I have to interrupt my stay in Dubai and fly to the Netherlands (my friends throw a big party… 😉 )
So the first thing I do (and I assume you do the same) is looking for a (cheap) flight.
Now I always use Kayak.com. A complete comparison of all airline carriers. But I also use a trick, that can really help you to spice up your travel routine.
What do I mean by that?
Well, on this date, a direct flight from Dubai to Amsterdam costs somewhere around 650 – 800 Euro. But there is also an indirect flight via Istanbul. In this case it is 500 Euro.
Now, often, you can delay the transit at no additional costs. So you can stay a couple of days in Istanbul. Not bad right?
So, while we are at it. What else can we do?
Well, after a bit of searching I find Wizz air. They have cheap flights from the new Dubai airport to Eastern Europe. So I check what the cost will be to fly via Dubai-Bulgaria-Amsterdam-(via Bulgaria)-Dubai. But why limit myself to only Bulgaria. Maybe I can fly back via Romania, and visit an additional country? And the cheapest flight from Amsterdam to Romania is via Serbia. So I might as well stay there for a couple of days.
And the total cost? 620 Euro. For less than the price of a direct flight, I visit four countries.
I decide to allow myself this little holiday.
So what to do in Bulgaria?
The good thing about this kind of spontaneous travelling is that you really do not have any expectations.
In this case, I show up at the airport, and run into a group of salsa dancers from Dubai. Coincidentally, there is a huge salsa congress going on in the capital Sofia, where I am staying.
Sweet! (I love dancing).
The next day, I first take the free walking tour. This is a (relatively new) phenomenon in European cities. “Volunteers” guiding tourists through the city and showing them all the sites. Off course, the tips of the thankful tourists add up to something more than the regular hourly rate.
What To Say About Sofia?
It is a bit of a grey city. And not so happening. It does not have the authentic high quality city centre where European cities are known for. People are friendly. It also is not so crowded, and it feels safe, even in the middle of the night.
Also, it has interesting sites. In one square you can find an old orthodox church, a Mosques for the Turkish minority, a catholic chapel and a Jewish thingy. All of them build on foundations laid down by the Romans, of which some is partially excavated. Not bad!
Other attractions are the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a huge orthodox church with (real) golden domes, and the Saint George church, of which a lot of remains date back from the 4th (!) century.
And there are a lot of parks. People drink there. A lot. Bulgarians love to drink. And with all the universities there are a lot of students around. Looking for a good time…
The salsa night is great. It is in one of those old style communist buildings. But it is loaded with people. And a lot of good looking women. And good dancers. The party is great! And lasts till very late.
Getting Out Into The Countryside
I decide to see something of the country. And take a tour. Luckily for me, I am the only one for that day.
We go to the Boyan Church. It is a small place. In a court yard. Up the hill from Sofia. But one needs to get inside be truly amazed!
It is a small building (insignificant from outside) and you have to duck through the small door to get in. The walls are completely covered by paintings. Stories from the bible. Pictures of kings and saints. Colourful displays of everyday life.
These types pictures are called frescos. The oldest parts are dated from the 11th century! But they look crap and decayed. Most parts have been repainted in the 13th century. And these pieces are great. One of the first attempt of 3-d in mediaeval paintings. A face with eyes painted like the Mona Lisa. I never even knew these types of old wall paintings existed!
Being alone with the guide, gives my time talk about the country. The good… and the bad…
My guide tells me that you recognize the Gypsies by their finger nails. They are darker than those of “normal” people. They don’t mingle into society. Live completely in their own world. A solution to the Gypsy problem is to put them all on an island and throw a big bomb on it. Fair enough.
We drive to the hilly country side. Farmland with small forests. Big mountain ranges with still snowy tops in the background. People selling freshly picked cherries on the side of the road. They are early this year because of all the rain.
Some sell themselves.
The development all looks a bit dated. As do the cars. And in some cases the people. Bulgaira is not a rich place. Salaries are low. It is not well managed. Many conquests have left their pride hurt. As does the corruption.
A lot of people are looking over the horizon. My guide asks me for a job by the end of the tour.
I visit the Rila monastery. It is a wonderful place like nothing I have seen before. A square building in a style that resembles the wooden houses in the Alps. In the middles there is a court yard. With a big fortress tower with a clock. And a beautiful orthodox church. It has the same type of frescos inside and out. Inside there are the relics displayed. Parts of the bodies of Saints. These objects have been worshipped for centuries!
The place lies very secluded in a valley. It has been there in relative peace for centuries. The cool mountain air creates a peaceful atmosphere. The fresh trout from the nearby river is wonderfully cooked.
On the road back we pass the biggest car market of Bulgaria. A stretch of one kilometre of car shops. According to the guide, here, they “change the license plates”. Now, since the borders have opened, northern Europe has experienced its share of car-jacking from Eastern Europe. Some even happened in my parents street.
Now I know where they end up…
I want to hike up the Vitosha mountains. But it is impossible because of a terrible storm (on which later more).
The last two nights I dance the night away with a independent and beautiful woman I met at the salsa festival. She owns a wellness centre. She tells me that I came into her world to remind her that life is to be enjoyed.
A fine compliment.
But I seriously oversleep and I almost miss my early flight because of it…