Goodbye Malak Izvor and a Final Afternoon in Sofia

I had a disappointing final night in Malak Izvor. I haven’t been sleeping well there to start with because of the crappy bed and then add in my sore body and all the excitement of the coming days and the night was pretty much shot. 🙁 Plus, it was really cold! I got up twice to add extra blankets!

So I didn’t really want to get up when the alarm rang this morning, but I really didn’t have much time, only about two hours.

The dogs are smart and knew I was leaving. I took them for a short final walk as far as I dared, then came back to finish my packing as a load of laundry tumbled (sheets, towels, and bedding), and they stuck very close, whining a lot and giving me lots of nuzzles and kisses. Penghu got in one final nap across my neck.

Packing finally done, I finished cleaning the house and hung up the laundry, then brought down the trash. A friendly neighbour was there and I tried to tell her I was leaving, but I don’t think she got it. I tried, “I from Malak Izvor to Canada” and “goodbye,” but she still looked confused.

When I got back up to the house, it was really time to go as it was almost 9:30 and the last morning bus is around 10:45. I gave the pets their final cuddles. Mechka and Sausage whined and started howling as I headed through the gate. They knew full well I was leaving them and they were upset. I started crying as I headed down the hill.

Down in the village, I passed another friendly neighbour and she understood that I was leaving. She said thank you (because I always schlep things up the hill for her if we’re coming up at the same time), and she waved and blew kisses as I took the road out. A rather lovely send off!

By the time I was outside the village, I knew I had to really hustle if I wanted even the slightest chance of catching the last morning bus if I didn’t get a lift. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard, what with me trundling along with all that luggage. Well, I tried my damnedest and no one stopped. 🙁 It was easy going to the village turnoff, but then there’s a long steady climb before you head down into Yablanitsa, so the going got tougher.

I had a vague memory of there possibly being a 10:00 or 10:30 bus from Teteven that I could possibly flag down along the way, but I didn’t want to stop at a turnoff in case I was wrong. As long as I kept moving, I had a chance of making a bus. Otherwise, I’d have a three-hour wait for the first afternoon bus and miss out on my last afternoon in Sofia. I’d made a bad gamble and regretted not getting up earlier.

At the start of the final descent, about a kilometre from Yablanitsa, I accepted that I was not going to make it and slowed down a bit since I was no longer in a hurry. And then, I heard a honk behind me. I stopped, turned around, and did a double take as I saw a bus marked София (Sofia) that had its turn signal on and was slowing down to pull over. I thought I was hallucinating!!! But no! The driver motioned for me to hurry to get on (there was no shoulder where he stopped) and I heard “luggage, here” in his prattle, so I understood to leave my suitcase by him. When we stopped in Yablanitsa, he moved it under the bus.

It was an easy ride into Sofia. The other direction, though… Traffic was at a standstill for miles. I don’t know if Max and the new host got caught up in that, but was I glad I hadn’t been waiting for Max to get me to town or I’d still be in Malak Izvor!

We got to the bus station in Sofia at bang on noon. I wanted to find and buy my ticket for Nish (Ниш) today since the bus is leaving at 7:30 am. I went through all the kiosks until I saw one that had Nish listed. I asked for one ticket for tomorrow, but the lady just handed me a business card and rattled off something. I caught “gara,” so I went next door to the train station. It took a bit of wandering around to understand the layout there as there is a whole mess of travel offices outside the train station. I finally realised that my card had an office number and that all the buildings were numbered logically. I eventually found the one I needed.

The surly lady at the counter asked for my passport before processing my ticket request. She completely missed that I said I wanted a ticket for tomorrow, so she was very upset with me when I pointed out that she’d sold me a ticket for today. She mumbled angrily under her breath as she redid it and answered with a very short-sounding yes when I asked her if the bus would pick me up right there. Whatever… My ticket to Nish was 24BGN (18.24CAD). It’ll be interesting to see how much the trip to Belgrade will cost.

It was 12:45 by this point and I was getting rather hangry. I didn’t do a good job of managing my food stores in my final days and have been pretty much subsisting on jam sandwiches, rice with cheese, and berries for several days. The morning’s jam sandwich and coffee were very far away by this point! But my hotel was right by the bus station, so it made sense to go drop off my luggage before grabbing lunch.

The Zenith Hotel was fully booked, so I took a chance on Kom Rooms, as it is literally across the street from the bus station, which was rather convenient for this particular occasion! I’d spotted the hotel on the way in, so I knew right where to go.

The exterior did not look very promising, but the tiny office was newly renovated and the staff was friendly.


Standing in front of the entrance, looking to the bus and train stations. I don’t think you can get any closer!


The entrance did nothing to inspire confidence. It was dark, dank, and smelled.


Up a short flight of dark stairs:


To a door that has seen better days. I was rather impressed with security, though. There’s an electronic lock on the street door and a lock for this one. So that’s three locks total between the street and me.


Through that door into Narnia! Wow, this part was beautiful and smell so sweet and clean!


My door:


And tah-dah! Not what I was expecting at all! The room is cramped, but it was recently redone and is so clean and fresh. I love the breakfast/work nook!


And here’s my little bathroom. My only complaint with this room is the mould around the base of the toilet that would be an easy fix. I’m getting used to these “wet rooms.” Notice where the shower head is located. There is a hook to the right of the sink so you can have a proper shower.


The Zenith Hotel is about the same price (63BGN/48CAD) and has much bigger rooms, but I find that the convenience to the bus station makes this price fair.

I dropped what I didn’t need, including my fleece, and headed across the street and down a ways for a quick slice of pizza. There was a place literally across from the hotel, but they wanted 1.50BGN for an inferior product that had been sitting for a while. The next place is much busier and only charges 1BGN for a big slice with toppings!

I munched as I headed down to the Sofia History Museum behind the mosque. We’ve been here before, but not inside!


By this point, I had exactly 6BGN in cash left, with the plan being to take out a bit more. Thankfully, the entrance fee was only 6BGN, so I didn’t regret not going to a bank first. But when I handed the cashier my money, she nodded (Bulgarian no) and wouldn’t take it. I was confused because the museum was obviously open, but figured it was probably for a special event. As I turned away dejectedly, a security guard ran to me and said in halting English, “Free day today. Welcome!” WOW. I’ve been wanting to go there all summer and the day I finally get to go, there’s no admission charge!

The main reason I wanted to visit the museum is that it’s in the old bathhouse and I’d been told the inside was gorgeous. Well, I was disappointed on that end. There were some lovely floors that might be original, but that’s it.

The exhibits were interesting and covered the history of Sofia from prehistory to today, with almost all the signage translated into decent English.

It was really crowded, so I didn’t have many chances to take pictures. I thought this exhibit was unique because you often see carriages, but not with the horses. Adding these “horses” in full apparel, complete with ostrich feathers, really makes you understand what a spectacle it must have been!


One of the lovely floors:


A rather ornate desk! I don’t think it’s gold plated, but rather just painted:gold-coloured:


I loved this central part of the museum, looking out to the mosque:



I love seeing these travel notes from hundreds of years ago!


I really enjoyed the museum and seeing how Sofia went from being a giant muddy village of single story homes with none of the features of usual settlements this size (bathhouses, amphitheatres, government buildings) at the start of the Common Era to a bustling metropolis by the 19th century, when it became capital of Bulgaria because of its central location. This is when all the streets were paved and better infrastructure was created. Public transportation, which already existed, was greatly expanded too.

Since I had time after I came out of the Sofia history museum, I decided to try my luck at the archeology museum, where we’ve also been before:


There was no price list, so I asked how much and it was 10BGN. Oops. I thanked the lady and left, then went around behind the museum where I knew there was a PostBank ATM. I withdrew 100BGN (more on that later in this post) and went right back to the museum, where the cashier and the security guard gave me a strange look.

This museum was just !!! I spent my whole time going, “Wow!” So many statues and stelae and icons and tablets… All in a beautiful building.


I loved the worn wood floors of the ground floor…


And the tiled floors of the mezzanine, lined with icons.



A glimpse of how stunning the domed ceilings must have been at one time:


I was going to go up to another exhibit room when a guard standing by a gate smiled kindly at me and said, “Tresor?” That’s French for treasure (and Bulgarian, I now know), so I was curious and said yes. He opened the gate and motioned for me to go up… into Ali Baba’s cave. I found myself in a room filled with gold, silver, and jeweled objects and ornaments.


There were a couple of final exhibits after the treasure room, but nothing quite as impressive, although I did enjoy looking at some old books. I really feel like I got my 10BGN worth. What a wonderful museum!

It was about 2:30 by this point and there was a surprisingly biting wind. It would be a 1.5KM walk back to the hotel and then back again for dinner and then back again to the hotel, but since it was on flat terrain, I didn’t mind and felt it would be worth it to go have a rest and get my fleece. I stopped for a gelato en route and went all out, getting two scoops in a waffle cone! I had chocolate hazelnut, of course, topped with cherry cheesecake. Yum!

I stopped at the Billa at the Lion Bridge to get food for the road tomorrow. It was surprisingly difficult. The fruit was in poor condition and I knew I couldn’t get salami or cheese since I had no room to store them overnight. I ended up getting an assortment of buns, some juice, and… peanut butter. Who knows if they have it in Serbia! 😀 Oh, and some Eastern European “Jaffa cakes” for tonight!

I had a rest at the hotel and headed back out around five as I was fading fast and looked forward to unwinding for the evening.

En route, I pondered a conundrum. I’d taken out 100BGN with the plan being to convert 40 or 50BGN to Serbian dinars. I’d taken out 100BGN as opposed to the 40BGN I really needed to finish my stay to get as much possible for my 5CAD withdrawal fee. But I learned this afternoon that Serbian dinars are a closed currency and you can’t buy them out of the country. Moreover, this research told me I was going to have a hard time converting my BGN to dinars in Serbia. So, really, I had to get rid of as many of my leva as I could before crossing the border. Dang!

I pondered my conundrum as I walked and the blindingly obvious solution came to me: euros! I popped into a bureau de change and converted 40BGN to 20EUR. The BGN is “pinned” to the Euro, so the exchange rate is fixed and I wasn’t worried about the rate the way I would have been with other currencies. So I didn’t shop for my bureau de change, just went into the first one I passed (Western Union), which happened to not have ay fees. So now, I’m walking around with a bit of CAD change, a lot of GBP change, a bit of BGN, a few euros, and tomorrow I will add dinars! The euros will, of course, be useful in Greece and Spain, but research told me that they are used in Serbia alongside the dinars. So if I have a hard time getting to an ATM tomorrow, I can use my euro as emergency funds of sorts.

Next on my walk, I passed a bulk nut place and was surprised I had never noticed it because it is joined to the gelato stand! It caught my attention because I hadn’t been able to find trail mix at the supermarket. I’ve seen these sorts of stores all over Sofia.


This place had “energy mix” that looked like raisins and peanuts, so I asked for 100 grams of it. Or, rather, I forgot how to say 100, said energy mix, but wrote out 100 grams. 🙂 The lady was so kind and patient! 100 grams wound up being a decent sized handful, perfect!


I had sushi, of course, for dinner. 🙂 I think the sushi at Happy Grill is what I will miss most about Bulgaria! *hangs head in shame* I had a lovely meal with a good beer.

Coming back to the hotel, I had to take a picture of this sign at the park at the Lion Bridge because I’d seen the same one at the history museum and it made me laugh. Without going to Google Translate, I’m pretty sure the Bulgarian says, literally, “no grass trespassing.” The English is a bit more severe. If I can’t pass the grass, how a I supposed to get across the park?! *goes off to Google Translate* Ah, it’s actually “no trampling the grass”!


So ends my adventures in Bulgaria. What a ride it’s been from being afraid of going into the village shop and having a hard time getting service my first weekend in Sofia to going into a city “cold” with no hotel reservation to tonight, ordering at a bulk nuts place that I found so intimidating my first times seeing them!

While living in a country where I have such a hard time communicating has been challenging, it’s also taught me a lot about the subject. A few words and gestures go a very long way and most people will want to help you, especially if you make an effort and have a good attitude. And, of course, I do not regret learning how to read Cyrillic and hope that I have enough general knowledge of the alphabet to muddle through the differences with the Serbian version. I just won’t be in Serbia long enough to make the same kinds of effort with the language there as I did with Bulgarian.

Tomorrow is going to be an adventure — a land border crossing and then the transfer in Nish. I won’t have internet unless I have time to find a SIM card in Nish, so, worst case, I’ll check in when I land in Belgrade. Now, I’m off to bed. Morning is coming fast!

A Cold Final Night in Malak Izvor

Well, it’s my final morning in Malak Izvor. I’m waiting on laundry, need to finish packing, and hope to be on my way within an hour and a bit (by 9:30). That will give me time to walk to Yablanitsa to catch a 10:45 bus or to chill in town if I get a lift.

My final day here was busy. I had a big work job and I also needed to get the house prepped for the new sitter. It’s a small house so, of course, it didn’t take long.

It had been raining off and on for a few days and so I hadn’t given the dogs very long walks since it’s simply too slippery and dangerous to go up the path when it’s raining. I took a chance yesterday afternoon and on the way home, the inevitable happened. I slipped and fell, hard enough that it took several minutes for me to assess if I broke and/or sprained anything. The dogs came back to me and knew something was wrong. They normally beat me home, but they stuck close the whole way and periodically nudged me and whimpered. They are so intelligent and I will miss them so much. 🙁

As for my feline brat, Penghu, he’s spent the last few days sleeping across the back of my neck. I can get up and do whatever, then come back, he’ll just climb right back up there. He’s actually there now. I’ll miss him, too, but not his food stealing!

It was really cold last night, so much so that I got up twice for extra blankets, and, of course, I was sore and the bed is terrible. So I didn’t get much sleep. 🙁 I’m really sore today and hope I can find more Nurofen when I get to Sofia since I’m down to just one tablet. I’m just glad I had some! I’m also glad that I didn’t fall on my “bad” side.

I’m feeling a bit weird about leaving Malak Izvor in that while I will desperately miss my charges, I’m otherwise fully ready to go and looking forward to new adventures and a final night in Sofia. I hope to have time to do a bit of exploring this afternoon before tucking into a sushi dinner! 🙂

Well, it’s time to force the suitcase to close. I’ll check in when I can. I think I have internet where I’m staying tonight (Hotel Zenith was fully booked, so I took something close to the bus station), but I don’t think I have any credit left on my phone. One of my projects for the afternoon will be to try to find out if I can use my Bulgarian SIM in Serbia. I painstakingly wrote all my questions in case I can’t find an English speaker and hope I can get a clear answer! I’d especially like to have access to the internet during my long bus ride tomorrow.

Next Stop, Belgrade, Serbia

It felt important to me that Serbia be my next stop. It is part of a large area that was under conflict in my lifetime and I have strong memories of classmates who were refugees from the region. I’d like to see what it’s like, 20 years beyond peace. This is why I’m also hoping to make it to Sarajevo and Kosovo. Moreover, I wanted to see the contrast with Bulgaria, with one country well on its way to Westernization and the other still being aligned with Russia.

Having been in a tiny village for three months, I wanted an urban experience in Serbia. After doing much research, I came to the conclusion that my destination had to be Belgrade, even if Novi Sad or Nish, which is very close to Sofia, might be less expensive or have more to offer. Now that I’m expected in Spain just about this time next month, I’ve lost the opportunity to take advantage of a monthly rental. So I decided to look for a weekly rental in the heart of Belgrade and see from there how I will fill the three weeks following.

Thanks to Airbnb, I found this afternoon a listing that seems perfect. I am expected late Friday afternoon!

Now, to get to Belgrade.

Flying was my first thought, but there are few flights from Sofia straight to Belgrade. Many take the scenic route to Athens or Istanbul! The flights are surprisingly expensive (over 200CAD) and unless you get a direct one, they involve more than 12 hours of travel.

Next option that I investigated is the train. There is just one and it travels overnight. I did a lot of research, including spending time on Google Translate, and quickly wrote off this option. The train is considered quite “sketchy,” with lots of unsavoury characters riding it and frequent reports of theft. It would also require me to lose a night of sleep and arrive in Belgrade in the wee hours of the morning.

So that left the bus. Travel forums informed me I needed to take a bus from Sofia to Nish, just across the Serbian border, and then transfer to Belgrade. It took a lot of Googling for me to get information on that because the Centralna Avtogara website has nothing for Nish. I will do a “Sofia to Belgrade on the bus” post once I’ve gone through the experience successfully.

Thursday, I aim to be in Sofia by early afternoon. There, I will get the scoop on where to buy my Nish-bound bus ticket for the following morning. It would be then a 7:30 am departure for Nish Friday, to arrive around 10:30, which I believe is Bulgaria time, while it will be 9:30 in Serbia. I will then have an hour wait for the bus to Belgrade, to arrive by late afternoon. It will be a long day (about eight hours total door to door), I will get a chance to see a lot of Serbia since I’ll be driving clear across the country. Incredibly, the bus option is actually shorter than the train and the plane (unless you get a direct flight)!

I really don’t know why it feels so Important that I go to Belgrade next. It’s one of those intuition things, I think. There is an inexplicably strong pull and I look forward to seeing what I find there.


Max, my host, was here this weekend and just left. He’ll be back “sometime” Thursday. He’s rarely here till late morning… so we said our goodbyes and thanks. I aim to be on a bus to Sofia by 11AM Thursday. There’s one more walk into Yablanitsa in my future, unless I look pathetic with my suitcase and backpack!

That was my first thought this morning, that I had only have three full days left here… And I still only have a very loose plan for the next week. I think I’m living in a river in Egypt…

As I said to Max, my time here was exactly what I was hoping it would be. I have no regrets, except how much I am going to miss the pets! It would, of course, have been nice to have had a car, but based on how many full days of work I had, I could not have justified a car rental for my whole time here.

I think the pets know I’m leaving and Max agrees in that they have been extra cuddly, Penghu especially. Believe it or not, he was sound asleep and snoring in this picture!

I’m so glad I came to Bulgaria, but I’m also ready to go. I really look forward to spending some time in a more urban environment in the next few weeks and eating someone else’s cooking! I really think I’ve exhausted the limits of my creativity as to what can be made with the ingredients available to me in Yablanitsa and Malak Izvor.

So I think next for me will be Belgrade for seven to ten days, then on to Sarajevo before heading south to Athens to catch a plan to Madrid. I just need to figure out how to balance travel with work! Since I’ve lost out on the chance of a monthly rental rate for an apartment, I think I will focus on looking for inexpensive private rooms in hostels and only commit to super easy jobs that don’t require a huge time commitment, just enough to cover my expenses for the day and a few days of exploration in Athens and Madrid. I don’t want to be completely off work for a full month, not with all the time off I’ve had this year!

There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.

Last Market Day in Yablanitsa

I had a tight deadline today, but also a full weekend of work ahead of me, so I decided I was best off going to Yablanitsa today, for a final trip to the market, since I’d have a better chance of getting lifts.

I had just passed the village limits when I heard a vehicle come up behind me and honk. I thought it was my chauffeur because of the van type, but no. It was a couple in a similar vehicle, which is a two seater… Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t carry my excess weight in my hips because the three of us just barely squeezed in!

They dropped me off just within the town limits, so I had a short stroll to the market. I hoped to pick up another pair of capris, but the lady wasn’t there today, the only time this has happened in all my visits to the market. Am I glad I at least got the pair I had on!

Produce was pretty usual today, but I did see some folks had cauliflower. I found a vendor who had nice tomatoes, but he was the kind who doesn’t let you pick out your own. “Kolko?” he asked me. It literally means “how,” but I’ve heard it used for “how many?” and “how much?” I said four, then amended it to five. I was very happy with the ones he picked out! I also got onions and carrots from him. I got potatoes and zucchini from another vendor who looked at me like I was a moron when I thought he told me my total was 1.20, I handed him as much, and asked if that was okay. He shook his head (which is a nod in Bulgaria) and again repeated what I thought was 1.20 before moving on to the next customer. So I’m guessing I heard right!

I was happy to do my final shop at the supermarket since I am really tired of buying and eating the same foods from there every week! I had a bit of a stumble when they were out of the two different jam brands they normally carry and the brand they had not only didn’t have clear pictures, but the writing was in lower case, which I haven’t mastered yet, and in a super fancy font. I was looking for strawberry, “yagodi,” which looks like this in “normal” Cyrillic: яагоди. Look at what the label has instead!


If I squint, I can see the Ya letter (“backwards R”) and the o is, of course, clear. But the hard g is sort of like a backwards s, the d looks like a g, and the i looks like a u! I think they just want to confuse the tourists!

My shopping was particularly heavy today so I was glad I’d come on market day since, surely, I’d get a lift home. So certain of this was I that I didn’t pace myself heading up the hill out of town to the junction where I usually get lifts. Hmm. No cars today. Okay, maybe by the underpass. Nope… I got all the way to the village turnoff, with 2KM left to go, and thought surely I’d get a lift at this point. I even properly stuck out my thumb a few times, to no avail. By the time I limped into Malak Izvor, I was pretty annoyed with myself for having started off so fast since I had barely enough energy to get up the hill to home!

But I made it! I put my shopping away, then pulled out a tin of sardines I’d bought for the pets as a treat. Normally, Mechka and Penghu each go for a bowl and Sausage gets the tin. But today, Sausage went for a bowl. I put the tin down for Mechka and was very amused when she picked it up and carried it over to the far side of the yard to enjoy her treat in peace!

This was my last trip into Yablanitsa. If I need anything in the next week, I can get it at the village shop. I thought I was leaving next Friday, but it’s actually going to be Thursday (it was always going to be the 22nd, I just messed up the day of the week) and I have to be out of Bulgaria on Saturday. So this time next week, I could very well be in Serbia!