We spent two weeks travelling throughout Bulgaria in June. It is a very interesting country with a rich and broad history. Our experiences ranged from highly enjoyable to downright terrible, all them making for fun travel stories – some of which are shared following.
VARNA (Black Sea resort town)
Go to Varna. Stay there for at least a few days. Eat lots of ice-cream.
Sun yourself on the sand of the Black Sea. Try to ignore the old men wearing g-strings. Console yourself with ultra cheap cocktails from the beach-bars.
Don’t visit the Dolfinarium unless you plan to rescue the dolphin caged in a ‘fish tank’ for the cafe visitors’ viewing pleasure. It will make you cry.
Go to Nord restaurant. It’s cheap, cheerful, full of locals and situated right on the beach. Order the ‘little fish’ (like whitebait) a local specialty, calamari, gambari prawns, and salads. Don’t order the crispy fish fillets – they’re not.
Go to the touristy boat restaurant. It has great fresh seafood, sushi and sashimi. Very good and very affordable.
Do the free walking tour. Varna is full of out-of-the-way Roman ruins – including the second largest known Roman bathhouse.
Go the archaeological museum. It’s excellent, thorough and has English wall texts. You’ll learn lots about stone tools and flint blades, Greek and Roman trade, numismatics… it goes on. Don’t miss it.
Stroll through the ‘Sea Gardens’ (botanical gardens) with an ice-cream (have I mentioned how delicious Bulgarian ice-cream is yet?). Visit Foucault’s pendulum at the planetarium. Walk backwards over the bridge of wishes and make one.
Check out war ships and helicopters at the Naval museum.
Travel to your next Bulgarian destination with Bio-Met busline. They’re excellent.
Don’t trust the Lonely Planet for hostels and hiking.
Don’t stay at the Nomad’s hostel; they’re called Nomads for a reason.
If the nice hotel next door to your Nomads hostel is double the price, it’s worth it. For 40 Euro per night you will have a shower over spa, not a shower over toilet and overflowing toilet paper bin. Oh, and your room will have a lock on it.
Don’t bother with the hiking trail to the monastery; it’s harder to find than the Lonely Planet suggests. You might get shot at.
Do trust the taxi drivers; they’re okay.
Don’t bother the girls at the Information Centre; if they deign to speak to you they’ll tell you to take a taxi there. They don’t have hiking maps.
Do the free walking tour. It’s excellent.
Try the ice-cream; it’s possibly more delicious than Varna’s.
Trust your husband to cut your hair; he will do a great job.
Don’t try the museums unless you read Bulgarian; they need a bit of curatorial work.
Do visit Pedro’s Shop; they have very cool hand-made earrings.
Do visit the fortress complex. Don’t pay for the sound and light show; You can see the lights from anywhere near the complex.
Take a taxi to the hilltop village; if you’re lucky you’ll catch a Bulgarian folk music festival and meet traditional rug makers. You might buy one.
Eat at the renovated old Tavern. They have 5-star food and service at 1-star prices. Be sure to try the katuk, kiaoupoulou and other dips; possibly the best in Bulgaria.
Do trust the Lonely Planet for restaurants.
On the trams, make sure you have a 1 leva ticket for your luggage and validate it; or make a 40 leva per person, on-the-spot donation to the public transport authority.
Don’t tell the hostel administrator that you’re not going out on a particular night; you will be asked to cover him.
Wear your very best hiking shoes around town, the cobbles are out to get you. (Just how do the Sofian women get by wearing 5 inch platform heels??)
Do the free walking tour; it’s great.
Do take a day trip to the Rila monastery. It’s spectacular. Pay the extra sum to visit their museum. (We didn’t stay there, but the Hiker’s Hostel let us join their day trip).
Post something home so you have the entertainment of using the Post Office. Be sure to use the correct entrance for parcels as for letters. Take an explanatory note written by your hostel administrator, it helps! Your parcel will make it home, in record time.
Go to Plovdiv. Stay there for a few days. We only had one and couldn’t fit in everything we wanted to.
Try to see a performance at the Roman amphitheatre. It’s in excellent condition and is brilliant.
Walk yourself around town to see the Roman ruins – the Forum, Odeon and Stadium. The excavated seating area of the Stadium is excellently presented, it actually runs beneath the full length of the main mall.
Wander through little cobbled streets of the old town. Walk up to see the ancient city walls, and take in the view from one of the seven hills of Plovdiv.
Visit the Ethnographic museum. It has beautiful textiles.
Try the ice-cream. Judge for yourself which city has the best. I vote for Varna. Josh votes for Plovdiv. Possibly the best in Europe. (Stay tuned for our Italy tastings for comparison…)