A Travellerspoint blog

50 countries and counting!

sunny 30 °C

So here I am in Sofia, Bulgaria. My 50th country! I started this journey to bridge my young adulthood to real adulthood. Before I took off for Jordan in February 2006, I thought I would just travel wander around for a few months, come home and start my life as an adult. I had no idea at the time it was the start of my biggest passion in life.

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At the start of my journey in Jordan, February 2006

Back at the same cafe as I went to for breakfast the day prior, I peruse my lonely planet looking for a few things to do. I have one more nigh in Sofia, then I have a train ride to Plovdiv, a flight to London, spend the night in London before the long ride to Detroit, then one to Buffalo, and a bus ride home.

I see a few things that might be interesting. On my way to the National Palace of Culture, I stop by a souvenir stand in a subway station. I see a drum and a recorder that I think my nephews might like. I try to get them musical instruments whenever possible, its something I know they'll like.

I reach the National Palace of Culture, and a few other things that are kind of cool.

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Its the big night! I have to find a way to commemorate my 50th country! In my travels during the day, I decide to re-pierce one of piercings I got in Sydney. It came out months ago and closed over.

I talk to a girl from Germany. We decide to go out for drinks to celebrate.

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50 and countries and counting!

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My drink, translated means 'Blue Lightening'

No cigar, they didn't sell them at the bar or anywhere nearby. But I'm halfway to my goal, and I'm really happy about that.

I wake up and ask the hostel to call me a cab to take me to the train station. Since Ryanair usually departs from smaller cities, my flight leaves from Plovdiv, not Sofia. The girl who works with the hostel comes with me to the cab. As I put Sapphire in the trunk , the cabby says something to the girl and she laughs. He told her that girls from Bulgaria always expect men to carry their things. I've never even thought of having a man do my job for me.

I arrive at the train station and buy my ticket. I have a woman who looks like she speaks english tell me where the platform is. I go there and plop down Sapphire on the ground as I wait. I'm looking around at the broken down trains and the people getting on and off of them when I hear an announcement on the loud speaker. Its entirely in Bulgarian. I ask a young man what it said. Apparently, this train is delayed. Awesome! Will it will affect me making my flight? I always give myself plenty of time to make a flight, but I don't know how long its going to be delayed. Or how long its going to take me to get from the train station to the airport in Plovdiv.

I pace back and forth and periodically look down the track to see if there is a train coming. Eventually the train does come and I get on. I find a seat. Its really hot inside, so I bring down the window as low as it will go and try to have the wind blow in my face. After several hours, I get into the city and take the first taxi I see. I get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I check in and unfortunately, my check in bag is too heavy. I take Sapphire to a bench near a garbage can. I look in and see what I can part with. I take my lonely planet, my towel, my knock-off Fendi purse and put them all in the garbage. I go back to the check in and I just barely make it. I go through security and make my way to the gate. I already reserved my seat, so I can go in first.

Its off to London for one night then back to Canada.

AC

Posted by AshleyC 07:22 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

And Bulgaria makes 50!

I wake up somewhat early. I only have one day in Belgrade before my train leaves late tonight for Sofia, Bulgaria. I have breakfast at a nearby hotel and develop a route to a neighbourhood I'd like to check out. It has a fortress that is supposed to be kind of cool. I make my way over and quickly get lost. I circle the same streets over and over in the baking heat before I find a way there. I wander a around a bit. Its kind of cool, and there is plenty of shade which is nice in the surrounding park, which is a high commodity for someone with skin as fair as mine.

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Because every fortress needs a tennis court.
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There are pedestrians streets on the next block. I look around and see what's going on around town. There are some souvenir stands on a bridge connecting the street to the park. I try to get something special every so often. So far on this trip I got a fabergé looking egg in Kiev, a clock in Brasov, and I see a few things at the stands. I buy a ceramic tea light holder in the shape of a house. I still don't see anything for Carter and Cash.

After dinner at the same restaurant I went to the night before, I go back to my hostel and get ready to go back to the train station. There are tons of people there as I get ready have another second shower. I pack Sapphire and head to the station. Again, I have a hard time understanding the ticket. I eventually find the correct train and get on board. This train as rooms with 6 seats each. I find one with an elderly couple inside. At first I thought they were kind of aloof, but even with the language barrier, they were quite nice. Offering me snacks and juice throughout the ride. After a few hours, we all try to get to sleep.

I wake up in Sofia, Bulgaria. I take a tram several blocks to the hostel. I read the directions the sent me and I can't find it anywhere. I walk in circles several times before I take out my cell phone and call them. They inform me that they moved recently and I have the wrong address! I have a hard time understanding him, so I quickly get a taxi and hand my phone to the driver. He drives down the busy streets. I find the small door with the hostel sign and go in. Its too early to check in but I can use the showers. I have to start travelling in the spring again. I didn't sweat nearly this much on other trips. I store Sapphire with the front desk and read the map that they give me to see where I can have breakfast.

I have find cafe and have some eggs and super fancy coffee. I read my lonely planet to see what there is to do. There are a few things that might be interesting. I was looking for something special to commemorate my 50th country. We'll see.

AC

Posted by AshleyC 18:44 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Belgrade Next

sunny 30 °C

I original plan was to take a train from Bucharest to Belgrade. But wouldn't you know it, for whatever reason, that train is cancelled. The bus is 13 hour ride. Heeellllsss No! Looks like its a plane ride for me. The cost is more then I'd like to spend given that everything else is so cheap in eastern europe, its not so bad that I have to splurge with this. I buy the ticket for later that day. I spend the next day seeing a few sights, markets and museums. Typical stuff. I feel kind of sad for the city of Bucharest. Half of the buildings are in shambles, there are tons of failed construction projects everywhere and the whole city is covered in graffiti. I don't know why people don't treat their city better. Or why the city doesn't enforce laws against it.

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A few hours before my flight is set to leave I head back to my hostel. The last two days have been significantly warmer then when I first arrived. In packing Sapphire again, I decide to have another shower. In leaving for the airport, I through caution to the wind and hire a taxi, against the Lonely planets advice.

The flight to Belgrade was pretty uneventful, but one thing that always catches be by surprise are smoking rooms. In Canada, smoking really only permitted outdoors, and event that can be limited to certain places. So to see a smoking room in an airport is very odd to me.

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Airport Smoking Lounge

I land after a short flight in Belgrade. I have to try a few more ATMs this time as well, but one in the airport does give me some money. I head to the taxi stand hire one. I wish I had asked where his cab was upfront, because I end up following him for a while before we reach it. He drives me to my hostel. I walk up several flights of stairs, with Sapphire, only getting heavier before I reach it. Why are so many hostels so high up? I arrive to the colourful hostel pretty tired and parched. The people running it are very welcoming. They take Sapphire and give me a 'welcome beer'. I down it pretty quickly. I head out to see if there is a restaurant nearby for dinner. I find a small Italian restaurant nearby. Its starting to get dark outside and the area doesn't look too safe, so I head back to the hostel. After the long day I've had, it doesn't take long before I'm fast asleep.

AC

Posted by AshleyC 09:13 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

Mwa ha ha ha

semi-overcast 25 °C

So day 2 in Bucharest was the tour of Transylvania. My guide picked me up early in the morning for the long car ride to two famous castles in Romania's northern region. We talk a bit on the way up. Its fascinated about how much time in energy I put into travelling. I'm trying to think of ways of celebrating my 50th country which is coming up in Bulgaria.

We first arrive to Pelişor Castle. At this point in my life, I've seen plenty of castles. Its hard to come up with new ways to describe castles. So here are a few pics.

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After walking around the grounds for a while, we get back into the car and head head to a small town of Brasov for lunch. They have a 'hollywood' type sign. Then it hits me, I haven't taken a jet lagged nap today!

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While walking around town, he tells me the story of Vlad the Impaler. I kind of already knew about him from school, but I'm definitely glad I didn't live back then. Ouch!

We get to the next castle, Bran Castle. Its nicknamed as "Dracula's Castle", but there is no solid evidence that Bram Stoker has ever been there, or even know that it existed. But, as they say, When in Rome. Or in this case, Transylvania.

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I look around the grounds at the dozens of souvenir stands. I want to get Cash and Carter something from this trip, but I haven't seen anything special yet. And there is nothing here either. Everything is either really tacky, or has nothing to do with Romania at all. I could get a micky mouse tshirt or big bird lunch box at home. I get a bottle of Vampire wine for my mom. She might like that. Let's hope its good.

After returning late in the evening, I meet up with the Finnish girl at the hostel. She's eating dinner with a Portuguese guy. I sit down next to them and chat about the castles. Not worth the long drive to me. But when am I ever going to be back in Romania though? I casually eat some of the cheese and bread that they offer me. We make a few plans for drinks later in the evening. I go upstairs to change and grab my purse.

Upon returning downstairs, Finnish girl and Portuguese guy are ready to go. When staying in a confusing city, I have a failsafe method of getting around. Be extremely precise when coming up with a route to the central parts of town, and don't deviate from that route even slightly. Do it and you're doomed to spend hours trying to get back to road that you were just on, that you can't remember, or pronounce again. Her route into the city centre is different then mine. I'm nervous to go her route. I break my own rules and do it. We eventually get to the club district, but my way would have been faster. We sit down at an outdoor patio and order drinks. I order a Strongbow. I haven't had one of those in a while. Gradually, other people from our hostel straggles to the bar. Some I recognize, some I don't. And some bring friends with them. Most of them are European. One girl from California. We chit chat as we down drink after drink. I kind of want to get a cigar for some reason. Never had one before and they cell them at the bar. Maybe I'll do that for my 50th country. We'll see.

As I continue to drink, the rest of the night gradually becomes more and more of a blur.

We eventually decide to go back. Hmmm... how will this go. We're all drunk and its easy to get lost here.

After some missed turns, we get back safe and sound.

Lets see what tomorrow brings...

AC

Posted by AshleyC 15:18 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Greetings Bucharest

all seasons in one day 20 °C

So I arrive to Bucharest early in the morning to what appears to be a monsoon. Its pouring rain and winds are gusting from one direction to another. I step off the train to Bucharest's very bustling Gara de Nord Train Station. The guide book says that taxis are massive scam and should be avoided. I find a table at a hole in the wall cafe and sit down to look at my mediocre map. I don't think there is a way to get to the hostel without a taxi, especially in this weather. I walk out the main doors and I am bombarded by taxi drivers coming at me from all directions. This is nothing new to me. For some cities, its the only way some people can make a living. It does strike me as odd that in all of the land that I've covered over the years, I've never encountered a female taxi driver. I ask one what it would cost me to take me to the address that I have. He says 35 leu (about $10 CAD). Whether its steep or not for a city like Bucharest doesn't matter to me. The rain doesn't look like its going to let up any time soon. I agree and hop in.

I he drives me several blocks to the address. Its just an unmarked door on a building, nothing saying its a hostel, but its the address I have. I knock several times and no answer. I see a buzzer and see if I'll get an answer. I hear a voice and I yell into the mic "HOSTEL?!?!". When travelling overseas where people don't speak much english, you learn to keep things simple. She says to go down the street and around the corner. I do what she says and navigate around the confusing streets. I see a small sign that looks like it says "Hostel" and try my luck. The gate to the small courtyard infront is locked. I ring the buzzer and no answer. How could that be?? Its just the start of business hours, someone should let me in! At this point, both Sapphire and I are drenched from head to toe and I'm shivering. I start screaming as loud as I can. No one is coming. I kick and shake the gate in frustration. A young woman suddenly comes out the door and down the stairs. She lets me in. I'm actually too mad to yell at her. I walk in and check in. I only have enough leu for one night. I have to get more, oh dear. I walk up the spiral staircase 2 floors to the room she assigns me. The top floor and no elevator, yay! I walk into the bedroom and everyone is still sleeping.

I take sapphire into the adjacent bathroom to see if I have any dry clothes left. Just the yoga pants that I put in a plastic bag because I intended to wash them. Not like I've never worn dirty laundry before! I change and go back into the bedroom. The linens they leave me folded on the bed includes a towel. I wrap my wet hair as I quietly hang my abundance of wet clothes where ever I can find a spare bed railing. Still very cold, I crawl into the bed and wrap myself in the blanket. Think about what polarizing weather I'm experiencing. For the last several days since I've landed, it has barely been below 30 and I spend most of my time trying to get into shade. Now I'd give anything to get warm. I put in my earbuds and pull out 50 Shades. I probably should have brought a more compelling book. People start to stir as I try to get comfortable.

I close my eyes and decide to take a nap and hopefully the rain will clear and my hair will dry. I wake up about an hour later, a bit warmer but still colder then I'd like to be. Most of the people are either gone or getting ready for the day. I get up and head to the bathroom. My hair is a bit drier. I tie it up and get ready so see what the day has in store for me. I haven't eaten since just before leaving Moldova, about 18 hours ago. I should get out and see it there is a coffee shop or restaurant around.

I look in the Loney Planet and there isn't anything close by. Dammit. Well, I have to search for a functional ATM again, might as well face the weather and get that out of the way. The rain has slowed a bit. I put on my sweatshirt and get my slightly damp day sack ready. I head out the quiet, but confusing streets of urban Bucharest. I should find an ATM first. I noted a few in my guide book and decide to give them a try. I try the first one about a block from my hostel. No dice. At this point, it doesn't really disappoint me anymore when this happens. I just suck it up and try again. I look at my map and try another one several blocks away. Nothing. There is another one closer to the city centre. I make my way to that one when the rain picks up again. I put my hood on and pretend it doesn't bother me. I keep going when I see a hotel off in the distance. Maybe they have an ATM in their lobby. They don't but I ask for a map and the one the concierge give me is much more detailed then the one I have. I ask if there is a mall or shopping centre nearby. I don't usually want to stay inside when travelling, but today is an exception. He says yes and points to it on the map. It can be easily reached by the subway. I say thanks and head out.

I have to get money still. Shit. The ATM I'm looking for is at the next intersection. I suck it up and keep going. I try this one, completely burnt out at the situation. SUCCESS! It works. I decide to take out more, enough for the next several days. I make my to the subway station. Not knowing how much a ride costs or how much leu is really worth, I hand the teller one of the largest bills I have. He gives me several tickets. I slide a ticket into the turnstile and pass through. I look at the map from the hotel and determine what station I have to go to. I go to the platform and wait a while. Atleast I'm inside this time.

The subway arrives and I get on board and take a seat. The mall is only a couple of stops away. I get off and look for the entrance to the mall. I need to consume food, NOW! I look at the mall map and try to decipher the language completely foreign to me. There is a McDonalds logo on it. I normally hate McDonalds. Aside from the odd McFlurry, I never really eat there. I try it out. I arrive at the busy 'restaurant' and they already stopped serving breakfast a while ago, which sucks because I had my heart set on some pancakes. But it does have a McCafe. That's not too bad. I get a muffin, yogurt and coffee and sit at a table near a window. I look outside and its still raining. It reminds me of my first trip to Europe where it rained almost everyday for 3 months straight, no matter where I was. That rain cloud had it in for me and was going to follow me every step of the way until I went back home. I finish my breakfast and head to the exit to leave the mall. The steps look very slippery, so I take very careful steps down. BAMM!!! My efforts are futile as I slip and fall back, landing on my elbows. Great. And still bruised from shooting the AK-47 to boot.

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My elbow

I head back to the subway. With the luck I'm having today, I decide to just throw in the towel and head back to the hostel for the rest of the day. I get on the subway and take short ride and get off at a station near the hostel. I walk up the stairs and I can't believe my eyes. In a matter of 20 minutes, the clouds have cleared and the rain has completely stopped. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME????? I'm baffled at this. I head back to my hostel anyway. Maybe some of my clothes have dried by now. I walk in the court yard and head back to my room. Most of them are dry enough to wear. I change into one of my dresses. I head to the front desk and ask if there is laundry mat close by. She informs me that the hostel has BOTH A WASHER AND A DRYER!!! Hostels almost never have a dryer. I got back to my room and put all my clothes into a garbage bag (I keep several with me while travelling, they're actually quite handy) to bring to the laundry room. Its policy to wash everything first before it goes in the dryer. Doesn't bother me too much. In typical backpacker style, I only hand washed a few things with shampoo a few days earlier in Odessa.

I put everything I'm not wearing into the washer and put on the shortest cycle. I stay nearby the washer and I'm stunned when water starts to pour out the front. REALLY??? MORE WATER???? I start to wish I was back in the Australian Outback where it was dry as a bone. Why me? I find a bucket and it fills quickly. I pour out the door next to the machine and immediately put back. I do this several times before the cycle finishes. I put in the dryer and head back upstairs. I look at a few sights and activities in the common room as my clothes dry. There is a tour of Transylvania that looks interesting. I sign up for the next day. Go online and see whats going on on facebook. Not much. I go back to dryer and set the timer back another hour. I head outside and enjoy the mild, but still present sunshine. One thing that I notice about the city is the contrast of the architecture. In my city of Toronto, most of the buildings are really new. Once one reaches a certain age, its torn down and they put up a new one. Half or the buildings of Bucharest look like they'll crumble under a strong wind (make a mental note to keep my distance from them in case that does, indeed happen). While the other half look brand spanking new.

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An old building

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A new building

Not much a middle ground. After a while, I head back to the hostel. Surely my clothes are done by now. I empty the clothes into the same garbage bag. I head back to the bedroom and fold my clothes. Sapphire is still wet. I'll have to keep them in the garbage bag, on the bed.

I head back out and walk around. I head to a few shops to see if there are any souvenirs that I'd like to bring home. Not really.

Its getting late and I head back to the hostel. I meet one of my room mates. A young woman in her mid-twenties from Finland. We talk a bit about our day. She hasn't had the greatest day either. She didn't have a reservation at the hostel and had to show up in the rain, crossing her fingers that they had room. Fortunately, they did. We decide to go out for beers the next night after my Transylvania tour.

Hopefully I'll still have all of my blood after that.

AC

Posted by AshleyC 08:48 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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