Monday, 9 April 2018

Metal Nurse Sojourn: Part 3, Sofia and getting lost in the woods

Lost In The Woods
If you so desire you can read Part One and Part Two, respectively or separately or not at all. The choice is entirely yours, though I would recommend that you do so.

The next day I got up early, got packed up, paid the hostel and set off to find that mysterious bus station again. In order to head back to Sofia. My other half had said that getting a bus was both quicker and cheaper, and of course provided better sightseeing opportunities than a train. Seeing as she had done a helluva lot more travelling than me, I took her word for it. She was correct. Getting the ticket was a bit of a trick, seeing as the lingua franca is Russian, but I did manage to obtain one. Then there was a bit of a misunderstanding regarding the seats, as I hadn't clocked on that that the seat numbers were on the tickets. Somehow I had expected it to be similar to the British system where people just plonk their butts anywhere. I got a mournful look from a Bulgarian grandmother and an international sign language explanation from another. The bus was full, and it was hot. And it only got hotter by the minute because the bus driver didn't want to open any windows or turn on the AC. It became very hard to keep my eyes open.

Hostel Mostel in Sofia
When I got into Sofia I did my usual Google Maps cock-up. Attempting to find my hostel. Hostel Mostel for those who want to know. It wasn't easy to find. Google Maps did take me to the approximate location. I really should have spent a bit more time in learning the Cyrillic alphabet. So I hung around a little bit then noticed other backpackers going through a security door. When you get through those doors you are greeted by endless cats, some pigeons and a really rather nice looking building that turns out to be the hostel itself. Which I neglected to take a photo of myself (the photo to the right is from their website), but I just really really needed to get my backpack off, have a kip and fuel up on some coffee. Once inside you are instantly hit with the relaxed atmosphere of the place and FREE COFFEE!!! I had to insist on paying up front because I was on a budget and wanted to make sure I had plenty to last me the rest of the trip. After fuelling plenty on coffee I got shown my room, which was in a different building but on the same street, and I instantly fall asleep. For 45 minutes.

After my kip, I go back to the common room of the hostel, get shown a map of where to go, where to eat and what there is to see. Then also with some aid from Google, off I trot.

Monument To
The Soviet Army
Sofia... Feels like a big city. Take it however you want, but to me, that is not always a compliment. Not exactly an insult either, I just feel a bit more on edge, not quite as safe. But it does have its fair share of beautiful buildings.  Outside the Cathedral Saint Alexander Nevski, I dine of because it is still really rather warm. You get to see most of the touristy stuff in about an hours walk. Which I did, so with the trusty Atlas Obscura I try to find something more obscure. I decided that I wanted to see 'Monument To The Soviet Army', which apparently gets vandalised in the most inventive ways on a regular basis. When I get to the park where it is meant to be located, I just see lots of teenagers. Lots and lots of teenagers on bikes and skateboards. Accompanied by loud, no-sensical music. Strutting their stuff, doing dangerously stupid tricks with minimal safety equipment. And an audience. Apparently, I had just walked into Sofia's annual Extremefest. Beer, burgers... And... And... BUNGEE JUMPING! Oh, heavenly sweet Buddha of the Latter Day. I needed to do that. Now! But sadly I was hampered by my budget. So instead I sat there, like some old fart watching other people fall to their almost deaths. One person chickened out. *Sniff*.

Oh and the monument, sadly scrubbed clean. Still nice and well done and fascinating to walk around and look at. Just not pop-culture referencing nice. So time to walk some more. Oooo, a squirrel... A BLACK SQUIRREL. That looks like a red one! Maybe we should import those into the UK. Oh, but it is the same species as the red one. Never mind then. Damn it was cute though.

The weather is still very nice so I just take my time to walk around the parks of Sofia. It is a nice city, good to spend a couple of days at. But to be honest, Plovdiv was nicer. Sofia is also slightly more expensive but that isn't really saying an awful lot. The one detail I did notice about Bulgaria is that there is not a lot of microbreweries. Which saddened me a little, there are some nice cheap lagers to be had. There was a lot of choice in vodkas and wines, but I prefer my ales. The city is alive, smells clean, and is not crowded with too many tourists. I know there are tourists around because the hostel is teeming with them. But it's not overrun with them like Prague. After much walking, I return back to my hostel to do some more writing and eat.

Sofia Day One
National Museum of History
The next day started off with another free meal a la Hostel Mostel. If there is one thing I'd take away from travelling to Bulgaria it is to book your stays at Hostel Mostel. It is cheap, secure and friendly. The biggest plus though is that you get two free meals, breakfast and dinner. Which when you are travelling on a tight budget is excellent, plus the food is tasty, but more importantly in vast quantities. Over a nice cup of coffee, I go through Atlas Obscura recommendations and prowl through Google Maps. Finally, I decide to walk to Boyana Church. An Orthodox church dating from the 10th Century. Because... Why not. It's a nice walk. Shouldn't take too long. On my way I stop at the National Museum of History, I start to suspect that Google Maps is trying to get me killed because the route it wants me to walk through goes through a secure facility, surrounded with cameras and notices about hungry dogs and armed guards. The museum building itself is captivating with its surrounding scenery.

I don't think I w
ant to press my luck too much. But I did manage to get into the museum. Which was captivating, the history of Bulgaria is an intriguing hotchpotch of different cultures amalgamating together. The Greeks have been here, The Romans, The Thracians, Bulgarians, the Ottomans and many more. Invaded by Hungarians, Mongolians, Serbs, and many more still. Then of course as can be seen above they have had a lot of input from the Soviets. Then there is the history of the Cyrillic alphabet itself, which remains the only alphabet where we can trace it back to its original creator, Clement of Ohrid. After taking another moment to stop and have some coffee, I take in the view. Specifically, the mountain that Sofia is based right next to. I want to take a photo up there. So again after consulting with Google Maps (Even though it probably did try and get me killed before), I vacate the museum after spending a good two hours walking around. On my way out the guard eyes me up suspiciously with a cigarette in his mouth, doughnut at hand and a big gut. Probably feeling like he should be doing his job, he asked me to hand my bag over so he could search it. Thankfully I only had bottles of water and some apples. Which I had purchased on the way. Which happens to be water from the Devin province, which considering my ultimate purpose of the trip just seemed to make sense. He seemed very disappointed by that.

I still hadn't made my way to Boyana Church so I start walking and sweating slightly. On my way there I come across a guy walking his pet cow. Boyana Church as mentioned previously was originally built in the 10th century, with various add-ons attached since then. It is on the Unesco Heritage List, it's a beautiful little church located again in a beautiful piece of the country. But again because of budget constraints I couldn't afford to enter but had a good mooch around the building itself. I do now wish I had paid to go in because the frescos in there are so unique and breath taking. After getting my breath back I then decide to walk up to "Жива вода Бояна" which according to Google Translate means "Living Water Boyana". Whilst there I promptly get a little lost in the woods. But I took my time in being lost, the surrounding nature and the woods were just too good to not to do so in.

The Snail House
If I had taken some more time I would have been able to locate the waterfall that starts the living water but instead I wanted to walk to a monastery as I had never been to one, at least not one which had monks in. This walk was filled with wondrous nature, empty houses, animals and birds that I don't get the opportunity to see elsewhere. Then I walked and I walked. And walked some more. After a while, it becomes clear to me that Google Maps doesn't know where it is taking me or what it is doing. After I while I give up on that and decided that I wanted to find the ski lift that takes people up to the top of Vitosha Mountain. Again Google Maps fails me a little and I give up on that. At this point I was getting a little tired of walking around. So up comes Atlas Obscura and points into the direction of The Snail House. Which I did get to see, but couldn't as it is only outside which is a tourist attraction, the inside is residential. Thus my day was almost to an end. I started walking back to my hostel because I didn't want to miss dinner. I was hungry. Like really, really hungry. The walk was long but mostly straight. On the way back I decided to stop at one of many, many pizza takeaways that were there. Selling pizza slices for less than a pound, by the pound by the looks of things. If you ever get to go to Bulgaria I do recommend those pizzas, they are worth every morsel, especially when you are starving. Again along the way I pass through various parks and see many historical buildings. After I reach my hostel I had done 40,000+ steps. My knees were aching and I was ready to enjoy this cheap lager that I had bought and vast quantities of Hostel Mostel food.
Church of Saint John Rila/ Lada / Abandoned Bus Shelter

The Woods at the foot of Vitosha

I sit down. Read a little bit and write a bit more. Get to bed and fall asleep. The next day I packed everything up and headed back home. Happy.

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