Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria
August 14th, 15th 2010

From Salonica, stopped at Sofia for two nights. Stayed at one of the best hostels, from my experience, in Europe thus far, Hostel Mostel. It had everything I could want in a hostel. Despite no A/C, it wasn’t that hard to fall asleep as the windows were open. It was cheap (€10!), had really fast internet no matter where you are in the hostel, had a fun-looking and spacious lounge, kittens everywhere outside (the friendlist being one named Mark, not coincidentally, the only one with a name), TV to watch the English Premier League games, free pasta/beer for dinner, free breakfast – Excellent hostel, and I rarely dedicate a section to rave about a hostel.

(Mark acting all sexy)

Nothing exciting in Sofia. Went to check out some churches (including the world’s biggest Orthodox church, which sadly, was almost empty and under renovation inside). Ate some good Bulgarian food (which comprises of a lot of pork).

One of the highlights was when I was on the tram going to the train station. Lonely Planet mentioned buying one tram ticket for yourself and one for your backpack. I did this when I arrived in Sofia but on the way back, I decided it was absurd to buy a ticket (as cheap as it was) for a backpack that would sit on the floor.

A group of lady conductors boarded the tram and demanded to see our tickets. I presented my ticket for myself, and she was asking where my ticket was for my backpack (she spoke Bulgarian but I knew what she meant when she pointed to my pack). I immediately went up to the front, bought a ticket for my backpack, came back and she reluctantly let me go. But the German girls on the tram weren’t so lucky. They acted too slow, in fact, doing nothing but sit there and try to understand what these conductors were demanding from them (basically “Where’s your ticket? And it’s a 10 Leva fine for not having it”). I told the German girls to quickly buy the tickets but they just sat there like deer in headlights, being idiots. A group of Bulgarians jumped in to defend the German girls and a huge argument escalated between the conductors and two women (one young, one elderly). The young one ended up paying the fine for the German girls (who claimed they had not enough Levas left to pay the fine). The older Bulgarian lady got up from her seat and looked like she was going to fight one of the old lady conductors.

(Like a pack of hyenas on a helpless wildebeest)

Goes to show how nice the locals can be, sticking up for clueless tourists. I have to say though, the German girls were partially at fault too but not acting quickly when I told them to.

Sofia, Bulgaria Pics

Varna, Bulgaria

Varna, Bulgaria
July 19th 2010

It was supposed to be the place where I could go and get my tan on. I have severe farmer’s tan and I needed to even it all out. I was supposed to be at a hostel located a minute from the beach. I would get up, walk outside, see the beautiful waters. The sun would be shining, the sand would be so soft and fine, I would walk barefoot toward the waters, sit down, and just enjoy everything around me. Wishful thinking.

I got to Varna very late at night. I had to take the train from Brasov to Bucharest. After trying to talk to the most unfriendly international ticket staff in the world, I went to an ATM machine. Surprise surprise, DENIED. I was in a pickle but luckily, although my credit card was also DENIED, I could pay using my debit card. What’s up with Romania? Never had this issue anywhere else in Europe.

So I took the train from Bucharest to Ruse (Bulgaria), on the border. Bought a bus ticket from Ruse to Varna but had some down time. So I spent it eating terrible terrible terrible food (I hadn’t had anything to eat all day, so a plate of God knows what which had been sitting behind the counter for God knows how long, was actually something I scarfed quickly, knowing I might die the next day. See picture above).

After that, I went to buy a bottle of water from a vendor next door. She proceeds to sneeze in her hand, then grab my bottle on the head. I don’t know why but I took it, disgusted, but I took it. I should have tried to sign-language my way into another bottle but these Bulgarians, they couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Nobody in Europe believes “The customer is always right”. They don’t work on tips here, it is automatically added on in each bill already. Yes, 20% of what you’re paying, is tip already included. But it is the way it is. BTW, I proceeded to take out my alcohol wipes, then wipe down my bottle. After drinking the water, I did not fall onto the ground convulsing. Long term brain damage? We’ll just have to see. I took one Pepto-Bismol tablet just to be safe.

I do have to say, the highlight of my road trip to Varna was seeing so endless fields of beautiful sunflowers. I think there were millions and millions.

I arrived at the bus station, then proceeded to look for bus #409 or #148 (guide book said it’d take me to the city center). Droves of taxi drivers came up to me, asking me if I wanted a taxi ride. BTW, this is common in Eastern Europe, you will be hassled (and hustled) by every taxi driver, street vendor. They are like hungry wolves, and I’m a juicy piece of tourist meat getting off the bus. Anyway, one taxi driver tries to get my attention and without looking, I say “No thanks, I am riding the bus” but the guy runs to me and starts asking me which bus. So I told him, and surprisingly, he tells me I’m on the wrong side of the street. I need to get on the bus stop across. So I thank him, and it was then I realized, although some people are trying to make a living, there are those who really do want to be nice and helpful. Shame on me sometimes, the way I think…I cannot stereotype these people, even if most couldn’t give a crap about me. It is just my paranoia I think. It is better to be cautious and skeptical of people because I am by myself in a foreign land. I have lied about where I come from, I have lied about my name, about where I’m going to a number of people, just to preserve my anonymity. But there are times I have been truthful as well to complete strangers, and have come out unscathed. It is all about having faith and belief that some strangers out there are truly interested in a foreign person, not trying to find ways to scam them.

Ok, enough about all that. I take the bus, not sure where I got to get off, and the conductor couldn’t understand me. Luckily, a young youth helps me out. I get off, then wonder…”Where am I sleeping tonight???” That’s right, I didn’t book any hostels in advance because I didn’t know if I was going to make all the connections on time the entire day. I walk and walk around those strange streets, trying to find some hostels from my guide book. The first one, wasn’t even there. I got lost, eventually having people guide me to another hostel. It was full. I got sent over to a budget hotel nearby. Luckily, there was a room available. I was far away from beaches, no internet, a hot stuffy room, but I had a bed. OK, works for me.

Next day, fresh from a sleepless night, I buy a small cup of coffee in the cafe next door, and milk their free wifi. I walked around Varna, exploring. The beach was about 10-15 mins walk, not too bad, but again, not what I had in mind when I first decided to come here. The weather was ok for the first part of the day. I discovered a beach filled with Bulgarians and tourists a like. Old, young, men, women, kids, people who shouldn’t wear Speedos, and some topless sunbathers (the good kind). I rolled up my pants, took off my sandals, and took a stroll on the sandy shore. The waves splashing on my feet felt good. I didn’t get in the water. Just took in the views. Not quite the beach I hoped for but a beach nonetheless, probably the “goto” beach for most Eastern Europeaners.

A little self-serve cafeteria food, a stroll along the streets. Nothing eventful. Street money changers constantly come up to me asking if I want a good exchange rate.

Next day, I pack up my crap, prepare to check out and catch the late bus to Istanbul. I get some ice-cream, it is hot, the sun is shining hard. A few minutes later, the rain comes down hard. Everyone runs for cover. I find shelter outside a local bookstore, along with a bunch of locals. When the downpour softened up somewhat, some people make a dash for it to get on buses/taxis/whereever. A few minutes later, the window closes and the rain comes down hard again. I was unfortunate and stupid enough to go scouting for the place where I’m supposed to be waiting for my bus. So I navigated my way back to the bookstore. I stayed put until 20-30 minutes after the rain stopped. The wait for the bus later was an eternity.