Our Final Night in Eastern Europe – Bucharest Romania

Our Final Night in Eastern Europe – Bucharest Romania

We went out with a bang.  Or so it seemed.  I cashed in a free night certificate with Priority Club for the Intercontinental Bucharest Romania.  Upon check in, I casually asked if there were any upgrades for Priority Club Platinum, a title I will only have a few more months.  We were rewarded for the question with a two room suite, although strangely situated on the administrative floor.  We passed the executive offices and accounting before coming to a door that lead to a small alcove which only contained the door to our room.  The room was huge, with a large balcony overlooking the city. Not only were we excited about the suite, the private bathroom and shower, the large bed with down comforter, the English language TV stations, but most importantly, I loved the carpet.  The carpet was soft and clean.  After months of questionable carpeted floors and dusty hard wood, I wanted to just dig my toes into the carpet and enjoy the sensation of soft cleanliness. After a little TV and a freshen up, we made our way over to Caru cu bere, one of the most well-known and historic restaurants in the city.  It was a stop on our walking tour a few days early.  Initially it was a beer hall, as the name translates to “beer cart”.   We grabbed a table outside and splurged on a meal for our last night in Eastern Europe.  We ordered their house draft beer and were informed it was happy hour, buy one get one free.  By the end of the meal, we had 6 400 ml...
Walking Tour Through Sofia

Walking Tour Through Sofia

I generally am not a fan of “tours.”  Its rare that we join one.  We took a day tour with a small group in Sarajevo, but that was a special occasion – a city where we needed to learn.  Where we felt ignorant.  That’s why we decided to take the free walking tour through Sofia. Apparently they have these in many European cities.  Why it struck our fancy in Sofia, of all places, I had no idea.  Perhaps it was a city we knew so little about.  We heard from someone in Belgrade that it was worth it, especially considering it was free.  At least the price was right. We arrived in Sofia late the night before.  That morning we woke up groggy, but threw some clothes on to grab some free breakfast.  On the way back to the room, we realized we could brush our teeth and head out for the walking tour through Sofia at 11, without showers.  This was so unlike us.  We are fairly lazy in these situations.  This was surprising. We made it to the meeting spot and the group was large – so large as to break up into two, still rather large, groups.  The guides seemed to be splitting people up based on where they were from, so we quickly found ourselves in a small group of Americans.  Not really our favorite group to chat with.  We tried to talk it up with a Slovenian and a few Brazilians from Porto Allegre, who were impressed that we had been to Porto Allegre and we knew their football team (Gremio).   But, this...
Pilgrimage to Rila Monastery

Pilgrimage to Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is marked one of the most iconic building in all of Bulgaria.  A trip to Bulgaria was incomplete without a tourist pilgrimage to the site.  A complicated series of buses could get you out there cheaply, but a day trip was the most efficient way out of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, to the monastery.   The monastery was founded in the 10th century by St. John of Rila, Bulgaria’s most famous hermit, who lived in St. John’s cave, up the hill, for 14 years.  Although the original monastery was destroyed by a fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt in the mid-1800s. The monastery was known as a prime example of the Bulgarian Renaissance.  Although pictures were not allowed inside the church, it was small and detailed, with a humongous golden chandelier hanging from the ceiling.  Orthodox worshippers mixed with tourists, with the travelers gawking as the faithful lined up to kiss photos of saints and a small tomb on the alter.  Young monks head to toe in black with long beards warn the tourists that no pictures are allowed. The paintings that covered the outside were unique, not only because they plastered every inch of the church and represented typical Orthodox art with gold halos hovering over the saints.  They also were littered with elaborate depictions of hell and satan, all in bright colors that kept the eyes focused.  The surrounding buildings, layered in white an brown stripes, housed the monks’ quarters.  They looked eerie with the foggy mist covering the Rila mountains.  Rila Monastery is a spooky place to visit in...
Relieving Myself of My Sins in Bulgaria

Relieving Myself of My Sins in Bulgaria

One of the top tourist sites within Sofia involves a day trip to Rila Monastery, one of the most iconic buildings in all of Bulgaria. A day tour involves a trip to the monastery as well as a trip to St. John’s cave.  The girl at the hostel said, you can go into the cave or you can skip it, its your choice.  Fair enough. Little did I know that it would be a day that would end up with me sick in Bulgaria. The driver was the Bulgarian equivalent of Mario Andretti, speeding at breakneck speeds in his small Opel station wagon.  Eric was in the front, and I was in the back with two girls, the one in the middle sandwiched between us with her motion sickness bands on her wrists.  She was struggling not to get sick in Bulgaria. Once we left the main highway, the curvy roads greeted us and Mario kicked it into high gear.  I shut my eyes a few times as we passed cars on the left seemingly driving head on into oncoming traffic.   When we arrived at the cave of St. John, a 10-15 minute walk uphill greeted us.  I was thrilled just to be out of the car.  It was a nature walk, on a not-well-worn path, in a little bit of rain.  That meant the path, which was paved with slippery rocks, become even more slippery with the wet leaves that littered the path.   Climbing My Way Away From Sin The hostel staff told us that if you climbed through the small cave you would be relieved...
How to Survive the Off Season in Croatia

How to Survive the Off Season in Croatia

October 1 marks the end of the season on the Croatian Islands.  At first, this struck me as an oddity, and perhaps an exaggeration.  Every tourist destination has a peak and an off-season, but what did that really mean?  The last week in September was gorgeous on Hvar, with 80s and sun every day.  Was it possible to survive the off season in Croatia? How could things fall apart a week later? Surprisingly, they did.  It rained late on September 30 (my birthday) and was over cast and drizzling on October 1.  Restaurants were closed on the first, as were souvenir kiosks and shops.  Open one day; closed the next.  People stopped renting beach chairs, meaning sunbathers were laying their towels on rocks or concrete to enjoy the beach. The Island Has You Now The biggest change – transportation schedules, and in particular, the ferry schedule.  Looking at a map, and reading Lonely Planet, I assumed a ferry from Hvar to Korcula, and then onto Dubrovnik, was no problem.  When we agreed to stay in Hvar until October 1, I did not realize what a problem it would be to get off the island.  There is only one catamaran a day, instead of the usual three.  It leaves at 5pm, meaning we had to stall in Hvar for 5 hours after check out with our bags.  No biggie.  We have overcome worst obstacles. The bigger problem came with how to get off the island of Korcula.  At one point we felt a little stuck and started making Lost-type references like “The Island has you now.” The Island became a thing,...
Anthony Bourdain in Croatia – It is Beautiful, But He Had Help

Anthony Bourdain in Croatia – It is Beautiful, But He Had Help

I have wanted to visit Croatia for years, even before Anthony went there during the last season of No Reservations.  We bought a travel guide for Croatia back in 2006 and have held onto it since, through many trips elsewhere and numerous rounds of downsizing.  We kept trying to make our way here, but it never seemed to happen. When watching Bourdain in Croatia, it was clear he was smitten.  He asked, essentially, why aren’t people coming here?  Between the beauty of the country and the food, he seemed to not want to leave.  Tony said:  “I can’t believe it took me this long … to get here.  This is f*cking awesome.” I too feel like it took me too long to get there.  Although I have enjoyed Croatia, my problem was I don’t have a fixer to ensure the Tony Bourdain in Croatia experience. First, Tony stayed in Istria, in the north, an area that might be considered wealthier, more developed, and closer to Italy.  He had a fixer and a producer to take him to unique restaurants, wineries where he drank with the owner until he fell off a chair, mussel fishing on the Adriatic, a bluefin tuna farm in Zadar. He did this all with a Croatian TV chef. He ate “world class food” and drank “world class wine”. And, I am sure money was no option. I am not expecting to replicate TV host experiences, but it would be nice to have a similar feel for a place.  But, I don’t have a fixer.  And, I have a budget. Budget Friendly?? I still liked Croatia,...
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