Ambling Around Barcelona

I ended up with a ton of work due tonight because I forgot to tell the client who sends me stuff on Fridays that I’d be traveling tomorrow. Thankfully, my jobs were easy, so I decided I would do one of them in the morning, go out and walk until my feet hurt, and then come in to do the other one. I got to work around 9AM and was ready to head out at about 1PM. It was cool and very overcast, so I pulled out my cool weather clothes and made sure to pack my umbrella!

My only plan for the day was to visit a beach and then just amble around and see what I could find. But first, lunch!

I headed towards the marina area, stopping first at the same place as yesterday for a coffee. I would normally have given up on coffee so late in the day, but I’ve been on such a late schedule here I figured it wouldn’t matter. I sipped my magic bean potion as I walked very slowly behind a huge gaggle of school kids blocking the entire sidewalk and was glad to be rid of them around the monument to Columbus.

These trees were by the monument and I was not the only person photographing them. They are Ceiba trees, just like we find in Mexico. I’ve just never seen any there that look so roly-poly!

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They have beautiful flowers.

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Barcelona has a couple of cable cars. Very $$$ to ride them, of course.

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I wonder if this is the world’s second biggest lobster.

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I got to the turnoff to head towards the beach at about 2PM, which is right bang at lunchtime for Spaniards. So I decided to head inland to find lunch and then return to the water when I spotted this restaurant across the street:

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Ooh. I haven’t had conveyor belt sushi since Eugene, Oregon! I hurried to the nearest crosswalk and doubled back to the restaurant to see if they had a lunch special. Yes. 12.53 euros for all you can eat with a drink, including beer. That’s only 19CAD, a bargain! I did a quick review check and any less than five-star reviews were by folks who admitted they came very early or very late, so the food wasn’t as fresh. I went in and was seated at the best table in the place — the first stop after the kitchen.

I dug in, knowing I wouldn’t need to eat again today. I focussed on the sushi, but did try a few other tidbits, like noodles and gyoza (dumplings). The salmon nigiri (bottom right) were were the best I’ve ever had, with the fish fresh and the rice perfectly seasoned. I could not believe what a deal I was getting. I like this format better than the all you can eat in that the portions are smaller and so you can get a bigger variety of stuff. With all you can eat, you’re committed to a large roll of whatever, plus you have to wait for your orders.

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What a wonderful find and a great experience. I love stumbling on places like these!

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I then headed back to the waterfront to find a beach. Here’s the museum of Catalonian History. Like most museums, there was a hefty admittance fee and a long line up. I have no regrets about my trip to Barcelona being mostly spent ambling somewhat aimlessly as I’ve been spoiled by the non-touristy Balkans.

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I’d rather like to rent a Ferrari for a day… 🙂

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I loved the last line on this sign:

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And tah-dah!

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Can you imagine how long this journey would have taken in ancient times?

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I sat there for a long while, studying my map before setting off again.

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“We are and ever will be a refuge city.”

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The number of refugees Barcelona has welcomed.

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There were some amazing sand artists at work.

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I’ve seen these signs all over the parts of Barcelona I’ve visited. Half a roasted chicken with potatoes or a whole one. About twice as expensive as in Mexico, but Mexican chickens tend to be scrawny, so this might not be a bad deal, although I’d rather have rice than potatoes.

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Exterior window blinds like in Belgrade.

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This was an interesting building. It belongs to a natural gas company.

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These signs always make me laugh. How many people had to drink the water or swim in it for the sign to be necessary?

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Torre d’Aigües (water tower).

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I’m starting to notice some linguistic similarities between Mexico/Spain and Quebec/France, with the younger country holding on to a purer form of the language while the older country is starting to have a lot of anglicisms. For example, Mexico has “alto” signs and you look for estacionamento, while Spain has “stop” signs and you look for parking, just as Quebec has “arrêt” signs and you look for stationnement, while France has “stop” signs and you look for parking.

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Dead end.

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Here’s the natural gas building again.

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By this point, I was completely disoriented, off my map, and Siri helpfully told me I was in “Barcelona, Catalonia.” I had to ask a local to orientate me towards the Old City!

Here’s the natural gas building again. It’s really interesting!

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I found myself for the first time in my travels since June in an area that made the hair on the nape of my neck stand up. Turns out there was a reason for it.


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“No tourist apartments.” My host told me about this the other night. Barcelonans are unhappy with tourists moving into residential areas through sites like Airbnb and behaving badly. I was told that if anyone asks, I’m her friend and a guest, not an Airbnb customer. Now, I know I’m not at all the kind of tourist this sign is warning off, but it did nothing to make me feel welcome and I was glad to return to a main boulevard.

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More interesting exterior window shades.

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I was surprised that this one appears abandoned.

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Ah, the name of the abandoned building. I found an article on the Catalan Wikipedia (who knew there was such a thing) and between it and Google Translate I learned that in 2008, major deficiencies within the building were found that halted renovations as there is not enough money to restore it properly.

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Entrance to the Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s near the beaches and my map indicated it had some interesting buildings, so it seemed like a good place to end my day.

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It is the home of the Barcelona Zoo.

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There are abandoned buildings on it from the 1888 Universal Exposition. This one is called L’Umbracle.

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And another building called the Castle of the Three Dragons.

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And an abandoned museum.

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That had huge chunks of rock outside of it, all labeled.

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This is L’Hivernacle, a greenhouse for tropical plants during the exhibition. It is a contemporary of Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

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The Castell dels Tres Dragons was the café/restaurant for the Universal Exhibition.

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I liked these chameleons at a non-functioning fountain in front of the castle.

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Here’s the Arch of Triumph I saw the other day, from the other side.

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Toilets in Catalan are lavabos, which, spelled exactly like that, are bathroom sinks in French…

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There’s that gas company building again. 🙂

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I just love these details at the top of the castle!

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Hommage to the Universal Exposition.

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It was getting late, so it was time to head home. I wanted to do a withdrawal and found a Deutsche Bank on my exact route. How convenient!

Vicki, I found your toad!

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This sounds like a great deal if you’re not a nervous nilly like me.

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The one-way system in the Old City made more sense to me at intersections between wide and narrow streets. So here, you would turn onto the wide street from the narrow street.

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I liked both the shape and colour of this building.

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I decided at the last minute to make a detour down Barcelona’s famed pedestrian walking street, La Rambla, since I hadn’t taken any pictures of it.

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With all due respect to Barcelona, anyone who has ambled down Plovdiv’s Ulitsa Knyaz Aleksandr, Belgrade’s Ulitca Knez Mihailova, and/or Sofia’s Vitosha Boulevard would find La Rambla laughable. I didn’t see anyone who looked like a local and all the restaurants served the same overpriced menu, a far cry from the bustling pedestrian streets I encountered in the Balkans where locals truly live and restaurants are of very high quality. There is a pedestrian street just a block from my flat that is much more like what I’ve become used to.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all the goodies in this window. They don’t look real!

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Here’s “my” pedestrian street waiting for the sun to go down to come to life.

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Here’s a map of my day:

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I’ve had a lovely stay in Barcelona! Next stop, Alicante.

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!

Returning the Car to Plovdiv and a Friday Evening in Sofia

It’s funny how work is sometimes. It was pretty slow this past week I was traveling (minus the rush work due while I was in Plovdiv). But now that I’m ready to get back to it, projects are pouring in and I am booked through next weekend! Needless to say, I need to get back to my routine. But, first, I had to return the car.

So I woke up at 6:30 this morning with either an easy two-hour drive to Plovdiv ahead of me, or a four-hour technical drive through a windy mountain pass. Even though I was tired and knew I’d have to work whenever I landed in Sofia tonight, there was no question of taking the easy road. The whole point of having the car is to see parts of the country I wouldn’t from a bus seat! I did a bit of today’s drive yesterday, but once I got south of Troyan, it would be a new adventure and one last time to indulge in the sheer pleasure of driving.

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I walked the dogs, had breakfast, responded to a few clients, packed, and hit the road around 7:20, with my ETA in Plovdiv being around 11:30, the car being due at noon.

So I drove… Past Troyan, as I went through the Beklemeto Pass, I did a double take when I could have sworn I saw a large stone arch rising above the treetops. It disappeared, so I figured I was imagining things. No! Some time later, I saw it again and a sign saying it was the Arch of Freedom and I could access it by driving 2KM straight up the mountain.

I turned. Up and up and up and up and up I climbed a super narrow and scary one-lane road with increasingly bad pavement.

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The final bit was the worst because I had no idea if there would be a place to turn around at the top and I was inching my way through potholes the size of Bulgaria with a sheer drop on my driver’s side and an uncomfortably steep slope ahead of me. The only reason I kept going was because I didn’t want to back down that road unless I absolutely needed to! But I made it, and there was room to turn around!

This arch commemorates the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878.

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It was freezing up there and very windy, but the view!

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The drive down was no less terrifying. Here, I’m not even halfway back to the main road!

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By the time I got over the pass, I still had about 70KM to Plovdiv. I reached the end of the road and saw signs that said Sofia to the right and Burgas to the right. I am going to do a post about driving in Bulgaria, but let me give you a spoiler: the signage will drive you bonkers. It is either over the top or completely inadequate. I was pretty sure I had to go left, but I called an old man over to confirm. I just said, “Please, Plovdiv?” and he pointed left, then right, exactly what I thought. I thanked him and turned. Yes, I had a map, but this was more efficient!

I pulled over just outside of Plovdiv to top up the fuel (ended up putting in a tad more than I needed to) and to ask Google Maps for directions to the Tany 97 car rental office. I knew it shouldn’t be too hard to get there as it’s right off a main boulevard, with just a couple of blocks to do in streets that are much too narrow to offer both parking and travel in both directions — and yet do!

Sure enough, I got there without incident around 11:15 (it helps that I had walked to the Telenor office on that boulevard and so had more solid landmarks than what I remembered from driving out). Alex, the English speaking clerk I hadn’t met, but chatted extensively on the phone with, greeted me with, “Hi, Rae!” Guess they were expecting me. 😀 He gave the car a once over, I handed him the documents (registration, etc.), and he gave me back my 300BGN deposit without my having to ask for it. Yay! Tany 97 is in both Sofia and Plovdiv and I highly recommend them for car rentals in Bulgaria as they have some of the best prices I saw, they have staff that speak good English, and, perhaps most importantly, their cars are in good shape!

Alex offered to call me a taxi, but I wanted to walk to the bus station (3KM away) so I could get a light lunch and an ice cream en route, so I declined. I headed straight for the donair place I ate at my first night in Plovdiv and got a small donair that was just as good as the first time. Next stop was a Raffy stand for gelato. They didn’t have chocolate hazelnut so I tried chocolate cherry… and have a new favourite. Dang!

I made it most of the way back to the bus station without needing navigation, but I did check the map quickly when I got to the Singing Fountains.

The Plovdiv bus station is a mess. It’s just a collection of stands and buildings with no central office or departures/arrivals board. I walked around a bit and could only see booths selling tickets to Athens, Istanbul, and a few points in Western Europe. Finally, I spotted a bus marked Sofia that appeared to be ready to pull away, so I ran to it, hoping I could get a ticket on board. Nope. The bus driver slammed the door in my face and drove off. That was fine. I would have been upset if I had been walking around for an hour and not received any help, but I knew there were lots of buses to Sofia and I would not have been comfortable on a 2.5 hour bus ride without using the bathroom first! I found a bathroom and then wandered around some more when I saw this sign:

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I was pretty sure it says “Tickets for the Plovdiv-Sofia line sold here.” Okay. The arrow is pointing down. Does that mean someone shows up before the bus leaves to sell tickets? That did not seem implausible. But since there was no one around, I went back into the larger building, the one that appears to be the official departure lounge, to again look for any sort of departures board with Sofia on it. Instead, I found that same sign, but with an arrow pointing to the right. Huh? I stared at it for a full minute when someone tapped on my shoulder. I looked up to find a woman smiling at me kindly. “Do?” she asked (“To?”). “Sofia,” I replied. She laughed and pointed to the door right in front of me that was plastered with information on all the tickets I could buy to various places in Greece. She shrugged in solidarity at my confusion. I thanked her and went into the ticket office.

There was a short lineup, so I had just enough time to find the schedule for the Plovdiv-Sofia trips. There was going to be one at 1:00! Perfect! By this point, that meant only 20 minutes to kill. It was my turn to be served when a woman cut in front of me and started talking to the clerk. What the clerk told her was so clear it was like she was speaking English, “I’m working here and will serve the next customer. Get to the back of the line!” It’s sort of like when I had my breakthrough with oral Spanish and realised that I only need to understand a few words to get what is being said. Wow!

I stepped up to the counter and said, “To Sofia, please.” The woman replied in perfect English, “One o’clock?” “Yes.” “14 leva, please.” What service! I’ll take the Plovdiv mess of a station over the Sofia Centralna Avtogara any day!

It was only when I stepped outside that I realised I’d forgotten to ask her what sector to go to. But I figured it would be the same one that I had seen the last Sofia bus at. So now, I had 15 minutes to kill and I realised that what I wanted was a coffee. I’ve somehow managed to avoid getting coffee from the myriads of little stands all over Bulgaria, where you get a shot of espresso in a tiny open cup. The sight of Bulgarians with such a cup is so ubiquitous that it’s almost like the cup of coffee is a mandatory Bulgarian national accessory. Now was the time to join their ranks!

There were several coffee stands at the bus station and I picked one that had a menu with prices. I ordered a coffee with milk and handed over my 60 stotinki. The woman started to yell at me (which I know is just a Bulgarian being a Bulgarian, nothing to take personally) that milk costs extra. Hey, I was just reading your menu, lady! I passed her a 1BGN coin and she slapped change down while still yelling at me. Being in possession of my mandatory Bulgarian national accessory, I yelled back at the same volume, “It’s okay. Thank you very much!” and headed for a bench!

Question: why does “I would like a coffee with very little milk” in my terrible Bulgarian get me a perfect coffee every time while it gets me a cup of milk with a drop of coffee at chains like McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s?!

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My coffee hit the spot. When I was done, it was just past 12:50, so I went to see if the bus had arrived it had! We left right on schedule.

I was really tired, but didn’t want to nap and couldn’t focus on a book or magazine. So I just played a word game on my iPad for 2.5 hours straight. It was the perfect way to pass the time, engaging enough to keep me awake, but not too mentally taxing. I was surprised by how quickly the drive passed!

We hit traffic coming into Sofia and the bus suddenly pulled over onto the shoulder. I understood why when I realised there was a metro stop right there. Fully half the bus got off! I was tempted as I knew what stop to get off at for my hotel (NDK), but by the time I realised that I was about to miss an opportunity to try the Sofia Metro… I missed my opportunity to try the Sofia Metro. 🙂

Thankfully, traffic picked up quickly and before we knew it, we were at my least favourite place in Bulgaria:

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The only thing I like about it is the bathroom. 😀 Okay, and the croissants, but I didn’t get one this time.

It was 3KM to my hotel so of course I wanted to walk after that long bus ride. My donair and ice cream already felt far away, so I followed my nose to a pizza place and paid a whopping 1BGN for a slice with ham and cheese. 0.76CAD or about 0.50USD, and it was good pizza! I’ve been going to mid-range priced sit down places all week, but if you stick to fast food (which is not all crap), you can eat very cheaply in Bulgaria.

It felt really nice to be able to get to the hotel without needing navigation help. I’d booked at the Hotel Zenith again because I really couldn’t see a point of looking for something else as the price to amenities and location ratio was perfect. I’d asked for the same room as last time, but it was booked, so they gave me the one under it, saying it is identical. It is!

I sat at the desk for an hour and did some work. I should have done more, but I’d reached my limit for the day. The plan was to get a not too late dinner, turn in fairly early, sleep in tomorrow, then work until about 11:00, have a late breakfast/brunch, and grab the 12:30 bus to Teteven. I shouldn’t have to work when I get home, but I’ll need to get cracking, and then some, on Sunday!

By 6:30 this evening, I got the tummy growls, so I headed to the Happy Bar & Grill in front of the Sveta Nedelya Church for sushi. I took a different, more meandering route, than I would have taken in my first days in Sofia, but got there without an extra step. I ordered the same thing I’d ordered in Plovdiv, but remembered it wouldn’t be quite enough, so I decided to add one more roll. I was really curious about the pale pink wrapper used instead of nori on some rolls, so I decided to order a roll with it, realising only when it came that it’s very likely rice paper. This roll was about as unJapanese as you can get, but so yummy, and the first roll with cream cheese that I like. The creaminess of the cheese is cut with the orange and grapefruit. I could see myself eating a roll like this for a brunch! I don’t think there was any fish in it, now that I think about it. I had shrimp (cooked) in one of the rolls and raw fish in the other. Very good dinner! I can’t believe I prefer sushi in Bulgaria than on the coast in Mexico!

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When I was done with my meal, I noticed this little device on the side of my table. Ready to order the peach cheesecake (back to my normal diet tomorrow, LOL), I experimentally pressed the “call” button and my server appeared so quickly it was like she was beamed to me! The cheesecake was okay (not as good as their Oreo one), but went down well with the rest of my beer. 🙂 Done, I pressed the “bill” button, and, boom, there’s the server again. I approve of these gadgets! 🙂

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It was about 8:00 when I came out of the restaurant and I toyed with the idea of going to a bar for a glass of wine, but I was really done in. It’s been a really full week! I’m off to spending as much time as I can in the comfy bed here. 🙂

Maluk Izvor to Plovdiv

I was really starting to wonder if I was ever going to make it away this week. I really need to do a blog post about the reality of “being able to work from anywhere.” But I managed to wrap up most of my work last night and only had to do a small job this morning. I woke up around 6:30 and, really, I just wanted to go back to sleep, but I had to get up if I wanted to do that job and still be on the road before noon. One good thing about being up that early was that it was my turn to roust the dogs after all the times they’ve woken me up, bwa ha ha.

We got back by 7:30 and then I did the unusual thing of going right to work without having my coffee first. You can’t really sip a drink and transcribe effectively at the same time, but that’s what I did. I was bringing the computer with me and it’s the first thing that needs to be packed into my bag, so I couldn’t get anything else done until the work was sent off.

I was finally done around 9:00 and got to work packing and tidying up the house. I wanted to leave with just my little backpack and my purse, so it was quite an effort to whittle down my things to just what would fit in those two bags. I’ll have a lot of hand laundry to do while I’m on the go and will be glad to see the washing machine on Tuesday!

I knew there were a couple of buses leaving Yablanitsa around 11:00 and that the next ones weren’t till just past 2:00. Max offered to take me into Yablanitsa, so I asked him to leave around 10:30 and he obliged. We got into “Yab” as a bus was pulling away. The direction it was going, Max thought it might be going to Sofia. I bolted out of the car and a lady on the sidewalk yelled to me, “To Sofia?!” and I replied yes. She flagged the bus down for me. WOW. So that got me on the road to Sofia at 10:45.

We took a different route in than I’m used to and it was slower even if we had the same number of stops. So we didn’t get to Sofia until 12:15. I had a look at the electronic board and saw that there was a Vitosha company bus to Plovdiv leaving at 12:30 from sector six. Talk about good timing! I used the bathroom and then went to look for the Vitosha kiosk so I could buy my ticket. As it turned out, it was the first one as I came out of the bathroom. Easy! But only because I could read Cyrillic. Otherwise, I’d probably still be in Sofia… My ticket was 14BGN. I grabbed a croissant for a snack and headed for the bus.

There, a man looked at my ticket and mumbled something as he pointed to my croissant. I think he was telling me no food on the bus. I couldn’t get him to say anything clearer and I knew I had a few minutes, so I hurriedly ate it and then he let me on…

The ride to Plovdiv was surprising. I expected a lot of “civilisation’ between the two cities, but no. How can there be so much space in such a small country?!

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We pulled into Plovdiv at 2:30, so the ride was exactly four hours door-to-door from home, as I’d been told it would be. By car, though, Plovdiv is only two hours away.

It was only 1.5KM to my hostel from the bus station, and most of that was through a park, so I decided to walk. My phone did a good job of getting me there.

I passed Plovidiv’s “Singing Fountains.” Not quite as impressive as those at the Bellagio, but the air coming off the water was wonderfully cool. Keep reading for visual proof of how hot it was…

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I made it to the hostel I’d booked at for a mere 15CAD per night. The reviews for it were mixed, but most agreed that the bathroom was unacceptable. They didn’t have any payment information for me, so I decided to check it out and if it was bad, I’d go to the next one on my list, for 22CAD per night (both prices for a private room with a shared bath). Well, the first hostel was gross, so I went around the corner to the next one, which was brand new. Worth the extra 20CAD!

Here is the outside. From what I’ve read about European “guest houses” or hostels, this is fairly typical in that the hostel is just one floor of the building. I wasn’t sure I was at the right place and the gentleman in the white shirt that you can just barely see asked me, “Hotel?” and when I said yes, he pointed upwards.

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The entrance was rather off-putting! When I came in tonight, it was pitch dark and I had to use my iPhone flashlight!

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At the end of the corridor, you turn right to get to these stairs:

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And then, you follow the instructions on the steps. They amused me! Read the steps from the bottom of the photos up.

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So the top step in this photo says, “Keep…”

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And that continues with, “Walking. You are are awesome.” LOL

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After three flights, I finally got the first sign telling me that I was, indeed at the right place!

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There was a fresh paint job here.

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This is what greeted me at the top of the building (fourth floor). Reception area ahead of me, bathrooms to the left, my room (I would soon learn) to the right.

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Kitchen to the right of the entrance (behind my room). I really appreciate the cold water!

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Ladies Italian-style shower room. I was surprised that the vanity and toilet barely get wet after a shower. The hostel provided shower shoes! I had my own, but I do use them outside, so theirs are preferable since the bottoms aren’t dirty.

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My room is marked staff…

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It is tiny.

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But satisfactorily appointed for my needs. I like the big wardrobe.

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The door makes me think of the floors in the new part of C&C’s house!

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View from my dormer:

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There was a good breeze coming from the window and a fan so the room was not as hot as one would expect.

 

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I wanted to go exploring, but was shocked by how inappropriately dressed I was for the weather — in a tee-shirt and long skirt! My clothes felt so heavy and sticky and I wished I had a light sundress. And then, I remembered I had one! I’d packed my Chrysalis cardi in case of cool weather. It was time to try it out in dress mode! Yes, ladies, I will do a proper post about this item. I’m getting close to being ready for that. 🙂 This is the cardi styled as a “Grecian tunic.”

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Can you hear my sigh of relief at getting into something so light and breezy?! It looks pretty cute with my Ipanemas, too!

It was almost four at this point. I scrapped my plans for a late lunch and decided to have an early dinner, then get a snack after my walking tour.

The hostel is right off the main street. Here I am at one end of that near the Roman stadium (not to be confused with the Roman theatre). I will have more details and pictures when I do my post on the walking tour.

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The largest mosque in Plovdiv. Can you tell what is so odd about it? If so, can you explain why that is? The palm trees are NOT native to Bulgaria. 🙂

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I passed three thermometres that put the temperature at 46C. 115. OMG.

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Tunnel under the Roman theatre…

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Neat house at the top of the hill (I’ll have a better shot of it in my next post!).

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Right outside my hostel… I am going to check it out. 😀

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One really annoying thing about the drive to Plovdiv was that every few kilometres, there was a giant billboard announcing the “Happy Grill” restaurant chain’s sushi menu! We passed at least six! So you can imagine what I wanted for my late lunch! There are tons of Happy Grills all over Bulgaria, so I wasn’t surprised when I found one two blocks from my hostel. I got prompt and excellent service in English and asked for a big beer! The sushi menu was interesting (I particularly liked the idea of the Mexican roll featuring cheddar), but promising. I ordered two rolls (one with mango and shrimp, the other more traditional with just raw fish (tuna, salmon, sea bass), seaweed, and rice) for a total of eight pieces and they were really good! Add in the ginger and the soy sauce and this was better sushi than I’ve had in Mexico. I would not hesitate to eat sushi at another Happy Grill. But it wasn’t quite enough and I debated whether to order another roll or dessert. The suggestion that I try the Oreo cheesecake did me in. So I had that with an espresso. 🙂

I went back to the hostel to change into my walking sandals and to double check the start point for the walking tour, which was just past the Happy Grill restaurant. I got there around 5:45, with the tour starting at 6:00.

This is Button Plaza (you’ll learn why tomorrow) and is a very popular meeting place for locals.

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Behind it is the municipality building (town hall).

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As I waited for our guide, I spotted Atlas on a rooftop.

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That’s it for tonight. It’s crazy late!

I Need to Plan Better for Impromptu Mini Road Trips

Work was really slow today, so, on a whim, I took off for Moose Jaw at 11:00 this morning. The plan was to get sushi for lunch and then find jeans and a couple of skirts for my upcoming grand adventure, as well as possibly get a new nose stud, just for a change of colour. I’ve been doing a lot of online shopping for bits of my travel wardrobe, but it’s so hard to find jeans that fit me properly that I wanted to buy them in person and shipping on the skirts I wanted was outrageous, so I hoped to find something locally. I wasn’t optimistic on the skirt front, though, since it seems that no one wears skirts anymore, especially not out in my rural area, so choice is poor in stores.

Well, I hit a snag in my plans immediately after a very delicious and satisfying sushi lunch (DK Sushi is as great as ever!): I managed to leave home without my wallet!!!! OMG. There I was 150KM from home with about 75 cents in cash on me. I thought I had a US 20 buried at the bottom of the purse, but only just discovered that I had taken it out and put it in my foreign currency bucket at home. So yup, I had about 75 cents on me and an $18 lunch bill…

The CIBC is at the opposite end of the same block as DK, so I thought that I would see if I could make a cash withdrawal with just what I had on me for ID, which was my phone, which would give me account numbers and balances. I asked the cashier at the restaurant if she would let me try in exchange for leaving my truck keys. Yes.

So off I went to the bank, where I was greeted with the usual, “How can I help you?” and I replied, “I don’t think you can, but here goes, I left my wallet at home, south of Assiniboia.” The woman burst out laughing and said, “You just need some cash?” “Yes,” I replied meekly. “Not a problem!” she replied to my immense surprise. I had to give her the phone number on the account, the account number, the balance to the penny, my full name, and my date of birth (not in that order) to make a withdrawal that would, hopefully, cover all my purchases for the day. I mean, I was already in town so I might as well pursue my plans, but be extra careful with my driving!

I settled the restaurant bill and burst out laughing at the fortune I got with my cookie:

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Little did I know, Passport Canada inefficiency notwithstanding, the cookie fortune would prophetic.

First stop was the Salvation Army Thrift store, where I found the exact model of jeans I wanted, in my size, and with a tag still on them. They were a lighter wash than I wanted, but at less than $2.50 (half off special!), I knew I would regret not buying them.

Then, I went to the jean store, whatever it’s called, in the Town and Country Mall, where my piercer is situated. They didn’t have darker jeans in the same style I’d just bought, but, get this, I found my skirt! It was exactly what I wanted in terms of fabric and cut. And it was buy one, get one half off! I ideally wanted two skirts to go with me since I knew I’d live in them, so that was an incredible deal. Less than $50 for both!

Unfortunately, my piercer was off on maternity leave, something I would have known if I had checked her Facebook page before leaving. I could have bought a new stud, but would have had to put it in myself. I’m not able to do that without a lot of pain because my fingers are so big and clumsy, so I passed. I don’t mind the one I have now; it would have just been nice to have something different since I can actually see my stud when I look down at my nose.

I was at a loss at this point about where else to try for jeans since I’ve never bought clothes in Moose Jaw except at the thrift store when I had a brilliant epiphany: Reitmans moves to summer stock about this time of year and the fall/winter stuff goes on sale. I hoofed it up to the store on Thatcher Drive and learned that I was right: all jeans were 50% off, so $24 instead of $48! They had exactly what I wanted, so I was out of there very quickly! I’m not sure I’ll have room for both pairs in my suitcase, but it would be nice to have the lighter pair for casual things so I can keep the darker ones for when I want to be a bit dressier.

I was beat by this point and still had work due tonight, so I headed home, not bothering to get any groceries. Prices aren’t really that much better than in Assiniboia and I’m trying not to keep too much in the house since I’ll be leaving withing the next three to four weeks.

I took the scenic route home and enjoyed blazing fast internet (by Saskatchewan rural standards) at a stop I made to enjoy the view, more than 30KM in any direction from any settlement bigger than a farmstead. Meanwhile, my hamlet, a proper community with all other services (except cable TV) is half that distance from a proper town with broadband and we’re too far from civilization to get service. Got to love SaskTel’s logic!

Thank you to CIBC for saving the day! I’ll be better at putting my wallet back in my purse from now on! 😀