Once again, it seems, I have gotten very behind in my blogging. For our Easter trip this year, we decided to be brave and adventurous and attempt traveling using only public transportation to visit Bulgaria and Romania. So on Good Friday, we boarded a bus headed for Skopje, spent the night there, and were up early the next morning for another six hour bus ride to Sofia, Bulgaria. Unfortunately, Sofia was not our final destination, so we hopped a train in a decidedly Eastern Block era trains station and continued on to Plovdiv. Completely exhausted when we reached Plovdiv, we found a taxi and discovered that our hotel - though wonderful - was neither near the train station nor the old town. Per the staff's recommendation, we headed to a Greek restaurant for dinner where we found our waiter had actually been to Kosovo. And that was about the last positive comment we heard about Kosovo for the duration of our stay in Bulgaria.
The next morning, we ventured forth to find old town. Since it was actually above the modern city, we got slightly confused and ended up walking around most of it before we discovered that
we needed to go up the hill to get there. In the old town, we found the Ethnological Museum, which was very interesting and had many traditional tools and clothing on display, as well as someone making traditional handcrafts. We also discovered that before Lent starts, Bulgarians participate in parades and some form of morality plays and wear truly frightening masks. It was in old town where we also got the feeling that most Bulgarians do not like the idea of Kosovo. Usually when we say we live in Kosovo, most people ask which military or UN group we are with. This time, we were asked it we were missionaries or Mormons! After we explained to the shop owner that we were, in fact, teachers, he began to tell us all the reasons why it was dangerous to live in Kosovo and many other negative remarks. We soon stopped telling people that we lived in Kosovo. My favorite part of old town was the Roman amphitheater. For about a Euro, we could walk all around and on the stage and the areas above the stage, as well as sit and enjoy the sunshine in the seats. I was reminded of
sitting in Dionysus' Theater in Athens and wished that I could expect friends to just appear as we were sitting there, as Kate and Alex had done. How amazing it would be to see a play - any play - acted out on an ancient stage like that! As we left old town, we continued our bout of confusion by not being able to find any of the recommended restaurants that served local food. We did, however, manage to stumble upon the center of new(er) Plovdiv and the expansive pedestrian area. Whereas in Prishtina we have one street about three blocks long that constitutes as the pedestrian area, Plovdiv had at least three or four times that much - wonderful! We managed to find gelato and a group from the American University of Bulgaria who were advertising their performance of Grease! that evening. Excited to see a cultural event - and curious as to how this musical would turn out - we bought tickets and made our way back to the hotel for some rest time before dinner and the show. The musical was amazing and the students had tons of energy, which is certainly needed for a musical like
Grease! However, most of the humor was lost on the audience, but we were chuckling along. After the musical, we returned to our hotel for some much needed rest before we traveled on the next morning.
On the train again, we prepared to spend most of the day getting to Varna - a costal town where we hoped to relax on the beach by the Black Sea. The weather put paid to those plans. After an excruciatingly long train ride, we arrived, made it to our hotel, got directions to a restaurant serving local food, and made it to the restaurant just as the clouds opened up. The food more than made up for the weather. Fried stuffed peppers made it to the top of our "foods we love in the Balkans" list and we ate until we could eat no more. The next day we spent most of our time trying to figure out how to get to Constanza, Romania, which turned out not to be possible on the day we actually needed to go. So we ended up skipping Constanza - another Black Sea town - and booking ourselves bus tickets to Bucharest. By the
time we finished downtown - where I managed to find Gatorade!!!! - it was getting late and we were getting tired. We walked down to the shore just to take a look and decided that someone had a lot of work to do cleaning up the beaches before the season opened. Great discovery of the day - thermal spa, where we decided to spend the following day. We returned to the restaurant from the night before and had a relaxing evening in our rooms. The next day, we finally made it to the beach during "warm" daylight hours and I found the sea was absolutely freezing! By the time Deb had taken a picture of me standing in the sea, I was numb past my ankles and spent the next five minutes with my feet buried in the sand as I tried to restore feeling to them. In need of serious warmth, we went to the spa and spent about three hours lounging in the sulfur-smelling, but delightfully warm, thermal pool. We returned to the same restaurant for our last, wonderful Bulgarian meal and tucked in for the night, knowing we had another long day of travel ahead of us.
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