Reconnecting


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August 6th 2011
Published: September 30th 2017
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Free Sofia Tour ...Free Sofia Tour ...Free Sofia Tour ...

... well, not totally - they ask for a donation that goes to local charities, but at least it's for a good cause. Great tour and the tour guide, Misha, was funny and knowledgeable. A good way to kick off the last day in Sofia, even though there wasn't enough time to stick around for the entire tour. http://www.freesofiatour.com
Geo: 50.0924, 8.68195

Absolutely brilliant breakfast this morning - it was the standard Bulgarian spread, with cold cuts, cheese, yogurt, cereal, coffee, tea, bread with absolutely delicious homemade jams ... even though the cheese was mushy and not that tasty, and some of the cold cuts were actually hot dogs oddly encased in inedible plastic, it was absolutely brilliant. Why? Tiramisu. Yup, tiramisu!!! I've never had it for breakfast before but after this morning, I questioned why I've never done so. Doesn't get any better than that, it's the Bulgarian Breakfast of Champions!!!

Coming back to Sofia, I had a bit of a Bulgarian Bucket List - the UFO Monument at Mount Buzludzha was a big miss, but there were still a couple of small things back in Sofia I wanted to cross off the list before leaving. The Archaeological Museum and a coffee at Sofia's beautiful City Garden were taken care of yesterday and with a few hours before the flight to Frankfurt, there was just enough time to do a free tour of Sofia and to grab a bite on Vitosha boulevard, one of the posher areas in town for a meal, drink, shopping, whatever. Because of road construction, it's
Tolerance Square ...Tolerance Square ...Tolerance Square ...

... famous in Sofia because four religions are represented here - a Catholic Church, Orthodox Cathedral, Jewish Synagogue, and a Muslim Mosque. Misha told the story of how one guest on the tour once quipped "There is actually a fifth religion represented here - McDonald's!", as he pointed to the Golden Arches.
temporarily been turned into a pedestrian street and is actually a fair bit quieter than normal I'm told, because most locals are away on summer holidays. It's one of the best spots in town for people-watching, and a must-do for any tourist passing through.

Before I knew it, my time in Bulgaria was done, and my plane was touching down in Frankfurt. A visit here is generally disappointing, because it invariably marks the end of a trip; this is my fourth time passing through (two other times don't count, as I was merely changing planes at the airport), and every time it's been the same drill - get off a plane, head to a hostel, maybe grab a bite for dinner and go for a walk, sleep, wake up, kill a few hours, and then head for the airport again. Frankfurt is the type of place that everybody passes through because of business or transport logistics, it's not really a place that people stay for an extended period of time.

Chatting with the receptionist as I checked in, she noted that nearly all guests either start or finish their trip in Frankfurt - it is one of the biggest European
Popular Activity With the Locals ...Popular Activity With the Locals ...Popular Activity With the Locals ...

... they're all here filling massive bottles with mineral water.
transport hubs, after all. My friend Emilie, who had moved her a few years ago, told of how she had stayed at this very hostel for five days when she first arrived, while she hunted for a more permanent place to live. The staff was shocked that she was staying so long, as their average guest stays at most two nights.

My feelings toward Frankfurt have always been ambivalent; as a visitor, it's actually a decent place to spend a day as there are some worthwhile sights. But you can only find so many things to occupy yourself when it's your fourth time visiting ... after a while, it starts to feel a bit ho-hum, and I never seem to look forward to coming here. Of course, there's always a bright side to flying home from Frankfurt - getting a cheap flight on a charter airline usually means flying through London or Frankfurt, but the London flights generally depart for Calgary on a Saturday. Flying via Frankfurt means heading home on a Sunday, effectively scoring yourself another night of travel - for that reason, I do actually appreciate having to visit Frankfurt ...

However ... today was different, as for
What Makes Sofia Cool ...What Makes Sofia Cool ...What Makes Sofia Cool ...

... you've got the past, present, and future all side-by-side: a +400 year-old mosque, the nearby mineral baths bustling with locals, and the crane building the future.
the first time, I couldn't wait to get here. Why? Because of one reason - Emilie! The backpacker life is a funny one - one of the biggest draws is all the people you meet, even knowing that you will never again see or interact with 99%!o(MISSING)f the people you encounter. It's fun, it's exciting ... but even better are the 1%!o(MISSING)f people that you do remain in contact with, because instances where you truly connect with other travelers are rare. Five years ago in Croatia, I met Emilie and Aude, having a blast in Split, a beautiful city on the Adriatic coast. It was definitely one of the highlights of that particular trip, and actually one of the highlights of any trip I've ever taken, for that matter.

Clicking like that with people you meet makes it all worthwhile - the long flights, the hot and nauseating bus rides, the exhaustion ... they are easily forgotten after experiences like that. Later that trip, we were able to meet up in London, where Emilie was studying for a year, and also several months later when I once again passed through London. Over the years since then, we've tried on
Massive Excavation ...Massive Excavation ...Massive Excavation ...

... right in the centre of town, I believe the plan is to cover the entire area in glass and turn it into a pedestrian mall, so that everybody can enjoy the ruins below.
a couple of other occasions - a few years ago when I passed through Paris, where she's originally from, and last year when I stayed in Frankfurt for the third time. Sadly, we were never successful, a fact which we both rued after finally meeting up tonight, but we also realized that all the effort and time makes tonight even more worthwhile.

As amazing as Bulgaria was, tonight was definitely the highlight of this trip - it still astonishes me how you can randomly meet somebody years ago, hardly communicate with them during that time, and then sit down and chat like you've been friends forever. It's also interesting to see how the course of somebody's life can change so much over the years, and also see how little other things have changed. The thing I remember most about meeting Emilie all those years ago was how much she raved about the guy she was with - it was very obvious that she was head over heels for him. Fast forward five years - she's now happily married to Jean-Antoine! Whereas the timing of my visits have always been bad, for once I got it right, arriving just a few weeks
Cool Subway ...Cool Subway ...Cool Subway ...

... full of more ruins.
after their marriage and honeymoon, and only a week after they moved into their new apartment together.

There are so many incredible aspects to travel - breathtaking sights, epiphanies, unforgettable moments ... but what can trump them all is a night like this. Good conversation, good food, good friends, good times ... merci beacoup à Emilie et Jean-Antoine pour tout, à bientôt!


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The Last Meal!The Last Meal!
The Last Meal!

Great little Mediterranean salad ... roasted peppers and eggplant, cukes, greens, tomatoes. It's the first time I've seen balsamic vinegar here, it's generally red wine vinegar served with salads. Drizzled with some herbed olive oil. Having had plenty of traditional Bulgarian food these past two weeks, I took advantage of one of the upscale restaurants located on posh Vitosha boulevard, Les Fleurs.
Decent Espresso ...Decent Espresso ...
Decent Espresso ...

... one of the best so far in Bulgaria, rich and strong. And off to Germany today, where the coffee is top notch!
Vitosha Boulevard ...Vitosha Boulevard ...
Vitosha Boulevard ...

... full of shops and upscale cafes and restaurants. Also full of drunk Brits here on a stag!
Banitsa ...Banitsa ...
Banitsa ...

... last snack in Bulgaria, at the airport, sob sob ... the pastries here just aren't as good as the burek you find in the Western Balkans. Even worse, it cost nearly triple what you would pay in the city.
More Gouging ...More Gouging ...
More Gouging ...

... Sofia's airport shops are absolutely terrible, this one being the worst. A bottle of famous Bulgarian rose hand lotion is more than 5 times as much as the same bottle in Koprivshtitsa. Some of the souvenirs at this particular shop were nearly double the price of things at the store just down the hall.
Brilliant ...Brilliant ...
Brilliant ...

... having a few Bulgarian leva left, I wanted to pick up some snacks for the flight to Frankfurt. Was looking at a bag of peanuts, when the salesgirl asked "Do you know what they are? They're peanuts, deep-fried, and they taste like bacon." Did you say bacon???? Sold!!!!
What to Do ...What to Do ...
What to Do ...

... when you show up for dinner at a friend's house, but don't recognize any of the names listed on the buzzer? Push all the buttons! Finally, someone buzzed me in, but none of the doors were labeled inside, so you I had no idea which apartment was the correct one. So what do you do? Start knocking on each door! An old couple eventually directed me to the right unit, but turns out they weren't home yet!
Five Years in the Making ...Five Years in the Making ...
Five Years in the Making ...

... finally, reconnecting! Though Bulgarian food has been delicious, it was great to finally have a home-cooked and supremely international meal - a Thai-inspired shrimp coconut curry over rice, some fine Bulgarian red wine, a traditional German cake, some French Chevre and Italian parmigiano, and finished off with a shot of Scotch. It was good to know that it wasn't just me that loved Bulgarian wine - two Parisians giving it the thumbs up is the ultimate validation!


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