Exploring Bulgaria

Saturday 9th of November, campsite Sunny Paradise, Bulgaria

After a quick breakfast in the van,  we left our spot in front of the sea, near Thessaloniki,  and drove to the border. Bulgaria is in the EU zone but there is still a hard border. 

Once again, no one paid any attention to the dog. After crossing quickly, we got to our camp for the night. It is still a work in progress as it just recently opened. We found it in Park4night and had good reviews. It was also open! The owners were Portuguese ( wife) and Bulgarian ( husband). They were very friendly and welcoming. We had  a good chat with them. The weather was absolutely splendid. 

We explored the village but there was not much to see. The camping owners recommended we should visit a town called Milnek the next morning. 

Online we had booked a very cheap studio in the old town of Plovdiv. Like in Tirana, the owner assured me it would be fine to park with the van! Hmmm….

Bulgaria produces a lot of wine in this region. The Camping owners went to one of their neighbour and got us a 2 litres of red wine ( in a bottle of Coca Cola!) for 5 Levs ( 2.5 euros). It was alright. 

Sunday 10th November, Plovdiv 

After breakfast we packed, made our goodbyes to the the campsite’s owners and drove to Milnek. It was a nice village with  a medieval castle and buildings, and lots of history. 

All tourists shops were selling olive oil, pickle vegetables and a lot of wine. Wine in proper bottles, wine in 2 litres Coca cola bottles, wine in 5 litres water bottles…. lots of wine. We got some, all for research purpose of course! 

After that we drove to Plovdiv. Just as we arrived it started to rain. I texted the studio owner who found us in the street and got in the van to guide us to his “private parking”. He took us through very badly damaged unsurfaced roads. The van scrapped the floor. Eventually we got to a zone with lots of cars parked. We got to the fabled spot, wondering how on earth we would ever get the van out. 

The studio was a ground floor shop, with the shop windows frosted with plastic sheets. It was only a big room with a small en-suite. No kitchen or even a fridge. Disappointing, but it was very well located to walk into the old town and it was cheap. 

As it was already dark we just got some bread, cheese and tuna pate for a small diner. And the Bulgarian wine! 

Monday 11th November, Plovdiv

We walked around the old town. Plovdiv is a very pleasant town with a nice old part, lots of Roman ruins (Theatre, Odeon, sport arena…) and a modern part that is also well designed and pedestrianised.

By early afternoon we decided to have a small lunch in a big chain restaurant. It had a big menu and looked nice. I had a salad and Alistair some grilled meat with chips. After another walk around town we went back to the flat. It had been a long day walking up and down hills. The next day we wanted to go further to visit some parks with more historical stuff to see. 

After our big lunch ( portions were big) we skipped on dinner. 

We had a look around the van, there were cars parking right behind it, making it impossible to drive off. 

By chance the car blocking us left and a more convenient spot became free, so we moved the van there. No one would be able to park behind us, unless blocking the entire parking zone, so we would be able to leave at some point. 

Tuesday 12th of November, Plovdiv

I woke up at 4am, not feeling well at all. I barely had time to make it to the loos. What followed cannot be described here. It was no pleasant. I spent the rest of the night back and forth. Eventually Alistair woke up. I asked him to bring me a bottle of water and rehydration tablets from the van. I drank a full litre in one go. I was parched and exhausted, I skipped breakfast and lunch. And dinner. By then Alistair was starting to feel unwell too. We suspected my salad at the restaurant. He had scoffed some of it. 

I did not do much that day, I was too ill. I did not dare to leave the flat as I was not sure my bowels would remain under control. Alistair went out get some stuff. Some croissants for breakfast I think. 

We had an early night. 

Wednesday 13th November, Camping Veliko Tărnovo ( in town of same name)

There were two campings near the town. I emailed both of them few days before. One was closed for winter, the second was closed but they told me they could take us in as they were around. So we drove there. 

The road from Plovdiv was not a major road, it took us through interesting places and mountains. The fog was so dense that in some sections high up we could barely see two metres ahead of us. It was scary. 

We stopped for lunch in a small cafe by the road side. I had munched on a mini croissant for breakfast but my stomach was still very tender. I had a small bean stew. I did not risk the salad! I had still stomach aches. 

Eventually we descended into the valley and arrived at the camping before dark. The owners are British and bought the plot of land back in 2005. The camping has been running since 2007 and seems very successful from the comments online.It must be as the facilities are amazing. Obviously, out of season, the pool, bar and restaurant were closed. The shower block was really nice and even included an indoor kitchen with a giant toaster and a kettle. 

We parked and investigated the great facilities. I was still tired from the food poisoning. Alistair was feeling also unwell. 

On the way, we had bought some vegetables in a supermarket. I prepared a big lentils and vegetables stew with  some chicken. That would do for few days. It was great to have the indoor kitchen to prepare all the food, as it was quite cold once the sun was down. 

Once again, still feeling unwell, we had an early night. 

Thursday 14th of November, camping Veliko Tărnovo

I had a good night sleep and was feeling much better. After breakfast we drove the 10kms to the old town. 

In the Middle Ages Veliko Tărnovo was the capital city of Bulgaria and the centre of rebellion against the Byzantine empire. With Constantinople weakening, Veliko Tărnovo became of great importance … until the end of 14th century when the Ottoman Empire captured the town and occupied Bulgaria until late 19th century. The town was destroyed, including all the churches. 

One good thing coming out of the Soviet Union, they renovated the ancient town , the Tsarevets. The entrance is through a draw bridge. The place is amazing to visit. We spent a good couple of hours exploring the full complex. 

We then went for a walk around the modern town. It has many beautiful buildings. We stopped at a cafe restaurant that looked popular with the locals, for a bit of lunch. I had a small chicken soup that tasted like those out of a packet but it was hot and light. Then the grey weather turned to rain and we decided to get back to the van and drive back to camp. 

We had plenty of rain in the evening and overnight. 

Friday 15th November, free parking spot, Ancient town of Nessebar, Black Sea.

By morning the rain had stopped. It was still cool and misty but the weather forecast was predicting sunshine by the Black Sea. 

My research showed that all the campsites were closed all along the Black Sea coast. So we drove to the ancient city of Nessebar. One large parking spot, near the fishing port and just next to the old town looked promising. It was a long way. We drove there and arrived just after 3:30. We parked as planned. The place was huge and empty. I guess in high season it is full of coaches but now it was very quiet, only few fishermen trying their luck nearby. 

Then we walked into the old town to explore. Like all ancient towns it was small. It has many very early churches ( 6th to 10th century). It is a beautiful old town. Everything seemed closed. Eventually coming near the main gate of the town we spotted a restaurant offering full English breakfast. Interesting. 

We went back to the van to pick up some stuff and went back to that restaurant for a drink and to use the WiFi ( and facilities). 

After looking at the online maps Alistair said that Alexandroupoli, our next destination, was too far to make it the next day. So we looked where we could break our trip. No campsite anywhere. We found a couple of cheap hotels we could use. As usual, finding a place that accepts dogs narrows things down. 

So we went back to the van for some dinner. We had a quiet night in our carpark.