11.22.2016 Sofia, Bulgaria: the start of my journey

On November 20th the start of my mini European journey began in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has been a little bit over 10 years since I had last been to Europe so this was a major thrill for me! The first thing I did once I got to Sofia was check in to my hostel… or at least attempt to.

So, as soon as I arrived the gate to the hostel was opened because people were in and out making deliveries. So I just proceeded up and into the building thinking that things would be laid out plain, simple, and easy to find. Let me tell you, it really wasn’t—at least for me. On the website there are no specific directions on what bells to ring or what doors to go through so honestly when I arrived here I was walking around this building for at least 20-30 minutes trying to find something that seemed like an entrance. I learned later, that when you come, usually the front gate is locked and you have to ring up (unless you have the key). Then someone will come, let you up, and check you in.

So, until then, I am trying to ask these workers who speak no English, where the entrance to the hotel is so I could check in and as you can probably imagine, none of them understood.

I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do but I decided that freaking out was the worst thing I could do so may as well go walk around outside for a little bit. Fortunately for me, all the luggage I had was a medium sized purse and a backpack so I didn’t look that stupid walking around. I eventually made it to where the German Christmas Market was and then walked back the way I came (take in mind I have no map at this point so I don’t really know where I’m going.

Anyways I walked back to my hostel and I am so thankful that this time, it just so happened another person who was staying there was walking in. This allowed me to get in easily and took a lot of stress off my plate. It turned out that for the first night I would be staying at the sister hostel, called The House, which was just down the street. This hostel was awesome, and similarly, in another awesome location just off the main shopping street Vitosha, which means it is also an easy walk to all of the main sites.

If you plan on coming to Sofia anytime soon, I would definitely recommend staying a block or so off this street because it puts you very close to many shops, cafes, and restaurants and all the tourist attractions are basically within what felt like only a 0 minute walk.

Well, my day basically ended as soon as I entered my hotel room around 3pm because within 10 minutes of sitting in my bed I fell asleep. Call me boring but nothing is fun when you are exhausted.

The next day I woke up around 8:40 am so that I would have time to shower and get something to eat before having to head back to Guest house 32 to check in again at 12. For my breakfast I decided I would basically walk up and down the Vitosha street until I built up enough courage to go in somewhere. I made my first attempt in this one cute café when I realized I could not pay with my card and needed Bulgarian currency. Stupid me though, did not convert any money to Bulgarian because for some reason I thought I read that using a card or Euros would be fine everywhere. Nope. IF you are going to Bulgaria do yourself a favor and get some of the currency so you don’t end up like me at an ATM withdrawing only one days worth of cash.

After my ATM stop, I was embarrassed to go back to that same café so I walked up into this store Rois, which sold fruit and nuts and got myself a medium sized bag of roasted walnuts. Let me tell you, I am not really a fan of salted nuts but these were absolutely incredible.

One of the challenging things about the language barrier for me here was that even though the language both looks and sounds completely unfamiliar, the people do not so there is still a small part of my brain thinking I’m going to here a hello when really the most familiar thing I overheard was some French. Another struggle I faced was when I would try to ask someone something or order something, people would come up to me and speak completely Bulgarian in fast sentences, which then caused me to have to explain I spoke English.

So I then continued along the road again until I reached the café Shortcut, so I could hopefully get a quick coffee and sit outside. If there is one thing I have learned it is that if there was some sort of universal language, the word ‘cappuccino’ would be in the dictionary. As usual, the man behind the counter started speaking only Bulgarian when I looked at him and said cappuccino. Immediately he knew what I wanted and made it. I then took my drink and enjoyed it outside.

This cappuccino was incredible. Plain and simple. This is going to be one of those flavors that I remember forever. I ended up sitting here, eating my nuts, savoring the flavor of my cappuccino, and taking in the sights and sounds until about 12:00pm when I went back to my first hotel to check out, so I could check into Guest House 32. I was very impressed when I finally got in and was showed my room! The staff was very friendly and my room was perfect for everything I needed!

After I was checked in my goal was to go and see some of the sites, such as the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. I walked out of the hostel to Vitosha street and proceeded in the direction of City hall. I eventually reached an intersection where to the left is a huge column looking statue with a golden angel on top. Here I made a right. This road would apparently bring me to the Russian Orthodox Church (and many other things). As I was walking, I noticed I had passed the park with the German Christmas market in it, which helped to orient me.

I kept walking and eventually ran right into the church. It was so beautiful! The outside had these beautiful golden domes. The inside was painted so beautifully I wished I could have take a picture however, we were not allowed. The church is not that big so it didn’t really take a long time to tour.

Once I finished, I walked through a little park area to the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. This Cathedral is huge so by this point, you can see exactly where you need to go, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

This cathedral is absolutely breathtaking. It is so architecturally brilliant from the exterior, you would think it would be hard for the inside to compare. Nope, the inside is just as or possibly even more beautiful. The inside is painted from ceiling to floor with these brilliantly detailed murals—and like I said this cathedral is huge so these paintings are no joke. I think I must have lucked out with the time of day I chose to visit because along the right side all of this light was coming in creating the most spectacular green glow. I could have stayed in here for hours just staring and feeling so tranquil I literally had to force myself up to leave. Even once I was out I took another lap around the building just taking in the enormity and the beauty.

One thing to note is that you can take pictures inside this cathedral; you will just have to pay 10 lev for a photo pass.

After I was finished here, I walked around the area a little bit longer and then headed back in the direction of the Christmas market. I sat on the exterior for a little bit in the park just taking time to myself to journal and reflect. What a blessing it was to be able to say I was able to just casually sit in a park in Sofia, Bulgaria and Journal.

After I walked through the Christmas market to try to get a little snack for lunch time and ended up getting these sliced potato things. I don’t really know what exactly they were called because I honestly just walked to a stand and pointed at something since there was no hope for me trying to read the menu. Fortunately it was delicious!

After I made my way back to my hotel to take a little nap and rest my feet for a bit. It’s crazy how you don’t really realize how much walking you’ve done all before 3:30 until you find yourself stretching in your hotel room. Okay so my little nap is a bit of a lie. I ended up sleeping until about 6:45 and left the hotel again around 7 to see the monuments lit up at night.

Again, I was completely blown away by the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. If you think it is brilliant during the day I urge you to see it again at night. Seriously. You would think that because it was dark you’d be able to see less but for some reason the way the lights illuminate all the crevasses and created all these intricate little shadows it seems as though you can almost see more.

Once again, I had to force myself away, back the way I came so I could go and get dinner. I went into this restaurant called CORSO, which is basically right across from the Russian Orthodox Church. I went here because I noticed the menu had English on it and I saw something that said vegetarian options. For most of the options on the menu, this place did not really fit my budget; however, one of the vegetarian options was significantly cheaper than the others so it ended up being perfect for me!

I ordered the Eggplant bayildi, stuffed with Ratatouille and quinoa, which also had tomato sauce. When the waiter brought out my meal I think I quite literally drooled. I’m not kidding. This thing looked so good I could not wait to eat it. If this thing were to look as good as it tasted they would need to find a way to make it look even tastier. Did that make sense? Probably not—lets just say it tasted so good I was ready to order a second.

Instead I went for the dessert of the day, which was some sort of cake with mascarpone nuts, biscuit, and all sorts of deliciousness. Once again, delicious. If you are coming to Sofia I cannot recommend this restaurant more! All the waiters spoke good English so I didn’t feel awkward ordering. As well, they have sections of their menu where it lists Bulgarian dishes, which is awesome!

Once I got the bill I made my way back to my hotel and went to bed. By this time it was about 9:45 and I was honestly impressed with myself for making it out this late. My flight to Athens the next morning (or in about 20 minutes as I write this now) is scheduled for 10:40am so I planned on leaving my hotel at around 7am to make sure I could find a taxi and get to the airport early enough.

I was able to easily find a taxi on the end of Vitosha street (opposite the end where city hall is) and it cost me 20 euros (which I think was probably too much) to get to the airport.

I am so happy I got to visit Sofia—what a great city! I was genuinely surprised at how not touristy the town was! There was no trouble at all seeing the landmarks and it was crazy how you really did not overhear a lot of English at all!

As far as dos and don’t go I would say don’t think you will be able to get away with just using a credit/debit card. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way and will not make the same mistake again.

One thing I 100% do recommend to do if you go to Sofia is to walk the monuments at night. What would recommend is to walk down Vitosha street towards city hall. I am not sure what the exact street is but you’ll make a right when you see a huge statue of what looked like some sort of angel on top of a column on your left. You will end up walking between two beautiful, grand buildings. This street will ultimately bring you to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral nad the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral.

This is ultimately the same route I took during the day time; however, I would definitely recommend it for walking around at night because it truly is well lit, which is good if you are a little bit hesitant about going out by yourself at night.

As well, besides my little difficulty finding the entrance to my hostel at first, I would still definitely recommend it! The location was absolutely perfect and the inside was well kept and everything that I could have hoped for! I would definitely stay here again, and or recommend it to a friend!

If you are considering Sofia, Bulgaria as a destination stop on your next trip definitely just go for it! In my opinion, it makes the perfect destination for any day-weekend length trip!

Hope you all have a great day!

Hannah

02.02.17 The Universal Language of the Cappuccino

So for those of you who don’t know, I went on a solo-backpacking trip through Europe over the course of 11 days over my Thanksgiving break. I had the absolute blessing of being able to travel to 8 countries, 7 of them new to me. Out of the man lessons I learned, one thing that stood out to me is 1. If there was a universal language the word ‘cappuccino’ would be in it. 2. Whenever I feel awkward and don’t know what to do with myself I find myself in the nearest coffee shop ordering a cappuccino.

Now, some of you might say, Hannah, aren’t you vegan? How did you drink cappuccinos? To that I would like to respond with when you are by yourself and menus are written in a Cyrillic or Greek alphabet you have to make the call to either try to figure out a way to explain no dairy or eggs, or you can just go for it. In this situation, I just went for it. I will say that throughout the whole time; however, I never found myself feeling like I really missed these dairy products I was consuming, which was reassuring to me.

 

Okay so now we begin my journey through Europe: one Cappuccino at a time.

 

Sofia, Bulgaria

Long story short, when I got to my hostel I was told that I needed to stay at the sister hostel just a short walk away. Fortunately this walk helped orient me in this new city and also showed me where the main shopping and eating street, ‘Vitosha’, is After getting to the hostel, and being shown my room, I had one of my first chances to take my backpack that I had been carrying around for literally past 24 hours off. I can’t lie, from here I fell asleep in my bed and didn’t wake up till about 4am the next day (thanks jetlag).

img_0111So the next morning I made it my mission to start my day off with a cappuccino from one of the cute cafes on Vitosha street, which I could enjoy sitting in one of the outside, covered patios. I never would have been able to predict how intimidating it is to walk into a café and order a coffee from places where the signs are completely foreign. Seriously. The first café I went into I got embarrassed when the lady told me I had to pay with cash, and left. So now, not only am I on a hunt for coffee, but also an atm. Long story short I found and atm and eventually built up to enter a café that wasn’t that crowded and also allowed me to sit outside.

So basically I walk into this café, take a deep breath, look the man behind the counter in the eyes and say cappuccino please. This is when I had my first inkling that ‘cappuccino’ was going to be a go to of mine. So I grab my drink and head outside to people watch in the covered patio situated outside on the main street.

As I am sipping my beverage watching the average person go about their day-to-day life I sort of remember that I haven’t had this much dairy in one sitting since august. There is a good chance that in oh lets say 15 minutes I will be up running from this café to find the closest bathroom. I guess that was my price to pay for going against my vegan ways for a couple of days. Long story short I was fine and was able to enjoy this delicious cappuccino before a long day of walking, site seeing, and getting a sample of Bulgarian culture.

Athens, Greece

My time in Athens was very short, quite literally 24 hours, but I believe I made it extremely worthwhile. In my taxi from the airport to my hostel, I was fortunate enough to have a driver that gave me a whole bunch of tips and things to try during my time here. He told me I had to the coffee shop chain ‘Coffee Island’ and try a local special called a Cappuccino Freddo. So that beverage became my coffee mission for Athens.img_7330

When you are walking on the street up to the Acropolis, there is a road called Makrigianni. Here you will find a whole bunch of restaurants and shops. The Coffee Island I went to was here, basically right across from the Acropolis metro stop.

So this cappuccino is an iced drink. Instead of milk that blends in easily, the espresso is topped with a very thick, sweet cream. The cream is almost the consistency of a custard and tastes absolutely incredible. Definitely the kind of drink you would save for a dessert or if you are really in need of a sweet kick but 100% worth it.

I walked with my drink down to a bench next to Hadrian’s Arch and the temple of Zeus and enjoyed this refreshing yet decadent beverage whilst once again, people watching and reflecting on all this things I was able to do thus far on my trip.

Paris, France

The tale of the voyage of the cappuccino continues. It was here that I began the ‘lets order a cappuccino because I don’t know what else to do trend. It was started out in the Paris airport. As I walked through the baggage claim exit, I was expecting my passport to be stamped and it just so happened that no one did. So I quickly texted my dear mother and asked if I should be worried. As I waited for a response my café raider seemed to have turned on because I instantly saw a Relay café where I had my first cappuccino in Paris. This cappuccino was honestly nothing too special, but like I said before, stay tuned for a trend to follow. I guess you could say this beverage was also necessary because I was meeting a friend who was studying abroad in France that night and needed any little extra boost of caffeine I could get.

On to the next morning.

img_0390Before my trip I had joked with my family that my Thanksgiving dinner was going to be a Pain-aux-chococolat and a cappuccino. Being that today was Thanksgiving, that was my mission. That morning I was meeting my friend at the Notre Dame so I left a little bit early so I could stop in at a patisserie on my way to the metro station from my hostel. I conveniently passed the café ‘AM Martinho’ so I popped in for my desired Thanksgiving meal and the opportunity to test my French.

I was able to successfully avoid embarrassment and ordered my breakfast in French. Feeling like a champion, I walked out of the café and proceeded to the metro, sipping what tasted like victory, or a cappuccino. Happy Thanksgiving to me.

The next morning was bye-bye to France and hello Croatia for me. In typical Hannah fashion, I arrived to the airport very early. But as you can probably guess, that means one more cappuccino and two more pastries for Hannah. I should probably apologize to the French people for being the reason why they need to restock their espresso bars and pastry shelf but hey, it had to be done.

Zagreb, Croatia

I got to Zagreb around 4 and made it to my hostel around 6. I spent 2 nights in Croatia However, my time was mainly spent in the evenings because I took morning bus trips to both Ljubljana and Graz (stay tuned).img_0658

The next morning I was taking the bus to Graz Austria just for the morning and afternoon. My first cappuccino experience occurred at the Bus station where I happily arrived early to enjoy a delicious pastry and cappuccino at the café called Dubravica. In my opinion, what better way to pass time than indulging? Luckily I was doing more than enough walking everyday to make up for it. Heck, even if I wasn’t I would still have no regrets. No pastry or Cappuccino left behind.

As you can imagine, the next morning followed the same way. I left my hostel a little extra early and sampled a different pastry and yet another cappuccino.

Graz, Austria

img_7944img_7932What a beautiful little city. My morning started out with me finding my way from the Bus station to where the town square area was. I immediately saw to a hill/ mountain you could go to the top and found drawn to it like a magnet. After my climb it was time for a reward, which was my lunch. I walked around the square and considered many tasty options I chose to sit outside at the café/ restaurant AUER, situated right in the square surrounded my many shops with gorgeous architecture and detailing, as well plenty of people for to fancy my people watching obsession. With it I enjoyed a delicious little sandwich, which it is possible may have even been vegan.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

This was my favorite stop; however also the shortest stop my entire trip. This city was quite literally something from my dreams and honestly, I wasn’t going to go because the bus left at 7 am and I would return around 3:30. But like I said 100% worth it.

The walk from the bus station to the old city area was quick and easy. I roamed around for a little bit getting a lay of the land while also making quick decisions as to what I wanted to do with my short time here. After finding myself in constant awe from the beauty of the town during my walk around I found a café situated on a street where there was what appeared to be a little flea marketimg_8077.

Prior to entering the café I walked into a convenience sized grocery store where for literally about 2 Euros I walked out with two different pastries. Then I proceeded into the shop, ordered my cappuccino, and enjoyed it outside with my pastries, watching the locals interact in this charming town.

While I was at the bus station, I got a little bit hungry again because I took another hike up a mountain to see a castle. At the bus station, my choice of food was McDonalds, however I wasn’t really upset because I quite enjoy trying seeing how it differs from in America. You can probably predict the next sentence, so yes, I did order a cappuccino with my meal. The funny part about this one is that I had planned to eat my meal on the bus back to Zagreb.

Unfortunately the spot where I was supposed to catch my bus from wasn’t necessarily clear so here I am carrying my backpack, purse, a salad, a bag with a pastry, and a coffee back and forth along the length of the bus terminal looking for a bus that said to Zagreb. After a couple laps up and back I eventually got on my bus but I could only imagine how silly I looked thinking what would happen if I missed my bus while holding on to this McDonald’s for dear life, while also making sure I don’t lose my bus ticket.

Once on the bus though, I was able to take a deep breath again and sip this McDonald’s coffee in a state of bliss.

Warsaw, Poland

I arrived at my hostel in Warsaw around 8pm and honestly I was exhausted so I basically went straight to bed. The next morning I wanted to find breakfast at a local coffee shop. I took a walk through the old town area and told myself I had to pick place before I arrived back at my hostel. I passed several Costa Coffees and Café Neros, however, I really wanted to go to a place that wasn’t a chain.

img_8188I found myself in a small café called café trackt ordering a tasty almond flavored pastry in addition to my cappuccino. It was much colder here so I enjoyed my breakfast in the warmth of the café. After this, I took another walk through the old town, venturing a little further this time and got myself lunch. After this I walked and checked in to the hostel I would be staying at for this night.

img_0990At this point, I was at this awkward time where it wasn’t really appropriate to eat dinner yet I had done enough walking so I decided gee, I better try one of the chains. Into the next café nero I went and honestly I may as well have just gone to dinner. I ordered a medium cappuccino and this huge slice of apple pie with a meringue on top. I can not begin to explain how good it was but I also laugh at myself because I was avoiding eating dinner early yet here I am ordering a slice of decadent pie probably bigger that my face. But like I said this was a voyage of the cappuccino/ no pastry left behind mission. It had to happen.

The next morning I successfully took the polish metro to the airport and rewarded myself with not just a cappuccino but a mocha cappuccino. Yes, a Mocha cappuccino. I would like to say I was stepping out of my comfort zone but really this was one of those machines where you simply press the button of what you want and your beverage is dispensed because I was in a convenience store. Poland you were so good to me.

Riga, Latvia

Alright so my final stop, you can only imagine what happens here. This was my last chance to leave no pasty and no cappuccino behind. How American of me. Indulge, Indulge, Indulge.

The first cappuccino I drank here is kind of a funny story but also not at all. I was following my screen-shot on my phone of the directions from the hostel website and ultimately ended up walking the completely wrong direction for about 5 minutes. My intuition started to kick in and I ended up turning around. However, about 2 blocs before I got back to where I started my phone had died. I’m not going to lie I began to worry a little bit. So what do I do?

Fortunately the bus stop I was supposed to get off at was a mall, which happened to have a costa coffee at. I had a feeling that they would most likely have an outlet and I would be able to recharge my phone. So in I went, found a seat near an outlet and let my phone begin charging as I specifically ordered a large cappuccino. Yes, I ordered a large. I figured my the time I finished it I would not only know where I was going, but also be more calm. Fortunately I figured it out and was able to not only enjoy the rest of my day in Riga, but also fall in love with the city.

img_1104The next morning would be last morning waking up in Europe. I new I needed to wake up an extra hour early so I could get one last coffee shop visit in. Into another Costa Coffee I went and got myself a caramel macchiato a slice of cake and a muffin. If you were wandering if the barista looked at me like I was crazy, you thought correctly. But, no shame in my game. This ended up being the best piece of cake I have consumed in my entire 20 years of existence plain and simple, no questions asked. I was also able to save the muffin I ordered for the airplane, which ended up being perfect!

Is it ironic to say that my over-caffeinated, over sugared self left that café feeling bittersweet? My cappuccino voyage had come to an end and let me tell you, absolutely no pastry was left behind. So if you’re ever feeling lost or like no one understands you, simply walk into a coffee shop and say cappuccino, you’ll be quite surprised.

If you want to read more, hopefully I will have the rest of the blogs about the places I visited up within the next week!

Have a glorious day!

Hannah xx