48 Hours in Sofia

Sofia, Bulgaria deserves to be highlighted as an incredible place to live and visit.  It is beautiful yet affordable, deliciously sweet yet savory, and has an all-around good vibe.  It needs to have songs written about it and be on everyone’s bucket lists.  But to make it kitschy which would take away from the very essence of Bulgaria’s capital, and I’m jealously guarding this place for myself.  Stay away.

 

If you for some reason don’t take my advice, here’s what to do if you have two days in Sofia.

 

Day One

Find a bakery and eat banitsa.  Egg, yogurt, cheese, and butter in between flaky layers of filo dough baked in the oven.  Savory goodness and very traditional.

Banitsa

 

Wander the city.  Sofia is extremely walkable and flat, so walk up to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and go inside (donation-based entrance fee).  Walk a little further south to the Stefan Stambolov monument (in a park), and ponder getting an axe to the head.  Then walk south down to Vitosha Boulevard, the main commercial street in Sofia.  A little touristy but worth seeing, and worth the view of the Vitosha mountain in the background.

Nevsky Cathedral

 

Grab lunch – find a place where you can have a good shopska salad, which is similar to a Greek salad with less olives and using a different type of cheese.

Shopska Salad

 

Take the free walking tour of Sofia with a company called – you guessed it – Free Sofia Tour.

Walking Tour

 

Eat dinner at Lavanda and don’t skip the dessert.

LaVanda

 

Walk a little further down to Hambara, which is technically an event venue in order to sneak around fire regulations, but is really a candlelit bar.  Order a glass of rakia and a local beer.

 

Hambara

Day Two

Grab baklava for breakfast, order a sandwich to-go and take a cab to the Vitosha Mountain.  Ride the gondola up to a hiking trail, explore the mountain, eat your sandwich at the summit, and then enjoy a hot coffee or cold beer at the lodge on the way down.

Hiking glamour shot

 

Take a nap.  Naps are essential. Bonus points if you have a cat.

Naps are for winners

 

Dinner at Nikolas.

Dinner at Nikolas

 

Find an outdoor table at The Cocktail Bar, order a goblet of strawberry rhubarb Gin and Tonic, soak in the Bulgarian night air, and extend your stay.

Goblet

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Questions to Ask Your Traveling Friend

I am fortunate/lucky/brave/bold/wild/crazy enough to have been working remotely and traveling for over three months now.  That in and of itself is a mouthful.  I make things happen to make this work for me every day.  Every day I’m working.

I am blessed with countless friends and family following me along for the ride, and even visiting (Dad’s coming next month!!!).  I’m blogging and sharing on Facebook and posting pictures on Instagram and writing emails and sending texts and enjoying FaceTime phone calls.  As I hit Stop #4 and passed my 100th day of traveling with Remote Year, I realized I still have so much more to say.

I notice sometimes that the conversation with a loved one back home can grind to a halt.  I haven’t seen you face-to-face in months, and our catch-ups may not be very lengthy or deep.  Maybe I’ll tell you about my most recent weekend but we haven’t chatted in six weeks.  Maybe you tell me about your day, but that’s it.  How do you connect on a deeper level?  How do I share the craziness of travel without completely dominating the conversation?  How do I explain what an AMAZING time I’m having without making your life seem dull or ordinary (because I never think that!  Travelers crave routine and home comforts too!).  How do I get you to open up and share with me?

I struggled myself when talking to friends who took side trips to other countries.  How was Stockholm?  It was great!  …… Cool!  …….. Now what do I say?

I started to form a list of questions to help myself and hopefully help all of you who know someone who travels.  It could be a weeklong vacation, or a semester abroad in college, or a permanent life of travel: everyone wants to share.  Here’s what to ask.

  • What was the best food you ate in THIS CITY?
  • What was your favorite moment this week?
  • Tell me about where you stayed.  In a hotel?  Apartment?  With a friend?  Did you like it?
  • Does THIS CITY have a signature drink or food item?  Tell me about it!
  • Tell me one thing that you did and don’t regret.
  • Tell me about the local culture in THIS COUNTRY.  How is it different from back home?
  • What’s the weather like?  Did you pack appropriately?
  • Did you feel like a local or like a tourist while traveling?  Why?
  • Could you ever live there for a long period of time?  Why or why not?
  • Tell me about a time you found peace and quiet.  Where was that?
  • What moment made you feel the most alive?
  • What moment made you wish you were back home?
  • Have you connected with any locals or expats?  Who?
  • Do you recommend me putting that on my bucket list?
  • Do you have pictures you could send me?

 

 

 

I Like to Like Things

Last month I told a fellow Remote Year colleague how excited I was about traveling to Sofia, Bulgaria.  She asked Why did I feel that way?  Any particular reason?

My response?  “I have no idea.  But why the heck wouldn’t I like it?!”

I don’t need to have a reason to like something — sometimes I just assume I will.  My positive disposition takes over – us Carr-Joneses ‘like to like things,’ as my sister Tori put it.

I wrote a blog post before I left for this trip about how I may not tell you about all the sad and sucky parts of this journey.  Partly because those don’t make for good storytelling and partly because I don’t dwell on that stuff, I move forward.  This gets a lot of crap on other blogs – tell it how it is, be raw, be real bullshit.  I am being real.  I haven’t had any freakouts yet.  I’m not homesick (what is home to me anyway?).  I miss my friends and family sometimes but am staying fairly connected via video chats and email.  I don’t get overwhelmed by their absence because I made a decision before I left: I will miss birthdays and weddings and holidays and babies.  I will deal with it, because the tradeoff is moving to a new country every month.   Which is, by the way, freaking incredible.

 

You might be asking yourself, Why is Casey so gosh-darn happy in her blogs?  It can’t be reality.

It is reality – for me.  Not for everyone here, but for me, I am loving it.   This can get me in trouble if I try to force people to feel the same way (working on this one).

 

I’m happy with the big events and I’m happy with the day-to-day routine —- the otherwise normal mediocrity except for the fact that I’m doing all of these things in a new, exciting place.  I spent this past weekend doing work and laundry and buying groceries and shopping for a new white shirt (red wine be damned) and getting an iced cappuccino from Dunkin Donuts and none of that is remarkable except I did it all in Sofia, Bulgaria and I HAVEN’T HAD DUNKIN IN THREE MONTHS AND IT WAS HEAVEN.  And I’m not trying to write a blog about my boring commonplace weekend (except I just did?).

 

I like to like things.  I seek them out.  I go into adventures thinking I already like what I’m about to do.  No, I’ve never done a yoga retreat in Bulgaria BUT I’M SURE I WILL LOVE IT.  Thailand sounds great, I SHOULD GO THERE.  Do I like hiking?  SURE!  LET’S GIVE IT A GO! Do I want to go on a pub crawl?  Well that one should be obvious.

I liked Morocco, and it’s okay to like a place and still be happy to leave it.  I may have not liked getting a bit sick from the water, and maybe it was dirty and hot sometimes and maybe we ate the same food over and over but I still liked it.  I liked my apartment and I liked our coworking space and I liked the medina and the argan oil and the fresh fruit and I liked how much my group bonded by adjusting to a totally new culture.  And I really like Sofia!  In a completely different way.

This particular stop on our itinerary was a dark horse.  It was a place I would never have visited had I not joined Remote Year.  I had no clue what to expect, and as per usual I did a minimal amount of research before arriving.  So I leave the airport and drop my bags in my apartment and start to walk.  As we wander around town to get our bearings and enjoy our first traditional Bulgarian meal, the golden light hit the green and gold domes on the Nevsky cathedral and WHAM – my original theory  “I will like Sofia” came to be.  It may be a self-fulfilling prophecy but I’ll take it either way.

I like to like things.  And I especially like to like things that involve a nice Bulgarian beer.