Thank heaven for little mermaids

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September 5th 2015
Published: June 8th 2017
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A poor shot of the memorial to the Russian Army in a nearby park.
Geo: 42.7105, 23.3238

My flight was at 1:43, so naturally we left the house at 10:35 (well, it is the Friday of Labor Day weekend!) and got to SeaTac just after 11:00. My flight was booked through KLM, but Delta operates the flights out of Seattle to Amsterdam. Bag drop was a little chaotic and took maybe 15 minutes, but then I discovered that I'd been selected for TSA Pre-Check, which meant that I could just march right up to the conveyor belt, plop my carry-on down, and go through the scanner. No taking out my liquids or laptop; no taking off my shoes and sweater. Pretty slick! I wonder how I can get selected every time I fly. (I was actually behind three JAL flight crew. It was like this was their first time through security. They were a mess.)

I was on the aisle in a row of two. A big, old guy named Tony sat next to me. He's going on a Viking river cruise on the Rhine (I think), but he didn't look at all like my image of a cruise passenger. He had on camouflage hiking boots, old trousers, an old t-shirt with a bleach stain on the
(substantial) belly, and suspenders. Nice old guy.

I was a little freaked out about this flight because I'd been tracking it over the last couple of weeks, and it kept arriving in Amsterdam up to 3 or 4 hours late. I only had an hour and 40 minutes to catch my onward flight, so you can imagine how pleased I was when the pilot announced we'd probably take off a few minutes early. In the end, though, the pilot held the plane for 12 late passengers, and we didn't leave the gate till 58 minutes past our scheduled departure time. I was quietly having a cow, but then a flight attendant explained that the 12 missing people were "the bride's family," the bride and groom and other assorted members of the wedding already being on the plane. I guess I prefer the idea of an airline doing its best to not ruin someone's big day over it closing the gate in the mother of the bride's face, so I relaxed a little after hearing the reason for the delay. As it was, we landed just a few minutes late at Schiphol. The flight was mostly uneventful, and I watched several episodes of "The Big Bang Theory," "Brooklyn Nine Nine," a Richard Ayoade show called "Travel Man," and - of all things - "Gigi." Glad I bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite and loaded a few books on it: I read for maybe 15 minutes, tops.

Transferring at Schiphol was a little confusing but manageable. The Bulgarian Air flight was also delayed because they were waiting for a few late passengers. So maybe I wouldn't have had to worry too much if my Delta flight had been late. I ended up in a middle seat in the very back row next to a lady with a cough who kept rubbing at some imaginary spot on her Eddie Bauer windbreaker, and a nice Filipina lady from New York who had decided to vacation in Sofia on her own. She looked a bit shell-shocked, like she wasn't sure what she'd gotten herself into. She said she brought along the Rick Steves tour itinerary to give her some ideas of what to do. The whole flight was kind of annoying because I just wanted to be back on solid ground, and the last 45 minutes of the trip were really bumpy and jerky. I'm always amazed by how everyone else looks so calm when they can't even keep their heads facing forward because of the back-and-forth, back-and-forth.

Retrieved my bag only to find that the TSA had gotten into it and then closed up my zippers with industrial-strength zip ties. There was no way I was going to be able to get them off, so I stopped at the Lost and Found at Baggage Claim, and one of the young men got some scissors to try and cut off the ties for me. However, TSA had tightened them all the way, so there was no slack at all, which meant scissors couldn't do anything. When I found the Metro, there was a snack stand, so I asked the guy behind the counter if he had something to get the plastic off with. He produced a tool that looked like the thing you keep in the car for bashing out windows and cutting through seatbelts. He spent a few minutes patiently sawing away at the plastic and voila!, he got them off. My hero for the day!

Bought a ticket from a self-service machine (cost: 1 lev) to take the Metro into Sofia. The station was nice (brand new, actually, as of this past April) and the trains were clean and roomy. The ride to Sofia University (my stop) took around 20 minutes. I got a little confused in the underground passages that lead up to the street — no crosswalks, just these big pedestrian underpasses — but eventually found the right exit and walked to the Crystal Palace Hotel in five minutes.

My room is large and chain-like, but nice. The hotel sits right across from a nice park, and there were plenty of people sitting out enjoying the summer evening (it was 97F when I got here!) and watching their kids play on the swings and slides. I rested for a bit until the staff brought up a welcome packet from our tour guide. Quite a lot of work was put into this! There's a welcome letter and general advice, our daily itineraries, a restaurant listing, a map, a few pages of Bulgarian vocabulary, some pre-stamped post-cards, a history of Bulgaria, some lovely cookies and, best of all, a bottle of water. I think I like these Bulgarians! 😉

Walked out a while later to get some fresh air and find something to eat. Again got confused by the underpasses (must admit though, I'd be far more nervous about crossing these wide boulevards even if there were crosswalks and lights), and found a nice little Bulgarian coffee shop … Star-something, I think it was; had a mermaid inside a green roundel as its logo. Got myself a brie, turkey, and bacon sandwich (surprisingly tasty) and an iced mocha in an attempt to stay awake till a respectable going-to-bed time. Wandered around the park across the street on the way back. Also saw my first Bulgarian kitty, and a stray dog just lying in the middle of a sidewalk. Strays are apparently a big problem in this country.

Must figure out how to stay awake for another couple of hours at least, as it's only 8:00 p.m. here. If I go to bed now, I'll be up at 3:00. Crossing my fingers for a quiet night: my room is two floors above the hotel entrance and just across the hall from the elevator. Yikes!


5th September 2015

Glad to know you got there ok.
6th September 2015

I just never know where you're going to pop up! Will look forward to the stories to come. Meantime, you know you can pay to be on the tsa precheck list, but for some reason I have been "randomly selected" every time I've flown for the past
couple of years. Go figure. I do have my theories though. Enjoy, stay safe (and cool), and don't eat any bacon and turkey sandwiches. Oops.

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