First Weekend in Sofia, Free Sofia Tour Sunday Morning

Checking into the hotel on Saturday afternoon, I saw a flyer advertising a walking tour. I realised that that would be the best way to get to know the city. So I got on Google to see what English-language tours were available (I never trust anything advertised at the hotel) and found the Free Sofia Tour. It’s a great business model — you get a super high quality tour by a qualified guide who will take you to everything you need to see in Sofia and then then they tell you about their paid themed tours. I did one of those tours Sunday afternoon and hope to be back for the other one at a later day! Even though the free tour is free, I, of course, gave my guide a decent tip.

The free tour started at the court house at 11AM. It was a huge crowd and we were split into three groups. The tour takes two hours so there is no way I am going to remember everything our guide, Nikola, told us, but I will do my best! Follow the links if you want more information.

Our first stop was the Eastern Orthodox Holy Sunday Church, which was razed during an assault in 1925 and subsequently rebuilt. It was the worst terrorist attack in history up to that point, especially considering that high ranking members of the military and government were assassinated. It was an attempt to kill the king, who happened to be late to the service.

Our next stop was the statue of Saint Sofia, which is an embarrassment since Sofia was not named for this saint, but rather for a church. Adding insult to injury, the statue has pagan symbols and the woman’s dress is too revealing. Sofians are rather divided over this statue being the new symbol of their city. Personally, I love it. 🙂


This is the only Catholic Church in Sofia. It will have importance in a moment.


The tourist info centre is in the pedestrian underpass across from the Saint Sofia statue.


This is Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers. What’s interesting in this location is that you see how Sofia is a city that was built in layers and this is a prime location to see the major layers, from Roman to modern times. I was rather reminded of Seattle, actually. The church was built in medieval times from Roman structures. Those rocks out front are part of those Roman structures.


Sofia lies over the site of the ancient city of Serdica. While excavating for the new subway lines, all manner of ruins were found and delayed the project. The exposed ruins have been made part of a “pedestrian zone” and you can walk through them. We will see more of them shortly!



Behind the ruins is the only mosque in Sofia, complete with a minaret. I had hoped to visit inside, but they are doing renovations and weren’t allowing in tourists this weekend. I would have been welcomed under normal circumstances since I was dressed appropriately. Sofia does not have a large Muslim population and this is why there is only one mosque. There were others in the past, which were destroyed or repurposed.


And here is the roof of the Sofia synagogue.


So there is are an Eastern Orthodox and Catholic church, a mosque, and a synagogue all within sight of each other in Sofia, forming the “Square of Tolerance.” This was my favourite part of Sofia!

Next stop was the former bathhouse where people would come for a day to pamper themselves and chat.







I didn’t have time to go in this weekend, but appreciated my guide’s reaction when I painstakingly read the sign and said, “Oh, it’s the Sofia history museum!”


The bathhouse was left to fall into ruin, but was very recently made into the museum. The inside is apparently glorious. It’s on my list for my next trip!

Here is Nikola filling his water bottle at the mineral spring outside the bathhouse. The water is hot and very stinky!


Now, we come to the three buildings I photographed the day before not realising their importance. That one in the middle used to have a big red star at the top where the Bulgarian flag now flies. It was the former headquarters of the Communist party and now has government offices.




This is the Presidency Building and the one across from it is the Council of Ministers building. Now, we will go underground and see what that glass dome is covering!


Tah-dah! More ruins of Serdica!



This is the eastern gate into Serdica.


Guards standing in front of the presidency building. Let’s see if I can remember what Nikola had to say because it was hilarious. Something along the lines of, “There’s a changing of the guards you can see. It’s not Buckingham Palace, but it’s cute.” Bulgaria has both a president and a prime minister and the latter is the one with real power.


Behind the presidency building is a treasure, the Church of St. George, dating back to the 4th century. Apparently, it’s still the original roof?! The church is known for its frescoes, but I didn’t get to go in on this trip.


This is the national theatre.


I loved this building with its cheery colour!



This former police station became the royal palace…


This is where we stopped to do a bit of a reenactment of Bulgarian governance in the 20th century, with members of the group reluctantly agreeing to be the German and Austrian who would each become a monarch of Bulgaria, the Italian who married the Austrian and produced the first true Bulgarian monarch in a long time, and the Bulgarian monarch. Once all these roles were cast, Nikola asked for someone to play the Communist. Yours truly promptly volunteered. 😀 As it turns out, “I” did better than all the others in governing Bulgaria the longest since “I” was able to transition into democracy. Fun fact about Bulgaria: it is (as far as I know) the only country in the world that democratically elected a former king to be its prime minster!

The tour ended with Sofia’s famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.



There was a wedding at the Saint Sofia Church, from which the city got its name, so we weren’t able to get good photographs of it.





The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is amazing!







This is where the tour ended. I have not even come close to conveying all the information I got about Bulgaria and Sofia. This is a country with a very messy history and I couldn’t do justice to Nikola’s attempts to unravel it all for us. I will have more when I move to my review of the Communist tour.

Nikola gave me a discount coupon for their the Communist tour later that afternoon and then I headed off to find some lunch.

I found myself back the Council of Minsters building. I will have more to say about these buildings when I review the Communist tour!


The pink building was not part of the complex, but was tied into it.


These ramps are used to move goods up and down into the underpasses. Women also use them for their push chairs.


These are really fancy. I saw some others that were just a metal rail going down the stairs.


I went back and got more exterior shots of the Church of St. George.


I thought this building was neat, with the way the windows were craved out of the corner.


I wanted pizza for lunch, something that is so ubiquitous in Bulgaria that the guide on my next tour said that it’s practically “Bulgarian food.” So I had lots of options on Vitosha Boulevard and only had to try two restaurants before I got service. I ordered a large beer and Margherita pizza (sauce and cheese). I wish I’d had more of that tomato on it because, dang! The pizza was the real thing. Mmm…


I’d walked for nearly three hours on the tour and knew the next tour would be three to four hours, so I decided to go all hog and order chocolate cake and an espresso after eating that entire pizza. I did not need to eat again all of Sunday, not even a before bed snack! So 15CAD for the meal, including a tip, was really good value!

I like how the restaurant built its roof around this tree:


So this takes us to about 3PM Sunday, with my next tour starting at 4PM. More after I do some work today!

Tombstone, AZ

I am really into the history of the Wild West and the characters that inhabited it. So you would think that visiting Tombstone was a must for me. Not in the least. Afraid of a tourist trap, even copious numbers of people telling me to go there weren’t enough to make me believe that this iconic western town would be worth a detour. If it hadn’t been kinda sorta on the way to Nogales from Tucson, I would have definitely given it a pass.

I spent an enjoyable day there and do not regret going, but I feel that my initial misgivings stand. Lots of fun can be had in Tombstone and if you’re a history buff you’ll get your fill of artifacts, but if you want a more genuine-feeling Wild West town experience there are lots of better choices.

Before I get into my narrative about the day, I have to explain the lack of pictures. You can take as many pictures as you want in Tombstone of anything, but you cannot post anything about paid attractions online without express written permission, which is apparently difficult to get. So you’ll just have to take my word for a lot of this. 🙂

My first stop was the courthouse museum, admission $5. It was full of history about Tombstone and its colourful inhabitants.

Tombstone courthouse.

Tombstone courthouse.

I learned about the card game faro, the most popular game at the time, but which is now outlawed in the US because it gives the house a 67% chance of winning.

One of the more ghastly exhibits was a reconstruction of the gallows. I believe they are the second gallows I have ever seen (the first being in Ottawa!), and let’s just say they’re not nice to look at. 🙂

I learned about a Chinese man who was born in Virginia City, MT, where I was just recently, and the Chinese population of the town.

One exhibit that I found quite impressive was two large walls full of all sorts of different types of barbed wire. I didn’t realise that many exist!

The courthouse museum was a good start to my day. I then headed for Allen Street, the main kitschy touristy drag with a faux Western look (go to Dawson City for a more realistic one!) and lots of shops selling tchotkes.

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. :)

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. 🙂

I encountered a man who loves the outdoors and doesn’t let his physical disabilities stop him from going off the beaten path. Picture taken with permission!

Impressive wheelchair!

Impressive wheelchair!

My next stop was the Bird Cage Theatre, admission $10.


This was a theatre/brothel/gambling hall/saloon that operated from 1881 to 1889 and has been preserved intact, one of the few original Tombstone buildings that survived the fires. Admission gives you all the time you want to wander the rooms. This was a wow experience for me. So much history, and preserved almost exactly as it was 125 years ago! I was able to use the incredible zoom feature in my camera to see details in the wallpaper of the viewing balconies and details of the ceiling.

The Bird Cage Theatre was totally worth the admission price also. Buoyed by my success thus far at avoiding tourist traps, I took the plunge and went to check out Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, named after Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. The saloon was once the Grand Hotel.






The saloon was a little loud, but the music was good old classic country sung by a lively entertainer, so I decided to stay for a bit. I ordered a beer and perused the menu. The food was really inexpensive (!), so I decided to try their ‘Stampede’ burger, with cheese, bacon, and BBQ sauce. Surprise, the burger was excellent and they even made frozen fries taste good somehow! I tipped the server and singer generously, and still came out of there at less than $20 for a beer, lunch, and a show!

Before I left, I took the twisty stairs down to the basement into yet another shop so I could see the room of the man who did menial labour at the hotel and tunneled his way from his room into a silver mine in his downtime. Seriously!

Yup, my day was going well! So well, in fact, that I decided to jump into the tourist trap and buy a ticket to see a recreation of the OK Corral gunfight. I ponied up $10 and for that got to see the show, the OK Corral museum, the Tombstone history movie, and I got a free copy of a reproduction of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper with the article about the shootout and subsequent inquest!

The gunfight show was amusing. The acting wasn’t great and I thought that it was hilarious that they cast an old guy to play Billy Clanton, who was 19 when he died at the hands of the Earps. What I got from the show was a better sense of the unvarnished truth about the fight and where it happened exactly. One of the most memorable parts of this whole part of the day was seeing the map Wyatt Earp drew in the 1920s showing what he remembered about the placement of people during the fight. He had bad handwriting!

The movie dated back to the 1950s and was narrated by Vincent Price! It was a little bizarre in that most of the action was in a diorama and occasionally a screen would come down to show reenactments of certain things. I learned a lot about the history of the town. The founder was told when he went to the area that he would only find his tombstone, hence the name he picked for the settlement!

I have to say that I find it distasteful that there’s a sign on Allen Street at the back of the corral saying that the fight happened there when the true location is on now super busy Fremont Street, several doors down from the corral. There’s a sign there, too, but I think a lot of people would miss it. I only knew to look for the spot because of my own knowledge of the event.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight. There’s just a little sign next to Fly’s photography studio and boarding house.

I went to the actual fight site while munching on an ice cream, found for just $2 for a decent-sized cone. When I was done with that, I went to the Epitaph office to pick up my free paper. By the way, I love the name of that newspaper!

There is a free exhibit in the newspaper office about the man who founded it and quite a lot of history about his and Wyatt Earp’s connection to the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike gold fields!


My free paper would have cost me $3 and I would have bought one, so I really got my money’s worth out of that OK Corral show ticket!

My final stop of the day was the Boothill Cemetery. Access is free through yet another gift shop. I paid the $3 to get the booklet that gives info about all the graves.




Billy Clanton's grave.

Billy Clanton’s grave.



I was surprised to find Tombstone to be relatively inexpensive and good value if you spend your money carefully. I never once felt that I was paying a ‘Tombstone tax’, a premium just because of the location.

I’m glad I went to Tombstone and found the experience worthwhile, but this wasn’t a wow day for me at all. What I enjoyed most were the artifacts. I’d say the two best parts of the day were my first steps into the Bird Cage Theatre and seeing Wyatt Earp’s gunfight map!

Two pictures from the trip to Nogales:

This pest control's car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

This pest control’s car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

More RVing Friends and a Visit to Gruene, TX

Today, I drove north of San Antonio to meet up with longdog2, and then we pushed on even closer to Austin so we could meet up with a couple of other RV women, including Malia Lane!!! I just need to meet Andy Baird and I can die happy that I have met my RVing mentors. 😀

One of us just had a major exciting big change in her life (not me!), so there was a lot of gabbing about that before and during lunch, which stretched well into the afternoon!

On the way home, longdog2 and I stopped in the town of Gruene (pronounced Green) because I had promised Croft I would go there. It’s a cute historic town full of antique shops and is the home of the famous Gruene Hall honky tonk where George Strait got his start. Built in 1878, this decrepit old building is the longest continually operated dance hall in Texas! Wow!

Welcome to Gruene.

Welcome to Gruene.

Pretty foliage and a prickly cactus by a winery.

Pretty foliage and a prickly cactus by a winery.

Exterior of an antiques store.

Exterior of an antiques store.

Gruene Water Tower

Gruene Water Tower

Poster for a Patsy Cline show.

Poster for a Patsy Cline show.

Poster for a show with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Wayon Jennings, and Kris Kristofersen. I was born after the good music. :(

Poster for a show with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Wayon Jennings, and Kris Kristofersen. I was born after the good music. 🙁

Gruene Hall!

Gruene Hall!

This honky tonk is looking a little worn.

This honky tonk is looking a little worn.

The floors creak and buckle. I have no idea how people can dance here!

The floors creak and buckle. I have no idea how people can dance here!

Wow, George Strait looks young, especially without his mustache.

Wow, George Strait looks young, especially without his mustache.

Garth Brooks. *fans self*

Garth Brooks. *fans self*

George Strait got his start here.

George Strait got his start here.

The stage.

The stage.

Men's dressing room on the right facing the stage.

Men’s dressing room on the right facing the stage.

Women's dressing rooms are on the left.

Women’s dressing rooms are on the left.

Pot belly stove.

Pot belly stove.

Moi in Gruene Hall.

Moi in Gruene Hall.

Exterior of Gruene Hall.

Exterior of Gruene Hall.

If it gets really cold, they can cover the windows.

If it gets really cold, they can cover the windows.

A former grist mill and now a restaurant.

A former grist mill and now a restaurant.

Another pretty building.

Another pretty building.

No idea. Can't be a storm shelter since it has a window.

No idea. Can’t be a storm shelter since it has a window.

Close up of the antique store sign.

Close up of the antique store sign.

A lawyer wanted a little office...

A lawyer wanted a little office…

About the little office.

About the little office.

Frankanstan in Dawson City

This weekend, the vaudevillian Winnipeg-based comedy group Frankanstan is doing four shows at the Palace Grand theatre. It sounded like fun and right out of the Gold Rush era, plus the 3PM shows fit in with my work schedule, so I decided to fork over the $14 this afternoon and check it out.

It was okay. I’d heard most of the jokes before, but the original songs were quite good and the audience interaction was great. In fact, it was audience members who got the biggest laughs. One young girl gave them a run for their money! The most cliched act was one one of the best–the ‘who’s on first’ Abbott and Costello routine. They really nailed it. But the best moment of the show was when they asked audience members where they’re from so jokes could be made about the locale. The first person was from Ontario. The next three from Dawson. I could see the comedians were faltering and they finally pointed at me and said “You, where are you from?” and I just smirked and said “Dawson!” Ha ha ha ha ha!

I came out happy that I went, but not filled with glowing praise and a need to send everyone I know to see one of their shows. I have a feeling that the success of this kind of act depends on the audience and there just weren’t enough of us even though we participated fully and laughed till our bellies ached when the joke warranted it.

What I especially enjoyed was watching a live show at the Palace Grand, an authentic Gold Rush era building dating back to 1899.