Autumn Leaves Bulgaria

We kicked off our Bulgarian adventures in the city of Varna. Our airbnb was mere meters from the beach and on the edge of the city mall. Varna is a resort town, but arriving in November (outside of the summer season), it was a quiet peaceful place to wander around. The weather was a much cooler 8 degree ‘high’ when we landed with scattered showers. With our raincoats and winter woollies on we went for a walk through the ‘Sea Garden’ and Primorski Park, just outside our apartment door step. During our short walk we had our first peek at the Black Sea.

The next morning, it was still rather chilly, but no longer raining. We went for another wander, once again passing through the ‘Sea Garden’. This time we walked by the navy museum (Varna city is the home of the Bulgarian Navy and there are many nautical statues and memorabilia throughout the city). It also didn’t take long to see Varna had a significant wild cat population like Cyprus…

Varna was once under the rule of the Roman Empire. There are several archaeological sites around the city. We followed the street signs to ‘Small Roman Baths’ which we could admire for free from the street, then ventured further down the road to ‘Roman Thermae’. We paid the small admission price to walk around the fourth-largest preserved Roman baths in Europe. There was only us and one other couple walking around during our visit, which was a much more refreshing experience after our crowded ordeal in Bath, UK in September. Unfortunately, there is no thermal water running in the complex – a hot soak would have gone down nicely due to the chilly weather too.

We continued walking through Varna city, admiring the beautiful buildings and streets along the way. The lack of crowds was blissful…

Next, we headed to the biggest landmark of the city, the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral. It’s hard to walk through the city without this church catching your eye… and it turns out that the inside is just as beautiful too…

After visiting the church, we continued to walk around the city a little longer before retiring to our cosy apartment for the day…

The next morning, we walked further into Primorski Park. There were plenty of autumn leaves to crunch in…

We decided to visit the Park Zoo. It was a small entrance fee (3Lev; about $2.50 AUD each) so we weren’t expecting much. The first enclosures of the zoo were chickens, roosters and bunny rabbits! The baby rabbits were especially adorable. The zoo suddenly stepped it up a notch and before long we were faced with lions, tigers and bears! Well… the tiger was actually hiding inside its barn and the bear was hibernating, but the lions were just sitting in their cage looking at us. It gave us the impression of visiting an olden day zoo (more cages than enclosures) and we felt very sorry for the lions (especially after seeing them in the wild during our August in Africa experience).

For the rest of the afternoon we continued to walk through the park and along the coast. We even came across a small thermal public pool (which after some Googling, we found out is completely free and open 24/7).

The next day we woke up to sunshine (reaching a high of 20degrees). So, we headed to the beach …what a difference the weather can make. Many people were out enjoying the day too. Another perk of visiting outside the season (other than no crowds) was the life-guard huts along the beach weren’t manned, so we used them as a place to sit and enjoy the beach views.

We decided to walk down to the marina and check out Varna port. There were plenty of people fishing off the wharf (we didn’t see any successes though). It was a great place to people watch and gave a different perspective of Varna city.

We spent the rest of the afternoon people watching from our life-guard tower. We saw a few different interesting characters, one being a couple having their Christmas photo-shoot. We also noticed a man with a metal detector methodically searching the beach for treasure. So, we undertook our own social experiment and hid a coin in the sand (when he wasn’t watching) to see if he’d find it … and he did!

The next morning was check-out day. But Kadin had to go for his mandatory swim in the Black Sea before we left the Bulgarian coast. So, we enjoyed a morning on the beach before heading to the airport and flying to the capital, Sofia.

We had arrived in Sofia in the dark. Our apartment was very central, just one street back from the main shopping street (Vitosha Boulevard). It was a real surprise the next day when we could see the mall views by daylight; the stunning Cathedral at one end, and the Vitosha mountain range down the other).

It was a beautiful sunny day (high of 20 degrees), so we were drawn to the mountain end of the mall which opened out into a large park area. The trees were putting on an amazing autumnal show for us…

Inside the park was the ‘Earth and Man National Museum’ which is one of the biggest mineralogical museums in the world. The grand 4000m2 building showcases over 20 000 mineral samples from all around the world (covering 40% of all known naturally occurring minerals). We were literally the only people visiting the museum … it was pretty cool walking around the large space by ourselves.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring South Park which had the best display of autumn leaves…

It was nice to retire in our luxury bathtub each night. We had chosen our airbnb just for its bathtub …a double spa, with fireplace and TV. A great spot to enjoy a movie after a long day of walking around town…

The next day we walked the other direction, first stopping by St. Kyriaki Cathedral at the end of the mall…

We also visited many other important landmarks including: Sofia statue, Former Communist Headquarters, Court House, St. George Rotunda Church, President’s Building, Theatre and old Baths:

Next, we went for a walk through the Sofia’s Central Market Hall and the local produce market further up the street. We were impressed with the stunning bouquets of flowers for sale (affordable prices too) …

We also stopped by ‘Lions’ bridge and the next day ‘Eagles’ bridge (although the ‘river’ below Sofia’s bridges is rather underwhelming) …

Another day of exploring Sofia led us to more beautiful churches. First we passed by the Russian Church (‘Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski’) …

Next, we went to Sofia’s most iconic church (found on most souvenir magnets and postcards), Cathedral of St. Aleksander Nevski…

We spent the rest of the day in ‘Borisova Gradina’, another large park on the edge of town. Again, we were treated to beautiful autumn trees, however, this time we were entertained by squirrels looking for nuts amongst the leaves.

We had fun at the aptly named ‘Lake with the lilies’, searching for frogs on the lily pads and turtles swimming below.

Right beside the lake was the ‘Brotherly Mound’ monument, a throwback to the communist era…

Before our visit to Bulgaria we knew very little of this Eastern European country. We were pleasantly surprised by the large city parks and beautiful buildings (especially with the lack of tourist crowds).

One quirk we noticed was that many people we encountered would say, “Merci” to us – we weren’t sure if they thought we were French. It turns out that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when Bulgaria became part of Europe instead of Asia, it adopted several words from European languages. Throughout the development of the Bulgarian language “merci” was one of the words that remained. It definitely stuck out to us against the harsh sounding Slavic Bulgarian;
Thank you:      Благодаря ти            or         “Blagodarya ti”               or                      “Merci”

Now it’s time we brush up on our Italian. Next stop, Naples.

Have fun at work!

Gemma

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