Bulgaria

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Reflections

Published February 1, 2016 by jillamatt

Our last few days in Bulgaria were bitter sweet indeed.  We both felt ready to get back home, get back to our lives, check in on the house, the garden, the cats.  But we also felt like our business in Bulgaria was unfinished.  Like somehow we owed it to ourselves, to come back, explore more, maybe stay for a while.  We had many discussions about different possibilities to make a longer trip a reality.

While traveling in Bulgaria, we always felt like there was some overarching being, that was taking care of us.  We would arrive at the bus stations, generally with no idea of the schedule, and the next bus would be there within 40 minutes.  Likewise when we had to make connections to adjoining towns, there was always either a bus waiting to leave for the next destination, or one would be along shortly.  Never did we have any angst over how we were going to get from one place to another, or pull our hair out because of weird schedules, like we experienced in Greece.  It just felt like the whole country was just somehow free flowing, like we were a gentle breeze rolling across the landscape, flitting from place to place, with no barriers in our way.  We also never felt like we were in any sort of danger, or threatened in any way.  In short, it felt peaceful.

It’s hard to explain this to the locals.  After all, Bulgaria is touted as “one of the most miserable countries in the EU.”  (I’m sorry, I don’t exactly recall where I read this, but it was unfortunately on at least 2 occasions, and had it told to me as well.)  It always came as a surprise to me when I would read this or hear this from the young locals that we would meet.  It wasn’t until our return to Canada, and we were regaling our traveling tales to a friend, that we both realized that we literally saw no conflict, of any kind, while we were traveling there.  No people arguing in the streets.  No people yelling outside a bar.  No children screaming their heads off in public.  Like I said, it was peaceful.  Sometimes, I guess, it’s just hard to see the good bits, amongst the other distractions that we bring into our lives.

Arriving at the bus station in Bansko, with no real idea of the schedule, we were thrilled (again) to learn that the next bus was in 15 minutes.

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Leaving the mountains, bound for Sofia. 

We were headed back to Sofia, and to the place where our journey in Europe really began, the Art Hostel.  We were actually looking forward to participating in the fun vibe that would take place in the Art Hostel bar most nights of the week.  Upon our arrival at the beginning of December, we were jet lagged beyond belief (10 hours time difference from our home in Canada,) and didn’t have the capacity to stay up past 7pm, to participate in any sort of evening socializing.  But this time, we were ready.  We were ready to meet other travelers and get to know the locals that frequented the hopping bar that was 3 floors below our room.

Here are some images of the artwork at the hostel.  This is just a SMALL sample…….If you click on an image, it will take you to a larger slideshow. 

Although there was definitely a strong local clique, and we sometimes would sit in the corner chatting amongst ourselves, more often than not, a young Bulgarian would ask us where we were from.  When we would say Canada, it was almost always met with complete astonishment, followed by: “Wow! Canada!  What the heck are you doing here?”  We would laugh and explain our reasons for coming, of which I have recalled in previous posts.  They were always so INTERESTED in us.  Like as if we were aliens from another planet.  They wanted to know as much as they possibly could know, in the short time we would spend together.  Our favourite question, or challenge, however, was; “Tell me 3 reasons why Canadians are ANY different than Americans.”  (By the way, we have come to learn that much of Europe has decided that ‘Americans’ are North Americans, and ‘they’, Canadians and Americans, are all the same.)  Yikes!!

No offense, of course to many of our Southern Neighbours, but…… YIKES!  I have many American friends, and have been to many places in the U.S., but I also realize that there are a startling MANY reasons of why we are different (and so do most of my American friends.)

Upon hearing this, it would be my utmost mission of the rest of the evening, to make sure they understood as many reasons as possible, as to why we are different than Americans, and it was definitely MORE than 3!

We spent some time wandering around the city, checking out places we hadn’t seen before.  But mostly, we kept a low profile, and felt like we just needed to rest for a few days more, before heading back to our comparably, hectic lives.

Here are a few images from the local market.  Please click on the arrangement to see a larger slideshow of the images. 

We flew out of Sofia, (much too early I might add,) with feelings of sadness for leaving such a great place, but also with hopeful plans in the future of returning to this wonderful country.  We really only scratched the surface of what is available to see and do in Bulgaria, and we can’t wait to get back to scratch some more!

Thank you to all of you who have  been following my posts.  For the record, this is the first post that I have done on my laptop, all the others were done from my iPhone.  As challenging as that was, and I now realize not as effective with photo placement, it was a convenient device to share our traveling stories with you all.  As I am now back home, and obviously not traveling as much (it’s time to pay some bills!), I want to attempt to pull up my old travel journals, and recall stories of traveling from my teens and twenties.  I’ve already found a couple good stories, so I will attempt to keep up with my writing and share those for people to enjoy.  I also have another blog “Somewhere New” where I am experimenting with being a tourist at home.  I am blessed to live in a spectacular corner of the world, and I really take great pleasure in letting as many people that I know of, all about it.  Join me there as I explore new and old places, mostly just minutes from my front door.

I’ll leave you with one last image…………an image that says “Yes, we are almost home.”

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The low sun in the Arctic, reflecting off the pack ice above Hudson’s Bay.

Happy traveling to you all!  I hope that if nothing else, I have inspired even a teeny, tiny bit of a need for you to do your own wandering, even if it is just around the corner!    xo

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Just some skiing….

Published January 17, 2016 by jillamatt

“Holy smokes!”  I breathlessly announced as I slid to a stop on one of the slopes at Bansko.

I looked at Chris completely perplexed, and was very reassured to see that, indeed, he was as exhausted as I was.  We both stood there and huffed and puffed for a couple minutes, looking down the slope and taking in our surroundings.

We had only skied about 20 turns on our first run, but our quads were already screaming, and we were totally breathless.

“Are we THAT out of skiing shape, or is this snow just REALLY heavy?”  I asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation.

Afterall, we hadn’t really skied in a couple of seasons. The conditions at our West Coast hill on Vancouver Island, Canada, had been sporadic to say the least. The hill had had no snow, and the conditions unstable, so we never skied, and now we were paying for it.

We weren’t altogether surprised by this turn of events, as our morning had already started out quite interesting to say the least.

We awoke early to get to our ski rental shop, donned our gear quite quickly, and then crossed the street to take the gondola up to the base of the mountain. The hill opened at 8:00, and we were grabbing our tickets by 8:30. Already, there was a large line up that had formed, and we dropped into it eager to get going and make the most of our day.

Now, we have learned, the line up situation in Europe, is quite different than the line up situation in Canada. At least, that of which is in Bulgaria, Greece, or Italy.  Since it seemed the same in these three countries, I’m willing to generalize that it’s likely similar across the continent.

As we stood innocently in line, feeling just as eager to get going as everyone else, we started to notice some interesting trends. We noticed that MANY people outside the line, in fact knew MANY people inside the line, and it was common practice to throw your skis to whoever you knew, and either climb the fence to get into that spot, or go to the back of the line and push your way forward, all the while explaining that you know someone up front.

Obviously people would let others through, and it started to become quite obvious that the line was hardly moving, because of all the extra bodies coming into it.

The other thing we noticed is that there is literally NO personal space in line ups, and you just nudge and push and jostle your way through, until you finally get somewhere. We were part of a giant amoebic blob, like a school of fish, where each vacated space was immediately filled with some sense of urgency.

We remembered the days of Gabrovo, and our fun nightclub experience, where our host dragged us through the line announcing “We must be impudent if we are to get anywhere in life!”

The channel between fences, that the line up had filled was about 6 feet across, and we were located on the left side of it, against the railing. At some point I looked to the right and noticed a faster “current” of people floating past us. The people that had just been in front of us, we’re now 10 feet ahead in this new current. I elbowed Chris and said, “we need to get over there.”

In that moment, our lesson from Ahmed, our friend in Gabrovo, came forth, and we both became quite impudent ourselves. We pushed and jostled and wiggled our way over to the quick moving current, and sure enough, we were swept away, much quicker than the stale left hand section of the line.

The pushing and wiggling went on for about 45 minutes. We climbed 2 sets of metal stairs, in the same way as if we were walking on the ground. Everyone was so jammed together, you hardly had room to bend your knee, and your waist, in order to get up to the next step. Never mind the fact that everyone is carrying heavy skis, snowboards, and ski poles that were wildly flying to and fro. Also add this to the fact that walking in ski boots is difficult to start with, climbing stairs is an entirely different phenomenon.

At one point the lady in front of me teetered backwards, and I feared she would fall on us all below. At another point, a small boy behind me was exhausted by it all, and decided to pretty much lean his whole body onto me, trying to get some rest.

It was a challenge for the senses, and we were happy when we came to the top of the stairs and we could see the gondolas. However, this too was a test of our resolve.

There were about 4 turnstiles that people filtered off into to approach the gondola, and to scan their tickets into an automatic reader. Once scanned, the light would go green, and the turnstile would release, allowing you to walk through. I noticed the girl in front of me had walked through quickly behind the woman in front of her, and had actually gained access on the same green light, as the lady in front. I wondered how often that scam was played out to gain free access to the mountain.

We got through the turnstiles, and awaited the gondolas to swing by us. However, the pushing and chaos to get on them was again a new sensation for us, and it took us a minute to get the gumption to be able to force our way onto the lift, as the rest of them were doing. People were clambering every which way, and it made for a lot of banging, noise and chaos.

We collapsed onto the gondola, and Chris announced for the first time “I think it’s okay if we only ski one day.”  Ha!  We hadn’t even gotten NEAR the slopes, and we were already exhausted with it all.

We proceeded up the mountain, in typical fashion.  I had grown up near Sunshine Village, in the Canadian Rockies, where it was also necessary to take a gondola to the base of the slope. So this was very familiar territory to me. It turned out to be a nice transition from the crazy bustling below, and we arrived in much better spirits at the top.

Ready to go!

We exited the gondola station and were presented with what looked like a typical ski hill. We were immediately impressed with the mountain itself, and the runs looked to be very decent, even from that vantage point.

As eager as we were to get going, we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, and we were both  looking forward to some protein to fill us up and provide some much needed energy for what we were about to do. We eyed up the closest ski lodge, and immediately found the cafeteria. I headed straight to the start of the line up, grabbed a tray, grabbed some napkins and cutlery, and proceeded down the line.

Not once did I notice that no one else was in there. I just sauntered up to the windows, that should have been full of food, and stood and starred, mouth agape at the obvious lack of said food. Not one tray had any steaming goodness coming out of it. Chris came along and grabbed his tray behind me and I turned to him and said “Don’t bother.”

He too looked around completely aghast and horrified that there were no hot steaming eggs, sausages, bacon, or pancakes. You name it, WE WANTED IT!

We stood there staring in utter disbelief for a few moments, put our trays and cutlery back, and then proceeded to the cashier to see what the heck was going on.

“There is no breakfast here?”  I asked still stupefied.

“No, cafeteria opens at 11:00.”  She told us, seemingly confused by our inquiry.

“Is there anywhere that we can get breakfast around here?”  I asked in a quite desperate manner.

She shook her head, still not sure, it seemed, why we would be asking such absurd questions.

We looked around us at the shelves close to the cashier, and noted the choices available; Chocolate bars, coffee, beer and potato chips. So, that is what we had!

We had a mars bar for desert!

We headed over to a table and just sat in shock, picking away at our chips. We couldn’t believe this!  Images of bustling ski lodges came to our mind, throngs of skiers eagerly filling up on carbs and protein, making themselves ready for a big day on the slopes. Didn’t they know how much money they could make?  Didn’t they realize that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?  It was totally shocking to us both, and I still have half a mind to send them a letter to let them know what they are missing out on. Ha!

After finishing our, AHEM, “Breakfast”, we headed out to don our skis, and get at it!  There was a very busy lift to our left, but the one in front of us had very few people at it, so we decided to approach it.  We realized quite quickly why it wasn’t very busy.  There were warnings that it was for more advanced skiers, but showed both red and black runs (the equivalent to blue and black in Canada), so we knew we would be fine.  I was actually quite surprised, all day, that the majority of the skiers there seemed to be in the more beginner category.  I had had previous visions of super fast, great European skiers zipping down the slopes.  However, we only did see a few of those, but enjoyed the ease of lineups at the lifts for the more advanced skiers anyways.

As we got to the front of the small line, and reached the gate to get on the lift, a worker from the hill approached me quite solemnly and asked me to step out of the line.  Ummmmm okaaaaayyyyyy.  We both side stepped over to the side, and had no idea what was going on.  He asked for my ski pass, which is actually a plastic card that you receive, with a barcode on the back, that lets you scan into each lift you get on.  Of course, I gave it to him, and he took it into the small cubicle that sat next to the line up.  Chris was not impressed with this turn of events, and we both just felt helpless as we were desperate to get on the hill by now.  I managed to glance through one of the windows to see what they were looking at and THAT was when I realized what was happening.  There on their computer screen was images of the turn style that we passed through below, heading onto the gondola.  Peoples faces were on multiple camera screens, and I realized that they were looking for the girl that scooted through in front of me, and had gotten through on the ladies pass in front of her.  Because I was one of the people that was nearby, I guess they had noted my description, and were looking for the culprit that was scamming the hill.  I realized at that moment, that it is quite obvious that not many people were actually getting away with that scam, and that they had a much better control on things than I had initially realized.  The worker apologized profusely, gave me my card back, and let us get back to the business of skiing.

Wow!  What a trip!  We weren’t even skiing yet, and we had already been through so much!  Again, as our chair lifted us off into the sky, Chris repeated very seriously “We only have to ski one day.”

Finally on the lift!!

I now realize that we never actually did what this told us to do. We lifted the bar way too early.

Looks like the underneath of most chairlifts!

Our initial plan, for the skiing segment of our holiday, was to ski for 4 days.  However, we approached this cautiously, especially when we realized that the conditions were likely not the best.  We also knew that only 8 out of 17 runs were open, so after a few days, I can imagine that it would get quite repetitive.   Instead of buying a multiple day lift ticket, and committing to rentals for many days, we instead opted to just try it for one day.  Thank goodness for that.

We made it to the top of the lift, and realized quite quickly that the conditions were indeed not the best.  Our out of shape legs let us know pretty quickly that this heavy, wet snow, was going to make our day difficult.  Things did smooth out eventually, and the lactic acid in our legs eased off, but we were definitely tired, and had to stop quite frequently to catch our breath (maybe we can blame it on the elevation??)

An idea of the slopes. Totally decent!

One bonus of the hill, though, was the fact that there were ski lodges (ie. places to get food and drinks), all over the place!  After we figured out what was where, we would plan our routes accordingly.  The discussions went like this:  “If we take that lift up to that point, and then ski down to the right, we can get to that lodge and get something to eat.”  As soon as we had eaten, it became: “If we ski down that hill, and then go left at that turn, we can get a drink at that lodge.”

And so, this became our mantra for the rest of the day, and needless to say, we would only do about 2 runs in a row (or sometimes 1.5) and then would deem it time for a drink.

180 degree bar on the hill. It was a great place to watch the skiers go by.

Lovin’ the slopeside bar action!

I should let readers know at this point that the food and beverage on the hill was outrageously expensive!  The prices were comparable, if not more, than our hills in Canada.  However, we had planned for 4 days of skiing, and now were only doing one, so we decided that we may as well live it up!  The skiing wasn’t the best, and we even got RAINED on, but WE would have fun and make the most of it anyways!  Damn it!!

By 3:00 we were finished!  Finished in body and in mind, and were likely starting to get a bit tipsy by then.  We decided to beat the crowds and get down off the mountain before the gondola line up became the nightmare that it had been in the morning.

After limping in extreme pain (our ski boots were killing both of us!) back to the rental shop, we bid our farewells and headed off to Happy End.  Yes, the name was Happy End.  We have no idea if they actually GET the connotation of that name, but we were definitely very happy that it was over, and it was time for a celebratory drink (of course!).  We listened to some live music, laughed about our crazy day of skiing, had some dinner, and headed back to our hotel.

Hanging outside under heat lamps, and in some hanging swings. 

Looked like a stairway to a dungeon!

 

Such a great menu cover!  I wanted a sticker badly!

Awesome Chandeliers!

Great Band playing classic American Rock Covers.

 

Happy campers……or skiers!

That was that!  We had skied in Bulgaria, and quite frankly, we were very happy to not have to do it again.  We both surmised that if the conditions had of been awesome, we would likely do it all over again.  But, we were happy with what we got, appreciated the experience, and were ready to move on.

More fantastic architecture.

Inside a traditional Baltic restaurant, and the oldest building in town!

This guy was great!!

Mmmmmm Bulgarian candy!

Many meats were roasting on spits around Bansko.

We were meant to spend 4 more nights in Bansko, skiing of course,  but we cut our stay short.  We stayed for 2 more nights, took in more of the sights around town, and then happily headed back to Sofia to while away the rest of our trip in a familiar surrounding.  We were headed back to the Art Hostel.  The place where we started this incredible journey.  We had 4 days of rest and relaxation ahead of us, and we looked forward to just sitting and enjoying them, and not having the need to run around and see new places.  In retrospect, we were finished.  It had been almost 6 weeks on the road, and we were ready to go home.

Next up, 4 more days in Sofia and then our journey home!  Wow, what a trip it had been!

Bergamo to Bansko!

Published January 13, 2016 by jillamatt

When I booked our flight from  Italy back to Bulgaria, I found a good deal from Bergamo. I knew that the town  was nestled at the base of the Italian Alps, and I felt that it would be a good opportunity to get a glimpse of this spectacular mountain range. 
Unfortunately, it was again foggy and nearing dark when we were dropped off, so we didn’t get a good view of anything, that night, or the next morning. However, when we went out to dinner that night, we were surrounded by people in puffy jackets, and bearing brands such as North Face, Patagonia, and Deuter. Clearly, there was outdoor adventure near by, and we felt much more at home here in our grubby backpacking clothes, than we certainly had in the high fashion streets of Milan!

The casual wear, and the ski town atmosphere, certainly helped us to get in the mood for the next leg of our trip. The following day we were heading back to Bulgaria, and eventually to the popular ski town of Bansko, nestled in the Balkan Mountains. This portion of our trip is likely what spurred us along in choosing Bulgaria as a destination to begin with, and we had been eager to hit the slopes since leaving Canada 5 weeks earlier. 

It was actually quite shocking how many people we encountered, both before leaving, and since arriving in Bulgaria, that would ask “Why Bulgaria?”  

One of our answers was always, inevitably, “to ski!”  We always get mixed reactions to this. After all, we live in Canada, and I myself grew up in the famous ski area of the Canadian Rockies. 

Of course, there are other reasons we wanted to visit Bulgaria. Since hearing about it last May, we had been intrigued. The man we spoke to was from France, and he said that Bulgaria was beautiful, very friendly, inexpensive to travel, and of course, had good skiing.  The skiing part was just the icing on the cake. 

We had suffered through a couple winters of terrible conditions, and no snow at our local ski hill on the West Coast of Canada. We felt that maybe, just maybe, we would find the snow in the Balkans instead. 

We were also intrigued with a place that not many North Americsns visited. I tend to consider myself a bit of an explorer, and if nobody has been there, I am that much more eager to go and check it out.  And I must say, we were nothing but absolutely thrilled with Bulgaria. Around every corner we found interesting things to see, wonderful people to talk to, and just a happy-go-lucky sort of attitude all around. 

It’s no secret that the country is in a constant struggle to overcome it’s history. The heavy hand of communism is still in people’s minds, but there is definitely an appreciation of the opportunities that they now have. Like any where, and with every human on this planet, the vision of the “grass is greener on the other side” is a popular belief among many residents, especially the younger generation. Unfortunately a lot of them feel held back. Held back by limited opportunities, by a low valued currency, by an oppressed history. It’s difficult coming from a place where we have so much opportunity, and, in their eyes, wealth, to try and actually convince them that where they are is wonderful, just the way it is. Of course, we only got a glimpse, and we aren’t experiencing day to day life, of which I can imagine can be  quite trying at times.  BUT we both felt that Bulgaria is a wonderful place, and even talking with Australian expats who make a fraction of what they would make at home, felt that it was a very nice place to live.  

Never did we feel unsafe, or victims of the typical tourism targeted operations. They are fair people, and they still seem to maintain values that are somehow lost on the Western World. Appreciation for family, friends, celebration……all the things that are REALLY important in life. Money is something nice, but it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. I hope that the future of Bulgaria can realize the gem that it is, and don’t fall victim to the over inflated, and many times false promises that more “advanced” countries can provide. 

But enough of that!  Let’s get back to the snow!

We had been following the snow reports like hawks while travelling around Greece, checking in to make sure that it was even worth trying to ski. Up until arriving in Italy, all it showed was 30cm, even at higher elevations. However, the rain we experienced in Italy, provided a much needed blanket higher up, on all the mountains in the region. 

Thankfully Bansko, and other parts of Bulgaria received a good amount, and we we’re beyond excited when our plane touched down to a winter wonderland in the country capital of Sofia.  

Bergamo to Sofia.

 The last time we had arrived, delirious with hardly any sleep in 36 hours and severely jet lagged, we had been slightly shocked by the state of some of the buildings we had passed on the way into the city.  This time, the snow, somehow, seemed to have softened the hard edges that we had experienced earlier. That mixed with our new found fondness for the country as a whole, gave us a feeling of coming home.  

Thrilled to see this flying into Sofia! A stark contrast from the month before!

 We proceeded to the bus station, from the airport, and headed straight 
into the mountains. We had booked one night in Blagoevgrad, before heading to our 5 night stint in Bansko. Unfortunately, much like Bergamo, we arrived near dark, and there was again a heavy blanket of clouds constricting our view of the nearby mountains. But, there was snow on the ground,  and lots of it. We had high hopes that we would actually get to ski after all! 

Stumbling around in the snow, looking for our hotel in Blagoevgrad.

 We left on the bus the next morning around 10:00 and arrived in Bansko about an hour later.  

Sofia to Bansko

 

After being in Greece during a tourism low season, we were actually very happy to see a hopping, bustling town. Shops, restaurants, bars, and everything in between were open(!) as throngs of people clad in ski gear wandered up and down the street.  

Bustling coffee shops spilled into the streets.

  

Lovely Balkan architecture abounds!

  
 

First glimpse of the ski hill coming in on the bus!

 
We weren’t sure what to expect of Bansko.  With most major tourist destinations, the locals complain that it is over developed and over commercialized. While we definitely noticed that prices in restaurants were higher than the rest of the country, we didn’t feel that it had lost its charm. 

Our bus definitely dropped us off in the “new” area where shiny hotels and apartment buildings look to be under constant construction. But as we wound our way up the hill, to our accomodation, we were greeted with absolutely adorable, and quaint little streets, of which, by now, we realize is typical of most places in Europe. 

   
  

We found our hotel quite easily, and were thrilled that it was a quintessential, picture perfect little Balkan ski lodge. We got ourselves checked in, and then headed out to explore the town. 

 

Love the Balkan charm! This is the door to our ski lodge.

   We initially set out to track down ski rentals so we would be all set up for the morning. The first shop we walked into, the young lady behind the counter recognized my 2010 Vancouver Olympic pin on my jacket. She had competed in the Biathalon at those Olympics and was keen to know if I had volunteered or participated. I told her that I was only a spectator. 

We got to talking about skiing abilities, so they could match us up with the proper gear, and I explained that I’m not a professional, but have been skiing since I was three years old in Banff. I then asked her if she had ever been to Banff. She told me no, she had only been to nearby Canmore. 

Ack!!!  That’s where I grew up!  Being 20 minutes from Banff, Canmore was the greatest place to grow up. And, it was home to the 1988 Biathalon and Cross Country events during the Calgary ’88 Olympics. The town features a world class Nordic Center, which was built for the games, and is still a very popular training facility, and hosts numerous international competitions to this day.

OF COURSE she had been there!  She knows a local cross country skier named Chandra Crawford (who’s mom was my hairdresser growing up) and is also familiar with a friend I graduated with who has medaled in the Olympics for cross country skiing, Sara Renner. 

She then went on to tell me that her Dad actually competed in Biathalon in the ’88 Olympics. Now, this is where things get really cool!

My mom was an Olympic volunteer and was the chairman of the Athletes Village in Canmore. She physically met every athlete that competed there!  

Of course, her dad was there, and he explained what he remembered in very broken English. Here I was, practically a world away, on the other side of the planet, and I was speaking to a man who had already met my mother, almost 28 years earlier. 

 

So great to meet new friends!

 THIS is the beauty of travel!  THIS makes the world infinitely smaller. THIS is when we stop to realize that we are all connected. The networks a person creates, and the people you can meet when you take the time to hear a persons story can be astounding. 

Then it hit me! These are the clues that life sends to tell you that you are on the right track!  I like to think of it as fate, synchronicity, serendipity, or whatever word you use to describe it. It’s when the world just lines itself up, a everything falls into perfect place for those perfect moments. 

It made me feel that this trip was indeed meant to be. By not travelling for so long, I had stepped off my track for a brief stint, but I was back!  And I was on top of the planet!  

Tomorrow we were going to ski in BULGARIA! 

 We hit the hay early that night, with eager anticipation of hitting the slopes. Finally, after 5 weeks of waiting, our time had come!

Stay tuned to hear about our interesting skiing experience!

A quick hop to Athens!

Published December 14, 2015 by jillamatt

As much as we hated to leave Varna so quickly, we needed to get to Greece as we had promised to work on a farm on the island of Paros. 

Our flight from Varna wasn’t until 3:50pm, so we had more time to look around the city, plus we needed to do some clothes shopping. 

I have now realized the reason WHY I’m not blogging on packing tips……it’s because my packing is ridiculous!  We both under packed and have had very little to wear. At first we were proud of our thriftiness, but as days wore on, we realized that what we had packed, wasn’t entirely practical. Not only did we need more items, but some of the items are not very effective for this sort of travelling. 

For instance, I packed a pair of flannel lined pants. My thinking, at the time was the need for warmth, in case we got stuck outside waiting for buses etc. However, I didn’t take into account (and had forgotten entirely), that most countries in the world don’t have the luxury of clothes driers like we do. Try washing clothes, and then hanging them to dry in a damp seaside climate, and at only 8 degrees Celsius. It takes forever!  Not appropriate for moving around every day or so. Needless to say, we have towed damp clothes around with us on a couple occasions already. 

Packing Tip#1-Pack clothes that dry quickly and layer up if necessary!

I keep saying that I think we were delerious by the time it came to packing. We worked right up until we left, and I became obsessed with getting the house ready for our house sitter, and wasn’t thinking clearly about practical travel clothes.  Now that I am on the road again (it HAS been 8 years since my last backpacking trip after all), it is all coming back to me, and rather quickly!

Anyways, thankfully there were used clothing shops in Varna, many in fact, and we didn’t have to dump large amounts of money into purchasing a larger wardrobe. 

Our taxi ride to the Varna airport was much less eventful than the one to the Gabrovo bus station. The staff at our hostel phoned the taxi company for us, and told them where we were going. Ah!  MUCH easier!  As a lover of all things colourful, I was delighted at the sight of the Varna airport. The upper portion was awash with bright bold colours. I even took a picture! 

 Our flight to Istanbul was uneventful. When I booked the flight back in Gabrovo, I hate to admit it, but I was a little dismayed that we had to fly through Istanbul. With news reports declaring that The Russian government wanted their citizens to leave the country, and with the crazy Syria issue going on,  I had felt when we left Canada that we had no need to go anywhere near the Turkish border while on this trip. 

  It’s silly really!  Although I had no reservations of coming on this trip after the Paris attacks, the thought of going to Turkey did bother me. Chris and I discussed it and decided that the Istanbul airport was likely the safest place to be, if anything did happen. Don’t even ask me what we thought would happen.  It was total, unequivocal, irrational fear!

This is the kind of fear that I attempt to dispel on Facebook and amongst friends at all times. This is the kind of fear that gets us making bad decisions. This is the kind of fear that creates hatred to others. This is the kind of fear that FEEDS ISIS. This kind of fear is largely unacceptable when travelling (unless of course you are travelling IN a war torn country, which I don’t recommend anyways!)

We landed in Istanbul and disembarked the plane.  As we exited the gangway that linked the plane to the airport, we merged into a thick stream of people. I instantly felt like an ant passing through its tunnels in the ground. I imagine that they come and go from off shoots, but the main corridors are packed with them jostling back and forth. I quickly asked the gate agent if we needed to pick up our  checked bags.  For some reason, of which I can’t even conceive of right now, I thought we may need to transfer them through customs as we were heading on to a different country. He glanced at my boarding pass for the next flight and said “Gate 222, upstairs!”  I assumed at that point that we didn’t need to worry about our bags. 

We ascended the escalator to the upper level and filed in with yet another massive amount of people. I swear I have NEVER seen so many people coming and going in an airport in my life! We found the sign pointing to our gate, and immediately felt like we were swimming upstream. 

Hoardes of people were walking here and there, many with blank looks in their eyes, not sure where to go. One poor guy had his boarding pass in one hand and was looking every direction with an equally frantic and clueless look on his face.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, and a need to help, but we were in a bit of a frantic state ourselves. We kept looking for signs pointing to our gate number. I don’t think I have ever seen so many signs pointing every which way. The gate numbers went into the 500’s!  We even passed a digital clock that told us how long of a walk it was to our gate…it said 15 minutes!  Wow!!!  ‘How bloody big IS this place?’ I thought to myself.  

I must say, I wish we had made the time to stop and smell the roses a bit. I saw all sorts of neat things that we could have checked out. One of them being a little kiosk that was selling Turkish Ice Cream. It was attended by a guy in the cutest little outfit I think I have ever seen. He reminded me of Abu from Aladin, with a cute little boxy hat and everything! However, nothing got more than a sideways glance as trying to move sideways in the wave of people would have been like playing a life or death game of Frogger to get to the far side of the stream. 

After a while, probably about 15 minutes, and much struggling “upstream”, we found our gate. We still had a bit to wait, so we asked the gate attendant when we would be boarding. He said we had half an hour. 

We both really wanted to try Turkish coffee, so we headed off to the nearest food kiosk to place our order. There were tiny bottles of wine available as well, so we got two bottles of that and ordered our coffees. The cashier announced “Fifty six Lira please.”  I cringed and handed over my Visa card with absolutely no idea of the exchange rate. I still haven’t had the guts to check my visa statement yet on online banking. Oh well!  Chalk it up to another experience! 

The coffee was super hot (apparently they boil it three times) so we decided, in Chris’ words to “have our downer, before we have our upper.”  

The coffee was crazy strong, and we were very thankful that we asked for sugar in it as well. I drank mine down first and noticed a thick sludge in the bottom of the cup, filling about 1/3  of the way up. We both examined it, and thinking it looked like pudding (but really not sure at all what it was), we decided I needed a spoon.  So Chris got up and asked for one. I scooped a bit out, tasted it, and immediately realized that it was definitely NOT pudding, but was in fact super finely ground coffee grounds. EW!! 

Crazy Turkish coffee! We were buzzing all the way to Athens…..

 I’m thinking maybe we were drunk off of our wine, as immediately I knew it was an incredibly stupid thing to do. I’m sure the staff were wondering what the hell these stupid tourists were doing.  Either way, the great thing about travelling is that you CAN do stupid things, and people will never see you again. Hooray for that!

Again, our flight to Athens was uneventful, and so was our quick trip to Turkey!  Well, with the exceptions noted above anyways.  

 We arrived in Athens at about 9:00pm and began our journey to our Hotel (which I thought was a hostel as I had booked it on Hostelworld.com.)  We managed to get tickets for the Metro (train) fine but when we made it down to the platform we were totally confused. It wasn’t like the Vancouver skytrain, the airport being the end of the line. This train went both ways, and we didn’t know which side to stand on, or which train went which direction. We gawked around just staring up and down the tracks, looking for any sort of clue as to which way to go. The image of the poor guy in the airport, lost and confused, immediately came to mind, and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself that we probably looked just as clueless as he did (but less frantic at this point.)

We looked at the metro map, which was all in Greek. The middle of the map was rubbed out and scrawled across it in black sharpie pen was “How about having signs for tourists in English?”  YES! We agreed!

Finally I was able to find a man that spoke English, and he assured us we were on the right side to head into the city. 

We changed trains where we were supposed to, and arrived to our station that was in the directions of how to get to our ho(s)tel. Now, upon booking this place, there were many comments in the recommendations about it being in a dangerous neighbourhood, and not to walk around at night unless in groups. 

Chris and I had discussed possibly catching a cab from the metro station, but I had mapped it out on my phone, and knew it was only a few blocks away. I felt that with the size of Chris, nobody would mess with us. Besides he had our passports in his money belt, and all of our important stuff was tucked away, save for 30 Euros at easy reach. If necessary, I could just grab that and use it to placate a robber if needed. 

As we exited the station, we assessed the area, and felt that we should just wing it. We walked the 6 or 7 blocks with not one bit of worry, or seeing anyone that looked remotely like they gave a damn about us. Again, the fear mongering was, in our experience, unfounded. 

Our Hostel, well Hotel, gladly welcomed us and we celebrated the fact that we had made the hop to Greece!  We crashed on our beds pretty hard, and despite still buzzing from our Turkish coffees, drifted off to sleep with visions of the Acropolis dancing in our heads. 

Next up: The Acropolis, The Athens Market, and a ferry ride to Paros. 

Warmth along the Black Sea. 

Published December 12, 2015 by jillamatt

Although the Black Sea is very cold this time of year (yes, us crazy Canadians dipped our feet in it), the warmth of the people along it, cannot be over stated.

The morning we left Gabrovo started out as many do, when you are travelling to a distant land, and don’t speak the language. Our new friend Ahmed had told us the night before to call him in the morning when we were ready to go to the bus station, and he would call a cab to pick us up. He said he started work at nine, and that’s when we wanted to go to the station, so it would work out perfectly. However, the next morning came and went, and Ahmed was incommunicado. (We found out later that his phone battery died during the night, and he slept in until 9:30.  Oops!!)

We decided to head out to the street and hail down a cab ourselves. We were able to wave one down, (even though Ahmed told us they likely wouldn’t stop,) but the driver didn’t speak English, and he had no idea where we wanted to go. We got in and he drove off slowly while dialing a number on his cell phone. He said a few words, pulled over to the side of the road, and handed me his phone. 

A very sleepy, broken English, female voice said, “Hello. Where do you go?”  I told her we wanted to go to the bus station. “Okay.”

I handed the phone back. 

The driver drove a block and pulled over again, handing me the phone again. “Hello. Where do you want to go?”  I told her again that we wanted to go to the bus station. “Which bus?”  She asked. 

I told her we wanted to go to Burgas. “Okay.”  She said again. 

After I thanked her for her help, I handed the phone back to the driver.  He sat there and talked with her for another couple minutes and then handed me the phone again. “There is no bus to Burgas right now.”  I told her as simply as I could, that the bus was leaving at 10:00. It was now 9:30. “Okay.” She said. I handed back the phone, and he drove us into the station. He laughed, and we laughed, the three of us satisfied that the mission was accomplished, but it just took a little longer than usual. 

All told, we went about 5 blocks.  The irony was not lost on us that we probably could have walked their faster, had we known where to go. We had a good chuckle at that, and were again just thankful for yet another experience. 

Our bus pulled out of Gabrovo and immediately started ascending a narrow, steep mountain road.  We mosied along at a steady pace, the driver clearly skilled at navigating the tight curves.  Up, up, up we went, until finally we felt like we had emerged from the mountains, and a lush green landscape appeared below, spread out before us like an Emerald blanket. 

We had driven over the Shipka Pass. Apparently battles during the Ottoman Empire were fought on this pass, and it’s steep terrain would make for an interesting battleground to say the least. 

Read more about the Shipka Pass here. 

 

A segment of the twisty road heading down from the Shipka pass. Wireless on the bus allowed me to track our trip.

 
It was about a 5 hour journey down to the coastal city of Burgas, and the landscape was a varied mix of green fields, forested road sides and vineyard after vineyard after vineyard. Somewhere in my Bulgarian research, I had learned that Bulgaria makes a ton of wine. Finally, I could see where it was all coming from.  

Twisty windy roads.

  

The top of the pass!

  

Emerging on the other side we can see the landscape stretching out below.

  

Green fields and vineyards zipped by.

  

Gabrovo to Burgas

 

As we pulled into Burgas, I was struck with how modern it is. Although it isn’t the major summer destination that the rest of the coast line is, it clearly is benefitting from more industrious activities than the country capital of Sofia. Being a major shipping port, the most important in Bulgaria, likely gives it the boost in economy that it needs to give it that little bit of polish. We had to change buses here to get to our final destination of the day, Sozopol.  

First glimpse of the Black Sea from Burgas.

 
I had read that Sozopol was the oldest settlement along the Black Sea coast, and it’s ancient village was still very much intact. It’s also a very modern tourist destination in its summer months, as throngs of European tourists flock there for its quaintness and beautiful beaches.  

Burgas to Sozopol

 
Our accommodation in Sozopol was with Air BnB. Again, this is an online membership data base where you link with people who are either renting out their entire houses, condos, or apartments, or are just renting a room. The prices are generally cheaper than a hotel, and the chance to meet locals, tends to enhance the experience. 

I had communicated via online messaging with our hosts that we would call them from my cell phone when we left Burgas, and that he would not answer (therefore avoiding large usage charges), but would see the number and know that we were on our way.  

We boarded the bus and I tried to call the number provided, but the call would not complete. I tried many different combinations, realizing that the country code may not be necessary from within the country, but to no avail. Nothing worked. I wasn’t really concerned, we were arriving early enough that I knew we would figure out a way to contact them by nightfall. I knew it was a small town that we were going to, and a pretty major European tourism destination to boot. I told Chris that SOMEBODY had to speak English when we got there, we would sort it all out then. 

Driving to Sozopol was an exciting trip. Our bus almost immediately hugged the rugged coast line, providing us beautiful views of the Black Sea, the beaches and the jagged cliff sides spilling into the water.   

 

First glimpse of Sozopol.

  

The path diwn to the beach near our accomodation.

  

Our hosts lived in the basement of this building.

 True to form, we got off the bus, and I went into the nearest store to the station. It happened to be a lovely flower shop, and the smell inside was divine. I asked if she spoke English, which she did, and I told her the situation. 

I showed her the number, She phoned our hosts and told them that we were already in Sozopol, and within 10 minutes they were picking us up.

Our accommodations were owned by a Russian brother and Sister from Moscow (who also lived with their 90 year old Dad,) who had only just started renting on Air BnB, to raise a bit more money for their monthly rent. They were very nice people, and she worked tirelessly to try and make sure we were as comfortable as possible. She fussed and fussed asking us (in very broken English,) if we needed anything, making sure we knew all of our available options. She must have heard us stirring first thing in the morning as she sleepily shoved a blow dryer through the door, apologizing profusely for not thinking of it the night before. We laughed and assured her that we did not need a blow dryer. We had our own room with a bathroom, and we came and went as we pleased for the next couple days. 

Sozopols charm lies mostly in its old quarters, and it’s people. We had many lovely exchanges with business owners who were thrilled that we were there during, what seemed to be, a quite depressing off season. I can imagine, coming from a similar type of town in Canada, that the winter months seem incredibly long, compared to the fast paced summer that is bustling with activity.  

   Many establishments were borded up and the streets were full of leaves and debris. Buildings had construction projects going on, and I’m sure that this is a yearly routine, that comes with the eager anticipation of another busy season, just around the corner. 

However, for all that was lacking for this time of year, the charm was still immeasurable. We were still able to find restaurants with happy owners willing to give us a good meal, and a few small artist run shops were overjoyed to have us pop in and look around.   Not to mention that the quaintness of the old town, kept us occupied enough, as we meandered up and down the tiny cobble stone streets snapping pictures and marvelling at the cuteness of the architecture, until our legs were weary with exhaustion.  

The entire peninsula of Sozopol was once encased entirely by a fortress wall.

    

Stacks of wood lined the tiny streets of Sozopols old quarter.

   
We spent 2 nights here, but knew that we needed to get to Varna, as our flights were booked to fly from there to Athens in a couple days. 

Varna is another major city, located along the north Bulgaria coast of the Black Sea, close-ish to the Romanian border. I had read that it is a lovely city to explore, so we tried to make the best of  it by extending our stay as long as we could. 

 We left Sozopol by 7:30am (our jet lag was still getting us to bed early, and up at the crack of dawn), and consequently caught the bus from Burgas at 8:30.  

Sozopol to Varna

 We arrived in Varna at 11:30am. Unfortunately, we had had a miscommunication with a lady we were meant to couch surf with, so we were left to our own devices to find accommodation when we arrived. We stumbled upon a great little Hostel, shortly after lunch, and got ourselves settled. The hostel staff at Yo Ho Hostel were extremely friendly and helpful. They gave us a map and pointed is in the direction of interesting things to see and do for the day. We thanked them and then set out to explore.  

The theatre in downtown Varna.

 We both immediately fell in love with Varna’s charm, and realized a strong desire to return for longer.  For a city of roughly 300 000 people, it somehow manages to maintain a small town feel, even though it is a bustling port city, and a naval base.  Again, as with most of the Black Sea coast, it is a huge tourist destination in the summer, and it’s beach is fantastic.  

This map shows the massive park that is in downtown Varna. It runs for 6 km along the Sea front. Every waterfront city should have this for all to enjoy!

      

For a long ways along the beach there were bars like this set up. I can imagine in the summer it would be quite the party scene!

 We meandered down the winding pedestrian walkways that flow through the city, and filter out onto the beach side. Along the waterfront, we again found many bars and clubs that likely are thumping during the summer months, but were boarded up for the winter.  However, the odd one was open, and we were able to have an afternoon beverage and dip our feet in the Black Sea while enjoying the huge beach.  

Looking back on Varna from the park.

  

Meandering through an incredibly ornate park.

  

   

We met a wonderful woman in the park who heard us speaking English and wanted to know where we were from. We had a lovely chat with her as we meandered.

  

This public fountain pumps out perfect spring water. There are many taps like this for the public to fill their drinking vessels from.

  

And guess what!? It’s a hot spring that fills this outdoor pool as well!

 
 
  I was told by our bartender, in no uncertain terms, that my double Gin and Tonic was small, compared to Bulgarian standards. His name was Nicolai, and he was born and raised in Varna. His opinion was the same as many we had talked to before him, that we should come back in the summer.        

 In the summer, the Black Sea is not just warmed by its people, but the hot, hot sun brings out another entirely awesome dimension to this fabulous coast line. Yes, we thought, perhaps, just perhaps, we will return in the summer. Maybe not this summer, but some summer in the not so distant future. 

Next up we fly to Athens!

**if you have any questions with regards to traveling in Bulgaria, please message me below and I will be happy to help if I can. 

Gone clubbin’!

Published December 8, 2015 by jillamatt

As our bus pulled into Gabrovo, located amongst the mountains of Bulgaria, we were eager with anticipation to explore yet another aspect of this lovely country. Our days and nights spent in Sofia were great, but we yearned to explore the country side, and see what it’s people were like. 

About a month before we left on our trip, I was messaged by a young man named Ahmed, through the Couchsurfing network.  One of the features of The Couchsurfing website, is that you can post an upcoming trip to your profile, and it automatically sends out a message to every host of your destination place, letting them know you are coming and in need of accommodation. 
We received offers from 2 hosts, the other in Stara Zagora. However, for this particular period of time, the first host to offer, was not available, so we opted to visit Ahmed in Gabrovo. 

We became friends on Facebook so we could communicate easier, (and so we could stalk each other’s profiles, I’m sure!) and he forewarned me that he really didn’t have room for 2 people, as he lives in a very small apartment with only room for one queen size bed. But, he offered to find us a spot in the village centre for a reasonable price. As our intention on this trip is to meet locals, and really gain experiences through their perspectives, we decided to take him up on his offer. I was also intrigued with the place, as there was no mention of it in our Lonely Planet book, therefore telling me that it is likely worth seeing, and a bit off the beaten track. In general, the Lonely Planet guides feature more common tourist destinations. I like to buy them before trips because they give me a reference point to do some research, and there is always valuable cultural and historical information outlined in them, which generally comes in handy upon arriving in foreign lands. 

I had messaged Ahmed in Sofia, and told him of our plans. Before leaving he told me that he wouldn’t be able to meet us at the bus, but his friend would. We arrived at the bus station, later than we had expected, and initially saw no one that looked to be picking someone up. I immediately checked for a wifi hot spot so that we could communicate with him if need be. 

Now, I must stop here to tell you that Bulgaria has free wifi absolutely EVERYWHERE!  I’m talking in every coffee shop, restaurant, ON THE BUS, bus stations, parks….you name it!  Ahmed told me that having wifi is so normal that if an establishment doesn’t have it, they lose business. We have been very impressed with the access to the Internet, much better than many places in Canada, and it provides very easy means of which to communicate with hosts, arrange transportation, book flights etc. 

So I logged into the wifi at the station and my phone started ringing instantly, a phone call through Facebook. This is something totally new to me, so I hesitantly said “Hello?”

I heard, “Hello Jillian, this is Ahmed.”  His lovely Britishesque accent, and wonderful pronunciations struck me instantly. 

I had obviously checked out his Facebook profile, and had learned that he was 24 years old. His wonderful grasp of our language, made me feel like I was speaking with an old British scholar, positioned somewhere much later in life. 

“I’m sorry that I’m not there to meet you.  But my friend should be there somewhere, maybe just walk to the cafe and you will find him.”

Just as he was saying this, a group of three young men walked up to us. One stepped forward speaking English, and I told him Ahmed was on the phone. I handed it to him, he spoke to him, then he handed it back to me. 

“Hello Jillian, this is how this is going to work. I have arranged accommodation for you in the centre of town for 30 Lev (roughly $22 CAD), I hope that’s okay?”  

“Yes,” I said, “That is fine.”

“Okay good, my friend is going to put you in a taxi and tell the taxi driver where to go. This should cost you no more than 2-3 Lev. Once you arrive, the owner will show you to your room.”

“Okay that sounds really great!  Thank you so much!” I proclaimed, absolutely in awe of the efforts that were being made to accommodate us. He told me that he was helping his family chop wood, and would contact us later to get together for dinner. 

We proceeded with his friends to a waiting  taxi, but the driver didn’t seem to understand where to go. After many phone calls and pondering amongst them all, he seemed to know the directions, so off we headed to, what I expected to be, our hotel. 

The taxi driver went very slowly through the streets of Gabrovo, I’m sure still not certain where this place was.  Finally we stopped at the end of a sort of alleyway, and got out. A man aporoached right away and started talking with the driver. I looked around and didn’t see a typical hotel front, so I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders “Where?”

The man he was speaking with beckoned us to follow him. ‘Ah!  I see, this is the man who is showing us to our room,’ as promised by Ahmed. 

He took us along side of what looked to be an apartment building and let us in with his keys. It was clear that he didn’t speak English. We made our way inside and he let us in to what turned out to be a small little apartment that had to be very new. It had a little fridge, a small bed, pullout couch and a full bathroom. We were astounded with how modern and wonderful it was, for such a good price. 

 

Our lovely little abode.

 
The man informed us in broken English that he didn’t speak English, he only spoke Spanish. 

My eyes widened as I announced “Hablo Español!” (I speak Spanish!)

He immediately started out super fast, and let me tell you, my brain was not ready for it. I stared dumbfounded at him, still shocked that we could both communicate in a totally different language, but communicate none-the-less!  What a blessing!  As he was speaking super fast, I didn’t get it all, but we managed to discuss the wifi, how to turn on the shower, and how many nights we wanted to stay. I paid him what was owed, and he was off. 

Wow!  We were so excited and appreciative with what Ahmed had set up for us! His amazing hospitality did not pass us by.  We marvelled at our cute little abode for a while, then headed out to see the town. 

Stunning architecture lined little pedestrian walkways, large carvings and statues adorned the parks and bridges, and a lovely river ran through the centre of the village. We strolled around for a while, then headed back to our oasis.  Still weary with jet lag, we immediately fell into a long deep sleep.  

  

A river runs through it.

  
 Around 7:00 Ahmed phoned once again, to tell us that he was heading into the village, was going to get ready and pick up his girlfriend, then would head over to meet us so we could go out for dinner. 

Around 9:00 we met up with him and his friend Ivel (his girlfriend was meeting us at the restaurant), and after showing him our room, we headed out to dinner. 

We had a lovely meal with the three of them. We exchanged all sorts of information with each other about our countries. Obviously, they were very intrigued with how we do things in Canada. Ahmed has hosted many travellers before, including a French Canadian, so he was very knowledgable about many other cultures and places. He and Ivel had both travelled within Europe, spending a length of time in both England and Scotland.  

From left to right: Ivel, Ahmed and Ina

 Ahmed works in IT, and is incredibly knowledgable about business start ups, web sites, and all types of marketing. He told me that he spends about 3 hours per day catching up on world news reports from every corner of the planet. We discussed many things, and my mind kept coming back to what a smart, energetic and charismatic young man he is. 

His friend Ivel is an Engineer working with cables and manufacturing. He too spoke excellent English, and had a very broad view in the world. They both make above average salaries, and are very aware that they are living a good life here in Bulgaria. Ahmed’s girlfriend, Ina, is still in study mode, but also wants to work in the IT field. 

We were told at dinner that they were heading out to the club later on, and we were welcome to join them. Apparently it was graduation day for the local technical University, and a famous Bulgarian, from Gabrovo itself, was going to be singing. We were told that he is the Justin Beiber of Bulgaria!

Not two to miss opportunities to party, but despite feeling tired from jet lag, we decided to tag along. 

We arrived at the club in our usual travelling clothes, (t-shirts, hiking boots, and zip off pants), and immediately felt VERY under dressed!  Not too mention, VERY old!  Outside the doors were dozens of University graduates and dates, fancily dressed, clamouring to get in. We stood in line, sort of. Ahmed kept announcing “Come on guys”, as he gripped his girlfriends hand and pushed us ever so gently to the front of the pack. He had a saying that he kept announcing, something to do with impudence, but the gist was that if we wanted to get anywhere in life, we needed to be impudent as well! Needless to say, we were quite entertained. 

We finally broke through the outer doors and jostled and pushed our way through the next wall of people to get into the actual party. I kept thinking that as soon as we got in, there would be room to breathe. I was VERY wrong!  We paid our entry and got our stamp as we heard from the bouncer “Welcome Canada!”  Obviously Ahmed had told him we were visitors. 

We squeeeeeeeeezed ourselves into what had to be the smokiest, smoke filled room I have been in, since being 19 years old!  At least every second person had a cigarette on the go!  Wow!  I thought to myself, ‘did I really subject myself to this pollution in a regular basis as a kid?’

Yes, yes I did!  I remember, vaguely, my Dad complaining of the stench of cigarette smoke from my jacket and clothes, many times after a wild night of partying as a teen. But, I never much noticed back then.  I guess we were just used to it. But, with the smoking laws in Canada now making everyone smoke outside, we simply are not used to it inside, and it was a huge shock. 

People were packed in like sardines. We swerved our way around the room trying to find a spot for 5 of us to stand. Back and forth we snaked through the crowds until we settled on a less than ideal spot. Chris and I were jammed against the stage, and we were in a line of constantly moving people, squeezing past us to go back and forth along this particular corridor. 

The music was blaring from speakers from just below our butts, and it shook us to our core.

I suddenly had the realization that I was too old for this!  How did it happen?  I used to love hanging out in these places, always pushing and shoving to get back and forth. Dancing and partying with reckless abandon.  However, it became very clear to me in that moment that, this was not for me anymore, and maybe coming there had been a mistake. 

I stewed in my misery of the situation for a few minutes, and then I actually took a good look around me. I realized that we were part of a celebration!  A celebration of the excitement of youth, the prospects of a whole big future ahead of them, and the glory of living life!  WE WERE IN BULGARIA, and we were having an EXPERIENCE!  Isn’t this what I have been saying?  Isn’t this what I have wanted? Isn’t this what life is all about? 

 It was with this realization, that I started to focus on all that was good in that moment. I decided that I probably would not die from lung cancer that night, and my hearing would likely not be damaged forever. I decided that I was going to enjoy myself, because we were part of something special and we were ALIVE! 

Possibly the oldest couple in the house!

 

Throwing paper in the air in Bulgaria symbolizes wealth and freedom from Communist rule.

  
  We danced a bit, jostled around amongst the students, had some whiskey and Coke, and hung out for as long as we could. Unfortunately, by 1:30, we were both pretty exhausted. 

We told Ahmed we were leaving (unfortunately the Bulgarian Justin Beiber had not even started yet) and said our goodbyes, promising to see him the next day at some point. 

We headed back to our room, all the while laughing and recalling the adventures of the night. We were ALIVE!  We were in BULGARIA!  And we were having the time of our lives!

We put our stinky clothes in their own zipped up bag, ready for the laundry, had a shower, and drifted off to sleep, with the throngs of a steady bass beat alive in our heads. 

  
Next up: We head off to the Black Sea!

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