How Do You Mooch?

The day started off and I was in rough shape. After almost 2 days without sleep, my poor body got back at me. I had a horrible sleep, tossing and turning, with a mind-blowing headache all night. I barely slept and by the time everyone was up in the morning, I was a bit of a mess. Breakfast in bed, some quiet time and a shower and I was almost as good as new, ready to tackle the day.IMG_4541

My cousin and his boys came to spend the day with us and we had a great chilled day, swimming, performing, dancing, wandering down by the sea, eating ice cream and just hanging out.IMG_0987IMG_0985IMG_0986IMG_0983IMG_0993IMG_0989IMG_0994IMG_0995IMG_1000IMG_1001IMG_1004IMG_1007IMG_1008IMG_1015IMG_1018IMG_1023IMG_1026IMG_1027IMG_1030IMG_1035In the evening, Paula and I went for a delicious dinner at Market in Brighton. A meat and cheese board, Padron peppers, Goats’ cheese churros with honey, delicious mussels, broccoli and kale with tahini and pepitas, and pork cheek- it was so delicious! Im not sure if it helped or not, but it was bring your own wine night at the restaurant, so of course, we did!

We decided to enjoy the beautiful night and continue chatting so figured we would walk home. On the way, we spotted this cool pub-  The Gin Tub, and decided to stop in for a nightcap. What a great space. Each table has an old phone on it and when you are ready, you call the bar with your order. You can even call the other tables. IMG_4579IMG_0063IMG_0051IMG_0070IMG_0067IMG_4580When I was booking my trip, I knew I wanted some time after Budapest to Istanbul with my family in England. I don’t see them often, but we text often and keep in good contact. I feel very blessed because all of them are people that I would genuinely like to hang out with, not just because they are family, but because they are awesome. There is never enough time to spend enough time with each and every one of them, so I just have to promise to be back. There are plans in the works for a next family get-together. I might just have to swing by for that one too…. Who knows!?

Lost in All the Sheets and Old Pillows

We made it quite successfully, by train, bus, taxi and foot, to Istanbul from Budapest and it was amazing. I had such a great time, saw a ton of amazing things (so many that I still need some time to process where I saw what), ate some great food and had some fantastic experiences. I said goodbye to Nina on Friday morning, headed to the airport and set out for the second portion of my trip- the UK.IMG_4305IMG_4310Friday, my cousin Paula (she’s one of my favourites), came to get me with her two girls, Amelie and Isla. The last time I was in England to see all the family was in 2013 when Mom and I came after our trip to Russia and Finland. Isla was just about a month old and Amelie was 2. They have grown up and changed so much. They are real little people now with such wonderful personalities. Mom had told me all about them and Paula and I text regularly so I know bits about how they are doing and what’s happening, but how much more wonderful is it to see them in person and get tons of cuddles and hear all their stories.

We had a pretty chill day, topped off with a specially planned cousin night of pampering. Face masks, eye masks, foot masks, maltesers, red wine and Coronation Street… someone had been paying attention to what I like and knows me well! I was relaxed and ready for the big day ahead.IMG_4316IMG_4320IMG_4321A couple months ago I texted my cousins, (Daniel, Karyn (my other two favourites) and Paula) about a festival in Scotland that was happening on the weekend I was coming to England. I wanted to see if any of them wanted to join me and Daniel was able to work it into his schedule. My favourite band was to headline this festival and so we were going to make a quick trip up.

I had been keeping an eye on the weather and not so surprisingly, they were forecasting 90% chance of rain, heavy rain, and 16 degrees. Not ideal for being in a field all day, listening to music, but our plane tickets were bought and we were doing this.E3314F9D-B9B1-4237-B783-A320D95E9910IMG_4324c054116b-051b-4be6-92d4-6636390b889eIMG_4327A bright and early start on Saturday, Paula dropped me at the airport to meet Daniel and we were off. We landed nice and early in Edinburgh and decided to spend some time walking around the city centre before heading to the festival. There were a few different festivals going on so the city was busy! We wandered up to Edinburgh castle, through some of the festival activities in town, over to Scott monument and up the 297 steps (which we then had to come back down) and then took the train over to Linlithgow.IMG_4328IMG_4329IMG_4331IMG_4332IMG_4336IMG_4344IMG_4349IMG_4353IMG_4355IMG_4383IMG_4373IMG_4366IMG_4375All I can say was that the festival was fantastic! The prosecco was flowing, and the music was great. The Complete Stone Roses were the first act I wanted to see. A cover band but for the first time ever, I actually understood all the lyrics to the songs! Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 were the next act that piqued my interest. They were fun and they had tons of interaction with the audience and were obviously a crowd favourite as everyone knew their dances and songs and people came dressed for the gig. Melanie C (Sporty Spice) was djing next and she played songs that were like a little slice of the past. So much fun!IMG_4388IMG_4420IMG_4430IMG_4457IMG_4462IMG_4464IMG_4465Finally, after a full day, it was time for James. I travelled to New York City to watch James open for Squeeze at Radio City Music Hall in 2008. I have seen them only 4 times in total and this was to be magical #5. I was so excited. I’m talking squealing little girl excited.

And it was magical. We were close, they started slowly, to get us in the mood, with “Out to Get You”, one of my favourites and then they let loose! It was a James show, like the others I had been to, where they play new material, don’t take requests, don’t play all the old hits and favourites but as Tim Booth told us, read the audience and respond to what they see. They read us right because they played for 2 hours and we didn’t leave them for a single moment.IMG_4469IMG_4471IMG_4507IMG_4511The show was everything I had hoped for, and more. It was so amazing! But the night wasn’t over yet. We had a lot of night ahead of us because we hadn’t booked accommodation and were planning to mooch around Edinburgh until it was time to head back to the airport for our 6am flight. We went back to town, went to a late-night pub that had live music and dancing called WhistleBinkies. It was a great spot and we were able to chill, listen to the band, and kill some time.

The conditions at the festival had been perfect- rain would have meant a mucky mess and as the whole thing was on a bit of a hill, we would have all probably been gathered along the fences as we slid down the slippery hill. We couldn’t have asked for better weather! All that rain they had been calling for had held off until we were coming out of the pub, which was perfect. We went to the tram and headed back to the airport. It was 3am at this point… only a few more hours to go!

A little lie down in the airport, a full Scottish breakfast and we were back on the plane, heading back to England. Our 24 hours (22 actually) were over. We had CurryFest to get to! My aunts had organized a family get-together for the Sunday afternoon so we were coming home to get changed, showered, and ready to go meet up with all my aunts and all my other favourite cousins. We went back to Daniel’s and I got to spend some time with Jo, and Henry and Edward.IMG_4532img_45351.jpgI am not a good sleeper so while I may have dozed a bit here and there, I was going on pretty much no sleep at this point. I was so overwhelmed and excited to see how many of my relatives were able to make the journey in. I insisted we take a family photo to mark the occasion.IMG_0959IMG_0960IMG_0958Aunty Linda and Aunty Jen had put together a curry feast! My nan used to always comment because our family loves a good curry and I have never been a real fan. I think it’s the spiciness (hot) that I mostly don’t like, as I do eat all the rest. Anyway, while others assumed we would have a barbecue or pizzas, I knew my aunts wouldn’t let me down and that it would be CurryFest 2018, and it was! What a spread! My nan (and mother) would be proud. I ate my fair share. Tim (my favourite Welsh cousin) wasn’t able to join us but he had taken the time to make a banoffee pie- my favourite!! It was such a wonderful day and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my vacation. I was spoiled with cuddles from George, giggles and Olympic cuddles from Benji, and time with all my cousins and aunts and uncles.IMG_4538IMG_4539IMG_4537IMG_0973IMG_0972IMG_0971IMG_0969IMG_0961IMG_0954IMG_0952IMG_0953IMG_0981It was a late night and by the time we made it home, I was shattered. It had been 42 hours since I had last slept… it was time for bed!

Turkish Delight on a Moonlit Night

Last day in Istanbul and of my vacation with Nina. One more trip to add to our list, along with 4 more countries, though who’s counting!? 🙂

Our plan for today was simple. Topkapi Palace and the Harem, lunch of fish wraps at Emin Utsa across the Golden Horn in the new town of Istanbul, a stop at Chora Church, then Whirling Dervishes this evening. I also have to pack, wash and do something with my hair and get myself organized as I head to England in the morning.

Topkapi Palace was huge. It served as the administrative palace for Ottoman sultans for more than 400 years. It was constructed over time as every new sultan would add something to make it his own, and this is why there’s a bit of a mish mash of architecture and styles and levels.IMG_0730IMG_0736IMG_0742IMG_0751IMG_0757IMG_0758IMG_0762IMG_0764IMG_0770IMG_0772IMG_0779IMG_0788IMG_0789IMG_0790IMG_0791IMG_4235IMG_4240

I think the harem was the most impressive of all. Rick Steves tells me that harem can mean the women/favourites/concubine of the sultan. Or else it could mean where they all lived in the palace. He also mentions that he Harem was not the site of a “round-the-clock” orgy but a carefully administered social institution that ensured the longevity of the Ottoman Empire. The mosaics were impressive. Beautiful. The decorations were so ornate. I think those women would have lived well.IMG_0814IMG_0821IMG_0824IMG_0829IMG_0832IMG_0841IMG_0842IMG_0863We decided it was worth battling the heat to walk to Emin Usta- for a famous Turkish fish wrap. We were very early as the walk was quite a bit shorter than we thought it would be. The name I had for the restaurant was different than the one listed outside but someone who worked nearby saw us wandering up and down and pointed to where we could find Emin. They spoke no English and didn’t seem to know what to do with us so we asked if we could sit on the terrace and wait until they opened. This was perfect because we got to watch them light the fire and get the grill ready to cook the fish. It was just the lunch I’d hoped for!IMG_0870IMG_0873IMG_0881IMG_0883IMG_0884IMG_0885IMG_0886IMG_0888IMG_0892IMG_0893IMG_4267Chora Church was a recommended site that was well out of the way. We figured we would walk to it, not realizing it was uphill, the whole way. And I mean seriously uphill. I felt bad whining when I watched a little old lady as she passed me up the hill. Unfortunately when we got to the church we found that most of it was under reconstruction/renovation so those parts weren’t open. So we treated ourselves to coffee as we rested and got ready to make the trek back to the hotel.IMG_0901IMG_0903IMG_0911IMG_0913IMG_0917IMG_0918IMG_0919IMG_0931IMG_0932IMG_0935IMG_0938IMG_0940IMG_0944IMG_0948IMG_0950Our evening brought us to the Whirling Dervishes spiritual ceremony. It was mesmerizing. I was dozing off within minutes- that’s a good thing. A dervish is someone who is a member of the Muslim Sufi Order under a sheikh’s obedience and nurture. It signifies a person who turns himself away from material world and devotes himself to God.

Whirling is one of the rituals the dervishes do to attain the God. In 2005, this ceremony was proclaimed as a part of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. (I need to google this list to see what else is on it.)

The whirling was fascinating as they grounded one foot, that really just turned on the spot, and the other was the foot that spun them around. They spun so much, for probably close to half an hour, and it was amazing that no one fell over or threw up! We read about their training in the pamphlet. They start on a board that is 1x1m. There is a 2cm copper or brass nail in the middle of the board. The dervish pours salt around the nail. (They say salt is the medicine of a tough beginning). It prevents the feet from slipping and prevents pus bubbles and infection in the toes. The dervish takes the nail between his left big toe and the second to, crosses his arms and puts his palms on his shoulders. His left heel stays grounded while pushing and turning the body. About two months after starting exercises, the dervishes get to start wearing the big white dress with skirt. Because it was a religious ceremony, we weren’t allowed to take photos. I listened and followed the rules this time.

IMG_4273IMG_4279We had dinner at a terrace by the Blue Mosque, more for the ambiance and view than the food. We were sitting beside a couple- she was American and he was Turkish. If you have ever seen the show 90 Day Fiancée, these two were definitely the new season’s stars. I was looking around for cameras and microphones. If she can get her budget straightened out, pay for all the excursions they want to have, get a job (because she currently has no income), then he wants to get out of Turkey too, (he told her) and they could go somewhere like Greece or Italy. But first she needs to get some money. Then he had to go because his dad was there to pick him up. Sadly, we were fascinated by these two. Nina and I barely spoke all dinner because their conversation was so fascinating.

It’s been a long day, but a good one. We walked over 20 km, sweat buckets (like every day), had some laughs, saw some cool things, and now must get ready to say goodbye. I need to try to fit everything back in my bag and prepare for the next leg of my trip.

Look out Family! Here I come!

Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Now It’s Istanbul, Not Constantinople.

Ah, They Might Be Giants… that song has been going through my head since late winter when I decided to take this trip. It’s our trip theme song.

Today was a day to explore Istanbul. Up early, (super early actually because I heard the ezan, the muezzin’s call to prayer this morning around 5am), ate breakfast at the hotel, then out to start our day, trying to beat the heat, though the sweat seems to start dripping the minute you step out, if there’s even a single sunbeam shining down. Man, it’s hot!

First stop was the Blue Mosque. I changed my outfit at the last minute which was not smart, because then I not only had to borrow something to cover my head in the mosque but as my knees were bare, I had to actually borrow a covering that was an entire dress with attached veil. I put it on, with my bag under it, and looked… hot! (but, not in a good way).

The Blue Mosque, called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, is an historical mosque named for the blue tiles on the walls. There was a huge restoration project going on, so it was hard to get photos, but it was still amazing to see. I am always a little trepidatious when entering a holy place of any sorts when people are praying. It almost feels disrespectful to me to be in there, especially because I am usually wielding my camera. I thought about it recently when I was at mass and someone came in during the service to look around, obviously not there to participate in mass. I wasn’t bothered, and I didn’t find it distracting, so I hope those praying today weren’t bothered either.IMG_0510IMG_0509IMG_0489IMG_0494IMG_0501IMG_0504Across the way was the Hagia Sophia- once a mosque, then a cathedral, then an orthodox basilica and since 1935, a museum. For at least the last 8 years, there have been campaigns and petitions to have Hagia Sophia turned back in to a mosque.IMG_0513IMG_0515IMG_0524IMG_0531IMG_0545IMG_0552IMG_0555IMG_0559IMG_0561IMG_0564IMG_0568IMG_0571IMG_0573IMG_0575IMG_0584IMG_0594IMG_0598IMG_0603IMG_0607IMG_0614IMG_0617IMG_0618The basilica cistern was the next stop. It is an ancient cistern that lies beneath the city of Istanbul. According to Rick Steves, the columns that hold it up are recycled/reused from other ruins around the city. Apparently it was left unused for quite some time. Now it doesn’t hold much water at all, but is more just an attraction.IMG_0626IMG_0633Restaurants all seem to offer the same menu, and prices are relatively consistent, depending where you choose to eat. We do have to be wary as it seems extras get added to the bill, and the “free”/”on the house” stuff isn’t always on the house… unless “on the house” means you can pay for it!IMG_4200We headed to the Grand Bazaar. One of my favourite memories from Morocco is when we went to Fez and got lost in the medina. I was hopeful this would be similar, and it was! The Grand Bazaar is “one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it was listed No.1 among the world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors. The Grand Bazar at Istanbul is often regarded as one of the first shopping malls of the world.” (Wikipedia) It was packed, a little overwhelming, but fascinating all the same. We followed Rick Steves’ tour of the Grand Bazaar and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. It took us to some areas we would never have found on our own, and we even happened upon some craftsmen working in their workshops. One man making silver platters moved the curtain so I could take pictures. It was fascinating to watch him make plate after plate. I could have stood for ages just watching. Nina bought some jewelry so while we sat and waited for it to be ready, we had the traditional apple tea. IMG_0643IMG_0648IMG_0650IMG_0655IMG_0658IMG_0660IMG_0661IMG_0662IMG_0657IMG_0665IMG_4202IMG_0669IMG_0670IMG_0671IMG_4204We went to a caravanserai where we happened upon some more craftspeople hard at work, and I had my first taste of Turkish coffee. It was thick!IMG_0688IMG_0694IMG_0696IMG_0697IMG_0709From here we wandered aimlessly, in search of some shopping. I was hoping to find a good, but cheap pair of sandals to replace my recently broken pair. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks, genuine and authentic, for 40 Turkish Lira (about $10 CAD). 🙂 We exited then re-entered then exited the Bazaar again, over and over. I can’t imagine just how much of the bazaar we missed. Old Town Istanbul is known as the city of seven hills. I must say, it always feels like we are going uphill. I am amazed as we slowly make our way uphill by the men who lug trolleys and carts FULL of merchandise and really heavy-looking bundles. I can’t imagine how they do it, over and over. But they do!IMG_4213IMG_0718IMG_0719IMG_0720IMG_0683IMG_0684We eventually made it back for a rest and a shower before heading out to dinner. Our evenings are pretty quiet. After walking so much all day, and sweating so much, we are usually ready to crash by the time dinner is over. Tonight was no exception! Even the cats at the hotel had moved and were sleepy by the time we got back.IMG_4216IMG_4217Tomorrow is another full day, with a palace, fish sandwiches, churches and some religious ceremonies in the plans. Until then…


To Hammam or Not to Hammam, That is the Question.

Without too much trouble at all, we have made it to Istanbul. Our train ride was pretty uneventful. Passport Control, Passport Control, and Customs Control woke me while sleeping on the train and once in Turkey we had to actually get off the train to have our passports stamped. (Pretty exciting as it’s the first stamp in my passport that I have had in quite some time- since Russia, I think!)IMG_4150We had a few things we really wanted to do and so we decided to spend lunch, while waiting for our hotel to get ready, planning out our next three days. Traffic here is crazy! Cars squish beside each other on roads that are hardly big enough for two cars and there are horns honking all over the place, as if that will make the cars move faster. So far, it hasn’t.IMG_4159We decided today was the perfect day to go for a Turkish bath, a hammam. I went for a hammam in Morocco and it was a fantastic experience. I had great hopes for this hammam and it didn’t disappoint.IMG_0416IMG_0419IMG_0420

Filiz was my attendant. Nina and I were each given our own room where we were to prepare ourselves. They gave us a wrap, slippers and even a disposable pair of underwear to wear. We prepared ourselves and then we were led to a large room where we were put in to the sauna for 10 minutes. I hate the heat, and I hate sweating so being told to relax in a sauna for 10 minutes was not enjoyable for me. I did anything but relax.IMG_0424IMG_0425IMG_0427After 10 minutes (though it was probably more like 5), we went to the sinks and rinsed ourselves and then we moved to the centre marble circle where we lay down, looked up at the ceiling with the cut-out stars and circles and squares and watched as the sun changed the shadows and patterns of light.

After a while our attendants came in. They removed our wraps, lay the wraps down on the marble circle, made a pillow for each of us, had us lie down, and then used copper bowlfuls of water to wet us. We were on opposite sides of the circle but you could still hear the thumping and splashing as the bathing commenced.

Filiz then donned the scrubby mitt and went to town. First I was on my back, and she scrubbed everything and anything she could get her hands on. I could feel the layers of skin (and dirt) being scrubbed away. She flipped me over, gave me some of the nastiest wedgies ever as she moved the paper panties so she could scrub my cheeks. I am shocked that thing held its own, the way she was pulling and tugging on it. She then brought me over to a sink and rinsed me. Again, she filled the copper bowl with water and dumped it over me.

Next came the bubble massage. She filled the bucket with water and added soap. She then dipped the mitt in, removed it and blew air in to the center so it was almost inflated, then as she squeezed the air out over top of me, all the suds and bubbles were put on me. She did this a few times until I was covered with luxurious lather and then she started massaging. Filiz is a force to be reckoned with. This was one heck of a massage.

It was back to the sinks again where I was rinsed clean and then I sat down so she could wash and condition my hair. A final rinse and then Filiz took my hand to lead me out to some chaise lounges where we were going to relax. We were served tea and nuts and Turkish delight and after a short break, Filiz came back to do my foot massage. It was heavenly! I feel like a new woman, though I think all my tan is gone. Perhaps I was dirtier than I realized!

To be honest, I was pretty relaxed and drained after the hammam so we just wandered around. Most attractions were closed by this point so we decided we would wander and then find somewhere for an early dinner. We decided on seafood and fish for dinner. Choosing a restaurant was interesting as some of the restaurants had only men seated at them. We decided to go for a restaurant where there were women and I think it was a wise choice. We had a good meal! A wander through some residential areas, and we were ready to call it a day.


These Shoes Weren’t Made for Walking

Travel teaches you many things, both about yourself and about the world. It has taught me to be adaptable, to go with the flow and to understand that things won’t always go the way I hoped/expected, and that’s okay. It has taught me that there are all kinds of people in the world, and that’s a wonderful thing. It has taught me that I have more patience than I ever would have acknowledged or claimed, and that has served me well, on more than one occasion. It has also taught me just how far a smile or a simple act of kindness can get you.

I have learned a few good lessons so far on this trip, in particular.

  1. If you are going to sit on the patio/terrace, be prepared to have smoke with your meal because there are ALWAYS people who smoke while they eat. That’s while, not before and/or after, but during the meal.
  2. When visiting medieval cities, wear proper shoes or else be prepared to buy new shoes or walk around with the broken ones, or both!
  3. In keeping with the shoe theme, if it’s raining, closed shoes are a much better option than open ones. Your feet will get very muddy and be cold and your shoes will take a while to dry out (and they will start to smell).
  4. When your server offers you special items that aren’t on the menu, always ask the price because chances are, they are more expensive than anything actually on the menu.
  5. When taking a group tour, particularly one where you have to take a bus, always bring headphones or earplugs. For sure there will be at least one person who wants to talk the entire way to your destination, and the entire way home, and unless you are feeling especially social, you may want to have a way to tune them out. (questions)
  6. Try to check the dates you will be visiting places with upcoming festivals and events so you aren’t surprised when the sleepy town you were hoping to visit is overrun with tourists. There was a medieval festival in Sighisoara the weekend we were there- it was their busiest weekend of the year.
  7. Reserve Mondays and Tuesdays for cities where there are no museums or public buildings you wish to visit as most are closed on these two days.
  8. Contact your hotel before you arrive in the city to ask how much a taxi should cost from wherever it is you will be arriving. This will help you to not get swindled by the taxi drivers who will charge you inflated prices if you are unaware. My last taxi fare went from 20 euros, to 10 euros to 10 leva to the 5 bulgarian leva I eventually told him I would pay him. That’s an initial $30 CAD to $3.85 CAD. Some lessons are more expensive than others!
  9. Consider where you are travelling when deciding what luggage to bring. Cobblestones and wheeled luggage do not make a good match. As well, wheeled luggage and all the stairs in train stations can be a challenge.
  10. When taking a night train, if possible arrange for you and your travel companion to go for pedicures, especially if you have been walking all day and it’s his/her turn to be on the top bunk.
  11. Buy your beer for the train journey at the stands at the train station. A big (massive) bottle of beer, (2.3L to be exact), costs less than $2.50 CAD.

Two personal lessons learned today, (though they are all personal, really):

  1. Don’t wear my blue buttoned shirt anymore while carrying my camera or cross-body bag. I wondered why the men were looking at me, thinking it was the big camera around my neck, only to find that it was probably my pasty white chest since my shirt had come unbuttoned!
  2. If you get a muscle cramp in your calf, squeeze the sides of your big toe (of the same leg) and push on the base of the back of the calf. It’s amazing how the cramp releases!

** Please refer to previous blogs for other lessons learned (e.g., keeping quiet when you speak a different language than most people on the train and checking your bill to make sure the items for which you are being charged are actually the items you ate/consumed.)

We did a walking tour this morning and learned about the history of Sofia, more about the people and got to see some things that as a tourist we would otherwise have missed.IMG_0350IMG_0351IMG_0356IMG_0357IMG_0358IMG_0361IMG_0362IMG_0363IMG_0369IMG_0370IMG_0371IMG_0372IMG_4123As we left the tour in search of a toilet, on our way to the covered market and the Ladies’ Market, my shoe broke. The first day we walked on the cobblestones, at the very beginning of this trip, I commented that I didn’t think these were the best shoes to bring. I have been good and for the most part I have been wearing my runners, but every so often I crack out these sandals. This is actually pair two of these sandals as the first pair broke last summer when I was walking Sadie on some stones at the beach. I liked them so much I bought another pair.

Today the same shoe broke, in the same place. It was a pain, but more a hassle than anything since we were walking and nowhere near our hotel. I thank all my years in Brownies and Guides because I went to a souvenir shop, got some string and figured out a way to tie my shoe to my foot so I could keep walking. I think I impressed the shopkeepers with my MacGyver skills.

We continued walking, albeit more carefully at this point and I started looking for shoes while we made our way to the markets. I learned quickly that the Bulgarian women must have a thing for orthopaedic looking shoes that are really sparkly. My reconfigured shoe was holding up well, so I couldn’t bring myself to spend unnecessary money on new shoes that might give me blisters and that I might never wear again. Not only that, but I had budgeted my money so carefully that a pair of shoes would have meant no lunch or dinner (or possible afternoon snack). I didn’t think that was a fair trade.

We had a cheap lunch, a doner on the street, which was delicious and then started making our way back to the main part of town. We came across a “Beauty Centre” and decided with all the time we had to kill before our night train that a pedicure would be a great way to spend a couple hours in the afternoon. We made an appointment and went to our favourite café for an afternoon treat. I had a slice of banoffee pie, which was lovely, but not nearly as good as the ones my aunts in England make. We went back for our pedicures and I am guessing the length of the appointment was indicative of just how rough our feet were after a couple of weeks of traveling and walking all day. I was a little embarrassed when it was time to put on my shoes, because I had to redo my fancy tie around. The woman who had done my pedicure did it for me, and did a much better job, tying underneath the shoe, rather than overtop, like I did. Her way was much more discreet. I might get a few more days out of these shoes yet!IMG_0384IMG_0385IMG_4126IMG_4127IMG_4128IMG_4129IMG_4130IMG_4134IMG_4132IMG_4137Now we are on the train. I must say there is something romantic and beautiful about riding the train. We have a sleeper car again, this time without a shower, and it’s perfect. It’s night so we can’t look outside, but we can lie around, talk, read, listen to music or just listen to others who are really loud next door.IMG_0389IMG_0391IMG_0396


Take Me To Church

When in Sofia, a must-see is Rila Monastery; a must even just for a break in the heat. It was easily 10 degrees cooler there than in any of the cities we have visited. It was nice to be out of the heat!IMG_4112A hermit who was canonized by the Orthodox Church founded Rila Monastery in the 10th century. “His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy sit and were transformed into a monastic complex which played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria.” ( The monastery used to house around 300 monks but today there are only 8 in residence. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. From the outside, it resembles a fortress more than a monastery. Be prepared for a few super-close selfies! We had a lot of time at the complex so I played around with my camera.

IMG_0156IMG_0158IMG_0167IMG_0171IMG_0173IMG_0175IMG_0188IMG_0191IMG_0192IMG_0193IMG_0202IMG_0205IMG_0208IMG_0214IMG_0216IMG_0218IMG_0219IMG_0222IMG_0230IMG_0239IMG_0244IMG_0245After lunch and a bit of a lazy morning wandering around the monastery, we headed to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Boyana Church. Here we had 10 minutes to enter, look around and listen to the explanation about the frescoes, and then get out. 8 people allowed in every 10 minutes- and they were strict about keeping to the schedule. I felt a little cheated when I heard we were only getting 10 minutes until I was inside. No photos allowed and the church is small- 10 minutes were more than sufficient.IMG_0250IMG_0252Since we were on a church crawl, we decided to check out a couple more when we got back to the city. First off was St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. It is big! It can hold 10,000 people inside it.IMG_0152IMG_0258IMG_0260IMG_0264IMG_0272IMG_0277IMG_0270IMG_0288IMG_0290IMG_0291IMG_0292IMG_0302IMG_0308From here we headed to St. Sofia Church but it had already closed. This gave me an opportunity to pose with all the statues, something I love doing and fortunately for me, Nina tolerates. Off to the Russian Church next, also called Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, where I took a bunch of pictures outside but there was a service inside and you weren’t allowed to take photos so I didn’t linger long.IMG_0149IMG_0311IMG_0319IMG_0324IMG_0325IMG_0341A light dinner, some ice cream on the pedestrian street (which is hopping tonight!) and we are back to our room for the first time since bright and early this morning. Tomorrow is a full-day and then we have our last night train of the trip. Can’t wait!IMG_0347Ще се видим утре! (See you tomorrow!)