back to bulgaria : sofia edition

Spending only a week in Sofia, I don't feel properly equipped to make a fair judgement on the city. But, it overall left a positive impression. With gorgeous Central-European inspired intertwined with Soviet and Byzintine archetectures, walking the city streets was a constant pleasant surprise. All pleasant until you happen upon a statue with eyeballs, that is.

The standout building is of course the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which dominates the roundabout upon which it sits. Our Airbnb was literally on the corner, so we were lucky enough to get glimpses of it every day even doing mundane tasks like running to the grocery store. 

But for me, the best bit was a table in an outdoor market chock-full of vintage analog cameras, from which I walked away with a ФЭД-2 (FED-2) Soviet Leica clone. I've already run a roll through it, and can't wait to get it developed. Stay tuned!

Window painter - Sofia
Sofia Camera Table
analog heaven - Sofia
FED-2 Soviet Leica Clone
Chupa Chups - Sofia
Kubrick in Sofia
High noon - Sofia
National Assembly Bulgaria
National Assembly Bulgaria
Sofia Cathedral
Sunset in Sofia
Alexander Nevsky Sunset

skopje 2017 : the city planners must be drunk

Eclectic. Contradictory. Identity crisis. It's hard to describe the capital of Macedonia. Skopje 2014 was/is an initiative to modernize and give an identity to Skopje. Large structures were planned - some since completed, some still in the works - and statues were seemingly thoughtlessly placed in any available spot. It's as if the universe had some statues for lunch, and bad seafood for dinner - and the streets, bridges, and buildings of Skopje were the victims of this circumstance. I cannot adequately express just how many statues are here - I'm half convinced that there's a statue of me and you unceremoniously placed somewhere downtown. 

In addition to the surreal nature of open and completely empty plazas surrounded by modern government buildings pumping Christmas music in the +95F weather of August, the city, like many other Balkan cities, hosts an old Ottoman neighbourhood. Now a lively Turkish bazaar, one can get lost in the winding cobble-stoned streets, relax in a canopied courtyard and sip Turkish tea, or of course shop. The contradictions are not limited to Ottoman versus Western, though. No, no. The Western bits like to contradict themselves with Soviet-era concrete buildings sprinkled in to modern buildings of every architectural style - some so new that they look and feel like the backlot of a Hollywood movie studio. 

The charms of Skopje don't end with it's oddities. The sunsets have proven stellar. And we all know of my penchant for a good sunset

Skopje sweeping sunset
Orthodox Church Skopje
Orthodox Church and Mother Teresa House Skopje
Skopje Art Bridge
Stone Bridge Hotel Skopje
Cuba in Skopje
Skopje peering statues
Skopje Marriott hotel
Skopje sunset gradient
Chelsea London Phillips-3453.jpg
Skopje Turkish Bazaar from above
Turkish Bazaar Skopje
Skopje Turkish Bazaar courtyard.jpg
Skopje Turkish Bazaar worker.jpg
Skopje Turkish Bazaar calligraphy
Skopje Turkish Bazaar street cat
Skopje Post Office
Skopje golden hour

island living, island leaving which we saw two sunsets and one sunrise before reaching our destination.

days in crete

A month in Crete aimed to give us a break from stifling summer cities - and it achieved just that. Our days were spent sitting on the beach, watching the sun descend over the nearby mountain, and exploring our little bit of Heraklion's suburbs. 

Some days we ventured in to Heraklion, paying the paltry €2 to go into Koules Fortress where one can get a view of the entire city on one side, and the Aegean sea on the other. 

When it came time to leave Crete, we had decided to head to Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia. To achieve this would require either a stop over in Athens or Thessaloniki for a night, or 28 hours of straight travel. Not being ones to back down from a travel challenge, we went with the latter. To say goodbye to the land of souvlaki, we had our last meal serenaded under the umbrellas of Izmir Kebap - whose yogurt alone is worth the trip.

cretan sunset
everyones a model - heraklion fort
view from the fort
yellow jogger
from above
cretan suburbia
beach front pool
under an umbrella
minimal swim
waves of fire
no comments
izmir kebap
it's showtime

ferry to athens

Much like our ferry into Crete, the one going out departed at sunset to arrive in Athens at sunrise. Our ship in was a more modern version of this one, but the Wes Anderson and Kubrick vibes made our return trip slightly more interesting - and infinitely more creepy. 

sunset at the port
bae caught me composing
selfies across europe at sea
wave farewell
on the deck
waves gif
man and moon
desolate deck
mirror selfie
shining hallway
sunrise on deck
sunrise on deck
sunrise at port
smoke on the water gif
docking at sunrise

athens to skopje via thessaloniki

Arriving in Athens at 6:30AM, one is thrown into the hustle of an already awake city. Not having slept too well the previous night, we moved like zombies through the subway. Once disembarking the train, we followed my crudely drawn map that I had scrawled in my traveler's notebook the night before.

Finding our bus stop relatively easily thanks to my artistic prowess, we still had an hour and a half to kill - so do as the Grecians do, and sit in a cafe. 

The bus ride itself was challenging, clocking in at over 7 hours, and by the time we arrived in Thessaloniki we had already been in transit for 20 hours. With a quick hour layover at the Thessaloniki train station (where we were both dropped off by, and picked up by a bus), we headed back out on the road for the final leg of the journey. 

Four hours, an international border, and a time zone later, we had made it to Skopje - a land which has all the familiarities of our previous former Yugoslavian spots, but with an added touch of nostalgia in the form of some re-appropriated buses. Also large statues. So many large statues. 

breakfast in athens
bus to thessaloniki
thessaloniki text
thessaloniki train station
train spot
skopje bus
macedonian border
macadonian flag
no reservations bourdain in macadonian
macadonian countryside
for a good time call
everyones a photographer
sunset on the bus
london? no, skopje
warrior on horse

Rethymno you didn't

The bus ride from Heraklion to Rethymno is worth the €8 alone - half on the windy coastal roads, the other half high up in the cretan mountains patterned with rows of olive trees. Honestly, had Rethymno been a bust, we would have been happy to have just taken the drive. But, bust it was not. 

The Venetian influence over Crete is blatantly obvious in the windy streets of Rethymno - twisting and turning, only to open in small white-marbled piazze. Tourist shops and jewelry craftwork dot the tiny streets, reminding one of the Plaka in Athens, but with a forth of the crowds. A falafel and replacement wedding ring later, we found ourselves on a steep grade, panting in the 32C weather. 

To really hit that Venetian-vibe home, a dominating fortezza sits high upon a hill overlooking the Aegean coast. The fortress itself is one of interest with small alcoves and charming chapels on the grounds - but it is the view which is it's real selling point. All of Rethymno can be seen from the edges of the cliff, and the sea horizon looms in the distance. 

By the port, one can find seafood restaurants, a small lighthouse, and people's private boats. Swimming in prohibited, and after a quick dip of the feet, it became clear that it wouldn't be desirable thanks to the heavy stench which often is companioned by industrial ports. That doesn't take away from the beautiful blues and crystal clear waters. 

We caught a bus back to Heraklion in the early evening, vowing that the next time we come to Crete for an extended period, this is where we will make our home base. 

Heraklion to Rethymno
Rethymno streets
textiles and walks
Rethymno cafe life
motor bike
lights of rethymno
analog bike
here we are Crete
Rethymno fortress
Rethymno fortress chapel
chapel interior
fortress lookout
Rethymno fortress portrait
inside the dome
selfiesacrosseurope fortress
coastal road Rethymno
Coastal road Rethymno 2
Rethymno boats
trash boat
boats from above
man boat
pirate hole
basic sea feet
lone swimmer
Rethymno bus waiting space
Rethymno bus station
back in Heraklion

How about Souvlaki Land?

Plovdiv - Athens (via overnight bus)

The remaining days in Plovdiv were spent enjoying its crazy sunsets and trying desperately not to pass out from the oppressive heat by imbibing as frequently as possible in Kapana - our neighbourhood of choice. We had a 16 hour bus ride lined up, that would bring us all the way down to Athens - leaving at 13:45 and arriving at 5:30AM. To say I was impressed by this bus (Arda Tur) would be an understatement - having to hunker in anywhere for 16 hours can be claustrophobic, but it makes a big difference when someone comes by with foods and snacks at regular intervals. They even had inflight (indrive?) entertainment with the same 3 Simon Pegg movies on loop or an assortment of Eastern European music videos, for which I have a penchant.

Plovdiv Sunsets
Plovdiv Platz
Kapana Reflections
Plovdiv Bus Terminal
Arda Tur
Bulgaria by road
Pit Stop
Inside the bus

A day and a half in Athens

We ended up arriving a full half hour early in Athens at the ripe hour of 5AM. The sun had yet to rise, we were dropped off in what could basically be described as the middle of nowhere, as far as cities go, and fun fact: free and open wifi in Athens is, by my account,  not even a rarity - it simply doesn't happen (not even at Starbucks! Blasphemy!) But, we managed to wander ourselves toward the right direction, passing a just-opening fish and meat market, until we could finally see the peak of the Acropolis to use as a guide. Not able to check-in to our Airbnb for another 5 hours, and having not really slept on the bus, we napped in shifts in the shadows of the Acropolis. Moments like that are what it's all about, no?

After checking in and getting a settled (re: unsweatified) we wandered about, catching the changing of the guards at the Parliament building, and taking in a few cold Mythos atop a mountain whilst watching the sun set over the city below.  

The next morning, we headed up to the Acropolis around 10AM, which seemed like an ideal time weather and other visitor-wise. The scale and views alone were awe-inspiring. 

Fish market
Changing of the guards
Sunset in Athens
Backyard Athens views
Athens views
Athens Acropolis
Acropolis scaffolding
Acropolis workers
Human for scale
@selfiesacrosseurope - acropolis
Amphitheatre from above
Acropolis tourists
Acropolis view
the original sign

Athens - Crete (via overnight ferry)

After the Acropolis, it was time to head over to Piraeus to buy tickets for the overnight ferry to Crete, where we will be making base for the next month. I am thankful to this boat trip for two reasons: 1) I love boats. 2) I now know what a muster point is (assembly points, for the plebs out there.) 

It's an interesting thing, watching people try to entertain themselves on a 10 hour boat trip - some get excited when the onboard TVs are showing the live finale of Greek Survivor going so far as letting out an audible 'yelp' when it begins (this was my seat neighbour, by the by). Others spend longer than they normally do (I hope) getting that perfect selfie - I'm talking well over 30 minutes. Others find a quiet spot on the deck and watch the waves and stars pass by. Myself, I was a combination of the first and last - did you guys know there's some TV show (maybe movie) which stars very '90s people: Scott Wolf, Rachel Leigh Cook, and Eric McCormack? I do now. 

But, by far the most entertaining part of the boat trip was watching the sun ascend at a dramatic rate over the sea horizon as we got closer and closer to the Cretan coast. Upon arrival in Heraklion, we hopped a bus to our beach-front apartment and settled in for a month of soothing wave sounds from our balcony. 

Thissio colours
Thissio metro stop
Athens metro
waves gif
Piraeus Port
Buses at Piraeus
Piraeus gif
Smoke on the water
on board lighting
@selfiesacrosseurope - at see
fast moving ferry gif
on deck at night
sunrise at sea
Ferry morning
morning waves gif
Sunrise shadows
Sunrise on the ferry
Heraklion coast
Heriklion bus
Home sweet Crete
Crete views gif

Culture from day to night

Plovdiv will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019 - and they won't let you forget it. It's hard not to notice the seemingly overwhelming number of signs spotted across the city reminding all who walk the streets of this fact. Some more cynical visitors may have a good laugh about the pride they are taking in the honour, but take a closer look and it becomes clear that this is an honour well-deserved. 

I mentioned in my previous post that the city is full of ancient Roman ruins, one of which is still an active amphitheater - one in which even the likes of Attila the Hun took in a show. Of course, we had to take advantage of Open Opera utilizing the first century AD theatre. We snagged a couple of tickets to La Traviata for this past Saturday. 

The rain was on and off all day, threatening the show itself. But, as the time came closer, it seemed as if the rain would hold off - and as they say, the show must go on. About halfway through the first act, it began to rain once again. The orchestra and actors went as long as they could - even going as far as continuing playing their instruments whilst simultaneously pulling out their umbrellas. When that proved too difficult, they called a rain delay, and waited out the rain. The show began again, not missing a step, and only having to stop one other time in the second act. The cast, orchestra, and crew handled it like champs - not even letting flying props stop them.

It was such a surreal experience. Surreal and simply incredible.

Alyosha Monument
Spirit animal

After climbing the steep Bunarjik Hill to the Alyosha Monument in 85F (29C) degree weather, this kid (aka my spirit animal) responded in the only acceptable way. But, damn, that view.

Plovdiv from above
Plovdiv Together

'Together' - the slogan of Plovdiv Capital of Culture 2019

Blocked skies
Abstract Plovdiv
Silver tops
Fast Food
The Cube
Cyrillic Golden Hour
Grand Hotel Plovdiv
Shopping Center
Four Seasons
Sunset in Plovdiv
Plovdiv Times Square
Open Opera Plovdiv
Umbrellas at the Opera

They whipped out their umbrellas. I whipped out my camera.

Onwards to Bulgaria

Brasov - Bucharest (via train) 

After two months in Brasov, we were absolutely ready to move on to a new location. We decided on Plovdiv, Bulgaria to be our next monthly stay, but wanted to make the trip there a little more interesting. Neither of us had really spent any time on the Black Sea, and we were curious to see just how black it actually is (answer: not so much. It's sea-coloured.). So, we created a route that would bring us to Varna, Bulgaria for a week before heading over to Plovdiv. Because Varna is not so close to Brasov, this meant a night in Constanta, Romania before crossing the border. There is also no direct train from Brasov to Constanta, so we had a quick stop over in Bucharest. Those thinking of taking a train trip in Romania should feel comforted that it is incredibly easy to search and book train trips on their official website.

Brasov Home
Brasov Bus
Brasov Bus Inside
Brasov Train Station
Brasov Train Station Tunnel
Brasov To Bucharest

Bucharest - Constanta (via train)

Because our train was 45 minutes late leaving Brasov, our layover in Bucharest was cut down from two hours to just over one, which was fine by us. Last year when we were travelling from Brasov to Chisnau, Moldova, we had a two hours to get from the train station on one side of Bucharest to a bus station on the complete opposite side of the city, and that was a nightmare to say the least. So we were very happy to have just enough time to grab a sandwich from Subway (ick) and get on our connecting train to Constanta.

Bucharest Train Station
Bucharest Train Station Platform
Bucarest to Constanta Train

Constanta - Varna (via mini bus)

We initially were concerned that one night in Constanta wouldn't be enough, but we were perfectly content with our 16 hours spent there. It's a nice beach town, where we were able to catch one of the most 80s-aesthetic sunsets I've experienced, and ate some incredible Lebanese food, but by the next morning, we were perfectly fine with moving on. Despite being only 150km (~93miles), it's actually not as straight forward to get from Constanta to Varna if you are without a car. We ended up going with a minibus (which seemed to be our only real option). When I tried to call to book it, they hung up on me because I couldn't speak Romanian, but we had an obliging Airbnb host in Brasov who booked it for us. When we arrived at the bus station 40 minutes before our scheduled departure time, it was desolate. After 15 minutes of mild freaking out, someone finally showed up and gave us our tickets. We were then squeezed into a small sprinter van with 5 other people (there are only 6 seats). So that was a nice and cosy 3 hour ride without any A/C. 

Constanta Sunset
Constanta Bus Station
Constanta to Varna Bus

Varna - Plovdiv (via train)

Arriving in Varna, we were met with insanely hot weather which we were not properly dressed for, my phone had stopped working despite being told by Vodafone that it would work without problem in Bulgaria. But, there was a perfectly legible map posted right by where we were dropped off, and we were able to successfully read it to get to our apartment for the week. Varna itself was what we call a pleasant surprise. There's a quartered off pedestrian area which leads to a large park bordering the beach. Food and drink is so cheap it's almost insulting (I'm talking $3 Lagavulin and $1 frozen margaritas. Yikes.) The architecture can only be described as mid-century beach town with a Soviet flare. Yes, please. In all its beauty, there is one dark part of Varna: the seagulls. Those little bastards were the most aggressive I've ever encountered - we even saw one snatch a slice of pizza right out of a man's hands then call all his little buddies to feast. Our neighbours had a pretty disconcerting scarecrow - scaregull? - posted up on their balcony which was an unsettling greeting each morning. We spent only a week in Varna overall, but would absolutely go back. On to Plovdiv!

Varna Drinks
Varna Sunset
Varna Scarecrow. Scareseagull?
American Barbeque
Varna Hotel
Varna Hotel
Varna Selfie
Varna Apoteka

Plovdiv (for 28 days)

After a pretty whirlwind week of travel and beach life, we have successfully made it to Plovdiv where we will be posted up until the first week of July. Our first few days here have been incredibly lovely. We've stumbled upon a live show in Plovdiv's First Century AD Roman amphitheatre, climbed a huge mountain to get to a large soviet statue reminiscent of Mother Motherland which we visited in Kiev last year, and have begun to explore the windy roads of the old town. I'm fairly confident that we've found a great place to spend the month - if not only because there's a walk up burrito window right outside our apartment.

Plovdiv Church
Plovdiv Church
Plovdiv Golden Hour
Plovdiv Roman Ampitheatre
Day Glow Building Plovdiv
Plovdiv Street Art
Plovdiv Nights
Plovdiv Cinemagraph

Two Months in Cartoontown

With only five days left in Brasov, I'm feeling anxious to move on to our next destination. Brasov is a beautiful town, and considering the fact that we have spent three out of the last nine months here, I think it's safe to say we like it. It's easy to fall in love with this small Transylvanian town with its colourful facades, countless outdoor eateries, and it's position right at the foot of the Carpathian mountains.

There's something really special about a place where within a two minute walk, you can be in a somewhat metropolitan area or in lush mountains. It has this feeling of living in an amusement park. Because of the location of our apartment, there were some days when we didn't see a single car, and stepping out our front door we are greeted by vibrant pastels on every building.

Brasov certainly is a special place in the world, and I will feel some sadness to say goodbye. 

Brasov Council Hall
Brasov Bus
Brasov Sign
Strada Postavarului
Book Store Brasov
Black Church Brasov

Dracula & Co.

Our time in Brasov is winding down. With less than two weeks left in Romania, we're trying to get in all the adventure we can before heading southward to Bulgaria. In doing so, we spent a rainy, foggy day touring three castles of Transylvania: Peles Palace, Bran Castle (aka Dracula's castle), and Rasnov fortress. The three sights varied widely from intense opulence (Peles) to the barren thirteenth century medieval fortress of Rasnov. In between the two is the main tourist attraction of Transylvania: Bran Castle where Vlad Tepes (The Impaler) was imprisoned. The stories of Dracula attract visitors to the otherwise modest castle in Bran. 

The muted colours of all three are a stark contrast from the bright pastels within city limits. 

Republicii Brasov
Sunset in Brasov
Brasov Square
Summer in Brasov
Brasov Streets
Post office Brasov
Square Brasov

Peles statue in fog
Peles palace
Rasnov Fortress
Bran shops
Bran Castle
Bran Castle