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Published: January 14th 2012
Alexander’s ability to bond with the five million stray cats in Eastern Europe has not been useful to the four of us on this trip, to be honest it has been tiresome. His degree in journalism is useful, as we have decided to put our feet up and sit this blog out forcing Alex to pull his weight. Here is what our guest blogger has to say about the Bulgarian part of our mini trip from Istanbul to Romania.
Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria - that was the complete sum of our collective knowledge on the place as we climbed down from the steps of another all-night Balkan bus. Sixty-two hours later, we’re only slightly wiser and just as tired. So, what have we learned?
1) Bulgarians are exceedingly polite drivers.
After ducking and weaving our way across the roads of Istanbul and the semi-dirt slaughter-paths of Tbilisi, it was almost confusing to see the traffic slide slowly to a halt as we first stepped out to cross the street. Our astonishment increased during the taxi journey to our hostel - only one horn blast was heard throughout the entire ten-minute trip,
and the driver chose to treat us to some local information instead of screaming out of the window, which was much appreciated.
2) The Lady’s Market (an outdoor bazaar in the northern part of the old town) is famous for its pick-pockets.
Despite receiving cautions from a tour guide, the hostel staff and several travel websites, we couldn’t resist the allure of Cheap Stuff (TM) and wandered down to check it out. No-one seems to have lost anything, though, so the pick-pockets are either hibernating through January or they’re so skilled that they managed to take our kidneys somehow. We won’t know for sure until renal failure sets in.
3) Monastery food is rubbish.
We took a day-trip to Rila, the highest mountain in the Balkans, to see the place where Orthodox monks hang out and do various holy-type things. The monastery itself was amazing, as was the tiny cave a few kilometres away where St Ivan was said to have spent more than a decade quietly contemplating the nature of things and being cold. We squeezed through the grotto and out through a hole in the snow, which a
local explained would cleanse us of all sin. Relieved of this load, we headed off to lunch.
Catering to tourists, the restaurant next to the monastery served us something that looked suspiciously like McCain’s Frozen Veggie Mix and tasted suspiciously like wet cardboard. Having said that, the hilariously-translated menu also listed things like “Monastery Sword,” “Forcemeat” and “Tender Lion,” so it looks like we got off fairly lightly.
4) Free tours are awesome.
In the course of our few days in Sofia, we wandered around town by ourselves for a while – mostly just pointing at interesting buildings or playing in the snow – but it wasn’t ‘til we took a free walking tour that we actually knew what we were looking at. Our guide was a PHD history student who spoke excellent English; the only time we seemed to hit the language barrier was when she tried to convince us that Harry Potter was the new Bruce Willis (we also found a brand of Bulgarian vodka with Bruce Willis’ face on it - for no discernable reason – so it looks like he’s pretty popular over in eastern Europe).
We explored the
This mineral water is believed to have heeling properties for your kidneys, the locals were all fulling up their bottles for the week.
lower levels and buried ruins of the old city, which has existed in some form or another for more than three thousand years, and drank from various tapped hot springs. Each communal spring serves a unique function; the water from the mosque district is supposed to promote kidney health, while the spring near the old bath building is good for the heart.
Aaron and Julia won some strange chocolate bars in our tour guide’s pop-quiz, but the euphoria of success was short-lived: that evening, in a supermarket, Aaron accidentally pulled the hard-won treat from his pocket whilst under the post-soviet scrutiny of a surly security guard. Concerned at the prospect of being mistaken for a thief, he abandoned his prize on a nearby shelf, writing off the loss as ‘a donation to charity.’ Consoling ourselves with the purchase of armfuls of ‘bus snacks,’ we set off for yet another midnight bus – this time, heading north to Bucharest.
Will the intrepid adventurers make it to Romania? Will Aaron recover from the loss of his chocolate? Will Mikaela lose her beanie for a fourth time? Will Julia finally get thoroughly fed up with being mistaken for an Australian and
abandon the journey? Exactly which diseases will Alex catch from forcing his affection on every feline on the continent?
Find out next time, in the next thrillingly futuristic instalment of this travel narrative.
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