use - A Town on the Danube
May 27, 2002
Ruse is one of those places you never heard of, never expected to be in, and are unlikely to ever see again. It lies on the border between Buglaria and Romania and we passed through in getting from one to the other. We stopped because if we hadn't we would have only seen one town in Bulgaria, the capital, and that didn't seem enough, even if we had only three full days in the country. If while in Edirne, Turkey, we had looked at a map and had seen that getting to Romania and places farther north didn't require a visit to Sofia, in fact, that going to Sofia involved a very big detour, we might have caught a direct bus to Bucharest and just passed through Ruse with hardly a thought, and surely with few memories.
But instead early one morning we caught the bus from Sofia to Ruse, arrived shortly after noon, and set about to find a place to stay in this Danube river bank town. Immediately on arrival we were hassled by a taxi driver wanting to take us to a hotel, but we wanted to orient ourselves a little first. Gerry walked next door to the train station and learned that there was a train to Bucharest at 3 p.m. The taxi driver was still hanging around and kept trying to talk to us when we just wanted to talk to one another. We had a map of Ruse but no list of hotels so after much discussion with the taxi driver we agreed that he would take us to four hotels for a total of four leva ($2).
We went to three hotels: National at $30, Krystal at $35, and an unnamed dive at $10. We were trying to find something closer to $20 but having got this far, we decided the Krystal was the best bet, but that we needed to get some money from the cash machine. We asked the driver to take us to a cash machine on the way back to the Krystal so that we could pay for the hotel. Just after the cash machine, without asking us, he took us to the Hotel Splendide which also wanted $30. We had now visited our four hotels plus a cash machine. When we finally got back to the Hotel Krystal, Gerry cleverly bargained for a room without breakfast for 50 leva ($25) and came out to tell me. At this point the taxi driver announced that the fare would be 10 leva ($5). We said no and so first he refused to take our bags out of the trunk and then threatened to call the police. Gerry said go ahead. Five minutes later, a policeman showed up and immediately took the taxi driver’s part. Gerry tried to get the hotel receptionist to translate and ask the driver some questions, but in answer to at least one question, she said that the policeman was mad. Unable to get an answer, Gerry then said “Let’s go to the police station”. Off they went leaving Jan waiting in the hotel lobby still without our bags. 15-20 minutes later, Gerry came back trundling our bags on the cart having paid the 10 leva. A friendly policeman who was acting as tranlator had advised him to pay if he had the money rather than go through some unspecified unpleasant experience.
So finally we checked in, paying the room in advance, and walked into town for a late lunch/early dinner. We ate at the first place we found and had some cold meze and two slices of pizza heated in a microwave oven. We then went for a walk along the main pedestrian street and then down to the river Danube, which unfortunately was not a pretty riverside park, but commercial docks.
After following the river upstream a while, we found a park and then headed back into town. While getting our bearings, we were approached by a young man who turned out to be British. He was working for the UNDP helping Russe develop some tourist assets. He was happy to have found some tourists in town and we were happy to talk to someone in English who knew the town. We invited him for a drink at a nearby bar and chatted to him for half an hour. We learned that he had been in Ruse for more than 3 years, was married to a local girl, and owned property and a part of a business.
After we left our English friend, we walked back to the hotel. Gerry went up to the room, while Jan treated herself to a glass of red wine at the hotel restaurant that was in a garden at the back of the hotel.