Varna: the city of the Black Sea

The next step our the trip was Varna, the largest city on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.

The idea was, in addition to visiting the other two main cities of the country, staying a few days on the beach (and Varna offered that plus it is the European capital of sports 2019). So we headed towards the Black Sea.

Varna: European capital of sports 2019

Varna: how to get there

Varna International Airport has quite a few direct flights. You can check here which one is closest to you.

There are flights for example from all the Nordic capitals – at least in summer -, including of course the capital of Finland, Helsinki, and many other places.

Varna International Aiport.

If you are already in Bulgaria and prefer train or bus and you’re coming from Sofia, I could not find a route without a significant layover. In this way, plane seems your only option from Sofia to Varna.

If you come from Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, there are only two trains and two buses per day, and they make quite a few stops along the way (patience will be a virtue). We took the 6:45 bus from there and arrived around 1pm. Of course, unless you prefer to avoid CO2 emissions, the best option to take is the plane to get to Varna.

Where to stay in Varna

It depends on what kind of plan you have: whether it is beach or city (we wanted both things).

If you prefer city or mixture of city and beach, the best thing is the city center, near the famous Varna Cathedral: it is a pedestrian area with lots of restaurants and cafes, and you can walk 10-15 minutes to the Beach. On the following map, within the red zone, is the recommended area to stay. We stayed in a central Airbnb (this is my link if you don’t have an account yet) to have easy access to everything.

Of course, if you want mostly beach and the city is less important, it is best to stay the closer to the Rappongi beach (map). It is the favorite beach of the locals.

How to get around and what to do in Varna?

That question is what we directed to the city, and they were very kind in answering us.

To get around the city, unless you go to the airport (line 409) or to the spectacular Aladzha monastery (bus line 29 – this and the previous one’s stops are next to the Cathedral), if you stay in the most central places and the beach , you can do everything easily by walking.

On my way to the beach.

As for what to do, the city was very kind to provide us with a couple of Varna City Card (web / Instagram), which gave us a lot of options to do in Varna, something that we thank them from here.

The card includes free admission to 14 museums, including the famous Roman baths, from the 2nd century, a spectacular place that – in addition being a place to visit as a traveler – is still used as a stage for performances and small concerts.

It also includes discounts on a lot of activities like a trip on a pirate ship, where we saw a magnificent sunset at the sea and had a great time.

If you want to get yours ahead of time on your smartphone this is the place.

In the following post we tell you what we did in Varna during the days we stayed, and what we can recommend you from what we did.

Did you know Varna? Have you visited the Black Sea? Tell us in the comments!

Plovdiv: what to see on a weekend (2)

For our second day in Plovdiv (see our post about the first day) we started the morning with one of the free city tours, the Free Plovdiv Tour (website) . If you are interested, they start every day at 11 and 6 in the afternoon in front of the town hall, and last two hours (so you are perfectly in time for lunch or dinner later). Different seasons have different timetables. If it sounds like something you’d like to do, the best thing is to check their website.

After touring through Kapana with them, and also along the hill of the ancient city, we ate something quickly and headed to see the most emblematic houses of the XIX century nobility of Plovdiv.

Ethnographic museum of Plovdiv
Ethnographic museum of Plovdiv.

The ancient city of Plovdiv

The ancient city of Plovdiv is an architectural reserve and rightly so: is the area (map) were the houses of the wealthiest inhabitants of Plovdiv are. They built for themselves luxurious mansions for the standards of their time… and ours.

Plovdiv was then a merchant city, and after the western opening with the end of the Ottoman era many architectural influences are seen in the houses. Oriental mixed with western styles.

Many of them have been converted into museums or have been preserved for the enjoyment and admiration of locals and foreigners visiting Plovdiv. One more reason to get a Plovdiv City Card – which we talked about in the first post of the series – is that the entrance to a large part of the mansions is free with it.

The Hadji Aleko house – Philippopolis Museum and Gallery

This two-story building, located on 29 Saborna Street (map), is a beautiful Renaissance house, from 1895 for the notorious citizen of the city Adij Aleko, and the first made in the Western style. His grandfather was a famous craftsman, who organized the guild in the city, and from there comes the luxury of the house, exquisitely decorated with oak.

Galery Philippopolis in Plovdiv
Galery Philippopolis
Gallery Philippolis
Second floor of the Gallery.
Bulgarian costumbrist painting
Bulgarian costumbrist painting

Today it has been converted into a painting museum on both floors, with a permanent collection. The paintings have a clear Russian influence. There’s also a changing collection. When I visited it, the changing one was from the artist Lili Kioutchoukova, who depicts in her paintings the sordid side of Paris.

The Balabanov house

Another of the emblematic houses of the ancient area of ​​Plovdiv is that of Balabanov, which dates back to the early 1800s. Built for the rich merchant Hadji Panajot, it takes its name from the owner it had in the early twentieth century, Mr. Balabanov – also merchant.

Also freely accessible with the Plovdiv City Card, this house was built on the Bulgarian National Revival period. You can see the luxuries of the time on a second floor decorated with the original furniture, while the first floor acts as a painting and sculpture gallery.

Balabanof house.
Lower floor of the Balabanof house.
Main hall of the second floor.
Diniing room

Hindliyan’s house

A few steps from the previous house, we find another picturesque and luxurious house that competes in those criteria with that of Balabanov: the house of Stephan Hindlyan, also a rich merchant and rancher, dating from the 1830s.

It is perhaps the house of the architectural complex of the ancient city of Plovdiv that I liked the most. The second floor is fantastically painted in bright colors, with each room having a predominant one. The “Alafrangas” – a kind of “window” that instead of having crystals to the outside world contain a painting in the stone – are outstanding.

The green room.
Hindliyan's yellow room
Amazing ceiling decoration in the yellow room

Mr. Hindlyan definitely did not spare any expense, since he even had a rosewater fountain for giving the room a nice scent.

Rahat Trepe restaurant

After spending the afternoon walking through the old area (other things to see in the area: Philippo’s gate on the wall, the top of the hill with the ruins our appetite opened and we went to a Nice open-air restaurant on top of the hill: the Rahat Trepe (address: Doctor Stoyan Chomakov. Map).

We placed ourselves on one of the many tables on the terrace and we could watch the sunset from there while we had dinner. We ordered one of the house’s specialties, the ribs, as well as several rounds of refreshing Bulgarian beers (the brand is Kamenitza) and some Rakia (the Bulgarian Grappa) to close the night in the good atmosphere of the restaurant.

The Barbaque Ribs.

Tired and happy, we went back down to the apartment (see the first post of the series, where to sleep in Plovdiv?) To rest, since at dawn we had to continue the trip. The weekend was over.

Plovdiv: what to do in a weekend

We arrive in Plovdiv in the morning from Sofia. We left our things in the AirBnB (See: where to stay and how to get around in Plovdiv?) And we went to the first of Plovdiv to see: the Kapana district.

Kapana: the center of Plovdiv to see and feel

“Kapana” means “the trap.”

Its name comes in its form: they are small and labyrinthine streets from which once you enter you cannot (or do not want, as is our case) leave. It used to be the center of artisanal production of the city, but it has found itself again as the place to go for a coffee or dinner in Plovdiv.

Street in Kapana
Kapana from the Multi Culti café.

Kapana (this area: Map) is alive: cafes, restaurants and picturesque buildings everywhere (and near the oldest part of the city).

The first thing we did was go eat something. We arrived at Café Multi Culti (6A Abadzhiyska street – map, Facebook), a great Gastro-Pub with a menu in which the two young owners have put a lot of love (and quality). What we had was delicious, including a table of Bulgarian cheeses and homemade Fanta (that I had to order when I saw it). You can see it in these photos that we also put in the Big in Finland Instagram.

Bulgarian Cheeses in the Multi Culti café.
Bulgarian gastronomy.
Multi Culti café
Gastro Pub Multi Culti: recommended.

From there we took the “Arts and Crafts District Tour” through Kapana (you can find it here). In addition to picturesque low-rise buildings in the area, dotted with cafes and bars, there is a graffiti battle between the two most important graffiti artists in Bulgaria: Stern (a native of Plovdiv) and Nasimo. We went through the streets trying to identify who the graffiti belonged to (hint: Stern has the same protagonist in his ones, and Nasimo likes triangles and bees). You can see it in this gallery that we put in Insta.

Nasimo VS Stern.
Nasimo Grafitti in Kapana.
A Nasimo Grafitti.

In Kapana we met Giovanna, in her Art Studio Giovanna (address: Frederic Joliot-Curie 6, map), an expert in leather and who has worked with the most prestigious fashion brands in the world, but who returned to her Plovdiv to start a own study. She showed us how leather is worked and we made a pair of keychains with her, which I still carry with me in my backpack today.

Working with leather in the Art Studio Giovanna.

From there we went to see an art gallery of young artists: pLOVEdiv (Pavel Kurtevich Street 3, Map and web), which was almost next door. We walked around the exhibition and to the terrace, with a nice view of Kapana, and before we left we bought a magnet with the motto “Make pLOVEdiv, not Warna”. It still greets from the refrigerator every day. The pun refers to Varna, the city on the coast of the Black Sea of Bulgaria.

pLOVEdiv art gallery
Seeing Kapana from above in pLOVEdiv.

From there we went to have a coffee in the corner, to the gourmet coffee Dukiana Coffee Roaster (map) before going to see the best known monument of Plovdiv.

Dukiana Coffee Roaster
Bean selection at the Dukiana Coffee Roaster

The Roman Theatre of Plovdiv

Roman Theatre of plovdiv
A view from above of the Roman Theatre of Plovdiv, near Kapana.

(re)Discovered by a landslide, and located between two of the 7 hills of the city, the Plovdiv Roman theater is erected. It is the best known ancient monument in Bulgaria.

It was built in the year 90, as it could be seen in the inscription discovered and that names the city councilman then: Titus Flavius ​​Cotis. Admission is free with the Plovdiv City Card, which we talked about in the previous post and that you can get here.

It is still used for its original use, and as you can see in the photo they were preparing it for a concert. Something unique to see in the city.

Kapana at night

After resting for a while, we returned at night to have dinner and have a drink and walk through the center at night.

There is a bar / cafe in the Kapana district that is a copy of Friends’ Central Perk (who knows if to save costs they would record something there Bulgaria Of course Bulgaria has a movie studio that houses the shooting of many films), although we chose the Bar opposite, which they recommended for good Gin Tonics.

Central Perk in Plovdiv
Plovdiv’s Central Perk

From there, we took a walk to the ancient city of Plovdiv, in one of the hills and with several of the most emblematic buildings of the city, now converted into museums and galleries, which we will talk about in the next post.

Of course, Kapana left us delighted! In the next post we will tell you how we spent the second day in the ancient city. You can read here this second part.

Plovdiv: the ancient city of Bulgaria

Cities – and buildings – with millennia of history have a given something.

That is why I haven’t been to the US yet. There everything is a couple of hundred years old, at best. Monuments are made to look old instead of being old. Built with modern techniques instead of inventing techniques to make them. Of course, I am spoiled about this topic it because I am from Alcalá de Henares, which was already a city at the time of Rome.

And Plovdiv, the city I went to visit a month ago, is of this kind of cities. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and was for a time called Philippopolis, after King Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, who conquered it from the Thracians.

Roman theatre of Plovdiv.
Ancient Theatre of Plovdiv: 2000 years looking right back at you.

I wanted to visit Bulgaria because it was an EU country (which facilitates everything so much) and because this city with millennia of life I had not visited it yet. In addition, it is the European Capital of Culture of this 2019, so there we went.

Plovdiv: how to get there from Sofia

There are several ways to get to the city. Plovdiv has an airport, but unless you want to go through Tel Aviv or London first, you will not be able to travel directly.

It is best to go by bus or train from Sofia. We went by bus, although both stations are next to each other (you arrive to the stations by Metro, at the “Central train station” stop. Map).

Plovdiv is European City of Culture 2019
European City of Culture 2019

There are regular buses every hour, as well as trains, so it shouldn’t be a problem to go to Plovdiv without buying the ticket in advance, as we did. The locals recommended the bus because it has air conditioning, although if you do so is a good idea to have a cardigan or scarf with you, as it gets very cold.

Plovdiv: where to stay?

Plovdiv is the second biggest city of Bulgaria, with 350,000 inhabitants. This city, built between the 7 hills, is therefore quite large. To stay in a good place, the best is to stay downtown or just outside the center, to be able to go everywhere walking. If you stay north of the river it will be more complicated to move.

Within the red box are the recommended areas. If you still do not have AirBnB, if you use this link they give you up to € 25 discount on your first reservation. We stayed in the southeast corner of the square, just enough far from the hustle and bustle of the center, but not too much, and near the bus station.

How to get around and what to do in Plovdiv?

Before going there we send a message to the city officials, to ask this very question. As we were just a stone’s throw from the center, we could do it quietly on foot, so at least the “how to get around” part was already solved.

They provided us with a couple of Plovdiv City Card (web, Instagram) to get to know the city and it was fantastic.

The card includes more than 10 free museums, including the ancient theater, built more than 2000 years ago by the Romans, with a capacity for 3500 nowadays, but around 7000 at its height. It also has discounts on stores, restaurants, and more.

If you want to buy yours with time from your smartphone, this is the place.

In the next post we tell you what we did in Plovdiv during the two days we were there, and what we can recommend you what we did.

Did you know Plovdiv? What do you think about the topic of new cities VS millenary cities?

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