Plovdiv to Sofia

This is what Philippopolis should look like (below)… but it’s currently full of modern concert equipment, chairs, tents and shit – so I didn’t bother taking photos. I can’t decide if it’s depressing or fabulous that they are using this ancient monument to have concerts still. I wonder what the impact is on modern speakers and the vibrations from the amplifications.

This walking tour stuff after a full day of being in the bus (and well, lost in the bloody bus!) is exhausting. Chilling in cafes with a cider and people watching is Turing into a favourite way to kill half an hour. After this we left Plovdiv for Sofia… where this portion of the tour joins into a much larger group of people with a new guide and a new driver (thank fuck!!!).

Oh look… on the way out of Plovdiv, a city our driver allegedly has family in, our useful-as-tits-on-a-bull driver takes us off the A1 highway and straight into the boonies where we start pulling over again and this time consulting old paper maps. Hello? Do you want my phone? It has google maps…No? Let’s just harass the local police for directions… I honestly can’t roll my eyes any harder at this stage. Seriously, us girls could have taken over the driving and the navigation and we would have saved hours. Eventually we end up in Sofia and check into our hotel, which was rather swanky, before setting out on a short bus tour in Sofia. This fabulous Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral… it’s really gorgeous inside, but very dark and no photography is allowed. It’s probably a site that needs a lot of restoration. It’s build in a Neo-Byzantine style and serves as the main cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria. It is one of the 50 largest Christian church buildings in the world (by like square volumes of air or something0. It can hold about 5000 people inside and is the largest cathedral in all of the Balkans. It’s relatively ‘new’, with construction having starte din 1882 and the church being consecrated in 1924. Beautiful gold mosaics above every doorway.… and fine carving int eh stonework is really cool. This is not a photo taken inside the church you are not allowed to take photos in. >.>One thing I do love about Europe is the wonderful way they cover buildings under scaffolding so they don’t’ completely destroy the cityscape. You see buildings all over and (while this one is quite garish) you occasionally have to do a double take to realise that it’s a big cover over the facade of the building which is under restoration. The lion is a famous symbol of Bulgaria which is weird seeing they never had lions here, and the various artist’s representations of them make it pretty clear the artist has never seen one… this large bronze is a bout 3m long and he guards a tomb of an Unknown Soldier.

Saint Sofia Catholic Church – the oldest church in Sofia, it dates back to the 4th century. The building (some parts of which remains were where the Council of Serdica was held in 343AD and was attended by 316 bishops. In the 14th century the church gave its name to the city which was previously known as Serdika.

The photos don’t do the amazing stone work in the vaulted ceiling justice at all!There was a service being held when we were here – a memorial of sorts for someone whose funeral has already happened – so we were trying to stay in the wings and be unobtrusive.

After this, the youngin’s felt somewhat churched out and wanted a quick bite before we had to head back to the hotel and meet our new guide for the ongoing trip through the Balkans… I can’t believe we were in Sofia and they all wanted to go for McDonalds. But there we were!Looks just like every McDonalds ever – from about 20 years ago.Ordering was a little tricky though… I haven’t had McDonalds in years. It used to be a frequent travel stop – because we knew it would have clean (and usually free!) bathrooms, now it seems the crew wanted to hang out here for the free wifi. Which makes sense, most of them don’t have roaming data.

Then on our way back to the hotel, someone asked Georgi if he could take us to a souvenir shop so they could buy some little presents – and wouldn’t you know it, the only place he could think of was a fucking newsagent/tabac stand in a train station which was down three flights of stairs. Never mind, my feet just aren’t having it after two city tours today, so I stayed above ground with this famous statue of Saint Sofia. Then back to the hotel to meet the people who are going to be on the rest of our trip. The ill fated crew from the positively disastrous Travel Talk tour through Transylvania and Romania in July 2022… Shauna (IRE), Josh (USA), Holly (AUS), Sarah (USA), Stacey (AUS), Ginger (CHN), Robyn (AUS), Robyn (AUS), & Angus (AUS)

The Long Long drive from Sibiu to Ruse

Today is a transit day – no sightseeing unfortunately, we had a lot of ground to cover to get to Bulgaria within Nick’s (the driver) regulated driving hours – not sure I’ve mentioned much about Nick, but today it became apparent that he has been navigating all over Romania using a Tom Tom that seemed to be about a decade old. It turns out his mobile phone was broken so he didn’t have Google Maps and for the life of me I don’t know why Georgi wasn’t navigating for him, but we’ve had several wrong turns and many kilometres where we’ve retraced our steps. :/ Today was going to be one of *those* days but we were determined to make the most of it – well most of us were!

Our petulant Annoying American was sulking – like, literally, in the most unbecoming way considering she’s a 40 year old engineer contracted to the US Defence Dept. 😐 I had to snap this because I didn’t think people would believe me:

Yep, that’s her hiding under a blanket for a NEAR SEVEN HOUR DRIVE. To be honest, most of us were quite happy that she was moping; it meant she wasn’t trying to talk at us for the whole drive. Hurrah! I’ve never been on a tour with someone like this before – it’s bewildering.

The country side is beautiful as we wound our way through farmlands primarily of wheat and sunflowers, and my poor little fibro feet (while unhappy at me sitting on a bus for hours) were kinda glad to have a rest from the cobblestones for a day.

We had a quick and dodgy servo lunch, which I passed on – but insisted that Angus try the weird Eastern European petrol station hotdog. Maybe you just had to be there? But in Poland we thought they were odd… they have a bun, shove a hole in and tip sauces (into the bottom only) and stick a very thin hotdog in it. It’s kinda crunchy and not very filling… perhaps he should have opted for the double dog one.

We got to the Bulgarian border quite late in the afternoon and Ruse is barely 4 miles from the border.

Wouldn’t you know it? Nick got us lost again, and all of us thought it was hilarious – except AA. Of course. Eventually I gave Georgi my phone with the Google maps open and we made it to our hotel. 🙂 We didn’t have anything planned in Ruse for the evening so we just went into town and had a wander through the main square while hunting for a restaurant that could seat eleven of us – yes, I was trying to placate the AA monster, she’d been howling all the night before into the ether (ranting on WhatsApp) that people have been leaving her out of things and that she’d had to eat by herself, and when I tried to talk to her about this ostracism, she told me to leave her alone. I shit you not.

I suggest to Georgi that he find us a restaurant and that we eat as a group so Ms AA Emily doesn’t feel left out. He finds a place that say they’ll accomodate us in 15 mins so we go for a bit of a walk about to take in the town while we wait.

IT’s a pretty place with lots of empty buildings. Apparently over the last 30 years (well, pretty much since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet thingy collapsing, people have been moving to Western Europe for better jobs etc. Bulgaria has lost half their previous population which no doubt is problematic for social services etc. Anyway – real estate is cheap if anyone is interested (inner city, 2br walk up from 20-30k Euro).

We went to dinner and unsurprisingly, they had two tables for us (this really needed this to be a whole group thing), and also unsurprisingly AA is nowhere to be found. She’d gotten tired of waiting and gone and ordered a salad somewhere else and sent someone to the table saying she’d be there shortly. Well, she did turn up and was the rudest, most embarrassing person I’d ever had the misfortune to dine with. She was rude to the waitress, insisting three times she wanted to be on her own check, but speaking to her like she was an idiot child. She sarcastically thanked us for ‘accomodating her and saving her a seat’, and also muttered something about being stuck at the ‘pleb’ table. Bitch please! The only reason I wasn’t sitting with the others was to make her feel more included. Seriously!

On a lighter note – dinner unexpectedly had a sushi menu, so I had me some sushi for the first time since I left Aust… very tasty indeed. This place lives on too much bread and pasta for my liking.

We have our meals and relax a little, I’m listening to AA saying horrible things about the perfectly lovely people we are travelling with and felt I had done the wrong thing in trying to ‘fix’ the situation – she’s irredeemable. After dinner, she wandered off to find some vodka lady (whatever that meant) and we found ourselves discussing what to do about her. For some reason I was under the impression that the other pax had spoken to Georgi about how frustrated they were with her disruptive, rude, inconsiderate and bullying presence but they had initially and on getting no response had gone up the chain from there.

I spotted Georgi across the square and thought we had best nip this in the bud, it was getting ridiculous. They all followed me over there and I told Georgi that I felt we have been trying, but every kind gesture over the last 48 hours was met with derision or passive aggression. He then told us that his bosses had three times already told him to ‘leave her in the middle of the road’ – and that’s a direct quote. I said ‘Why haven’t you removed her from the tour then?’ And he said, he has been a guide for many years and if he starts with ten he wants to finish with ten. Ummm… no, that’s not how this works. I told him in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t about him and right now it’s not about AA either – it’s about his duty of care to the other nine passengers on the trip and how he has allowed her to bully her first poor roommate, and waste the time and kill the morale of this entire group. This is the first travel many of us have been able to do since before the pandemic started and he was letting AA ruin it for all of us. I finished off by saying ‘Well it’s your choice Georgi, you can have one disgruntled and unhappy passenger or you can let her stay and you’ll have nine passengers complaining not just about her but about your handling of this matter.’

To say I was surprised to see her join us all at breakfast is an understatement… tbc.