Tag Archives: sofia

Sofia, Bulgaria: the Adventures of an Idiot (a)Broad

So remember when I went to Europe back in May?  And I posted about it regularly?  But then I stopped suddenly and never finished it?  Well I think that was because subconsciously I did not want the trip to end. So if I held out forever, never finishing up blogging about it, it would not be officially over.  But now since 2013 is dangerously close to being over, while I still have four more trips left this year, I figure it is time to get cracking.

When we last left off, I had returned to Sofia from Belogradchik. I also got to use my very first squat toilet.  Oh the adventures one has when one travels.

squat toilet

Continue reading

So after arriving back in Sofia, I was done.  Hot, burning, filthy, squat toileted, exhausted, hate.  I broke my “no cab” rule and took a cab to my Sofia hotel.  It cost me about $4 USD, which is quite a bargain.  The driver offered that I could smoke in the cab, since he was already lighting up.

I got to my hostel.  I don’t do dorm type rooms because I am old and crabby.  I also don’t like walk ups because I am old and arthritic and don’t use a back pack. Finally, I avoid shared bathrooms like the plague, because you know, PLAGUE.  (I am just kidding there, I know shared bathrooms are relatively clean, I just cannot resist a pun, no matter how bad it is.)

So when the check in guy hands me my key and tells me I am on the fifth floor and it is a walk up AND we are on floor zero, meaning it is really on floor six…I am sure he is mistaken.  Why would I book a fifth (SIXTH) floor walk up?  In Sofia?   One of the cheapest places on the planet?

But I do not argue.  I know damn well I am an idiot and very well could have booked this room.  I just figure I will lug my crap up all those steps and check my confirmation when I get to the room.

I get up all the steps.  I am dying.  Did I mention I was hot, burning, filthy, squat toileted, exhausted, hate?

I open my room door and there it is.   A room without a bathroom.  Up six flights of stairs. In Sofia, where hotels cost less than a pack of cigarettes in New York.  Okay I’m slightly exaggerating there.  It would be equal to TWO packs of cigarettes.

Okay there has got to be no way in hell I booked this. Let me check my confirmation.   I pull out my laptop type thingy and GAH.  I did not ask for the wifi password.  DO. NOT. MAKE. ME. WALK. BACK. DOWN. AND. THEN. BACK. UP. SIX. FLIGHTS. OF. STAIRS. JUST. TO. BE. SURE. I. BOOKED. A. ROOM. THAT. IS. UP. SIX. FLIGHTS. OF. STAIRS. WITH. A. SHARED. BATHROOM.

People!  Are you not listening to me?  I SAID I AM HOT, BURNING, FILTHY, SQUAT TOILETED, EXHAUSTED, HATE.

GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

I walk back down the stairs. While I am down on ground level, I go to the supermarket and pick up some bread and cheese for dinner.   Have I ever mentioned Bulgarians are the nicest people ever?  Well they are.  I tried asking the cashier if they sold Chapstick.  She had no clue what I was talking about.  I pulled out an empty tube and mimed it.  She got so excited understanding what I meant.  She then told me in broken English that there was a DM nearby and began trying to explain to me what a DM is.  Now was my chance to get super excited.  I KNOW WHAT A DM IS!!!!

(DM is a chain of health and beauty supplies, kind of like a Walgreens or CVS in the states)

She gave me clear directions.  I got back to my hostel with dinner, Chapstick and enough brain cells to remember this time to ASK FOR THE WIFI PASSWORD YOU ASSHOLE.

Back up six flights of steps to the room.  I log onto the internet.  I log into Booking.com.  I review my reservation.  It clearly states shared bathroom.  I then look at the hotel page.  It clearly states there is no lift.  I am just too stupid for my own good.

The beds were comfortable and I did have a balcony so I didn’t fuck up completely.

Hostel Lavele, Sofia Bulgaria

Hostel Lavele balcony, Sofia Bulgaria

This was the view.  Very pretty.

Hostel Lavele view, Sofia Bulgaria

After showering, I ate dinner and got all cozy in that comfortable bed and stayed there doing blog stuff.  There is a genuine comfort in doing “normal” things while traveling . It makes you feel like you are at home wherever you are.  I love that feeling.  It just makes me want to push myself to live this life forever.

Belogradchik, Bulgaria – V.1.5

I had originally  made an “out-of-chronological-order” post about my trip to Belogradchik, which you can find here.

I loved it there so much that I could not wait to do it in chronological order.  But there is some information I would like to add, specifically about getting there and back.

When I was researching this, I found out there was a bus.  But the information was really lacking and completely conflicting.  Now that I have been there, I can help.

Continue reading

At the Sofia bus station, I was told by the information desk that the only bus company that runs to Belogradchik is named Montana.  The internet says there is a second company, I know nothing about this.

The bus leaves at 16:00.  It runs seven days a week, even though some sites on the internet say it does not run on Sundays (I took it on a Sunday).

The Montana ticket window opens late on Sundays since they do not have any early buses going anywhere. I believe it opens at 11:30.  I could not read the Cyrillic sign announcing this, so I spent a few hours trying to not have a nervous breakdown in front of the window, while wondering if it was ever going to open.

The bus was mostly empty.  The seats were fancy and very comfortable.  The air conditioning worked perfectly. We made a couple of stops where we picked up people who were just standing in the road, with no bus signs anywhere.  We also had to stop for a herd of sheep crossing the road.

Here is the only clear picture I have of the scenery outside the window:

bus view sofia to belogradchik

Belogradchik was the place I was the absolute most excited for on this trip.  As we got closer and the rock formations came into sight, I wanted to scream.

Going back to Sofia from Belogradchik:  I confirmed at the Montana ticket window that the only bus they have running back leaves at 6:00 am.   The internet again, has a bunch of other information.  I don’t know anything about anything else first  hand.

I did not want to leave at 6:00 am because it meant I would need to spend two nights there in order to see the Fortress. I did not want to spend two nights in Belogradchik (side effect of having a full time job and needing to see everything RIGHT NOW as you are doing this only on vacation time).

So I decided to take the train back to Sofia.  Advice: do not take the train back to Sofia.

The internet advises you to take the train from Vidin.  There is a bus between Belogradchik and Vidin.  I think this is terrible advice.  Take the train from Oreshets.  It is on the Vidin line, but closer to Sofia than Vidin, so less time on the train.  I took a cab, it was shared with two other people (that the cab driver picked up at the bus station, after leaving me in the cab by myself for about fifteen minutes with no explanation).  It cost me 4 lev, which seemed about right since I had read it was 11.  So he must have charged each person 4.

The train ride is very long.  I believe it was about 4.5 hours (the bus is only 2.5 hours)  There is no air conditioning, it was hot and the train was PACKED.  We also made some random stop for about half an hour, where everyone except me seemed to understand they could get off the train and get some fresh air.

I will never take a train in Bulgaria again.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to post 3298473 pictures of Belodgradchik (even though you may have clicked the original link in the first paragraph of this post, which has lot of pictures in it) because BELOGRADCHIK DAMMIT.

This little guy followed me for a long time, barking at me.  I asked him if he was going to bite my ankles.  He then ran and got some backup in the form of a HUGE dog that was really mad that I insulted the little ankle biter.  I wish I had Huge Dog’s picture.  But he was HUGE and MAD.

little dog

Belogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik, BulgariaBelogradchik rocks, BulgariaBelogradchik rocks, BulgariaBelogradchik fortress, Bulgaria

Goodbye Niš, Serbia, Hello Sofia, Bulgaria!

I was taking a 4:30 am bus from Niš, Serbia to Sofia, Bulgaria.   My Niš apartment was on the third floor of a building that had a cement spiral staircase, and no lighting at all in the hallway. Being that I am leaving at this ridiculously early hour, there is also no sunlight in the hallway.

I gave myself an extra half an hour to sit down on the stairs and scoot down them with my suitcase in tow, to avoid breaking my neck and killing myself.  It is times like these that I almost wish I were not solo, just so that someone else could witness how stupid my life is.

steps death

Continue reading

The walk to the bus only took about fifteen minutes.  As I was boarding the bus, I was shown that on my ticket, it clearly states that there is a charge for storing luggage on the bus.  I cannot recall the exact amount, but it was less than $1 USD.  I flashed back to the conversation I had with the driver’s assistant back in Sarajevo and now realized that I was probably about ten cents short with paying for my luggage on that route.  I had no idea what was even going on.  Now, I know.

The bus ride was relatively uneventful, save for the beautiful scenery outside.  When we crossed over into Bulgaria and had to show our passports, it became clear to everyone that I was from America.   This caused a lot of the usual interested stares I have gotten this trip, but the only person who commented on it was the driver’s assistant who seemed very surprised I was traveling solo.

We arrived in Sofia at around 9:30 am.  I did not even realize we were in Sofia at first.  We were let off at an annex to the main bus station.  All that is over on this side is rows of store fronts that contain only specific bus company ticket desks inside.  It took me a bit to realize that the main bus station was right next door.

I had approximately eight hours to go see Sofia before heading on a bus to Belogradchik (I would be back in Sofia tomorrow for more time to spend here).  I did not want to leave the bus station until I had secured my ticket for Belogradchik.  Finding out the bus information for this route was not the easiest thing.  The internet is so not clear on anything.  As a bonus, today was Sunday and the schedule I had, clearly stated “every day except Sunday”, which I had not realized until I was getting my stuff together when leaving my hotel back in Niš.  Oh I feel a migraine coming on.

The counter for the bus company that goes to Belogradchik was not open yet.  It did not open for two hours.  I spent two hours in the bus station waiting for it to open.

Once I got my ticket, I checked my luggage.  Then off to the tram to head downtown.  This was a headache as well as I could not figure out how to buy a ticket.  OH HEY you can buy one on the tram.  Duh.

My main plans in Sofia for today are:  (a) follow the tram directions for the hotel I am going to be staying at tomorrow night, so I know how to get there tomorrow  to avoid getting lost (I AM ALWAYS LOST) with luggage and (b) visit St. Alexander Nevsky Church.

My plans were slightly thwarted when outside the tram window, I spot the holy grail – DUNKIN FREAKING DONUTS.  AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!  DUNKIN DONUTS.  THERE IS ICED COFFEE AT DUNKIN DONUTS.  I HAVE NOT HAD ICED COFFEE SINCE LEAVING HOME.  I NEED ICED COFFEE.  GIVE ME ICED COFFEE NOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

I get off the tram and bolt back to the Dunkin Donuts.  I was so excited.  I think the guy working there probably thought I was a bit off with HOW excited I was.  Not only did they have iced coffee (well, iced lattes, close enough!), they also had donuts with smiley faces on them.  Of COURSE I am going to buy a donut with a smiley face on it.  I am so happy ICED COFFEE (OKAY LATTE, CLOSE ENOUGH).  I place my order in pretty much a sing song voice, which was even singier when i asked for “smiley faced donut please!!!”

EEEEEE!

dunkin donuts

As if this wasn’t cool enough (it totally was!), I managed to then walk to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral without getting lost!  I read a map correctly!  What a fantastic day.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is gorgeous.  Insanely gorgeous.  One picture will never be enough.

alexander nevsky alexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgaria, sofia, bulgaria alexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgariaalexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgaria

I was really surprised at how empty it was inside.  There were maybe about ten people in there, with about eight of them praying.   You are not allowed to take pictures inside.  Of course, the two other tourists were ignoring  this and doing it anyway until they got told to stop.  I sat in here for quite some time just admiring it.  It was so quiet and peaceful.

After leaving, I wandered a bit around Sofia before heading back to the bus station.

former communist party house, sofia, bulgariarussian orthodox church, former communist party houseCIMG0899central military club, former communist party houseCIMG0890CIMG0889monument to the tsar liberator, sofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgaria

How beautiful is Sofia’s backdrop?

sofia, bulgaria

2013 European Extravaganza Itinerary!!!!

So after close to two months, I have FINALLY cemented the itinerary for my next trip.  This one was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Being that I’m going to be in countries that don’t have useful train service,  and bus schedules that are impossible to find online, it was so hard to plan.

For example, I could not figure “Okay I need this amount of time so let me see when the bus leaves……” because I can’t find any information on the bus other than finding someone’s blog from 2009 where they barely mention having taken that bus…..

I also wanted to cry after I worked out the first leg of my trip and then realized that the night I had planned to take an overnight ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik was the one night of the week that the ferry simply does not run.

But as of right now, my itinerary should be:

Brussels – Paris via Eurostar

Paris – Naples via flight.  Naples will feature a side trip to Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius and Capri

Naples – Rome/Vatican City

Rome – Sarajevo via flight. There were two flight options for this, one had a long layover in Belgrade. I wanted to book this one, so I could spend ten hours in Belgrade.  But that schedule was only available through a third party website that Google tells me is unreliable.  The airlines own website never offered this option.  So now I’m just in Belgrade for 3.5 hours.

Sarajevo – Mostar, with a side trip to Dubrovnik

Mostar to Nis (this will be an annoying travel day for sure)

Nis – Sofia with a side trip to Belogradchik and another one to Rila Monastery

Sofia – Veliko Tarnovo with a stopover in Plovdiv

Veliko Tarnovo – Istanbul

Istanbul – home

Although my trips are way more hectic than the average Europe vacationer can stand, they start off even more crazy.  Then once I get deep into reading travel guides and looking at specific train schedules, I end up having to adjust down in order to see everything I want to see.  For this trip I have already cut out Switzerland, due to me deciding that while in Italy, I want to spend a day at Capri.  This cut out my night in Bern.

I had also wanted to visit Chamonix-Mont Blanc, but after reading a guide book, I realized it would be better to visit in a month that is not May, so that more lifts would be open and I could see more.  So that’s on the back burner for now.

This is the second trip where I am spending a lot of time in Italy, which was never on my “must see” list.  It just works out that it’s convenient along the way.  Once I started looking into it, it just seemed a shame to pass by so many things without stopping.  So once again, I have a bunch of time in a country I never had on my list of “places I need to see before I die”.  It works like that.  It’s all part of the planning process.  You never know where you are going to end up once you start working out the minute details of your itinerary.

I keep a diary of my travels.  For my last trip, I went to Target to buy a fresh book to write in.  I was so excited to find one with the leaning tower of Pisa on it, since I was going to be in Pisa.  How cool would it be to take a picture of my diary in front of its front cover in real life???  That was one of the top highlights of my trip, as you can tell by the picture on top of this page!

I also fell in love with Florence.  I never in my life had any desire to go to Florence. It just worked out to be along my route so I went.  I’m so glad I went and got to stare lovingly at the Ponte Vecchio.

When you start to get deeper into booking, you will find that any mental plans you had before you started really planning, can easily turn into the exact opposite of what you thought you were going to be doing.  For me this is exactly what happens and I have fallen in love with everything I have done, even if it wasn’t on my life long “to do” list.

Now I get to spend the next 77 days formulating more specific itineraries for each place I’m visiting. The more I do this, the more I realize just how ignorant I am to everything that planet earth has to offer.  I love learning and more importantly, I love seeing everything I’ve learned about.