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4-6 Travel to Burgas - travelogue


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

4-6 Travel to Burgas - travelogue

(by Vesselin Velikov), last updated: 23-Jul-1995
Most of the information is as of end of '93 - summer of '94.

BG Airport Service times for International flights are no better than
your average US intn'l flight check-in. She will probably be required
to show for check-in anywhere between 120 to 60 min in advance. Given
that it is Monday morning she will have to plan also to have to meet
rush hour trafic in Sofia in the morning if she arrives by train or

There are always night trains labeled "Express", "Inter-city",
"Fast"("Burz vlak") which leave from the corners of Bulgaria at
somewhat convenient times in order to arrive in Sofia at approximately
two time slots: 1) between 6:00 and 7:30; 2) between 8:00 and 9:30.
I am almost sure there will be a train from Burgas, which will leave
approximately at about 10:30-11:30 p.m. from Burgas and arrive at Sofia
(last stop) about 6:00-7:00 a.m. If there haven't been a major cut in
public transport (I doubt it on this route as it's the major tourist
route for Bulgarians in the summer) there will be 2 trains - an
"Express" one (approx. 4-5 stops till Sofia) and a "Fast"/"Inter-city"
one (approx. 8-12 stops). She can buy on either of those:
1) a "sleeping car"/"couchet car" ticket;
- recommended not that much for the "convenience", but rather for the
fact that those cars are "less trashed"; there is a good chance of
getting into a "not so good" compartment in other types of cars;
- she will be able to secure the compartment she'll share with 2-3
more female travelers with a dead-bolt/chain-lock (I felt quite
insecure last summer traveling overnight in a "regular class"/"second
class" compartment with brocken locks, brocken doors, 90 % brocken
lights in an almost empty train carrying my international passport, US
visa documents, $100 cash, $300 travelers checks and my credit cards.
I didn't know what would have been better - to go into a compartment
with a lot of people and fall asleep or go into a dark compartment
- those compartments are kind of tight (always remind me of my army
boot-camp - 3-story bunk-beds, climbing to your bed on a ladder... :)
but they are clean at least) but she'll get at least some sleep so that
she can manage the rush next morning till she gets on the plane;
- no other people are allowed in these cars but only those who carry
tickets for them, in general you can't even pass from the rest of the
train to these cars after about 30 min after the train has left the
initial station;
- those tickets are hard to buy at the last moment!!! Especially at
the end of August when a lot of people return from their holiday at the
black Sea resorts; It is highly recommended that you arrange with
somebody to get that ticket bought at least 2 weeks in advance! If
she'll be staying in Bourgas or Sofia for a day or two any time between
a month to 2 weeks before August 21, she can go to a
"Travel Bureau"/Railway-Station-Advance-Purchase-Counter and buy the
ticket herself.

2) first class ticket - in the absense of "sleeping car" tickets this
is your next best alternative:
- 6 seats per compartment; wider seats, wider compartments, somewhat
adjustable seats as compared to "second class" cars where there are 8
seats in a smaller compartment and very often the seats are so worn and
uncomfortable you start to hurt after 2-3 hours.
- in general - cleaner cars,
- as the price of this ticket is much higher than "second class" and
people with second class tickets are not allowed to "stand" (see below)
in first class car - it is less crowded ergo - safer, less noise etc.
- due to the higher price of the ticket in general in these
compartments there is a better chance to travel in "more comfortable"
environment (educated people, people knowing some English, people who
wouldn't be "interested in changeing money" etc.). Your worst scenario
in this case is a family with a "crying baby" but even that is better
than what you might come upon sometimes in other cars.

General comments:
- I do not recommend "second class" car in her situation - you don't
want to play your chances: often during that time of the year and
especially on Sunday night trains there are so many people who want to
travel, that the entire train (excluding the sleeping cars) is full
(the coridors included, with standing people!!!) - It is a nightmare in
such a situation even if you are "experienced" in such a travel;
- despite what you might hear, trains are fairly on time! Last summer
I never had a case to be on a "late" train. Especially if it is an
"Express" - the railways always try to make those arrive at the
destination on time, usually about 10 min in advance;
- I would suggest she exercises some caution at Sofia Railway station,
especially when picking the taxi!!! On a Monday morning it is very,
very crowded place. I myself, despite being a Bulgarian, got "busted"
last summer arriving on a busy Monday morning with a friend-foreigner
and being in a hurry - a guy "caught" me at the main exit, asked me if
I need a taxi and I said "Yes" after which he lead me to an UNMARKED
car, which gave me a 20 mile trip to a place 7 miles away and charged
me on a tripple rate. All in all, we paid $7.00 (in BG Leva) and
that's nothing for anyone used to Boston, NY and Chicago cab-fares.
But... given that kind of "special treatment" you never know where
you'll end. I kept silent all the way despite seeing that I was lead
not through the shortest way - I didn't want to invite something worse
than the waisting of few bucks.

Varna and Burgas are close, but:
- transport between the two cities is convenient only if you own a car
- it will be more difficult to get a reliable transportation
Burgas-Varna, than Burgas-Sofia;
- A 7:00 a.m. flight Varna-Sofia is almost a guarantee she will miss
her 9:00 a.m. flight from Sofia: domestic flights are considered rather
as an "optional" fast and comfortable transportation, they have a
higher chance though of getting delayed than a train
- the international and domestic arrival/departure areas at Sofia
Airport are two separate buildings. Although they are very close (2-3
min. walk) that means she will have to wait for her luggage to clear
from the domestic line, take it and cross that distance to the
international arrivals. I don't thing Balkan does "final destination
baggage check" the way it is done in the West. I'm almost sure she'll
be late for her 9:00 a.m. flight check-in if she leaves on a 7:00 a.m.
flight from Varna (and we are even not talking about early morning fog
at Varna and possible delays because of it).

Unless your Balkan (BG Airlines) travel agent (I assume she is flying
BALKAN) guarantees that a 7:00 flight from Varna will connect to her
other BALKAN flight - just forget it! You don't want to risk even if
they promise! It's not your Western airline guarantee, unfortunately!

One last possibility:
There are domestic bus lines between the major cities and Sofia, run by
private companies. One of them is "GROUP". They are preffered by
business travellers on a day trip, from what I've heard and many people
recommended them to me when I traveled between my hometown and Sofia
last summer. The buses are comfortable, Western made, have minimal
conveniences like buying a soda and coffee on board, make stops on the
way. (the draw back on an overnight trip is that you have a very
uncomfortable sleep, but otherwise they seem to be very reliable).
My schedule (from last year) shows a trip leaving from Burgas at 16:00
(is that too early?) and arriving in Sofia 23:00 (there might be new
scheduled trips, including overnight ones, as this company seems to be
expanding really fast on the marlet). It might seem to you that it
arrives late in Sofia, but(!) the "Bus-Station" at Sofia, despite
looking more like a run down parking lot, is right behind (about 100
meters) one of the respectable hotels in Sofia - "Novotel Evropa". If
this works - she will be sure that she arrives in Sofia well in
advance, slips in the hotel right away, has a decent sleep and is
awaken in the morning, have a reliable taxi-cab called and taken on
time at the airport.
I have all the necessary phones of the offices of this Bus company both
in Sofia and Burgas. In Sofia they have even FAX number. If you can
have someone who speaks decent Bulgarian you could even arrange this by
calling and checking the options from Boston and leave to your daughter
just to arrive on time at the departure place in Burgas (Some place
outside the railway station, where every taxi will be able to take her
I guess) and pay her ticket upon boarding the bus. Or have her walk-in
at the Sofia office or drop by at the Burgas office at her convenience
to pay and receive the ticket.

Of course - if she can leave Burgas around that time - between 16:00
and 18:00 one could as well check about a train, which will arrive in
Sofia even faster and at approximatelly the same time and she could
stay at the same hotel as it is 500m from the railway station (<$1.00
taxi trip to its doors once she "clears" the walk through Sofia railway
You/she will need to reserve a room at the hotel

One more thing - I just found the brochure of the Bulgarian franchise
of "EuropCar" - "InterBalkan Rent A Car", a rental car agency having
offices in Sofia and Burgas. Rates (compacts Nissan, Fiat, Reno) are
HIGH, higher than USA $23-$39 per day plus $0.23-$0.39 per km plus
$10-$15 CDW plus $3 medical/accident insurance - at 392 km listed
distance Burgas-Sofia total will be I guess $120-$180 (PLUS 18% VAT
taxes). There is no additional fee if she drops the car at EuroCar's
office at Sofia Airport. BUT the main problem is that highways in
Bulgaria are not for an unexperienced driver!!! I could compare night
driving there with driving through the Adirondacks (or US-419 through
the WV Appalachian Mountains - something I have done... :)). Unless
she is an experienced driver or has a reliable BG driver - I do not
recommend this!!!
"Balkan Holidays" - US representative of the (formerly) state tourist
organisation BalkanTourist claims in a broshure that cars can be rented
from "Hertz-BalkanTourist" '...WITH OR WITHOUT A DRIVER...'. Whether
that claim is "real" and how much that costs can be checked probably by
calling "Balkan Holidays" at their USA office.

Phones and FAXes:
All BG phone numbers require Intnl code -359-; the code for the city I
list here is preceded by a -0- when calling long distance within

(car rental, w/ w/out driver)
"Balkan Holidays" - "Hertz-BalkanTourist"
New York: (212)-573-5530
Sofia-Airport: (2)-7-12-01
"Novotel Evropa" - (I don't have it, see the hotel's number)
Sofia-Central Office: 8 Positano Str., Sofia,
phone (2)-83-50-49,
FAX: (2)-88-35-93, (2)-83-11-35

Sofia-Airport (Mon-Sun 8:00 am - 9:00 pm)
phone: (2)-72-01-57

Burgas - Hotel "Bulgaria" (Mon-Fri 8:00 am - 7:00 pm, Sat 8:30 am -
1:00 pm)
phone: (56)-4-21-47
(bus company)
"Group" - 85 Rakovski Str., Sofia
phones: (2)-83-14-54, (2)-83-12-15, (2)-83-24-69
FAX: (2)-83-24-26

"Group" - Burgas (outside railway station/at city bus station?!)
phone: (56)-3-25-88

(Railway ticket advance purchase)
- At special counter at the railway station of departure

Sofia: Central Ticket Office at the lower level of National Palace of
Culture ("NDK")
phones: (2)-59-31-06 (tickets for any line, any direction)
(2)-59-71-24 (tickets plus sleeping car tickets, any line,
any direction)
Burgas: there should be a ticket office in the center of the city but
I do not have info on it.

"Novotel Evropa"(4-star, 597 rooms) - close to Central Railway
Station and "Group"-company Bus Station
131 Knyaginya Maria-Louisa Boulevard, Sofia
phone: (2)-3-12-61


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