Balkans 2014 travel blog

View from my hotel window in Burgas, Bulgaria

Boarding the train to Sofia, Bulgaria

Typical communist-era concrete buildings

Passing a village train station

Some of the local residents

Fall colors

Passing a local village

The plan was to visit some of the attractions of Varna today. They have some of the world's best preserved Roman baths and a Roman amphitheater.

That's impossible now. The bus ride to Bulgaria took all day. Another bus back to Varna would take another day. A train or bus to Sophia will take yet another day. I'm due in Sophie on Wednesday (more on that later). There's just not enough time.

So, I decided to head directly to Sophia.

As if yesterday wasn't bad enough, the main bracket on my backpack broke. The weight of the entire backpack is now suspended on two thin straps. I might need to buy some luggage before I get home.

As soon as I finished breakfast this morning, I checked my email, packed up, checked out of the hotel, hailed a taxi and headed for the train station. When I reached the train station, I found out that there were only two trains to Sophia today. One was scheduled for 9:40 this morning. The other was 2pm this afternoon. I didn't relish the idea of hanging around Burgas for 5 hours. Burgas is a busy Black Sea port with nothing of interest to tourists. It was now 9:35. I had exactly 5 minutes to find and board my train. At that precise moment, the power went out at the station. The sign showing departures went blank.

Fortunately, I had already bought a 15-day train pass before leaving the United States. So, I didn't need to stop to buy a ticket. I remembered before the sign went blank that my train would leave from Track 4. I made it to the train with 2 minutes to spare. It left the station right on time despite the station being dark.

I left in such a hurry that I didn't have time to buy any food for the 7-hour trip to Sophia. Fortunately, I always carry some food and water for just such emergencies. I sat back and enjoyed the trip. I even watched a movie that I had rented prior to leaving the United States ("Muppets Most Wanted").

On a good day, this would have been a gorgeous ride. The countryside was beautiful. The fall foliage colors were frequently visible. We passed through mountains, hills and valleys. We went through several long tunnels. The fields were now empty. The harvest probably was completed in October to avoid the winter frost. But, there were plenty of cows, goats and sheep. Unlike Romania were everything, everywhere was ultra-functional yet drab concrete, the villages here in Bulgaria were quite a mix. Some were quaint old world villages; some were stone and brick towns; and a few were the ugly communist gray.

I wish I could have captured this beauty on film. Unfortunately, the combination of gray skies, fog, dirty windows and reflections made it impossible to take good photos from the moving train. I've posted a few photos today which I hope give you some idea of the views.

The train arrived slightly after dark. Very late for finding a place to stay. Easily visible from the train station was a large Ramada hotel. I knew from my research that this would be a five-star hotel costing about $150/night. Not bad by U.S. standards but far above my budget for this trip.

A tout soon found me. A tout is someone trying to sell you something, in this case, a hotel room. You never have to look for a tout. They find you! Arriving at the train station wearing my backpack, I was an easy target.

Of course, he knew of a great place nearby that had nice rooms at a cheap price. It's not always a bad idea to listen to a tout. They sometimes have really good information. He led me to his recommended place, about five blocks from the train station.

When we arrived, the owner said that his place was full for the night. He had rooms tomorrow but not tonight.

We went another two blocks to the Iva Hostel. Years ago, these were called “youth hostels” that catered only to the college-aged crowd. More recently, they've discovered the advantages of branching out. The owner chatted with the tout that brought be there. He translated that they had one private room with a private bathroom for 50 leu ($32). It was getting late and I was getting tired so I agreed. I know that the tout will secretly collect a “finders fee” from the hostel owner. So, I didn't have to pay him. But, I gave him a tip anyway. He had worked hard to find me a place to stay. I would have had difficulty finding something myself.

The room wasn't too bad. Even though it was on a major road, there wasn't much street noise. The bedding didn't look particularly clean to me. For just such circumstances, I carry a silk sleeping bag liner (that I had bought in Vietnam). Now, my body would be, at least a little, protected. What my liner couldn't defend against was how hard the mattress was. I think a rug on the floor would have been softer. My old bones didn't fare well. I didn't get much sleep that night.

In the morning, I walked back to that other hotel and booked two nights for 45 leu ($29) per night. Much nicer mattress. But, I still opted to use my own silk sleeping bag liner. Much more comfortable!

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