Sofia, Bulgaria

“United Bulgarians can lift a mountain”

Bulgarian Proverb

 

sofia ruins

So as part of my plan to visit as many countries as I can this year, whilst working full-time, I’ve been popping across to Europe whenever I have a few days off, so in April, I visited Sofia in Bulgaria.

I didn’t really know what to expect and travelling so soon after a month along trip, I hadn’t really done much research. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised! Bulgaria is cheap, the people are friendly with most speaking English well and it’s beautiful!

sofia mountain over city

The first thing I noticed on arrival in Sofia was a snow covered mountain rising above the town at the end of Vitosha Boulevard, the main shopping street. These are the Vitosha Mountain massif and somewhere immediately high on my priority list to visit!

I’d booked an Urban Adventures ‘Food, Heritage and Culture’ tour for my first afternoon so headed straight off on this. It was a great introduction to the city, as I saw many of the beautiful historic buildings and churches, ancient ruins and tried some delicious food along the way. I also picked up tips on where to head over the rest of my time and restaurant recommendations. The traditional Bulgarian salad was a big favourite and I ordered this a few more times… The dishes mostly feature hearty meat and potatoes. I made sure I sampled a few Bulgarian wines too.

 

bulgarian salad

I enjoyed just strolling around, admiring the architecture, and popping into churches or museums as they took my fancy. I visited the women’s market and the main food market and crossed over a few bridges.

I stayed at a Guest House just off Vitosha Boulevard, with a kitchen so that I could make my own coffee and breakfast in the morning, and had the option of making lunch for the day too. The room was comfortable but basic – just what I needed.

With only 4 days in Bulgaria, I have to confess that I didn’t actually spend all that long in Sofia itself, as I escaped the city by heading to the mountains and booked a day trip to Plovdiv and Koprivshtiza (more anon…). I’d recommend a visit to all of these and think I’ll be back myself to visit Varna, or to easily pop to Serbia or Macedonia!

sofia fountain

 

Travelling with my Dad

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me”

Jim Valvano

 

This year, I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel with my Dad and even more so that I was able to get a month off work to do so! I have always been close to my parents and since we lost Mum suddenly last year, it is even more important that we all look out for each other. Dad has always wanted to go to Australia but Mum wasn’t such a good traveller. This year, I had a conference in Singapore and thought this would be a great opportunity to visit my best friend who has been living in Melbourne for the last four years. And of course, I invited Dad along too…

sydney harbour

As I do shift work, I was able to travel between sets of nights which helped maximise my leave and with study leave built in too, I was able to get the most leave I’ve ever had in one go, since I graduated. Obviously there were constraints on dates with regard to the conference and shifts. Overall we had just two weeks in Australia, then a few days in Singapore for the conference and a week after that.

GOR light

I’ve been to Australia three times before but still have loads of places that I’ve yet to go. My Dad is so laid back that it was really difficult to get him to tell me what he wanted to do. My original plan had been Melbourne, Sydney, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef i.e. to see the things most people probably thing of when they think of Australia. Dad said he was really keen to see Sydney but wasn’t that fussed about Uluru and as the flights were expensive, that then got dropped. The Great Ocean Road is my personal favourite thing in Australia – I’ve now been three times! And with my friend being based in Melbourne, that was an easy decision. I did my PADI in Cairns 9 years ago but a bit of google research told me that Port Douglas or Palm Cove was a much better option to stay in to access the Great Barrier Reef, so we stayed in both! One of my cousins spent a year travelling around Australia and recommended Noosa and Brisbane so they were our final destinations, and new to me too.

As Singapore is not that big (and I’ve been before), I planned to see things in the evening after my conference and to pop out in the hour long lunch breaks too, so we flew out the day after it finished.

singapore skyline

For the final week, I figured we’d go somewhere that was at least in the vague direction of home. We debated between Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Jordan etc before finally settling on Vietnam. As we wanted to be home in time for Easter with the family, that only gave us five days in Vietnam and thus we had to decide whether we’d prefer to see the North or South. As direct flights back to the UK are only on alternate days, that made our decision for us so we were off to Hanoi and Halong Bay!

halong bay boats

Travelling with Dad was fantastic – I can now appreciate my parents for the people they are themselves. It also meant I gained a better insight into how he’s coping. It was nice to not need to be quite so budget conscious too! Dad is a perfect travelling companion – easy going, willing to try most things and always willing to stop for a beer or two! Thanks Dad x

Brisbane skyline