25 August 2013

Vidin Fortress
Buses to Serbia

This is a short one, I promise.
We went to the Fortress in Vidin (Baba Vida) this morning.  It is  is said to be the only entirely preserved medieval castle in all of Bulgaria, and having walked around it yesterday, we are inclined to agree.

VC34post1VC35post2The building of Baba Vida is tied to a legend, according to which a Danubian Bulgarian king who ruled at Vidin had three daughters: Vida, Kula and Gamza. Prior to his death, he divided his realm among the three. Although Gamza and Kula married a drunkard and warlike nobles, Vida remained unmarried and built the fortress in her city. The name of the castle means “Granny Vida”

Entering the fortress on the bridge over the now dry moat, we stepped back in time.  Well, not really, but the fortress has the occasional diorama in the rooms.  Pretty tacky, yet it gives a bit of life to some otherwise dull stone rooms.

VC36post3VC37post4andrewIt is very well preserved, and slightly reconstructed, and you can wander around three levels of the fortress itself, and even go up one of the roofed towers.  There are small staircases leading all over the place between levels, and the view out over the Danube is great.  The construction is quite large, and mainly Ottoman, but will leave you to look it up if you are interested in dates and things. What I found interesting was the air and light holes in the roof.  This suggests rooms within the keep itself that are no longer accessible.  These reminded me of the air holes in the Crusader castles in Jordan.  No doubt the entire place is riddled with tunnels, and although we could see the entrances to a few of these, we were not allowed in.

VC38post5VC39post6One other thing that still gets to us here in Bulgaria is the haphazard maintenance or care of buildings.  One section against the northern wall had been cleared for excavation work.  They had built a wooden and tin roof over the area.  This is now collapsing in on itself, and no one seems to mind that instead of funnelling rain away from the area, it is now funnelling the rain directly into it!  Mind you, from the few glimpses we got inside that section, it is now used as a garbage dump anyway!

The rest of the day was spent trying to work out how to get to Serbia.  We are not that far from the border, but it seems that the only way to cross over is to go back to Sofia.  We tried to get information on the boats, as there is a stunning section of the Danube near here, but there was no information available to us.  I am not saying it is not possible, we just couldn’t find out.  Then we looked at trains.  No luck there either.  The buses were not much better.  We could get to towns this side of the border, but no one knew if we could get a bus over the border from there, or even how far it would be to walk.

This was all very disappointing.  We could try too risk it by going to one of these other towns, then find out that we still have to go beck to Sofia, and after the fiasco of trying to get into Bulgaria, we thought we would take the safe option tomorrow.

We didn’t even get a good last meal in Bulgaria, as it was Sunday and everything is closed in Vidin.  A quick meal at the Railway Station, and an early night.

Told you it would be short.  But still the Fortress was worth it!

AA

24 August 2013

Rabisha
Train
Vidin
Rain

V34post1V35post2V36post3V37post4V38post5V39post6V41post8V43post10V44post11V40post7Will keep it short and simple.  We couldn’t get out of Rabishi!  It is Saturday and there are no buses.  Not to Belogradchik or even Vidin.  Apparently there is a train, but the train station is 15k away…  The woman from the guest house can get us a lift for just a few lev, as there are no taxis in a village this small.  We had no other option, so did so.

The driver was pretty nice, although, again there is the language barrier.  He spoke Spanish, but that didn’t help.  Still, he hung around at the station and made sure we got tickets for the right train.  Even with a Bulgarian helping us, it took almost 20 minutes in the otherwise deserted station.  The conversation must have been really good this time!

Boarding the train, and setting off.  This is a pretty standard train ride.  Nice countryside, not so much rocking, but the screeching of the brakes got to me a little bit.

Arriving in Vidin, we came to a very nice train station, but no signs on what town we were even in.  Still, it was the end of the line, so where could we be?
Walked around a little bit to find a hotel.  Not that much better than last nights accommodation, but still better.  Then walking around town.
Apparently Vidin is the poorest town in the entire EU.  It does not show.  There are plenty of old buildings, not just on the main streets, and a lot of these have been done up.  Sure, it is Saturday, but there were very few people in town.  A total lack of restaurants and bars.  There are a few, but not as many as elsewhere, but still a lot of nice cars around.  It is a bit of a contradiction.

Walking around Vidin, we stumbled across Tourist Info, but of course, it was not open.  These is a map of town though, with the must sees, an Old Mosque, Synagogue, a few churches, a cross shaped building that used to be the Ottoman Baraks and of course, the fortress.  The fortress is why we are here, it is the best preserved in all of Bulgaria.

From here we also found the Danube River.  Not that anyone had lost it, but it has been a while since we have seen it.  The Romanian side is undeveloped, and covered with trees, there is the occasional boat going past, these are the long flat shipping boats carrying oil or other non perishable goods.  To the North a bridge is visible linking Romania with Bulgaria.  It was apparently opened in June 2013 so is very fresh and new.  The poor ferry that had been doing the job will probably go out of business soon.

We managed to look at most of the old town, see the remaining gate, the shell of a synagogue, the mosque and even some of the churches.  We even found the fortress, but as it was almost closing time, we decided to wait until tomorrow for it.  So now it was time to find a drink and relax a bit.  I do like the beers in this part of the world, and the way people are not shy in experimenting.  Grapefruit, lemon and today white grapes mixed into the beer.

Tony must have visited Vidin in the past

Tony must have visited Vidin in the past

A little rain in the evening to freshen up the air, but hopefully it will clear by morning, and all is good.  Especially the litre of Red we picked up from the store for about 1.50 lev that, although very young is very drinkable!V45postpano

AA

23 August 2013

Rabishi
Cave
Lake
Shopping

We have to leave Belogradchik.  Not because we want to, we would like to stay, but with the influx of Russian chess players, and others there was nowhere to sleep.  Still, we know where we want to go.  Rabishi.  There is this awesome 2.5km long cave that has prehistoric artwork painted on the walls.  To top it off, the cave is also supposed to be full of formations.

Looking forward to the famous rock art

Looking forward to the famous rock art

We had a nice coffee before heading to the station.  A bit of hope was involved here, as we have no idea about the bus times, or if we can even get there without a taxi.  Still, we have to try, right?

C47postpanovert4C42postpanovert3At the station, there was no sign of an office or ticket counter.  The building behind, a completely different street had the ticket office.  Although you would never guess it.  Having found the place, we found that there was no one here!  No way to buy a ticket, or even see if there was a bus.  The only info we could find was a list of buses to Vidin and Sophia.  Not much help for us at all.
We decided to go back to the station proper, and maybe get a taxi from there.  It turns out there was a bus sitting at the platform with the destination of Rabishi!  Perfect, we just don’t know when it was going.  Nor did anyone else, although when someone turned up that did know, the young people here got the info and gave it to us.  Thankyou whoever you are.  Especially as you also made sure that when the driver arrived that we knew it as well.

C41postpanovert2C40postpanovert1Turned out that the bus was packed.  Very packed, and with nowhere to have our luggage, Anna had to have her bag on her lap while mine was wedged in the doorway.  The trip was not too bad other than this.  It is about 25km from Belogradchik and only took an hour and a half!  Winding around the mountains and out onto the rolling hills, past small villages and lots of sunflowers.  Some of these fields looked well tended, and others seemed to be seeds that had sprouted when nothing else was planted.

C33postbig3C36postpano3Eventually we made it to the cave turn off. The bus driver was fairly sure this was where we wanted to go.  We did, but not with our bags.  Saying we wanted to go to town he was a little surprised.  There was a whole discussion with everyone on the bus on where we would stay.  This solved, we were taken to town and dropped outside a guest house.  The driver even made sure there was someone here, and had room for us.  He was a very nice guy!  The guest house was OK.  To be truthful, it is the second worst accommodation we have had in the country other than Varna, and almost as expensive!  The village had nothing in it.  Apparently there are two small shops, and we could get a bite to eat there before walking back up the hill to the cave.  Turns out that the first place does not like tourists and refused to serve us, the second was closed for siesta!  We would be going hungry today.  Lets hope we can get dinner!C32postbig2C35postpano2
Deciding it was time to check out the cave we set out.  The hill was a little steeper than it looked, and the cave is at least two kilometres away, according to Bulgarian signs, but this was probably about right from the bus.  Trying to flag down passing cars was unsuccessful,until a couple of Roma came past on a cart. Not wanting to be too blunt, we asked if this was the way to the cave.  Hoping secretly for a lift, it worked and they offered.  Climbing in we were with a young couple with their daughter.  The poor horse was now carrying the five of us up the hill.  C44posthouseAt least we were not walking!  They were a sweet couple, and even looked after their horse.  At times it seemed that walking was faster, and at one point I jokingly jumped off the cart to help push it up the hill.  This got a laugh, and a question on if we were going fast enough.  It didn’t worry us.  When we made it to the crossroad where we would part paths,we offered them a few lev for the trip.  The guy wanted to take the money, and his wife had an issue with it.  So we made it an offer to get food for the horse.  This got another laugh and they happily accepted the money.  It was worth it!!

This only left a few more kilometres up the hill to the cave entrance. When we got there, we saw big signs out, depicting the formations, artwork and the layout of the cave.  We were happy to know we were in the right place. We have seen this cave advertised all over the country and are really excited to see the neolithic art.  A lot of people were hanging around, and when we got our tickets we thought we would have to wait for a tour.  The crowd dispersed, and a few people just walked into the cave.  We followed them in.C31postbig1C34postpano1

The cave itself is very pretty.  There is a clear path from the steps descending into the cool dark cavern.  The cave itself is very active in a lot of places with water everywhere.  A few places in the beginning were fenced off, and this is where they are continuing archaeological digs.  Following the lights and path deeper into the cave, we were expecting to see the artworks that are proudly on every photo of the region.  They were not around yet, so I assumed there were two options.  The first is that they are right at the back of the cave, where only the bravest and initiated people can go, or there is another exit, and they are on that side.

C46post4The cave is very cool though.  Both in temperature and in description.  Wide deep caverns and chambers, the floor scattered with giant rocks that have split off from the walls and ceiling.  There were sections without any formations and clear fractures in the rock.  Other sections were full of flowstone, cauliflower, shawls and large stalactites and mites.  Not so many straws though.

The second large chamber provided no artwork either, we would have to go deeper.  There were a couple of other paths leading off, but these were barred to us.  We assumed that it is to stop people wandering off into the uncharted depths of the cave, or at least stay on the main path.

C39post3We got to see one bat, and quite a large one at that, and lots of stalagmites.  The cave went deeper, and we never saw people going back to the entrance, so it was either a loop or there was another exit.  This must be where the art is.  Save the best for last.

More caverns, more formations, and we again noticed the Bulgarian reluctance to do general maintenance.  Almost half of the lights in the cave are no longer functional.  Still, we had the presence of mind to bring our torches this time.  They came in handy in seeing specific things, and even illuminating the wet slippery steps that had no lights on them!

C38post2After a long time in the depths, with the chill seeping into our skin, we came to the last cavern and the way back out to the warm daylight.  Still no artwork!  This last section had been blasted by humans, and not that old at all.  On emerging into the sunlight, we were annoyed that we would have to go back in, as somehow we had missed the art.  Asking the nearby wine seller, because as soon as you exit a cave you are struck with the desire to have a nice warm glass of wine, we got no answer.  No English, and no wish to try and understand what we wanted.  Another tourist that did speak English informed us that the artwork is sealed off and inaccessible by anyone without the Mayors permission.  WTF?  C37post1This is one of the reasons we do not like Bulgaria.  This place has been advertised over the entire country.  The artwork is one of the must sees, and promoted so heavily that if you spend 24 hours in Bulgaria you will know about it, but when you get all the way out here, which is no easy feat, you cannot see it.  Then people get surprised that we are annoyed about this!  Lets see,  The Devil’s Throat, with the largest underground waterfall in the Balkans – You can’t see it.  Ancient cave art – you can’t see it.  The best wine in the country – Drink vinegar, it tastes better.  Roman sites – If you like concrete these are the places for you!!  Thracian tombs – See a replica.  Megalithic city – You can’t get there.  The list goes on.

Having said that, it was a very nice cave, and we may have still made the effort to get here to see it by itself.  We just don’t like being mislead.  We are sure the artwork is there, we just cannot see it.

The walk back to town was downhill which was good, and one of the places was open so we could get a cold beer.  The restaurant was closed though, so we thought we would get some bread, cheese and salami.  Trying to buy this we were yelled at, and treated very disrespectfully.  If you run a shop, sell us stuff.  We couldn’t even buy bread.  So we went to the second shop and picked up the rest of what we needed.C45postpanolake

Then we settled in for the night.  Just glad we would be out of here in the morning.  I usually like small country towns, but this one just confuses me.  I suppose the whole country confuses me.

AA

22 August 2013

Accommodation dilemmas
Kolito Fortress
1km
1km
1km
The bat cave

A good day, but not much to type.

We spent most of the morning walking around the town of Belogradchik.  It is not a bad town.  More a quiet mountain village.  This was not for fun though.  We need to find a new place to stay.  Our hotel from last night, although good, was not the best.  The bed was bloody awful, the neighbours stayed up all night playing traditional music whilst learning the bagpipes.  We got fleas, lice and mosquito bites from the shower that had months old stagnant water and had to watch where we walked so we didn’t fall through the cracks in the floor.

B51post2B50post6Nah, the place was fine, it was just booked out.  We would have liked to stay, as this is a nice town in a nice area, and a nice hotel.  We want to spend a few days here.  So, we went to check out Tourist Info.  Luckily we had seen tourist info yesterday.  It was closed, but we knew where to find it.  On the way to the main square, we checked in on a few guest houses, they were all booked solid as well.  It turns out that there is a chess competition coming up, and everything is booked until Wednesday.  Arriving at tourist Info, the windows were open, but no one was home.  The door was locked tight, and a complete lack of staff.  Looking at a handy map of town that also lists guest houses, we started walking.B42postpano4

For the next few hours we walked all over town checking places to stay.  They were all full.  This was not looking good at all.  Everything was full, or there was no answer at all.  It is slightly frustrating when you are looking for a place to stay and noone answers the doorbell.  The last two places were up the hill, and if they were full, we would have to rethink what we are doing.  The first one was full, but the second had one room free.  Just for tonight, but it would be enough.  Not as good as the hotel, as the mattress needed replacing ten years ago, but still, it is a place to stay.

B43post3B44post4Now for the serious part of the day.  Going to visit the fortress.  Luckily this is basically in town, and although all the signs say it is 1km away, it couldn’t be that far.  Going back via tourist information, it was obvious that there was still no one there.  Just more typical Bulgaria.  Open, but not.  Going on past this small disappointment, we walked through town and up the hill.  Of course the fortress is here, where else would it be?  The last steps up out of town give an impressive view of a wall with the rocks behind it.  Making our way up to the entrance we got our tickets and headed in.  The entrance is a very nice gate house, and this leads into a large courtyard.  The natural position of the plateau gave an ideal military position.  Apparently people in the past thought the same way.  This place has been used by everyone from the Thracians to the Ottomans.  It was used all the way up to the 19th century.
B52post1B49post5This courtyard takes up most of the space,with a room carved into the rocks around the entrance.  Walking along the walls, you get a feel for time as well as a good view out over town. Then the second gate appears.  This is set directly underneath the large rocks at the end of the plateau, and is a second line of defence.  On the other side of these is a smaller courtyard, and steps up the rocks themselves.  This is the third level and the most defendable position.  Here there is a lot of use of the natural rocks, with small paths carved into the stone by ages of people walking over them.  Occasionally this was not enough, and stone steps were carved in.  There were ideal places for look out points and ambushes for any invading troops that made it this far, but not many signs of any buildings.  Overall,apart from the gatehouses, there were only three or four other buildings that we could make out.B45postbig
Scuttling over a few of the rocks rewarded us with fantastic views of the hills and plains, then we did the last climb right to the peak.  Here the centuries old original staircase was much better than the new metal ones that have been put in.  Walking around the top of the rocks gave us a 360 degree view.  Just stunning, and well worth it. We don’t think that many Belgians have visited this place though.  The fence around the top was sporadic, and most places you could just walk off the edge if you were not careful.B47postbig3

With the fortress done, we set off on a walk through the rock formations.
There was a very nice marked path, and even information on it at tourist info!  OK, so Tourist info was not open, but we could still look at the map outside.
Setting off, we took a quick look at a fortification at the top of another peak.  This was not so interesting, just a few stone walls and the rest was carved out of the stone peak itself.  Then down the hill…B40postpano1
Winding around the base of the rock formations, we kept seeing signs on how far it was.  Each time it was 1km.  After two hours of walking, we were still 1km away from the end. Eventually we hit a road.  Apparently this is a long distance bike track from Serbia to Bulgaria, and it was still 1km away.  Going up through the valley, we were 1km away, and when we finally reached the last hilltop, we were still only 1km away!  The track was pretty good and well marked for most of the way, but this being Bulgaria, there had to be something interesting.  At one point the track separated.  Here it was hard to find the markers, and after we did find them again, they split into three different directions.  Where we came from, then left and right.  Taking the right branch may have been the wrong direction, although we don’t think it mattered that much.  The other point was that we could not get up onto the rocks themselves.  There were tracks splitting off occasionally, but not wanting to get lost out here, we stuck to the main path.  This was a bit disappointing, as you could not see much of the rocks due to the trees, or the low position, but it was still a very nice walk.B46postbig2

Towards the end, we came across the museum of science and history.  Apparently this has an ancient carving of a horseman and spear, similar to the Madaba Horseman.  Taken from a different fortress nearby after archaeological excavations.  It was closed.  It was not even that late in the afternoon.  Or on a Monday, Saturday or Sunday!  They also had signs up for a very nice cave.  Apparently this cave is quite unique for a few different reasons.  Not in the least the two types of bats that inhabit it.  Although apparently they have never been identified,they call them horse-shoe nosed bats.  This seems to me that they do know the type?  I admit, I just don’t get this country.  Especially as we saw about 5 signs about this cave, but could not find the cave itself!  We followed every little path and animal track, with no sign of any cave.  Again, typical Bulgaria!B41postpano2

Still, we ended up at the same lookout restaurant as yesterday, so treated ourselves to another very nice meal.  Now we knew we were only about 1km from town!

AA

21 August 2013

A Bulgarian train

Well, we checked out of our crappy accommodation, and headed up to the railway station.
Going to Montana or Belogradchik, whichever we could get a train to.  Tourist info had told us we could not get to Belogradchik by train, and would have to go to Montana and catch a bus.  At the station it turned out that we could get a train to Oreshest by train, and this is only about 12km from Belo..whatever…
TBposttrain2Finding the train was a little frustrating as they have platforms 1-6 and tracks 1-12.  Cant make it easy for us.  We had no idea, but when the train was close and people started walking we followed them.  The ticket office and information were both useless.  Once again the ticket office did not want to sell us a ticket at first, and info did not speak any English, French or German!  Very helpful for the main international train station and the first point of call for many tourists to the country.  More than confusing for us,and we had been here six weeks or so already. Ok, so the only other train we had tried to catch didn’t go so well, and we made it onto this one before it left.  The conductor came around and punched our tickets, asking him where we got off, he gave us an approximate time of arrival.  That was nice, and even unexpected.

TBposttrainThe first section of the trip is supposed to be pretty.  It is to an extent.  The train goes through valleys,tunnels and small towns.  It is very pretty, but nothing unique.  To be honest, Anna slept through sections and I through others.  Still, it was nice scenery, and I did get to see the first land fill in Bulgaria.  It seemed to be pushed over the side of the hill, but in other places the hills had high bluffs and a large river.  The mountains seemed to flake away in places leaving stationary stones and cliffs.

Further on the land went flat and we passed more of the ubiquitous sunflower plantations.  These need to be harvested by now, and most were just fields of brown.  Passing Montana, we continued on.  Wondering why we had bothered to take the train.  It was loud, slow and seemed to stop for half an hour at every town and crossroads.  After a huge amount of time, considering that there was no toilet on the train, we arrived at Oreshest.  There was nothing here.  A few buildings and a quarry.  There was a bus, but it was not going to town, so we had to grab a taxi.  This turned out to be a shared taxi that took us all the way to the bus station.  There was a guest house here, but it was full, so we checked into the hotel and went for a look around town.

Our ideal escape for a few days

Our ideal escape for a few days

Finding tourist information easily, we were a little disappointed that it was closed, although we are not impressed with the quality of information provided, we are still willing to give them a chance tomorrow.  Then more of a walk around town.

It is a standard town in the hills, although there is not the greatest difference in hight.  Pretty in its own way, but wandering out a little bit, you can see the rock formations in all their glory.  These are stunning, and knowing that there is a fortress built on the top whets our appetite for tomorrow.

The local legend is that the formations are people frozen in time.  There was a Nun that had a young lover.  When she fell pregnant and gave birth, she tried to escape with her man.  The other Nuns were set against this and tried to stop her.  The Monks tried to help the couple and God in his wrath froze everyone in stone!

The local legend is that the formations are people frozen in time. There was a Nun that had a young lover. When she fell pregnant and gave birth, she tried to escape with her man. The other Nuns were set against this and tried to stop her. The Monks tried to help the couple and God in his wrath froze everyone in stone!

Finding a nice place to drink some wine and watch the sunset was perfect.  It makes us appreciate the fact that we are here, and can see this.  Then topped off with a very nice dinner was perfect.  The only issue we have is that the hotel is booked out tomorrow and we will need to find different accommodation, still, it is a perfect end to a very long and mostly boring train ride.TB13postpano1TB14postpano2TB15postpano3

Happy to be here, and looking forward to what the region has to offer!

AA

18 August 2013

Sofia

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