Our beloved hostel
Trust us, it's bigger on the inside.
Well it's something like 10 PM, and I'm hard at work trying to avoid writing a research paper that really needs starting. Still, when something's a week a way, it is so, very, hard to care. Ah well, I'm sure I'll think of some way to make the-company-which-must-not-be-named exciting.
Let's back up a bit though shall we? Bulgaria for a start really was awesome, Romania maybe just a tad less so, but we'll get there. The trip was done with three others, a first for me, Robbie, Aubrey, and my old roomate Matus. For Bulgaria I think I can say this. Welcome to Eastern Europe
: As Matus occasionally commented, Bulgaria resembled more of central Europe ten years ago, it’s just a little further east (duh). Orthodox churches dot the area, though with not as much frequency as Communist housing blocks and abandoned buildings. Oh and did I mention the dogs? Our taxi drive in meant passing a group of about ten large and hungry looking ferals, and the populace clearly isn’t going anywhere. Of course, some of the time it's just adorable to find a pack of small strays (survival of the cutest) Cyrillic is also the normal written
Enjoy your stay in Sofia, free dinner and breakfast included, along with a villa, and possibly pure happiness (consume responsibly)
language, and unless the local authorities were feeling friendly reading, much less saying anything other than thank you (Plago Darya) was a stretch. Still, some of the locals had a delightfully foul mouth. By the time we'd arrived at our hostel the cab driver had tried to teach us the basics, which apparently includes the phrase "stupid woman" (he had a traffic problem). In short, it was definitely twenty steps out of western Europe. That’s not to say a lot of it wasn’t fantastically pretty, you just had to look a little harder. The aforementioned churches were painted and covered in Mosaics, and some of those abandoned buildings still sport relics from the Soviet times (sadly, the UFO, a veritable orgasm of poorly planning sitting atop a mountain peak was still buried under two meters of snow). You have Euro? Want to buy the country?
Bulgaria’s cheap. No, I don’t mean in the Hungarian Forint sense, where the money could double as Monopoly currency, everything is proportionally cheaper. It’s about two Bulgarian Lev to the Euro, and that goes much further than most other currencies do. Want two liters of beer? Sure, 2 lev. Want a night in
Downtown the dog problem's not too bad, mostly they just chill out and look cute.
a hostel? Maybe twenty maximum. How about a haircut? Maybe four (we all did this last one actually). In short, it took a lot of self restraint to avoid buying everything in sight. Yeah, since I’m somewhat lacking in that department, we ate at an absurdly classy restaurant the second night. Still, it was actually possible to have a fantastic time on a relatively slim budget. That also leads me to the second rule: Hostel Hospitality
Know what makes food even cheaper? When your hostel includes it in the price. By stupid chance my friend Robbie booked our rooms in a place called Hostel Mostel. After getting out of our cab, we were treated to a closed metal sheet with a sign over it. I can’t really sum up our reactions at this point, after the laughter died down I think we all thought this meant we were staying in someone’s garage. We quickly sized up the group and found Robbie had the healthiest organs, and was therefore our first pick for sacrifice. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth, inside turned out to be more like a villa. To our surprise the staff mentioned breakfast (cold cuts and
Most of us
Robbie's earlier on, Notably this is pre hair cut.
bread) and dinner (spaghetti and beer) were included, and our room was inside an apartment two streets over. Seriously, I can’t think of a nice place I’ve stayed in. This includes hotels mind you. In Sofia at least the people there at the time were just as friendly as the staff, and over the next two days we got happily drunk with a mix of Peace Corps types, Germans (my language got dusted off again), and Spaniards kept us company. As usual, travelers look to anyone as a friendly port in a foreign storm, and I think I could write a paper or two on how people act in these situations. Come to think of it one of the others, Tim, was doing exactly that. The highlight for me might've been Ash, the plucky Aussie geologist who offered us Barbados rum. I dare you to find anything that tastes as smooth as this, and I know I won't until I perfect my death laser and take over the world. It was this that led us to change all of our plans too. Bet this looks Nice in the Summer
Sadly enough this turned into something of a motto for
We went on a daytrip with our Bavarian host Alex. Turns out Bulgarian cusine can make you feel guilty about eating three different animals in one meal.
us. Our initial plans had been to leg it across country from Sofia after two days to Varna on the Black Sea, but this didn’t hold up to the power of suggestion. It turns out a beach city isn’t a fun thing to see when the entire country is reenacting a Soviet winter, and even when the temperatures reached a balmy forty degrees it was soon pretty clear that another option might’ve been better suited. We ended up in the old capital of Veliko Tarnovo, in another Hostel Mostel run by a Bavarian named Alex. How did he end up here? Long story, but he basically acted like a kindly uncle more than anything else (though that might be because he gave us beer and pea soup). The city was mostly empty, as before, it being Bulgaria overcast skies were a permanent fixture, which did mean we got the place mostly to ourselves. Free dinner, and a trip up to the local fortress (think Helm’s Deep) marked the first day, and the second meant doing one of the day trips Alex offered. You know, the sort of thing I’d normally avoid like some touristy plague. Well in Bulgaria that meant
no, it's not an actual flying saucer, just poor planning touching down
a trip in a somewhat dodgy van out into the mountains to see caves, monasteries, a Bulgarian version of Plymouth Rock (with the best damn candy bar nothing),Shipka pass, a place so cold the snow froze at sharp angles in the wind, and an effort to visit a Soviet conference hall nicknamed the UFO. Sadly we didn’t get to the latter, owing to four feet of snow, blinding winds, and the rather high likelihood of horrid death by Communist ghosts, but even seeing this atrocity of centralized planning from a distance changes one's life a bit. The inside's full of rubble, collapsed support beams, old velvet, and er, beautiful mosaics of Communist figures like Lenin. Still, I can honestly say I started my last full day in Bulgaria in a cave and finished it 1500 meters up atop a mountain. This place has heart
. I can't put it any other way, I really did like my time in Bulgaria. Like Istanbul there were some definite aspects to it that made one raise an eyebrow, like our street in VT, where the only other thing with people in it was a corner shop. Everything else had literally gone to the
On the Roof of the world
Yeah, candy plus an awesome trip. This was a good day.
dogs. Still, most of the locals were the endearing kind of crazy, and some of the traditions I may end up honoring for a long time. My favorite were the Martinizas (I'm sure I spelled that wrong), red cloth bracelets you give to friends and family at the beginning of March to celebrate the coming of spring. When you see a stork or a blossoming tree, you're supposed to place it on the tree in question. Well to someone who had just seen the Alsace, which is freaking full of storks, this meant a little less, but I'm still wearing my three (one from Jaqueline in the Peace Corps, the second from a tour guide, the third from Alex), more because of what they came to mean. Does that mean I'm failing at tradition? Er, probably, but no lightning bolts have struck me down just yet.
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