Well I’m Aching All Over
Another damn travel day: Pack – unpack – pack – unpack, it seems like that’s all I do. Then there’s the joy of lugging the bags to a taxi or bus station or train station. And lately – the last three months anyway – it’s been hot, really hot. I’m feeling every last bit of my 66 years of age and then some. But you don’t really want to hear me bitch, do you? So let’s get to the facts on getting to Ruse, our last stop in Bulgaria, and what Ruse had to offer 2 weary travelers.
Sorry all you taxi drivers out there, but I hate you. OK, hate may be too strong a word, but suffice it to say that I think you guys can be real jerks, or at a minimum dull and unresponsive. On this particular travel day, we chose to use a taxi to get us from Veliko Ternovo to Ruse. The reason: The cost differential between taking a bus or using a taxi in Bulgaria is minimal. And I’m sure that you would agree that getting picked up at your door and dropped off at your next door is easier than the taxi to bus to taxi experience.
As taxi experiences go, this one wasn’t hideous, at least compared to many others. Let me give you an example: On a travel day in the future past, we needed a taxi to get us from the train station to our Airbnb a mere 3 kilometers away. We headed for the front taxi in the taxi stand, told him where we needed to go and he said: “That will be 50L (US $13).” We already knew that the price should be something south of 15L. “ No way! I’ll walk rather than let you rob me!” I screamed. He shrugged and we walked off to find a shady place to text our Airbnb host to ask his advice. Before we could accomplish the text, another taxi driver approached us looking concerned and said: “I’ll take you for 20L, OK?” We knew it was the old good driver-bad driver routine, but we said OK. At this point we were hot, tired, and just wanted to settle in and start looking for wine. OK, back to the present past: Our taxi driver arrived at the appropriate time. I settled into the front seat and Carrie was in the rear and off like a shot to Ruse we go.
Off At The Speed Of Light
Our driver apparently had something important going on because he couldn’t put down his cell phone. The taxi had a manual transmission, which meant that as we’re zooming through the streets of Veliko Ternovo, he was shifting with his left hand, phone in right hand, and steering with his knees. Within minutes we’re out of town and at full velocity. I was a bit white knuckled, but hanging in there. No sound from the backseat. I assumed that she had her head between her knees in the full crash position. He was still on his phone and even more animated. Now that he doesn’t have to shift, he was using his ‘free hand’ to gesture like a crazed Italian mafia hitman, as if the person on the other end of the call could somehow see his manic gestures.
About a third of the way into the trip – of the 1.5-hour adventure – he hung up the phone and took a breath. I joined him in this critical bodily function. Who knew that I could hold my breath that long? I knew that his English was limited, but I decided to engage in conversation hoping that he would not pick up the phone again. After about 15 minutes of grunt responses, I gave up. What the hell, we had made it this far, so I just relaxed and went to my happy place.
Near our hotel in Ruse our driver turned on the Bulgarian Google Bitch, who provided the final landing pattern and runway. By the way, the Bulgarian Google Bitch’s voice is much sexier than her English sister. Unbelievably, we arrived safely and on time, at a gate near the hotel reception area. Checked in, we immediately headed for the hotel’s restaurant for a much-needed beer. Oh, Scratch what I said earlier. This was one ugly taxi ride.
The Last Stop
Ruse is located on the Danube, with Romania perched on the other bank. We spent our first day exploring the ever-present old town – every city in Bulgaria has an old town – looking for decent eateries and wine stores. We did find a decent restaurant but had to settle for grocery store wines. The restaurant specialized in sushi. Yep, sushi. I was skeptical, but it was actually pretty good. So we went back, but our last visit offered another tourist rip off technique. On this occasion, we decided to pay cash. Long story short, our waitress attempted to short us by 10 Lev (~$6US). We smiled and corrected her faux pas and all was well, except for her tip. The old section featured charming walking streets dotted with many sidewalk cafes and eateries.
A Stroll Along The Old Danube
Our next stop was to stroll around the banks of the Danube. Enjoyable, but they could have certainly done a great deal more to make it a happening spot. There were few eateries or drinking establishments and the promenade, such as it was, was short. The one cool thing was that we saw the remnants of the recently concluded sand sculpture festival. There were some amazing sculptures still
standing and in decent shape. It certainly would have been fun to see them during the construction phase.
There were three other, of minor interest, things to see in Ruse. The railroad museum, not the greatest but worth a visit if you’re in need of killing some time. The guide/ticket-taker/only employee was worth the price of admission. There were also a couple of nice green spaces where one could sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine and snacks while people-watching. The architecture, if you look carefully can be interesting, the dichotomy between the Soviet-style buildings and the old European traditional buildings can provide for some interesting photo ops.
So that’s it for Bulgaria. Great wines, decent food, some very interesting cities – many filled with antiquity – and beautiful countryside. Would I go back? Oh yeah! Especially to Melnik and the surrounding wine region. Those huge, deep dark purple juices were heavenly. But Pat, the tone of this post is so negative, you’re thinking. Well, our dear friend, Rae, recently made a comment to us that we’re always so rosy. We’re always meeting great people, great food, great places, etc… We never mention the downside of traveling nonstop. So I was determined to prove to her that I can show the dark side. And it wasn’t easy, because most of the time it is one hell of a wonderful ride. Cheers, Rae!
Hike Drink Live Laugh (Apero Time) More photos below.
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