Hello again, thanks for any previous guidance. I will be arriving in Sofia on Tues evening Aug 30. On Sunday afternoon Sept 4, I will join the RS Bulgaria Tour, which begins with 2 nights and 1 full day in Sofia, then 1 night at Rila Monastery, and 2 nights and one full day in Plovdiv. I will not have a rental car in Bulgaria. So, I figure I will spend at least Aug 31 and Sept 4 in Sofia, leaving Sept 1-2-3 (Thurs-Fri-Sat) to explore areas relatively close to Sofia. I have identified these 1-2 day trips, with help of some of you, and would appreciate any further information or guidance you might have. I understand public bus/train travel can be slow and infrequent, and I have had some trouble reading the details in online schedules. I know there are day tours to some of these places, but the cost seems to depend on how many people sign up, and for one person (thus a private tour) they get too pricey. So, the day trips I have identified are: (1) Koprivshtitsa, either by public bus of about 3 hours each way, or by tour, some of which also include Starosel and/or Plovdiv; (2) Nis, Serbia: a one-day tour, and first chance to visit Serbia; (3) Narrow Gauge RR trip through rural country, but I have not figured out how to do this in one day from Sofia, or even two days including Plovdiv; (4) I have identified the traditional weaving town of Chiprovits, about 3+ hrs by bus from Sofia, via Montana; but I can't tell if I can do this in a way that gives me some time in the town; there appears to be an inexpensive B & B in a weaver's home. I am an appreciator of traditional weaving and textile work in various countries; (5) Plovdiv, but will I value this additional time in Plovdiv, beyond the RS Tour. There are some day tours to Plovdiv that include Bachkava Monastery and/or Assens Fortress. the old Communist site of Buzludzha, mentioned by Kaeleku is intriguing, but I can't see a way to make a day trip there from Sofia. Any guidance or further information you can provide would be helpful, and I realize that I may need to arrive in Sofia with ideas, and then look into what is actually feasible that week. Thanks so much, Larry
I spent the night in Nis last year on my way from Sofia to Podgorica, Montenegro. I, too, would skip it on this trip. Make it part of a longer trip to Serbia. The bus ride from Nis to Podgorica was fabulous. Other than the wild area around the bus station, I found Nis not terribly interesting, though pleasant enough. Belgrade and Novi Sad are higher on my list for a return visit.
Have you considered Veliko Tarnovo? It's 3 to 4 hours from Sofia by bus and about 5 hours from Plovdiv. I loved the craft shops in both VT and Plovdiv, though I can't say that I remember fiber arts.
With respect to time needed for Plovdiv, I think it may depend on your appetite for crafts and art. For folks competely uninterested in shopping/browsing, two nights and one day might be about enough time. There are some small museum-y places. I think I was in the city for three days, and I was reluctant to leave. Honestly, I was slowed down by the very uneven cobblestones in the old town. They were difficult to walk on at the best of times, and then the fall rains moved in.. Hurrying was just not possible.
Thanks acraven and others for earlier suggestions. My plan is still to spend Aug 31 and Sept 4 in Sofia, and Sept 1, 2 and 3 away from the city. In general, people seem to either like or dislike Sofia a lot, I guess I'll discover my own feeling once there. There certainly seems to be plenty there to occupy a visitor for several days. I guess I have crossed Nis off my list. From my limited view, Chiprovsti appears to be somewhat bleak but very clean, with several trash receptacles within a small area! It would probably be an interesting place to experience an everyday Bulgarian small town, but I wouldn't want to be there with only stray dogs and suspicious old people surrounding me! It is quite a trip from Sofia, and would probably only be satisfying if accompanied by someone that knew the local weaving scene. (I have, however, ordered thru eBay a $10 pillow cover made from an 80-year-old traditional Chiprovtsi kilim, now in the mail from Sofia.) So, my current plan is to spend one day in Koprivshtitsa, either on a day tour or by myself by bus; also to go early another day to Plovdiv, visit sites there or nearby that are not included in my RS Tour, spend the night there, and then early the next morning, assuming it works, to go by train to Septemvri, catch the slow, scenic narrow-gauge train to Bankso, and then catch a bus back to Sofia. Do any of you know, is that day reasonable, impossible or maybe just too many hours in transit, watching the scenery? I do have enthusiastic recommendations for 3 different private guides who I still may contact, although it would be hard to pay the normal cost of a private guide to take just me around, unless that allowed me to see exciting things I could not otherwise do, such as the Buzludzha former Communist HQ, which may now even be off-limits as I have read the former hole in the wall, allowing somewhat treacherous entry, may now be closed up. Any suggestions from you who know Bulgaria would certainly be welcomed. I figure my final plans may well be set only once I arrive in Sofia.
Larry, may I suggest that you contact Stephan at Lyuba Tours for suggestions and assistance prior to the RS Bulgarian tour commencing 9/4 (late afternoon); I doubt you'll find anyone more knowledgeable and helpful with regard to cultural and historical travel in Bulgaria.
Larry, please, please report back here after your trip. It sounds wonderful.
I hope you can make the narrow-gauge train trip work. I've often had scenic railways on my target list, but I've never actually taken such a ride. It always turns out that (because of public transportation schedules) I would need a day to get to the isolated departure point and another night at or near the also-isolated destination--i.e., two or three days to accomplish one ride. I hope you've uncovered an exception.