We sat at the Romanian border of Bulgaria. The ‘Friendship Bridge’ which shuttles visitors over the Danube River between nations, was being heavily refurbished. Each side of traffic had to take turns crossing, roughly 100 cars and trucks at a time, creeping over the bridge and toward border patrol. The queue on the other side of the road waited patiently for the parade to end, people leaving their sweatbox cars to stretch their legs, peering out onto the Danube below. After a round of thirty minutes of inactivity, the second side would get the green light and the parade would continue in the other direction.
Thus, in blistering mid-summer heat, baffled by the strange construction management, and lack of information online about what was happening, we entered Bulgaria.
We have a pattern when we travel. We start strong, filling our days with sights and sounds, eating and drinking heartily, walking miles, crashing into our bed at night. After about a week of this pace, we slow down. Dramatically.
Well, maybe it’s more of a crash and burn.
After a week traipsing around Romania, our few days in Northeast Bulgaria were meant to be filled with wine tastings, long drives to ancient fortresses, and perhaps a several hour hike thrown in for good measure.
But when we pulled in to our hotel, 10 kilometers down a barely paved road, we stopped moving.
The Seven Generations Winery Hotel, which we had picked somewhat arbitrarily online after reading some fantastic reviews, was a self-contained oasis outside of the border town of Ruse. Pool? Check. In-house restaurant serving three meals a day? Check. Balcony overlooking the vineyards? Check. Air conditioned room and a TV with movies in English? Check.
We didn’t leave for 24 hours, alternating baking in the sun on the balcony with white wine and a book to ducking indoors to play on the Internet and watch old episodes of CSI. (Side note: in our travels, without fail, any English-speaking television station has the entire catalog of CSI at its disposal which is played on rotation incessantly. It’s comforting and cruel.
We did leave the hotel a few times over the course of our three day respite. We spent one morning trying to figure out the local bureaucracy (bureau-crazy??) and how it pertains to foreign rental cars (to be covered more completely in an upcoming post. Stay tuned: it’s a doozy!). We took a short hike to the Rock Churches of Ivanovo. We drove to the ancient fortified town of Cherven. We sat on the banks of the Danube and played with the tiny frogs that were everywhere.
After driving around for an hour or two each day, we stopped by a local market for snacks and wine and went home, to relax some more.For meals, we at our weight in cucumbers and tomatoes, which were in peak season and absolutely mouth watering. Fresh Bulgarian cheese (kind of like feta) adorned most dishes. Roast meat was on the menu, as were hearty salads with yogurt-based dressings. The influences from Greece and Turkey are prominent in Bulgarian cuisine and we loved it.
Our time in Bulgaria reminded us of the importance of sitting still. The hotel was filled with Bulgarian families who come every summer for multiple weeks (completely possible at roughly £20/night), to relax and recharge. We took the cue of the other guests, having leisurely meals, floating in the pool, wandering the grounds. We remembered to finally put down the guidebook, our phones, the computer and just watch the world go by. It’s a lovely place, after all.