Recap Seventy-two Days In: Eastern Europe
After a wonderful week in Germany, it was time to branch out and see a couple destinations outside of western Europe. On July 13, we took a nice flight from Frankfurt airport to Sofia, Bulgaria. We were excited to see eastern Europe, but it was kind of jarring to land and find ourselves unable to read any letters on the signs! After all, even when you don’t speak the language, it’s a lot easier to recognize a sign that says “Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof” than a sign that says “Централна железопътна гара София.”
The environment was certainly different than western Europe, and Soviet influences are obvious everywhere in Sofia. Buildings use a lot more concrete, and there are some street trams that use old metal workmanship that could be straight ouf of the 1970’s. As in the rest of Europe, English is still spoken pretty widely, and we didn’t have too much trouble finding our way around or finding necessities when we needed them.
Sofia was a nice chance to relax after a really busy week in Germany, as we spent some time staying in, some time casually shopping at the mall, and some time taking a walking tour of the city. Sofia has a really rich and long history; Bulgaria even had a ruler who avoided an assassination attempt after being late to a ceremony where he was expected! Later, after their communist regime fell, they went so far as to import a German king from western Europe. I mentioned earlier that they use the Cyrillic alphabet (which a lot of people think of as the Russian alphabet); it turns out they’re pretty proud of it, as Bulgaria is the nation that invented it!
On Monday July 18, we headed by train through the mountains to Bucharest, Romania. Expecting a long nine-hour train ride, we grabbed some snacks and a bottle of wine and boarded our morning train to Romania. Unfortunately, what started as a nine-hour trip quickly became ten, then eleven, then twelve. Delays compounded upon delays, as every stop seemed to take ten minutes longer than expected, then border control at the Bulgaria-Romania border added another unexpected hour to our trip. (Most of the European Union have open borders as part of the “Schengen” area, but Bulgaria and Romania are two of the exceptions that remain part of the EU, but have both closed borders and non-Euro currency.) At long last, we reached Bucharest and made a beeline for the nearest restaurant that would accept a credit card.
Bucharest was a great city, with architecture that really felt Parisian in some places. It turns out a lot of their architecture was built between the two World Wars by French architects, and the city is even called Little Paris sometimes. We kept to our theme of relaxation, catching up on emails and blog writing during the week, but did take a day trip on July 20 for what the tour agency called their “real Dracula” tour. Transylvania is a real place (in Romania), and the legend of Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler, who was definitely not the nicest guy and made sure to keep that reputation going while he was alive. We took a look at a few of his old haunts and got a sense of the history behind Romania (which in its current form is barely 100 years old). The pictures can give you a more complete view of what we did, but suffice it to say we enjoyed ourselves and tried to keep things low key ahead of heading to back to Germany and the city of Berlin on July 22. More about that next time.