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July 6th 2012
Published: July 8th 2012
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Wednesday 4th July 2012





We tried to use a taxi today, for the first time, to get us to the Metro in Pipera but to no avail. The first company didn't answer their phone, the second had an engaged tone whenever we rang. No worry, it wasn't hot yet so we walked to the corner for the bus, which arrived with only 2 others aboard so no problems with our bags.

The train to Rousse, our first stop in Bulgaria, left right on 1300 as timetabled. The trip was stated to take 2.5 hours but actually took 3.5. This was no real problem for us except the carriages were very hot, especially when the train stopped. This it did for what seemed like ages in the town of Giurgiu, right on the Romanian border. Here, the Customs and Immigration officer took our two passports and another two from another couple and wandered off to a building nearby. Maybe it was afternoon tea break, but he took ages to return with them. Only after we had them back could the train move on. Luckily the train was nearly empty, hate to think how long they would take with
Fields of sunflowersFields of sunflowersFields of sunflowers

We saw these on the train from Romania.
a packed train of tourists.

We finally crossed the Danube River, the border between the two countries, and found ourselves outside the Rousse railway station in 35+ degree heat trying to get our bearings. There were no ATMs there so we were stuck for local cash to catch a bus. (not that we could even see a bus or stop) The chap we thought was a tout turned out to be a taxi driver and he offered to take us into the centre of town for 5 euros. This was at least double the going rate, but we gratefully accepted.

The cool, clean reception area was a welcome as we entered the Riga Hotel and we were pleasantly surprised to be told that our room had been upgraded. On seeing the room we were most impressed, king sized bed complete with welcome choccies, large room with fruit bowl and bathroom on the 9th floor overlooking the city and Danube. On settling in we discussed extending our stay for 2 nights, Saturday being Rags' birthday. Reception said this was possible, we could keep the upgrade, just they would have to charge the extra nights at the higher rate. They
Friendship BridgeFriendship BridgeFriendship Bridge

This bridge now officially named the Danube bridge links Romania with Bulgaria and was built in 1954 with the aid of Russia. It is over 2000 metres long and enables both rail and road crossing. It was very busy with many trucks crossing. We believe it is the only bridge to join these 2 countries.
advised to extend the stay using bookings.com, who we booked through originally, and thereby getting the lower rate. This we did.

Not far from the hotel is Freedom Square from which a mall runs through the length of the town. By now it was after 1700 and we joined the few tourists and the locals for a stroll along it, returning for a drink at one of the many outside cafes fronting it.

From here we continued to Freedom Square where we found a cafe aptly named “Be Happy”. Here, we found waitresses who actually smiled and seemed pleased to serve you! This may have been the first time we've experienced this in eastern Europe. As could be expected, a pleasant meal was had. We both enjoyed their calamari with lemon sauce, something we hadn't eaten for a while.




Thursday 5th July 2012




The only thing on Rags' mind this morning was to get his ear fixed. The fact that he was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other wasn't making him very happy or easy to live with!

A short stop at the Information Office, where a couple of friendly guys assisted us, giving us a map and directions and an idea of places of interest and we were off to the hospital.

Enquiries at the Information desk were difficult at first, the language barrier being the problem. This was resolved by the nearby chemist sort of translating, a doctor being arranged, and us escorted by an armed guard a few floors up. After he knocked on a door we stood for about 5 minutes in the hallway before it opened and a doctor asking us in. Judy noted during our stay that there were ear pictures around but at the time Rags just did as he was told. No mucking about, doctor told him to sit, not move while he looked in the ear with what looked like a funnel. Then he called the nurse and they syringed water into the ear. Next moment Rags could hear again!

They did the other ear for good measure, the doctor indicated he could go and shook his hand. Rags asked if he could pay, the doctor sort of shrugged and said 20 lev which promptly went into his wallet! Rags didn't care, he felt it
The Giant Flower VaseThe Giant Flower VaseThe Giant Flower Vase

This stands at the entrance to a large park. The height is 3.40 metres and its width is 7 metres.
the best A$13 or so he had spent in a long time.

Rags could hear again and his mood cheered up immensely. We looked through a new department store next to the hospital, this having few customers because most shops were still vacant and it was only just before 1100. From there we walked to a transport museum but the inside half was closed and the outside consisted of 3 old trains and carriages.

On our way back to the hotel along the river bank we came to the new floating restaurant we had been told about by the Information office and on impulse entered. Nice and modern with excellent prices, we settled in for a couple of cool, lemon beers, before having a snack of guacamole and local flat bread. This did us for lunch.

The temperature was now in the mid 30s so we spent the afternoon in our cool hotel room where Judy was able to do her work whilst Rags did other important things such as reading and snoozing!

Very late in the afternoon we went sightseeing in the heat, Judy taking some more photos of interesting buildings before we settled at
Monument of LibertyMonument of LibertyMonument of Liberty

Found in Rousse's Freedom square.
a restaurant recommended by the Information office.

Here we ordered much too much food not knowing really what we were ordering, the prices being unbelievably low. We think this is because prices are set for locals, there not being many tourists here at present. Rags did try the local raki, this coming in a small bottle with a long neck, and it is drunk straight out of the bottle. One was enough! It was quite hot in the restaurant and the flies were thick, reminding us somewhat of home so we were pleased to escape although we did toddle away with our bellies almost bursting.




Friday 6th July 2012




Today we organised to have a taxi take us to several tourist spots out of town, this being the only way to see them unless you spend many hours on limited public transport and you walk long distances.

We had organised through the hotel to be picked up at 0800, so that we could do our sightseeing in the cool of the morning.

It was 0830 before the taxi came, this only after another phonecall to the company. Nonetheless, the taxi, when it did come, was clean and air-conditioned, a rarity we noticed. The driver spoke a little English and though not the slowest of drivers, wasn't too bad.

First destination was the village of Cherven, about 35kms south of Rousse. Here there are the ruins of a fortress used in the 12th to 14th century. Leaving the driver with the car we climbed up the steep steps to the summit of the hill on which the ruins stand. Even though much of the area is overgrown we could see the remains of the walls and some of the buildings. The Keep or look-out still remains, this being partially restored. Not far from the Keep we followed a track and came across some English speaking students doing a dig. Many artifacts are still to be found.

Next stop about 10kms back towards Rousse, were the “Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo”. From the literature we were led to believe that this was a group of churches, chapels and monasteries hewn out of rock. Apparently there were about 40 of these, but they are scattered in different parts of Bulgaria. This one consists of several caves high up on the side of a cliff and inside there are 13th and 14th century frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The guide there pointed out various features and stories which relate back to the Bible.

Our taxi driver seemed to have warmed to us as he accompanied us on the previous site, enjoying us trying to take photos of elusive dragonflies on the way down, as well as joining us at the final site, the cave chapel at the village of Bassarbowo. This site is very commercialised, with it fenced in , lawns and flowerbeds at the foot. Typical touristy spot with a monk collecting the entry fee and manning the souvenir table. Not too much to see here,

The driver stopped a couple of times back into town, once to have us take a photo of a valley, the second of a stork's nest on a lightpole. The latter was interesting with the large untidy nest of twigs on top of the pole with two baby storks peering out and a lot of sparrows nesting around the edges.

We had the driver drop us off at the floating restaurant, this saving us the hot walk one way from the hotel. Another tasty lunch was had here, this time a pork skewer, a salad of herring and potato, followed by a large hot plate of chicken with eggplant capsicum, tomato and onion cooked with it . Judy had chosen this - chicken with satch- without knowing what it was but it was definitley a winner with us! This, together with a piece of their flat bread and a lemon beer was more than enough for lunch.

Our hotel room was our escape from another hot and humid afternoon, Uni marking and the blog writing filling in our time. Rather than going out for dinner we settled on the cafe in the hotel gardens and had a pleasant evening there. We shared a pizza and a bowl of salad, neither of us being particularly hungry. Rags did decide to try a half-bottle sized local red wine, a merlot. First sip and Judy couldn't help laughing at his expression – the wine was very warm, in fact almost too warm to drink! An ice bucket was called for, this cooled the wine, but if ever it was a good wine, this time had certainly passed.




7th July 2012


The Keep at ChervenThe Keep at ChervenThe Keep at Cherven

This was the one part that was more than a few stones high!


Another day, another birthday! Judy promised Rags he could choose and do whatever he wanted today and she'd go along with it. That might have been an exciting time a few years ago!

Instead, we had another interesting breakfast where there was an attempt at keeping the scrambled eggs warm today, they found a toaster even if it didn't work properly and Rags almost conquered the un-labelled coffee machine. Afterwards we walked across to the Information office in the mall where we were again assisted by the personable young chap we had previously. We got the times the bus to Veliko Tarnovo left here tomorrow, this being our destination tomorrow and confirmed with him that his suggested itinerary we used yesterday was good.

A walk, later we noticed much longer than necessary, to the Pantheon of Revivalists followed. This is a tomb where the bones of 453 heroes from their Revival period lie. As the translations are sparse it was difficult to understand much, but it appears that this tomb was opened in 1978 and the bones of heroes past including the April Riots against the Greek clergy lie here.

We caught a bus nearby to
Surprise a tortoiseSurprise a tortoiseSurprise a tortoise

We found this little fellow on our way down from the Cherven castle.
take us to the Rousse Mall, being told by the Information office this was the best in Ruse. It was very quiet there for a Saturday morning, with many vacant shops, and those that were open had sales. Judy managed to get Rags into a clothing shop and he tried on a few things, walking out with a couple of shirts and a couple of pairs of shorts.

After an iced tea in the deserted food hall we returned to the ground floor where Judy bought a pair of sandals. The prices here make us wish we hadn't brought anything with us, we could outfit ourselves at a very reasonable cost.

Lunch was at the cafe Happy, where we ate the first day we were here, after which we returned to the hotel to escape what the Information office described as a “swelteringly hot day”. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the comfort of our air-conditioned room. We had intended having a massage and had been told that we just needed to ask at the fitness centre when we were ready but when we went there the woman who eventually appeared told us "none until Monday"
Mural in the Rock hewn church of IcanovMural in the Rock hewn church of IcanovMural in the Rock hewn church of Icanov

The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
so that was the end of that plan!

We intended having Rags' birthday dinner at the Panorama on the top floor of our hotel, got dressed in our “finery” only to be told by someone from hotel management that there was a wedding reception on and we couldn't get in. A little disappointed, we decided to return to the restaurant on the river as we had enjoyed both times there previously. As it was, we had a very enjoyable evening there, good food and wine as we watched the sun slowly setting over the other side of the Danube in Romania.


Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


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DragonfliesDragonflies
Dragonflies

Near the rock-hewn churches of Ivanov there were lots of these little guys flitting around. We had fun trying to capture on on camera.
Our riverside restaurantOur riverside restaurant
Our riverside restaurant

Since we went here 3 times we consider it ours! The food was a winner every time. (as was the cost)
How's that for a stubby?How's that for a stubby?
How's that for a stubby?

No Rags didn't buy this huge beer but would love to have brought it home to share with his sons.
Pork SatchPork Satch
Pork Satch

Yum! Judy had a chicken satch the previous day so today we had the pork satch.
Sunset over Rousse and our time here.Sunset over Rousse and our time here.
Sunset over Rousse and our time here.

We will have many fond memories of the days we spent here and of course remember it for the place where Rags celebrated his 66th birthday!


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