he collapsed. "Damn it, foreigners! What have I done to deserve this?“ he must have thought. However, he was honest, checked our documents very quickly and wished us "Dobar Pat!" (Nice Journey!)evidently happy to get rid of us. We had a lot of fun with this story!
From Kazanlak we headed northwards to the Shipka Pass. At the foot of the pass in the small town with the same name we visited the magnificent Memorial church. Then we took the road up to the monument at the top. Both sites were built in honour of a decisive victory won by the Russians and the Bulgarians against the Ottomans in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877/78, as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from the Ottoman yoke that lasted almost 500 years.
The Shipka Memorial Church
The Shipka Memorial
After we had visited the memorial we continued northwards to Gabrovo and thence to Tryavna - a town with a picturesque centre in the Bulgarian Revival style. From Tryavna we headed to the west. At Voneshta Voda we reached the Pass of the Republic. From Gabrovo to the Pass of the Republic we did not travel on the main roads but took the shortcut directly through the Balkan Mountains. We were convinced that it deserved the name "Balkan" (in Turkish it means "wooded mountain"). The Bulgarian name is “Stara Planina” (Old Mountain). After the Pass of the Republic we continued southwards until we joined the main road Sofia - Burgas. It took us home. We had one more police check, which went on in the similar way as in the morning. After a short rest in "our" resting place in Lozenets (we were fascinated by the toilets!) we finally headed for the hotel.