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.Although 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.
The 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. 😀
We arrived in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, where we were picked up by a dive company I had contacted a few weeks back.The 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. We’re obviously not in Istanbul anymore. 😛These are shelters for cattle, to keep warm in winter. After two hours, we reached our halfway point, the charming town of Zlatograd, where we would be spending the night.
We began the morning with a traditional Bulgarian breakfast at the charming Vinery “Aleksandrov houses.”
The 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. Agriculture is an important Bulgarian livelihood, and these bells are used for both sheep and goat herds.
The complex also houses a historical museum, which showcases Bulgarian life in the 19th century, including typical costumes and housewares.Are you afraid of the dark? Hah. Cushy little nooks for reading or taking a tea.The perfect place for a cat nap. 😛The ethnographic complex has also preserved Zlatograd’s 19th century school house.Preparing lessons. 🙂A teacher will always be a student. Class is now in session. 😉
Gorgeous 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. 😀Unfortunately, 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. Overall, walking the complex is free, crafts are reasonably priced, and the museum will cost around $1.
The town itself felt almost like out of Beauty and the Beast, walking in a real life Disney movie. 🙂
Not quite the enchanted rose, but close enough. 😉It 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. 😀Red clay roof tiles set against the striking Rhodope mountain range. Restored Bulgarian houses.Bulgaria is predominantly Greek Orthodox, and the churches here in this area have had a long struggle maintaining their presence, especially during the Ottoman Empire.We even visited an underground church, where people could pray in peace, without fear of being spotted by Ottoman soldiers.
Anyway, after a bit of craft shopping and a history lesson, we headed to the villa where the dive company was staying.
A beautiful hillside retreat surrounded by the Rhodope mountain range.They made a fantastic grilled dinner of pork chops and sausage, with eggplant and garden tomatoes, covered in a cucumber yogurt sauce.Pork is expensive in Turkey, since it is a Muslim country, so we loaded up here while we had the chance. 😀Bulgaria also has a long history of grape growing, and at one point was the second largest wine producer in the world. Bulgarian wine and hand-picked grapes.Another traditional drink to try with dinner was Boza, a fermented yeast beverage, popular in Bulgaria and Turkey.It literally tasted like pureed dog food. Never again. Never. Hah.
The next morning, we began our road trip to Greece.Coffee and a cold pork chop sammy. My kind of breakfast. 🙂 On the drive, we passed striking pine trees and felt the crisp autumn air.
No visa is required to enter Greece and the border check took around 20 minutes. From 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.
Breakfast for the birds. 🙂
The Greek Isle of Thassos
Thassos is a small island, located an hour away from mainland Greece.
The 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.I dove with the Greek company, Diver to Diver, at an incredibly affordable 20 euro per dive.We spotted plenty of sea urchin, lava rock, vibrant coral, and multiple octopus during both our dives. The dive master had no problem handling the octopus for us, as well as, busting open a sea urchin underwater for me to taste.Making friends. 😀Sampling sea urchin.Slimy and fishy. Hah.After diving, we spent the afternoon as a group at the Giola, a picturesque alcove on the Greek coastline.
The surrounding area was covered in olive trees and vibrant greenery, which looked stunning in contrast to the deep blue sea.Diving from the alcove is encouraged and quite the adrenaline rush. 😀
That 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. 🙂Now, in my opinion, no day in Greece would be complete without a tasty gyro at an adorable Greek café. 😀
Roasted and shaved lamb, served with tomatoes, red onion, tzatsiki and french fries in a warm grilled pita.Hands down the best gyro I have ever eaten. 😀We ended the night with a beautiful ferry ride back to mainland Greece.The ferry was decked out in true cruise ship fashion.No Wifi on board, but not needed with the spectacular views. 😀Absolutely stunning!Only two days down and plenty more to come. Stay tuned! 😀