Thursday, May 7

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sorry it's taken me so long to update you about my trip to Sofia this past weekend, but work has been a bit crazy & I'm still waiting to get the internet at home fixed - supposedly this Saturday (fingers & toes crossed)

The alarm went off at 02.47 and I slowly got up & into the shower, when I was done Kaylie got up & into the shower, around 03.20, Kaylie realised she'd forgotten her passport at home, LUCKILY she lives just round the corner so when the taxi driver picked us up at 03.40 we were able to swing by her place and get it. Off to Gatwick we went, arriving just in time to walk to our gate (we'd checked in online & had one hand luggage each) and board the plane. 3 hours later we safely arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, country # 28 for me :)

I passed through immigration shortly after 12.00 and after a rather lengthy peruse through all of my passport pages, but I'm use to that now so I just smile & remain calm. We hit the loos first before leaving the airport since the public bus was said to take at least 30 minutes to get to the city centre. Kaylie was horrified at the state of the public toilets, obviously never having travelled outside of western parts of the world (or big cities such as Bangkok which are up to her normal standards). This made me giggle as I was impressed it wasn't a squat toilet (lol).

We proceeded out to the bus stop, where we boarded the bus & attempted to get the driver to sell us a ticket (as the Lonely Planet guide says to do) after knocking on the window to no avail, we got off & went back into the terminal to find out how else to purchase a ticket. A few minutes later we had 2 tickets and as we headed back out to the bus it pulled away (sod's law, ah?) 25 minutes later another bus showed up, we got on & off we headed to the city centre. From what I could see from my seat, the city sorta reminded me of St Petersberg, Russia, maybe because all the signs where in the Cyrillic alphabet.

At what seemed like the last stop (since the bus runs in a continual loop) we got off, looked at our map & decided we knew where we were & headed off in the direction of the hostel. A few streets later I started to fear we weren't where we thought we were & so Kaylie got out the LP Cyrillic-roman alphabet translator. We learned we were a few streets off, but in the general correct direction, so we turned back the way we wanted to go & started off again, until Kaylie spotted a cake shop. Having only eaten cheerios at 3am, I was rather hungry (Kaylie eat a bacon baguette on the flight over). We popped into the shop and with the universal language of pointing & calculators showing us the price, we got a chocolate Snickers like cake and a strawberry shortcake like cake both for less than £2 (gotta love the Bulgarian Lev to GBP exchange rate!)

After cakes were gone, we started out again in search of our hostel. We navigated the streets and followed the excellent directions (look for casino, see statue of cowboy, Smokin Pig hostel is between pharmacy & paint shop, #33). We found casino, found cowboy, found pharmacy & paint shop but did not see a #33 nor a sign for the hostel. After a few minutes I decided to walk down the alley way where #33 should be and I asked a man standing by the door, "hostel?" and he smiled & pointed up the stairs, so I figured we were on the right track. Up 3 flights of stairs following stickers on the floor & walls for Smokin Pig hostel. The door had no sign, but I pressed the buzzer & a man with white hair answered, again I said, "hostel?" to which he replied, "use to be . . . long pause . . . come on in" My heart sank as I realised the inside looked just like the photos I'd seen on the website and he started to explain that the owner (a Scottish lad) was in Singapore and he was co-running it, but they're closed for construction & quite possibly it will be up for sale soon. Having no clue what else to say, I sputtered, "what about our reservation?"
LONG PAUSE, where his head fell into his hands
Back & forth for a bit explaining we're only staying for 2 nights, etc etc and he showed us to a room with 3 bunk beds. We dropped our ruck sacs and grabbed our maps ready to explore the city.

The "manager" (Irish bloke) gave me a key & showed me how to use it (not as straight forward as one might think) and then gave us a quick landmarks tour of the city centre. He also proceeded to explain to us about how much he dislikes the country & the people. He showed us the construction site & how the gypsies who live next door had stolen 50,000Euro worth of tools not to long ago by climbing through a window which was unlocked. He told us about the mafia, the local stabbings, a bit about politics & his views of how the country is moving backwards. His last bit of advice before he headed to the pub to watch the football was that when the bill comes, if you need change do not say "thank you" if you do, they assume all the money you're giving them is for food plus service. Following his advice we set out to find some lunch. After the meal was done & we'd sorted out the bill plus service charge, we walked basically the whole city centre - seeing all the highlights from the outside (museums with Bulgarian only written explanations were skipped). That evening we had dinner & then back to the hostel for bed since we'd been up for a rather looooong time.

Sunday we got up, had breakfast and headed to see a monastery on top of a local mountain, just outside the city limits (according to Kaylie, who'd read about it online) We got the 64 bus, followed it along our map, got off at the stop specified, waited around for the 93 bus, got on, and 5 minutes later we were back in the city centre, having learned we started off at the wrong end of the bus loop. Wondered around trying to find a place selling bus tickets, but not finding one we finally just got back onto a 93 in the other direction. After about 20 minutes it came to a stop on top of a hill & we could see a chair lift, which Kaylie had mentioned so we figured this must be where we need to be. We hiked over to the chair lift, bough 2 round trip tickets for 14 Levas (£7) we hopped on the chairlift & 20 minutes later got off at the halfway point. Got on the second chair lift and about 5 minutes into the ride the ground started to become covered in snow, another 10 minutes later & we were at the top, where the snow was up to our knees. I followed footsteps of others who were trekking up the mountain and we went looking for the monastery. After awhile of not seeing it, I pulled out the LP guide & looked to see if it said anything about it . . . low & behold, it does exists, just not at the top of the mountain, but rather 500m from the bottom of the first chair lift - OOOPS (lol) so back down the mountain we go.

Rather hungry at this point we have lunch at a nice restaurant near the chair lift before setting off on search 2 of the monastery. A rather long 500m up a steep switchback trail we found the monastery, took the necessary photos and decided it was a good idea to head back into town as it was getting rather late. Back at the bus stop, we waited just over an hour for the bus (apparently one of the buses had died trying to make it up the hill which meant nobody could come up the hill as the roads are rather narrow & twisty).

Once back in town, we then took a tram over to where we wanted to eat, had dinner and went back to the hostel for bed. Monday morning we got up, showered & walked to the bus stop, got the bus back to the airport & onto our flight back to London.

All in all it was a great mini-holiday. The city is pretty and interesting, but if you're not use to squat toilets and non-bilingual signs you might want to miss this city out.

If you're still reading this far down, please pop over here and check out the great things Vicky's doing for Darfur. For those who don't already know Darfur is in the country of Sudan, which is part Eastern Africa.

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At 07 May, 2009 13:04, Blogger mary o said...

Thanks for the "tour." Sounds as if it was a bit frustrating at moments. Looking forward to photos. Or maybe they're on Facebook and I missed them.

Love, Mommio

At 07 May, 2009 13:20, Blogger Sara said...

no photos till internet is fixed :(

At 07 May, 2009 18:19, Blogger mary o said...

ah, yes. Gosh I hope that crossing those toes and fingers helps. Paw, toes and fingers crossed here for ya love, m,q,a, & k

At 10 May, 2009 22:07, Blogger Sara said...

well apparently doesn't matter what we cross Virgin Media has struck again and back onto my worst company to ever have to deal with. I sat at home for 6 hours on Saturday waiting for them to arrive . . . NO SHOW, can you imagine?


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