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.

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

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

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Up a short flight of dark stairs:

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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.

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

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My door:

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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One of the lovely floors:

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

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

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

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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:

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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.

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I loved the worn wood floors of the ground floor…

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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”!

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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!

12 thoughts on “Goodbye Malak Izvor and a Final Afternoon in Sofia

  1. Good luck but you will not need it, you are now officially a “seasoned” international traveler!

    Oh, and that lawn sign. They obviously misspelled “GAS” as “GRASS”, therefore they are warning against passing gas. Simple.

  2. You wrote: I think the sushi at Happy Grill is what I will miss most about Bulgaria!

    I don’t know, Rae… I think perhaps you will miss the dogs the most. I would have cried, too.

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