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Bulgaria: food, market and hanging out

Sunday

As we laid our head on our pillow in the early hours of the morning, we leisurely did our morning duties of showering, dressing and preparing for the day.

About midday, we met up with the two English girls from the previous day in McDonalds and grabbed some food. This was the sort of day where we hopped from one food establishment to another. We had all seen most of the city from the free walking tour so we causally wander around aiming to go through the market.

On the way, we ended up stopping at a lovely, little cafe along the Main Street, where I had a delicious berry sort of cheesecake dessert and an orange juice.

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Eventually we arrived at the Lady’s market, where it sold a few clothes, electronics but mainly food. I found that Bulgaria had several markets around that was specialised in selling one particular thing e.g. book, souvenirs, food. This market wasn’t anything special: there were stalls in the street with tarpaulin over them. As we all markets, I always keep my bag close to my body.

While dawdling back to the main centre, we decided that we wanted a some traditional Bulgarian pasties so we found a little place with a window selling cheese and spinach pastries. They tasted amazing but extremely fatty. It cost about 30p for this huge cheese pastry. It was so large that I couldn’t finish it (it probably didn’t help that I had already eaten quite a lot already).

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As we were tired and it was cold we walked back to our hostel, where we chatted, played pool and hung out with a bunch of travellers: an Australian girl and guy, an American guy and a Canadian girl. Once we had found out about each other, we slouched in the comfy area for most of the rest of the day, where we filled, played scrabble and listened to music.

We did, however, venture out in the cold to eat dinner at a Traditional Bulgarian restaurant, where we thought there would be dancers, but unfortunately not. The food was lovely and used typical Bulgarian ingredients: cheese, spinach, potato.

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The Australian guy had been travelling for 2 years and had been to every European country. He took with him a cuddly toy Koala called Kevo, where he took photos of him at each destination. Kevo was so cute and I thought this was such a good idea.

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Bulgaria: day of tours

Saturday

We got up early so that we could enjoy our free breakfast at the hostel, which included cereal, waffles, fruit, toast, cheese, scrambled egg, tomato, olives, yogurt, tea and coffee.

During breakfast we spoke to two French people, then went to the meeting point of the free walking tour: court house. There were loads of people wanting to do the tour so we split up into two groups. The tour was amazing: seeing lots of sights, interacting with the leader, doing role play, giving out prizes, hearing about the history, showing unusual parts of the city and understanding the culture. The sightseeing highlights were:
– The mineral springs and baths (hot water coming out of taps in the middle of the street: people were filling large bottles as they believe it would give them luck)
– The mosque
– The synagogue
– Statue of St. Sophia
– Court of justice
– Different churches
– National theatre
– Houses of Parliament
– National Assembly

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Once the tour had finished, we went inside the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was dark, full of gold sculptures, large chandeliers and candles.

After a well deserved rest in a park, we met up with a tour guide to take us on a free walking tour. Yes, you read FREE. (We were surprised too!) It’s with a tour called ‘Balkan bites’.

Balkan Bites is an attempt at providing travelers to Sofia with the first free daily food tour in Europe and maybe the world. The idea is to take a tour of some of the more interesting and trendy family owned restaurants that Sofia has to offer and enjoy some traditional Bulgarian cuisine, while hearing about some of the history and customs that helped make them became staple foods in Bulgaria, by their trained guides.

The first place we walked to was a soup and sandwich place, where were were given a cup of cold yogurt, cucumber and dill soup. It was really interesting and not my cup of tea. The funniest thing was that my friend went to get us some and accidentally dropped the whole try of soup on top of her. I couldn’t stop laughing. Luckily, you couldn’t see it but she smelt like yogurt for the rest of the day.

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Next we strolled to a little bakery, where we tasted some traditional warm pastries filled with cheese. These were actually amazing and so cheap. After, we went to a vegetarian place, where we tried out some homemade bread and different dips. They used traditional ingredients like pepper, tomatoes, aubergines. As we were here quite a while in the cold, we were offered some hot tea.

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The last place we walked to was a Bulgarian restaurant, where we sat downstairs on a long wooden table, which had already been prepared for us. Here we had a rakkie shot and bread nibbles with different tomato and cheese spreads on them.

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While being on the tour, we met two English girls who met up with later on the pub crawl. After being on our feet all day, we relaxed at our hostel before heading out again.

For dinner, we went to a Bulgarian restaurant that had been recommended to us. We decided to spend out and get loads of different, delicious food: cheese in bread crumbs, cheese stuffed peppers coated with breadcrumbs, vine leaves and a cheese and spinach potato gratin.

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In the evening, we went on a paid pub crawl, which was a slight disappointment. We were the first to arrive and I thought no-one else would come but there were the two a English girls we met earlier, an American couple and two Slovakian guys. First we headed to a standard bar, where we had a mint drink, which tasted like mouth-wash.

Next, we walked to an amazing bar called the apartments, which looked like we were hanging around in someone’s house. There were different rooms like a drawing room (you could write on the wall), a movie screen room, a Buddhist room, kitchen and a few other rooms to relax in. The drinks and food was all home-made and healthy. I had raspberry wine, which was sweet, and a chocolate ball.

As we arrived at the next bar, which looked like a converted barn, our guides realised there was a private party going on where the owners forgot to tell them. Instead we headed to a small, long and narrow, dark place with a long bar along one side. There wasn’t anything spectacular here and I didn’t like the atmosphere. Luckily, we didn’t stay here long before heading to. hostel with a bar and a live band. On route, we were given shots of rakkie (famous Bulgarian shot) as we walked through a park. I felt like I was 15 again.

When we got to the hostel, we climbed downstairs to a basement bar, where we slouched on a sofa with a hanging table. Once we had a glass of wine, we walked to a club, which was next to the one we went to the previous night. It was called Terminal 1 as it looked like an airport. Inside, there was a live Bulgarian rock band playing, where we danced the night away and also had a laugh teaching the Slovakian guys chat up lines.

Bulgaria: finding our hostel and pub crawl

Friday

After landing, we walked down the stairs to fresh, cool air and on to a bus. I didn’t understand why we got driven to the airport doors because it would have taken approximately 3 minutes to use my legs. Passport control was manic. There were crowds of people and few control boxes. We collected our bags and headed out. From our hostel, we got detailed instruction to get to the centre. Once we purchased a bus ticket, which was 1.00 lev (45p), we travelled on the bus, where two guys nearly got fined for not having a ticket for their bags. We panicked slightly. The stroll from the bus to the hostel was a mission: it took longer than anticipated and we got lost.

Eventually, we arrived at out hostel. It looked pretty. When we checked in, we got told that we would be staying in some apartments down the road. The staff gave us lots of information about the city and tours. It took about 10 minutes to get to our accommodation but the place was well-maintained, clean and had all the facilities we needed.

It was way past lunchtime, our tummies were rumbling so we set off on a mission to find a restaurant. We ate at an Italian restaurant (I know I could have eaten this in England but we were so hungry), where I had a tasty seafood pizza outing around 10 lev with a drink (£4.50).

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Next, we just decided to walk around the city centre to get our bearings and look at the architecture of the building around us. Quite a few building had gold on them and the building were block-like and tall. One thing I like to do in other countries is wandering around a supermarket comparing prices and seeing the types of food.

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When it started getting dark, we decided to head back to our room to get changed before going back to the main hostel common room for dinner. There were a group of loud, rowdy males from London sharing our apartment, who were incredibly drunk singing along and playing some cheesy tunes.

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With our hostel, breakfast and dinner was included, which was incredible. For dinner, there were three vegetarian options: rice with a bean casserole, fried eggs with creamy, yellow potatoes and salty homemade coleslaw or spaghetti with tomato sauce, which came with a beer. Over dinner, we were chatting with an American couple, telling us about the escape rooms in Sofia (unfortunately we didn’t get to go). However, if I came back, I would definitely like to go to one.

After we started playing some card games with an Australian couple and an American guy from Colorado. One thing I love about staying in hostel is that you meet loads of travellers: hear their adventures, recommendation and experience their easy- going nature.

We decided to go on the hostel pub crawl, where there was about 30 of us. The first bar was a dark, underground place near our hostel. I tried to order a dark rum and lemonade and failed. They didn’t have any of the dark rum I usually have and they didn’t understand the term lemonade. I got given a huge amount of rum in a glass and another glass with a sweet syrupy liquid. It cost more than expected but cheaper than England.

The next place was a blue bar, with a great atmosphere. The staff were friendly and did table service for drinks. We had a Bulgarian shot, where they lit the alcohol, put a glass over it so the smoke was trapped in a different glass. I had to take the shot then suck through a straw where the smoke was. Weird experience.

I was chatting with some of the other people from the hostel, where I found two English guys who had gone to the same university in Leicester. Completely unexpected.

From here, we went to our finally destination, which was a free club. Inside was a long room with a dance floor. The music was mainly Australian hip- hop so didn’t recognise it but it was fun dancing around. I was speaking to a Bulgarian, where he was trying to teach me some Bulgarian words but I found the pronunciation so hard. At the end of the night, I got some chips from a kebab shop with mayonnaise (it looked like runny icing) and then we kind of got lost finding our hostel.

Departing for Sofia, Bulgaria

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As you may or may not know, I like to travel and usually not the touristy places.

Currently, I am on my way to the capital of Bulgaria. This will be the furthest east I have been in Europe.

Why Bulgaria? Why Sofia? Why this time of year? That’s an easy one. I very often look at flights to see where my destination could be. I happen to come across these flights that were ridiculously cheap. I’m kind of a wanderlust that enjoys exploring new cultures and unknown territory. Most of the time, I don’t mind where or who with. I’m having this adventure with a friend. I automatically looked at hostels and found that they were cheap too. It was a no-brainier, I had to go.

Here I am. After a memorable journey to the airport, where it was chucking it down with rain (to the extent where you just couldn’t see a metre in front with the windscreen wipers on full blast) and diverted traffic through single, puddle-filled lanes, we arrived at the airport. It was a lot busier than I thought as it was 5.30 in the morning.

I don’t find airports daunting or particularly exciting (I like to play a game where I try to guess where people are going), and managed to get to the gate smoothly and without any hassle. When I walked on to the plane, the luggage storage was all full so my bag got taken away to the main bag compartment. After a nap, which I needed as I felt like a zombie, I now wait for landing in Sofia.

I don’t really have an expectations of Bulgaria: I haven’t really research Sofia. My plan is to go to my hostel and ask for recommendations. I’m just excited to see what it has to offer.

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