THIRTY-SECOND MOVEMENT: BULGARIA
The porter for the train car came by and woke the three Canadians and myself up at around 07:30 as we neared the border of Bulgaria. The train then stopped at the border, a Serbian official came and collected all of our passports, and we slept on and off while waiting for them to be returned. Soon the passports came back and were handed back to us (for some reason we did not receive exit stamps from Serbia – not sure why that is). The train then continued on to Bulgaria.
Once again, at the Bulgarian checkpoint, the train stopped, our passports were collected, and later handed back to us (with entry stamps). We then continued on through Bulgaria, to Sofia, and I tried to get some more sleep, which proved difficult with the company I was with, and I was cranky from so little sleep due to all the noise they had made last night. Finally, after 09:40, we reached the railway station in Sofia. We all disembarked the train and I explored the railway station, which was still undergoing construction in many parts. I found the metro station, then an ATM (where I withdrew some cash), and then the train ticket counter for international travel. I was planning on purchasing my train ticket to Istanbul, but decided to wait on it when I learned that no train goes all the way to Istanbul and that I would have to switch to a bus along the way – later, after verifying this with the hostel receptionist, I decided it would be best to just take a bus all the way. Also, in this station, there were a few older men who were following me around trying to direct me to the buses and taxis even though I insisted that I didn’t need nor want their help (this was annoying and they never did get the message). I then returned to the metro station, bought a ticket, and rode the metro train to the European Union Station. From that station, I walked through a nice park and toward the hostel I wished to stay at. I found the hostel, checked in (I decided to get a private room this time), but then had to wait for the room to be vacated (it was just after 11:00 and check-out isn’t until 12:00). I waited around the common area, developed a plan of attack to see the city’s sites, was given information on different tours available in Sofia, and I talked with the lovely receptionist at the hostel for a while. Finally, the room was vacated and cleaned, and I was able to move my bags inside at 13:00 (for some reason, the room is decorated with two Manga drawings of big-eyed women exposing their vulvas – a bit strange for a hostel to have . . . are they expecting me to use these drawings?). Next, I took a much needed shower, dressed, grabbed my camera and tripod, and walked out of the hostel at 13:40.
I headed north, along Vitosha Street in the hopes of making it to the meeting point of a food tour that was to start at 14:00, but I had started too late. Once I realized there was no way I’d get there in time, I decided to go to the National Archaeological Institute and Museum instead. I walked through the City Garden and past the Ivan Vazov National Theater before searching for the Archaeological Museum, but I could not find it (the map I had been given at the hostel pointed to the wrong location). So, I walked to the National Art Gallery instead and bought an entrance ticket. The Art Gallery only had one exhibit open (Industrial Landscapes in Bulgarian Paintings of the Twentieth Century) and I walked around and viewed each painting that was displayed (as well as one sculpture). After exploring the Art Gallery, I exited the building and tried for the Archaeological Museum one more time, with directions from a local woman, I was finally able to locate it, but the museum was closed after 14:00 today. With that plan busted, I decided to explore Sofia and look at many of the famous buildings around town instead. I first walked to the President’s Office (which had two guards in dress uniform standing by the entrance) and the Rotunda of St. George the Victorious – the Rotunda is the considered to be the oldest preserved building in the city of Sofia. Next, I walked to the Church of St. Nedelya, which was originally consecrated in the tenth-century AD, but rebuilt since (most recently in 1933 AD after a bomb set off by communists destroyed the church in 1925 AD and left 150 people dead); inside the church were many frescoes and some restoration work was being done on one of the walls. Then, I walked to St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, which was a modern building and rather small (as far as Catholic Cathedrals go in capital cities – they must not have a large Catholic population here). After visiting the cathedral, I walked north to see the Banya Bashi Mosque and the Sofia Synagogue (located pretty near each other . . . I guess those two religions can coexist). Then, I stepped inside the Central Sofia Market Hall, which sold mostly food (that didn’t look very kosher/halal) and was located between the mosque and synagogue. Finally, I visited the Central Mineral Baths (which was closed due to restoration work being done on it – so I had to be content with enjoying the exterior of the building). I then walked back toward the hostel, stopping at a Subway on Vitosha Street to have a nice meal (a 30 cm Italian BMT and iced tea). On the way back to the hostel, I also stopped at the National Palace of Culture and its park; inside the cultural palace, there was an exhibition of art from many different galleries (some paintings dated back to the seventeenth-century AD, though most were from the twentieth-century AD); I walked around the exhibition rooms and was tempted to ask for some wine that was made available by several of the galleries, but since I didn’t speak Bulgarian nor wish to fake interest in their art pieces, I decided to forget the wine and continue on to the hostel. I then bought some water and iced tea at a convenience store before entering the hostel and relaxing inside my room with some classic rock and disco. Later on, near 20:00, I walked to a nearby supermarket to buy various snacks (beef jerky, popcorn, beer nuts, energy drinks, and wine – which I ended up saving for later). I returned to my hostel room, watched some ‘South Park’ and snacked out. Finally, after procrastinating for hours, I buckled down and typed out some journal entries (with the help of energy drinks) before going to sleep at 03:00.