Before I get caught up, I want to thank everyone who expressed concern at my not checking in. I think I finally have proof that the Internet is sentient and hates me since I landed right as the local Internet connection point got hit by lightning and shorted out! Since I got in very late, there was no time to get me set up with a SIM card in Sofia, which we didn’t feel there was a huge rush to do since we thought there would be Internet at home. The next day, we were promised the internet would be back up by the middle of the afternoon. But then, there was a problem with my connection at home and getting online took much longer than expected. What did we ever do before the days of instant communication?! I am touched that Croft was all set to command a rescue operation! 😀
So London to Sofia!
I made the mistake of buying an airport transfer with my plane ticket. It seemed like a decent price and convenient as it would pick me up at Baker Street and take me right to Luton airport, which seemed difficult to get to. But when I tried to get confirmation on where to be picked up at Baker Street and around what time, my airline contacts said they couldn’t help me and I had to figure it out on my own! I had no idea what to Google and decided to just go back to Victoria London and take the coach there.
My exhaustion was catching up with me Wednesday morning and getting up and going was sheer agony. Packing was an ordeal since I forgot several things I needed and had to repack several times! I finally managed to leave my Airbnb at 11:00, with the aim of being at Victoria London for my 12:30 bus. I didn’t fly out till 4:30, but the bus information said to take the bus four hours before my flight.
At Victoria London, I turned in my Oyster card and got almost £10 back in unused balance and also my deposit. The latter confused me since I got to keep my Oyster card. I do have an Oyster post in the queue, but I know you’re all more curious about Bulgaria, so I’ll do the Oyster later.
By the time I’d stopped for a ham and cheese croissant and coffee, it was noon. I had to walk a few blocks from the train station to Victoria London coach station (very well marked). So by the time I got to my bus platform and bought some water, it was coming on 12:30. Perfect timing!
The bus ride took a full two hours, most of it spent stuck in London traffic.
It would have been much cheaper and faster to make my own way from Kensal Green on the Overground and then a few buses, but I did enjoy seeing other parts of London and not having to worry about navigating.
Most of the people on the bus did not pay attention to the note that said to take the bus four hours prior to your flight and got to the airport within 20 minutes of their flight taking off. There were a lot of very angry and rushed people on that bus!
I wasn’t flying out till 4:30, but I was also nervous as I didn’t get into the aiport until almost 3:00 since the airport parkway was a driveway and nothing was moving. I let all the truly rushed people off when we finally reached our stop, then set off at a fast clip myself. I’d already done web check in, but the fine print said that, as a non-EU resident, I still had to go to the departure desk to show that I had all the correct travel documents. That went smoothly, although I fear for the UK education system… I was asked how long I plan to be in Bulgaria and when I said 85 days, the woman sharply told me that, as a Canadian, I need a visa to be in Bulgaria longer than 90 days. “But 85 days is less than 90…” I replied. The clerk did a double take and said, “Oh, yeah. Right.” Oh, boy… She gave me a physical boarding pass and I was cleared to go to security.
Wizz Air and its insane baggage policy will also get its own post, especially since I beat them at their own game by exploiting a loophole that people will want to know about. My host here, Max, flies Wizz Air all the time and did not know about this loophole, so it’s worth sharing.
Security was relatively painless, but my electronics bag is packed really tightly and it’s a pain to get my computer and iPad out. Other than that, I got through very quickly, with no secondary check. I am going to get myself a very thin cloth bag to hold my electronics and liquids when I go through security. I thought of packing one so I’d have a shopping bag, but forgot. I’m sure I’ll find something locally.
I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before embarking, but all the fast food options had egg or mayonnaise. Even all the sushi had an egg centre! What?! I ended up finding a very good noodle bowl at the sushi place, something not too heavy, but still sustaining.
And then, it was time to go to departure. I’d paid the extra for priority boarding (hint at the loophole), but that ended up being a joke since we were all crowded into an area on the tarmac for about 20 minutes in the whipping wet and cold wind while they got the plane ready for us. When we were finally able to board, I was pleased that they have both rear and forward access doors since my seat was right at the back.
The flight was uneventful.
There was no free beverage service and I’d neglected to buy a bottle of water before getting on the plane. So I bought a meal for 6 euro (drink, sandwich, and free chocolate bar) so that I’d have something to eat when we got closer to Sofia seeing as I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have a chance to eat when I arrived (I was correct). I used my Visa for that, but when I asked for a bottle of water later, they said I could pay with £2 worth of British coins, which was very convenient. I didn’t end up with too much British cash left, thankfully!
We’d left about 20 minutes late and so were a little late coming into Sofia.
I’d told Max to be there for 10PM. It was 9:50 when I got in line for passport control after taking a bus from the plane to the terminal.
The queue was long, but moving quickly since most of the folks in the queues were either EU residents or Bulgarian citizens. I’d had several people tell me that Bulgarian authorities are very thorough and that I should have my address in Bulgaria, proof of health insurance, and proof of a ticket out of the country handy. I had everything, but that last bit. Well, I got asked how long I was staying, the purpose of my stay, and told welcome! It was faster than a good return into Canada! But to be fair, in both the UK and Bulgaria, passport control and customs are separate procedures while in Canada, it’s one.
I didn’t have to wait for luggage, nor did I have anything to declare, so once I was through passport control I breezed through the “nothing to declare” line and found myself in the arrivals area, where my host was waiting with a sign. It was exactly 10PM!
It was already very dark, of course, so I didn’t see much as we drove through Sofia and then got on the highway towards Yablanitsa. We stopped for fuel, which was much cheaper than in the UK. We arrived at the village at just past 11:00… as the power went out. It was dark. Max sorted out a flashlight and candles and did his best to show me around in the dark. The yard felt like a tripping hazard because of the cobblestones and I was really grateful that the power didn’t take long to come back on so I could properly see where I would be staying. More on that in a future post, too. 🙂
I met my dogs Mechka (bear) and Sausage, a sister and brother pair, who recognised me as the new housesitter and promptly adopted me. It was pretty much love at first sniff on their side and first cuddle on my side! Max made me a cup of tea and then I headed to my place to unpack, have a hot shower, and make sure I could get going in the morning since he was going to take me to “town” first thing to get some essentials before hurrying off on holidays. Unfortunately, the Internet was down…