Backpacking Bulgaria: Zlatograd and the Greek Isle of Thassos

Last week, Turkey celebrated the national and religious holiday of Kurban Bayrami or Sacrfice feast. During this Muslim holiday, sheep and cows are slaughtered, with that meat being distributed to the poor, which correlates to the occasion in the Quran when Abraham was ready to sacrifice his own son on the command of God.kurban_bayrami_ne_zaman2015_yili_kurban_bayrami_hangi_gune_denk_geliyor_h11500_9c956Although we did not participate in those festivities, for us teachers, that meant a week-long vacation! 😀

That Friday night, we left the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, bound for the beauty of the Bulgarian countryside.
IMG_7893The bus ride was 8 hours and cost a mere 20 dollars. We had complimentary coffee, cookies and tea, as well as, free WiFi on this cozy overnight bus.
At the 3AM we hit the border check. As an American, no visa is required to enter Bulgaria, and apparently shoes are also not required for service. 😛

Shoeless with my 40-below socks. Comfort was my top priority. 😀
IMG-20150929-WA0000We arrived in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, where we were picked up by a dive company I had contacted a few weeks back.bul-en-bThe company informed me that the dive season in Bulgaria had ended; however, the dive instructor glady invited me on a scuba diving trip he had to planned to take in Greece.  🙂
We hit the open road at 6AM, heading south toward the border of Bulgaria and Greece. DSC_8135We’re obviously not in Istanbul anymore. 😛DSC_8144DSC_8146These are shelters for cattle, to keep warm in winter. DSC_8147After two hours, we reached our halfway point, the charming town of Zlatograd, where we would be spending the night.

Zlatograd

DSC_8166We began the morning with a traditional Bulgarian breakfast at the charming Vinery “Aleksandrov houses.”
DSC_8152DSC_8155DSC_8154The main tourist attraction in Zlatograd is the Ethnographic Area Complex, which continues the tradition Bulgarian craftsmanship by selling handcrafted items, such as wood carvings, pottery, and woven wool.  DSC_8169DSC_8168DSC_8215DSC_8290DSC_8286Agriculture is an important Bulgarian livelihood, and these bells are used for both sheep and goat herds.

DSC_8288DSC_8170DSC_8172The complex also houses a historical museum, which showcases Bulgarian life in the 19th century, including typical costumes and housewares.DSC_8183DSC_8250DSC_8199DSC_8188Are you afraid of the dark? :/ Hah. DSC_8194Cushy little nooks for reading or taking a tea.DSC_8251DSC_8193The perfect place for a cat nap. 😛DSC_8186The ethnographic complex has also preserved Zlatograd’s 19th century school house.DSC_8242DSC_8235Preparing lessons. 🙂DSC_8237A teacher will always be a student. Class is now in session. 😉
12031342_10104656579878477_165081438308369132_oGorgeous penmanship using ink and feather pen. I told the girls about my Grandma’s beautiful penmanship from many years in a strict Catholic school, taught by nuns. 😀DSC_8243Unfortunately, I did not inherit that gene, and my penmanship is more on the level of chicken scratch. I’m sure these intimidating teachers could have whipped me into shape. Hah. DSC_8256Overall, walking the complex is free, crafts are reasonably priced, and the museum will cost around $1.

http://www.eac-zlatograd.com/en/home/

The town itself felt almost like out of Beauty and the Beast, walking in a real life Disney movie. 🙂 DSC_8206

Not quite the enchanted rose, but close enough. 😉DSC_8211DSC_8223It was almost too perfect, as I walked down the streets and spotted a wine glass resting next to a colorful potted plant. Hah. Picture perfect. 😀DSC_8282Red clay roof tiles set against the striking Rhodope mountain range. DSC_8185Restored Bulgarian houses.DSC_8161DSC_8283DSC_8224Bulgaria is predominantly Greek Orthodox, and the churches here in this area have had a long struggle maintaining their presence, especially during the Ottoman Empire.DSC_8253DSC_8262DSC_8275DSC_8263DSC_8258We even visited an underground church, where people could pray in peace, without fear of being spotted by Ottoman soldiers.
DSC_8266DSC_8271Anyway, after a bit of craft shopping and a history lesson, we headed to the villa where the dive company was staying.
DSC_8301A beautiful hillside retreat surrounded by the Rhodope mountain range.DSC_8484They made a fantastic grilled dinner of pork chops and sausage, with eggplant and garden tomatoes, covered in a cucumber yogurt sauce.DSC_8341Pork is expensive in Turkey, since it is a Muslim country, so we loaded up here while we had the chance. 😀DSC_8342Bulgaria also has a long history of grape growing, and at one point was the second largest wine producer in the world. 12002586_10104656579334567_8529026299326615936_o12052479_10104656584868477_2584883375750800991_oBulgarian wine and hand-picked grapes.DSC_8338Another traditional drink to try with dinner was Boza, a fermented yeast beverage, popular in Bulgaria and Turkey.DSC_8340It literally tasted like pureed dog food. Never again. Never. Hah.

The next morning, we began our road trip to Greece.DSC_8351Coffee and a cold pork chop sammy. My kind of breakfast. 🙂 DSC_8348DSC_8350On the drive, we passed striking pine trees and felt the crisp autumn air.
DSC_8364DSC_8365No visa is required to enter Greece and the border check took around 20 minutes. DSC_8360From there, we drove to the ferry dock and hopped on the boat to Thassos with our car. Cars were 25 euro and passenger fees were 2 euro each.
DSC_8375DSC_8382DSC_8387Breakfast for the birds. 🙂 DSC_8392DSC_8393

The Greek Isle of Thassos 

Thassos is a small island, located an hour away from mainland Greece.

DSC_8380The girls I traveled with weren’t divers, so they went with a few other Bulgarian friends from the group to relax on Pefkari beach, while I suited up to dive in the Aegean Sea.11953481_10104656583107007_5697121708968966031_oI dove with the Greek company, Diver to Diver, at an incredibly affordable 20 euro per dive.IMG_7895G0587552G0497502We spotted plenty of sea urchin, lava rock, vibrant coral, and multiple octopus during both our dives. G1037700G0787626G0177405G0697600G0617563G1077714 G1117725The dive master had no problem handling the octopus for us, as well as, busting open a sea urchin underwater for me to taste.
G1217755G1207753G1177742Making friends. 😀11230678_10104656584354507_5535473777695245753_oGetting a little testy. :/
G0877652Sampling sea urchin.G0467493Slimy and fishy. Hah.G0487498After diving, we spent the afternoon as a group at the Giola, a picturesque alcove on the Greek coastline.
DSC_8400DSC_8419DSC_8412The surrounding area was covered in olive trees and vibrant greenery, which looked stunning in contrast to the deep blue sea.
DSC_8401Diving from the alcove is encouraged and quite the adrenaline rush. 😀12033208_10153329491963768_5153836432037673211_nThat being said, if you’re not down to jump, it is still a stunning place to relax on a rock in the sun, admiring the landscape. 🙂DSC_8418Now, in my opinion, no day in Greece would be complete without a tasty gyro at an adorable Greek cafĂ©. 😀
DSC_8429DSC_8434Roasted and shaved lamb, served with tomatoes, red onion, tzatsiki and french fries in a warm grilled pita.DSC_8421DSC_8422Hands down the best gyro I have ever eaten. 😀DSC_8426We ended the night with a beautiful ferry ride back to mainland Greece.DSC_8437The ferry was decked out in true cruise ship fashion.DSC_8453No Wifi on board, but not needed with the spectacular views. 😀DSC_8456Absolutely stunning!DSC_8452DSC_8470DSC_8474Only two days down and plenty more to come. Stay tuned! 😀

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking Bulgaria: Zlatograd and the Greek Isle of Thassos

  1. Thassos , is always , a good idea! Great post , and spontanious photos , showing , why it is a great idea to pay a visit to Thassos!

    Either renting a villa , or having your own summer house , or spending a few days , Thassos makes you always want to come back!

    Liked by 1 person

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