Our last stop on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, before we cross the border back into Panama is the town of Golfito. The town is situated along a narrow strip along Golfito bay, backed against steep green hills covered by rain forest. Golfito was once a major port town on the South Pacific Coast in the days when there was little else in the area except huge banana plantations.
We decided to go to Golfito firstly as it looked a good place to chill for a few days. Also it’s not far from the next leg of the trip, crossing the border at Paso Canoas, back into Panama. We found a nice little apartment on Airbnb overlooking the bay which is reasonably priced and is very nice, with great views of the bay.
Golfito town was built by the United fruit company to house the thousands of workers who came to the area to work on the banana plantations. A railroad was also built to transport the bananas from the plantations to the docks. The railroad is long gone now. There are just a couple of old steam engines left as a reminder of the past.
The town was built in three separate areas
Zona Americana Or the white zone. It was here that the professionals and senior executives lived in large white painted homes built in the British colonial style, with the best of amenities
Zona Amarilla Or yellow zone where the middle management, foreman and supervisors lived. Not as well appointed as the white zone, but still comfortable and well made. Access to both white and yellow zone’s were strictly controlled by guardhouses and security.
Zona Gris The grey zone where the labourers and dock workers lived. In cramped conditions and much fewer amenities, which amounted to just basic living. Often resulting in violent disputes within the community.
Now all that has gone, thankfully, but there are still plenty of reminders from the past. Many of the timber constructed buildings are still standing, some are renovated and some are in quite bad disrepair. Now the town has a quite noticeable American and Canadian expat community, and has had a major revamp in some areas. Like it’s two marinas, where expensive yachts and sports fishing boats are moored, it also has a small airport.
Our next stop Plovdiv (letter E on map) which is about a four-hour drive from Sozopol, is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in Europe and the second largest city in Bulgaria. Standing on the banks of the river Maritsa, in the historical region of Thrace. It’s also known as the City of seven hills, because of the seven hills the city is built on. When we arrived we settled down in a street café to look for a nights accommodation as we had cut short our stay in Sozopol. We settled on the Hotel Expo as it was in a good location and reasonably priced. After checking in we ventured into town and were delighted to discover it was everything we expected and read about.
The town is split into three areas, the new part the old quarter, and the Kapana or trap, a truly amazing area of very chic art galleries, restaurants and trendy bars. The area is also known for it’s amazing street art. After a nice relaxing walk around getting our bearings and a couple of nice cold beers it was back to our hotel to look forward to our next few days in this amazing city.
Plovdiv has so much to see and do, to much to write about in detail so I will just list them. Click on the links for more imformation.
Ancient Stadium of Philipopolis Which is the remains of what was once a huge Roman stadium, a lot of which is below street level. There is currently an ambitious plan to excavate under the streets and shops to reveal it in entirety, although this will probably take years.
Tsar Simeon’s Garden Nice place to stroll around during the day. Also, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 21:00. They have a spectacular light show with music. Although we did get to see the show, but judging by the pictures we saw it looks amazing,
There is so much to see and do in Plovdiv, it’s an amazing city and should not be overlooked if visiting Bulgaria. We loved it so much we wanted to stay longer than our four nights. We shall definitely return. Next stop Melnik
After a relatively short journey, about an hour from Nesebar, we arrived in Sozopol. (Letter D on map). We found our apartment , but do you think we could find a parking space, we could not find a parking space anywhere. We did eventually find a car park at the end of our street. Well I say car park, it was a bit of wasteland with a ram shackled hut with a large sofa outside which had seen better days. And a rather dubious looking Bulgarian collecting the money. In fact, he turned out to be very nice and was very friendly, and all was legitimate. Also parking was very cheap 61 lev per day, around £2.80.
One thing we did not envisage was how busy the place was, as on doing our research beforehand Sozopol was labelled as a quieter family resort, so we thought it would be nice to relax by the sea for a couple of days, and also visit the old town and its attractions.
So after dragging our cases down a very long street we eventually arrived at our apartment, and we were not disappointed, it was very nice indeed, and had a balcony with a nice sea view. The elderly owners of the apartment and who live on the ground floor were lovely and very helpful. So our expectations of the town were upbeat.
After settling in we decided to have a walk around to get a feel of the area. It was not long before we both decided that Sozopol was perhaps not what we expected. Crowds of people, endless tacky souvenir shops, fast food stalls, and restaurants with the largest menus you have ever seen, which for us puts us off straight away. We were both feeling a little downcast. Luckily on our dejected walk back to our apartment we stumbled across a lovely Hotel and restaurant called Hotel Briz. Where we had a really nice meal, and a few glasses of wine. We both decided that we were perhaps both tired, and it will be a better day tomorrow.
With a new day ahead we ventured back into the old town. Sozopol is the oldest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The first settlement here dates back to the end of the 4th millennium BC. So as you can imagine the architecture is amazing.
Visit the archaeological museum. Open Monday to Friday and is situated near the port it houses a fascinating collection of local finds from Apollonian days. Apparently the museum occasionally exhibits the skeleton of a local vampire, found with a stake driven through its chest, although it was not on display when we visited, which was a shame.
Another interesting place to visit is the Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa. This 15th-century church was built below street level, as required at the time by the Ottoman rulers. Set in a courtyard with a giant fig tree in the middle, it is one of the most picturesque and photographed places in town, with an exquisite wooden iconostasis and a magnificent carved pulpit. So after a good look around we were slightly warming to the place. The beauty of the old architecture and the quaint little streets you can wander around. Another place worth visiting is a traditional Bulgarian house Ethnographic house which is now a museum, which is very interesting indeed, where we learnt a great deal about life in a typical Bulgarian town and household. After we left the museum and on walking around the quaint streets, we came across locals who had set up stalls outside their homes selling local produce and crafts. Where we bought some very nice local honey. Don’t be put off visiting Sozopol as the old town is amazing, but when you venture into the new town it’s typical of any busy seaside town. We had originally booked three nights in Sozopol but cut our stay short as in my opinion you only need one full day to see everything. Tomorrow we move onto Plovdiv.
Please note this trip was before the Covid 19 outbreak. All future trips currently on hold until who knows when
Spain was the destination for my birthday trip with us having a week in the capital Madrid. There is a lot to see and do in Spain’s capital as you would expect also their are some very good sights outside of the city that are good for a day trip if you have the time. We stayed in an area just outside of the centre, but easily walkable to the main attractions, called Atocha. A nice quiet area with some good restaurants nearby and a short walk to the metro, the perfect base for our trip. As Madrid is Spain’s capital, and as you would expect, the most populated city in Spain. It lies on the River Manzanres, and if you look at a map of Spain it is right slap bang in the middle of the country. Madrid has plenty to offer in the way of sights, restaurants and nightlife, and is a great long weekend destination, although we stayed for a week, which enabled us to explore other towns and attractions outside of the city.
Top attractions to visit
Plaza Mayor(Click here for a 360 degree view) is situated in the heart Hapsburg the old part of the city and is one of the capitals most visited areas. The large square with its many restaurants around the edge is the perfect place to while away an hour having a cold beer or a cup of coffee. As you can imagine it can be an expensive experience because of the location, that said, its a must. Just through the arch in the corner of the square and down some steps you will come across Restaurante Botin which is the worlds oldest restaurant as published in the Guinness book of records. Founded in 1725 and famed for its suckling pig and lamb roasted in the Castilian style it’s a popular place. Although we didn’t eat there it looks amazing from the outside. In the window there is a small model of the building a great photo opportunity. If you like music and your passion is blues music like mine a great place to go in the evening is a blues bar called La Coquette situated in Calle de las Hileras this very intimate little venue has a great vibe about it. They have live music every evening. It doesn’t open until 9pm with music starting around 10pm. I’d advise getting there when it opens as seating is quickly taken up. Unfortunately they do not have a website but they do have a Facebook page.
If you happen to be in Madrid on a Sunday or a public holiday a must visit is El Rastro Market. Situated along Plaza de Cascorro and Ribera de Curtidores, its very popular with locals and tourists alike. So many stalls selling everything from clothes, antiques, food and general wares its a great place to spend a few hours. The nearest metro station is La Latina. After visiting El Rastro a good place to get some lunch is the Mercado San Miguel Built some 100 years ago, it started out as a wholesale food market. Today in this magnificent historical building it caters for all gastronomy tastes, from fresh fish and shellfish, Iberian ham, amazing cheese, and tapas. It’s a great place to head to for lunch, and is extremely popular with the locals and is always busy. It’s open Monday to Thursday and Sunday from 10am to midnight and until 1am on Friday and Saturday
If you want stunning views of the city then you should visit the Circulo de Bellas Artes which in itself is an art gallery, featuring works of art, paintings, sculptures and a large collection of books. The other reason to visit is for its roof top restaurant and bar, with great 360 degree views over Grand Via and the city. Entrance at time of writing is 4€ and drinks are reasonably priced. Location is Calle de Alcalá 42
If its parks you like take a visit to Parque de el Retiro a very beautiful and well kept park and a great place to go to escape the hum drum of the city. The park is filled with beautiful sculptures with its centre piece a large lake. A must view near the rose garden is the statue of the fallen angel. It’s the only sculpture in the world dedicated to the devil. and curiously stands 666m above sea level. Another lovely structure is the glass house, it does not house any exotic plants which it once did but is now used as an exhibition hall. The cast iron and glass structure is well worth looking around and a good photo opportunity
Another great place to visit is the Palacio Real de Madrid. This palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family, but is now used only for state ceremonies. I would advise booking in advance online to avoid the queues, as its a popular tourist destination. At time of writing admission is 12€
If Flamenco is your thing then take a look at Casa Patas. it’s a typical old Spanish restaurant serving traditional dishes and tapas. (Click for 360 view) The shows are performed in a large seated area at the back in a separate room. Casa Patas is not your normal touristy Flamenco show but authentic, traditional and passionate dancing, music and singing. Entrance is 40€ with a drink so a little pricey, but in my opinion well worth it
Day trips outside of Madrid
If you have a little more time than a long weekend, a week in our case, then there are some great attractions and towns outside of the city.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
On your way and a good place to stop halfway to Segovia is the Monastery San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A truly magnificent structure and a must visit. Construction started in 1563 and was completed in 1584 and is in remarkable condition. When we arrived it appeared that you just walk in, but when we went to go inside we were asked for a ticket. We asked where the ticket kiosk was and was directed to a ticket machine all the way back to where we came in, the machine was in a corner and not easily visible so take note. Entrance fees at time of writing was 8€ and is good value for money as once inside the architecture is jaw dropping, especially the magnificent library. Give yourself a couple of hours to have a good look around. Unfortunately as we were moving onto Segovia we did not have time to look around the town so you could easily spend a day here.
After leaving San Lorenzo we stopped off at the Valley of the Fallen, which is about a 20 minute drive towards Segovia. The valley of the fallen is the former resting place of the infamous dictator Franco and is not normally found in guide books because its not a piece of history that most Spaniards want to remember. It’s a sprawling huge over the top memorial to this disposed dictator. It served as the burial place of Franco’s remains from his death in November 1975 until his exhumation on 24 October 2019, as a result of efforts to remove all public veneration of his dictatorship. Apparently every year on the anniversary of his death a huge gathering still takes place to celebrate this man’s slaughter of the many Spanish people who died during his dictatorship. The death toll during his regime is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 people. The reason for our visit was Mark who is taking a degree in politics wanted to find out more. Once inside it felt very sombre and dark, almost creepy a real stark reminder of Spain’s infamous history
Finally we reached the really lovely town of Segovia, a world heritage listed site, so as you can imagine the town has some stunning architecture, with its magnificent Roman built aqueduct leading to the main square. Made up of around 166 arches it brought the water from La Acebeda to the Alcázar a distance of more than 17km. Don’t forget to take a closer look at the stones used to construct the arches. No mortar or adhesive was used in its construction, amazing. Some of the upper stones have ridges on their sides. These marks were caused by dragging the stones and raising them into position The town has a beautiful main square, a stunning Cathedral and a must visit, Alcázar, palace. Walt Disney is said to have modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle in California’s Disneyland on the Alcázar, but to be fair if you google it appears that another castle in Germany has also laid claim and perhaps many others. So take a visit and make up your own mind. Also have a stroll around the old Jewish quarter with it’s quaint little house out of the way restaurants and bars, just walk around and soak up this really lovely part of town.
Another great day out from Madrid is the city of Toledo, it lies about an hour’s drive south east of Madrid, and as its Spain I will certainly guarantee some more stunning architecture. It boasts a magnificent cathedral the Santa Iglesias Cathedral Primada de Toledo. The cathedral is one of only three High Gothic cathedrals in Spain and is architecturally stunning both inside and out. Work began in 1226 and was finally finished in around 1493. The outside is beautiful but the inside will leave you open mouthed, especially the altarpiece which is something to behold (Click here) for the official website which has lots of information and some great photos of the interior
Whilst in the city also visit the beautiful stone built and very imposing Alcazar Perched on top of a hill overlooking the city with some great views over the surrounding countryside, the Alcazar which was once used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century has been destroyed and re-built throughout years of history and conflict but is now used as Army offices and also houses a military arms museum. If your thing is military I’m sure the inside is worth a visit, (entrance fee is currently 5€) but if it’s not, like us, then a walk around the perimeter just to soak up the grandeur of the place is worth doing.
Well that’s it for Madrid. Next post will be our Bulgarian trip in 2019. So stay safe and keep following.
After our time in Annecy in the Rhone Alps we moved on to Châtillon-sur-Seine which is in the Burgundy region. The reason we chose this town it was central to the towns we wanted to visit, those being Auxerre, Troyes and Dijon. We stayed on a municipal site called Campsite Louis Rigoly on the outskirts of this quite and quaint little town. Municipal camping sites can be found in most French towns, they are really resonably priced and very well maintained and very clean “well this one was” We were told about municipal sites by some people we met on the camp site in Annecy, word of warning though, the more popular destinations can get very busy, especially in the peak seasons, so better to book ahead. Campsite Louis Rigoly was off the tourist trail and as it was mid September we decided to take a chance, although the site got quite busy in the evenings with motorhomes, most stayed just one night as they were just passing through. I have to say we were not disappointed. The facilities were spotless, individually marked out pitches with plenty of space between campers and very reasonably priced 15.60 euros per night with electric, which was half the price of our previous site, it also included free entrance to the indoor municipal swimming pool next door, although we did not use it. A great base for the places we wanted to see.
The first town we visited was Dijon famed for is mustard, although strangly its not produced locally anymore Dijon has some stunning french architecture as you would expect. Its historic buildings were not heavily damaged by bombing in World War Two and are largely intact. The historic centre is mainly closed to traffic so you can stroll around and view the magnificent architecture stress free. There are countless restaurants, most of which have outside seating, great for people watching and soaking up the atmosphere of this glorious town.
Must sees whilst here are the Cathédrale Saint-Bénigne de Dijon “click link for some good images of the inside”. Constructed between 1280 and 1325, and is now listed as an historical monument. The Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy a beautiful structure right in the centre,near to the place de la Liberation The earliest part being built in the 14th and 15th century. The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon situated in the heart of the preserved old city centre. Place de la liberation (click for 360 degree view) a great place to grab a coffee and admire the surroundings. There is so much to see and do in Dijon we only scratched the surface as we were only there for a day. Need to stay longer next time.
The next town we visited was the delightful town of Troyes. you will need a good day to explore this amazing town, so get there early.
Troyes (pronounced Twaa) is the ancient capital of the Champagne-Ardennes region, famous for its vineyards and finest champagne. It lies approximately 93 miles from Paris . The city centre is aptly shaped like the cork of a champagne bottle with a rectangular outline defined by avenues of trees and a rounded top circled by the River Seine. Spend some time wandering its narrow, cobbled streets and soak up the amazingly preserved medieval half-timbered buildings. For lovers of architecture its a must visit, and a unique opportunity to enjoy the history of this remarkable city amongst some of the most beautiful countryside along the Seine. Also walk through the Ruelle de Chats where legend has it, as the building’s are so close together the cats used to jump from one rooftop to the next.
Also around the region there are some other great places to visit, Fontenay Abbey which is the oldest preserved Cistercian abbey in the world, and has been declared a world heritage site. Entrance fees are 10€ for self guided or 12.50€ for guided and my opinion well worth it.
Also another great way to spend the day is to visit the quaint little town of Noyers and to visit the Château Ancy-le-Franc both can be done comfortably in a day, and will not disappoint
Our last stop on this leg of our french trip was to visit the city of Auxerre , another amazing french city Auxerre lies on the banks of the river Yonne and is the fourth largest city in the Burgundy region and is associated with the production of the world famous Chablis. We decided to stay here for one night away from our lovely tent, as we wanted to visit Le Château de Tanlay on route to Auxerre, also to have some home comforts for the night. The city as you would expect some more fabulous architecture the Abbey of Saint-German d’ Auxerre Auxerre Cathedral both of which sit high on the hill overlooking the city and the Yonne river. The 15th century astronomical clock tower situated in the heart of the old quarter of the city. With lots of great sights, good restaurants and great sights it’s worth spending the night.
Well it’s time to sign off now it’s been a while since my last post but I have more to catch up on. Our Bulgarian road trip, also our trip to Madrid so please stay following.