It’s been too long, once again. Let me fill you in:
- Emily and I are back together and things are going well.
- I left the Viru hostel a few weeks ago to do some travelling
- Em and I spent some time in Finland with Heli and her family
- Now we’re backpacking
- Photos (somewhat unordered) can be found here.
Savonlinna was fun, met some of Heli’s uni friends and I made a shitty little clay turtle whose leg fell off. :(
Em and I both have house keys to the Salomaa’s now, so we’re gonna steal some shit when they’re on holiday. Suvi’s coming to the hostel to work over summer (haha). Em and I are going to be back there in mid-June for a month until we head off for the UK, or something.
We took a flight from Tampere to Riga and spent a few days there in the Old Town Hostel. It was fun catching up with our Latvian hostel cousins and there was even a big free cocktail party one of the nights, so I got rat-arsed. It was rather windy but not too chilly.
One night we checked cheap flights to the south-eastern end of Europe. We could have both flown to Istanbul for about $160 each and nearly did, except that the flight was taking off in 4 hours and we had no way of getting to the airport in time. Instead we booked mildly more expensive tickets to Athens that departed in a few days time.
To kill some time before we headed to Greece, we took a bus to Liepaja, on the Baltic coast. It was a slight nightmare, as we’d heard that apparently there was an old Soviet naval prison that had been converted into a hostel. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Unfortunately we had no map and managed to find tourist destination on only a whim and 40 minutes of walking.
After negotiating the bus system and which routes to take, we cheekily ran off without paying at what we 50/50 thought was our stop. It wasn’t, really. We did take some nice photos on the walk and nearly got mugged by young children on bicycles, so it was sort of worthwhile.
The prison hostel had no English speaking staff, the season had only just begun so they hadn’t reopened all their facilities, there was a primary school excursion occurring at the same time, we had to wait 30 minutes for an English speaker to tell us to come back at 9pm (it was 5:30), we got fined on the bus the second time for not having tickets, all the shops and cafes in town were closed, we had no dinner and slept in a freezing cold prison room with broken beds after a brisk 40 minute tour. Then we had to pay and get back to Riga.
Fortunately, I took a cool photo of Emily in a gas mask and it made it all seem worth the effort.
The flight to Athens was funny, mainly because the Latvian girl sitting next to Em had never flown before, nor seen mountains. She experienced both sensations by the time we touched down.
This southern end of Europe is already ridiculously hot. Being acclimatised to the Baltics certainly doesn’t help, but it’s still fucking sweaty here.
Again we had no accommodation booked in Athens and it took us 3 visits to different hostels and a metro trip across town until we found some. They were half the price of the original place we looked into, so it wasn’t so bad.
Athens is kind of a disappointment. There’s not a whole lot to see or do except the Acropolis and the Agora and we paid for neither. The country itself is expensive to boot and we still failed to find a respectable kebab house. After two and a half days of dicking around (and no souvlaki or olive bread), we took a train to Thessaloniki. We’re going back when we have money and we’re old to visit the Islands.
Thessaloniki was nice. We didn’t stay overnight but we did stay from 8am until midnight. In a park, mainly. We spoke to some funny old Greek fellow who was more interested in chatting with us about the town and whatnot than he was in helping his colleagues in fixing some public sprinklers. Who can blame him, really?
We took a night bus to Sofia, Bulgaria which departed 40 minutes late from Thessaloniki and arrived 30 minutes early in Sofia. Again without a map, we hiked in the 4:00am darkness trying to decipher Cyrillic street names until we found our beds. Well, more like our couches until our beds were ready a few hours later.
The Sofia hostel was really nice. Very cozy and kind staff. We even got some free breakfast. Not that we really needed it, most things in Bulgaria are so ridiculously cheap it’s almost embarrassing. We walked around in the morning, getting sunburnt and exploring the streets, seeing the old buildings and the fruit markets and ate two monster gelato ice creams for about $2 Australian each. We were pleased.
One of the days we took a trip up to the Rila Monastery, a beautiful little place up in the mountains, about 2 hours drive from Sofia. We grouped up with another Aussie couple and had lunch with them and more gelato during the evening.
After a lazy morning of chatting with the hostel owner about his future development plans, we took a bus up to Plovdiv, a cute little town in central Bulgaria. The hostel we stayed in was a very cute converted house that even had its own kitten. Needless to say, I didn’t really want to leave and if they’d had air conditioning I probably wouldn’t have.
On our second day there we went exploring with another Aussie guy we’d met named Jim. We checked out the ruins on top of the hill in the old town and on our way to the Roman theatre got side tracked by a massive, abandoned, stripped-out building on the edge of the old town that had fantastic views over one half of the city.
We tiptoed through the rubble and graffiti-stained concrete, half expecting a gang or a syringe-wielding junkie to jump out at us. As it turns out, a policeman called us out from the top instead, with poor Emily running down after us to let us know we’d been caught. The cop was pretty nice, he just wanted to check we weren’t using heroin or killing someone, then let us go. It was more interesting than the theatre.
In what already seemed like a random afternoon, we ended up speaking to an old Bulgarian who’d lived in the USA for 30 years before returning home to Plovdiv, then got asked to present a song for a Bulgarian music television station, then ended up sitting with the TV crew for an hour in the shade while they told us about where they were from and what they thought of life in general. They gave us free t-shirts.
Apparently, if we’re on TV at all, it’ll be on Thursday or Friday. Stay tuned.
After a tearful farewell, we left Zorro the kitten asleep on the couch and took another bus to Veliko Tarnovo. No photos yet but there’s some good ones to come. It’s a cool student town in an ancient location: apparently there’s evidence of people living here from 5000 years ago, if not more. The most important fact to know about this region, though, is that we’re very close to where Kotooshu was born. Apparently sumo wrestling is big in Bulgaria.
We’re likely to be headed toward Varna either today or tomorrow, so we can check out the Black Sea. Odds are we’ll then head up to Romania as now that they’re part of the EU we don’t need visas (yes!). A Romanian friend of mine that I met in Sofia said she can arrange a place for us to stay in Bucharest if we visit, so we might just do that.
Until next time.