Country #97 - Bulgaria

The Airport Sprint

When I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal from Praia, Cape Verde it was about 7am and only my first of three flights of the day. There was a very long immigration line that took about an hour, and then I had to change terminals in Lisbon from the nice terminal to the dingy low-cost carrier terminal. Of course, this isn’t an easy process. You have to completely exit customs and then the airport itself just to change terminals. Going back through security took a while again but I was finally to my gate, this time to head to Frankfurt.

I would just be flying through Frankfurt to get to Sofia, Bulgaria and I knew that it would be a very quick connection time. It didn’t help matters that my plane leaving Lisbon ended up being about thirty minutes late. It was quite the long flight for continental Europe at about three hours. It was so long that I had to break down and pay for food on the plane! When I arrived in Frankfurt I had to take a bus to the terminal as almost always in Europe, but this ride was especially interesting as there had been a wreck between another bus and a baggage carrier. There were ambulances and fire trucks everywhere, but it looked like thankfully everything was fine - there were just tons of precautions! From this minor slowdown forward my nightmare of running through Frankfurt began.

When I finally arrived at the terminal I had 15 minutes in which time I cleared immigration, went through security, and ran for 15 minutes straight. I was dying with all of my luggage and my winter coat and drenched in sweat. I arrived at the boarding gate right when the gate was about to close. The bus was still there - the driver was standing right by the gate agent. I was about to pass out from my sprint. The gate agent told me that it was too late - which was not true as I had about a minute to spare before the gate was to technically close, and the bus was right there! Obviously, it wasn’t true, as after about 30 seconds of my panting from exhaustion he decided to let me on.

This was great! I was so appreciative that he decided to let me on. I began to apologize profusely, at which time my airline ordeal became much, much worse. Just to preface this, I have flown so much this past year, and have never had such a bad experience with an employee of any capacity within the travel agency. This Wizz Airlines employee absolutely went off on me. He told me that no, I was not sorry, or else this would not have happened. He told me that there was no way that I was sorry or I wouldn’t have been late. I tried very sincerely to apologize but every time I said sorry he would continue to mock me and tell me that I was not sorry. Which I obviously was! I hated being late and having to run - it’s not like I decided to do it for fun.

The problems only continued from there. I was now very upset from how he had treated me, but I was on the bus and ready to go. However, while waiting for the bus to go I looked inside and saw the gate agent making fun of me to four or five colleagues! He was mimicking my breathing and then mimicked my apology. It was horrible and I was pretty furious at this point. Like I said, I have never been treated so badly let alone by an airline but as a customer in any industry. I was sincerely sorry and after being mocked to my face I was then made fun of in plain view! It’s like the employee forgot glass and existed and that I could see everything that he was doing.

Anyways, this was an absolutely horrible experience and I wrote to Wizz Air to let them know about my experience, so we will see what happens! I fly almost daily and deal with low-cost carriers (including Wizz Air) very often and have never had this happen so I know it is an isolated incident, but nonetheless, it was very unfortunate. After dealing with that whole ordeal I was thrilled once the plane was moving and it was behind me.

I arrived in Sofia at around 7:30pm to find that I had arrived in the terminal without a metro connection and that the bus to the other terminal would not run again for another thirty minutes. I was incredibly lucky, though, as I made a new friend who helped me make it to the city center very easily! He was a former professional dancer who now teaches dance and has lived all over Europe, so it was really interesting to talk with him not only about his home country of Bulgaria but about Europe and travel in general.

We had a great talk on the bus ride and he even was nice enough to walk me the last few minutes to my hotel. It was another great chance encounter on my trip, and I can’t thank him enough for his helpfulness, generosity, and enjoyable conversation!

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When I arrived at my hotel, Sense Hotel, I was blown away with how nice it was and immediately was so excited to just really enjoy a great night of sleep for the first time in a few days. My room was beautiful and modern and had lots of fun buttons to push to control all of the lights and settings in the room. There was a really nice shower and also a good night chocolate which was so cute and an unexpected treat. Thank you so much to Sense Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip and allowing me to get a much needed full night of rest.

It ended up being quite the ordeal to get to Sofia, but I am so excited to get to explore Bulgaria tomorrow!

The Churches

I felt rested for the first time in days thanks to my cosy night’s sleep at Sense Hotel and had a great breakfast with amazing views out over all of Sofia to start my day off right. I enjoyed talking with the really sweet girls at the front desk (who were kind enough to give me an extra hour to check out) before heading out for the day in Sofia.

My first stop was Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski which is probably the most well known of the many churches in Sofia. It has quite the unique design and was actually built by the Russians. That makes sense upon seeing the architecture which really is stunning. My next stop was just right across the street at Temple Sveta Sofia. It is one of the historically most important spots in the city as it has been around in some capacity for almost two millennia. It stands in stark contrast to Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski, but was beautiful in its own way. The best part was being able to walk around all of the old ruins of previous churches that have stood on the site. You actually go underneath the church and it was really quite cool.

From there I headed to yet another church, Russian Church Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski. It looked very traditionally Orthodox and though small was beautiful both inside and out. My next stop was the Amphitheater of Serdica which was quite bizarre. The Amphitheater of Serdica is ruins of an ancient amphitheater, but they are now inside of a hotel. So you go inside of a hotel to see these ruins. It was fine but just weird and the ruins were not very impressive as there was not very much to see. Luckily for me everything in Sofia is very close together so it didn’t hurt to give it a quick look!

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I transitioned here from looking at old ruins and churches to visit my first museum of the day, Museum of the History of Sofia. It was not a very large museum but it contained a lot and was very easy to do in under an hour. Everything was in English and I learned a good amount about the city in one quick visit. From here it was back to visiting churches. I attempted to visit Sofia Synagogue but it was closed. My next stop was Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya, but on the way I ran into quite the interesting site! The East Gate of Serdica ruins were discovered when the city was building a metro station in 2012, and is almost an entire Roman street from the 6th century! It was really cool to walk through, and I found it especially interesting as it is right in the middle of the city and is such a recent discovery.

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Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya was right past the East Gate of Serdica and was yet another beautiful church in Sofia. From there I visited, of course, one last church. It truly was impressive how many beautiful churches are in Sofia! My last one was Church St. George Rotunda, which you could just tell was very historic. It was surrounded outside by many ruins. I then headed just next door to visit the National Archeology Museum. It was not very large but was pretty interesting, especially after having seen so many historic sites today!

My last stop was to grab a quick dinner at a restaurant called Corso. I had a nice chicken dish for a reasonable price before heading just a few minutes down the street back to Sense Hotel to get my bags and head to the airport. I took the metro as it was very quick and inexpensive. It was pretty easy though I did need to double check and make sure that I was getting on the right train.

When I arrived at the airport I was at the right terminal this time thankfully. This terminal is much nicer and newer than the one I flew into yesterday. I cleared security and immigration easily and then made my way to the airport lounge for a few hours. Things were going smoothly until I noticed my flight was delayed by an hour. This was not a huge deal but was not ideal. It left me with only an hour to connect in Istanbul. However, things only got worse. Before I knew it one hour turned to two. After finally boarding the plane and taking off I pretty much lost all hope of catching my flight when the plane had to circle in the air for another hour, bringing the delay total up to three hours.

When I arrived I was told that my flight was still at the airport, but I knew that there was no way I would make it. The flight was in the final call stage when my flight had just landed and I checked online, and when I checked the departures board in the airport it went from final call to no longer being listed on the board. I had walked quickly for a few minutes before completely giving up when it was no longer on the board. I definitely was not the only one with a missed connection. Apparently, all of this was caused by the weather in Istanbul.

There were probably hundreds of people in line to have their flight changed on Turkish Airlines. I thought that I would be in line forever, but then I got very lucky. They decided to open up a new desk to deal with the demand and they chose my spot in line to go to the front. It was so lucky and I couldn’t believe it - perhaps I would get a little sleep after all.

I had my ticket changed to a 9am flight, meaning that I would still have plenty of time to enter Azerbaijan, but I would unfortunately now not have time to see Baku which I was definitely disappointed about. I’m really glad I decided on getting Priority Pass to use for the remainder of my trip because it came in handy big time tonight. I found a lounge that I was able to sleep on a couch in for about four hours. It was a bit noisy but I was on a couch and there was even a big locker for my things so I can’t complain. I woke up around 8am, headed to my gate, and finally boarded my plane for Baku, Azerbaijan.

While tonight was quite the ordeal, it is also the first time that I have had a flight connection missed which I honestly have a hard time believing myself. Especially because, in quite exciting news, I am now one country away from being halfway on my trip! To have made it halfway without something like this happening is truly amazing. While it isn’t ideal I’m just very glad that it wasn’t worse and that I was still able to make it to Azerbaijan within the time that I needed to be there.

97 countries down, 98 to go.

For more information on Bulgaria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Sense Hotel click here.