There was an Episcopalian, a Catholic, an Orthodox Christian, and a Protestant in a hotel room. No, really, it was Nicole, Marie-Noelle, Jenia, and I. We stayed at the Hotel Evropa in Sophia, Bulgaria. The Hotel was really nice, but I think it may have been affected by the gas shortage.
The heating didn't work for our entire stay and we had to use an electric heater in our room. The gas shortage has not had much of an effect on my life otherwise but I have heard it has been a big problem in Belgrade and all over nearby countries.
Funny things about our hotel...
The funny thing was we had a towel warmer so I towels were warm but nothing else was for a while.
The Toilet seat was a bit thinner than a normal one. When I sat down for the first time on it I jumped up thinking the seat was up.
The King Size bed was actually two twin beds put together. It didn't really matter, It was huge! There were 3 girls sleeping on it and we weren't cuddling! plenty of space!
Our hotel had a lovely breakfast every morning. There was the most wonderful lady who ran the restaurant and house keeping. she was there every day. she spoke several languages so she could easily speak with all the quest and she welcomed them in the morning like a child to the kitchen. regretfully, I have forgotten her name. But she was a truly amazing women.
There were a bunch of constructions guy from America staying in our hotel. When Marie-Noelle and I would come down for breakfast they usually greeted us with a friendly" hello". I am sure they were just a pleased to see some one from their own culture as I was.
Being so far from home is like being lost on a highway somewhere on your own. When you hear someone speaking American English, or any English. There is a bit of the familiar, and a feeling that you are not so alone.
I don't hear English often and never in Knjazevac. Seeing other Americans at out hotel was a treat, even though I didn't talk to them.
Going to Bulgaria was a delight for me not only for the sake of traveling, but also to be able to speak in English with friends who could understand me 100%. Trust me it’s a big deal!! I was so happy. Seriously. I couldn’t take the smile off my face. The three of us bunked up and schlepped around Sofia, taking in all we could see. The first full day we arranged for a tour guide/driver from our hotel to take us to see all of the sites of Sofia.
Our tour guide’s name was Alex. His English was extraordinary and we had a great time talking to him. We found out he had lived in the States as a child. His father was a diplomat. Now he was working at this hotel and we were blessed to have him take us around. Hooray for great communication.
We went to see Alexander Nevsky’s Church. It was huge and beautiful. Cameras were not allowed. I snapped a few forbidden pictures from my camera phone with a little help from my girls. They were my cover, so the looming priest would not see our transgressions. I got a few good shots and then we went looking for Marie-Noelle. She was having some quiet time in the corner with travel bible, the Bulgarian guide book. To see pictures and read a little more history on this church you can visit the Wikipedia website...
Inside of Nevsky’s Church was unfortunately dark and a bit dingy from all the candles burning and insense. No doubt it damages the beautiful frescoes on the walls. What a pity. There was so much beauty to be seen covered in soot. Of course that is the perspective of a Protestant and American who values not the candles being burned, but the work of art made in honor of God. If I have offended any of you please forgive me. I only mean to give my perspective of what I saw so that you may understand how it looks.
During our stay in Sofia we visited many Museums, some to the point of boredom to our friend Nicole, but I think I learned a lot. The history there fills up books. Much to my chagrin, I can only remember a pamphlets worth of information. But I have ton of pictures to refresh my memory. There were lots Roman ruins and artifacts from the Roman times and tons of information on the Turks domination and rule in the area.
Air Italia Beware! Air Italia went bankrupt and was bought out. The company who bought them cancelled many of the flights that had been previously reserved for a myriad of travelers. Marie-Noelle and Nicoles flights back to the US were among those cancelled. Marie-Noelle was warned to call the company a few days in advance to confirm the flights.
Jenia was using her Bulgarian cell phone to call the company within Bulgaria and the airport for a day or two and no one was answering the phone at either number. This was a large concern. Two days before they were scheduled to fly back we made a trip to the airport to speak face to face with a live person at the air Italia counter... When we arrived there was no one there! it was eleven AM. Some one told us there was no flight til 4 PM that some one would arrive about that time. UNBELIEVABLE! Marie-Noelle was MIFFED to put it politely. She called NY and spoke to some man named Vino who took care of things. Thank God we could call the US. If not I believe getting home would have been a sight more difficult. I am sure there were loads of people in that boat.
The sightseeing continued and we enjoyed each others company The last evening we were there I planned to go ice skating with Jenia and Nicole, but I got a headache and told them to go without me. I found a non-smokey cafe to enjoy some coffee in and wrote in my journal. While I was writing I was listening to some music. It was coming from a room just off the cafe. I asked someone about the music and the cafe worker said it was a sect group singing. I thought I had recognized the music. It was a protestant church group singing western christain hymns. The sign written on the door said (ЕЛ ШАДАИ) El Shadai, the Hebrew name for God. Most Orthodox don't know much about other way Christians worship around the world and assume other churches are sects or cults. It doesn't matter. It was nice just to hear some of my churches music. I can't wait to go back to church back home.
The last day Marie-Noelle and Nicole went back to the airport to catch their flight home. I was so sad to see them leave. I really wanted to go with them. Later that day Jenia and I packed up our things and went to the train station. Jenia took care of me getting my tickets and finding where we neede to go to catch my train. She waited with me for my train to arrive and once we found it and I boarded she even waited outside my cabin for my train to leave. I have to say, it was so sweet.
Saying goodbye to her was the hardest part. I just wanted to cry and and I am sure I would have if my cabin had not been inhabited by 3 other women. Truth be told, I bit my lip tried to hold back the tears. Having friends visit and then traveling with them was a source of great joy, but saying goodbye and going on with life here in Serbia is more difficult sometimes.
I think I need a bunch more visitors, but I have to warn you. I may not let you leave. Or maybe you will have to take me with you when you go back home. The train ride home was pleasant. I enjoyed the scenery and talked a little bit with the women in my cabin.
Two of the women were Serbians returning from a holiday in Istanbul, Turkey. I loved talking to them about that. I really want to go there.
The other women on the train was Bulgarian. She was only on the train till we crossed the border in to Serbia. When the conductor came by our cabin for tickets the two Serbian ladies gave their tickets and so did I. The Bulgarian women discreetly put a bit of money in the palm of the man's hand. When I got home I asked Milan about this. He said it was common practice. If you need to get somewhere and you don't have enough money giving the ticket man a little money can get you all the way to your destination at the fraction of the price of a ticket. These people know their way around things! I have learned a few lessons. Don't think I will put them in practice.
When I was leaving Bulgaria, there was a bright haze and it made looking out the windows a touch difficult. It was bright and the sun, beaming through the fog greatly reflected of the snow so that it was hard on the eyes.Just as we were about to crossing the border, the haze lifted and there were blue skies.
The rest of the trip was lovely. I saw more orchards on this short trip than I have ever seen in the US. The small little traditional homes and the many animal tracks in the plentiful snow where a pleasure to watch as we rolled on by. The beginning of the three or so hour ride was marked by mostly flat land with some rolling hills. At the end of the journey we were passing rocky, craigy mountains and going through old tunnels. It reminded me of the old days in the US. Travel by train is a wonder every where I have traveled in the world. I highly recommend it!
Crossing the border from Bulgaria to Serbia on the train was uneventful, thankfully as I have no way of explaining if they have questions and don't speak English. At this point I have crossed the border of Serbia and Bulgaria 3 times. The stamps in my passport are a little souvenir.
Milan and Milica were waiting for me at the train station in Nis and it was so good to see them both. Even though I am homesick for the US, coming home to our little place in Knjazevac was wonderful and cozy after my adventures with friends in Sofia.
There is so much more I could have written but I fear I may be becoming dry and don't want to bore you.