Bulgaria – More Than You Expect To See In Sofia

So our clothes are just outside our door.

Not sure why, because the last conversation I had with Alex last night, he wanted us to pay him 5 lev of him to hang our washing out for us.

Doesn’t quite make sense to me, but to him, and his instructions written only in Bulgarian, it’s perfectly and acceptable sense for him to take our clothes out of the washing machine without us knowing, and then tell us that we need to pay him to get our clothes back.

I just assume that he’s had a change of heart, so we grab our clothes and pack our bags.

We head to the kitchen to stuff our faces with the food before we make our trip to Sofia. Well… Sofia was more of a pitstop to Greece. We were only in Sofia for a couple hours before we had to board another bus to take us to Athens, where we would then jump on the ferry to Santorini. The Ferry doesn’t happen till tomorrow, but we are still going to be spending 20 hours in transit.

Hectic.

There is someone cleaning all the rooms upstairs, but we just want to cruise without making a fuss about the clothes situation goes. We’re just about to bail, and then Alex’s mrs comes down to us. I though it was Alex cleaning the rooms and that I was going to have to tell him that I wasn’t going to pay him for holden our clothes for ransom.

Geez.

It seems so petty, but based on the morals of the whole situation, I wasn’t going to pay the guy.

We are just about to head out, and then his Mrs came down to see us in the kitchen. First thing, I was glad that I didn’t have to rehash the conversation with Alex last night. I was on a clean slate with her, even though Alex would no doubt have filled her in on the situation.
“Everything good?”
“Yeah. Everything was fine. Thanks heaps”
“You go Sofia today?”
“Yeah. We’re headed there now”
“You, 5 lev, clothes”
I hung my head and took a big sigh, closed my eyes momentarily, then lifted my head and turned to face her.
“Well. No. You can’t stitch people up like that”
She starts shaking her head, “You, 5 lev”
“Yeah no. That’s Bulls**t. You’re not getting anything from us, I’m sorry”
She just stands there looking at us awkwardly as she beings to shake her head, and we just grab our stuff and leave.

I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be that easy, but I’m glad that we’re out of there. Alex was just a little bit too old and creepy for our liking, so we’re glad that we are headed back to Sofia.

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We load up our packs and make our way to the bus station.

We get there, and just ask this bloke, “Mate, have you got bus to Sofia?”
“Yes. Come. Come”, he leads us to the back of a Mercedes cargo van, this is a little different than what I am familiar with, but its kinda what I was expecting in an Eastern European country. As mentioned before in an earlier post, the Bulgarians seem to be a society of function over form. This bloke want dot shuttle people from Samokov to Sofia, so he just bought a Mercedes van, fitted it out with seats and began to shuttle people for a nice little fee.

It doesn’t look that flash, and the signage on the outside is all faded and beginning to peel on the edges, but as long as he can shuttle people, that is what matters.

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We stuff our gear in the back of the van, and I kinda feel like we have just jumped into a Gypsy cab, as the locals will come up to our driver and ask him if he is headed to Sofia and if there are any seats left. People just seem to know that the car is leaving at 10:30, and people just seem to just load up the remaining seats at an increasing rate as we get closer to the leaving time.

We get on the road, and the guy from his side profile looks just like Jacob (Bec’s Dad, not the kid that we schooled on the slopes in Borovets). We try to sneak in shots of him without him seeing, and we are way more successful this time than we were with the guy in the Bar in Dublin. Seriously, Bec was bright red when her flash went off.

It was worth a good laugh.

We zig zag through the countryside as we make our way back to Sofia. It is obvious that we are headed a different way than the way we came earlier in the week. These places, we have no recollection of, but we are also seeing sights that were completely new to us. Bulgaria keeps giving me little hints of the history that lingers just under it’s surface. We pass a rocky mountainous shard protruding from the bank to the right of the road with a small castle-like structure nestled atop. It seems irrelevant, but surely would have served a purpose for something.

Its these kind of things I would love to k now more about. Even the food tour that we took was a huge eye opener and full of facts about how Bulgaria’s food culture has evolved and taken shape throughout the years, and how the communist rule even affected the culture of Bulgaria today.

Its super cool to see.

We keep plodding along and seeing landscapes that keep us intrigued. At every chance, even chances that I wouldn’t necessarily deem a “chance”, cars are overtaking us. Even into blind corners.

We reach Sofia and catch the train from the out skirting bus station that we were dropped off at. In the distance, we can see clearings in the mountains beyond Sofia. I remember one of the guests on the gondola saying that you can just jump onto a chair lift and go skiing on the edge of Sofia. Not too bad. Dunno how good it will be, but I reckon it would still be pretty alright for a casual day on the slopes.

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We make our way to the bus terminal, deciding to walk, since we have got the time on our hands. We swing into one of the places that makes the Bulgarian burger thingo’s, and even though it wasn’t as good as the first burger-like hole-in-the-wall meal I tried our first night is Sofia, it was still pretty damn good.

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Sofia is all sorts of confusing.

The footpaths are a little unkept, cracked and popped up in the areas where (I assume) tree roots must be growing. But, I mean, as long as there is a footpath, thats all that matters. We pass some guy attempting to busk with either an old bag pipe, or a home made bagpipe, but either way, the bagpipe was at the mercies of the player, and if the instrument had feelings, it would probably need counselling after that performance.

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Thats not the best thing that Sofia had in store for us today.

I maintain my position on function over form being priority in Bulgaria, because we arrived at an intersection where there was a crew doing a bit of roadworks. Just blocking one entire side of the intersection.

No cones.

No redirection of traffic.

No lollipop ladies.

No signage.

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Just one a dirty dozer parked up on the side of the intersection, while a team of blokes chips away at the bitumen and shovels it into the bucket of the dozer.

But it gets better.

Being that there is nothing to tell the traffic that this part of the road is closed, they just slip in past the machinery, mount the curb sightly and continue on their merry way. Almost like there was never a dozer in their way at all.

Function over form.

You want the road fixed? Done.

How it is being done is irrelevant, but rest easy in the knowledge that it is being done. As much as I laugh at it, I like that there are still countries which don’t bubble wrap society. Might seem a bit harsh, but people learn to use common sense too.

Further along, a civil engineer looks like he is trying to measure up a job.

…with a tipper in his way.

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Another back packer has pulled up on the side of the footpath for a kip with a jacket over his head for cover.

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Some chick is abseiling on the side of an apartment building, gluing sheets of foam to the outside to provide what I could only assume is insulation.

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A random punter sees that I have a camera and takes this moment in the lime light with my lens pointed toward him.

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Sofia…

Its not a boring place in the slightest. Even the busses are a tram-bus hybrid. They drive on the road, but are connected to electrical wires overhead. Literally never seen that before. Seriously… Sofia has not disappointed us at all, and for a flight that we just took on a whim, we were happy with the outcome.

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All this happens on our way to the bus terminal.

We get there, we have our tickets, and now we have a few hours to burn before we are on our way to Greece. The terminal is really hot and stuffy, so Bec strips down, but stops at her singlet, much to my dismay. You know when people get blood noses cos its so hot? Thats kinda what happened. Bec didn’t realise she had a blood nose, until I made her laugh.

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The laugh wasn’t the issue.

Laughing is a good thing.

What is not a good thing is that she snotted her blood nose all over the table. She didn’t even notice. She just went about her, hot stuffy, bloody-nosed business until I pointed it out to her. Needless to say, we laughed about it a fair bit. Everybody in the terminal wants to give their customers the best experience, so there are 3 different radio stations playing at the same time.

I mean, why not? There is the terminal playing their radio, then the cafe next to us playing their music, and like a voice from the heavens, there is another radio station weaselling it’s way into your ear canal. No idea where it is coming from, but you have the freedom to zone in on Elvis, some sort of house remix and what sounds like a Bulgarian cover of the top 40.

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We just zone out from them all and use blood noses as a better means of entertainment.

We play Perudo (google it if you need to, it’s like poker with dice) and try to hold them with our eyelids, in an effort to keep ourselves entertained.

Bec wins.

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I could not for the life of me work out how to make my eyelids hold a dice. However, Bec nailed two at once.

Schooled me.

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We jump on the bus, and the thing is literally loaded with people. Not a seat free. We stopped a few times, but it wasn’t till we reached Thessaloniki, in Greece that we actually got a bit of leg room. A lot of people jumped off here, which mean that we now had the freedom to be curled up a little more comfortably across two seats, instead of curled up, sitting upright.

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Courtesy of Bec

Its better.

….marginally.

But better.

We zone in and out for the rest of our time during the ride to Athens.

It was a 12 hour bus ride, but I don’t remember much more than waking a few times, one of which was a chick of forgot to get off at Thessaloniki, so we had to turn back around for her. Thats pretty nice, and I am surprised.

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People usually aren’t that nice about simple errors like that, although, in my experience Bulgarians are either really nice, or real dicks. Certainly erring in favour of the former.

Thats about how it went.

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We’re excited to be going to Santorini. We only decided the other night that we would make it happen. It was an issue of budget and time left to see what we wanted to see in Europe. We decided to bite the bullet and now that we are on the way, we knew it was the right decision to make.

Come back for the next story,

Billy

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