As I mentioned in our previous blog post, we stayed near The Curragh, a famous horseracing course that’s about 40 minutes from Dublin. The capital had played host to the All-Ireland football final which meant rooms for the night were priced sky-high, so we spent the night in the leafy suburbs of Kildare. The landlord was a laugh a minute, cracking jokes left, right and centre whilst cooking up a mean Irish breakfast. He also helped us scrub our car seats with vigour, an oily chip had fallen under my rear and I had squished it into the upholstery. If we hadn’t cleaned it, we would have faced the dreaded valeting fine of a 100 euros for returning the car dirtier than usual. We asked our hosts advice on things to see in Dublin and they recommended the quaint suburb of Malahide, which was conveniently located near the airport.
Sunday’s plan was visiting Dublin. I’d had a look at possible attractions but nothing really jumped out at me. Being the weekend the Guinness Factory would be busy and having to drive to the airport meant I would not be able to enjoy any of the black stuff. This also limited our possibilities of enjoying Temple Bar, an area of Dublin famed for its nightlife, which was touristy and even busy at 11am.
Some of the joyous football fans were still celebrating, the others and in fact, much of the general populace were looking dog-rough on this crisp Sunday morning. Even the children looked haggard! The shopping area of Dublin was much like any other Irish or British city, filled with chain stores and chewing gum stuck to the grubby paving stones. We walked up and down the River Liffey, along Capel Street, across to The Spire, O’Connell Bridge, the Irish Houses of Parliament before finishing at Dublin Castle. Something that appealed to me was The Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum Experience, but Sylwia did not fancy it and as we didn’t have much time, I decided to leave it.
Parking in Central Dublin is pretty dear, a good tip is to book your parking in advance as large discounts are available, drive-in prices are a lot higher. After 3 hours in the centre, we followed the advice we had received at breakfast and headed out to the lovely seaside suburb of Malahide. An affluent area, Malahide village is quaint, with colourful houses and a small marina. Pubs, restaurants and cafes abound. Families feasted on fish and chips in a park, as opportunistic sea gulls looked on in the hope that some would be dropped.
A short walk away is Malahide Castle, a grand estate with spacious lawns and gardens. We picnicked there and watched a young boy struggling to do keepy-uppies. Away from the crowds in the fresh air, this was very much our cup of tea, we did not enter the building but soaked up the pleasant family atmosphere.
sky-high – very high
to scrub – to clean
vigour – energy, enthusiasm
squished – squashed
upholstery – seats
valeting – professional cleaning
the black stuff – Guiness
joyous – happy
populace – population
dog-rough – dishevelled, rough-looking
crisp – fresh
haggard – tired
grubby – dirty
dear – expensive
tip – hint, recommendation
headed out – went to
affluent – rich
quaint – attractively old-fashioned
abound – to have something in large numbers
to feast on something – to eat
spacious – with lots of space
to picnic – to have a picnic
keepy-uppies – juggling the ball on your leg, knees, chest and head
soaked up – absorbed
Portmagee: Next stop Newfoundland
We spent the second night of our Irish trip in the quaint village of Portmagee. Clinging onto the Atlantic, this colourful village is a nice place to stay. We stayed at The Waterfront B&B and had a beautiful view over the calm inlet of water that separates mainland Ireland from Valentia Island. Live music and food can be found at The Bridge Bar and craft cider in the nearby Fishermans Bar. Like the rest of Kerry, Portmagee is well prepared for tourism, the bar offers a tasting table of Irish beers and the B&B was well stocked with all the necessities. A double room with breakfast costs about 80 euros. Portmagee gets its name from a smuggler called Captain Magee who was able to use the rugged coastline to his advantage and smuggle contraband into the country. Today, it acts as a gateway to the nearby Skellig Islands and there are several sailors that offer trips to the island. To the naked eye, the Skelligs are little more than craggy looking rocks jutting out of the sea. Little Skellig, is out-of-bounds as it is home to more than 30,000 pairs of Northern gannets. Skellig Michael, on the other hand, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its sixth-century monastery perched on the top. It is possible to climb up on stone stairs and is surrounded by beehive huts. We did not go as it was a bit off-season and Valentia Island and the Skellig Way, proved plenty to keep us occupied. The Skelligs feature in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and also inspired the Skellige archipelago in the Witcher series.
While researching my trip to Ireland, I became obsessed with Valentia Island, a quick google turned up impressive pictures of waves and unlike many of the other remote Irish islands, it was reachable by car due to a bridge that was built in 1970. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, the skies were clear and there was only a trickle of tourists (well.. one other car). This windy picturesque outpost is tranquil, sheep graze on the lush grass and it’s possible to drive up to the top of Geokaun mountain using an honour system to pay for entrance to the park. Valentia once had a thriving mining community, where miners came from as far afield as Wales to work and pay was double that on mainland Ireland. The views from the top of Geokaun are stunning and there’s lots of little information plaques to inform you of what’s what. On the other side of the hill, are the Fogher cliffs which also have information panels about Irish mythology.
Valentia Island entered the history books in 1857. After nine years and several attempts, a transatlantic cable was successfully laid down from Valentia to Newfoundland, cutting communication time from 10 days (by ship), to one day (by telegraph). It only worked for a couple of weeks before ‘Wildman Whitehouse’ blew it up by applying too much voltage in an attempt to overcome a weak signal. Glad, I wasn’t him!
Skellig Ring Drive
Our next port of call was the Kerry Cliffs. A typical trip to Ireland often features a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, but that was too far north for our trip and would have to wait for another time. Thankfully, Ireland’s west coast is full of spectacular cliffs and whilst I can’t compare Kerry’s cliffs to County Clare’s, I can certainly recommend them. Here are some of the stunning views, looking out to the Skelligs.
The Skellig Ring is a beautiful, narrow, winding road. A recommended stopping off point is the chocolate factory, but it’s closed on Saturdays. You could probably take two-three hours to explore the area; we did it quite quickly because we’d spent longer than imagined on Valentia Island and had a booking for horse riding in Caherdaniel.
Horse riding on the beach in Caherdaniel
As you can see in the pictures, we’d been very lucky with the weather that morning and thankfully it managed to hold out during our horse ride on the beach. Caroline Donnelly, the owner of Eagle Rock Equestrian Centre, sized us up for helmets. Sylwia had ridden once in a paddock and the closest I’d come to riding were rides on a mule and a camel. After giving us some basic instructions, we were thrown in at the deep end! We left the stables in a group of four horses, trotted along a small road and onto the beach where we tried some cantering, we splashed through water and climbed up and down sand dunes. The views were spectacular and my horse Murphy was very steady. It is definitely an experience that I recommend and a hobby that we hope to continue.
The Ring of Kerry
Caherdaniel is one of the many villages on the ring of Kerry, a route that shows off many of Kerry’s wonders and can keep tourists busy for days, we dipped in and out of the route, calling in at a handful of the sights and generally enjoying the views and country lanes. Our first stop was the village of Sneem, where we had a spot of lunch on the village green. There were quite a lot of French and German tourists milling around which detracted a little bit from the charm of it. We followed the route inland to Ladies View, by which point it was quite wet and spent some time down near the river, where several dogs were enjoying playing ‘fetch.’ Our final stop before going to Killarney was Torc Waterfall, where a race of some kind seemed to be taking place. Opposite the car park at Torc Waterfall is a path that leads to Muckross House, through the deer-filled grounds of the estate.
Killarney was bustling with activity but we edged our way through the traffic to the lake shore and Ross Castle. Unfortunately, we badly struggled to get the suitable light to take even a half decent picture, but it really is quite nice!
Our second day in Kerry was over and we spent the evening driving back towards Dublin, where we were due to spend Sunday. We stayed in a village near Kildare, right in the heart of horseracing territory.
Next time: Find out why we liked Malahide more than Dublin.
quaint – attractive and old-fashioned
inlet – a small arm of the sea
stocked – supplied
necessities – things which are necessary
smuggler – a person who exports or imports goods illegally
rugged – strong, rough
naked eye – without scrutinisation
craggy – rough and uneven
jutting out – sticking out
out-of-bounds – off limits, prohibited
perched – resting on top of
trickle – liquid flow in a small stream
tranquil – calm
to graze – to feed
lush – rich
thriving – flourishing, prosperous, growing
to lay down – to put in place (a cable)
paddock – a small enclosure for horses
to throw someone in at the deep end – to make someone do something difficult
stables – a place where horses are kept / sleep
trot – a horse gait faster than a walk
canter – faster than a trot
to dip in and out of – here: to visit some of the sights but not all
handful – here: a small amount
spot of lunch – a small amount of lunch
milling around – to move around in a confused manner or without any main purpose
detract – to take away from something
fetch – the game a dog plays, collecting balls or sticks and returning them to their master
bustling – busy
I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, in fact, the only countries I’ve never visited are Malta, Azerbaijan, Russia and San Marino. Until recently, that small group of unvisited countries also included Ireland. Despite being on the doorstep of the UK and having been home to numerous of my ancestors, I had never been there.
My wife picked up a couple of flights with Ryanair from Warsaw-Modlin to Dublin as a birthday present for me. The weekend of our visit, the city played host to the All-Ireland football final which meant Dublin accommodation prices were through the roof. We decided to head out to see rural Ireland. I hummed and hawed over whether to visit County Galway, County Clare, County Donegal or even Cork and eventually we settled on County Kerry.
We did not shop around much for the best price, we rented a car from Europcar, in the ‘mini’ bracket for a little more than 50 euros for 3 days. An additional driver costs 30 euros. If you’ve got a big allowance on your credit card, then you can avoid paying insurance and they’ll take a deposit of 1400 euros from your credit card, if you don’t want to do that or don’t have the credit allowance, then the minimum insurance is an additional 17 euros per day.
Driving on the left
Those of you who are used to driving on the right might wonder what it’s like driving on the left. The transition is surprisingly easy, particularly when there are plenty of cars around. You may find yourself automatically heading to the right side of the road when you leave a petrol station or try joining the motorway in the wrong direction but Ireland is full of signs reminding you in English, French, and German, that people drive on the left and chances are, you won’t come to much harm.
Why County Kerry?
Though relatively small in size, Ireland is full of history and its wild, rugged coastlines offer up lots of beautiful scenery. Travelling across the countryside and round the narrow coastal roads takes a lot longer than you’d think. I chose County Kerry, because of the amount of places to visit within reasonable proximity to each other.
Getting to County Kerry
It takes about 4 hours to get to the heart of County Kerry from Dublin airport. The M50, the ring road around Dublin is quite hectic and we were stuck in traffic until the suburb of Rathcoole. The traffic slowly thins and by the time you get close to Limerick, you are driving along on an almost empty motorway with rolling farmland on both sides. The road from Limerick to Tralee is relatively fast, occasionally slowing down for villages.
There are no two ways around it. Ireland is expensive, even from a British perspective. Notably, expensive items are small things in shops like chocolate, crisps, and alcohol. You will struggle to find a can of Guinness for less than 2 euros, in most cases, it will be 2.50 euros or more. Wine is heavily taxed.
On our travels, we stopped off at Super Mac, a fast-food joint that was present at a service station just after Kildare. Super Mac turned out to be reasonably good value and the food was actually quite tasty.
Although Irish prices are high, we thought that the B&Bs were good value, particularly when taking into consideration the slap-up breakfasts on offer.
The Dingle Peninsula, Skelig Way or Ring of Kerry
There are well-prepared tourist trails throughout Kerry, the three main routes are The Dingle Peninsula, Skelig Way or Ring of Kerry. Some people choose just one and decide to go at a slow pace; we checked out all three and each offers something a bit different. Dingle has dolphin tours, a brewery-come-museum and lots of pubs and restaurants. The Skelig Way has unspoiled cliffs and the picturesque island of Valentia. The Ring of Kerry has a multitude of stopping off points, some scenic, some historical. It’s also a more popular one with tourists and is, therefore, a bit busy at the weekend.
The Irish are famously friendly and we were able to witness it first hand at our first B&B of the trip. Our host, Mary was a lovely lady who catered to our every whim.The service and comfort on offer at Beenoskee were spot on. We arrived late at night and woke up to some beautiful views over the bay, which we enjoyed over a wholesome Irish breakfast.
Glanteenassig Forest Park
The next morning we doubled back on ourselves slightly to get to Glanteenassig Forest Park. A forest road leads from the main car park and wriggles its way around the hills before finally descending between the two lakes. A boardwalk leads around the lake. We didn’t see any people, but plenty of sheep. To those from heavily forested countries, you may be wondering where the trees are. Trees are sparse in Western Ireland, partly because they were cut down for grazing but also because the majority of ground is limestone, with only a sliver of soil on the top. The limestone makes the grass calcium-rich and ideal for horses and sheep. The moorland and glens were beautiful and the autumnal colours lent themselves to being photographed.
The view from Beenoskee B&B had been of Castlegregory beach; we drove down to the shore and had a walk on the beach. Desolate and windswept, the sand was strangely bouncy, clouds and a grey sky blocked out the view of Mount Brandon and the bad weather seemed to be looming. On a bad day, it was impressive, on a good day, it must be spectacular.
Connors Pass and Mount Brandon
We’d toyed with the idea of climbing Mount Brandon, it’s not particularly high but the fact it wasn’t visible did not bode well. Mary did not particularly seem to approve of the idea of climbing it that day and as we got up to Connors Pass, we could see why. The weather down by the shore was completely different to up at the top. It was cold, wet and foggy and peering down to the loughs below was like looking into an abyss. Mount Brandon is Ireland’s second biggest mountain and was a regular crash site during World War ll. At the time of World War ll, Ireland was still very much a fledgling nation and although some men volunteered to fight for Britain, generally Ireland remained neutral. RAF planes would fly between bases though and several of them encountered navigational issues near Mount Brandon, including RAF Wellington, where all six Polish airmen died. A plaque in nearby Cloghane commemorates the crashes.
Having crossed the pass, the weather deteriorated drastically. Sightseeing in Dingle in the rain would have been miserable. Fortunately, Crean’s Brewery is located on the outside and proved an interesting enough place to stop while the weather subsided. For seven euros, you get a self-guided tour and a pint of Irish premium lager – Crean’s. The building, today a museum and brewery, was once a creamery and played an important role in bringing money to the area. The first section of the museum focuses on the beer making process, the second room is dedicated to Kerry’s favourite son – Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean. Tom Crean was the first man to visit the South Pole on his own and spent two years on a ship entrapped in ice. The final room shows the buildings history as a creamery.
Slea Head Drive
We decided to explore what’s known as Slea Head Drive, a route which circles the part of the peninsula after Dingle. Though, a pleasant route with several stopping points such as the Beehive Huts or Dunbeg Fort, it would be upstaged later in our trip by our drive around the Skellig Ring.
Dolphins of Dingle
By the time we made it back to Dingle, we had missed the chance to go out on a dolphin tour, the last boat goes out at 3.45pm. Fungie the dolphin has been visiting Dingle bay since 1984; this bottlenose dolphin regularly nuzzles bathers and plays alongside boats. Minke whales and other aquatic mammals can also be spotted in the area. We went for some fish ‘n’ chips in Reel Dingle but were left disappointed. The dripping that was used to deep fry the fish was quite disgusting and the batter was far too thick.
Our last port of call that day was Inch beach. Inch beach is a favourite with surfers, the drive from Dingle is really scenic and windy. By that time in the day, it was getting a bit dark and the sea looked fierce.
After spending the day on the Dingle Peninsula, we drove down to Portmagee. Catch up with us soon to find out about Valentia Island, the gorgeous Skellig Ring and horse riding on the beaches of Caherdaniel.
on the doorstep – very near
to play host to – to provide the things that are needed for (an event, meeting)
through the roof – very high, dramatically increased (prices)
to head out – depart
rural – in the countryside
hummed and hawed – took a long time to decide
settled – to agree upon
to shop around – to visit a number of shops to look for something
bracket – a group, classification
rugged – rough jagged service
hectic – busy
no two ways around it – there is no doubt about it
fast food joint – fast food restaurant/cafe
slap up – large and sumptuous
to cater to our every whim – to give the customer what they want
spot on – exactly right
to double back – to turn and go back in the direction you came from
boardwalk – a path made of wooden boards
sparse – small in numbers
sliver – a small slice
desolate – empty
looming – of something unwanted or unpleasant about to happen
to toy with something – to consider something but not in a very serious way
to bode well – if something bodes well – it looks good for the future
to peer down – to look down
abyss – a bottomless pit
fledgling – someone or something that has just started an activity
commemorate – to exist to remember and honour people
to subside – to become less strong or intense
creamery – a place where butter and cheese are sold, and cream is made
entrapped – to be caught in
to upstage – to steal the show, to be better than something/someone else
to nuzzle – rub up against or push gently with a nose
dripping – animal fat used for frying
batter – a liquid mixture made of flour, used to coat food
windy – curvy
fierce – aggressive
We’ve been back a good six weeks now in Poland and after a long trip and relatively lazy summer, it took a little while to adapt to the rigmarole of daily life. I was keen to make use of the good weather and continue doing a bit more exploring, particularly on the weekends. I know Kampinos National Park like the back of my hand as I often walk and cycle there, I was looking for something farther afield but still in the vicinity of Warsaw and came across a nifty website that details lots of hiking paths throughout Mazowsze -http://mazowsze.szlaki.pttk.pl – it’s also an app. My phone was running low on memory, so I didn’t use the app.
The Blue Path from Cieksyn to Pomiechowek
The route that tickled my fancy the most was the Szlak Niebieski / Blue Path from Cieksyn to Pomiechowek. My wife’s family have a country house in the village of Krolewo, I often run in the area and we sometimes kayak along the Wkra. Due to its proximity, it was the most convenient route to start. I ran through the villages of Krajeczyn and Popielzyn Dolny before getting to Cieksyn after an 11km run. Cieksyn is the start point and the path is about 18km long, winding its way alongside the river. I had hoped to follow the markings until the end but quickly lost them, I decided to stay as close to the river as possible and quickly found the trail again.
The upper part of the route was quite overgrown and several trees had recently fallen. The path carved a small opening between a wooden fence and the river bank which was heavily populated with thick bushes. I came across a large deer that was startled by the sight of a gingery Brit. After eyeing me up, she thundered down the path. I had just about forgotten about her when we met again, she was doing her best to hide in a bush but realised it was fairly poor cover and panicked once again when I appeared, this time she chose the rather unorthodox approach of running past me, she was somewhat ungainly due to the slippery mud and I feared a collision!
In Golawice Pierwsze, the path follows the main road and it is probably the least interesting part of the route. The route then drops down to the river again and becomes much more enjoyable, it’s well signposted and well maintained but a lot quieter than I had imagined. With about three-quarters of the route done, the path comes to a crossroad of hiking paths as it meets a red route which runs from east to west. There’s a footbridge that spans the river Wkra and leads to the village of Kosewo, which has a nice sandy beach that looks ideal to play volleyball on.
The blue path then veers away from the river, climbs a hill before dropping back down again and enters a forest before finally finishing in the centre of Pomiechowek. I expected it to take me three hours but it actually took around four. Considering I got a bit lost at the beginning, kept stopping to take photographs and also that I’d ran for an hour before walking, it’s feasible to do it in about three and a half hours.
More lethargic pastimes
When we first came back, I set myself a somewhat rigorous schedule of races to participate in but this was largely put on hold due to my discovery of a fantastic local pub that sells great craft beers, Czech lagers and wine on tap. Beer Hub has a nice little beer garden, friendly staff and plays great music. The summer lasted longer than expected and we spent several warm evenings there, enjoying the flavourful beers and devouring overpriced nachos. I’d love to tell you the name of my favourite beer but I haven’t decided yet!
I had the chance to get more closely acquainted with some of these craft beers once again when many of the breweries had their stalls at the Beer Fest in Progresja on Friday and Saturday 16/17 September. I was impressed with Native Girl beer by Tattooed Beer in Kraków and also had a fondness for the Spirifer Browar football range – The Kop and Striker. I recall the Russian Imperial Ale by Browar Perun being dangerously smooth yet somewhat potent. The WhyDuck range also seemed good, but by that time it was hard to tell whether I was a good judge or not.
As autumn begins today, it’s getting a bit nippy for beer gardens and I will be moving my attentions to museums and possibly, hiking in the cold.
A good sth. – more than sth. e.g, we walked a good 10 miles, over 10 miles
To know somewhere like the back of one’s hand – to know somewhere very well
To tickle one’s fancy – to appeal to one
Proximity – closeness
Startled – very surprised, alarmed
To eye up – to look at, assess
Thunder – here: to move very quickly and noisily
Panic – to be alarmed, to react in an uncontrollable way, without thinking
Unorthodox – unusual, original
Put on hold – temporarily suspended
To devour – to consume quickly and greedily
Fondness – affection, liking
Potent – strong
Nippy – inf. cold
Shopping and Favourite Spots in Ohrid
As our visit in Macedonia was nearing its end, we paid a visit to the Bay of Bones. I’m not keen on visiting the same places again and again but the kids constantly mither us to go to this wonderful museum on water. It was the third time we had been there. The ancient houses, show how inhabitants of the area used to live long ago but the colour of the water itself is a spectacular enough attraction in itself. Our kids love running in and out of the wooden shacks and playing hide and seek there!
Our next stop on our last day was Trpejca, our favourite lakeside village. We picked up a hitchhiking Dutchman along the way. He was en route to Albania but we convinced him Trpejca was well worth a short stop. Though the beach is stony, Trpejca has one of the most beautiful bays on the whole lake and several cafes on the shore where you can enjoy a coffee or a meal. The Sharska burger, a cheesy variant of the usual ‘pljeskavica’ is a particular favourite. Sylwia ordered a stew that was mostly based on peppers, I can’t remember the name unfortunately but it was scrumptious. We’ve learned from experience that parking in Trpejca can be a bit of a hassle. There’s one extremely, narrow, steep road that leads down to a makeshift car park which is usually full and then turning around or reversing is pretty tricky. This time round we just parked up at the top and strolled down, a lot more straight-forward. After a couple of hours splashing around in the water and a spot of lunch, we headed back to Ohrid.
We have a couple of favourite spots in Ohrid as well. Unfortunately, for me, in Sylwia’s case, this is a jewellery shop, one where she would happily buy everything! The shop owner is very friendly and makes good long-lasting necklaces and ear rings with quirky psychedelic designs. You can find her shop on Facebook as – Sju’s Online Handmade Shop
We ended the shopping spree at the market where we stocked up on food and presents to take home.
The Long Journey Home
The next morning we bid farewell to the hospitable Blago and Jadranka and drove up to Novi Sad in Vojvodina, Serbia. We couldn’t help notice that the road between Ohrid and Gostivar, which was once extremely scenic, was now a giant building site as JCBs and CATs carved a new road through the mountain sides. Though the current road is in fairly bad shape and extremely windy, there is no doubt that this new one is spoiling its surroundings. The route through the Mavrovo National Park is far more enchanting and though it takes about an hour longer, it’s well worth it, we have taken it in the past.
Apart from the usual jostling at border crossings and tolls, and a little bit of racing between sports cars with Swiss plates (they usually belong to Albanians or Kosovans), the trip back was event free and we were in good time. A curious thing about the Serbian capital, Belgrade is that it’s actually faster to drive through it than use the ring road. The more direct route is a dual carriageway where as the ring road is still only half-finished and traffic often gets held up at a set of traffic lights on the suburbs of the city. Still, either of the routes is far superior to the current mess that can be found on the west side of Sofia where a ring road is also being constructed.
A pit stop in Novi Sad
We knew that after a long journey, we would not be up for much in the way of sightseeing. I’d booked accommodation on the outskirts of Novi Sad, close to the highway. I spent a few days in Novi Sad about 10 years ago, it’s a nice city and if you are not pushed for time, it’s definitely worth visiting.
The Hotel Vila Bor in Novi Sad is fairly basic but had a good batch of reviews due to its convenient location. The restaurant was pretty good and I admired the way the waiter was willing to try bits and pieces of numerous languages in his attempts to communicate with us. The Shopska salad was the best we’d had all throughout the trip. If you were staying longer than a couple of days, you might expect more from a hotel but it makes an ideal transit stop.
Happily travelling without any GPS, I made a bit of a boob because I had made a mental note that our hotel was located near the second Novi Sad turn off on the highway. Only after we passed the road, did I realise that all three Novi Sad exits were only accessible from a slip road which branches from a highway right after the toll before the city; I stopped at a petrol station and the pump attendant said that this happened more than 10 times a day to people. Don’t be the road system’s next victim!
The next day we got going quite early after a minimalistic breakfast. Crossing the Hungarian border was slightly time-consuming with other queues moving at frustratingly different speeds. In total it took around an hour, we had clearly chosen the most zealous of Hungarian border guards, who was either eyeing my passport with great suspicion or admiring the new bizarre designs of British countryside that decorate the passport pages.
We powered through Hungary, making good use of the vignette that we had picked up in Serbia. A 10-day vignette currently sells for 2 975 HUF and is usually printed off in the form of a receipt that you have to keep. I believe you have been able to buy them online since 2016 but we didn’t really look into that. Petrol and diesel are more expensive than in Hungary.
Thermal waterpark fun in Eger
By 2pm we pulled into Eger, which was set back further from the motorway than I had imagined. A spa town with a picturesque mosque and a large aqua park, it is teeming with Polish and Slovakian tourists. I have visited Hungary countless times but never stopped in Eger, I was rather looking forward to it. It was scorching and so we dumped a couple of things off at our rented ground floor apartment and went in search of a free parking place near the waterpark and thermal bath – Egri Termál-és
It was rather lazy of me not to have changed any forints but as we were only in Hungary for a day and most places accepted cards, I had not got round to doing it. In retrospect, it would have been better to have done it earlier in the day. Payment for the thermal baths and water park could be paid for by card but all the tantalising snacks inside such as greasy lángos or ice cream could only be paid for in cash and were therefore off bounds.
The complex consists of about 10 different pools, ranging from unheated to a scorching 39 degrees, there is something for everyone. There is a sports pool for people who take things seriously and this requires swimming caps but the other pools have a rather relaxed dress code. Several shallow pools offer a variety of slides and fountains specially designed for kids but there are some big slides which I eyed up but never got round to using!
I won’t go into great detail about the water park because I’m sure there are plenty of people who have written about it. The 6000 forint family ticket is good value considering what’s on offer and I would not hesitate to go back, sometime, possibly en route to Macedonia again! The thermal baths are relaxing and the moving moat and slides are fun.
We bought a couple of extra gifts, mostly Hungarian wine – two types of Egri Bikaver. I am by no means a wine connoisseur, despite the trip to the Cricova winery. I will drink pretty much any old plonk but was most satisfied to find out that the pricier of the two retailed for four times the price in Poland.
Although Eger was quite busy it had quite a nice relaxed feel to it. We finished the evening off with a gyros. Darazsko Apartment, where we stayed is well-located and stocked with everything you might need.
Our journey back to Warsaw from Eger took a bit longer than expected because the 756 road was being dug up and we had a major diversion near Nowa Słupia. The 9-hour journey marked the end of our holiday and it was time to go back to work and the normal routine! It took us 9 hours but the mood in the car wasn’t ideal as we were struggling to find places to stop for something to eat. It was eventually rectified by the obligatory Orlen hot dog.
1000 Hungarian Forint was 2.70 GBP, 14.07 PLN or 3.22 EUR at the time of writing.
mither – to pester, nag
shacks – small wooden huts
camera-clad – full of cameras
subsides – calms down
scrumptious – very tasty
makeshift – here: unofficial, temporary
quirky – pear-shaped
shopping spree – to buy a lot of things
to bid farewell – to say goodbye
to carve – to cut
jostling – to compete forcefully
toll – booth where you pay for using a motorway or bridge
in good time – here: to be on time or even early
to be up for something – to be interested in something, willing to take part in something
boob – here: mistake
zealous – passionate, devout, enthusiastic
teeming – to be full of
to not have something on you – to not have something
to not get round to something – to have not done something you intend to do
tantalising – very tasty, teasing
greasy – oily, fat
scorching – very hot
shallow – of little depth
moat – a deep ditch filled with water
plonk – wine (slang)
rectified – corrected
Macedonia is a small place but it’s packed with places to visit, some of them are rarely visited by tourists and some of them even fairly unknown to Macedonians. The 2nd August, it is a national holiday where Macedonians celebrate a short-lived uprising from Krusevo against Ottoman rule. Although the uprising ultimately failed, it would sow the seeds for a successful independence movement.
It is celebrated with a march from the capital of Skopje to the hill town of Krusevo. Lots of Macedonians also descend on Lake Ohrid to enjoy themselves and many go to Lake Prespa too. As usual, we were keen to avoid the crowds and decided to head towards Bitola. We had visited Bitola the previous year, it’s a lovely little town and the kids enjoyed playing at the playground there. An entrepreneurial shopkeeper had put old amusement rides outside his shop, which was a magnet for kids! Nearby is Baba Gora, also a great place to go hiking.
This time, our destination was the small village of Krklino, located just off the road to Prilep, where there is one stand out attraction, the Auto & Ethno Museum. As you enter the courtyard through a narrow gate, there are several classic cars including a VW Beetle, an old Moskovich and a Zastava. Then there’s a large garage with a collection of old motorbikes, radios, gramophones and albums that have been collected from all over Macedonia.
The adjacent room contains about 6 classic cars which are used for weddings. Impressively, these have been collected by a young man called Filip, who is on hand to guide you. This is a private collection and was started by his father, who we met later on. Some of the items were family heirlooms.
The upstairs is split into several themed rooms including a traditional Macedonian room, a traditional Jewish room and a traditional Turkish room. Traditional tools, musical instruments, weapons and everything imaginable including family photos, were all exhibited. I found it fascinating and could have spent a lot longer there but Sylwia was keen to get a move on and visit Mariovo, a decision which proved to be the right one as the day became a lot longer than expected. Filip’s family invited us for drinks and some home made cakes and we spoke to one of his father’s cousins who lived in Australia.
With a tummy full of freshly baked cakes, we headed off to Mariovo, a mountainous region that borders Greece and is known for its depopulated villages, wild mountains and a picturesque stone bridge.
Leaving Bitola on the road to Novaci, I noticed a graveyard that looked a little out of place. The graves were lined neatly with little crosses. It was clearly a military graveyard and one that seemed reminiscent of those in the Somme. At first, I mistook the French flags on the graves for the Yugoslav flag but on closer inspection, it was most definitely the ‘Tricolore’.
You might find it being misreported that they are World War II graves but the 1914-1918 emblazoned over the arch is a bit of a giveaway that it’s a World War I graveyard.The cemetery marks the resting place of 6,000 identified and 7,000 unidentified French soldiers, including many, Muslims from French colonies.
There was also as many as 4,560 British soldiers killed in the area as they battled alongside the Serbs, Italian and French against the Bulgarians, Germans and Ottomans in what was ultimately a failed operation.
Many of them died from malaria. Known as the Monastir Offensive, history buffs can read up on it online, meanwhile, I’ll get to the pretty pictures of the bridge as soon as possible!
Like the northern part of France, there is something eerie about the area and tales of hidden brandy or worse – minefields, abound. Young people have left the area and there are far more houses than people.
Having passed through the villages of Logovadi and Novaci, the road starts to climb. There is a power station on the left and a landfill site further up on the right. The stench is horrible and you may be tempted to think that Mariovo’s beauty is a myth.
Keep driving, the smell soon passes and the countryside returns to being scenic. Although the road is tarmacked, plants had forced their way through it and bushes had not been cut back for a long time. Thankfully, with no cars around, driving in the middle of the road to avoid scratching the doors is not an issue.
Next up was Makovo, a rather linear village. With it being a national holiday, a small number of people were starting to gather outside someone’s terrace. The terrace proudly sported amps and a keyboard.
We continued to the village of Rapesh, though the buildings were numerous, many of them were empty and in various states of disrepair.
Soon after Rapesh, the road turns into a dirt track, winding down and back up a valley. It had obviously been washed away as there were grooves in some parts, occasionally there were also very large rocks which were easy enough to avoid but could have wrecked the car’s undercarriage
The views are spectacular, which is just as well because we couldn’t have been topping more than 30km/h. The first driver we spotted after half an hour was from Slovakia. He saw the Polish plates on the car and wound his window down to assure us that it was worth going and that it would take a further 10 or 15 minutes.
After 11km of this bumpy, steep road, we reached the summit and a sign for Zovich and a monastery. We turned left as Zovich was our destination. Travel in these parts takes a lot longer than it looks on a map. If you were to attempt a visit to Kajmakcalan or Petalino, you’d need to be up seriously early in the morning.
From the junction at the top of the hill, the road has been recently paved and wiggles its way for 5km across a barren hillside. Zovich is slightly more inhabited than Rapesh but there are still plenty of large stone buildings that have been left unattended.
We parked up outside the bar at the end of the road and continued on foot to the small canyon, magnificent views and the famed stone bridge.
The stone bridge was built in 1950 to replace a wooden one which had stood there for hundreds of years. Its wooden predecessor collapsed under a heavy load when a villager tried to ride over it on his horse and waggon. The villager was rescued by the miller in the mill next to the bridge and although maimed, apparently went on to live to a ripe old age. This manmade structure blends seamlessly into the surrounding rocks. Locals were quietly sunbathing on the rocks and taking a dip in the river. The little dam near the mill acts as a natural pool.
After taking some snaps, it was getting on for 4pm and high time we had some ice cream, so we popped into the bar. We encountered three very muddy pigs who were trotting around the village but were a little too fast to photograph!
The missing Bila Kangoo
On the way back, we were flagged down by a rather sweaty man who enquired about a ‘Bila Kangoo’. Unsure what to make of it, Sylwia feared the worst, that the bridge at the bottom of the valley had collapsed. I thought he was talking about kangaroos. As we pondered over what this chap was talking about, a car pulled up behind us and as they were locals they seemed much more adept at handling the ‘Bila Kangoo’ situation.
Further down the hill, we came across a white Renault Kangoo which was parked up. It dawned on us that the guy had been looking for his car, having hiked in the hills and rejoined the road, he was unsure whether his car was up or down the mountain and was asking us whether we had seen it. The Bila Kangoo mystery had been solved and we noticed that the driver was reunited with his vehicle a few minutes later.
Passing through Makovo on the way back, we noticed things had livened up at the village party, several villagers danced to Balkan style beats on the main road with children on their shoulders. Our trip back was event free until we got on the main road from Bitola to Ohrid.
The roads were much busier than usual and there was rather a lot of reckless driving going on. Macedonia has several roads where the middle lane is used by cars on both sides and big powerful motors play chicken with one another as they head towards a head-on collision.
It’s usually not so bad because there isn’t a lot of traffic but it was notably lively that evening, no doubt a result of the holiday and drink driving. On the mountain pass between the two lakes, we saw a motorbike which had flown off the edge of a ravine. Police were at the scene and there were a couple of curious spectators. It was an eventful ending to a great day!
Ohrid is fast becoming our second home. I first went there in 2004 and it still mesmerises me every time. I enjoy the chaotic roads of Ohrid. Few people indicate, drivers stop and park randomly in the street, shopkeepers are friendly and almost everyone greets you with a “Zdravo.”
There’s the lake, the castle, the bustling fruit market, the Turkish district which is good for a kebab or a haircut and if that’s all too frantic you can retreat to one of the smaller villages along the lake or in our case, the tranquil haven that is the Oaza Inn, where we work our way through Macedonia’s beer and wine supply while swimming.
Ever since we set foot in the Oaza Inn in 2014, we have felt at home. The gardens are kept in wonderful condition: the swimming pool is large, having our own kitchen enables us to cook up our favourite meals and eat far too much cheese and then there is the menagerie of dogs, the two German Sheperd Dogs – Aaron and Zana and two new additions, the puppy Bruno and an old, blind and deaf Spaniel – Lea. Our children love it and in all our travels, we’ve never found a more comfortable place to stay.
The first year we made a point of doing a lot of sightseeing, the second year we spent a bit more time around the pool but visited a combination of old favourites and new places such as Bitola and Lake Prespa. This year we’d seen quite a lot of sights and driven a long way so we spent the first few days relaxing.
Petrino Mountains, Ohrid
There was something I’d wanted to do for a while though and that was to hike the impressive mountains that looked down over Ohrid. I’d looked at them from the swimming pool with a beer in hand. There are no evident signposts from Ohrid but Wikiloc showed a couple of trails, so armed with the app and a fully charged phone, I set out at 7.30am in the morning and parked up on the road leading to Velestovo.
I had not given much thought to the trip and was planning to play it by ear. In retrospect, it might have been better off starting from Ramne or Velestovo instead, the first 30 minutes hike took me to Ramne. Initially, I took the wrong path and somehow made it to what seemed to be an unofficial dumping ground but once I was on my way I came across a Hermann’s tortoise. They are common in this part of the world. This little critter popped his/her head straight in when it saw me.
I filled up on ice cold water in Ramne, and said, “Zdravo” to a few locals and continued the climb up the hill. The path was a small dirt track with a groove in it, possibly from erosion. It looked as though some electric pylons had recently been put in and though the view of the lake was good, it was difficult to take a picture without the wires spoiling it.
Already quite content with meeting a tortoise, I heard a rustling to the left of me and saw a startled looking creature that I believe to have been a pine marten. I did my best to capture it on camera.
This path eventually became minor and lead to a more heavy duty dirt track which I walked on for a short while before following markings for the red path. The markings and the route on Wikiloc did not quite match up, so I trusted the markings that eventually lead to a spring that was marked on the map. From this point onwards, the route became a lot more scenic and I finally felt as though I was doing some proper hiking.
Throughout the trip, there was not a person in sight. The path twisted through trees, the leaves on the ground rustled with birds and lizards before flattening out on to what was a sort of plateau just below the main peaks.
The picturesque field with knee-high, wheat-like grass had a magnitude of crickets that jumped in either direction as I walked through it. It was only just possible to make out the path and it was clear that almost no one came here.
From the plateau, the path winds its way up the hill from here to the peak of Letnica, an extra 40 minutes walk. It was already about 10am and I thought it was best to return, leaving the ascent to the peak for another day. I’d left Sylwia and the kids without a fully stocked fridge at home and thought I might be in for it if I did not return soon.
Views of Lake Ohrid
It is possible to walk on from Vsoki Vrv to Letnica but I chose to run down the mountain until I got to the tree line at which point their interest seemed to ease up and I eventually lost them totally by the time I got to the crossroads with the sign to Tri Mazhi.
to mesmerise – to fascinate
bustling – energetic, busy
frantic – mad
tranquil – calm
to set foot in – enter
menagerie – a diverse group
to be armed with something – to carry, to have
to play something by ear – act spontaneously
rustling – a soft crackling noise, such as when animals move in leaves
startled – scared, surprised
fully stocked – fully equipped
wafted – wave with a hand or object
swarm – a group of flies
bothersome – troublesome, annoying
tackle – challenge, attempt
doused – soaked, covered
peak bagging – an activity when hikers try to climb as many peaks as possible
Over the last couple of years, we have grown very fond of Macedonia and as I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, we have chosen several different routes to get down there. This was by far our longest and so by the time we got there, we were keen to slob around the pool for a few days. First up, though, it was Alex’s birthday. We did not want him to sit in the car for his whole birthday, so we tried to tailor the trip the best we could. We surprised him with a cake, played in the pool a bit and then made the short hop over the fast and uneventful Gyueshevo border crossing to Macedonia.
The cable car to Vodno Mountain
Towering above the country’s capital city Skopje, is Vodno Mountain which proudly looks down over the whole city and surrounding valleys. Marked with a large cross, some healthy folk ascend the mountain by foot, the more lethargic or those with small children can take the cable car from the cable car station at Sredna Vodna, which is reachable by a winding road leading out of Skopje.
At Sredna Vodna there is a big car park with free parking, a kiosk with refreshments, ice creams, plastic toy tat and some benches in the shade that you can sit and wait for the cable car. The cable car runs for the first half of every hour in the summer. The queue was almost non-existent and the tickets were an absolute bargain. Return adult tickets were 100 MKD and children’s tickets were 50 MKD. The ride takes about 10 minutes and we had the cable car to ourselves.
The sky was not very clear but the views were still rather impressive.The cable car ride in itself is quite an attraction but one of the reasons we chose this for Alex’s birthday is that there are a couple of playgrounds on the top. Overall, I thought it was really great value. Unfortunately, we were on the verge of a storm but on a clear day, it must be mesmerising.
The mountain is often used as a starting point for a hike to Matka Canyon, which incidentally, was also our next destination. We’d heard plenty about Matka Canyon and it was definitely the biggest site in Macedonia that we had not seen. We’d booked a night in the hotel there which looked pretty good on Booking.com and had good ratings, so we were looking forward to it.
We descended the mountain by cable car and then in our car made our way through Skopje in the rush hour, which was surprisingly easy. We then got on the main Skopje-Gostivar highway, a road I know fairly well. I was overly confident though and passed the turn off because the sign read ‘Matka Canyon 5000m,’ which I assumed meant that the junction was a further 5km up the road but it was in fact exactly where the sign stood. Much to my frustration, we were heading on the motorway in the wrong direction and had to go to the next junction to turn around, which including passing through the same toll twice and doing about 40km extra. This was not a good start to our Matka Canyon visit and it did not get much better from then on.
We had spent the previous two weeks in relative solitude, occasionally coming into contact with tourists but always in a small number and usually locals. Matka Canyon and the sheer volume of tourists was very much a shock to the system. People were everywhere. The road is narrow with jagged stone cliffs to one side and people parked along the road, so it’s hard for two cars to pass one another. This busy little road ultimately leads to a steep one-way road that runs into a car park. Unfortunately, in our case, there were three cars in front of us and nowhere to park, so all the cars did their best to manoeuvre and reverse back down the hill, while tourists wandered around, usually hovering in my blind spot, much to my annoyance.
After eventually parking the car without scratching it but still worrying that the car parked next to me might when leaving, we set about finding the hotel. A signpost for the hotel led from the car park along the canyon and pointed along a narrow walkway which clung to the cliffs of the canyon. With every new corner, I could see that Sylwia was getting more fed up, after all, we were lugging rather heavy bags with us and the path was full of tourists. Finally, the hotel and restaurant appeared, right on the waterfront but not quite how I imagined, it was evidently going to be a noisy place rather than the idyllic spot we’d imagined.
Despite the location, the hotel was overpriced for what it offered. The breakfast was about the best thing it had going for it. We rented two rooms and one, in particular, was shabby, to say the least. The shower basin was broken, the toilet was cracked and leaked, there were light fittings hanging from everywhere. Not something I would complain about if it was budget accommodation but this was supposed to be a bit plush in a romantic setting. The restaurant menu was posh and expensive, so if you want snails and truffles to go along with the whiff of backed up drains in your room, then this should be very much your accommodation of choice. The meals we did have were good but cost an arm and a leg, particularly by Macedonian standards. The included breakfast was also very good, the restaurant toilet was an absolute abomination, covered in faeces and comparable to the worst camping toilet you could imagine.
You might see impressive pics of Matka Canyon with people posing between the high cliffs and green waters and think that looks nice. Unfortunately, no one shows you the bad side and so you might actually be disappointed when you get there. It probably is very nice out of season but in high season it is just a constant trail of people, leaving litter behind and waiting in turn, to take photographs in the same location. Not only does litter overflow from the designated rubbish bins but it also lies on the banks down to the dam.
I am a huge fan of Macedonia and was very disappointed at just how spoilt this site was. I would like to go back out of season to compare it and to hike deeper into the mountains but I’d certainly never return in high season. For similar impressive sights in the area, I suggest Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia, the Una River and Tara Canyon in Bosnia and the Pivsko Jezero in Montenegro.
At the time of this blog post 100 MKD = 1,63 EUR, 1,34 GBP, 6,90 PLN
fond – to like something
to slob around – to be lazy, not worrying about what you wear
to tailor – to make something fit
lethargic – lazy
jagged – with rough or sharp points
hovering – here: wait around nearby
blind spot – the area that you can’t see in your mirrors while driving
fed up – irritated, at the end of one’s patience, miserable
lugging – carrying with difficulty
whiff – a hint of a smell or passing smell
backed up (drains) – when water does not flow through the drains smoothly and waste water returns or remains
Bulgarian vignette and border crossing
The Negru Voda border was one of the few Bulgaria-Romania border crossings I hadn’t been through and it also suited us because it avoided the busy coastal route from Constanta to Mangalia. Dobrich is a dry city on the Bulgarian side, it has a huge ring road and was always an awkward place to hitch-hike. Hitch-hiking, as frustrating and rewarding as it is, generally comes without the complications of having to tax your car. Bulgaria has a vignette system as well, in this case, you buy the vignette at the border. There’s a vignette window immediately after the border. I did not have a lot of cash on me and they did not accept cards. I handed over my car documents and said, “vignette,” and when the guy came back to me with the price, I was surprised to find that it was 15 Bulgarian lev or 40 Romanian lei. I only had 33 lei but it was too late, he had already printed off the vignette with our registration details. When I explained this, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “tough shit,” and pointed to the exchange office.
The currencies I carried were of no importance at that particular border. They were 200 PLN and some remnants of Moldovan lei and Ukrainian hryvnia. I didn’t really expect the office to change them but went over there as a token gesture. I decided my last resort was to explain the situation to another driver and thankfully, a generous Romanian guy stumped up the missing 7 Lei. The grumpy vignette guy reluctantly handed back my documents and the vignette with a face liked a chafed thigh.
The drive from the Danube delta was our longest throughout the trip, it totalled 487 kilometres and whilst most of it was on fairly good roads, the stretch from Dobrich to Shumen had quite a lot of misleading signposts and a road that started out with the look of a trunk road deteriorated into a small country lane, which was bumpy and windy. It took forever. The road from Varna to Veliko Tarnovo is a pretty good one but you will often encounter what look like large chunks of meat on the road, unfortunately, carcasses of dogs that have been run over. It’s not ideal for those with a queasy stomach, nor is it the most pleasant sight for kids to see.
Our accommodation was in Arbanasi, which is a couple of kilometres up the hillside from Veliko Tarnovo. After a long day on the road, we wanted to settle down and have a beer but unfortunately, there had been something like a landslide on the road and the road was closed. The detour signs took us back in a circle to Veliko Tarnovo and no one seemed to know an alternative. My phone battery had died so I was unable to check the map. Finally, a woman in a jewellery store managed to give us the correct directions.
Arbanasi is incredibly posh by Bulgarian village standards, villas and hotels abound but they are made very tastefully with nice gardens. Our hotel was really nice, although by having the swimming pool in the centre of the restaurant, it did feel a bit as though our noisy children were the centrepiece!
Veliko Tarnovo has an impressive fortress ‘Tsarevets’ and numerous churches and monasteries nearby. It’s well established on the tourist trail and was probably one of the more commercial places we visited on the trip, but it was still relatively quiet by summer standards.
A change of plan
Our initial plan would have seen us spend two nights in Borovets where I was planning to climb up to the peak of Musala, but the guesthouse there contacted us to say that several guests had contracted measles. Although our kids have been vaccinated, we were not totally sure if Sylwia had been, so we decided to give it a wide berth. We looked for alternatives but they were all a bit resort-like and eventually, we made a total change of direction by heading to Petrevene.
Petrevene is a Bulgarian village, 70 or 80 km north of Sofia. It is not a tourist destination, in fact, it has little going for it at all. Our reason for staying there was that it was close to a very interesting cave called Prohodna and we found some accommodation there with a big swimming pool and our own kitchen. Parts of the village were in abject poverty, a gypsy shanty town where people looked down and out. The hotel, ironically named Kontrasti, was quite plush. We arrived in the mid-afternoon, did our shopping in nearby Lukovit and spent the evening swimming.
The next morning, we headed to Prohodna, which was signposted as ‘God’s Eyes,’ it’s a spectacular cave with two holes in the top that look like eyes. There is no entry fee and the caves are part of an extended walking trail connecting it to the Iskar-Panega Geopark. The kids loved exploring the caves, in fact, Alex said he would like to live there!
Vazov Eco Trail in Gara Bov
We then made our way along small roads through the towns of Roman and Mezdra to the Iskar gorge, an impressive river canyon where we stopped off in Gara Bov to hike up the mountain following the Vazov Eco Trail. The trail loops around between the villages of Zasele and Gara Bov. It is well marked and a fairly easy hike.
It was perhaps a bit stupid of us not to realise that the Skaklya waterfall would be dry considering that there was no snow on the mountain peak and it had not rained recently. It was a nice walk all the same and we found a nice picnic spot.
Who was Ivan Vazov?
Ivan Vazov is one of Bulgaria’s most well-known poets and novelists, he is closely linked to the Bulgarian movement for independence against Ottoman rule and was in exile both in Romania and later Odessa. He was said to have visited the area near Zasele several times and mentions parts of the area in some of his literature.
A town called Thompson
Following the gorge towards Sofia, we passed through the town of Thompson, an agglomeration of several villages. It takes its name from a young British army officer. Major Thompson was a member of the communist party but did not support neutrality. He saw action in England, Serbia, Italy, North Africa, Syria, and Iraq before working as a liaison between the British Army and the Bulgarian partisans. He took part in a skirmish between Bulgarian Gendarmerie and the Second Sofia Brigade of National Liberation and was wounded and captured by the Bulgarian Gendarmerie and later executed by a firing squad. After the war, the village was named after him.
His grave can be seen in the Sofia War Cemetery.
Our final stop in Bulgaria was the small spa town of Sapareva Banya, located in the foothills of the Rila Monastery, it makes a pleasant alternative to Borovets. As we entered the town, we saw a rare sight. The fields were on fire, I’m not sure whether this was intentional or not. Several people were stood around watching, while an old fire engine tried to put it out. What was weird, though, was that lots of storks were descending upon the newly burnt ground and were attracted to it like magnets. We thought that they’d burn their talons but having read about it, it seems common practice among storks as they try to catch insects and small animals fleeing from the fire. Grilled worm, is a delicacy worth burning your feathers for apparently.
We had chosen accommodation (Guest House Simona) that fitted the profile we were looking for, an apartment with a kitchen and a swimming pool and it was in our price bracket at 70 lev. The only problem was finding it. As usual, our batteries were running low, so low that I could not make out the display nor find my way to the settings to turn the brightness on. Sylwia’s phone has been playing up throughout the trip anyway, so we’ve been relying on mine. The street we were looking for was not on a map in the centre of the town and so rather befuddled, we parked up at a petrol station on the outskirts of town and I asked a mechanic if he knew where it was. To my surprise, he got someone in the garage to make a call to a person who lived on that street, who told Simona and her grandmother to come down to the garage and within a couple of minutes, they were there to lead the way in their old Opel.
The following day was Alex’s birthday and we were keen to get him a birthday cake and some candles. Not knowing our way around Sapareva Banya, we asked Simona if there was somewhere that sold cake. This helpful young girl went out of her way to accommodate us, phoning a local cake shop and then travelling with me in the car to show me where it was and help me choose it. We then hid it in the family’s fridge. It turned out to be the yummiest birthday cake, we’d ever eaten.
Their generosity knew no boundaries as they also gave him a present – a Batman type action figure. That evening, we had a walk around Sapareva Banya and visited what is probably its biggest attraction – the geyser in the central park.
Sapareva Banya is close to the Rila mountains and there is a lift that leads up towards the Seven Lakes. We thought that the lift might be an interesting attraction for Alex but the walking would have been too much, so we passed on it this time. I’d love to visit the Seven Lakes and Musala on a future trip and plan to go back to Guest House Simona.
To stump up – to provide the necessary money
Chafed – skin made sore through rubbing, particularly at the top of the legs
Thigh – the part of the leg between hip and knee
Stretch – here: section, part
Trunk road – a main road between large towns, suitable for heavy traffic
Carcass – the dead body of an animal
Queasy – feeling nauseous and sick, easily feeling sick through the sight of something unpleasant
Abound – are plentiful
Abject – extreme, absolute
Down and out – without money or home
Plush – luxurious, very well appointed
Liaison – here: a go-between, intermediary
Skirmish – fight, hostile exchange
To flee – to run away, to escape from
Befuddled – confused