Outside Al Maktoum International Airport to catch our evening flight to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Today's flight was a simple return flight on Hungarian low cost carrier, Wizz Air. They had recently started direct flights to Al Maktoum Airport from Hungary and Romania as well as Bulgaria. Even with a few extra's, our return tickets were stil a very reasonable 180 euro's each.
Being a low cost carrier, everything, including boarding passes, were extra. We had duely printed our boarding passes out at home, but when we went to immigration we were told that a proper boarding pass was required. So we headed back to the Wizz Air check-in counters and joined the long queue of travellers waiting for a new boarding pass.
After the unexpected ~30 minute delay, we headed air-side to the Marhaba lounge. We hadn't had dinner yet, so I ordered the fish n' chips while Rianda had the chicken & rice.
Through to gate area to wait for boarding. A very small glass cubicle the smokers had retreated to enjoy a last gasp before the flight.
Boarding via the rear stairs for our 7:25pm departure.
And a crazy amount of fog with the Dubai July humidity!
Flying over Dubai World Central just after take-off.
A can of tomato juice for 2 euro's.
Looking out the window south to the lights of Istanbul.
Rianda reading about the famous (and apparently very tasty) Icelandic horses in the Wizz Air inflight magazine.
And arriving on time at 11:30pm at Sofia Airport in Bulgaria.
After finally finding our pre-booked taxi, we arrived at the Arte Hotel where we were staying for our two nights in Sofia. Only 50 euro's a night and very central. It was also only ~100 metres from the Presidents Office and there was a police box just outside the hotel. There was also a small sign by our window saying we were only allowed to open our windows slightly ajar, as requested by police due to the proximity to the Presidents office.
After a decent sleep in and a run around the city, we went out to explore some of Sofia.
For breakfast we stopped at a local bakery and had some tasty pastries, coffee and yoghurt.
We then walked down to the Zhenski Pazar (Women’s market).
Five sweetcorn for 2 lev (~$1.10).
The locals were out shopping for some fresh fruit and veges in the warm summer morning.
Cherries. All the fruit was very cheap, and we almost wished we didn't just have breakfast so we could eat some.
We then strolled back towards the city centre and stopped off at a café for our second caffeine fix for the morning.
Rianda had the latte and I had an expresso for only a few lev.
дълга коса (longhair).
People enjoying the warm summer morning on Vitosha Boulevard, the main shopping street in the centre of Sofia.
Just before 11am we walked over to the Sofia Court House to wait for the start of the free Sofia tour.
Our friend, Jason, had recommended the free Sofia tour to us from his visit to Sofia a few years ago. There was quite a big group today, so they split us up into two groups.
Our group then headed off to see some of the sights and hear some of the history of Sofia. St Nedelya Church. In 1925 a group from the Bulgarian Communist Party blew up the church's roof during a funeral service in a botched attempt to assasinate the King. There were however the deaths of 150 people.
The statue of Saint Sofia, which replaced a previous statue of Lenin.
A fountain of hot spring water from deep underground Sofia.
Rianda stopping to pose with a bicycle complete with rose basket.
Outside the President of Bulgaria's Office.
The Church of St. George, built by the Romans in the 4th century. The Ottomans converted into a mosque in the 16th century, but was reverted back to a church in the middle of the 19th century.
The tour finished just after 1:30pm outside the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. After tipping our guide 10 lev each, we were starting to get hungry, so opted to come back to the Cathedral after heading to a local restaurant recommended by our guide, Bistro Lubimoto.
I had the meatballs and potatoes and Rianda had the grilled sausage, both traditional Bulgarian dishes.
We then caught the metro back to the Cathedral. We initially managed to go in the wrong direction, but it was also a great opportunity to see some more of the unique and very interesting metro architecture.
And finally back at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. A relatively young 134 years old, the beautiful Cathedral is one of Sofia's main symbols.
Inside the cathedral's gold-plated dome. It is the second largest Cathedral in the Balkans and can have up to 10,000 people inside.
After going back to the hotel for a rest, we headed out again in the late afternoon to see some more of Sofia.
We went back to Zhenski Pazar and bought a big punnet of fresh raspberries. Only 4 lev ($2.25) a kilogram. Very fresh and juicy, and we quickly devoured them all!
After some more walking through the city to work off the berry overload, we headed to Vitosha Boulevard to find somewhere for dinner.
We finally settled on a nice Italian restaurant with Al Fresco dining right on the boulevard.
For the starter we shared the prosciutto cotto.
And for the main had the fish platter for two. A tasty feast and we struggled to finish it all.
We then strolled back along the boulevard and back to the hotel to get some rest for our early morning departure to Plovdiv tomorrow.
After rising from a deep slumber just before 5am, we checked out of our hotel and caught the metro.
For two stops north until Sofia Central Station.
Outside Sofia Central Station just before 6am.
Our train for the just under 3 hour trip to Plovdiv this morning.
The engine was a Czech-built Skoda from 1978.
Our tickets which we bought online for 11.8 lev ($6.60) for the one-way trip along with some snacks for breakfast.
After departing on-time at 6:30am we headed east to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city. Seating was 3 across so plenty of room.
The yellow blur of sunflowers being grown in the fields.
At about 9:15am we rolled into Plovdiv Central Train Station and met up Kamen, our local guide we had organised for the day.
We then headed out for the ~110 kilometre drive to the mountain resort of Borovets.
Stopping on the way for some snacks for the day.
We finally got to Borovets just after 11am. A sign showing our route for the day, catching a cable car in Borovets up to the ski area at Yastrebetz and then hiking up to Musala Peak.
At Yastrebetz after taking the cable car up, ready to begin our hike for the day.
Rianda and Kamen heading off down the track. Musala Peak is situated in Rila National Park, the largest national park in Bulgaria.
As we headed up the cloud began to clear and we could see Musala. Kamen's father was also joining us today. A very spry 64 year old, it was hard to keep up with him!
One of the Musala Lakes.
And getting a photo of us with another of the Musala Lakes.
At a hut where we stopped to eat our sandwiches for lunch.
Starting the final push for the top with Kamen's father leading the way.
Looking down at the mountain at the highest Musala lake, called Icy Lake. There was still some unmelted ice floating on top.
Walking up past more unmelted snow.
Looking back down the mountain at three of the Musala lakes.
And finally at the top! We were lucky and most of the surrounding cloud had cleared and we had an amazing 360 degree view all around.
At 2925 metres tall, Musala Peak is the highest mountain in Bulgaria and in the Balkans.
A panoramic shot looking back down to Icy Lake.
I managed to convince Rianda to crawl out onto this narrow ridge to pose for this photo.
We then headed back down the mountain. Stopping to drink some fresh water from the melting snow and ice.
Walking past another of the Musala Lakes.
Some small mountain fowers growing between the rocks.
And back at Yastrebetz looking up the valley back up to Musala Peak. We had made good time with the entire trek taking just over 5 hours.
Catching the Cable car back down the mountain.
And back in Plovdiv where Kamen and his father dropped us off at our hotel. We thanked them for the great day and the memorable trek up the mountain.
Our room for the next two nights in Plovdiv at Old Plovdiv house. Only 60 euro's a night so very reasonable.
Kamen had recommended a restaurant ~100 metres from our hotel, Pavaj. Our hotel and the restaurant were situated in the Kapana area. Kapana is Bulgarian for 'trap', due to the area's maze of narrow streets and alleys.
I had the local trout and vegetables.
While Rianda had the meatballs and potatoes.
And we both shared a slice of the delicious carrot cake. The cost for the two mains and the one dessert came to 24 lev or $13.40 so very reasonable and was a great meal after the energetic trek up and down the mountain.
After an evening stroll around Kapana, we headed back to our hotel after a long but very enjoyable day.
After a good sleep in, I went for a run around the city. After ~40 minutes of easy jogging I decided to head back to the hotel. Except I quickly realised I was totally lost! After running past the river and using the sun to re-orientate myself, I ran back to the hotel 70 minutes after I had left.
For breakfast we headed out to a local café just down from the hotel called Terzo Mondo. A couple of expresso's to start.
And a Bacon & Cheese and a Chocolate Banana pancake to share.
We then walked through Tsar Simeon’s Garden where the locals were enjoying a beautiful and sunny Friday morning,.
We then walked to Plovdiv City Hall to join the start of the 11am free Plovdiv tour.
A statue of Milo, a deaf and slightly crazy man who roamed the streets and charmed the ladies of Plovdiv.
The remains of the Roman Stadium of Trimontium with the Ottoman era Dzhumaya Mosque in the background.
Our guide, Iliyah, showing us a model of the original size of the stadium, now underground below the main street of Plovdiv as it would be too costly to demolish the buildings to fully excavate it. Built in the 2nd century, the stadium could seat up to 30,000 spectators.
We then walked into the Kapana area.
A house built for his Greek wife painted in the blue and white colours of Greece.
In the Old Town. The upper levels of the house were larger than the bottom floors to avoid higher land taxes.
Up on the hill overlooking Plovdiv.
The Church of the Holy Assumption of Mary, the final stop of the tour.
We then walked back into the city and had a couple of iced coffees and a very indulgent chocolate sundae to share.
Rianda buying a few souvenirs outside Dzhumaya Mosque.
We then headed back to the hotel for a rest. The view from our balcony looking down on the street below.
At about 6pm we headed out again walking through the streets of Kapana.
After checking out a few places, we settled on an Italian restaurant called Maramao for dinner. The cheese plate to start.
Followed by the baby calamari in butter and salvia
And the Diavola pizza made with mozzarella, spicy salami, basil, oregano, chilli peppers and tomato sauce.
We then had a relaxing evening stroll through the city and finally watching the sun set over the Maritsa river.
After getting up at 5am, we checked out of our hotel and walked the ~1.6 kilometres to the Yug (south) bus station. The buses were running every ~30 minutes so we didn't have to wait long for the next departure at 6:30am.
Rianda buying some coffee for the first fix of caffeine of the day.
On the main highway heading west back to Sofia. We cruised at a steady 95kph, making it to the main bus station in just under 2 hours.
We then headed into the city to Vitosha Boulevard to grab some breakfast.
After walking around Sofia centre, we headed undergound to catch the metro to the airport.
And back at Sofia Airport. Although there is a new Terminal 2, the low cost carriers such Wizz Air and Easyjet fly out of the more antiquated Terminal 1, complete with chandeliers and Soviet era murals on the wall.
Grabbing a wrap for an early lunch. We had a bit of lev left, so bought some Rose jam and Bulgarian Rose delight to take home.
And about to board the Wizz Air A320 after a great few days in Bulgaria!