2 May 2011

Bulgarian Border Crossings

The bus ride to Plovdiv was long and uncomfortable. The seats were awkward and cramped, I was hungover, had a flu coming on, and despite being extremely tired, could not get any sleep. To top it off I was held aside at the border crossing from Turkey to Bulgaria at 3am in the morning, and told to wait by the interview room... I think once the guy had processed the whole bus load he couldn't be bothered with me again, so just stamped my passport and handed it back. Phew! Not that I was there illegally, I just don't think I would have made any sense at all when questioned in that state.

The bus ride was long, but not long enough! We arrived into Plovdiv earlier than expected, at 5:30am. The first thing I noticed was the casinos everywhere. Apparently Bulgaria is like the Vegas of the Balkans, as gambling is illegal in the surrounding countries.

I met up with my host, Baran, at about 7am. Baran is an interesting and friendly guy, originally from Turkey but now living in Bulgaria. I was feeling like absolute crap, besides the sleepless night, the flu was really starting to set in (for the third time on this trip). No surprises though; after two huge nights out in Istanbul, with one sleepless night out in the bitter cold sandwiched in the middle. I hit the bed and didn't wake for about 5 hours.

That afternoon I went out to explore Plovdiv. It is a relatively small city, but has a very cool old town, full of ancient Roman ruins as well as newer 19th century buildings. Most of the old town is built over three hills... I climbed two and was rewarded with beautiful views over the city. Plovdiv is also quite well known for its night-life, but unfortunately in my current state there was no way I would be seeing any of it. It is also VERY cheap, as is most of Bulgaria. I thought Turkey was going to be really cheap, and it kind of was, but Bulgaria is really cheap. And I also found out that they love to drink. You can get beer everywhere, and they sell it in these huge bottles. It goes for about 1LEV per litre. That is about 50 Euro cents... I think I'm going to like it here.

That evening Baran and I went out for a meal, typical Bulgarian style. I had a tomato, cucumber and cheese salad, along with a cheese and egg pie. Both were really good. Afterwards we went out to a bar/cafe and met up with a couple of Baran's friends, who were all very friendly.

I had planned to stay in Plovdiv two days, but unfortunately Baran was called away to work and had to leave early the next day. I looked at it as a blessing in disguise, as the embassys of some of the countries I need visa's for are located Sofia - my next stop. So an extra day there might be just what I need.

Luckily my hosts in Sofia could take me a day early. Bojo and Zlaty are very active CouchSurfers - they have hosted some crazy number of times. Before me they had hosted people from 49 different countries, and as they had not yet hosted a kiwi, I was lucky number 50! Their profile is full of amazing references, and it is no surprise - they are great hosts. Really helpful and friendly, but also just cool people to hang out with. They actually were a massive help with my Ukrainian visa, but more on that later...

So I showed up, dropped my bags, and headed out to find some embassy's. The first I visited was Moldova, which I just wanted a transit visa. The tourist visa is harder to get as you need an invitation, and besides, the transit visa gives me 48 hours in the country, enough time for a quick squiz. But to get the transit visa, I first needed confirmation of my plan to visit Ukraine - in the form of a Ukrainian visa. Makes sense I guess.

So off I trundled to the Ukrainian embassy (which was miles across town), only to find it was closed. Doh! It seems the Embassy, or at least the visa department, doesn't like working, as it is only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-12. This is not the first time I have come across the visa office having very limited hours - makes things really difficult for a traveller with limited time and resources.

The following day I again attempted to acquire some visa's. There was mixed information on the internet about the Ukraine visa - some saying you needed a tourist voucher (what that is I am still not really sure) and/or a hotel booking. To be safe I decided to book a hostel, hoping that would be enough. But the problem was printing it out... I spent almost two hours trying to find a net cafe!! Time was ticking as the embassy was due to close at 12. Thankfully I made it, only to be told I need one of these 'tourist vouchers'. When questioned about what exactly this document is, I was just given the card of a travel agent and told to contact them. So frustrating! And I am sure that the whole thing is just a money making scam. But my super-hosts to the rescue. Zlaty is a travel agent, and was able to make up all the documents I'll need to get the visa. Such an unbelievably huge help!

That afternoon I finally got to see Sofia. It has its share of big, square, communist-era buildings... but it kind of pulls it off in a cool way. The city is actually really beautiful, with lots of tree lined streets and churches scattered all over the place. Two of the most impressive buildings I found were the St. Nikolaj the Miracle Maker Church (a Russian style church) and the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, a simply impressive building, inside and out. Besides that the city has some amazing parks - full of nice trees and people enjoying the sun.

Zlaty's sister Nadia, and her friend (also Nadia) run a hostel in Sofia. The following day they were moving the hostel to a new location, so I spent most of the day helping them out, along with some of their friends. It was actually quite cool, and I got to meet a whole lot of really nice Bulgarian people. Plus free pizza! Nadia and Nadia are very cool girls and have an amazing hostel. If you are ever in Sofia and after a nice place to stay, you should check out Canape Connection and tell them I sent you ;)... They didn't even pay me to write that. Honest!

While wandering around Sofia I came across these huge bears - all painted by an artist in different country. Of course I had to hunt down the New Zealand one! Pretty coooool aye bro!


I am currently on a bumpy, old bus winding my way through the Macedonian hills, having left Sofia this morning. The journey has been very scenic, passing by beautiful rolling hills, lush green trees and grass, farmers on the side of the roads working in the fields, as well as travelling along possibly one of the bumpiest sealed roads I have experienced. I expect the next few days will be a little uneventful, as I am going to attempt to get the Ukraine visa once more, now armed with all the correct documents. I am not sure how long it will take and I cannot leave Macedonia while the Ukrainians have my passport. So we will just have to see how it all pans out...

1 comment:

  1. What I love in Bulgaria is that it gives you a nostalgic feel as they got old structures like hotels and their sculptures are nice.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...