Saturday, November 2, 2013

Travel update

Most of my weekends here are spent traveling, either to Sofia or another city in Bulgaria, and up until last weekend I'd only stayed in my town on weekdays. I couldn't help it, all the sites in Bulgaria were calling to me! Travel within the country is really cheap and convenient, as there is a fellow Fulbrighter living in nearly every large city which means free housing. Bus fares are really inexpensive and there's nearly always a route that will take me where I want to go (save this morning, when I foolishly assumed I could get to Sofia early on a Saturday. Nope. Blog time!). And truly, I LOVE THE BUS RIDES. They afford so much time for reflection and give me a chance to understand Bulgaria’s topographical layout. Each bus ride adds to my mental map of the places I've visited and when I return home, the flat map hanging on my apartment wall takes shape and thickens with personal reflections brought back from each weekend's adventures.

Here's a quick recap, mostly through photos, of what I've been up to on the weekends. I've now been to the Black Sea, Plovdiv, Varna, Stara Zagora, Veliko Tarnovo (the medieval capital!), Gabrovo, Buzludzha, and of course good ole' Sofia (the modern-day capital).

One of my first Bulgarian ventures landed me in Plovdiv, an absolutely stunning city about an hour bus ride from my. A buddy and I took a quick trip here one weekend and found it to be well-paced and more unique from other European cities than the capital, so refreshing. We attended a huge city-wide arts and music festival, complete with live jazz in the streets and art shows in all the city's galleries. Made some friends, shared great conversation. A successful trip! The below photo captures the city's famous Roman ruins...a forum/ theater/ gladiator fight arena. Yes, gladiators. Gore!

The following weekend, my friends and I stayed with another ETA in Gabrovo. It was a very nice visit, but my bus ride to the city started out kind of rough. On this particular trip, my stop was not the final destination, so I needed to be really aware of road signs and distance traveled. However, I was feeling terribly car sick and kept dozing off and on while my bus wound through the mountains. At one point, I woke up at one of our stops in a state of utter confusion and tried to ask the man sitting in front of me where we had stopped. I thought I asked him correctly in Bulgarian, but I saw the what-are-you-saying look on his face, so I repeated myself slowly. He still had no clue what I was trying to say. A voice behind me said "Tell me in English." So I did. The voice then explained where we were, asked what I was doing, and informed me smugly that most people in Bulgaria understand English. The pictures below are from that weekend, during which I also saw Buzludzha and Veliko Tarnovo.

These two fine specimen are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Yes, I'm serious. No, I am not quite sure what they're doing in Gabrovo. Welcome to Bulgaria! Actually, this was a really neat display. Both sculptures are made from repurposed trash-- old shovel heads, oil drums, etc. Innovative!

Below are some pictures from Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument. It's situated on the highest point of the surrounding hills and offers the most breathtaking view! Plus, abandoned building and exploration!

This is the window we had to climb through to enter. A determined group we were.


After Buzludzha, we ventured to the old medieval capital, Veliko Tarnovo. Why ins't it the capital anymore, you ask? I think the easiest response is that Bulgaria wanted to keep a closer eye on Serbia soooo, to Sofia and the border!

And then my travel destination from two weeks ago, Varna, a seaside city! And this lady with an infinity symbol on her behind! And this beautiful cathedral! And these kittenses! I LOVE ALL THE BULGARIAN CATS. I'm getting to the point in this blog post where I'm just typing away like a crazy lady!

My first glimpse of the Black Sea. The clouds were full to bursting, the beaches were vacant, and I was sharing a deeply meaningful conversation about how I want to spend my life with a good friend. A day for the books.

And lastly, my latest jaunt. This past weekend, I decided I was just too tired for big travel so I opted instead for a day trip to Stara Zagora, a city roughly 40 minutes from me. I met up with a friend and we had a wonderful time catching up and exploring the historical sites of the city, including the ruins pictured below and a really odd yet moving commemoration to Bulgarian volunteers who had fought the Turks in the Russian-Turkish Liberation War. Read more about the monument here.

Bulgaria has an incredibly diverse landscape for being such a small country. There are sections that roll like the sea and on cloudy, brooding days remind me of English moors. There are flat, scrubby lowlands that run parallel to distant mountain ranges, reminding me of driving through the flat expanse of Boulder, Colorado which runs right next to the rockies. Everything is at once familiar yet completely alien, and I love it. Traveling here fills me with the strangest sensations!