Yet another Sunday and we woke up to no groceries, so we ate heartily at our guesthouse before heading back down the hill to the train station. We arrived by 10:45 to the wrong side of the station. A brief debate ensued, were we going to get fined for rolling our bikes over all the tracks? We did it anyway, and later noticed that everyone does the same. Train safety isn’t a big deal here apparently.
A fair bit of miming, and a phone call from the station chief to who knows where, we were awarded two tickets and two bicycle tickets to Sofia- but the train didn’t leave until 2:40. With nowhere to go and absolutely nothing open, we got to reading (and I took a nap!) on the station bench.
By afternoon, the station had filled up with people, the train arrived, and we did the usual mad rush, rolling the bikes down the platform trying to figure out where to load them, actually load them, and then get on ourselves before the train left. This process used to give me a heart attack, worrying we’d get separated or miss the train or something, but anymore, it usually seems like no big deal. A helpful team of locals assisted our bikes onto the train (as in, I hardly had to do anything) and a train official took to keeping people from boarding around our awkwardly crammed in bicycles. All seemed to have gone off without a hitch until he asked us what we were going to do about the bus.
The bus? This train goes to Sofia, right?
Apparently, the train is undergoing some construction, so a bus bridge is required to get to Sofia. We asked him if our bikes would be accepted and he laughed, saying he didn’t know. We shrugged to and waited out the ride.
Eventually, the train stopped and everyone headed for the bus. The helpful train guy was waiting for us and had left a whole luggage compartment open for our use, but the bus was only sort of a match for our bulky bikes. With a whole train worth of people waiting on the bus, we stripped off the bags and let the bus team do their thing, jamming the bikes in at odd angles so the door would close. We shoved the bags in anywhere they’d fit and boarded the bus which itself was stuffed beyond capacity.
The bus took a lovely weaving route through a canyon along a river gorge, which I was both sad and grateful not to be cycling. The scenery was stunning, but the road was narrow and busy with a sharp drop off on one side.
Soon, we were to the train station. Everyone else quickly picked up their bags and boarded the train, but we had to reassemble. Ben wrangled his bags with expert speed and helped me load up mine and then we pushed the bikes at a run onto the next train. Gratefully, this one was newer and with an easier entry and soon we were on our way again.
The bad news is that our stuff was blocking an important doorway. The new train guy assured us it was “no problem” but another train worker forced us to rearrange it in an even more awkward configuration. Fellow passengers also wanted to give their input on how we ought to arrange our stuff, but we couldn’t understand them anyway, so we mostly ignored the endless advice we were getting. I felt bad for being in the way, but at the end of the day, we paid for the tickets, we put the bikes on the labeled bike car, and we were happy to help anyone having trouble getting through. Normally, a day like this would have made me feel frazzled, but today I felt nothing but mild amusement at the stir.
Finally, we rolled into Sofia where we planned to stay at the local “Hostel Mostel.” We checked in, asked to sleep in a tent on the patio (their tent, not ours) and devoured the included dinner before heading out to see the city .
Our guidebook led us to expect a graying, ugly city, so I was expecting something the likes of what we saw in Athens. To the contrary, the city had its own nice local flavor with plenty of interesting things to see. Although late evening on a Sunday night might not be the best way to see absolutely everything, it was a nice quiet way for us to check the place out. Things were mostly quiet but the light was beautiful and we had the streets almost all to ourselves.