May 31, 2016: Finally Back to Baita

We started the morning on the train from Bucharest.  We had to be up a little after five to be ready for our arrival in Beclean around six.  For the last twenty or thirty minutes of the trip we could recognize everything out of the window because the train followed our normal driving road into Beclean which we have done several times.  For the hour before that everything looked familiar as we went through the area that we know well near where we have been living.

We got off of the train at six in the morning.  We were honestly pretty nervous to find out if our car would still be waiting for us or not.  Ten days is a LONG time to leave your car for the first time at a train station in a place where you have no way to be contacted and know of no one to check on it.  We were quite quick to go look to see if the car was there, and it was.  It was completely covered in bird poo, but it was there.

We loaded up and got under way to drive back home.  We were excited to be getting home after so long away.  Being continuously away from home does wear on you a bit.

On the drive home we all decided that we were hungry and that we would attempt a stop at a pensiune of which we knew that was located just before we would get back to Baita at the south side of the plateau that we have to drive up.  We have looked at it a few times and wondered who goes there and what it is like, so this was a perfect time to see if they could do breakfast.

We arrived at the pensiune at seven and while we were the only people there, they were able to do breakfast!  We ate breakfast and were off to our house.  Great to be home, time to relax.

Today was a very quiet day for us.  All of us were ready to crash and Dominica and the girls ended up napping and sleeping for much of the day.  I managed to stay up and work on attempting to do some catch up from the time away but, in the end, was off to bed pretty early myself.

May 30, 2016: From Tarnovo to Romania

Today is our crazy, long, exhausting travel day.  All travel, all day.  Nothing but travel.  And we will not arrive until late tomorrow morning.  So it is going to be over twenty four hours of non-stop travel for us, in fact.

We were not sure if we were going to be able to buy tickets with a credit card and we did not want to carry all kind of Bulgarian cash as we leave the country, our stash of foreign cash in all kinds of currencies is becoming a little bit of a problem, so we decided that I should go down to the train station on my own early this morning while Dominica worked on packing and getting the girls ready to go.

Getting a taxi can be time consuming and I am a fast walker on my own so I walked to the train station.  The walk to it was easy, mostly downhill and the sun was not out yet.  Unfortunately, getting to the train station was easy but stepping inside it was a sauna and I was hot and sweaty pretty much instantly.

The station did not speak English and it turned out that we could not buy our tickets here because we needed International tickets.  What a pain.  But because we only had to buy the local train it was just 5.20 BGN (which is about $2.75.)  I had that in cash so was able to buy our ticket to two stations away at Gorda so we would be able to take the morning train and buy our big ticket down the tracks a bit at the big station.

It took me just long enough to buy the tickets that every taxi at the train station had pulled away leaving me without time to find one and needing to get back to the apartment quickly so that we could get back to make our train!  So I had to now walk even more quickly than before while going uphill instead of downhill.  No fun.  This would have been okay but the sun came out and it started getting pretty warm.

I got back and had to shower and change quickly as we were very much out of time as everything this morning took far longer than we had anticipated and no one was ready to go when I got home, either.  So it was a bit of a rush.

Once ready we checked out, left cash for the apartment as they had never collected the money for the last day that we had stayed, and ran down to grab a taxi in the square.  Once we had a taxi we knew that we were only five minutes away and that we had time to relax.

At the train station we had about half an hour to sit.  I walked over to the quick market next to the station with Luciana and we picked up 7-Day croissants and coffee to take back.

The train from Tarnovo to Gorda was only about twenty minutes.  Arriving there we had about an hour, maybe ninety minutes, to get things sorted and ready for the next train.  Here we easily found the international ticket office where they spoke English and we got our tickets to Bucharest for just $35 for the four of us!

While we were waiting at Gorda we were able to get four (because we all love it) big cups of steamed corn as a snack and I was able to charge my iPhone as there was power there and no one trying to use it.

Our train north from Gorda to Bucharest was easy and comfortable.  I did get to witness a “stow away” Roma get caught and try to leap from the train at full speed to escape the authorities.  He got caught twice attempting to open the outside door to escape.  It was interesting to see it in action.  Real life here, nothing hidden.

We did not have power on this train, as we did not the other day, so it was good that we had charged the phones and were ready for it.  The train was very warm, all sun today, but it was all fine.

It was a long ride from Tarnovo to Bucharest, it was a long day.  But we have nowhere to be and nothing to do so it was not a big deal that we spent the day on the train.  It was downtime.

It was late afternoon, around five, when we arrived at Bucharest’s Gara de Nord again.  We are used to this train station by now, this being our third time using it and the first time we were here for many hours and this time we are here for a long time again.

The girls just love eating at Subway and since there is one here we did that again for them.  We just got the girls food, Dominica and I wanted something else.  Lots of time to kill so no problem at all.

Dominica and I got dinner at Spring Time, a vegetarian friendly fresh food place by the Subway.  Dominica got falafel and I got a veggie burger that turned out to be amazing.  We will eat here again next time we are at Gara de Nord.  It was delicious and healthy.

We had many hours to kill until our overnight train was ready so we settled into So! Coffee, found their air conditioned room and camped out.  We pretty much had the place to ourselves for hours.  It was awesome.  Best place to kill time at Gara de Nord.  Great coffee, hot chocolate, warm space, cool space, a relatively private bathroom, snacks, wifi and a good location to see the scheduling board.  You won’t miss your train here.

We boarded as soon as we felt that we could get onto the train, so about a quarter after eight.  We got settled into the train and were ready for a comfortable evening.  This is a long overnight running from the south of Romania nearly all of the way to the Ukraine and we are riding nearly to the end; but not entirely to the end which means that we have to be careful not to oversleep and miss our stop.

Unfortunately tonight we had the berth next to us full of rowdy high school boys, six of them that we can’t even figure out how they fit into a berth. They were so loud that it felt like they were talking in the berth with us and they were constantly punching and kicking the walls and made the bathrooms so awful that we had to go to other train cars in order to use them!  It was ridiculous.  Extra train security was moved into our car to keep an eye on them.  We ended up with three conductors spending the night.  At least we were extra safe.  They weren’t dangerous, just extraordinarily rude and disgusting.

Tonight it was me that was unable to sleep.  The power went off often enough that I could not get sleep.  It was pretty bad and I had diaphragm distress during the night.  It was exhausting and I felt awful from it.  The girls slept great, they just love train overnights.  They are so small that the beds are luxurious for them and they don’t care about the power.  For everyone except Dominica the movement of the train just lulls us off to sleep.

We have to be up very early tomorrow morning to make our stop.

May 29, 2016: Tsarevets in Tarnovo

I was up long before everyone else this morning so I went out for a long morning walk on my own to do some exploring.  I can walk so much farther than everyone else that this just makes sense most days.  Today I started by going down and finding the footbridge that goes from the new town over to the peninsula where the giant monument and the art museum are.  It was a good walk and I got to see some neat stuff.  I walked back on the peninsula and found a massive staircase that just went up and up to the top of the hill and started a nature trail there.  There was even a playground at the top of the hill, but far too much walking to consider taking the girls there.  I have no idea who would use that playground.

It was a long walk, over an hour, maybe close to two, by the time that I got back home.  I got some good pictures, though.  And I got some serious exercise.

Once home I showered and we all went right across the “street” which is car free, just a pedestrian way, to the Alegro Hotel and sat outside and had a late breakfast or early lunch.  The girls loved that a cat came and was all over us while we ate and even hopped onto the middle level of our table and made itself at home there.  Restaurant cats are their new favourite thing.

Alegro Restaurant Cat

After breakfast we found a taxi to take us to the Tsarevets Fortress which is the focal point of the city.  This is the old fortress of the tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire and a major historical site.  We could have walked but that would have left us very tired before we even got started for the day.  It was already getting close to ninety degrees and full on sun when we started so this was going to be very hot and our clothes are all rather heavy as we had no plans to be anywhere that wasn’t relatively cool for our entire cycle in Europe this winter and spring.  So we are melting.

The tickets to the Tsarevets were very cheap.  It is all outdoors and you just walk around.  You take a long bridge over the ravine and then climb into the old fortress.  It was really cool.

Tsarevets in Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The girls enjoyed it but it was a lot of walking and, more importantly, a lot of climbing over rough terrain and ancient steps for a long time.  We were all exhausted and hot by the time that we got up to the top and I had to carry Luciana for a lot of it.

There was a neat, recreated church at the very peak which we checked out.  And we walked all over the grounds.  It was a good, historical experience.  It wore on the kids, though.  We are very glad that we did it, but we were tired quickly.

Liesl is defending the Tsars!

After we were done in the Tsarevets, it was probably two hours there, we hit a nice restaurant right at the entrance to the bridge to it and had a nice meal of traditional Bulgarian food.  Light stuff that was refreshing and we were quickly feeling better.

After our meal we decided to skip the taxi and walk back.  It really was not all that far and it took us down the old town shopping district again.  We stopped and got candy again for the girls.

Before getting back to the apartment we stopped and got steamed corn again.  The girls love it.  Nothing like steamed veggies as a street food snack.  This is awesome.

We relaxed at the apartment for about an hour and then went out and got take away falafel from the Bulgarian chain place Aladin Foods which turned out to be awesome.  Their falafel was so huge and filled with French fries and all kinds of stuff, it was great.  And the price was insane.  We bought way too much food for the four of us for just over three dollars!  We could have pretty easily eaten for just over two dollars had we known how big everything was!

After we ate, Luciana and I went out for a walk together to try to find more steamed corn but they had packed up and left by the time that we got there.  It was a nice little walk together, though.

Off to bed full of falafel.  This is our last night in Bulgaria.  Getting the train tomorrow and going back through Bucharest and on to Transylvania all in one day.  That is going to be one long day for us.

May 28, 2016: Tarnovo Old Town

We all slept in a bit today.  We are tired from all of the travelling and it is a comfortable apartment.  It took a while to get the kids up and out.

We started with a walk to the old town.  We screwed this up and took a really difficult way that led us down and back up with a ton of tough walking and a relatively tourist free experience, which was probably good in the long run.  Had we known how the city was laid out vertically we would have walked a completely different way and been in the old town in a fraction of the time without so much effort.  But we would not have seen so much, either.

We ended up finding a cool taverna early on our walk.  It catered enough to tourists to be easy to deal with but was clearly as much for the locals as for tourists which was nice that this was real Bulgarian food, too.  We were the only non-locals in the place but our waiter spoke English well.  This was the tavern of the Hotel Gurko, although we never found the hotel.  The taverna had some great views, too.  The whole of the old town has amazing views.  What a gorgeous city.

Lunch was very good.  The girls really enjoyed the fact that several cats inhabited the restaurant and were under our feet the entire time.  Then we filmed some videos outside and were off for more walking to try to figure out how to get to the big tourist street of the old town.

Eventually we found it and we put in an hour or so slowly going from shop to shop being traditional tourists and shopping for all kinds of things.  We found a cool antique shop and got new handmade purses for the girls and each of them picked out an antique Bulgarian pin, as well.  They are very excited about their purses.

Liesl and Luciana and their new bags

Down the street farther we found a candy store that made their own candies.  Everyone got something.  The girls each got a hard candy lollipop thing.  I got the best meringue that I have ever had.  it was two meringues with vanilla icing holding them together and rolled in chopped walnuts.  It was amazing.

It was a very hot day.  We have been used to cooler weather but it is nearly summer and we are nearly down to Greece again at this point and the sun way out without a cloud in the sky and we were really cooking today.

We found a little cafe place on the main stretch and stopped there for some awesome, light refreshing drinks while the girls played on a little playground that they had there.

While we were at the cafe, and we were probably there for an hour and a half, a woman with a four year old boy was hanging out on the playground with Liesl and Luciana.  They made friends with her and introduced her to us.  She was actually from California but had, long ago, married a Bulgarian and they were here in the country for five months so that their son could get used to the area and learn the language and culture while he was young enough to absorb it.

We ended up hanging out.  Then her sister joined us who has been visiting Bulgaria for a week or two.  And her husband and her sister’s boyfriend joined us as well.  We ended up hanging out for a while and managed to exchange contact information.  We’ve made a lot of new friends this week.

New Friend in Bulgaria

After the cafe we continued shopping and Dominica managed to find a purse that she really liked.  She had been planning to be shopping for one; it was not an impulse purchase.  We also got some of the best gelato that we’ve had in months.

We found a restaurant on the tourist stretch that looked good that we did for dinner.  Food was good.  The place was incredibly busy.  Many hundreds of people in the restaurant.  Hard to believe that a restaurant so big would exist in Tarnovo.

After dinner we returned to the apartment.  Everyone was tired after a long day of walking and the sun was really wearing on us.  We went the “right way” back and found that getting to and from the old town to our apartment was really easy.  We also found a steamed corn stand along the road and stopped and got a big thing of corn for the girls to eat.

It was dark when we got back and everyone was ready for bed pretty early on.  Today was exhausting and we expect the same again tomorrow as we want to go to see the famous local fortress and that is going to be a lot of walking out in the sun as well.

May 27, 2016: From Romania to Bulgaria

Today we are leaving Bucharest to take the train all day down to the old capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the first capital of modern Bulgaria: Tarnovo.  Our train is not until the very early afternoon so we started with getting breakfast at the same place that we did yesterday, did a couple of additional videos, and then checked out of our hostel, the Crazy Duck Lodge.

We had the hostel arrange a taxi for us today.  Better safe than sorry, although scammers would not bother coming into this neighbourhood; it is all local residential.  The trip to Gara de Nord, Bucharest’s main train station, was quick and easy and very cheap as all the real taxis are here in town.  The train station has warnings all over the place about the scam taxis, too.

We got to the station plenty early, which is always very smart, and had time to do things like get Subway sandwiches for the girls to take on the train with them.

Our train today is a daytime train; there is no overnight on this run down to Tarnovo.  This is mostly good as it will give us a chance to enjoy the scenery as this is our chance to get a good look at Bulgaria.

The train was incredibly warm and we had to share our cabin with two other people who wanted the window closed making it incredibly warm.  I spent pretty much the entire trip standing in the hallway with an open window to keep me cool with the air moving by.

Standing in the hallway always makes it easier to get to know people.  I ended up talking to a New Zealander who works in London and travels extensively.  We talked for over an hour at least.  And a Norwegian traveller that I met got some awesome pics of Luciana and me that he plans to email to me.  I have not seen them yet, though.

At the Romania border we were stopped for over two hours.  So long that everyone got out and just hung around outside for a long time.  We have no idea why Romania would have an exit border process that takes so long.  What could they possibly be doing?  I met several kids travelling from France and talked to them for a while as well.

Once under way we crossed over the Danube, which I have done before twice in Belgrade but not here, and went into Ruse, Bulgaria.  Border control on the Bulgarian side was under twenty minutes, which is like nothing.  And we were into Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian countryside was really beautiful.  We loved it.  Gorgeous, open farmland with great rolling hills and deep river valleys.

We had many hours inside of Bulgaria on the train and we ended up being very late getting into our first stop at Gorda where we thought that we were going to miss our connecting train but the Bulgarians held it for us and we were able to leave immediately for the last leg of our train journey to Tarnovo!  The last bit was only about twenty minutes so very fast.

Getting into Tarnovo, all of the French students that had been on the first train with us were still with us and going to Tarnovo for the weekend, too.  Because our train was late there were no taxis available for anyone which was rather a pain.  Of course there is no cash machine at Tarnovo station so that did not matter all that much since we could not take a taxi anyway.

We started walking and realized that it was going to be a very uphill climb.  So Dominica called the apartment that we were staying at and they ran down to get us themselves which was awesome.  So we got a quick ride up to the apartment.

The train coming into Tarnovo is really cool as the city sits on several hills with a deep river coursing through it and the train would be very disruptive to the old fortress site, the old town and everything else.  So the train actually goes far under the city near the river level and so you never see the train even though it goes right through the middle of the city.

Our apartment was right on what felt like one of the main intersections in town, across the street from the Alegro Hotel and La Scala restaurant and near the city park and Aladin Foods.   It’s a great location.  Our apartment was on the second floor and while small was really nice and comfortable.  We liked it a lot.

This apartment is the first time that we have had a place in Europe with the infamous shower and toilet area all in one where the shower actually gets the toilet wet and there is just a drain in the middle of the floor.  No actual shower space.  The biggest problem is getting the toilet paper wet, although it is not as problematic as it seems unless you are flailing around in the shower.  It was nicely done and not actually bad at all, but having the entire bathroom floor wet all of the time was a problem as you get your feet wet any time you use the bathroom.

It was getting dark by the time that we were settled in and ready to head out to get some food.  We are just getting dinner and going to bed tonight.  We did not want to go anywhere and I felt like falafel but Dominica wanted something sit down so we went to La Scala on the corner, we didn’t even have to get to the sidewalk before getting to it, and had a nice dinner there sitting inside by the front door.

We turned in early.  Tomorrow we will explore the old town of Tarnovo, Bulgaria.