Sofia - nice name, nice city

Trip Start Jul 04, 2006
Trip End Jan 15, 2007

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Monday, September 18, 2006

So after 3 weeks and 3900+ km's, Tania and I have left Turkey to begin our European adventure.

Must say that I liked Bulgaria as soon as I stepped on the train back in Istanbul (which for you geniuses, is NOT in Bulgaria). When I said hello in Turkish to the woman looking after our wagon - all I got was a blank stare. After this I proceeded in English to try and ask her for help in locating our cabin. I got - "umm, no speak English." I then asked the same question in Russian - Eureka! Communication issues solved!

We were quite excited to once again be able to actually converse with people from the country we would be visiting. If for nothing else, you got to love how the Soviet Union forced the Russian language on Eastern Europe, if only so that two tourists in 2006 could order beer.

That all being said, the train that was scheduled to leave at 22:00, left at exactly 22:01. It's nice to see that the Soviet influence has lost some of its less-than-ideal characteristics here in Bulgaria.

The night's journey basically consisted of:
- sleep
- waking-up and being marched out of the train to stand in an hour-long mess of a line to get our Turkish visas stamped
- sleep
- being woken up to give passports to random Bulgarian authority-like person
- getting passports back - Yeah!
- sleep

So after about 14-hours we were in Sofia!

Sofia has been fun. It definitely has a Russia feel to it; from the Cyrillic letters, to the look of the streets to the look of the churches. At one point I could have sworn that I was standing in the square in front of Peterburg's St. Isaac's cathedral.

The differences between Bulgaria and Russia:
- people actually look happy here
- prices are cheap (finally!!)
- the language itself (though shares enough similarities for us to be able to communicate)

The highlight of being in Sofia - the football match.

Last night when Tania and I got to our hostel I asked the hostel guy what was happening in Sofia on a Sunday night. Immediate response was - the game.

It seems that after 40 years, "Levki" and "TSK" (big Bulgarian football teams with a real hate-on for each other) were going to be playing a championship match.

How much were tickets I asked.

"Between 3 and 10 Lev," ($2.25-$7.50 Cdn) he responded.

So we went.

Security was fierce. Tonnes of fully armoured police (complete with bullet-proof vests, face and arm shields) ensuring that order was maintained. Never saw anything like it before. Even as we were about a kilometre away you could feel their presence.

We were frisked and searched prior to getting into the gates, as well as before making it to our section. Unfortunately Tania still had her Swiss Army knife in her purse, though fortunately, once she explained that she was indeed Canadian and not a football fan, it was quickly slipped back into her purse and she was told to move along.

I realize that this could be seen as a big breach in security, but I think it shows some actual thinking done by the guards. Was a 5 foot 2 Canadian girl a threat amongst a bunch of drunken football fans? If anything, it would be better for her to have the knife! I was impressed.

The game itself was pretty intense. We sat on the Levki side and listened to (and occasionally tried to take part in) the taunts that were constantly being hurled across the stadium to the idiots in red who sat on the other side. Overall it was an exciting game, if not for a little unnerving at times...particularly:
- when flags of opposing teams were set on fire
- when roman candles and flares were being shot from the stands
- when one fan became so excited about a penalty kick that he actually bowled over Tania and I (I have the bruise on my backside to prove it.)

Today was spent walking around the city taking in the sights. Viewpoints, statues, shops and churches were visited. At the Sveta Nadelya church I lit a candle in memory of my Grandfather who passed away earlier this year. It's strange how much I feel he's actually been with me on the journey. Given the amount of places that we've been so far and how well things have been going, I'm pretty sure he has been.

I found the candle lighting ritual at the church as a bit of metaphor for life. You light the candle for a person that you love, it burns, and when it runs low, a lady comes by to blow it out. Sometimes the candle is at its end, sometimes it has a long way to go. Regardless, the lady has the final say as to when it goes out...

Anyway, better get going as we're catching the train to Bucharest in an hour. We didn't see 'Nessie in Scotland, but Dracula may be 'round the corner...
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