We have the credit cards.
We are pretty much packed up already.
It is 7am, and it is time to get to the airport to catch a random flight.
We’ve been wanting to do this for a fair while, so to finally make it happen today is exciting. We grab our gear and head down for free breakfast at the hostel. It’s just toast and cereal. Only basic stuff, but the secret ingredient which makes everything taste so friggin amazing at this hostel, is an ingredient you don’t see everywhere, called “free”.
How good does free taste?
About 6 slices of toast loaded with raspberry jam and nutella, is how good it tastes. We grab our gear and make our way to the bus stop. We’re standing there, and I’m taking photos of Bec set against the river behind her. I wouldn’t mind the both of us in the shot, actually, so I figure I’ll ask this bloke waiting with us, if he would de the honours.
He’s quite softly spoken and happily obliges to take the shot.
Post-photo, we get talking with him, asking what he does for himself and where he is headed. Turns out that he is actually a novelist, specifically, a historical novelist.
“Soooo… Fiction, or non-fiction?”, I asked. He pauses for a moment, “Historical fiction novels”.
“Right. So, you’ll have to explain, because I’ve never really thought ‘Fiction’ and “Historical’ to go in the same sentence”
“Well, the novels are usually set in the WWII era”
“Right”, it makes sense.
He goes on to tell us that he is actually releasing his new book next week. This is pretty damn cool. I mean, up until now, novelists had kinda just existed as unicorns in my mind. Or at least in a professional capacity. You know that these novels come from somewhere, but it kinda just seemed like they just floated in from space with no apparent origin.
They’ve always been there.
No idea how.
They just are.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that his name is Fergus, or Ferg, as he would probably get called in Australia. Maybe Fergie, I dunno. Regardless, Fergus tells us that he has written multiple books, and that he even got as close to signing Helena Bohnem Carter as the lead role for one of his books which was meant to turn into a movie. It fell over because they weren’t able to raise 15,000,000 pounds.
I mean, I am not surprised that it was 15,000,000 pounds that stopped the project going ahead. That would stop most projects going ahead.
We chat with Fergus all the way to the airport, with him telling us stories of his travels and how his passion really is being a novelist, but his contracting business is what keeps that dream alive. He tells us that novelists quite often only make 40 cents per book.
Not per dollar…
So, unless you are going to make movies out of your books, or sell hundreds of thousands of copies, you’ll probably need something else to support it. In this case, contracting keeps this dream alive for Fergus. I’ve met a couple writers in my time, and they all tend to be pretty down to earth and easy to talk to kinda people. Fergus is no exception. He’s a real gentleman and takes the time to answer your questions with genuinely thought out answers. He’s just generally a nice guy to talk with, but all good things must come to an end, and this ends when we go to book our tickets.
We wish Fergus well on his travels as we get off at the first terminal. We got off here partly because we didn’t know where else to go, and it helped that Aer Lingus was there and I didn’t want to have a ratty flight. We head to the Are Lingus desk and with a lot of excitement in our voices, announce to the bloke manning the desk that “We want to take the next flight out of Dublin!”. He doesn’t even lift his eyes, and immediately begins asking us, “Oh. Ohhhhh. Ahhhhh. Well, where do you wanna go?”
“Anywhere mate. We’re not fussed”
“Ahhhhh. *chuckles* Well, there are so many places you could go… I mean….”
“I don’t really care hey. Just book the next flight to Europe out of Dublin. It doesn’t matter where we end up”
I don’t know whether it was that he couldn’t fathom that someone would want to just book the next flight, or whether he was physically incapable of pressing the necessary buttons, but he just kept asking us where we wanted to go, and we kept telling him that it didn’t matter. In the end, he just said to jump online and have a look where we wanted to go.
“Useless”, I say to Bec as we walk off to “go have a look at the internet”. Naturally, we didn’t go have a look online, and we made our way to the Ryan Air desk, in hope of a more fun loving and capable attendant. We rock up, and repeat our question, except with marginally less excitement.
“Hey! We wanna book the next flight out of Dublin”
“Ok. Where to?”
This legend, Rachel, then begins to just start flicking through the flights, looking for the next achievable flight to reach, and then asks us, “Do you want to go to Sofia?”
I’m thinking, “Who’s place is that”
“Its in Bulgaria”
“Perfect. Book it”
Bulgaria was in no way at all, on my list of places to visit, so this was pretty awesome. I know nothing about the country, I have heard very little about the country, so this makes it all the more better. The flight leaves in 2 hours. Just enough to be able to get our accommodation sorted for when we land.
We pay the 511 euro for the flight.
Its expensive, but its the way it is. We wanna check a bucket list item off, and that’s the price. Apparently, airline companies will refuse to drop prices, even if the plane is half empty, just minutes before takeoff. Rachel is a champion too. She slipped through a couple kilo on Bec’s bag, and upgraded us to the exit row for the extra space without us saying a thing.
We say a massive thanks to Rach, and make our way to the gate to chill out and wait our flight. She’s just as excited as we are. Its cool to see.
Aer Lingus loses this time around.
For the first time in airline history, Ryanair won.
For those who don’t know, it is internationally known throughout Europe that Ryanair are the ugly sister to Tiger Air. Just to put that into perspective. I mean, they are still unapologetic about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are actually 10/10 the worst. Luckily, however, they won this round.
As we are walking off to find somewhere to kick back for a bit, who would we see, other than our mate Fergus! He’s tapping away on his laptop, catching up on some needed work leading up to his book launch. We head over to him and tell him how we have booked ourselves to go to Sofia. He’s excited for our journey and tells us that it is a nice place to visit. It’s kinda cool to see a stranger excited in travel plans that have nothing to do with him. Again, I like writers. They’re a good breed.
We exchange details with Fergus and make our way to our gate. We don’t even bother to sit down, as everyone is already queueing to board. We literally rocked up at just the right time, because just as we had jumped in the queue, the length nearly tripled.
Our excitement is high. I had often joked with Bec while we were dating that we should just go take the next flight out of the airport, and she would always say that she was ready to go when I was. This time, its for real though. We board the plane, and we get set. The flight is 4 hours or something close to that, and there are no teles, no food or drinks (without paying a fair price), and little leg room with the exception of the exit seats, which we were lucky to get, courtesy of Rachel. With all this in mind, and little reason to stay awake, I head to sleep, and I sleep well.
During the flight, we get talking with the chick who sat next to us. Her name is Deb. She’s a little reserved, and is over-polite, but is a lovely person nonetheless. Naturally, as each conversation starts, we ask her “So, what do you do for yourself?”, “Why you going to Bulgaria” etc. etc. She begins to tell us that she is a contract worker and literally just works so that she can travel. She’s been to over 70 countries and is regretting going back to work. She was meant to go back to work a few months ago, but decided to tour around Ireland with her new dog instead.
Her dog is cute, by the way.
She tells us that she once took a train ride from one side of Russia to the other. The train ride took 8 days. She was on the train the whole time. Her logic is that she should fly over something, and that would be about it, or she could catch the train and see the country for what it really is. She’s got this love affair with train travel now. It’s kinda cool. She’s headed to Bulgaria to go skiing. We didn’t really know that Bulgaria was known for it’s snow sports, but while we were booking accommodation during our wait to board, we could not find a good way to get to the ski fields in Serbia that we wanted to go to.
We did find a ski field only about an hour out of Sofia, so we just decided to lock that in, and head there for a few days instead. At the time, we really didn’t know that Bulgaria was any good for snow sports, but there was a group of around 17 of her mates all going skiing, so that stands for something. We continue to chat with Deb and introduce her to a few new card games, which she certainly holds her own in. I contemplate being nice and letting her win, but thats just not right.
Plus, I like winning.
By this point, I am rooted and ready for a kip, so I bid the ladies farewell and pass out for a few hours. 100% necessary. I wake as we land, exchange details with Deb, as we will probably see her on the slopes at some point.
We land in Bulgaria.
We jump on the train, and we are literally the only people at the entire station. We can’t really work it out. It seemed as though everyone else just got on busses. Out of everyone in the airport, we are the only people on the train.
A little bit sus?
A big bit sus.
But nonetheless, we jump on the train and make our way to Serdika Station, in the heart of Serbia. The closer we get, the busier it gets, but as we get off at the station, there is hardly anyone in sight.
It is a Saturday night.
We are in a capital city.
It is dead.
That’s a little abnormal.
We keep cruising through the streets to reach our airbnb. We pretty much just booked the cheapest thing we could find in Sofia. Probably not the best idea, considering how Washington DC worked out, but still, we went ahead with it. I mean, the UK cost us a little more than we were expecting, so we have to try recoup some money somehow.
The cars are a little run down. Iron bars covering the front of nearly every shop. Bins with too much litter to hold. Stray dogs everywhere. People just amalgamating in small groups out the front of stores. The paths are all cracked and crooked. Pot holes litter the roads. Sofia kinda just has the feel of a city that is post-communist rule.
We didn’t feel unsafe.
In fact, there is a really odd kind of attraction to a city that is so vastly different to anything you have ever known. This is a kind of city that I have never known, and I kinda like it for something different. We follow our map, and peer into the bars that we pass. Bulgarians seem to know how to have a good night, and they seem to be doing it in big groups rather than just little clusters. I’d love to just go join in.
We head to our accommodation, and find ourselves standing out the front of the place, with no idea whether it is the right place or not. Then, like a voice from the depths, I hear “Billy?”, in a very Balkan accent. I look over the road, “Eva?”
She was just at the pub, which luckily, is right next to her place. Just how we like it. She shows us our room, which is nothing fancy. Just a mattress on the ground (which we would come to love), with a few little pieces of furniture to help fill the room. The doors throughout the house are all wooden, with paint flaking off in various pastel-like colours, leaving the majority of the wooden door exposed. It really has got a lot of character. I like it.
We get settled in, and jump online to order some food, since we are starving. Its going to be delivered in about an hour, so we just chill. We are getting close to the food being delivered, so we jump back online to check, and find that the restaurant had actually cancelled our order ages ago. “Well. I’m really not that hungry”, Bec says to me.
“Yeah.. But I’m starving hey. I’m just gonna go walk up the street and see what I can find”.
So, I just chuck on my thongs (flip flops for those who aren’t Australian), and head down the street to see what I can find. Being that it is midnight, I am expecting there to be little choice. I mean, at 10:30, it was dead, so I doubt that there will really be much at midnight. I just walk north. I’ve got no reason for it, other than that was the way my hunter instincts led me.
Oh, and did they lead me well.
I walked two blocks up and passed this little hole-in-the-wall joint. The place literally was just a window in the wall.
I saw that the guy had a hotplate and was cooking up kebabs and sausages. So I thought, “It’s gotta be worth a crack”. I mean, all I really wanted was something to occupy some real estate in my belly. I didn’t really care what it was at this point. I head to the window, and ask the guy if he speaks english. He just gives me this blank look. I go all Italian on his ass, and being repeating my question, except this time, I use more hand signals than Kendrick Lamar’s sign language translator (seriously, google it. Its amazing).
“Ahhh! *insert whatever the guy behind the window said*”, as he points to a burger bun.
I raise my eyebrows, tilt my head and with a light shrug, nod in agreement with his suggestion, “Yeah mate. Sounds good”, and he is into it.
I just hang around the front of the store as people come and go, and conversations spark and end just as quickly as they begin. Every now and then someone will turn to me and being some rambling in Bulgarian. I don’t want to be rude, so let them finish their sentence, all the while waiting for the moment to let them know that its kinda just gibberish at this point.
“Ahh. Sorry mate, I can’t speak Bulgarian”
At this point, they will usually have a chuckle to themselves, as for the last 20 seconds it was just as good for them to be telling their story (which was something about their knee) to the stray dogs lingering on the edge of the shadows. I get my burger thing from the bloke, and ask him, “How much?” I’ve got a tenner on me, so that should be heaps. The Aussie dollar buys 1.4 Bulgarian Lev, so I’m sure I’d be fine.
I’m looking at my wallet, processing what the guy just said. I can see the tenner under my money clip, but I just need to make sure that is what he said.
I try to hide my smile, while I hand him my note. He hands me back a combination of coins and a note, and I count to make sure I heard right. I feel like I’ve just robbed the guy, but he seems more than ok about it, so I smother my feelings of guilt by consuming the epitome of affordable food.
It cost me $1.40.
I walk back to our place, while devouring this burger. Its actually so amazing. The ingredients aren’t anything special. It was some kinda beef patty thing (probably horse meat), with some onions, mustard and ketchup. Nothing special, but blood hell, it was good. I realise that I am already half way through it, and I am not even a block away.
I think to myself, “Bec has to try this”, so I spin back around in my tracy dacks, thongs and jumper to grab another one for her. By the time I reach the window, I am finished with my burger. I devoured it.
All $1.40 of it.
The guy kinda gives me a smile, as I raise my index finger and say “One more?”
“One more”, he says as he turns to the hot plate to prepare another one. I begin to think, maybe its just cos I am hungry. Bec will be the true tell of whether it is a good feed or not. I head back into our place, and open the door as I say, “Babe… You gotta try this”, she starts smiling, as I am already beaming.
Cheap food. Foreign food. Good food.
It ticks every box.
I hand her the burger, and she takes a bite, goes all master-chef judge on the burger, raises her eyebrows and says to me, “Oh. This is good. Where did you get it?”
“Yeah fool. I knew it was a good burger!”, I think to myself, but instead reply, “Its literally just down the road two blocks. Just the hole in the wall. Its unreal! Guess how much it cost me.”
“I dunno. How much?”
“Yeah. How good is that?”
“Thats amazing. You need to take a photo of this”
I took the photo, we enjoyed the burger and we went to bed.
Successful first say in Sofia.
Come back for the next story,