We visited Ruse on our last trip and really fell in love with it. Not as big as Veliko Tarnovo or Sofia (of course) it just “feels” a lot more charming I suppose, despite being a major port city on the Danube. Anyway it was good to be back there. The drive from Alekovo was about 90 minutes (probably less when you know where you are going or if you drive like Nigel Newman!). Like the other big cities the traffic is manic and parking is a nightmare but it’s free in most places in Ruse. The one way system is a bit of a pain but I’m sure we will get used to it once we know the place better.
According to the touristy books Ruse is the 5th largest city in Bulgaria. It is the main gateway to Romania (just across the Danube – Ruse has a road and rail bridge to Romania as well as regular ferry services). The Danube obviously plays a big part in the industry of Ruse (and the rest of BG) and during the day we stopped and listened to the rousing sound of what I can only call an “oompah” band entertaining the passengers on a German cruise barge that had stopped in Ruse.
We had a fantastic lunch (Bulgarian food is good and plentiful) after we arrived, sitting outside watching the world go by. Ruse is big on the cafe culture and there are a lot of good cafes and restaurants – the weather was “fresh” but the pavements were still packed with shoppers and families. Peculiarly (strange what you remember) one of the most striking memories was the number of young mums with amazingly expensive baby-buggies – loads and loads and loads of them!
For a while we just strolled around soaking up the atmosphere of the big central square called Liberty Square which has wide pavements lined with cafes and restairants, beautifully laid out gardens and some nice fountains (they were working the last time we were there but not this time).
At one side of Liberty Square there is the majestic Opera House (we have promised ourselves a trip to the Opera next time we are in BG). The building is beautiful and it was great to hear a tenor and a soprano (she could have been an alto, I don’t know) practising together inside, their anonymous voices floating across the square as people just stood and listened. To the left of the Opera house, tucked away on a corner is just a beautifully restored period house (I know nothing about architecture by the way) – it’s a bank now but it is visually very striking.
On the other side of the Opera House (on the right if you are standing facing the Opera House) is a beautiful little Orthodox Church, the Church of Sveta Troitsa. For such a small space (the nave is underground) the huge murals (some old, some new and more contemporary), the icons everywhere, the dim lighting (candles) and silence were quite overwhelming and humbling. I had a sit and a think in one of the very traditional, incredibly uncomfortable high backed stools that line the walls in the nave – and watched people coming in – taking time out from their day in the city – lighting a candle, sitting, praying, thinking, talking to God – whatever they were doing. And it reminded me that Bulgaria is a nation with a very strong faith tradition and culture. From Ruse it is easy to visit the St Dimitar Basarbovski Rock Monastery and the Ivanov Rock Churches and it will be interesting to visit some of these early christian places and learn more about all that when we live there.
Coming back from the Opera House area on our way to the car to go and find the builders merchants we were on the sidelines of a demonstration outside the town hall. From what we could gather it was related to recent issues about the BG government. It was very peaceful with quite a few large policemen present! We moved on quite quickly :-).
We had a chore to do while in Ruse, to visit one of the large builders merchants/diy stores to look for bathroom tiles, bathroom fittings and some other stuff that Nigel wanted us to make decisions about. It was just like going to B&Q back in the UK (or ACE hardware at home in the UAE).
To finish off our day we went for a walk along the Danube and hopefully end up at a great little restaurant on a barge moored on the Danube. We went there on our last visit with Nigel and Joanna and the food was REALLY good, the service very good and the atmosphere (including the people watching) really entertaining – so we were hoping to repeat that.
Sadly that was not to be. Maybe because it was out of season, maybe a change of management, maybe just a change of staff. Our waiter acted a bit like Manuel from Fawlty Towers but not as efficient; many of the menu items were not available; and worse quite of few of them were obviously not fresh – as I said, maybe because it was out of season so I want to give them the benfit of the doubt. But it was disappointing but that had not spoiled a great day out.
Yep, Ruse is a lovely city – the biggest close to us – and we can imagine exploring it a lot more and especially enjoying the “cafe society” there much more when we can.