Weekend Visit to Vratsa

On Saturday morning we took a taxi to the Central Station and there boarded a train bound for Vratsa, Bulgaria, about 120 kilometers north of Sofia. We had a very comfortable ride, with two seats in a six-seater compartment. The train took a scenic route, traveling through the picturesque Iskur Gorge. We could see the river alongside, the poor villages and the sharp mountain cliffs as we traveled north.

After two hours we arrived in the small town of Vratsa, where we took a taxi to the Zora Hotel where we had booked a room. From there it was a 20 minute walk through a light drizzle into the center of town. The unique feature of Vratsa is that the mountains of the nearby national park reach up to the very edge of the town.
After a light lunch we visited Vratsa's Historical Museum, an unimpressive, dark concrete structure whose claim to fame is its golden display of Thracian artifacts, discovered in the nearby village of Rogozen in 1985.

On Sunday morning we were picked up at the hotel by our guide, Tchenko, who drove us into the Vrachanky Balkan Park, Bulgaria's second largest national park. Just two kilometers out of town you reach the narrow entrance to Vratsata Gorge. The rock cliffs are so steep here, that rock climbers from all over Bulgaria use this as their central training mountain.

We drove higher and higher into the mountains, on steep, twisting roads that had seen better days. To our great surprise, at the very top we discovered a world of white, which Tchenko said was quite unusual for late April.

Despite the overcast skies, at one point we had a view of the entire valley, of the Gorge entrance and the village far below.

Tchenko spoke a bit of English, and we didn't understand everything he said, and he didn't understand everything that we said. It's too bad that we didn't speak Dutch, as he had lived in Holland for 20 years. Even so, he was able to take us around the park at a nice, leisurely pace.

Our next stop was the Ledenika Cave, a stalactite and stalagmite cave that is also a popular breeding ground for bats (not that we saw any). We took a one-hour hike inside the cave.

Here we are, back above ground, at the Vratsata Gorge.

Tchenko drove us back to Vratsa for some last minute sight-seeing, including this statue of a Russian soldier, who helped free the town from Ottoman rule.

From this vantage point, we had a good view of the park and the town.

Our train ride back to Sofia was a little less comfortable than the earlier journey. There were no reserved seats, and as the train originated further north, it was full and we couldn't initially find seats together. The train was also a local one, making stops at towns along the trip south. After just over two hours we pulled into the Sofia station and took a taxi home.


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