Tag Archives: Bulgaria

I feel like, in my honest account of Sofia, I’ve been a bit hard on the town. This was not my intention. But whenever a tourist walks through a city, the town is laid bare: all of the good and bad it has to offer can be seen. The locals simply shrug off the negative (We Seattlites don’t even carry umbrellas anymore, so impervious are we of the rain.), but the tourists? The tourists are harsh critics.

And so, before I cause any more hurt feelings or misunderstandings, I will admit to two things before I get to the heart of this post.

  1. I ate a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast. This is irrelevant to my day in Sofia, but I feel guilty about it, so I’m owing up to it. It was awesome.
  2. I had a nice time in downtown Sofia on my own, despite having been seriously freaked out about it..

It helped that I was able to meet up with Rand and some locals for lunch – including one fellow in particular who was incredibly helpful. He needed to catch a bus downtown, so he walked me through the important parts of Sofia, putting things in context for me and telling me where to go. He also let me know that while there were a few places that he wouldn’t advise me to visit alone at night, during the day, within the downtown core, I’d pretty much be fine (the same can be said of most towns I visit.)

He was my savior that day, and gave direction to my wanderings. And, jerk that I am, I can’t remember his name.

So let’s just call him the Batman.

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Since Batman was from Bulgaria, and had lived in Sofia a while, he knew the city well. Also, I’m pretty sure the phrase “Batman was from Bulgaria” has never been used before (I checked. It hasn’t been).

My first stop was The Church of St. George, to which the Batman kindly walked me. It’s believed to be the oldest building in Sofia, dating back to the 4th century CE. It’s smack-dab in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by other buildings (including the Sheraton, which I was told was not as nice as the hotel in which we stayed, but very tourist-friendly). Seeing the ancient building amidst all the newer ones is a bit confusing. It’s the architectural equivalent of seeing Phyllis Diller at a Justin Bieber concert – thoroughly entertaining, and you’ll be glad you saw it, but still … weirdly out-of-place.

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In the wake of last week’s treatise about honestly, I feel I should be truthful about a few more things:

The other day, I was eating what I thought were toffee peanuts (as the bag suggested). Instead, I found myself noshing on a few toffee peanuts, but mostly clumps of weirdly un-homogenous toffee-like particles that had collected in the bag.  They tasted terrible. I went back for thirds. (Update: make that sixths. Second Update: I ate the whole bag. I am weak.)

I just saw The King’s Speech, and subsequently spent way too much time looking up photos of a young Colin Firth. (Insert swoon here.)

I haven’t worked out in like, six months.

And – perhaps most importantly since it’s the only thing that actually pertains to travel – I was absolutely petrified on the first day that I spent in Bulgaria on my own.

There. I said it. Judge me on it if you will, but really, the toffee peanut debacle will probably give you more material.

Keep in mind, the day I spent on my own in Sofia took place on only our second day in town. We had yet to have Paris walk us through town, and hadn’t yet met the lovely and rambunctious group of Bulgarian web entrepreneurs who would entertain us into the early hours of the morning with their antics. At this point, the only thing we had experienced in Bulgaria was getting ripped off by our cab driver.

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  1. View from our hotel. The black schmutz is a result of crap on the window.
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  2. Some of the wild dogs of Sofia, sleeping in the park.
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    We let them lie. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

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I would be remiss if I wrote about Bulgaria and didn’t mention Paris.

Photo by fliplivin, courtesy of flickr.com

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Um, no. Not that Paris. Try again.

He's the one on the left. With the moustache.

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Yup. That’s him. I didn’t actually ask him whether or not I could use his photo on the blog, so I figured I’d give him a mustache, making him slightly harder to identify. Because there are probably tons of guys named Paris running around Bulgaria, and with his new-found anonymity, he could be any one of them.

Either that, or I really, really wanted to use Picnik’s new mustache feature. But I digress.

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I forgot to note something in my last post about Bulgaria. I discussed the good and the bad, but I seemed to have skipped over something.

Namely, the weird.

Because one of the strangest, and most disconcerting things about Sofia was the packs of wild dogs that roam through the city.

YEAH.

Seen roaming around the main shopping district of Sofia.

I bet you think I’m joking, right? She can’t possibly be serious, you think, as you rush to do a Google search about the wild dogs that live in Sofia. And there are results. Oh, how there are results. Some are horror stories – tales of dogs killing people in the Bulgarian countryside, or packs of wild hounds killing animals in the Sofia Zoo – while others just note the problem is a growing one. In 2009, the Bulgaria Academy of Sciences estimated that the total number of stray dogs in Sofia alone was around 9,000.

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I tend to make rash decisions. And once I’ve made up my mind about something, there’s no changing it. There are certain things that I loathe, and even though I might have forgotten why I loathe them, I continue to do so. Because my mind has been made up. There’s little indifference in my world. Rarely am I undecided on anything. Which is why my feelings towards Bulgaria, gathered over the course of our trip there a few months back, are so remarkable.

Here’s the thing: I think I hated Bulgaria.

And yet, when I type that, I wince a little. When I think of the amazing people we got to spend time with, of the quirky and delightful traditions of which we partook, I figure I must be wrong. I must have liked Bulgaria. We were treated so nicely by our hosts. People took us out and showed us around. They introduced us to their families and let us hug their children.

And I conclude that Bulgaria really was wonderful.

Then I remember how out of my comfort zone I was. How powerless and frustrated I felt after we got ripped off. How annoyed I was when I later asked the hotel concierge to call me a cab, waited out in the cold for it, and had some douchebag who looked like he just stepped off the set of Jersey Shore steal it from me. How I nearly lost it when I told the concierge what happened, and she proceeded to scold me that I needed to be more aggressive. Right. Aggressive. Against a guy who’s probably a member of the mafia.

And again, I think perhaps I hated Bulgaria.

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"You enjoy your ride? No? Too bad. You pay anyway."

Sometimes, you get taken for a ride, in every respect.

I’ll be honest: when Rand and I first arrived in Bulgaria, I was a little freaked. It was the first time in a very long while that I felt really and truly out-of-my-element while traveling. We’re usually pretty tame in our travels: we tend to stick to Europe, or countries where English is predominantly spoken. Failing that, we’ll be in a  country where we can get by on Rand’s minimal German, my Italian, or my miserable Spanish. In any of those situations, we never really feel like fish out of water.

But Bulgaria? That was another story.

I was petrified that, in this former Soviet country, we were going to get robbed, or beaten up, or swindled, or some combination therein. Fortunately, we only really got swindled, by one of the many rip-off artist cabbies that float around the city.

Before I tell you the tale, I would like to kindly note to my husband that I am not, in any way shape or form saying, “I told you so.”

Though man, if I wanted to, I totally could.

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