Heading north into Bulgaria

Squat shops, Palace of Culture and a small bit of Cyrillic

By Susan

We spent one rainy night in Thessoloniki, then the took the 6.30am train to Sophia. Heading into formerly-communist-Europe was exciting. I just get to imagining what it would have been like to live here at that time.

I really enjoy being in Sofia. It’s got a nice, relaxed vibe about it, laid-back cafes, great food and lots of parks with lots of benches to wile away the hours.

One highlight for me was seeing the little ‘squat shops’ – shops in the cellar of a building with a window onto the footpath. Customers on the footpath have to squat down to talk to the shopkeeper through the basement window. Apparently they started during the transition from communism when it was quicker and cheaper to widen a window than it was to renovate a ground room.

Another highlight was filling up my water bottle at the hot, thermal spring wells in the city centre. It was busy with locals also getting their supply.

The Palace of Culture reminded us of the People’s Palace in East Berlin. It’s a grim-looking old building, but in the communist days, people went there to chill out at cafes, dance or go to the cinema. It’s a bit dilapidated and run-down now, but evokes an era.

I tried to familiarise myself with the Greek alphabet in Greece but now that we’re in Bulgaria it’s Cyrillic. Some of the letters in the Greek alphabet are also in the Cyrillic, so that’s helpful. I’m not sure which developed from the other, but the Cyrillic was invented in Bulgaria, not in Russia as I originally thought. All we can do is decipher street signs but it’s been good to practice some Cyrillic before we get to Russia.

Border checks and mixed messages

By Pete

Okay so let me get this straight. A “c” is an “s”; A “b” is a “v”; A “h” is an “n”; And the best one – shaking your head means yes and nodding means no.

So is that everything? Nope. Not even close.

What I want to know is this. If I nod my head and smile at someone in a polite greeting (which I frequently do – often to get myself out of a deadlock when I get caught staring) am I doing the equivalent of shaking my head in disdain? Should I instead do a cheeky wink and turn of the head? This is a mystery I’ve not yet got to the bottom of.

Everything seemed a bit strange when we first arrived in Sofia but we’re getting the hang of it now – and really enjoying ourselves. People are friendly – despite the mixed messages I’m probably giving them.

I had my first proper border crossing on the train from Thessaloniki to Sofia. We got checked both sides of the border. They only glance at Susan’s passport because she’s part of the EU club but I have to get checked and stamped. There’s something a bit unnerving about a guy in a uniform coming on to the train, taking my passport off me and asking me to wait outside. It was fine though of course. I think that in fact they kind of look forward to seeing someone from outside of the EU – gives them something to do. Things must have slowed down for them in the past few years.


  1. From the photos I’d say there is a curious mixture of old and new, but that wouldn’t be uncommon in Europe.
    I wonder how many people try to enter the wrong apartment in that apartment block?

    I would think there would be less English spoken in Sofia and even less as you continue, which could make things difficult and/or amusing, but it seems you are coping well.

    Take care.

  2. Hi this is Kelli’s Mum. We’ve just come back from China – 2 weeks in Yunnan Province and Guilin. While there we visited Longji rice terraces.Thought of you – great place to chill out – away from the millions of people. You probably already know of it?

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog.

    happy travels

  3. This is Kellie..related to Lyn! Really enjoying reading about your adventures. Very jealous. Great to hear the sounds of the places you are visiting. Keep it coming!

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