A Successful Day Trip to Sofia

Mission Star Trek was a success! 😀

The first thing that needed to happen for today to be a good day was for me to get to bed early enough last night that a 5:30 wakeup call would be reasonable. I’ve been staying up late, often to midnight, since I got here since my clients and friends are online in my late evening, and then getting up between eight and nine (!!!). Well, I was beat yesterday and managed to not only shut the lights at 9:30, but fall asleep before ten. So I woke up without my alarm at 5:30!

The dogs were so confused by this early wake up call that they did something they’ve never done: took a runner. I walked a few minutes without being able to hear them and was rather concerned that I was going to have to wait for them to come home. I called for them and Sausage eventually came. I headed home with him and left the gate open for Mechka. She turned up as I was making their breakfast (which was much more elaborate than mine). So thank goodness! Max told me not to freak out if they run off and that they come home, but what I day this would have been for that to happen!

I hurriedly gulped down some coffee and toast, dressed, double checked the contents of my backpack, and was out the door by 6:25.

I made it as far as just past the restaurant when a gal about my age came to a screeching halt beside me to give me a lift to Yablanitsa! Wow! That was a best case scenario because I’d have a choice of a lot more buses. We were in Yablanitsa by 6:40 and so I had a choice of two buses around seven and another at 7:30, which is the one I expected to be on. I flagged down the first seven o’clock bus. The cost was 6.50BGN.

There was quite a bit of construction and traffic and I’m pretty sure the buses drive only about 75KPH or so (it feels sloooow), so we didn’t get into Sofia until around nine. I was going to get off a couple of blocks before the bus station then realised that it was my only guaranteed bathroom stop before the mall, so I stayed on the bus! My breakfast had been meager, so I grabbed a still warm and flaky cheese croissant on my way out of the bus station.

It was only 1.5KM to “downtown”, so there was no point in taking a taxi. I just walked down boulevard Knyaginya Maria Luiza to the Banya Bashi Mosque, stopping en route to get some more top up cards for my phone.

This is the Lions Bridge. If you squint, you can see a yellow Billa sign on the right. How convenient! I popped in to check it out and decided to do my grocery shopping there on the way home. All I really “needed” that I can’t find in Yablanitsa is more peanut butter!

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Before I knew it, there was the mosque!

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I took a slight detour to check out the synagogue:

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Behind the mosque, I checked the opening hours for the Sofia history museum, and it was 11:00. Dang!

Since I had so much time before the movie, I took my time strolling through the ruins of Serdica. Here I am looking through one of the street-level domes down to the ruins:

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In case you missed that in the text, here are remains of an ancient Roman sewer system! WOW.

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You can walk all through the ruins. There were placards in places I would have assumed I wasn’t allowed to walk.

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I took a closer look at this building in front of the Presidential building and learned that it’s the archeological museum, as well as a former mosque. Unfortunately, they didn’t open until ten. 🙁

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I went behind the presidential building to check out the famous frescoes at the Church of St. George Rotunda. No photographs allowed, so you’ll just have to take my word that they were AMAZING. 😀

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Relative of my late Bitha? Very suspicious of me!

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There are more Roman ruins outside the church.

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Then, I just wandered! I grabbed a gelato on Boulevard Vitosha, then walked down Boulevard Aleksandar Stamboliyski towards the Mall of Sofia.

The architecture in this city never fails to stop me dead in my tracks.

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Surreal to see signs pointing to Belgrade!

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And here I am at the Mall of Sofia. I went in to make sure I could find the cinema and to confirm the showtime of 12:30. There was also one at 11:30, but it wasn’t in IMAX 3D and I decided that if I’d come all this way, I should do the whole experience. There wasn’t much of interest in the mall and it was about 10:45, so I headed out to explore the neighbourhood.

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The blocks of flats from the Communist era entranced me! They are all over Sofia, but this was my first time actually seeing them up close.

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This is across from the Mall of Sofia and translates to Sofia Technical School.

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Here’s a good example of how Bulgarian is often like French, only easier. Ниво sounds like “nee-vo” and means “level.” It sounds exactly like the French word for level, niveau. Only it ends with O rather than one of French’s 50 billion spelling combinations that sound like O but look nothing like it.

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This building was rather interesting!

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As a new reader to the language, I read everything I come across and when I see something like плюс that looks particularly “alien” I make an extra effort. I laughed when I realised it says… “plus”! The word above means store and it’s one of the first Cyrillic words that I can just “read” rather than sound out.

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Not an abandoned building…

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I was rather put upon that this kid wearing what appears to be a Mexican sombrero is advertising a pizzeria!

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Loved this pink lady!

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By 11:30, I was feeling peckish. I didn’t have time for a proper sit down meal, so this sign across from the Mall of Sofia caught my attention, advertising pizza and donairs. I wasn’t in the mood for pizza (!), but Middle Eastern food would be a welcome change of pace!

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I scanned the menu and most items were immediately familiar — donairs, shish kabob, fattoush salad, shish taouk, shawarma, and… фалафел! Falafel!!! A “medium sized” sandwich was only 2BGN!

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Since I’m not a picky eater, I just motioned for the guy to give me everything when he started to hold up each ingredient. I almost burst out laughing when he put French fries in my falafel! I took it to go and found a planter outside to sit on to have my lunch. It was nowhere near as flavourful or yummy as the falafel I had at the Holmes Grill on Baker Street in London, but the super garlicky sauce gave it ample flavour and I relished every bite! Speaking of relish, it had sweet bread and butter pickles, too, which totally worked!

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I photographed more flats after I was done eating.

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It was then time to go to the movie. I wrote “12:30” in my notebook and headed back to the mall. At the cinema, the cashier let me muddle through “One, Star Trek, *holds up notebook with the time,* please,” before asking me in perfect English if I needed a pair of 3D glasses. LOL Yes, I did. The ticket was 12BGN and the glasses were 1.50BGN, so about 10CAD total for both. Two reports out of Quebec put a 3D IMAX movie at being between $14 and $18CAD, so I got a good deal! I was amused that the tickets are printed on a dot matrix printer!

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Now, get this: I was the only one in the theatre!!! That worked out well since I didn’t like my assigned seat (too close to the screen despite my expressly sitting farther back than I normally do, anticipating this problem), so I was able to move back to a better one.

The movie was good and worth the trek (ha ha, see what I did there?). But the sound wasn’t great and with all the accents I know I’ll need to go back and relisten with English subtitles. I was surprised by how much did I manage to get out of the Bulgarian subs, especially when the aliens were talking their language and there would have been English subs at a US or CAD theatre. I would have just enough time to sound out the words/transliterations for things like captain, beware, Enterprise, Federation, etc. to get enough context to muddle through the plot. It was fun to see all the familiar Trek terms and names transliterated into Cyrillic.

Without going into any spoilers, I have to say that what I took from the movie was how it accurately, in my opinion, expressed the curse/blessing of having the nomad/explorer gene.

It was about 2:40 when I came out of the movie and I really wanted to make the bus to Teteven at four since that would save me a cab fare or, worse case, a 6KM walk, plus I was exhausted. I was a little disconcerted when I exited the theatre and was directed down a rather isolated staircase with no signage. I went down many flights until I saw a door marked “Mall of Sofia” and went through it to emerge on the main cinema level. I was surprised because I hadn’t realised I was sitting that far up!

I hoofed it to the previously scouted Billa, arriving around three. I didn’t get much and was a little (lot) annoyed with my language skills when I got to the cash register and the clerk pantomimed that I should have done “something” with my grapefruit and oranges and that she couldn’t sell them to me. I imagine it’s something along the lines of the City Deli on Isla requesting that you have things weighed first. I apologised and motioned for her to leave them since I didn’t have time to start all over.

It was 3:30 at this point, so I headed straight to the bus station. There, I went to the bakery again and got a ham and cheese croissant for the ride home. What can I say, their croissants are really good! 😀

I double checked the schedule I’d put together for myself and saw that the bus at four terminates at Teteven and should be leaving from gate 30. So I checked the electronic screen and, sure enough, that was the info listed. I scurried over to gate 30 and was one of the last to board. It was the same driver as last time, so I knew I wouldn’t have any issues getting off at the junction 2KM from home.

While I waited for the ticket lady to get to me, I pulled a map up on my phone. I didn’t want to get charged full price to Teteven so I wanted her to be aware I was getting off early. She seemed to understand me quite quickly and said, “Seven. Five to Yablanitsa, two to Malak Izvor.” That was a good deal seeing as I’m told a taxi from Yablanitsa to Malak Izvor is six to eight BGN!

The ride home was sloooow. Around Botevgrad, I understood snippets of a conversation between a woman and the driver and from what ensued guess that she said that her child really needed a bathroom and the driver figured he’d use the time to get fuel. So he pulled into a gas station and what seemed like half the bus got off to pee! The bus was a sauna and I was beyond ready to get home and rather annoyed by this little detour, but it was what it was.

We then detoured to Pravets, got back on the highway, and finally reached the turnoff for Yablanitsa. Holy smokes, it felt like the ride took forever! My phone was dead by this point, so I couldn’t check the time.

No one got off in Yablanitsa. As we approached the Malak Izvor turnoff, the ticket lady caught my eye and shook her head, which is the equivalent of nodding in Bulgaria. She called to the driver to give him a heads up and I heard “bagag” (luggage). I called out that I had none (literally said “no luggage”) and she gave me a big smile even as she did a double take that I’d understood that part of the conversation. Yay for my mother tongue again!

I hopped off the bus and took off at a pretty fast clip. Its only 2KM from the junction to “downtown” Malak Izvor, so really just a stroll. A few cars passed, but I wasn’t intent on getting a lift.

The dogs were super happy to see me when I got in! I quickly changed so I could take them on a short walk and then came in to collapse with a cold beer at 6:30. Dang was it a hot one today!

Max was right that a day trip to Sofia doesn’t make sense if you’re going exploring for the first time, but it was a perfectly sensible thing to do now that I have the lay of the land and was content to just have a couple of to-dos there. The bus fare is only 10CAD roundtrip and with lifts to/from Yablanitsa and/or being able to be picked up/dropped off at the junction cutting on my travel time considerably, it makes for a very reasonable day, no worse than going on a supply run to Moose Jaw.

Today was a Good Day.

Mission: Go to the Cinema in Bulgaria

Star Trek: Beyond is now in theatres and after much hemming and hawing, I’ve decided I need to see it in theatres even if I know I’m going to be disappointed by it. 😀 I had quite a lot of research to do, though, to determine that seeing it in a Bulgarian theatre was feasible.

First, I trolled a bunch of travel forums to learn that films in Bulgaria are subtitled. So like in Mexico, I could enjoy a movie in English.

Next, I had to determine if getting to a cinema on a day trip would be feasible. I did a search for “kino sofia” (кино софия) and got a list of cinemas. I picked the IMAX theatre at the Mall of Sofia because I had a rough idea of where it is and that it would be convenient to get to from the bus station and have grocery stores between the two.

On their website, I assumed that “Star Trek” wouldn’t be translated and so I typed “стар” into the search box, the Cyrillic phonetic spelling for star. I didn’t have to go any further because this pop up appeared:

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This page confirmed that the movie is in English (английски) and that it started on July 22nd. In the drop down menus below, I selected IMAX Sofia, 3D performance, the date (July 28th), and then looked at the times. 12:30 would be perfect!

Then, I had to figure out how to get to Sofia and back! This was the biggest challenge. I cobbled together a rough bus schedule from a number of sources. In an absolute best case scenario tomorrow morning, I will leave here around 6:40AM to get to the junction by 7:00AM to hopefully catch the Teteven-Sofia bus something before 7:00 and 7:30. Worst case, I will have to walk to Yablanitsa to arrive by 8:00AM and then catch the first of numerous buses to Sofia. If I get offered a lift to Yablanitsa before the Teteven bus is due to pass, I’m taking it!

That would get me to Sofia by 10:00AM at the latest, giving me time to walk to the Mall of Sofia by way of a few places whose interiors I wanted to visit, grab an early lunch, and find the theatre.

According to the information above, the movie is two hours long, so, counting previews, I should be out of there by 3:00PM. That would give me just enough time to get a few groceries before grabbing the 4:00PM bus to Teteven that would let me off at the junction. Miss that one and I have a couple of buses to Yablanista I can take. Worst case for that scenario, I can’t get the taxi or a lift and I have to walk all the way home. So I’d be home between 6:00PM and 8:00PM.

Will I succeed in my mission? Check back this time tomorrow. I suspect that since I’ve been getting up around 8:00, getting up by 5:30AM so I have time to walk the dogs will be the hardest part of the day!

Lively Weekend

Max and his young daughter arrived for the weekend mid-Saturday morning, so it was a very lively weekend. Of course, I’m trapped in the middle of a huge project, so I was glued to my computer all weekend. We all let one another do our own thing and I just continued with my normal routine, including walking the dogs.

Late Saturday evening, Max invited me to join him and some friends for a BBQ. I’d already had dinner, so I just sampled a few things, including rakia, a Bulgarian fruit brandy that was quite good.

I really did need to be up and at ’em Sunday because of work, so I begged off close to midnight and, thanks to the rakia, pretty much passed out. 🙂

Even though there were two young and vivacious girls having a slumber party above me, the night was quiet and I slept well and woke up under my own steam. I took the dogs out Sunday morning and then just worked steadily through the day. It’ll be long days until this project is done, but it’s too important to turn down. Max did laundry both mornings, which set me behind a bit in my schedule since the washer is in my kitchen, where I work, and it’s hard to type with the machine going.

Monday morning was also pretty much a write-off, work-wise, because Max’s friend was here to start working on fixing his leaky roof. So lots of chainsawing going on! With all that Mexico experience behind me, I worked through as much of the noise as I could and caught up on other things when I couldn’t. By one, I was alone again and it was blissfully quiet, but I still had to work until past ten p.m.

I expected more roof work today, but so far nothing. I’m typing steadily and hoping to get enough ahead to be able to take a day trip to Sofia later this week, but I’m not holding my breath. Can’t complain about work going well, though! And I’m really glad to have the dogs as an excuse to go hiking twice a day. By five or so, I’m bleary eyed and it’s lovely to break for an hour to stretch my legs.

So not much going on here, I’m afraid, just life as usual, but in a different setting. 🙂

My Bulgarian Shangri-La

My clever boy Sausage helped me discover an amazing trail a couple of days ago. Today was the first chance I had to get back up there with a camera!

We headed straight up the mountain.

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This is a very steep like slope, with foot holds cut in. You can barely see them in this picture.

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Here’s my feet in two of them. They turn the slope into a staircase.

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Metchka and Sausage ahead of me just before the tough bit.

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I don’t know why, but this final bit up is still a challenge.

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Here’s my village, Malak Izvor (Little Spring). Population of about 300.

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I used to stop here and then go down another path. But Sausage was keen for me to know there’s more through here.

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This is a logging road. I know because I saw a logging truck go down it.

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I followed them up the logging road.

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Sausage then veered off to show me this footpath.

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That goes to this trail that parallels the logging road.

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Amazing views from that path when the trees clear!

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Metchka’s waiting for me, Sausage is sniffing around.

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I got to the end of this trail at least three times before I realised that Sausage was trying to tell me that there’s more beyond it!

Some pictures of my Bulgarian Shangri-La.

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Max is here for the weekend and arrived with a present. I’d reported that the 10-year-old cooktop had developed a leak, so he brought me this gorgeous shiny thing to cook on!

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