Euro Trip Week 3 Round-Up

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In case you missed it, I'm currently traveling through Europe, exploring hidden corners and must-see spots in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the UK. I've been posting daily updates from my adventures on Facebook and Twitter, but in case you missed some of those, I've also decided to put together a weekly round-up to update anyone who's interested on what I've been up to for the past 7-ish days.

Here we go with Week 3! (With the days being cumulative.)

Day 15

Day 15 was one of the best and worst days of the trip at the same time. We caught a morning bus from Sofia to Rila Monastery, which consisted of 3 hours on 2 separate buses (neither of which had air conditioning OR windows that opened, which made it stifling hot), and 1 driver who kept nodding off at the wheel. We somehow made it in one piece, however, and spent some time gawking at Rila before the skies opened up in a very welcome thunderstorm. From the monastery, we took a mini bus to the small Bulgarian village of Gorno Draglishte. There, we took an evening stroll and got invited in for tea by a local lady, and then dressed up in traditional clothes after dinner to do Bulgarian dances with two local old ladies.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Rila Monastery Church
Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria
Gorno Draglishte
Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria
Gorno Draglishte
Bulgaria
Bulgarian dancing – so fun!

Day 16

Today was another day to experience village life — this time in Bulgaria. We had a leisurely morning, with me taking a walk for about an hour to marvel at the mountains and meadows. Did YOU know Bulgaria had this kind of scenery?!? After breakfast, we took a short mini bus ride first to a village with a very old and historic church, then through the Bulgarian countryside to the resort town of Bansko. Once in Bansko, most of the group opted to go to a dancing bear sanctuary up in the mountains. The road to the place was treacherous, but thankfully we had a very good driver. After the bear sanctuary, it was back to Bansko to wander around town and have some dinner at one of the many taverns in town.

Bulgaria
Bulgarian mountains
Bulgaria
Old Bulgarian ladies in a village

Bulgaria

Dancing bear park, Bulgaria
Rescued dancing bears; poor things were tortured in order to be “trained” to “dance”

Day 17

A glorious free day in Bansko. We could have gone hiking, but seeing as it was too hot to move and no one could tell us if the 4-hour hike involved shade, none of us was really up for it. Instead, I spent my day roaming around Bansko (which is actually adorable in the summer when there's no skiing to be had), reading my book, and giving my weary body a rest.

Bansko, Bulgaria
Stone buildings in Bansko
Bansko, Bulgaria
Stork nest in Bansko

Day 18

From Bansko, it was on to the historic city of Plovdiv. Bulgaria's second-largest city is perhaps also one of its most interesting. Here, you can run into history just about everywhere, from the Roman stadium poking out from underneath a major shopping area to the amazingly well-preserved Roman amphitheater. After lunch in Plovdiv, we took a walking tour of all the major sites and somehow managed to not pass out from the oppressive heat.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Bit of a Roman stadium under the street
Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Colorful building in Plovdiv

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Day 19

We had a free day in Plovdiv, which I began by re-visiting the Roman amphitheater and wandering around the city center before the heat of the day really kicked in. Once it got too hot to stand, I went with 2 others to seek out a place to swim. As fate would have it, we ended up hanging out with our Plovdiv tour guide from Day 18 and his girlfriend at a local water park. It was like heaven. That night, we caught an overnight bus to Istanbul — easily the nicest bus I have been on so far in Europe!

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Roman amphitheater in Plovdiv
Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv street
Aqua Land
Aqua Land! AKA Heaven

Day 20

After a slightly harried arrival in Istanbul in the early morning hours, I went on a 4-hour walking tour of the city with Urban Adventures. The tour, called “Hidden Istanbul,” was fantastic, and took me to all the main sites (Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Market) and plenty more. I saw so many amazingly beautiful mosques! After the tour I slowly made my way to my hostel, and then set out to see Hagia Sofia in person. This was perhaps one of my favorite experiences of my entire trip so far. Hagia Sofia is AMAZING. After taking way too many photos, I called it an early night and crashed before 9 p.m.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Inside the Blue Mosque
Istanbul
Colorful carpeting inside a mosque
Istanbul
Tiling inside a mosque that really should be the “Blue Mosque”
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
HAGIA SOFIA!!!!
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Hagia Sofia

Day 21

My second and last day in Istanbul was jam-packed. I began the morning with a visit to the Basilica Cistern, followed by a longer stroll through the Grand Bazaar. Afterwards, I hopped on a 2-hour bus tour that went all over the European side of the city, giving me a nice overview of what I need to see next time. I then had a bit of downtime before a quick dinner and a sunset cruise on the Bosphorus. I'm already missing Istanbul, and I haven't even left yet!

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Blue Mosque
Basilica Cistern, Istanbul
Basilica Cistern
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Inside the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul
Istanbul
Bosphorus
Cruising the Bosphorus

The Week in Numbers

Each week, I'll try to give you an idea of how I'm traveling, and what things generally cost.

  • Number of flights: 0
  • Number of trains: 0
  • Number of buses: 4
  • Number of mini buses: 2
  • Number of times it's rained: 3
  • Number of times I've nearly passed out from the heat: Too many
  • A meal in Bulgaria: $3-$8 USD
  • Bike rental for 1 day in Bansko: $9 USD
  • Entry to Plovdiv amphitheater: $1.90 USD
  • Entry to Aqua Land in Plovdiv for the day: $5 USD
  • Street food in Turkey: $0.50-$2 USD
  • Entry to Hagia Sofia: $13.75 USD
  • Entry to Basilica Cistern: $5.50 USD
  • 2-hour cruise on the Bosphorus: $27.50

*Note: I'm not quoting the price of accommodation, as it's mostly been included so far.

Bulgaria

So there you have Week 3 of my European adventure! Come back next week for Week 4's round-up.

If there's anything more you want to know about my weeks, tell me in the comments!

 

If you missed previous weeks…

 

*Note: Intrepid Travel has graciously provided me with a complimentary 18-day tour through Eastern Europe. But all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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46 Comments on “Euro Trip Week 3 Round-Up

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  1. Love all the photos. Looks like you are having a grand time. I love that you call Aqua Land – Heaven. I haven’t been to a water park in like ages, would love to go to one again. Well as for Istanbul, I know I’ve mentioned my love for it way to much. Glad you spent some time there and looks like you saw the right things. Did you happen to go up the Galata tower? The view is stunning.

      I AM having a grand time! I’m loving everything (well, except sweating my ass off everyday).

      And, on that particular day, Aqua Land may have even been better than Heaven. Lol. It was SO hot in Plovdiv, so it was lovely to find such a fun (and cheap!) place to go and cool off.

      No, sadly I did not make it up Galata Tower. I wanted to, but simply ran out of time. That, and Istanbul was quite hazy when I was there, so I’m not sure the view would have been all that great anyway!

    I always enjoy reading your travel reports and I eagerly anticipate the Week Round-Up every week!! I am officially envying your travels! I love the photos your took of the Hagia Sofia…and the photos of everything else for that matter!

      Aww, thanks Rebecca! I’m glad you’re enjoying my weekly round-ups! I’ve enjoyed putting them together – helps me look back on the trip!

    It sounds like a diversity-filled trip! I knew Turkey was supposed to be colorful, yet had no idea how beautiful Bulgaria is, I just love Bulgarian cheese. Heard of its dance bears though, adorable creatures!

      I had no idea how beautiful Bulgaria was, either! It was definitely a nice surprise.

    Bulgaria looks awesome. Plovdiv and the Rila monastery are beautiful. And what I can say about Istanbul. What an amazing place. So bad the heat was oppresive. I have high tolerance to heat (I’m from the Caribbean) but feel like it takes away a lot of energy.

      Bulgaria was really hot, too, and Greece is even worse. I keep hoping I’ll get used to it, but no such luck! I’m just taking it slow and trying to stay indoors as much as possible! Definitely still loved Bulgaria and Istanbul, though.

    Bulgaria looks just so beautiful!! Those streets and the women are beautifully shot.
    The Hagia Sophia gardens are lovely and pretty! Loved your pictures.

    Looks like you’re having a brilliant time, Amanda! Happy travels to the rest of your journey — and I’m jealous of you getting to go to Bulgaria! Our last housemate in Oz was from there, so we had been introduced to the culture a bit back home.

      Yes, I’m definitely having a great time so far! Bulgaria was so interesting to experience – very different from what I expected! I highly recommend you check it out for yourself sometime!

    Nice photos, I really like the lamps in the Grand Bazaar. Bulgaria looks like a very nice place.

      Thank you, Lawrence! And yes, Bulgaria was indeed quite nice.

    Istanbul was one of my favourite cities – I love the way it straddles European and Eastern cultures –
    Seeing your photos makes me think a return trip should be back on the list 😉

      Istanbul was great. I definitely want to go back and spend more time there sometime in the near future!

    I’d never considered Bulgaria as a destination before, but think I just changed my mind. And Istanbul – oh, I’m envious!!

      Romania and Bulgaria are both well worth visiting, in my opinion! And yes, Istanbul… amazing!

    Can’t believe it’s three weeks already. That was one great trip! These pics are awesome! Hagia Sofia is on my list for a while… Ah-h, may be next year…

      I can’t believe it’s already been 3 weeks, either! Craziness! Just 5 days from now I’ll be halfway through my trip already!

    Bulgaria was a surprise to me too – very beautiful landscape. I wished I’d had more time to explore it. It wasn’t easy to find a local guide who could take me for a hike in the mountains..

      Tourism hasn’t quite caught on in Bulgaria, I don’t think. It’s still very much a developing country, but I think it’s very rewarding to visit.

    As always, you make me want to dust off my passport! Do you think September/October would be a good time to visit Bulgaria?

      I think September/October would be a lovely time to visit Bulgaria. It would probably still be warm, but not so hot that you don’t want to go outside! I’d say it would also be less crowded with tourists, but Bulgaria isn’t exactly a tourist destination to being with, so I don’t think you’d ever have to worry about that!

    Those poor dancing bears! It’s why I never like to do anything with animals for tourism, there’s too much of a chance that they are not being treated properly.

      I know! I had kind of heard of them before, but I never knew how cruelly they were treated until we visited the bear sanctuary. The poor things! Some of them are blind, and others have clearly been driven slightly mad by the cruel tactics their former owners used to train them. It was very sad, but very worth learning about, I think. I’ll definitely be writing about them in the future!

    More nice photos, Amanda, and I especially enjoyed your photos of Istanbul. I’ve never been but have wanted to go since learning about the Hagia Sophia in my art history courses many years ago.

      Thanks, Jenna. I can highly suggest a visit to Istanbul. The city has so much history and is so interesting! Not to mention that it’s also beautiful.

    Bulgaria looks beautiful! Not really how I pictured it at all.

      I know, right? I was really taken by surprise by Bulgaria. Such a beautiful country, and virtually no one knows about it!

    I was in Bulgaria 10 years ago and it sounds like the trip to the monastery is still long! Your picture brought back memories of that day (missed the second bus and had to hitchhike/walk for miles, then missed the bus leaving -it was just one of those days!). It was and (I’m glad to see) is still something special though. Love the day by day tell all.

      Heh, yeah, the trip to Rila probably hasn’t changed much at all in the past 10 years! Lol. Public transportation in Bulgaria could really do with a makeover.

    […] been really enjoying some of the stories and great photos from the trip. My favourite has been the recent round up that included her time in Bulgaria. After living in a small village in Bulgaria over winter last year it is fantastic to see some of […]

    I was born in Hungary before we moved to Germany, and I already have visited these beautiful countries, I bet you have had such a great time there! Don’t miss the beautiful mountains on Romania next time, Transylvania is a beautiful country!

      I did visit Transylvania and the Romanian mountains! Very beautiful indeed.

    Hagia Sofia looks absolutely incredibly, I can undertand why more & more people are going there.

    Might have to go there myself.

      It IS absolutely incredible!! So much more amazing than I anticipated.

    Bulgaria looks great, I am dying to go there! Very cool that you got out of the towns and into the countryside – so beautiful!

      I can highly recommend Bulgaria – and Romania too, for that matter! And yes, the thing I loved most about traveling with Intrepid was the mix of places we visited.

    Gorgeous pictures – your colours really pop!

      Thank you! I’ll give most of the credit to my camera. 😉

    Wow those small towns are so pretty! Love the mountain scenery!

      They were gorgeous. The mountains definitely took me by surprise!

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