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Back to Bulgaria

November 7th, 2022

The country info and flag were in the first Bulgarian blog we did back in September so that won’t be in this second post about Bulgaria but we will update currency rates and petrol prices.

As this is a rather short post, there will be two today to get closer to being on track! 

Currency:  The Lev – worth $0.51 USD (previously $0.48) and $0.69 CDN (previously $0.68)

Diesel:  3.44 LEV per litre which is $6.64 US per gallon

After leaving Turkiye’s border control, we had to pass through a “disinfection” station on the Bulgarian side, and then we were third in line at immigration so it took a few minutes but we got stamped in easily and they wanted to see our vehicle registration.  Then the first inspection by Border Patrol where an agent wanted to get inside the coach of Minou and this was repeated at the customs booth and we were on our way – maybe ten minutes total.   SO different from the crossing we had into Turkiye!

The time has gone back an hour now that we are back in Eastern Europe so we’ve gained an hour today and it’s still dark outside.  We did not have a lot left to see in Bulgaria but did want to see the capital, Sofia.  We were undecided about whether to push on the whole way today or not but in the end did so.  There was the possibility of stopping in Plovdiv, about halfway to see an Roman amphitheatre but after looking at photos online, we knew we’d see much better already in Turkiye and expect to see more in Greece.

When it was time for a bathroom break, we found a road side pull out with a porty a potty and dumped our cassette.  While Doug took care of that, Fran switched out our Turkish SIM cards for our trusty UK EE ones and five minutes after we got going again, our phones were both back online. We’ll have to renew again this month as after we leave Bulgaria we have no coverage with EE until Greece as the other countries in the Balkans that we are about to explore are not covered.

There is a parking lot which allows RV’s by the national stadium not far from the city centre so we got ourselves parked before 10am and headed out to explore.   It’s much cooler than we’ve had lately; temps may hit 20C / 70F today if we’re lucky; Fran is back in jeans but not sneakers as yet just her Keenes.

Like most big cities in Europe, there are a lot of churches and museums listed as attractions and Sofia was no different.

As soon as we began walking we knew we were back in Europe and no longer in Asia; architecture was completely different as was the “feel” of the city.

First was the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker.  This church was built on the site of a destroyed mosque in 1882.

We went inside and it was very dark and somber and no photos were allowed.

The Saint George Rotunda and the ruins next door were next.

Built in the early 4th century as Roman baths, it became a church inside the walls of Serdica (the first name of the city of Sofia).   This Early Christian church is considered the oldest building in modern Sofia and belongs to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The building, a cylindrical domed structure built on a square base, is famous for the 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-century frescoes inside the central dome. Three layers of frescoes have been discovered, the earliest dating back to the 10th century. Magnificent frescoes of 22 prophets over 2 metres tall crown the dome. Painted over during the Ottoman period, when the building was used as a mosque, these frescoes were only uncovered and restored in the 20th century.

There seemed to be a service going on inside so we didn’t enter.  We found this on google of the frescoes inside:

We came across the Ruins of Serdica (former name of the city) walking to our next spot, the Banya Bashi Mosque.

This mosque was built during the Ottoman rule in 1566 and it’s famous for its minaret and its 15m in diameter dome:

Then it was on the see the largest Sepharidic synagogue in Europe. It seats 1170 people and is considered one of the city’s most beautiful architectural monuments:

Now being Monday, we are finding a lot of things closed like the Central Market:

The national Archeology Museum which was closed but we saw these outside (it used to be a roman bath house):

By now it’s after 11 and we’re getting hungry.  Fran had read about a great pizza place called Victoria and it was near the cathedral so after seeing that:

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral built in the 19th century:

We found the restaurant but it was closed and not just because it was Monday; we think it may be completely closed or it’s just open in summer.

Next we wanted to see the amphitheatre here in Sofia.

In 2004 the construction works of the new Arena di Serdica Hotel of FPI Hotels & Resorts chain unexpectedly came across a part of a Roman wall. Archaeological excavations immediately started – thus the Amphitheatre of Serdica (Amphiteatrum Serdicense) was discovered! This is a monumental public building with an elliptical layout and an arena in the middle, elliptically surrounded by the tiered seats for the spectators. The great number of coins and pottery discovered enabled the researchers to identify two periods in III-IV century. During the research on the site it became evident that about 5 meters under the amphitheatre there is a theatre, built in II-III century, i.e. 100 years earlier. A unique complex combining ancient amphitheatre and theatre was discovered. These are the largest buildings from the age of ancient Serdica, evidencing its heyday during the centuries. The finding was declared unique and the discovery – unmatched in the world!

The Arena of Serdica is 60.5 m long and 43 m wide. However, the Amphitheatre of Serdica is the only one in the world, combining a Roman theatre and a late antique amphitheatre in one place and the only such public building in the Balkans. This makes the site truly unique and the discovery – sensational. It is a fact that no other capital or even city in the world can boast a theatre and amphitheatre together and located in its very centre. Its construction began during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian and was completed by the Emperor Constantine the Great.  

Unfortunately, the museum part of the hotel was closed today, being Monday, but as in other cases, we got this off Google which shows that they seem to have incorporated the ruins into the basement of the hotel lobby:

So we googled “pedestrian street in Sofia” (as we’d not seen a lot of restaurants and pedestrian streets are usually full of them) and we made our way to Vitosha Way.

We walked the length of it, purchasing a country souvenir and then found a bar to eat.  The outside patio section was open but enclosed however; they were allowing smokers in there so we went inside the pub itself which was rather small but cozy and had a nice lunch.

We had one more thing to visit which was the Museum of Illusions.   This was a fun visit and we purchased a few Christmas gifts from their shop.

We returned to Minou and tried unsuccessfully to nap around 3:30 and then gave up.  We have to adjust to the early darkness today and try and stay up!

Today we passed through one tunnel.

We awoke to cloudy damp weather on Tuesday and it tried to rain a few times.  We wanted electricity tonight and we’re not in a huge rush to leave Bulgaria so we thought we’d moved to a RV camper spot north of the city for a night or two depending how it goes.  Since the sun probably won’t peek out too much today, getting power will be nice.

We found a place that showed up on both our apps and it’s really just a large backyard that a nice fellow named Ivan has set up.  He has put in a bathroom with a shower, there’s a dumping spot, he offers power, water and Wi-Fi and a washing machine (but no dryer).

We arrived after doing some grocery shopping (buying several items we couldn’t get in Turkiye in bulk).  The gate was closed and Fran ran the bell but got no answer.  As the gate was not locked, we opened it and drove in.  There was another RV from France, (Nathalie & Thierry greeted us and we chatted a bit with our broken French and their broken English!), another one from Germany and one from Switzerland already parked inside so we got almost the last spot as 7 would be a squeeze in here.  Ivan never appeared but we got settled, had brunch and Doug went for a walk while Fran went to shower and then get some computer stuff done before her walk.

Shower wasn’t “hot” as advertised but it did the trick.  For that reason, we decided that we leave tomorrow but still take another warm shower before leaving.

Wednesday morning we awoke to a foggy but dry, cool morning and after showering, tea time, filling and dumping the tanks, we paid Ivan (whom Fran met late yesterday afternoon) and went on our way.  We wanted to use up our rolled over data on EE before leaving the country as it all does not roll over again so we’ll stay one more night in the country but close to the border.  Fran found a wild camp near a lake about 20 km / 12 mi before the border and we seem to still have 4G coverage here.  Fran finished her roll over data yesterday so we’ll use the rest of Doug’s here.  We arrived here by brunch time and after brunch did our walking.  The sun showed it’s face by mid-afternoon and the panels stayed good and charged.

We spent a quiet afternoon and a super quiet, but quite cool night.

We passed through four tunnels today.

After Doug went for his run and Fran did her exercises the next morning, we hit the road heading for the border with North Macedonia.

We arrived on the Bulgarian side at 9:20 am – first was customs (kinda weird) where they wanted to see inside the vehicle and then had us pull over so they could look underneath and they wanted proof that we’d had a toll vignette while in the country.  That was on Fran’s phone and that satisfied them.

Border police was down the way a bit where they stamped us out of the country – done by 9:28.

This time in Bulgaria we drove 421 km / 262 mi.

Fun Facts about Bulgaria:

  1. Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe that hasn’t changed its name since it was first established. This happened in 681 AD. 
  2. Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, was founded 7000 years ago. This makes it the second oldest city in Europe.
  3. Bulgaria comes third in the list of countries with most valuable archaeological sites discovered on their territories, preceded only by Greece and Italy. 
  4. There is solid historical evidence that wine has been produced on the territory of what is now modern-day Bulgaria ever since the Stone Age. Today the country has earned the reputation of a world-class wine producer.
  5. Bulgarians express approval by shaking their heads rather than nodding. Weird, huh.
  6. The famous Bulgarian rose oil is used for making some of the world’s most popular and expensive perfumes. One gram rose oil is produced out of 1000 rose blossoms.
  7. Every year on 1 March Bulgarians exchange martenitasas.  Essentially, these are small pieces of adornment made of red and white thread that symbolize good health and happiness.
  8. The Bulgarian folk song Izlel e Delio Haydutin has been flying around open space together with Bach’s and Mozart’s greatest works since 1977 when the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes left the Earth.
  9. Bulgaria is the country with the highest number of natural mineral springs in Continental Europe – over 600.
  10. The famous Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has a Bulgarian origin and he is named after his Bulgarian grandfather – Marko. His grandfather has emigrated from Bulgaria in 1940. 
  11. The first computer in the world was created by a Bulgarian. In the period 1937 – 1942 John Atanasoff, a scientist of Bulgarian descent, together with Clifford Berry, an American inventor working for the University of Iowa, designed and developed the first electronic digital computing device.
  12. The first digital wristwatch was also invented by a Bulgarian. His name is Peter Petroff.
  13. The Cyrillic alphabet was invented in the 9th century AD by none other than the two most famous Bulgarian monks ever to have lived – Cyril and Methodius.
  14. Assen Jordanoff, a renowned aircraft engineer and one of the inventors of the airbag, was also of Bulgarian descent.