Tag Archives: Bulgaria

Sofia

We arrived in Sofia quite late in the evening after missing our first bus from Veliko Tarnovo. We were staying with a host in Sofia, but we couldn’t contact her because our cellphone had died. Quite a story. We left our original charger in Nottingham and had to buy another in Heathrow airport. The we found in Veliko Tarnovo that we’d lost that one – we think in Brasov, but we’re not quite sure! So our phone died by the time we were heading to Sofia! (In a continuation of this story, we bought a new one in Sofia and then left it at our host’s place – we took another by mistake! But the phone was charged enough that we made it through the rest of the trip without a charger!) Our host Rada was very accommodating when we finally arrived though and took us out to get something to eat at a nice restaurant. We all had Bulgarian style pizza and salad (quite yummy, but I’m not sure I like hard-boiled eggs on pizza). Then we headed back to Rada’s lovely and spacious flat to await the arrival of her other couchsurfer – a guy from Brazil. Tiago turned out to be lovely and an architecture student – we spent quite a lot of time with him, wandering around the city looking at pretty buildings and getting him to tell us about the various styles and histories!

One of the remaining mosques

The next morning we all headed to downtown Sofia to meet up with a free walking tour group, after grabbing a traditional breakfast of bouza and cheesy Bulgarian pastry. Bouza is a sweet and sour fermented wheat drink – Tiago and Janice didn`t like it at all, but I thought it was quite nice! The walking tour took a couple of hours and took us by almost all the main buildings in downtown Sofia. We saw …….. While walking by the Parliament we saw a changing of the guards and then the newly elected President walked out the front door with a single bodyguard and aide and walked right by us! He even nodded and smiled at us – which made everyone very impressed! A little later we were looking at a 4th century church that had been excavated with its roof intact and we ran into a Kiran Aluwahlia – a Canadian-Indian artist who was performing at the ongoing music festival. Unfortunately we`d missed her performance the night before!

Changing of the Guard

4th Century Church

Alexandre Neveski

Theatre

We went for lunch at a nice modern restaurant with some friends we met on the tour and had a traditional mixed grill – lots of meat and very Bulgarian. That afternoon a few of us wandered through the enormous outdoor Ladies Market (where we bought our charger) before going to a pub for a couple drinks. We cooked dinner at home that night (lentil and carrot soup) and we had a baking session, which I`d been dying for! After some decent chocolate mint cookies and a session of listening to Rush, we headed to bed.
The next day, Tiago, Janice and I took a day trip to Rila Monastery which is a couple hours out of Sofia. It’s the most beautiful monastery (still operating as such) set is the gorgeous Bulgarian countryside right on the edge of Rila National Park (which has beautiful mountains and hiking). It`s hard to describe how beautiful it was – so I`ll just show you a bunch of photos instead!
After we got back we met up with Rada at the city library to watch a performance of Native American song and dance (performed by a Bulgarian fan club essentially). They were quite good and a few looked very Native even! It was interesting to see the reception of the music and ideas about Native culture in a foreign country. Then we met up with another couchsurfer at a cute little teahouse and had lots of tea and food hanging around chatting and listening to music. Stef (the couchsurfer) has us promise to come visit her in Holland while she’s there on her Erasmus project in the spring.

Rila Monastery

Rila

At Rila

Our final full day in Sofia Tiago, Janice and I wandered around some more and went in to a bunch of the churches we weren’t able to see inside of on our walking tour – such as the Hagia Sofia and the Alexandre Nevesky Cathedral. We also wandered around the Christmas Market and had some hot wine before picking up groceries for dinner and heading back to Rada’s place where we cooked pasta and had salads. We stayed up quite late talking and the next morning we all headed out to our next destinations!

Outside the culture building

Janice and Tiago

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Veliko Tarnovo

We decided to go to Veliko Tarnovo on a whim (like much of our trip). We had met some backpackers in Hungary who had loved the city and recommended it highly, so we decided to stop by for a couple of days. Our train from Romania was supposed to get in at 7pm, but unknown to us, the Bulgarian railway employees had gone on strike the day before so we kept mysteriously stopping for forty minutes at a time, meaning we arrived closer to 10pm. Luckily our hostel was very accommodating and sent a cab to pick us up from the station. The guy working at the hostel, Damien, turned out to be a really nice guy – he gave us a bunch of helpful tips and he and his business partner (a German guy) were really cool to hang out with. They also provided both breakfast and dinner – a real plus! Also staying in our room was a Canadian couple from Newfoundland (there appear to be Canadians everywhere) who had been caught in the train strike the day before – so we commiserated for awhile and got some hints on where to eat in town before we headed out for a very late supper. The food was good, but basic and unfortunately Janice wasn’t feeling well so we headed back to the hostel to sleep. Veliko Tarnovo is quite a small town and we really got that impression after running into Damien on the street (less than 3 hours in town and we already recognize people!). Also on the way home we noticed the town was plastered with posters for some type of live event going on that night – however the posters didn’t make it clear if said event was a boy band group performance or a bunch of male strippers – so we decided not to risk it and let Janice sleep off her headache instead!

Fortress

Walking to the Fortress

The next day we got up early, had breakfast at the hostel and headed out to see the fortress. It was only a ten minute walk from our hostel to the entrance and there were very few people around off-season and early in the morning. One of the first things we noticed was that the site, aside from being pretty well preserved and beautiful, had very few safety precautions. A few signs warned of that fact and told us this was for ‘authenticity’ reasons. These signs also asked us not to die. After such a thorough warning we wandered off through the fort, possibly taking a few more risks climbing the walls than the owner’s of the signs would have liked. We found the ruins of a 4th century church and monastery on the far side of the fort and read the accompanying sign that declared the rock jutting out from the cliff was called Execution Point, because prisoners used to be thrown off from there. Nasty old monks…

Ruins at the Castle

At the top of the fortress there was another interesting (but less old) church with some of the most unusual modern style paintings decorating the interior. We spent a bunch of time there, ogling the art before heading back into town and wandering through some of the old streets with very classic Bulgarian architecture and wandering through a few more churches before stumbling on a 1 lev store – the equivalent of a dollar store. We decided to check it out and were amused to discover they sold a wide variety of undergarments, including many highly padded bras. Apparently Bulgarian women like their cheap bras so padded there’s no room for anything else in them! We headed back to the hostel for supper and met a group of American girls who were studying in Bulgaria, so we spent the night chatting with them and making new friends! The next morning, Damien, helpful as always, called us a cab and sent us off to the bus station to catch our bus to Sofia.

Church in town

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