Monday, April 25, 2011

Traveling Woman, pt. 1

I've been doing some traveling recently, which has been interesting. Traveling makes me appreciate what I've got here in Vienna while also helping me learn interesting things about other places. A few weekends ago, I took a trip with my friend Laura to Sofia, Bulgaria. I won't talk about everything, but here are some highlights (in no particular order, to keep everyone on their toes):

    Rila Monastery (take a peek at the awesome frescoes!)
  • Rila Monastery - On our second day in Sofia, we participated in an excursion offered from our hostel, and we took a terrifying (because of our crazy driver) two hour drive into the mountains near Sofia. We ended up at the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, an impressive complex built originally in the 10th century, though most what is left was built in the 19th century. The church in the middle is beautiful, with fantastically colorful frescoes everywhere! Also, we some some monks walking around... and I like monks.
  • Free walking tour - Our first day, Laura insisted that we take a free walking tour of the city, which was a great idea! We got to visit all the important places of Sofia with someone telling us interesting things about them. Sofia is on top of a natural spring (rather than a river or lake like most European cities), and we got to see some Sofians filling 5 gallon jugs with water. Also, I won a prize for answering a trivia question. 
  • These bracelets are tied to trees during spring
    after a Bulgarian sees a stork, to bring good
    luck in the following year! I have one, but I've
    never seen a stork... so no good luck yet.
  • Our hostel - In Sofia, we stayed in a lovely hostel called Hostel Mostel. The hostel offered a complimentary breakfast (with 2 kinds of cheese, apples, yogurt, tomatoes AND ham!) and pasta dinner, and the friendly atmosphere made everyone feel comfortable sitting around and making small talk. We met a lot of interesting people in the hostel who often joined us on our adventures, which was great. To top it off, the hostel was dirt cheap! Overall, it was a win.
  • Learning about their crazy history - Sofia as a city has had a lot of leadership issues. It's history starts with the Thracians around the 4th century BC, which was followed by leadership by the Romans for a while. In the 800s, it became part of the Bulgarian Empire (yay!). An influential part of Sofia's history was when it was part of the Ottoman empire, from 1382 until 1878. The Turks turned some of the older churches into mosques and did a lot of other things that the Sofians didn't really like. Finally in 1878 Sofia was liberated by Russia. After siding with Germany in WWII, Bulgaria formed a Communist government, which was abolished in 1989. See, I told you it was crazy!!!! I can hardly fathom how they've managed to maintain their culture and sense of identity throughout this whole mess.
  • Cheap food - Vienna is expensive. Sofia is cheap. I ate a lot. 
Alexander Nevski Church
  • Talking to my cab driver in German - One of my favorite moments in Sofia was in the taxi ride back to the airport. While my driver was on the phone, I looked out my window and saw 1. a man reading the newspaper while driving, 2. a man rollerblading the wrong direction through traffic and 3. a man eating a sandwich and talking on the phone while driving. And people wonder while Sofia is such a nightmare, traffic-wise. Anyway, the driver and I had a great talk in German, which put me in a good mood. It's fun to speak German with people who also don't speak it perfectly, since neither of us is intimidated!  
Laura, Sloth and Guillaume enjoying baklava!
Anyway, Sofia was an interesting city, but definitely not like Vienna. It's much poorer and less stable, but the people were still very kind to a pair of non-Bulgarian-speaking American girls. At one point, we got lost while looking for a church, and asked for directions in a movie store... I ended up speaking in broken English to a women on a cell phone, because these kind Sofians were willing to do anything to help.

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