It has been a while. Between end of June and end of July we have really enjoyed life. My husband has changed jobs – moved from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to work for an AI startup. This, apart from all the exciting content, also makes our lives easier: we no longer need 2 cars, and can spend more evenings together. We hence did went out quite more often, catching up with friends and tasting the endless menus of Abu Dhabi restaurants. We also spent a weekend in Dubai, brunching and watching the show – La Perle. Despite the summer heat we have been out running and cycling – trying out our new road bikes, at a bit higher heart rate.
But what really defines the past 2 months is our summer holiday (funny to call it SUMMER holiday though, when we escape to somewhere cooler). This time we decided to try another country with former Soviet history – Bulgaria, where neither me or my husband had ever been to.
Our plan was very simple: fly to Sofia, spend 2 days there, rent a car and drive 550km to the black sea where we booked a 5-star resort (we had thought nothing would match the UAE 5-star…) close to Varna, our parents would join to meet us there (since we aren’t flying to Lithuania this summer), drive around and enjoy the cold (ONLY +24 degree) sea, then drive back in 7 days and spend another 2 days in Sofia – then home. Easy, right?
Turned out full of experiences and a few surprises.
During the trip we learned a lot about Bulgarian history and culture. Apparently, Lithuanians and Bulgarians had similar descendants, Thracians, who spoke a weird indo-European language. Turns out, Bulgaria was the hotspot of European – Middle Eastern clashes and cultural developments. Tons of ruins of Roman fortresses, baths… Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, now has ancient ruins discovered right in the middle of the city just a few years back, where tourists now can literally walk on Roman pathways and visit ancient homes. The city of Veliko Tarnovo we visited on the way from Sofia to Varna was beyond magnificent – it wasn’t easy to capture in a picture the great combo of architecture and nature.
To me, who once (long time ago), wanted to study archaeology, this was a stunning experience! Another great finding was monasteries – Bulgaria has a few hundred of them. The one we visited in Varna was literally carved in stone. All of it.
Nature. Where should I start! The simplest finding was – Bulgaria is a country of sunflowers and roses. Sunflowers are literally stretching all the way from Sofia to Varna we drove. I managed to get one 😛
Roses – their national flower. Apparently Bulgaria is key exporter of roses and all rose related products – oils, waters, teas… To get true rose oil though is not that cheap, apparently one ml costs like a gram of gold. To expensive to get sufficient amount for a proper massage! We bought a few cheaper versions of soap, cream, hair mask, rose tea, rose petal jam, rose lip balm…and a silver rose. Just enough roses for one time 😉
As for the landscape of Bulgaria, it was stunning. Marked by magnificent Balkan mountains, mineral waters floating all over, caves and clean blue sea. Our journey started with the mountains (unexpectedly). Day 1 in Sofia: “what should we do? let’s see the map. Oh there is a Vitosha mountain just 7km from the hotel. There is a monastery on top and a waterfall 10km away. We can do it!” Our spirits was definitely stronger than our legs. Great views helped!
We arrived at the monastery and walked 8-9km up and down a proper trail road to the 10th century Boyana church. We had an ice-cream and a coffee, legs were a bit tired after 2 hours of trail-walking…but we were determined to climb the mountain to see the waterfall 5km away. 5km – nothing for sports junkies like us. But it was a steep (600-700m) climb on a bumpy trail road full of water streams, slippery stones and tree branches. We reached the waterfall – it was totally worth it – and then we had to go back following the same route, non-stop down. Trailing down turned out to be no less challenging, at the end knees started shaking a bit. And yet back home, shower and off to the city – to round off the first day with 30km challenging walking 🙂 Needless to say, we felt our calves and hips next morning. And yet, we barely slowed the pace for the rest 10 days of holiday, walking 20-35k steps per day. No less than 20k any single day even the beach day. Beat that!
Food. Big discoveries. If you like Greek salad, Bulgarian salad is like Greek but 10 times more tasty with super Bulgarian tomatoes and great cheese. Bulgaria is the capital of yoghurt, a very healthy one (with Bacilus Bulgaricus bacteria), so we tried to get as much as we could of it during the trip. On the street, Bulgarians seem to eat a lot of pizza and pizza like bread (pizza dough and Bulgarian cheese). My husband was happy.
In restaurants, they have great variety of meat and fish, even mussels – straight from the Black Sea – were best I remember trying. Since we are foodies somewhat, we didn’t miss our chance to try out the top gourmet restaurants in Sofia. I was most impressed by molecular (trending now) kitchen of Chef Petrov (in “Secret by Chef Petrov”) – a multiple course (we lost count) tasting menu was second best I ever tried (first place still with “Crazy Gourmet” in Athens). And just for 45 EUR per person! If the top restaurant top dinner costs this, you can only imagine how cheap the street Bulgaria is… And this, of course, was also one of the reasons we chose Bulgaria to visit. We tried and brought some local wines for our collection – be our guest to visit and taste them.
The sea. I told a lot about mountains, but the Black sea deserves no less praise. We stayed in Golden Sands resort, Grifid Hotel Metropol, were we had our private beach. The waves were, on some days, beyond big, and we cheekily tried to fight them despite red flags and lifeguard warnings. Sea rarely gets as rough in the UAE! But I really enjoyed riding the waves, or just watching them from the shore. Needless to say, I had to use my husband’s hands to pull me out from water several times, and find ton of sand in my swimsuit afterwards…but that’s okay. Everyone enjoyed the view at least 🙂 Our parents weren’t as brave, but also tried the sea on calmer days. If not in the sea, we had a lot of joy walking around along spectacular coastlines and forests (even a stone forest).
Overall the trip was good. A few negative surprises, though. One was right when we arrived. Apparently the car we booked online wasn’t automatic as we requested, due to some error we were given a MANUAL car. You should have seen my husband’s reaction to this news! Driving over 1000km in a new country with not-so-great roads in a MANUAL car sounded scary initially. Especially to me – I last used a manual car over 10 years back. We have an automatic car, and only used automatic cars in the UAE (nobody used manual cars any more). Buy hey we ventured…. learning again to drive manual Suzuki car was fun, especially in Eastern Europe. I did most of the way (I like driving) with my husband acting as GPS (“steep down”, “steep up”, “one way road”, “180 degree turn”)…. Man, I can say one thing: if you can survive a Varna – Bourgass 100km road with no accident, you can survive anything!
The second bad experience was…welcome to Bulgaria… somebody stealing my Garmin Forerunner 935 watch, right off my wrist. I still don’t know how it happened, but only remember a woman on the beach walking over to me and asking what time it is. 10 minutes after I only saw bleak mark of where the watch was on my wrist – it was gone. Oh I was sad about it, involved all family in searching around, but to no avail. It was gone forever, so for the rest of my holidays I had to rely on my husband’s Garmin to tell us how many steps we had done that day. But I can’t live without Garmin, so the first day we arrived – yesterday – I went straight to the shop where I bought my first one, to get the new watch. Happy again. But lesson learned – we were warned – Bulgaria is not the UAE, pickpocketers are world class masters!
(even pictures show how much I liked it…)
It is very strange to come back after holiday where suddenly we don’t spend all day walking. But I really feel I needed a lot of sleep after holiday, it WAS very active and exciting in all ways. Next week is public holiday in the UAE – a little respite – and we will definitely find fun things to do here again. Now on our minds is the Yas Waterworld. Then we will have a few birthday parties and will visit Dubai opera twice in early September… Of course, work has to come somewhere in-between, and we both are looking forward to new challenges.