July Travels ended in Serbia, then we caught a terrible rideshare to Bulgaria… Now you’re caught up.
Bulgaria and then Turkey will be the focus of this August Travels post (I’m splitting travels and expenses into two different posts again). Basically everyone suggested that I go to the coast of both… and I saw the coast of neither (except Istanbul, if you consider that coastal).
It’s not that I wouldn’t be excited to see the coast of Bulgaria or Turkey, both sound great, and I’ll go back for both. Especially Bulgaria. But I was in the mood for quirky inland stuff. So we did. And both were adventures.
If I was a betting man (I’m not), I’d buy real estate or something in Bulgaria. It’s EU, it seems stable, and it’s beautiful. How so much of it is so poor, I just assume it’s going to quickly grow out of it.
Yet, for me, the country was perfect the way it was. Internet in Sofia was fantastic, the mountains are beautiful, it’s ancient, and it’s certainly quirky.
Of the Balkans, it might actually be my favorite. If I was road-tripping I’d pick Bosnia. If I was living somewhere for a month or two, I’d go with Bulgaria.
People were down on Sofia, saying there’s little to do… But I don’t get that. There seems to be plenty of ancient sites, and a super happening part of town. Plus, again, good internet. 😀
Plovdiv is a better vacation, but I could stay in Sofia longer. Good vibes, good people.
In terms of quirky, I found the town that takes the cake. There’s something otherly about it.
Really, it is a town on cliffs, over a river that divides the town into many narrow bluffs.
Great for hiking, maybe not great for efficiently getting from point a to b.
The ancient fort wall can be seen on one side, and the other is where downtown hangs over the “u” shaped part of the river.
It’s so odd, and unique. The odd part is just the ex-sovietness about it. And the unique part is just- how often are you in a town like that? Where there is a town built on cliffs, where underneath is a river?
Pretty scenic in that area.
I wanted to go to Plovdiv because I knew it was one of the oldest towns in Europe. Dates back to 4,000 BC… which is pretty old for a continuously inhabited town. However, there’s little left that is actually that old, so I had no idea what to expect. Well, even much of the downtown, including the ancient Roman theatre, are 2,000 years old.
The town has done a great job catching the quirky vibe of Bulgaria and the ancientness of it in one city.
The thing I really like about it is that it’s separated by these hills, which are then really good spots to get good views of the city.
And the food is good and interesting. Someone recommended Dayana, which we ended up eating at regularly.
Yes, this was our first time to Turkey. For whatever reason that surprises most people… and thus, I guess I set my expectations high.
Also, for half of the trip we were with Caroline’s dad. Who joined us in Ankara, went to Cappadocia, and then flew back to Istanbul with us.
Traveling with family (and friends) is just such a superior way to travel. Way more meaningful. Wish we could convince more of our family to do that more often.
To me, this is the Rome of the Middle East. Ancient places, many of which are ancient Muslim mosques. I mean the view of the Mosques, across the river from the old town, are insane. It is an awesome sight. The most awesome is standing in between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
I would be lying though if I said that the crowds weren’t more insane. So. Many. People. As soon as you cross the bridge to the old city, it is just packed with people. Walking up to the “Grand Bazaar” is shoulder to shoulder. Then same to the Hagia Sofia. The giant loop is some how packed with people at every inch.
And by the way, I’ve decided that the Grand Bazaar is officially the world’s largest collection of crap made in China.
Then I return to my hotel, which was the Radisson Blu Pera or InterContinental. And I swear to you, every inch in between the two hotels is packed. As that area towards Taksim is the main street of Istanbul. Just. So. Many. People. I’ve been a lot of places, but that was a lot of people.
Also, a warning against taxis: stay away! As I’ll explain in the expenses post, I ended up at the SAW airport DoubleTree twice. I needed a taxi to get there both times, so returning I already knew the route. But since I got to the hotel the first time at a fair price, the hotel check-in guy was shocked I didn’t get driven around in circles. He said many pretend not to know where the hotel is.
So returning the second time, I get into the cab and show the address (screenshotted on my phone), and he looked overly confused. Never seen an address before.
So I flip to the GPS right away. Picture this, I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat with the GPS out and the guy blows right past the giant on ramp towards “Tuzla”, where the hotel is. And I can see he’s going completely the wrong direction.
He pretended like he had horse blinders on and kept looking forward.
Eventually he says he needs gas.
I. Kid. You. Not. He actually pretended to fill up on gas. He pretended to get gas. Then he turns around, but the meter’s been running the entire time.
Unfortunately Uber is only really downtown, and there’s no UberX… but it’s worth getting an XL! Really. And both airports have direct airport buses that go straight to Taksim Square (where the IC and GH is) very frequently. Avoid the taxis!
Ankara is the capital of Turkey, for whatever reason. It has a beautiful restored old town, which lasts a few blogs. And the mausoleum of Atatürk. Beyond those two things, it was pretty boring. Not gonna lie, I’d skip that.
Goreme / Cappadocia
Now when you see pictures of the caves and the “chimney tower” thingys in Cappadocia, you think to yourself “I’ve got to go see those things while I’m in Goreme”. The reality is that the entire area is filled with these towers. Everywhere you look. In town, outside of town, hiking through a canyon.
I have a friend who went to Cappadocia and he ended up camping out of a cave. At the time I thought it was a little extreme, but after a few hikes where you see hundreds of caves, many of which are clean and spacious, I understood that Kevin wasn’t extreme at all. It was really just camping.
And from Goreme, we could actually hike everywhere. Some were pretty long hikes, but you could really get anywhere in the national park and back. At first I assumed we’d need a car or even buses… but after one hike, you realize everything in the park isn’t that far. And Goreme is in the center of it all.
Great hiking in a very unique place.
Bulgaria is probably one of my favorite countries that we’ve been to in the last couple months. Bosnia and Herzegovina is still probably my favorite, but Bulgaria a close second.
In both countries though, there are a lot of places I could have seen. I liked Bulgaria a little more, but the number of things to see in Turkey is endless. It gets far more farflung in the east, a big contrast to the crowds I was swimming through in Istanbul. And again, in neither country did we focus on the beautiful coasts. I hear very good things about Bulgaria’s coast.
Still, the favorite site was Goreme. In terms of ideal moments or a picturesque scenery, Goreme was amazing. Even just checking out of the hotel and hiking to kill time (flight was at 10pm) and sitting under a cave overlooking the town and canyons… twas priceless.
If I was to return, I’d probably see eastern Turkey or the coast of Bulgaria. Although, really if I’m in the area next I’ll probably check out Macedonia and Albania.