Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Back to the Balkans! And I'm Getting Married...

Let's try something revolutionary. Let's try writing about a trip immediately upon return!

So back in November or something, there were crazy cheap flight deals to Europe from Salt Lake. Lots of people jumped on those fares, and of course I had to as well. Since I'd been to most places that were on sale, I figured I should go back to the Balkans and fly into Sofia, Bulgaria. Anthony was on board for Sofia as his first European destination, and I've long said I need to date through four seasons and an international trip before agreeing to marry someone, so we booked flights. $440 round trip can't be passed up.

Many months passed until our trip, and Anthony and I were approaching our one-year anniversary. We'd been talking about getting married for awhile, and I figured that he'd propose on this trip. Long story short, he proposed a couple weeks before we took off, because he just couldn't wait to make it official any longer. We hadn't passed the trip test yet, but I was pretty sure we'd be fine, so of course I agreed to marry him (for good travel companionship and lots of other reasons). So yeah, that's happening in August! I can now happily report that we travel very well together. He's always up for adventure, he's a good driver, I'm a good navigator, and he still likes me even when I get bossy.



We left on a Tuesday evening, direct flight into Paris with a quick connection to Sofia. We arrived at the airport, got hosed by a cab driver as expected, and showed up in a neighborhood to meet our Airbnb host with the key. We stayed with Deyan, a dentist, for the first couple nights in Sofia. He showed us around the place and went back to work. We napped shortly and forced ourselves out the door to explore for the evening.

First stop was the huge Alexander Nevsky cathedral, probably the most famous sight in Sofia. It was built in honor of the Russian troops who died supporting Bulgaria in a war against Turkey. I think later when Bulgaria was on the outs with Russia they changed the name, but it's back to the Russian name.




Lions are the symbol of Bulgaria, and even the name of their currency (lev) means lion.


We saw Texas graffiti everywhere. Anthony posed with many of them, since he served a mission in Texas.



We found some Bulgarian food for dinner, though Anthony was a bit disappointed that the place has TripAdvisor all over it. The food was good though.







Definitely staying at a bachelor apartment, complete with a futon and random artwork.

The next morning we ventured out for the free Sofia walking tour. Definitely recommended.


There's an open air museum of the Roman remains of old Sofia, which was called Serdika.
The big mosque, Banya Bashi, from the 16th century.



These are the Mineral Baths - Bulgarians are really into that.




It smelled like sulfur so I passed.






To the park, where we grabbed an ice cream snack.



These little things were all in the trees - called martenitsa. You give them to friends on March 1 and then when you see a blossoming tree, you tie it there. It's about good health and new life.



We met a nice US family living in Europe on a military assignment, and they took this lovely photo of us.

Some mosaic floors from a building I don't remember.

We went inside Nevsky and I had to sneak some photos. They either weren't allowed or you had to pay.





This is the Halite, an indoor food market where we grabbed lunch. I think we went for pizza cause it was easy.



Then we ventured into the mosque.


We also tried the synagogue but it was closed that day.








This is Nedelya from the 19th century, build on top of an ancient site. It survived a bomb blash in 1925, which was an assassination attempt on one of the Tsars. He wasn't there, so it didn't work.



Anthony needed a nap. Poor thing.


The chess park. Everyone city has one, right?

We wandered into a random art exhibit. It was just okay.









Vitosha Blvd is the main hub of the city, all the shops and restaurants line the street, with a big park at the end.













Obituary notices everywhere. They also post the them 40 days after the death in remembrance, and on anniversaries, to remind everyone that the person used to exist.
Dinner. At a really kitschy place. But the food was good. My first of many shopska salads, but the best one!




Groceries on the way home. I had to get a few.





Friday we picked up our rental car for more adventures.
 
We first went to Vitosha mountain outside Sofia to the Draglalevtsi Monastery, from the 14th century. It was nice to see, but I didn't find it particularly interesting. It was Good Friday and lots of people were coming to the chapel.  I think a lot of other churches do Easter really well, and Mormons aren't all that great at celebrating for a whole season, so that was nice to see. I was a little baffled at the ritual with the Epitaphios and crawling under the table, but whatever.








We left this monastery to head to another famous one, a couple hours away.




He insisted on the toilet selfie.




Rila Monastery is up in the mountains and was originally founded in the 10th century. Some things have been rebuilt over the years, so not all of it's old, but it's very beautiful. Very busy on this Good Friday as well.


We entered through this archway, and as I passed through and saw what's on the other side, I think I just said 'wow' and stood in awe for a few seconds.










It's just really pretty. I'm impressed that they paint every single inch.












Time to drive to Macedonia.


We drove through the border and hopped out at a little store to swap some money and grab a drink. I reached for the Cockta, which I'd had on my last Balkan jaunt. It's the Yugoslav version of Coke, but doesn't really taste much like it.



Up next, Kosovo and Macedonia!

1 comment:

llcall said...

I thought I would have to wait until after the wedding for a blog mention of the proposal but you super came through for me, Lauren! ;) Congratulations on a successful international adventure and the engagement! These pictures are STUNNING. The next big question is where are you honeymooning; I'm sure it will be something amazing.

Back to Bulgaria with some Amsterdam

After a long day of driving we made it to Plovdiv. We had booked an Airbnb place with a Bulgarian guy - took us a minute to find his apartme...