November 10th - December 3rd, 2017
Due to issues with our Visas, we were just days from risking illegally being in Slovakia, facing deportation, and thousands of dollars in fines. To buy us time while our Visas were being processed, we had to leave the Schengen Area of the European Union and were told to go to Bulgaria.
We couldn’t afford last second flights, so we chose to train our way from Bratislava to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The entire trip would take 33 hours, including an overnight train. The journey there and back 3 weeks later was unreal. Trains canceled last minute, walking across borders at night, being woken up to Serbian border guards at 1:00 in the morning, and having seconds to use train tracks as a restroom in the dark as a conductor held the train for us. We dragged our bags through rainy, cobblestone streets and befriended a Serbian local, who quite possibly, is the only reason we made it back home. It was a story to tell.
I really like Plovdiv. As one of the oldest things in Europe and under former Roman rule, there are ancient ruins throughout the city. The old Roman Forum still stands on a hill. Plovdiv lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, with 7 hills jetting up across the cityscape. It has more of a “southern Mediterranean feel” than an Eastern European one like you’d expect. The food is delicious and the olive-skinned locals are kind and warm.
My recommendations? In Plovdiv, see the Roman Forum, the Roman Stadium that sits in the middle of Old Town, and catch sunset at the Alyosha Monument, an enormous statue of a Soviet soldier that the Russians built under Communist rule to commemorate them liberating the Bulgarians. Grab a shawarma lunch at Alex’s, a rum sundae at Affredo’s, and dinner at Atlas.
On the way back, we stopped in Sofia, Bulgaria for a night. Although it rained the whole time, Sofia is unique. The city is dotted with Orthodox churches, ancient ruins, and Islamic mosques. The world-renown Alexander Nevsky Cathedral sits in the center of city and is considered the crown jewel of Sofia. The St. George Rotunda is also worth seeing, dating back to the year 300 A.D. and the oldest building in modern Sofia.
Bulgaria is off the beaten track, but definitely worth experiencing.