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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Day 13 of our Black Sea Cruise - Nessebar

So, we left the  perfectly acceptable port of Varna to sail just up the coast to Nessebar.


We could see as we approached that the place wasn't very big. In fact, it was tiny! I think our little home town of Richmond would dwarf it.

Ancient Nessebar used to be known as Messembria.  What was a small island is a World Heritage site, and it is now connected by an isthmus, or road, to the rest of Nessebar city and Bulgaria, which makes it a peninsula. It's been a strategic port in the Black Sea for around 2500 years.  Many civilisations over the centuries have each claimed the island for their own, and many have left their mark.
A model of Nessebar island - you can see the strip of land and road which connects the island to the rest of Bulgaria on the right. The larger buildings on the model are ancient and archeological sites. 
So our small ship approached this small island, and the passengers watched from decks.  It took a while for the captain to manouvre the Minerva into the little port.  It really didn't look like we would fit.  As we edged into the dock, Nessebar started to glow golden in the late afternoon sun, and we began to understand that coming here for the night was probably a good idea after all. The town looked interesting, tempting us to come ashore with the ruins of an ancient ampitheatre right next to our dock,
The sun begins to set on Nessebar
Peter and I decided that we'd have an early dinner before going ashore.  Armed with our cameras we couldn't wait to go see, and we weren't disappointed.  Even as the sun set and with everything closed, the old town charmed us. We wandered through the narrow cobbled streets, looking for an Eco bar that had been recommended.  It was closed, but we found instead a delightful little restaurant overlooking the sea.  We already had dinner, so we simply sat and soaked up the view and felt the peace of our surroundings as the night fell.
A wonderful evening. The cat is enjoying the scenery too.  Or perhaps she has her eye on the bats that had come out to play. 
Early next morning, we are keen to see the little island again, and this time we have all day to explore.  And explore we did.
These arches are the entrance to the ampitheatre from the port.  There is quite a bit of restoration here, but mostly to allow visitors to understand how it was.  We loved it. 
First, we spent hours looking around the middle of the island, Wandering up and down the cobbled streets, admiring the wares and trinkets which overflowed from the packed gift shops into the streets.  We'd arrived early in the tourist season, which meant a few shops and bars were not open yet, but there were more than enough to keep the passengers of the ship spending money, and it also meant that the streets were quiet and we could enjoy the old town at our leisure.
We were early in the season and the streets are empty. It won't be like this in a few weeks time. 
Nessebar is a World Heritage site with good reason. It started as a Thracian settlement in the early 6th century BC, before changing ownership to the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and finally the Bulgarians.  Ancient coins have been found at the site, and many buildings, churches and ruins on the island date back to the 11th and 12th centuries.

And then there are the houses, which, with their top halves lined with wood, lean over the streets, giving them a cosy, sheltered feel.  They give the island it is charm and character and are almost certainly one of the main reasons Nessebar is so attractive to tourists.

We decided we'd like to visit the old churches on the island and bought a ticket that would get us into all of them and save a few Euro's in the process.  My advice to fellow tourists is that a visit to St Stephan's will suffice.  It is easily the best of the churches, and the rest are very similar, so unless you are really keen, I'd leave it at just the one.
The interior of St Stephan's.  Quite quite lovely.  
The ruins of St Sophia church

After many hours spent wandering the little streets, we took a walk around the outside of the island, along the little beaches, although we weren't sure if swimming would be acceptable,  and then following the road that circles the whole town.

Eventually we reached the isthmus and walked along to the iconic old windmill on this connecting strip of land.

Walking back, you can see the old fort walls, and this statue of St Nicholas at gateway.

So we ended our day with tired legs and sore feet, but they were well worth it, definitely somewhere to go back to again and again.

Tomorrow we will visit our last port, Istanbul.  Peter and I have been before, and we are so excited to be able to go back,  we have so much to see that we didn't get to last time.  I can hardly wait. 

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