Day 1 – Bulgaria
I had an early 8.30am flight from Dublin to Sofia so was up at the craic of dawn and at the airport with plenty of time. After a smooth flight and seeing the two girls beside me chat each other up, I landed at around 2pm local time and made my way to the metro station. My Bulgarian alphabet isn’t the may west so I managed to find the right train and was on the way to my AirBnb.
Arriving a tad early I grabbed a quick sambo and chilled in the sun before checking in just after 4pm. The apartment was located just outside the main city centre and beside the large Borisova Gradina park. I left my bags and decided to make my way across town to sort out bus tickets to Macedonia in 2 days time. After some wandering I eventually found the bus station and got the tickets in some broken English/Bulgarian. Tickets in hand I walked into the main city centre and towards the famous St Alexander Nevski cathedral just before sunset. Pretty Unreal!
I was in the mood to taste some typical Bulgarian food so popped in the best Indian restaurant the city has to offer, “Taj Mahal” and ordered a Chicken Madras. The waitress looked at me in shock as she thought it would be too spicy. Needless to say they aren’t fan of a curry in Sofia then.
I was pretty wrecked from the early flight and having been out the night before in Dublin so just headed back to the apartment and watch the Man United match with a few cans before crashing.
I was up bright and early and feeling a little more normal the following day. After a quick banana I headed out for a run through the main park, which was a little like going back in time. It’s a very soviet style park with a few run down stadiums but still pretty cool, with the main football stadium located at the end. There were even some locals continuing the party from the night before with a few cans in the park. Session!
I got a little lost on the way back and ended up in the woods for a bit before finding my way home. After a quick shower I headed to the city centre for a free walking tour that locals had recommended. It lasted 2 hours and gave some great insight in the history of Sofia through its main eras of Roman, Ottoman and Bulgarian State. Sofia was almost named the capital of the Roman Empire at one stage.
One particularly cool area was what the locals call the Square of Tolerance. Within a 1km radius you can see a Catholic church, an orthodox church, a mosque and a synagogue. Another cool fact was that even though Bulgaria was part of the Axis of Evil for WWII, their president managed that no Jews were sent to concentration camps during the entirety of the war, even with pressure from Hitler.
The tour finished at the Ayah Sofia, the first church in Sofia and where the name of the city originates. Once finished I popped into the main cathedral again and watched the locals as they got their Easter rituals on. They have one particular ritual that involves kissing a table and then getting on your hands and knees to crawl under. Couldn’t imagine that flying in the local parish!
As I was starving I headed into Boom Burger which was a bit underwhelming and then crossed the road to Sense rooftop bar for panoramic views of the city. En route home I grabbed one more beer on the main Vitosha street and people watched, before getting the metro back to the apartment. A quick rest later I kept up the ritual of visiting an Irish bar in every city I’ve been and popped into JJ Murphy’s. It was pretty empty until I met a few locals there and headed on for a few more scoops across town, calling it a night around 3am. Seriously cheap night out!
Day 3 – Macedonia
I was up after 4 hours sleep or so to check out and head straight to the bus station. I jumped on and managed to sleep all the way to the border crossing that went fine and arrived into Skopje a little weary at 2pm. The weather was scorching and it took me a little while to get my bearings. A local lad was super friendly and pointed me in the right direction to the city centre. I walked along the Vardar river all the way to the main square before grabbing a bite to eat and relaxed in the sun. Which chilling there, I randomly met an Ozzie lad who was also in the city by myself so we grabbed a scoop and agreed to meet up later in the night.
I checked in to the AirBnb, which was located on the main square and headed out to see some of the city. The main city centre is pretty beautiful, however its all part of a project called Skopje 2014 that aimed to make the city seem more historical than it actually is. But it bloody works. The main statue is of Alexander the Great, who came from Skopje, which dominates the skyline. I made my way across the Stone Bridge and up to the Old Town, passing the famous Mustafa Prasha mosque and climbing the castle walls on top of the mountain. The views were pretty incredible. That said I could see a mean looking rainstorm in the distance and legged it down the mountain before the heavens opened. It was like the end of the world for about an hour. Madness!
I met up with the Ozzie lad who was with an English guy and we grabbed some food and drinks before dropping into Patrick’s Irish bar. Classic! Skopje was pretty empty also due to Easter but the bar scene seemed pretty cool. We met with some Spanish people who were living in the city and were out again until about 3am. There was one mad moment when a little girl who must have been only 9 approached us, high on a kite on drugs and then began spitting at us. Sad scenes all together.
Day 4 – Kosovo
I somehow managed to fall asleep on the couch the night before so woke up at 9am in a lot of pain, but had to soldier onto the bus station to make it to Kosovo. I bought my ticket and then a sambo before making my way to the bus. As I got on I realized the whole thing was packed and that the one inside has over sold the tickets. The driver insisted I get off, but I told him to shag off and just stood there for the 2-hour drive to the border munching away on my sambo. The drive was very slow and border crossing pretty tedious. The Kosovan guards were not happy he had an additional 4 passengers standing. Once across the bus got a puncture so we had a good hour wait at the side of the road while the most useless driver in Eastern Europe tried to change. At one stage he even nearly ran over my foot when reverse. Grade A plonker!
We eventually made it to Pristina later than expect so I only had about 4 hours to wander around before heading back to Skopje. I walked a fair distance from the bus station to the main street and down to the city centre. Kosovo uses euros, which was pretty handy. The main street, called Bill Clinton Boulevard, was nice and had lots of locals and nice restaurants dotted along. After some food and a local beer (no Irish bar in town), I continued wandering to a few churches before chilling in the park and getting some rays.
At about 5pm I hopped in a local cab that took me back to the station and was en route back to Skopje…with a seat! I made it home just in time for the United – Chelsea match before heading out for some dinner with some locals we’d met the night before. I was dead though and was back in the leaba by 10pm off to the land of nod.
Day 5 – Macedonia
I woke up at around 9am and similar to Sofia, decided to go out for a run to see some more of the city. I started in the main square and headed up the river, past the national stadium, where the European Super Cup will take place this year, and all the way to an outdoor gym, to catch my breath as the drinking had taken its toll. I pathetically jogged back to the apartment, showered and checked out and had a small wander on the other side of the city.
I headed to the Mother Theresa house, another famous Macedonian, but couldn’t help myself picturing Fr Ted dressed as her for Halloween. “Ah wasn’t she brilliant!”. I had some lunch on the main square and had to wait 45 minute for a spag bol! I’d do it in half myself. The waiter also gave me a painted egg for Easter, which is a Macedonian tradition. Nice touch.
I decided to end the afternoon in the old bazaar located in the Old Town which is mainly Islamic and felt like being in a different city altogether during prayer time. Some lad harassed me for 10 minutes to buy his sunglasses so I bought them from his mate just to spite him. Might have been a great combo tactic!
At around 5pm I made my way to the bus station, along the Vardar river and dozed on the 4-hour journey back to Sofia. We arrived just after 9.30pm and as the heavens opened. As I was leaving in the morning, I had booked a hostel for the night which I thought would have been fine until some fat Spanish lad spent the whole night snoring his brains out. Pinche pendejo. So I woke p at 4am a little delirious, grabbed a cab and to airport to head home. Zombie central!
Five days wasn’t near enough to see all that Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo have to offer, but was just enough for 3 city breaks. The locals are sound, food and drink cheap, and the weather is class (apart from the 2 hour monsoons). With cheap flights to Sofia from around Europe there’s no excuse not to tick it off the list!