We took an early cab from our loft to the bus station the next morning on our way to Sofia, Bulgaria. One little gotcha that we discovered at the bus station was that we had to buy platform tickets, which let us out into the bus platform here. This was new to us.
The bus ride to Sofia was relatively less eventful than our trip to Skopje, but an interesting difference at the border was that we all had to get out of the bus in order to individually leave Macedonia on foot. The bus came to meet us after we left customs. Once at the Bulgarian station, we had to take all of our baggage out and let a dog come by and sniffed our luggage
The bus ride was relativly smooth and uneventful. After we got to Sofia, we walked the 30-minute walk to our place. I had advocated for the walk, and, though I always like to walk to get to the place, it was a little longer than I expected. Nevertheless, we made it there and unloaded our stuff. I went out to get groceries.
We walked out to a park to help the kids let off some steam. The playground in the city garden was unimpressive, but it allowed me and sara to get some things done, like find an ATM, buy some wine for our friends, and pick up some dinner.
We learned that our friends would not be joining us on their original flight, as there had been some
We did school in the morning and then walked through town. We walked through Knyazheska Garden, where we found a remnant of Bulgaria’s communist past, fenced in to stave off the graffitos.
We continued on to Brisova Gradina Park, found a bigger playground, had a picnic with some snacks, and took kids to read in the shade. Knowing we needed more food than that, we had a late lunch at a bar behind the stadium (called Behind), where we split some sandwiches and potato chips and watched the track and field world championships on TV. We walked back to the apartment and had a special sushi dinner nearby. The kids were tired; we put them to bed after watching a little Harry Potter, and waited up for our friends to arrive. Sara headed to the airport and I stayed with the kids. Our friends arrived around 10:15, after taking almost 32 hours to get to Bulgaria. They were missing 3 pieces of luggage.
When we woke up, “big” Ben (Our friend Ben Allred), Sam, and I went to a local bakery along the main drag and (big) Ben introduced us to “banitsa”, which is very similar to the “burek” we found in Macedonia. We bought a bunch and brought them back to the group. After breakfast, we decided to do a walking tour of some of the street art in one of the nearby suburbs. We finally managed to figure out how the subway system worked and ended up in Skradin, which is both the name of the underground subway station as well as the old Roman town that it is built alongside. It’s pretty cool to be able to see old Roman ruins as you’re walking down the steps to the train platform.
We eventually made it out to the neighborhood where all the street art was after getting off one stop too early. We walked to our first two street arts and then got coffee and let the kids play and playground. Continuing on, we found about 10 total large murals on the sides of buildings that had been completed by some of the same people over numerous years.
It was a long, dry walk in the midday heat but the kids all did a great job, especially Max and Ember.
We went to a place called Raketa Rakia for lunch a little bit closer into town, which was a special treat. The serving staff was fun and patient with us, while we tried a bunch of different local dishes and finished it off with a rakia tasting.
After lunch we went across the street to the park, filled up our water bottles and let the kids play in the concrete slide with some leaves. It’s the little things. After getting a call from the airline baggage people, we headed back on the tram into town. We got one out of three bags, and gelato for the kids.
In the evening, Ben and I did the Sophia walking tour, which was really cool. And informative. We brought back much of what we heard to Sara and Laura that evening. We sampled several different varieties of the local beer and called it a night.
The next day we went to a very old church that had examples of 800-year-old frescos. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was quite dramatic.
We got tickets and learned that we had to wait 30 minutes to enter, and that we only could go in for 10 minutes at a time. We seemed to be in everybody’s way, but despite that, it was a really cool experience. The church is one of a kind.
After the church we headed up the hill and did a hike to the X waterfall. We ended up hiking over 5 miles, which was more than we expected.
On the way down, we got ice cream for the kids and beer for the adults had a roadside cafe as we waited for two taxis
That evening we had a great dinner at a local restaurant that included algae-tinted beer and a variety of local foods.
The next morning, I hiked over to the train station and got our tickets for Istanbul while Sara and Ben headed to the airport to get the rental cars for our trip into Bulgaria. After getting back I helped watch the kids in pack while we waited for the cars.
We drove out of Sophia heading for baliko ternavo. Along the way, we stopped to visit a particularly cool cave that sometimes is the site for chamber music and other concerts. We had already seen two other caves, but this one was particularly cool because of the size of the chambers as well as the age of some of the stalactites. One of the largest columns was over 3 million years old and 60 m in circumference, according to our guide. Big Ben did a great job translating, even though some of the other tourists had to help out from time to time.
in a little town just outside for a late lunch/early dinner. Finally getting to our place around 6:00, we found ourselves rolling our bags along a a very old cobblestonestreet w to our one night Airbnb. We had been particularly excited about this place, but it turned out to be a little sketchier than our expectations. We did however find an underground lair that seemed to be a former communist drinking hangout. As we sat there after the kids went to bed though, we started hearing scratching all around us. It turned out to be wood beetles eating away at the building surrounding us. It was both spooky and scary to hear the building be eaten to dust. We resolved to tell our host about that little detail.
For breakfast we went to the pinko Cafe, a pink-themed cafe filled with different pink creatures and pink dishes. I think it was also a reference to Bulgaria’s communist past, being nestled in the hotel Kiev. We then hiked to the castle. The kids investigated a scorpion and a catapult and we talked about how each one stored energy to launch projectiles. Sam wasn’t feeling well so he and Sara waited while the rest of us climbed up to the strangest church we’d ever been inside at the top. The interior was something… Gothic? Brutalist? Slavic? We couldn’t pick the name for whatever it was, but it seemed like an interior shot from game of thrones. The mural itself was also pretty different for the inside of church. After that we hustled back to the apartment and packed our bags. We drove on towards Byala.
We stopped at an ancient rock outcropping that has evidence of ancient civilization, and includes the “Horseman of Madara”. We walked around all the structures.
When we got to the Byala, the kids found the Black Sea while (Big) Ben and I went and got dinner, which included some adventurous food, including fried scad.
We played on the beach, the kids went to a water slide, I caught up on email, and we went to dinner. It was a great, relaxing day
We packed our things and moved on to Nessabar for a quick stop. We got lunch at a quaint spot and then walked around the town a bit while the girls did some shopping on their own. We found said goodbye to the Black Sea, walked back to our cars, and continued on to Plovdiv. We got to our place nestled right in the middle of the old part of town, and walked to dinner at a place down the street. The whole center of town comes alive at night with restaurants spilling out onto the street. We got the kids ice cream as we meandered home.
We hiked up three of Plovdiv’s seven hills and saw lots of sights. Laura, (little) Ben, and I hiked up to the top of the monument. We met up with the rest of the crowd, ate a quick lunch at the end of the children’s train line, and continued on to the children’s train. It didn’t run again for a couple hours, so we let the kids play in a playground while we got coffee and beer. We were all feeling tired and a bit out of it. The children’s train was stuffy and slow, and not worth the time or hike. We taxied home and ate dinner on the roof.
I woke up feeling a cold coming on. We hiked up into the old town