Total distance travelled: 132,631.8 kilometres (82,380.01 miles)
Late afternoon grey.
That is how we were welcomed to the Bulgarian capital (in a not too dissimilar fashion to our arrival in Belgrade).
After a long bus journey and this cold, almost bleak introduction, it was some relief to find our hostel to be a place of life and warmth.
It was bustling, and although the Wi-Fi was on the blink when we arrived, it mattered not as we were soon out and about once more, the not too distant future finding us both ravenously tucking into a piping hot kebab.
Having taken a little of the edge off the cold, the dull day felt slightly less bleak, so we took the time to wander a little further, soaking up our first impressions of this, the thirty first country we’d set foot in since leaving home in June of the previous year.
There were some cool sights, a little lovers nest raised above the footpath (or sidewalk, if you’d prefer) where one could learn about the birds and the bees in a little privacy a surprise indeed.
Some empty parks loaded with old concrete monuments to the former Communist regime suited the overcast skies, and as the cold eventually began to win out, we grabbed ourselves a couple of cheap beers by the litre, and retired for the evening.
We’d only figured on a couple of days in town, but that didn’t mean we had little planned.
In fact we were up and at it pretty early the following day, quickly discovering the bracing morning was in fact colder than the previous day (as we stood in wait for a local bus, the mercury was hovering at five degrees celsius).
We were headed towards the cities fringes, the only catch the fact we didn’t know exactly how to get there (we had an approximate idea).
The bus trundled onward, and our fears somewhat realised when the driver pulled towards the side of the road and indicated that this was the end of the line.
Somewhere, we’d either missed a stop, or perhaps our destination required us to walk on a little further than the bus permitted.
We stuttered, or was it stumbled over our words as we asked the driver for directions to the Boyana Church (we weren’t sure if the pronunciation was the same in Bulgarian), he dismissively gestured in a direction we took to be where we’d find this latest UNESCO site.
Wandering up the hillside in the morning mist, we soon established that it was in fact not in this direction, aided by the map feature on Sarah’s phone.
Still, it wasn’t a horrible place to have all to ourselves on this cold, almost winter morning.
The little blue tracker on our map suggested we might be able to take a short cut along a narrow forest path.
Reality proved that we could not…
Still, we eventually got there, perhaps a reflection upon the time of year, finding no other visitors on arrival.
In fact it was hard enough to lure the old man away from his heater, and out to even unlock the church for us to explore within.
Photography is not permitted, so we don’t get to show off the famous frescoes it protected.
Indeed, visitors are only allowed a fifteen minute stay, and with no others about, there was not even the opportunity for a sneaky snap!
With our stay inside timed, and the drizzle outside constant, once we’d had a look about, we didn’t linger much longer.
Our timing wasn’t perfect, but we did eventually find ourselves a bus headed back towards the city where we set about exploring a little further on foot.
I know my initial description was drab, but there were glimpses of grandeur, even in this city which had worn the yoke of Communism for so long.
And of course, there were always the churches to inspect… of course within, no photos!
At least not without paying for the privilege.
We’d been worded up that an interesting walking tour departed most days, at a set time, from the park Градина „Кристал“ or in English known as the Krystal Garden.
Arriving a little early, I entertained myself frolicking in and kicking around the Autumn leaves, until eventually we spied a young girl with clipboard.
She would be our guide, and to begin with, it was shaping that we’d be her only guests.
Another young couple who were wandering by were roped in (they were legitimately not waiting for the tour), and we were off.
With a handful of stops, it was both a tasty and interesting tour, where the biggest surprise is that what’s been sold as ‘Bulgarian Feta’ back home in Australia is actually incorrect.
Although similar, Bulgaria does not produce a Feta, so I guess it is just another type of Sirene (cheese)!
As much fun as we had, things got a little awkward and embarrassing the closer we got to the tours completion.
Despite being designated a ‘FREE’ walking tour, like so many that share that moniker, the guide turns a profit for their time based on tips.
Only when it came time to cough up (which we were, unusually for us, happy to do), I opened my wallet to find it empty!
We beat an embarrassed retreat from the company we’d had, then settled on a glowing Tripadvisor review (we would have reviewed it well anyway, but we were very apologetic as well).
Our last night in Sofia (and Bulgaria) was to be a sodden affair, best spent inside our hostel swilling beer and sharing tales, with new (even if fleeting) friends.
In an amusing aside, a young Australian couple had joined us in our dorm, and the longer we spoke, the more certain Sarah was that she knew her from somewhere.
Names were eventually shared, and it was then Sarah whispered to me “I think I used to work with her!”
This was Kaylee, who’d once worked under Sarah roughly ten years earlier, and after this random re-connection, a few chuckles (and beers) were well and truly shared.
There had been one other small excursion from Sofia, but I’ll touch on that adventure separately…
* The bus service from Skopje to Sofia stung us 1,040.00 Denar each.
* A local bus from near our hostel in Sofia to Boyana Church was 1.00 Lev each way (per person).
* Entrance into the Boyana Church is 10.00 Lev per person, and this allows around 15 minutes to view the frescoes.
* A tram from our hostel to the bus station was 1.00 Lev per person each way.