From the Black Sea it was a long drive back to Sofia. On our first pass through we’d gone to the U.S. Embassy to request new passports. They said it would be five to 10 working days and they’d let us know by email when they were available. We headed back a day early, in part because the hotel we were at in Burgas was full but also so that we’d be in the city the morning of the fifth day.
This had the potential to be a challenging stay. We needed to wait until the passports were available but that could be at any point over several days. So after our first two-night reservation we would need to reserve hotels on a day-to-day basis. And given that hotels were quite full this time of year in Sofia, that could mean having to switch hotels one night and if the passports didn’t come, switch again. Ugh.
Well, to cut to the chase, the first afternoon we were there – the fourth working day since we’d applied – we got the emails that our passports were ready and that we could pick them up the next morning. Wait – they said it would take five to 10 working days and they were ready the morning of the fifth day? When does that ever happen? But it did.
Unfortunately, there was one more hurdle. We’d needed to file a “lost passport” claim with the local police station so we would have documentation on why our new passports had no arrival stamp. Filing the report had been a big hassle on our first pass through Sofia, but now we were having even more trouble getting them to give us a copy of the report. Eventually the bellman at the hotel we’d stayed at during that first visit solved the problem for us, even though we weren’t staying there this time. You have to love great service like that. (And yes, he was tipped handsomely for his efforts.)
Finally, then, we were ready to leave and could just enjoy Sofia for the rest of the afternoon. That meant another great lunch at a Thai place we discovered and more pleasant hours walking and reading in Sofia’s great parks. These late summer days in Bulgaria have been beautiful, sunny, warm but not too hot, a hint of autumn in the morning that wears away by late morning. It’s not likely that we’re ever going to move to Sofia but it really is a beautiful city. Just lots of parks and attractive buildings and nice restaurants and cafés, everything you want. And as I walk through these parks with leaves beginning to fall I find myself wondering, why do decaying leaves smell so good and decaying animals smell so bad? Just wondering.
At any rate, apparently we’re not the only ones who have discovered that mid- to late-September is a perfect time to be in Sofia. The hotels are full and our favorite dinner restaurant, which we’d gotten into easily on two nights just a week earlier, was packed to the gills when we got there this time; we were told at 9:00 PM that there would be a one-hour wait. Yikes!
To break up what would be a six-hour drive to Bucharest, we drove to a little city called Ruse right on the Danube, the border with Romania. On the way we saw the strangest thing. We were out in the country, far from everything. It was a major road for the region, but still just a two-lane, pocked road with a fair amount of traffic. At one point I observed that there were a surprising number of people standing along the road; not groups of dozens or anything, but every hundred yards or so someone out standing. Then we noticed that they were all women. Then we noticed what one of them was wearing.
Sure enough, there was a stretch of maybe a mile or so in the middle of nowhere with half a dozen or maybe 10 hookers out a little before noon. Once again, I find myself amazed that after all this travel we can still find something new and unique. Strange.
And then it was into Ruse for the night. The city is famous for its 19th century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture. I like it because it’s on the Danube and I love big rivers. As was the case with Belgrade, the last time we were on the Danube, Ruse doesn’t treat the river as some beautiful play area with townspeople dancing to Strauss all day. It’s a working river, with big cargo boats tied up all the way down. So much for the romance of the beautiful blue Danube.
And this is farewell to Bulgaria. Tomorrow we cross the Friendship Bridge into Romania, the 66th country on this adventure. More importantly for each of us Romania will be the 100th country we’ve ever been to. That’s a big milestone!