Here I am again in Ruse. I hear people are trying to escape it but somehow I seem to be stuck with it.
I can’t say I would’ve complained for a regular business trip to… London let’s say. But hey, it’s Ruse and you’re stuck with it my friend. Somebody’s gotta do the dirty job, isn’t it?
The South side of Romania and the North part of Bulgaria are a sight to see ONLY during the summer. You’re able to enjoy the view over the Danube, eventually fish if you’re into it and go check out the surroundings because it’s full of local history that has roots and implications in the political formation of Europe as we now know it. The Danube formed a natural barrier where the big cultures clashed: the East vs. the West.
…during all the other seasons though, this area it’s as shitty as it can get.
Industrial start of the day
That’s the image I had for hours in front of me since the morning, up to the normal closing hours of businesses. That’s the thing with Ruse in the cold seasons: it’s gonna look like Pripyat… Chernobyl. A heavily industrialized city, on the shores of the Danube – that’s gonna get foggy in the cold seasons – with very little old architecture still in place. Over here, like in many of the Romanian cities, communism prevailed in terms of architecture still standing. On top of everything, the draft forming on the big canal is making 0 degrees feel like -3 degrees and so on. It’s windy most of the times over here, but it’s that type of tricky wind that blows easily and doesn’t really move the branches of the trees.
After 8 hours of talks and only a Red Bull in my stomach, the fact that the restaurant in the hotel was closed because of a private party going on a little bit later seemed like doom. There were 3 more hours until the hour we were supposed to go have dinner together and us, the Romanians, were starving. We are not a nice sight when we get hungry.
Being close to the city center, walking distance I mean, we fancied to go to the famous “Happy”. It’s the Bulgarian response to “fast food” in my opinion.
Gambling with Sushi
“Happy” is that kind of a place that when you enter and check out the menu you think how bad food must be if they serve so many things. It combines the seafood of the Greeks with the meat of the Bulgarians, some international food like burgers and fucking Sushi. Say what?!
Yeah. I don’t know who invented the concept but it seems it works great in Bulgaria because they have multiple restaurants throughout the country and I can tell you the quality is not bad. It’s like a bistro, that cooks some complex types of dishes, with constant quality and decent price. And it’s fast.
I decided to go for a small sushi plateau for the three of us. Finger food like. “Go gambling” I said to myself. I have eaten here before but I never trusted them enough to go on and risk it all on sushi. In no way I know sushi more than I’ve eaten twice the thing – once, very low quality, in Holland… couldn’t swallow it and on the second occasion, on a pretty high class sushi bar, with a Sushi Chef and it was delicious. So with the second occasion in mind I went on and decided to go on and give “Happy”‘s Sushi a chance.
I loved it. I don’t have a fucking clue what I’ve eaten but together with a quality soya sauce (which I recognised because my psychotic mind remembered I chose not to buy that expensive one when I last went to the supermarket), it was delicious. If I tell that I liked this kind of sushi to some of my sushi-eating friends, connoisseurs nonetheless, they will laugh their asses off.
They have pictures for everything they’ll serve to you. Call me a “cheap bitch” but I like this ESPECIALLY when I’m eating abroad in shady places. At least I have a reference of what my meal should look like.
Sushi came instantly and until we filled our bellies with these snacks the other dish came. If we were on the run we would have finished in 30 minutes, 45 with all the detour from the ring road of the city. Much better choice than side road inns if you’re travelling.
The Turkish fortress winery
We pretty much filled our bellies in “Happy” and not long after we came back to the hotel, the bus came to pick us up and take us to the dining restaurant: a place set a little bit outside of the city, on a small hill, in an old underground fortress on top of which now stands the Television Tower in the city of Ruse. Complex place a?
“Leventa” is actually a very small winery built inside the Fort Levent Tabia, an Ottoman fortress dating back to the 1820s. In the ’70s it became a restaurant complex and now, we can enjoy a real military fortification in which people have actually died as a dining, singing and dancing place. Neat a? Well, the Balkans tend to actually mix up things like this. It’s very authentic and very well preserved. You can actually combine a meal, together with a little bit of winery tour and fortress visit. Actually that’s how we started our dinner: by visiting the small wine making facility and some of the barrels that they had stored in order to get the wine inside aged for the correct maturity.
The place is interesting enough if you are into wines because I can bet it’s not easy to find them inside the normal hypermarket. But then again, their not your typical, strong personality wines. They do their best I guess but when compared to some fine editions we have in Romania it looks like they are really struggling in order to get that really defined identity but they are missing some clear rules of wine making along the way.
We started with one of the greatest “Bulgarian salads” you’re able to find or make during winter. I mean, cucumbers don’t just grow these months. But Bulgarians do have this incredible skill (and soil) which helps them grow incredibly fresh and tasty vegetables all year long. During the regular harvest the level of quality in their greeneries go through the roof. Also, the cheese they chose to put on top of their “Bulgarian salad” is one of a kind and if the restaurant nails it (like these guys kindly did) you’re in for a taste buds fiesta.
Their Chardonnay went very well with the salad and the smoked veal and sheep meat which followed but for which I was too drunk to photograph. We tried so many of their wines that at a certain moment I had to let the camera down and just enjoy the evening, whatever the next bottle would bring.
The end of the evening came at around 2 o’clock, when the waiters were clearly giving us signs that we should be closing the store. And we did, taking our drunk asses back to the small bus that brought us here, through the cold wind of the Sara Bair hill. At the exit, the fat cat that stood by my with each trip to the smoking place (outside in the cold, obvious), posed one last time before we said our sad goodbye.
Goodbye chubby cat. Goodbye!