16 – 26 DECEMBER 2017
EUROPEAN COUNTRY #1:
SOFIA & BANSKO, BULGARIA
So when I pictured my dream European adventure, I have to admit ‘Bulgaria’ was not on the list of must -see places. Nevertheless, brilliant Bulgaria landed the mega milestone of ‘first place I visited in Europe’.
Yep, destination 1 of many European cities was Sofia, Bulgaria. WHY OH WHY Bulgaria? you beckon. Before actually going to Bulgaria, I had asked myself this question a few times as well. I had met people who had travelled and lived in Europe and when I declared ‘Bulgaria’ as the first and only place I had booked for my trip to Europe, most people reacted with a disappointed ‘..Uh. Why Bulgaria?’ A woman I met even told me that a person she knew had been stabbed there and I should reconsider!
OK, so to be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually CHOOSE Bulgaria. It was thrust upon me by my beautiful best friend who was taking a trip to a ski resort in Bulgaria with a bunch of other Aussies to enjoy a white Christmas. When she made the proposition, the thought of enjoying a Christmas away from home with my best friend seemed like the perfect plan so I accepted without hesitation and so goes the story of Brilliant Bulgaria being destination number 1 on my 11 month European hiatus.
One thing many people already know is, I am a HUGE cheapskate. I’ll do a lot to save a little. I will sign up to ANY email list to save 10% on my first purchase and even then, I still search the internet for better coupon codes. I probably waste a heap of time but I think it in my blood because I share this trait with my mother who will scower through every supermarket flyer in her mailbox to find the best price on this weeks meat & veg. Yep my mum will go to every supermarket in town to do her shopping if It means getting the best prices.
ANYWAY, I had initially planned to scoot straight to the ski resort, Bansko to spend a short while there during Christmas and then scoot off to the next best amazing European city I could. BUT the flights to get to Bulgaria were 3 x less if we flew in one week prior to Christmas and alas my inner cheapskate didn’t even consider what the hell Sofia was or what there is to do there and without a bat of an eyelid a flight was booked to spend the first week of our European adventure in Sofia, Bulgaria.
So we spent most of our time in Sofia, Bulgaria before heading to Bansko, a ski resort where we spent Christmas time feeling really sore from snowboarding and with sore heads from drinking a little too much.
WHAT EVEN IS BULGARIA & WHAT IS THERE TO DO THERE?
Located in the Balkans just next to the Black sea is Brilliant Bulgaria. Bulgaria is consistently starting to churn travelers seeking a cheap holiday destination… and rightfully so.
I was astounded at the vast amount of history in Bulgaria from Slavic, Rome, Greek, Ottoman and Persia. You can see this history via beautiful architecture and monuments that have been preserved for exploring. For example we saw beautiful Russian Churches, Christian Churches, Mosques and Ancient Ruins all in Sofia!
Not only are there marvelous monuments and incredible history to explore but it is also easy to take a ride from Sofia to nearby Bulgarian towns to take in astounding nature. There are marvelous mountains to hike, slippery slopes to ski and even a coastal black sea to laze at!
So there is plenty to do in Sofia & Bulgaria surrounds – tours, shopping, eating, drinking, hiking, skiing and even taking a dip in the Black Sea – take your pick!
Apart from all the great things you can do, the best thing about Bulgaria, is that many of those things are super cheap: right up my alley!
For example in Sofia, we stayed in a two bedroom apartment via airbnb which cost us $45 AUD per night. It was perfect for us because we got cook some meals at home, enjoy a good sleep in and have our own space. Food and drinks were typically cheap – a glass of wine costing about $3AUD and a good hearty restaurant meal costing $8 – $12 AUD. I love to check out restaurants and cafes so it was awesome to eat out cheap.
A little bit more expensive then Sofia is to hit the ski resorts but still only $80 AUD per night in an apartment in Bansko with a kitchen. Our accommodation was close to the gondola that takes you to the slopes and we had a spa, pool and sauna which was a nice plus! Ski gear cost us about $80 AUD (board, boots, pants, jacket, gloves etc) and a three day pass to get to the slopes was $136 AUD pp. Going to Bulgaria is a super cheap way to hit the slopes.
Bulgaria is brill!
A cheap destination for any traveler – the hiker, the nature lover, the skiier or the historian.
During our time in Sofia we enjoyed checking out trendy cafes/restaurants, trying the cuisine, learning about the cities vast history and just taking our time – like the locals! It was nice to see a bit of a disconnect from the fast paced, tech savvy USA that we flew in from.
MY SELF REFLECTION SECTION
I like to take away as much as I can from an experience, whether it be negative or positive. This is a self reflection section on what I took away from my time in Bulgaria.
In Bulgaria I learnt:
- It is important to be open-minded about a destination before you arrive.
There was no need to be uptight about Bulgaria. I felt safe the entire time and enjoyed every moment. Experiences and interpretation of a particular place will always be different to another individual’s. Take in what others have to say but never let it hinder your own experience and make the most of a particular moment in your own way.
- How lucky we Australians have it with our diverse land and subsequent array of meat and veg!
We cooked a couple of times while we were in Bulgaria. It was difficult to find any lamb or beef in the supermarket or even certain cuts of meat. It got me thinking that we are really lucky to have such a diverse country where we can choose from so many different types of meat and vegetables at the local supermarket.
- Bulgarians drink a lot & snowboarding hurts every part of the body.
The traditional alcoholic beverage, Rakia (40% ABV), will give you a nasty hangover. Also, it took a week for my bum to recover from 3 days of horrendous snowboarding tumbles
- Nothing beats holidaying with great people
Sharing amazing experiences with other like minded people is a beautiful experience. I am continually meeting others and learning from them during my journey. I am truly grateful for having shared Christmas with friends – both old and new.
MY SOFIA INSIDER TIP
As many of the older generation in Sofia speak little, if any, English, getting in a Taxi can sometimes be a difficult feat.
Indeed, when searching the interwebs for things to do in Sofia you are often faced with many blogs warning you to make sure you get yourself into a Taxi that has it price listed on the vehicle, to make sure the meter is on and to watch out for particular phone numbers or symbols on the side of the taxi to avoid getting scammed.
If you absolutely have to hail a taxi, these are great tips BUT to avoid any time wasting and second guessing I recommend downloading Taxi Me.
Taxi Me is a platform that allows you to hail a taxi via your device. Not only do you get an honest and reliable taxi driver, the Taxi’s on Taxime are usually a lot cleaner.