A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sagbucks

Driving Along Part of Turkey's Black Sea Coast

overcast 18 °C

Day 13 Tuesday June 6 2017
Safranbolu to Sinop / 349 km

  • Predictably we are awoken by the Mullah at 4 a.m. calling us to prayer. Nothing is further from our thoughts. We suspect that it is a recording that is carefully reset everyday to coincide with the sun's movements. SG feels that if the whole town must be woken to prayer at dawn, then at least it should be done by a Mullah who is also making an effort.
  • AG managed to fix the fridge. New fuse or something like that. So we are back in business and have restocked the picnic supplies.
  • Today's route has been a subject of dispute for a while. Back in 2014 we barely arrived at the Black Sea Coast when we had to change plans, rush to Ankara and hospitalise AG for 5 days. The section from Amasra to Sinop is meant to be very picturesque. AG is not that keen. The compromise reached is to drive from Safranbolu via Kastemonou to Inebolu and then along the coast to Sinop, tonight's destination.
  • It is overcast and a cool 18C. This is unexpected in Turkey in June but it makes for comfortable travelling.
  • So we leave Safranbolu and Gulevi Otel for the second time. It has been a relaxing stay and we would recommend to anyone passing through this part of Turkey. Don't be put off by new Safranbolu which is modern and really quite grim. Old Safranbolu nestles down in the next valley well out of sight. Choose only to stay there. Several former Ottoman Mansions have been converted into Butik Otels ( whatever that means ) . And as yesterday's photographs reveal, there are many more historical houses awaiting renovation.
  • At Gulevi we were delighted to meet with Hassan again. He was the very kind Manager who helped us beyond the call of duty when we lasted visited in 2014. Hassan took a photo of our truck whilst we were parked up and sent an Instagram to his friends around Turkey. One of his contacts replied to say he had already spotted us the previous day in Luleburgaz. He had been struck by the size of our truck, that it was UK registered and that it had left hand drive.
  • We were indeed in Lukeburgaz the previous day having just left the Vineyard Hotel. It's a small world and social media makes it even smaller.
  • Kastemonou is a university town with old Ottoman houses in back streets but also grand administrative buildings of the Ataturk era. A short distance NW of the town is a little farming village called Kasaba where there is a mosque dating from 1366. It is renowned as a fine example of a wooden mosque. And indeed it is. The village is obviously preparing itself to become a tourist destination - new road, public toilets, ticket office & souvenir stalls. But for now it isn't and we are alone.
  • The woodwork within the mosque has been fitted without a single nail. And it's lasted all these centuries.
  • Then onward to Inebolu and the beginning of the Black Sea section of our trip. It is thought that the Black Sea name was a euphemism replacing an earlier reference which translated as "Inhospitable Sea". Before Greek colonisation and the knowledge they brought with them, the sea was difficult to navigate and its shores inhabited by hostile tribes.
  • 6 countries share the Black Sea - Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Russia & Ukraine. On our London to Sydney trip we stayed overnight in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Sozopol and also a brief night in quaint little Amasra, several 100 kms west of Sinop. It is obvious that coastal scenery varies immensely. The section we are now driving is definitely not (yet) a holiday destination. The coastline is rugged, forested, the road narrow and windy and the small communities dotted along are neither pretty nor wealthy. We search out a place to pull over and eat our picnic lunch. At this point the sea is a gorgeous turquoise colour and certainly not black.
  • But after lunch things go downhill. The clouds descend obliterating the coastline in the distance and the road becomes a construction site for miles at a stretch. Infrastructure is being financed on a large scale but it makes for very slow progress on what is already a long driving day. Cockpit chat is minimal. All this compounds SG's discomfort - remember AG never wanted to drive this route in the first place.
  • SG had wanted to detour a further 20 km to Ince Burun, the most northerly point of Turkey where there is a lighthouse, and perhaps, good views. But with poor visibility and a very tired driver there seems no point.
  • Our arrival in Sinop is no less disappointing. A coastal town of average architectural style, in grey damp weather & out of season. Our hotel is on the seafront, thankfully in a quiet part of town. It really is the best around. Nearby buildings are either half constructed or half demolished. It is difficult to judge.
  • At supper in the hotel's glass fronted restaurant overlooking the sea, the Ramadan ritual repeats itself. A large group of friends, business associates and/or relatives assemble about 30 minutes or so before the Mullah gives the signal to eat. So there is half an hour of chatting and communal restraint to the culinary temptations that are being laid on the table before them. A large TV screen prominently positioned in the restaurant announces the end of today's fast. Everyone stops talking and starts to eat. At this time of year fasting Muslims will have gone 14 hours without food or water.
  • On the positive side, we are however allocated a room with sea view. We hope the hotel is well out of earshot of the nearest mosque. We may be able to sleep with the windows open and to the sound of waves. Now that would be nice!

Heavily Carved Door of the Mahmut Bay Mosque

Heavily Carved Door of the Mahmut Bay Mosque

Wooden Interior of the Mahmat Bay Mosque 1366

Wooden Interior of the Mahmat Bay Mosque 1366

Picnic Lunch Overlooking the Black Sea, a Gorgeous Turquoise Colour

Picnic Lunch Overlooking the Black Sea, a Gorgeous Turquoise Colour

A Rather Grey Black Sea Coast

A Rather Grey Black Sea Coast

Posted by sagbucks 11:20 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Safranbolu - Second Time Around

A wonderful relaxing day

sunny 25 °C

Day 12, Monday June 5 2017
Safranbolu / 0 KM

  • The Gulevi Guest House is blissfully peaceful. No traffic noise. We are woken not by birdsong, but by the howling of the Mullah. Just as dawn is breaking, which is probably about 4 a.m. There is no escape. And his wail, expressed in several consecutive stances, interrupted by short periods of golden silence, seems tortuously long. We wonder how many pious souls actually get up to pray so early in the day. The rhythm of life in this part of the Muslim world has changed, perhaps the Mullahs should too.
  • We have a late start & leisurely breakfast - how rare. It is as delicious as we remember.
  • There is minimal sightseeing on the agenda. Just a self guided walk around town to see how Safranbolu has developed since our last visit 3 years ago. It hasn't really. If anything there are now fewer tourists. No doubt some have been discouraged due to the recent flare ups in various parts of Turkey and the changing political climate under the rule of Erdogan. Hassan confirms that this is indeed the case.
  • There are still many Ottoman style houses to be restored. It is work in progress.
  • We meander around town. We visit the bread shop that was so busy last night providing the townsfolk with their Iftir Pide. This morning there is calm. We note the huge marble slab in the centre of the shop for bread making. The bakers are loading a huge furnace with logs ready for today's batch.
  • We have a drink under the vine leaf pergola of a small restaurant / cafe that serves traditional Turkish coffee & mint tea. We went to the same cafe one evening last time and remember well hearing live music here. Apparently the local musicians play Thursday, Friday & Saturday.
  • The grape vine is a multi purpose crop. It produces a wonderful fruit for eating or drinking, abundant shade from the hot summer sun and of course the leaves are also used in Turkish cooking to wrap meat & vegetable mixtures.
  • Inside a jovial Turkish lady is busy making little pieces of stuffed pasta ( manta ) which she describes as Turkish ravioli. Her head scarf allows her to wedge her mobile against her ear to talk & work simultaneously.
  • We pass through the small 'light industrial ' part of town where they still craft metal household objects & tools. AG intends to take the truck's axe for sharpening.
  • We are by chance wearing a similar colour scheme today. We have a photo taken to commemorate. SG does some laundry. AG is desperate for clean clothes, SG not so. She admits that she has probably brought too many clothes on this trip, given that the climate is fairly consistent throughout. Perhaps an unwise confession to make.
  • Safranbolu is named after the saffron crop for which it was famous when the town was an active trading post on the Silk Road between 13C & 19C . Even today the town and a nearby village called Davutbasi produce between 8-10 kg of the stuff per year. That doesn't sound a lot but saffron is sold in minuscule amounts. Planting time of the crocus bulb is between August & September with the flower harvest between October & November.
  • Saffron is classified as a spice but it said to be worth its weight in gold due to its properties as a powerful pigment. It can dye liquid, skin, hair and fabric up to 150000 times its own weight. That's why recipes advise you to use sparingly!
  • It is claimed that saffron has a multitude of different uses, the scope of which is,well, unbelievable: it renews cells, is a relaxant but also a stimulant, increases sexual power ( of course ) , calms nerves, improves intelligence, helps the heart, clears artery blockages, treats cancer, is used in cooking and in the manufacture of soaps, candles & Turkish Delight. Wow, no wonder it is so expensive.
  • There is no mistaking the market that the good people of Safronbolu are now targeting. We see much signage translated into Chinese & Japanese. Our Asian friends seem to love shopping here and they are still great fans of the Selfie Stick. It has always struck SG as being terribly narcissistic to travel abroad taking selfies everywhere.
  • After a simple light lunch at a restaurant that is open despite Ramadan, SG drags AG along for a Hamam experience in the old Cinci Hamam, built here in 17C.
  • It is segregated of course, so AG has a man on man experience which worries him.
  • SG remembers the Safranbolu Hamam as one of the cultural highlights of the London to Sydney trip in 2014. Today's experience is a good example why it is best never to return nor repeat. The hot marble slabs within the Hamam, which are a feature of Turkish bathing, are either deliberately not switched on or in disrepair. The sauna is luke warm. The exfoliation and soap massage are given on a bed of hard & cold marble. We emerge with cleaner skin that is several shades lighter

and a great deal softer but for SG it is a disappointment. AG is none the wiser since he was too ill last time around for a sweat & soap session at the local Hamam.

  • We are no longer the only guests in this charming Ottoman pension - a group of 5 Canadiand have arrived and we are gate crashing the supper that is being cooked for them tonight. We hope they don't mind.

Our Ottoman Pension

Our Ottoman Pension

And the Garden

And the Garden

A Typical Ottoman Seating Area in our Hotel

A Typical Ottoman Seating Area in our Hotel

The Dining Room of Our Ottoman Mansion

The Dining Room of Our Ottoman Mansion

An Interior Door in Our Pension

An Interior Door in Our Pension

An Old Ottoman Door

An Old Ottoman Door

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An Old Ottoman House in Need of Refurbishment

An Old Ottoman House in Need of Refurbishment

An Ottoman House in Need of Restoration

An Ottoman House in Need of Restoration

Old Street of Safranbolu

Old Street of Safranbolu

Lots of Bread Freshly Baked

Lots of Bread Freshly Baked

Another Washing Area Outside a Mosque

Another Washing Area Outside a Mosque

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Interesting Skyline

Interesting Skyline

A Grapevine Garage

A Grapevine Garage

Safranbolu has Lots of Public Fountains, but Sadly Few are Flowing

Safranbolu has Lots of Public Fountains, but Sadly Few are Flowing

Not Sure What Outdoor Adventure is Being Advertised but We'll Resist

Not Sure What Outdoor Adventure is Being Advertised but We'll Resist

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A Happy Worker with her Mobile to Her Ear

A Happy Worker with her Mobile to Her Ear

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Posted by sagbucks 12:10 Comments (0)

Returning to Safranbolu

overcast 16 °C

Day 11 Sunday June 4 2017
Bakucha Vineyard, Luleburgaz to Safronbolu / 576 km

  • Overcast & only 18 C as we leave the vineyard at 9 a.m.
  • AG pays the bill. It's all in Turkish & the receptionist speaks insufficient English to translate. We have no idea if it is correct. But it is less than was originally quoted for room & half board so we pay up. We were unable to use booking.com for this hotel reservation. There is no trip advisor rating either so they receive very few European visitors. A well kept secret. Maybe it's best to keep it that way.
  • It's a long drive today . That's often the way in SG's carefully planned schedule - a day of sightseeing followed by none, a short mileage journey precedes a long one. This truck trip has taken over a year of preparation - it is our unique route with most destinations especially selected.
  • We rarely return anywhere out of choice. But this evening is an exception. It almost feels like we are heading home. Safronbolu - a place we stayed on our London to Sydney adventure. A place that was meant to offer a 2 day stopover but which due to AG's arm infection was extended to several days. The manager of the hotel, Hassan, was extremely kind and drove AG to the various clinics in an effort to get an accurate diagnosis and the correct medication. We hope that he is still there. AG did little sightseeing back in 2014. SG remembers the wonderful old Hamam and hopes to share that particular experience with AG this time around. In any case we have a rest day tomorrow in Safronbolu to recharge the batteries before the long Turkey leg of our journey.
  • We are feeling angry. We have just connected to the Internet and have heard about the London Bridge incident last night. Another act of terrorism on Mainland UK, more innocent lives lost. We're reasonable people and are willing to carry ID cards, be subjected to random searches, give the authorities power to take away British passports from those who are even 'petty terrorists' and to throw out of our prisons and deport those who have committed crimes on British soil but who are here illegally in the first place. Yes enough is enough.
  • Meanwhile en route to Istanbul and beyond, the 3 lane motorway is empty. Istanbul - there's no way round it since we are heading to Northern Turkey & the Black Sea coast. That's why it was and still is so strategically important. Being a Sunday we are hoping that traffic on the city ring road will be reasonably light. We have no intention of stopping in Istanbul. We are trying to avoid Turkey's potential hot spots of political protest.
  • Istanbul is one of the world's great cities. It is a metropolis of 15 million people that extends for miles. The motorway system around the city and leading across the Bosporus is first class. Large national flags dot the skyline, as do numerous mosques. Long stretches of the motorway banks & verges are cultivated ( you could say manicured) with specimen trees and flower beds actually in bloom. Yes there is money being spent on civic pride in this city.
  • The views from the road bridge across the Bosphorus are magnificent. Istanbul's old town hugs the waterside. The sun has now emerged and the water is a gorgeous colour -a true turquoise.

A colour forever associated with the Turks. Originally a French word meaning Turkish jewel because the turquoise stone was imported into Europe from Turkey. The first recorded use of turquoise as a colour in our English language was in 1573.

  • We have now crossed over the geographical border between Europe & Asia.
  • At our journey's 1/2 way point we stop at a Shell service station. A Starbucks beckons. This side of Istanbul we are seeing more women wearing headscarves. Worry beads or prayer beads take pride of place as an impulse purchase at the cash desk.
  • For several hundred kilometres we share the motorway route to Ankara before joining a more minor road ( still a dual carriageway ) & heading NE to Safronbolu. We drive through an extensive low lying mountain area that is deeply wooded. It starts to rain again and the temperature drops to 16 C! Somehow not very Turkey like. A reminder that this is a vast country with varied geography, vegetation and climate.
  • When we stop for our picnic lunch we realise the fridge is not working. This is a blow to our planned self sufficiency en route! It's another electrical problem in a vehicle that is meant to be electronically simplistic. The contents are smelling. The cheddar cheese from UK is maturing nicely and pungently.
  • 7 hours later we arrive in Safronbolu. AG is an amazing driver. But driving such distances is manageable when there are no traffic jams and carriageways are triple lane. The state of our UK motorway infrastructure is in contrast embarrassing. Only today we read that journey times on the M25 are getting slower. Don't we know it!
  • Our small hotel, the Gulevi, is a converted former Ottoman house & has not changed in 3 years. Nor has it been updated. It is still quite basic but the lovely garden is a real feature & hopefully the breakfasts too. If our memories serve us correctly.
  • It is quite cool - for Turkey - and rain showers continue intermittently for the rest of the evening.
  • We walk the short distance downhill into the old town of Safranbolu to re-acquaint ourselves with the layout, determine what we might do tomorrow and find a restaurant for supper.
  • It is Ramadan and many establishments are closed or not serving food until sunset when the local Mullah announces break fast time. Those who have fasted since sunrise will then tuck into the special meal of the day - 'iftar'.
  • A kindly Turkish man from Ankara, also a visitor to Safranbolu, recommends a restaurant. It is 7.30 pm and it is empty. The owner agrees to serve us and beckons us to a solitary table outside, We sit practically on the street. We choose from a limited menu and start to satisfy our hunger but not necessarily our appetite. We are surprised we are allowed to do so in full sight of fasting muslims. This is not the case in the Middle East during Ramadan. We wonder how long it will be until Erdogan decrees that Ramadan be more strictly observed by everyone in Turkey, including 'non believers'.
  • For the next hour we not only eat but watch the world go by. More and more Turks arrive at our restaurant, greeting each other warmly and taking a seat at the various vacant tables. This continues until every space is taken but still no one eats. Time is moving on, it is nearly 8.20 p.m. and now food is served to the tables. Everyone will eat the same. Still no one raises a fork or sips a drop of water. They are waiting for the Mullah to give the signal that the day's fast is over.
  • At around 8.30 the loud call to prayer resonates around the town. Finally everyone relaxes and starts to eat. This performance is repeated everyday throughout the month of Ramadan. A supper party with friends & relatives that lasts 28 days.
  • Previously such sounds & sights would have brought back happy memories of our 5 year posting to Muscat, Oman. We have lots of Ramadan stories to tell. But today after recent atrocities committed in London & Manchester in the name of Allah, we feel great sadness and not a little irritation, however unjustified it might be.
  • Back at our very quiet hotel ( we suspect we may be only guests ) we later here the final call to prayer of the day to the nearby mosque. Earplugs in again tonight - but they are unlikely to work 100%. The Mullah is too loud and the mosques too numerous. It is truly a surround sound.

Manicured Motorway Flowerbeds - Miles & Miles of Them

Manicured Motorway Flowerbeds - Miles & Miles of Them

Safranbolu Old Town

Safranbolu Old Town

One of the Many Mosques in Safranbolu Old Town

One of the Many Mosques in Safranbolu Old Town

Washing Feet & Hands Area in Front of Mosque

Washing Feet & Hands Area in Front of Mosque

What Men Do Best - Chat & Play with Their Worry Beads

What Men Do Best - Chat & Play with Their Worry Beads

A Little Boy Clutches Fresh Bread for His Famiky's Iftir Supper

A Little Boy Clutches Fresh Bread for His Famiky's Iftir Supper

This Local Bakery Seems to be Baking Iftir Bread for All Safranbolu

This Local Bakery Seems to be Baking Iftir Bread for All Safranbolu

Safranbolu is Named After the Most Expensive Spice in the Workd

Safranbolu is Named After the Most Expensive Spice in the Workd

Many Old Cobbled Footpaths Criss Cross Old Town Safranbolu

Many Old Cobbled Footpaths Criss Cross Old Town Safranbolu

An Old Ottoman House in Need of Restoration.

An Old Ottoman House in Need of Restoration.

AG Awaits His Supper

AG Awaits His Supper

The Fasting Turks Have to Await the Mullah's Signal to Eat

The Fasting Turks Have to Await the Mullah's Signal to Eat

Posted by sagbucks 23:13 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Back in Turkey

Bakucha, A Vineyard Hotel - What a Gem

overcast 25 °C

Day 10 June 3 2017
Plovdiv to Luleburgaz / 269 KM / Border Crossing into Turkey

  • As we head out of Plovdiv on the busy dual carriageway we overtake a horse & cart that is navigating its way to nearby fields. A reminder that living standards vary enormously in Bulgaria and that the cosmopolitan cities of Sofia & Plovdiv are not representative of its rural hinterland.
  • For the first time we drive in rain, albeit warm.
  • Today we are leaving Europe. Even though Bulgaria lies on its southern extremity, you still feel a kind of cultural safety net. The same cannot be said of Turkey. It will be interesting to see how things have changed since our last visit in 2014.
  • Our destination this evening is a Turkish vineyard called Bakucha Hotel & Spa. SG could not believe her luck when Google research revealed this place conveniently located between the Turkish border & Istanbul. Staying in vineyard accommodation is a favourite pastime in Europe but unexpected here in Turkey.
  • 5 km before the border, the trucks are queuing. We wonder if at the back of the queue the driver anticipates an overnight stay or 2 in his truck. Number plates are from all over Europe, but we see none from UK. Yes patience is a virtue if you are a truckie.
  • In front of us in the queue is a German car with 3 young men of Turkish origin. They have driven from Munich overnight and have been on the road for 18 hours, driving in shifts. The driver explains his mother is returning to Turkey to live permanently and he is driving her brand new BMW back home for her. He returns to Germany on Monday by Lufthansa. Of course he will have driven a direct route and with no sightseeing, but his journey still represents quite a pace. Many Turks went to Germany to work as Gastarbeiter ( guest workers ) after World War 2 when Germany lacked manpower for obvious reasons.
  • The border process takes about 90 minutes in all, and involves visits to various booths. It costs us 85£ in car insurance. A blanket charge for 3 months regardless of your accident risk. European car insurance does not include Turkey. We are out of that safety net.
  • The truck queue waiting to enter Bulgaria is even longer ( 10 km ) No doubt because it is also an EU border. Many truck drivers are 'relaxing' roadside. They have a distinctive body shape.
  • Immediately over the border is a huge mosque - for the convenience of travellers at prayer time.
  • Turkey also operates a vignette system and we must pay 30 euros for our trip - we calculate that in total we will be spending 21 days in Turkey on this trip. 9 days on our way to Georgia and 12 days on our return. Turkey is a vast country but this total also includes some rest days and opportunities for sightseeing. More about that later in the trip. However this time around we are visiting neither Istanbul nor Ankara. At least that's our sincere hope.
  • Bakucha vineyard is not easy to find. We suspect satnav has led us astray and the 'maps me app' is no more precise. However the building is distinctive to say the least, the countryside open and SG identifies from a distance what she believes to be our destination. It's just a question of finding the right route.
  • The advantage of our zig zag approach is that we drive through a rural Turkey which is definitely off the beaten track and more accurately on a very bumpy one. We share the road with horse & carts, pass through villages with groups of men shading under the vine pergolas, see boys watching over their flocks and joy, oh joy, spot the first inhabited stork nests of our trip.
  • What magnificent birds they are. Storks visit Turkey every year between April & September. The eggs will probably have hatched by now but we only see Mum & Dad. Nests, which can weigh up to 250 kilos are built up on poles, around chimneys or mosque minarets. With up to a 2 meter wingspan, a nest at altitude not only affords a degree of safety from predators but also an easy take off when the storks go in search of food.
  • Bakucha vineyard is châteauesque in a modern sort of way. The Interior is better than the exterior suggests. It is busy with weekend trade. Young Turks with their small children are relaxing around the pool and drinking wine. No sign of Ramadan restraint here. There is a spa and of course in Turkey that must include a Hamam. The pool is a little fresh, presumably not heated, and SG is unsure whether to take a plunge.
  • We research the indigenous wines, sold under the Arcadia label. The Manager says around 40% is exported to a London distributor. The grapes are 'sustainably' cultivated and production is not supplemented by grapes from other vineyards.
  • The Istanbul chapter of the Rotary Club is here, a group of mainly Turks and a few Europeans who live long term in this country. They very kindly invite us to join them on a tour of the Arcadia winery. It is a small 'artisan' business that prides itself in high quality wines but production levels are relatively low. Arcadia is a comparatively young venture, one that has been undertaken with passion but also a great deal of scientific analysis.
  • Reference several times is made to the deteriorating political climate in Turkey and how it impacts a wine business which is producing evil stuff for 'non believers'. The cynical perspective is that it brings in high taxes. In 2011, shortly after the first bottling from this vineyard, the authorities banned internet sales and marketing of wine within Turkey. Arcadia can no longer advertise domestically, so no wonder it concentrates on export markets.
  • As we return to the truck parked up beside the vines, we fear the curse of Turkey has struck us once again. In 2010 our classic Ford car was hit and badly damaged by an errant sheep here. The sheep also came out of the collision pretty badly and the negligent shepherd went after compensation - for his sheep, not our car.
  • Then in 2014 on our London Sydney trip, AG was confined to hospital in Ankara for 5 days all because of a stupid elbow wound. The Turkish doctor probably saved his arm, if not his life, so we bear no grudge. But we yearn a smooth and uneventful passage through Turkey this time around. And for the truck to suddenly stop working, with no previous symptoms of malfunction seems unsurprisingly like a bad deal of fate.
  • To avoid delaying a large group of people from their wine tasting session, we urge the other cars to leave us to sort out the problem. So there we are, alone, locked in a vineyard, with a truck that has suddenly ceased to function.
  • Keep calm. Let's think about this rationally. God it's stressful. We have a 600 km drive tomorrow and we need to have a functioning truck!
  • Our 2006 Toyota truck is meant to be electronically simplistic. That's a plus point by the way. And here we are with an electrical problem we cannot solve. But hey, when computers behave similarly, what do we do? Apart from calling our personal technical support - we shut the damn things down completely, reboot & start again. SG suggests we do likewise and AG has the knowledge to do so. Disconnecting the battery, counting a minute and reconnecting is how we fix the situation.
  • At Bakucha we expect fine wines & mediocre food. But in fact we are treated to a 4 course taster menu with selected wines from the vineyard. We enjoy not only fine wines but also delicious food. This place is another little gem!

Queuing for the Turkish Border

Queuing for the Turkish Border

Bakucha Vineyard - Modern Chateauesque

Bakucha Vineyard - Modern Chateauesque

A Turkish Spa Should Have a Hamam

A Turkish Spa Should Have a Hamam

A Lovely Thought

A Lovely Thought

Local Wine & Local Flowers

Local Wine & Local Flowers

The Barrels are Oak & Specially Selected from France

The Barrels are Oak & Specially Selected from France

This is a Special Way of Cultivating the Vines called the Lyre Technique

This is a Special Way of Cultivating the Vines called the Lyre Technique

We Dread this Sight!

We Dread this Sight!

Posted by sagbucks 22:03 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Sightseeing in Bulgaria Continues

Old Churches & Ancient Cities

sunny 28 °C

Day 9 Friday June 2 2017
Sofia to Plovdiv / 434 KM

  • Today we are heading to Bulgaria's second city, Plovdiv, which is nicknamed the city of 7 hills. It's Thracian name was Philippolis, but the Persians, Romans, Goths, Huns, Crusaders, Slav- Vikings and of course the Ottomans, have all been here too! We are particularly interested in seeing the fine civic remains of the Thracian / Roman eras - the aqueduct, stadium & theatre.
  • But first we are doing some more sightseeing - Boyana church and the famous complex of Riliski Monastery. Actually a detour of about half a day so SG may be pushing her luck.
  • AG has been irritating SG with his sniffles. At first he thought it was hayfever and dust irritation. But no, he has a heavy summer cold. Barely a week into the trip, he's already ill. We both hope for a speedy recovery!
  • As usual, when we have en route stops to make, we input the relevant coordinates. We are also referencing the paper map version of Bulgaria.
  • It's just a short drive to the leafy and no doubt expensive Vitosha suburbs which straddle the lower slopes of the Vitosha mountains that dominate SW Sofia. This is a ski area in winter.
  • It is barely 10 a.m and the coaches are already arriving at the Boyana Church ( built 10 th C ) . A pretty little place nestling in woods. Simple from the outside, it is famous for the frescoes adorning its interior that date from mid 13 Century. They are said to be the most complete example of medieval art in the Balkans, characterised by artistic individuality and psychological insight into lifestyle & culture of that era.
  • We will never know. We do not have the time to wait. Entry is a significant 10 euros per person, but you are allocated a time of entry. The coach loads arriving now have reserved their time slot in advance. We will be back of the line, as Obama so famously said last year.
  • In any case in Armenia & Georgia we will have numerous opportunities to see very early Christian artwork.
  • We move on. We are soon stopped by a police car. AG has to show his driving licence and switch his lights on. ( Its law in Bulgaria to drive at all times illuminated )
  • Within 5 minutes, on a different road we are stopped again by a roadside check point. They are pulling over cars and trucks randomly. The police again want to AG's driving licence and enquire about our destination & reasons for travel. We are relieved that the checkpoint is not simply a good way to charge fines ( bribery ) for some minor infringement. We are wrong to doubt the Bulgarian law enforcement system. When was the last you were randomly checked in the UK?
  • Our next way point is Rila Monastery some 100 km South of Sofia and a significant detour for us on our journey to Plovdiv which actually lies SE of the capital city.
  • We are not alone. The coach park is full. We feel conspicuous in our shorts & skirt. Most people are wearing long trousers despite the heat. We have been warned that we must cover up when visiting ancient churches and monasteries in Georgia & Armenia but we had not realised that there was a dress code here in Bulgaria too.
  • We are amazed at the number of Chinese & Japanese visitors to this part of Europe. Good for them, straying beyond the obvious path that leads to Rome, Paris & London.
  • The crowds mean that capturing that perfect photo without the 'unknown tourist' is more or less impossible or requires careful editing later. We all get in each other's way.
  • Once off the new motorway from Sofia, we take a minor road that leads some 20 km through countryside via the town of Rila to the monastery. It has recently been upgraded courtesy of EU subsidies. It no doubt allows for easier & quicker coach travel for tourists in a rush.
  • We are in rural Bulgaria - horse & cart country, manual labour in the fields, roadside stalls selling honey, dogs exercising themselves, and backyards shaded by grapevines. We wonder what % of the young people of such towns & villages now work abroad. The tell tale signs of half finished houses indicates building work that endures only as long as the latest money remittance.
  • Rila Monastery was founded in the 10 th Century by the followers of a hermit known as St Ivan of Rila who lived between 876-947 AD. It was built up in the mountains at an altitude of 1147m which makes summer temperatures more bearable. St Iven himself never inhabited the monastery, preferring a cave with no material possessions.
  • The oldest buildings that remain today date from the early 14 th Century and 60 monks continue to live here.
  • During the long years of foreign rule, Rila Monastery also served as a depository of Bulgarian cultural & language artefacts. It therefore has great spiritual, cultural and patriotic significance to Bulgarians & is on the list for school outings.
  • Unesco, that organisation that travels the world to some of the most obscure places to declare them World Heritage Sites - well they've been here too. It helps with tourism immensely, even if the status is somewhat overrated.
  • Since we are dressed inappropriately by Eastern Orthodox Christian Standards we only peep inside the main church. It suffices for us - the walls and ceilings are covered with religious paintings. It is dark & oppressive and not particularly spiritually uplifting - at least not to us.
  • We leave ahead of all the coaches. It is lunchtime and the day's outing no doubt includes lunch at one of the nearby Bulgarian restaurants. We continue on to Plovdiv. We want to arrive in good time for the Free Plovdiv Walk scheduled for 6 p.m.
  • The meeting place for the walk is just around the corner from our hotel called 8.5 Town Guest House. Not sure how they hit on this name, but the building next door is number 17. Opposite is Hemingway Restaurant, a Trip Advisor recommendation and where for convenience we will eat this evening.
  • Dani is our Bulgarian guide and we suspect he is new to the profession. We are a bit underwhelmed, his pace of both talking and walking is slow. We stick with him for just over 2 hours but leave the group early to retrace our own steps.
  • Within this time we see some of the ruins of the antique city. They are indeed subterranean and only a small proportion have been excavated and put on public display. There are stories amongst the group of being invited into the basements of older houses where they have their own private stash of ancient history. Buildings have simply been built on top of ancient treasures.
  • There are plans or rather dreams to excavate much more of the stadium, which sits under the main shopping street, constructed back in the 1960's. The vision is for the walkway to be made of glass so that the ruins are visible. Dani suggests this is unlikely to happen because it would be too expensive. The cost of excavation and dismantling of buildings was in any case the reason that much of ancient Plovdiv remains hidden.
  • The stadium originally measured 50 m x 250 m. It was used for chariot & horse racing & racing and when filled with water for mock sea warfare. Opposite the excavated section of the stadium is the distinctive Dzhumaya Mosque which was built in 15th century. It replaced an earlier version that had been constructed in 1363-4 on the same site and which at the time was the first functioning mosque in Bulgaria.
  • We also glimpse behind high gates the public theatre built during Plovdiv's Thracian era in the 1st Century AD. It has 28 concentric rows of marble seats, can accommodate 6000 spectators and today is still used for summer concerts and drama productions. How incredible to see a live performance here.
  • Last but not least, immediately opposite our hotel is the excavation of part of the former Forum which was actively used between 1-5 th centuries and which covered an area of 2.5 acres. Sadly over the centuries and well before preservation projects, it provided an ideal source of building material.
  • We terminate our walk with young Dani up on Nebet Hill, one of Plovdiv's main hills, part of the old town and a great place to admire old Ottoman houses. We could be in Turkey....
  • Knackered & hungry we descend the cobbled streets. With good old maps me app ( no we're not on commission ) we are sat at our table in the Hemingway restaurant by 8.30. By now AG has also developed man flu. It is hours since we have had sustenance. We have often wondered why no one ever shows an interest in joining one of our crazy road adventures. Days like today would surely deter most people!

AG in Front of Boyana Church

AG in Front of Boyana Church

What You are Not Allowed To Wear

What You are Not Allowed To Wear

Impossible to Get a Photo without People. We are all in each other's way.

Impossible to Get a Photo without People. We are all in each other's way.

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

A Storm Brews Above Rila Monastery

A Storm Brews Above Rila Monastery

Orthodox Christian Roof Mural @ Sila Monastery

Orthodox Christian Roof Mural @ Sila Monastery

Through the Layers & Across the Centuries

Through the Layers & Across the Centuries

Roman Stadium in Plovdiv, Underneath Main Shopping Street

Roman Stadium in Plovdiv, Underneath Main Shopping Street

Dani our Guide in Plovdiv

Dani our Guide in Plovdiv

Dzhumaya Mosque, Plovdiv

Dzhumaya Mosque, Plovdiv

Work is Still in Progress in Plovdiv Old Town

Work is Still in Progress in Plovdiv Old Town

Renovated Doorway in Plovdiv

Renovated Doorway in Plovdiv

And a DoorvBefore Renovation

And a DoorvBefore Renovation

Ottoman House, Old Town Plovdiv

Ottoman House, Old Town Plovdiv

Ottoman Houses in PLOVDIV

Ottoman Houses in PLOVDIV

Roman Theatre in Plovdiv

Roman Theatre in Plovdiv

Ruins of the Forum (1-5th C )

Ruins of the Forum (1-5th C )

Sunset over Plovdiv

Sunset over Plovdiv

Posted by sagbucks 22:00 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

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