Today we have a guest blog post from Hannah who runs Hurricane Hannah.

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Recently I took a little side trip to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. This bustling city is not for the faint of heart especially in winter and per the usual I planned this trip extremely last minute. As in decided to go on Sunday and caught a bus Monday. The trek from Thessaloniki to Sofia is only about 5 hours. The views on the ride were lovely but as I drove I realized that I was voluntarily going somewhere colder. Even with the cold I come away from my trip with a few lessons learned and a few new memories made!

Here are five things I learned on this hasty trip to Bulgaria.

1. It turns out when it comes to paying for accommodations I have standards. That was a surprise to me, I sort of pride myself on not giving a fuck about where I stay as long as it is out of the cold. But when I arrived at my 10 Bulgarian Lev (5 euro) a night hostel. It was on the side of a highway way out of the way of the city center. That is annoying but not a deal breaker for me. However, I was not pleased to walk into my dorm to find three very drunk middle aged men sitting around a comically small tablet watching god knows what and who cheered when I entered the room. Ladies and gentlemen, my bunk mates. I politely told the receptionist that I was moving hostels. She said that was probably a good idea and called me a taxi. The hostel I ended up staying in came in at a big 16 Lev a night (8 euros) and oh how that 6 lev made a difference. I got a nice bed in an 18 person dorm and felt much cozier. Hostel Mostel is located in the city center and the staff jumped into giving me directions and telling me about free tours and places to grab a bite to eat. Much better. What I will say about these situations for other travelers is this, if your gut says this is not good, listen. Don’t stay somewhere because you don’t want to seem rude or you think you are over reacting. Do what you need to do for yourself in those moments and don’t feel bad about it. Just be calm, figure out a plan, and then get the hell out of there.

2. Sofia has some wonderful Cathedrals. The Alexander Cathedral in the center of city is free to enter and is breathtaking. I went twice because the first time I just happened upon it and wandered through and the second time because I was meeting a friend and it made for an excellent meeting point. You can’t miss it. My friend it turned out was both Orthodox and very knowledgeable about the area. For someone like myself who walks into a church with a slight worry about lightening striking me down it was nice to watch someone who can navigate a cathedral with ease. There is something calming about being in those ancient sweeping halls and looking up at the paintings of priests. Sofia itself is named after Saint Sofia the saint of Divine Wisdom. Sofia is the Greek word for wisdom.

3. It is mega affordable. Sofia and The Balkans in general have been really reasonably priced. Eating out in Sofia usually cost me about 20 Lev (10 Euro) and that includes a dish with a drink or two!

4. Buses are not very dependable. I decided to take a bus at 11:30pm from Sofia to Thessaloniki. It never came. No explanation, the company was no help and because it was so late I couldn’t check it to an affordable hostel so I was stranded on the outskirts of the city until 3 am when I finally gave in and booked a room at a Ramada rather than on the floor of the bus station. The bus company did not seem concerned the next day and offered me a seat on the 10am bus back to Thess. I think this stuff just kind of happens and you have to be flexible. My advice is to take the second to last bus, instead of the very last one for the night. Or at least take a bus that leaves before the company’s offices close.

5. Coolest Little Flea Market. There was an awesome little flea market set up in a square near the Alexander Cathedral. I bought an old school soviet Zenit 35mm camera for about $20. There were vestiges of Bulgarian and Russian history in the merchandise. For a person who loves antiques they sport some fun things to window shop. I planned on window shopping until I came across all of these beautiful film cameras. Then, I caved.

There is always something to be learned on a trip. Even one for a couple of days. Every city has it’s own flavor and feel and for me I really enjoyed Sofia’s vibe. Even the snow charmed me, which is saying a lot.


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