Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bulgaria/Serbia/France/Spain 2014

Bulgaria/Serbia/France/Spain 2014

22 May  Thursday:Depart Mpls 5:10 pm   AirFrance flight AF-9301
Our AirFrance ended up being a typical Delta flight,with lower that average food quality.
Garrett said he wouldn't even serve their beef stroganoff at a homeless shelter.


The gal we sat next to put her blindfold on right away & tried to sleep most of the flight.
In the last 1/2 hour I could hear her rocking out to the Statler Brothers & other early stuff.
When I asked her about,ended up she talking our ears off.

A Swiss citizen.
German gal of Turkish decent raised in Germany,neuro scientist who travels the world
and loves old country western music.
She travels to Mpls every four months to share findings @ Medtronic.
She leaves us with.."I'm sorry, I should have talked to you guys earlier".


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23 May  Friday
 Arrive Paris 8:30 am
Depart 12:35  AirFrance AF-1788

Talked to a missionary for a couple hours,on the layover at CDG.
A Baptist minister who has been working with the Roma in
Romania & Bulgaria since 1991.
Claimed he made it into Romania right after the wall fell.
He has traveled this route many times.

Fun guy.
He gave us 5 minutes of preaching and we have him 90 minutes of
donkey humor without referencing any of our material.( that's probably for the best:)

He did a long 'clean up' in the men's room at the Paris airport.
Garrett explained to him that there is an official term for that,
'The Oklahoma Car Wash'.

Of course Garrett had to help with IT questions on our
the data plan we were using.

The sub-par meals continued.
But we were prepared...with chicken flavored potato chips.
I filled out the AirFrance email survey.
I gave them a good review,everything was good,
except they should hire some French people to bake bread for them:)

Landing in Sofia.
The approach to Sofia takes you right over the town.
Sofia had a real soviet look,
with all the square concrete high rise apartments on the outskirts.

Minnesotan's land in Sofia...the plane breaks out in applause!
It was a typical non eventful flight.
But the second that all the wheels were on the runway & the pilot applied the brakes,
the passengers started applauding.
It was very cute,never seen that before.

Arrive Sofia at 4:15pm
We got the Bulgarian stamp in the passport.
The Sofia International Airport looked more like a train station.
Very small & straight forward.
We didn't use jetways,just unloaded on to the tarmac.
Amazing how fast a plane can unload,when both exits are being used.
The distance from the airplane door,
thru customs,thru baggage claim & to the street was less than 75 yards.

We arrived Sofia at rush hour,typical.

We spent 45 minutes in stop & go to travel the three mile long airport road.

Crazy,but skilled driving.
Motorcycles using the oncoming lanes for passing,with oncoming traffic present.
The motorcyclist 'expect' the oncoming traffic not to hit them.

Horse drawn wagon,horses along the road.

Horse manure in the traffic lanes:)

Gypsy camps.

Buildings of all levels of decay....wild.

Garrett was spotting alot of swastika's while driving thru downtown Sofia.

Too tired to seek out our prepicked restaurants.
Ended up eating at our hotel.

Have a fabulous spend for bread,couldn't place the favour.
handmade pasta

We bowed to Garrett when his dish arrived,he picked the manly dish.
Cheese & pickles wrapped in pork & grilled,hanging from a skewer.

 Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Even though we were up 35 hours,we ended up downtown taking pictures of some of the buildings.

Construction notes:
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24 May  Saturday        3 hrs  Sofia to Kazanlak

The Silver House,Sofia
Excellent breakfast spread.
Nice to have fresh vegetables for breakfast.

Some guy got pick pocketed sometime during breakfast.
Lost passport,money & credit cards...sad.
Cops arrived.

Random scenes from Sofia

 What is the term when they tie the horse's front legs together?
 Never seen this before.

Lunch at Shipka,Bulgaria.

This was one of our most 'rustic restaurant' picks yet,but the parking lot had 5-6 local cars at 2pm.
Nothing found on Google on this place,except a drive by picture.
Fabulous lunch,friendly ( but busy)  staff.
No English skills are needed to enjoy some good lunch.
Raw veggies for breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Only place I've every eaten, that have people killing each other on the menu:)

This is the first time since the 1970's,I can remember seeing 'refillable' bottles being used.

Discovered 'Frites with cheese'
( french fries with sharp goat cheese? )
We think it was some type of finely crumbled sharp goat cheese.
Very sharp contrast of flavors.....three thumbs up.

Shipka Church in the background

Shipka Pass.

The Battle of Shipka Pass consisted of four battles that were fought between the Russian Empire, aided by Bulgarian volunteers, and the Ottoman Empire for control over the vital Shipka Pass during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).
The crucial moment came in August 1877, when a group of 5,000 Bulgarian and 2,500 Russian troops repulsed an attack against the peak by the Ottoman Central army.

Buzludzha       Epic trespassing!
The old commie headquarters,now can't afford to maintain or demolish.

 We had discussed & agreed ahead of time,that we would not go inside this building.
"We don't want to break any laws while out of country,especially in eastern Europe."

 Garrett talked me into to hiking up to the structure,Mike drove the car up.
A 20 minute brutal walk,like a 'commie pilgrimage'.
 Both Garret & Mike are in this picture.

Mike yelled down to me...'How are your doing?'
I yelled back......'I NEED A BEER!'
Laughter broke out all the way around the building.

There were people all around the building..I just couldn't see them.

A young couple from Prague,asked us if saw the opening
We said...'No,where is it?'
You had to crawl thru a dangerous little hole,with a ten foot drop to cross,to get into the building.
Within ten minutes...we were all in the building:)  (including the Czech guy )

as far as activities,this one is going to be hard to beat
Garrett said,trespassing in this building is the coolest thing we have ever done.

As we took this photo, Mike said' This is worth the $2000 airfare.

The Czech girl finally decided to come in.
We helped her as she crawled thru the opening,with a dress on.

She had to come in,so she could ripe a piece on the Karl Marx mosaic
socialism left a very bad taste in their mouth

we were here:

Came in late to Etare Complex,the area was mostly closed. ( pre season too )

Found an open hotel,got our room from a very bored looking manager.
While we were booking the room,a waitress randomly walked in & delivered some food to her.

We got some very vague directions to where the restaurant was..she just pointed.

If took us a little while to find it,even thou it was close.
We know the waitress came from the our left,the soup was steaming when she walked in.
( she couldn't have walked too far )
The restaurant ended up being in the same building,but outside & 4 stories down.

 poor cell phone pictures,but excellent din-din
They had good WiFi,and started experimenting with google translate for the first time.
We took step#1,translated english to Bulgarian & she understood us.
And no,we didn't use google translate to tell our waitress she was beautiful.....But we could have.


Construction notes:
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25 May Sunday

Across for our hotel,was an recently unfinished building.

We spent the night at a hotel attached to an historical site (Etura Complex) 
Should have taken some pictures inside,the place was huge,open & very interesting inside.

Etura Complex in Gabrovo,Bulgaria  ( living museum)

Making natural dyes for yarn

We found our way into the silversmith's shop.
Ended up leaving with some silver jewelry & 1930's silver Bulgarian coins.

We didn't get the same waitress.
We were hoping to use the google translator on her again:)
Another good lunch, then we hit the road to Varna on the Black Sea.

Creative motorized vehicle

no cable - lots of dishes!

Defunct state run industrial complex.
We need to do some more trespassing/exploring.

yep - Burger King in Bulgaria
This overhead sign tells us how far we really are from home.

cow shepherding
beer break...there were going to get warm

We would have loved to spend time here in Veliko Turnovo - old capital of Second Kingdom
(1193  to 1393)

Both my sister & I had to purchase irrigators this spring.
50km west of Varna,Bulgaria,I see a billboard for the same model irrigator that I bought.
'Valley 8000'...........allegedly the best irrigator made.

Driving in to Varna,Bulgaira ( their third largest city )
We noticed some patches of brown grass along the main road going into town.
Mike decided to water it a little.

Mike fainted when he saw the captain's quarters.

Mr K trying some after dark pictures....that's a 10 meter diving platform.

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26 May Monday  (Memorial Day)

Made reservations via Limba on smartphone but could not find hotel.
Garrett and I ended up getting taken by car to the place by some very friendly local folks.
The folks didn't speak any English,but they had backup.
They called their son in The Netherlands & he translated.


There is nothing like a sizzling piece a cast iron with a flaming onion to get someone's attention

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27 May Tuesday

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28 May Wednesday

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29 May Thursday

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30 May Friday


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31 May Saturday


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01 June Sunday

Flight: W6 4045

Belgrade    01. Jun 2014 12:20

Paris Beauvais   01. Jun 2014 14:50

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02 June  Monday

Mike talked us in to an 'American Style' restaurant.
Very entertaining to see how we, in the US, are marketed to the French.
Raw beef,topped off with a raw egg:).........Mmmmm
It's on most of the menus
I opted for the 'menu buffalo'...but a real American man would have done the 'menu Sherif':)

'American desert' is a donuts topped with ice cream,floating in chocolate.
Donuts topped with ice cream,floating in chocolate,something right out of the Simpsons.

Buffalo Bill on the roof & Wild West pictures on the wall.

The most generic 'country style' music we have ever heard.
Didn't recognize any of the tunes,more of a background twang.

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03 June  Tuesday

Talked to a British guy while touring The Maginot Line.
He recommended passing thru Chartres,France on our way to Mt St Michel

Is fun shopping for food overseas.

Not every meal is beautiful in France.....we had our meal in our room at Mont St Micheal.

Very cloudy & windy,not worth taking any photos.


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04 June  Wednesday

The sun alost came out before we left.
Very windy & cold.
Thought I would be the tough guy from Minnesota,
didn't make it 1/2 way across the causeway before putting on sweatshirt & rain coat.

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05 June Thursday
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06 June Friday  D-Day+70yrs

Pension in Bayeux,France

Grandcamp-Maisy is out..onto Sainte-Mère-Église

 a quick McDonalds before heading to Renne

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07 June  Saturday

The usual suspects ( French addition :)

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08 June  Sunday

Leaving Laurent house at 5am:(

Garrett & Mike depart Paris @ 1:45

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09 June Saturday

I walked into the UK for some Fish & Chips.
This mean started a very bed chain reaction,that lasted the entire night:(

10 June  Tuesday

My quiet, rural Spanish pension near Ronda


11 June

Main drag thru town
Nothing seems to be level in Andalucia.
EVERY TIME I put my foot down,
I would slowly lean the bike to check the grade.
About 1/4 of the time I would have to re-position the bike.
A couple times while in a restaurant, I was sure the bike would eventually topple over.


12 June


13 June


14 June


15 June


Roma encampment

Bulgarian bathroom update,just strange plumbing

Mike here. Had another great day. Walked the island of Nessebar, then drove to Plovdiv Memorable moments:
Nessebar is a wonderful resort city. No one sees Americans. We stepped into a restaurant with a beautiful view of the harbor - our waiter found out we were from the States and we had Elvis for the rest of our stay there - really thoughtful. Had a young fellow say - you can't be from the US - you're not Black or Asian - we tried to set him straight but he did not believe us - he said hey even the President of the US is Black! We hope he was just joking around..... we walked out onto one of the breakwaters for a view of the island and city - for folks who like the sea this would be a wonderful place to visit.

We wanted to stay longer but this trip is an explorstory one, so on we went to Plovdiv. The freeway between Nessebar and Plovdiv is completed - my newly updated Garmin GPS did not know this, but we can read signs and Kedric always has a map along.

Booked rooms via smartphone right in old town.
Checked in and hiked up to the roman ampitheater and had a few drinks enjoying the view.
On our way back to our hotel ran into a party of guys from Duluth MN - one of them was also a machinist!

OK food with bad service at the Happy Bar, Grill and Sushi place right next to our hotel.
It was a cross between a Hard Rock Cafe and a Hooters,the very attractive waitress did no waiting at all - first time in a very long time I left no tip at all. Still overall a great day.


 see sign.....

this sign has MMR's new motto!

yes that is a rooster in the window and yes he was crowing...

this is a huge breakwater

Roman Amphitheater in Plovdiv

Mike here. You all know I am kinda nocturnal which is a good thing - Kedric and Garret are down but I still have a bit of energy left. Kedric is keeping a paper record of details. I am trying to hit high points and post pics. Yesterday we drove within 5 kmof Greece. WAY Southern Bulgaria! Very mountainous. Region appears rather poor, but folks are very friendly. We had lunch by a ski area and were told most of the tourists come up from Turkey and Greece. Again the folks were amazed we were from the US. We arrived in Melnic and found our B & B - coolest place yet that we have stayed for 8 Euros each.  Narrow Roman bridge maybe 1600 years old crossed fast moving mountain stream - could have stayed a week there. Will definitely stay here again when we come back on motorcycles. Melnic is the center of a wine growing region, and every restaurant has wine they have for sale. Local, Regional, fine wine, not so fine - one place had 50 different wines you could sample - all samples at all places was free. Kedric and I each picked up some really impressive stuff. Had a fogettable supper and an awesome brreakfast, then off to the narrow gauge train through the mountINS. grret and I rode with Kedric chasing us in the car. The plan was for Kedric and I to switch places half way through but the weather turned wet so we abandoned the fun 3 hours in. View by car unfortunately better than view from train. Still was worth the effort and experience. Next time I willsit in the very last car and shoot pics from the back. Ended up in an old Soviet era hotel with a club booming out tunes right across the parking lot - young folks having a good time! Supper in our room after a stop at Aldi -they are everywhere! On to Belgrade Serbia tomorrow.

 A bit of hard core adventure travel - using paper maps. Weather changed. Rainy and cold. Picture taking mostly on hold. We visited Rila Monastery. Very interesting. Posted some pics below. Then made tracks back to Sofia to catch the train to Belgrade. Bought tickets for the night train. Paid for whole compartment so we had a place for our luggage. Had to pay conductor 40 euros extra to actually get our berths. Hit border between Bulgaria and Serbia and had 2 sets of border police check us out. Took 90 minutes to clear. Berths better than sleeping in old train chairs. Arrived Belgrade 7 am. Nothing open. Taxi drivers on immediate hustle. We did not bite. Info window opened at 8 am - we were expresso-ed up by then. We figured we wanted to get rental car to lockup luggage while we toured Belgrade. Took shuttle to airport for $3 each. Rented 5 speed Chevy car and visited Tesla Museum. Very enjoyable. Will post video soon. Got parking ticket - hard to read signs but only $18 so no prob. GPS had problems finding first 2 selections for hotel. Found AWESOME B & B called Skala.   very comfortable and $75 for all 3 of us including bfast. We highly recommend. Ended up at a Serbin restaurant in a 300 year old building recommended by hotel staff. Home run! Wine, beer, Ouzo and food all local and good. We had goat and veal with potatoes, meat cheese and veggie plate, traditional made bread and butter, and best of all a 4 piece band that played traditional songs for a couple of hours. We will post a clip or 2 of that also. Tomorrow on to France. I wish more folks could experience this with us. Memories for a lifetime! Plus we did a bit of laundry. Stage 2 starts tomorrow!

Mike again 6-3-14
We are not keeping a leisurely travel pace. Getting a lot of touring in, and a lot of driving. Flight out of Belgrade to Paris uneventful. Flew Wizzair - fine flight Again folks clapped when we landed. No problems, folks just clapped so this time I did too.  Got to get on and off the plane from the tarmac which is fast and very cool. You get to be on the runway with the plane! Interesting note that from a male perspective the women here in France seem more friendly than the men. Occasionally I get the feeling some guys just don't like English speakers. We will see if the trend continues. Also much less English spoken or seen on labels /notices, etc. The countryside is quite beautiful. Most of France appears quite open and rural. France prices were a shock after Eastern Europe - at least double if not triple for rooms and meals.. Tolls are insane $20 to go 250 Km. $125 for a single room in an Ibis (not fancy) hotel. Phone service in France worse than Bulgaria's for us Verizon users.
We toured a Maginot Line fortress called Hackenberg near the town of Thionville, France. Very excellent tour. Highly recommended. We were so close to Luxembourg we swung through and did a 45 minute walk around of one of the downtown areas. Very beautiful city. Looked expensive, but at least parking was cheap. Got a few nice photos. Also stopped for supper in Verdun and visited a memorial we came across on the way out of town. Took some pics and looked it up- Verdun was a fortified city from Medieval times and used the fortifications right through WW1 - A terrible battle was fought there in 1916.

Touring a working (living history) peasant museum where they show how the old water powered machines work.
where they still have folks demonstrating old machines and craftsmanship. 
Very interesting stuff - lots of ingenious water powered equipment.

Very rural drive - roads good, not many towns or people. 
Would be an awesome motorcycle destination....

Got rooms right in the center of Varna's beach area - walking distance to most everything we want to see. 
Put my hands in the waters of the Black Sea again but may not do any swimming - still a bit chilly.
 Had a fine meal aboard a sailing ship built on the beach called Mr Baba's.. 
We watched candles in bags rise into the air and float by high above us. 
Quite peaceful now as we are a couple of weeks early for the summer crowds.
.All the beers have been good. 
Had some plum wine that was like grain alcohol. 
Beer, wine and spirits are available everywhere 7 days a week. 
All petrol stations have stock in this stuff. 
Weather has been really pleasant. 
Good time of year to be here. Pre tourist season so not real busy yet.

 more urban decay

Left Varna this morning and checked out the Stone Forest - see pics below - very interesting!. We took the back roads down to Nessebar. Nearly empty of towns and people. Very strange that we saw no wildlife other than birds. Not even road kill, but then not much traffic either. Found an old prison and explored a bit. Came across some logging and agricultural activities. Went past a Roma encampment and snapped a few pics on the fly - gotta go with a faster shutter speed - still a bit blurry.

No one sees Americans here in Bulgaria. We are always welcomed warmly, but peoples eyes go wide when we say we are from America.

We hit an absolute home run of a meal tonight at a Bulgarian fare restaurant on the edge of old town. Kedric got some pics of the meal - a skewer of meat and veggies and a skilled of grilled meat and veggies was to die for! Tomorrow we tour old town Nessebar, then on to Plovdiv.

roadside mural in Varna

 part of old prison complex

fairly common in rural areas to see horsepower being used

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