Trip Start Dec 03, 2008
Trip End Oct 14, 2009

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

After Goreme we took an overnight bus (11 hours) back to Istanbul for the day and that night took another overnight bus (9 hours). I was completely EXHAUSTED!!! I will never ever do anything like that again. We did a 24 hour bus ride in Chile but we had fold out beds and I slept the whole time. On the second bus ride Brian and I got in some trouble when the bus was waiting for us. We had a little Turkish money left over that we couldn't convert and we were spending a little too much time making our decisions at the pastry shop in the bus station. Turkish bus stations are crazy, there are at least 15-20 huge buses there at any given time. Everyone gets off and stands directly in front of their bus and chain smokes until it is time to go (usually 30-40 minutes). It's fun to walk though the smoking crowd to the bathroom where you have to pay to use it! We are soooo sick of paying to use the bathroom. Even at the sites you must pay - you think it would be part of your admission cost to things but its always extra. Not that we can't afford the bathroom, but to always be sure to have change with you and to pay without even getting a clean bathroom.

We arrived in Sofia early in the morning and took a free tram (don't know if they were supposed to be free) to our hostel. We weren't sure if they would have our room ready, but I was praying because I was so tired. Brian picked out a good place for us. The hostel only had 5 rooms and it was completely renovated. The guy was pretty cool that ran it too. I took a nap right away but this guy (name?) drove Brian around town for a couple hours. They went and bought soccer tickets and picked up dry cleaning and Brian got a little tour of the town.

Sofia is great in its own way. Very small city and you can still really see the remnants of Communism and Russian influence. Basic city with few things to do. They do have good food and cheap restaurants. Some people were friendly, most were not. We went to buy our train ticket to Budapest and we couldn't understand our choices that the woman was giving us. We were just asking a few questions and she started shaking her head, messing up her hair, heavily breathing and raising her voice. Not a fun experience, but it was still hard not to laugh.

We did go to a soccer game. It was the Bulgarian team in the European Championship League. They were playing Hungry. We were told we had good seats. When we arrived we could see we would be smashed between a bunch of rowdy fans so we opted to sit in another area. I still cant believe how run-down this stadium was. It looked like a forest in between the seats with all the weeds and bushes growing between them. The chairs had a thick gray film of dirt on them (most of the locals brought newspaper to sit on). The best part: the entire rows of chairs were coming out of the ground and at a sharp slant. The only way to sit comfortably was to lean forward on your knees while breathing in the smoke from the person in front of you. Everyone and their brother smokes here. Good game though. Bulgaria lost but it was fun to watch the fans. The section of fans next to us were caged in. Not sure why you'd want to sit there but they must have liked it. There were 2 fights that broke out in the Cage. Strange thing was that both fights were between Bulgarian fans. The stadium must expect this because they had 2 different sets of helmeted guards with sticks. They would watch...let them fight for a minute or two...have the young kids (that showed people to their seats) try and brake it up first...then finally go up and kick some people out.

While in Sofia, we also went to the top of Mt. Victoria. We had to take a few different buses and trains to get to the lift (plus a 30 minute walk up part of the mountain). After missing a bus stop, getting bad information, and much frustration, we finally got to the lift. When the guy running it saw Brian he shook his head and said they weren't taking anyone else up. Brian just kept walking towards him smiling. Then I came around the corner huffing and puffing (right after the 30 minute climb). When he saw me I think he felt bad for us and then got in a little argument with the ticket lady and finally they let us up the mountain. Success! It was a well deserved 20 minute ride to the top with beautiful views. We only had a few minutes once we got to the top. There was a small market so we got 2 cans of beers and enjoyed them on our way down. Quick trip to the top, but worth it. On our hike down, we stopped at a picnic table and a local woman came up to me (real close) and starting talking to me really fast in Bulgarian. I shook my head and she grabbed my drink from my hands, examined it and gave it back. Then she opened her big backpack and pulled out a crate of mushrooms. She had just been mushroom hunting and was very proud of her findings. She showed them to me and after smiles, nods and smells she packed them back up and said good-bye. I like those kind of encounters. Short, sweet and completely unsure of what was going on.

The last night there was kind of an awkward one. We had spent 2 nights in a double room with a balcony but had to move because the owner had booked it for another couple. We were to sleep in the 3-bed dorm. Which more of less was the owners bedroom and smoke room. There was always a guy at the hostel that cleaned. I think they are lovers. But anyway, we are pretty sure they use this dorm room as their bedroom. We needed 2 of the 3 beds so the cleaning guy moved all of this stuff out - to where I don't know. Then he made up the 2 beds for us, but all the owners stuff was still in there. So, we thought we'd be sharing a room with the owner of the hostel. Weird. We still weren't sure what was going on when we were ready for bed. He had spent the entire evening out in the stairwell on his computer. So I asked him if he needed anything out of there because we're going to bed. He said no, that the rooms was ours. Lucky. But the weird thing was that I'm pretty sure he didn't go anywhere, I think he sat in the stairwell all night! After all, we were in his bedroom. It was awkward when I went to the bathroom at 4am and he was sitting at his little desk staring off into space. Talk about feeling like your in someone's way.

We woke up early to get a train to Budapest. Brian felt really sick that day for some reason so it wasn't fun when we arrived and the conductor said he didn't have sits for us, that we would have to stand for the first 2 hours! We met some other travelers in the same situation. We couldn't understand how this happened - don't they do this everyday? So we stood and basically it was a first come, first serve basis for getting a seat. Brian stuck his head out the window the whole way (the only moving air). I stayed in the back of the train and talked with a young Belgium couple. They gave me some tips for traveling through Europe, so that was nice. At one point Brian and I were in different cabins - 6 people to a cabin. We were both in middle seats. I was between a few locals - plump, happy, smokers, laughing a lot. It was pretty funny. And Brian was between two women yelling at each other - but not fighting, just regular loud conversation.

We finally sat next to each other and tried to enjoy the rest of the hours on the 6+ hours left on the train. We were in a cabin with a couple and their little granddaughter. She was so cute, but they didn't speak any English and we haven't learned Bulgarian yet. It was a really hot train ride, the only way to cool off was sticking your head out the window. Once in Belgrad, where we switched trains, we thought we were in the clear. A quite, cool cabin with just the 2 of us. Then a group of 4 Spaniards arrived, 2 couples. They were so funny. We were up for awhile talking to them about their travels. Spaniards never seem to have a care in the world. They were a good group to hang out with. There were 6 seats - 3 facing 3. Each couple sat across from each other and moved the chairs down so it formed a really narrow bed. Brian and I were at the window so we were booked in pretty well. We couldn't make a narrow bed because there's NO way we would have fit in it - without kicking the couple next to us. Oh, the fun of train travel.
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