Wednesday, December 06, 2006 Bulgaria Bulgaria

Sofia so good

These guys popped out of the presidential offices, marched around a bit, went back inside to put their coats on (it was cold), then marched back out to relieve the guards who were on duty for the previous hour. [IMG_0407]
Changing of the guard [Enlarge]

Bulgaria is currently counting down the days to 1st January 2007 when it officially joins the EU. To us just walking around, Sofia feels like a very optimistic city. What EU membership will mean to Bulgarians in their normal lives we don't really know (we did ask a few people but they didn't seem to know either). But there is a definite air of anticipation and a positivity that reminds us of Budapest. Yes, there are rough edges—like the potholes in all the pavements that could swallow Isla whole—but fixing these details will come in time. At the same time the Bulgarians are justifiably very proud of their national identity: the negative nod and affirmative shake being just one example.

We wandered around Sofia, trying to simultaneously look down all the time to avoid tripping over, and look up all the time so as not to be killed by the maniac drivers. As we neared the President's office (he doesn't seem to have a palace), we noticed that there was a commotion out front involving a lot of stomping about. We had stumbled upon the hourly changing of the guard: a ritual which, in a country where it's usually –5°C in early December, actually involves a choreographed march up the steps into the guardroom to put on a nice warm coat before doing the proper march back out for an hour's guard duty. We're convinced that the exaggerated foot stamping only evolved to keep their circulation going in winter.

Despite loving Sofia and knowing that we need to slow our pace down we decided to stick to the plan and push on to İstanbul, our first real goal, and then to spend a reasonable amount of time there. We also knew that it could get really cold any day and İstanbul would be warmer. We sussed out the bus station. There are several companies, in cut-throat competition, offering passage along the route to İstanbul. The difference in price is negligible and the advice is always to pick the most expensive, because the difference in coach quality is huge. Metro Plus was 5 Lev (GBP 1.73 / USD 3.39) more than its competitors, but left at 09:00 which meant that most of the 9–10 hour journey would be in daylight. We paid 40 Lev (GBP 13.85 / USD 27.16) each and went to find a web connection to book accommodation. We decided to push the boat out and book the first night in a decent hotel, as a reward to ourselves for reaching our first major destination. After all, what's the point of the trip if we can't splash out occasionally? The number one requirement was for a bath; and that bath had to be fed by water which was both hot and pressurised—a combination that seems to be unavailable in most hostels. After a search of Expedia we selected the Hotel Dedeman İstanbul which, considering it is 5-star, cost a very reasonable GBP 75.00 (USD 147.00) per night for a double room and two breakfasts.

With the next leg of our journey sorted we returned to the hostel via the Etno restaurant, which seemed well-frequented by the locals. As always we wanted to sample the local cuisine, so we chose a strange chewy-but-tasty spiced sausage followed by delicious rissoles.


Jimmy K. said...

What type of meat?

Glenn Livett said...

We thought it best not to ask :-)

mi6o said...

Nice kebepche or bad parzhola ;)Either one is available. Question of fortune...e-e-e-e... :)))