Category Archives: World Travel

Vagobond in Bulgaria – Part 2 – Sofia Places of Worship

Travel around the world and try to write about it as you go and you are sure to miss something. One of the hardest parts of travel for me is finding the time to just stop, chill out, and write about my adventures. I wonder if travel insurance covers that?

This post is ostensibly about the churches, mosque, and synagogue which sit in the Square of Tolerance in Sofia, Bulgaria. But really it’s just a chance to show you some of the cool pictures I got of these places and tell you a few interesting facts I picked up about Sofia and Bulgaria while I was there.

Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia BulgariaThe St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the largest orthodox churches worldwide. Not only that, it’s incredibly beautiful both inside and out.

The Square of Tolerance is a unique place in Sofia: within less than 300 meters, you can see temples from four of the world’s major religions: a mosque, a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral, and an orthodox church.

largest orthodox CathedralAnd here is something else I learned. Orthodox people pray standing up. So, Jews and Orthodox pray standing because they are at odds with God. Christians pray kneeling because they sort of submit. Muslims prostrate themselves and offer complete and total submission to the will of God.Interesting.

Boyana Church at 1-3 Boyansko Ezero Str. This small 14th-century church and garden is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church contains some very well preserved murals. It is located at the foot of Vitosha mountain and is a good starting point for day trips in the mountain. I didn’t visit it. Sorry, no pictures. Maybe, I will pay a visit there the next time I visit Sofia. There will definitely be a next time.

Oldest church in Sofia, BulgariaChurch of St. George, (It`s situated behind the Sheraton Hotel.). This rotunda church is the oldest in Sofia. (326 AD).The oldest functioning church in Europe is St. George’s Rotunda. It is right next to the Bulgarian presidency. Here’s a picture of my couchsurfing host Tim outside of it. We didn’t go in because they were sacrificing babies at the time. I mean, blessing them.

The Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church. Inside of a secret room there are the bones of a saint that you can write a wish to and deposit in a box. Tim knew where the secret room was and so we made wishes on some saint bones. Baraka! Bulgarian style.St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Hagia Sophia Church, 2 Paris str.. It is located just across the square and to the right from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.It was built in the 6th century over an even older church. It is a witness of the whole Bulgarian history and is a valued cultural monument. In the 14th century it gave its name to the city of Sofia. It was destroyed several times and during the Ottoman rule it was used as a mosque. Now, it is once again being used as a church. We all like the same spots apparently.

Bulgarian Hagia Sophia

Catholic cathedral St. Joseph. It’s new and I didn’t take any pictures of it. Very impressive though.

Sofia (at that time called Serdika) is 1700 years older than Brussels and Emperor Constantine the Great was considering Sofia for the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but eventually chose Constantinople. He said “Serdika is my Rome”. But in fact, Istanbul is fucking Istanbul. Possibly the greatest city in the entire world. In the 4th century, Serdika was the spiritual capital of the Christian world and the Boyana Church frescoes are considered to be the portents of the European Renaissance. Sofia’s motto is “Grows But Does Not Age.” Sort of like my belly.

Sofia Bulgaria MosqueIt’s not strictly Christianity in Sofia though. You can hear the church bells and the call to prayer from the Banya Bashi Mosque at the same time. Its construction was completed in 1576, during the years the Ottomans had control of the town. The mosque derives its name from the phrase Banya Bashi, which means many baths. The most outstanding feature of the Mosque is that it was actually built over natural thermal spas. One can even see the steam rising from vents in the ground near the Mosque walls. The Mosque is famous for its large dome and the minaret rising upward to the sky. Currently the Banya Bashi Mosque is the only functioning mosque in Sofia, a remnant of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria that lasted nearly five centuries, and is used by the city’s Muslim community of 8,614 out of 1,170,842.

Sofia Bulgaria JewsAnd of course, the Jewish community is represented in Sofia by the Sofia Synagogue.It is the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe, one of two functioning in Bulgaria and the third-largest in Europe. One of the largest in Europe. Despite the building’s size, the services are normally only attended by some 50 to 60 worshippers due to the aliyah of most of Bulgaria’s Jews to Israel and the secularity of the local Jewish population.Apparently there is a souvenir shop inside, but I didn’t visit.

Whew….and now that I took the time to craft this post for you…it’s time to go out and see more…what would you visit if you were in the Balkans?

Hottest Vacation Spots for 2014 Holidays

Here we are – already at the end of the first month of the New Year – of course, it’s the Chinese New Year now, so one could argue that we are actually at the first day of the new year, but I don’t want to confuse things more than I already have.

2014 is shaping up into a great year for travel. The economies of the world seem to be picking up, currencies are relatively flat or low in the countries that are on the hot list, and there are more places to go than ever before thanks to further development of travel infrastructure, expansion of budget airlines, and the world wide boom in the tourist economy.

Without further ado – here are my top five recommendations for the trip of a lifetime in 2014.

Holiday in Turkey
I make no secret of the fact that Turkey is my top destination in any year. Why wouldn’t it be? With a fascinating 5000 year old history, incredible foot, glorious architecture, more Roman and Greek ruins and either Italy or Greece, astounding museums, The Marmara, The Aegean, The Mediterranean, The Black Sea, The Bosphorus, The Dardanelles, Europe and Asia, Cappadocia, and Istanbul – there is something for everyone in Turkey from mountain climbing to the staff of Moses and the sword of the Prophet Mohammad. Turkey is awesome and holidays to Turkey in 2014 are better than ever – the Turkish Lira is weak against most currencies right now, infrastructure is solid and safe, and the government is adept at weathering any difficulties.  All of this and more puts Turkey at #1 on my Hot List.
Vacation in Hawaii
Is there ever a bad time to go to Hawaii? Nope. Swaying palm trees, hula shows, poke (fresh marinated fish), the exploding Hawai’ian cuisine scene, surfing, and hotels that always seem to be offering something new and special. Hawai’i is the queen of tourism for a reason. Here’s a great Hawai’i tip for you – prices are lowest at the times that students are in school. If the kids are on holiday, prices go up.  Here’s another tip – Allegiant Air flies from US cities and during low times you can find round trips for as little as $150 per person – but here’s the catch – no baggage allowance. Who cares? Leave the clothes at home and wear three layers when you get on the plane. Bring your toothbrush in your pocket. It’s Hawai’i!
Holiday Malaysia
I love Malaysia. Nowhere else do you get the same mixture of cultures and histories that you find in Malaysia.  It’s a country with amazing beaches, exotic wild life, a booming high tech scene, scrumdiddlyumptious foods and more than it’s fair share of islands and resorts. Nearly everyone speaks English and you can find fish and chips, Indian food, Malay, Chinese, and good old fashioned milk shakes (if you ask – and since everyone speaks English, that’s easy).
Malaysia is an easy, affordable holiday waiting to happen.
The Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains
Pacific Northwest Vacation
Get ready for some high flying marijuana tourism in some of America’s most beautiful regions. The legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington State and Colorado means that you can get a Rocky Mountain High or just get stoned watching the gorgeous sunsets on the Pacific Coast. Whether you want to check out the food truck scene in Portland, the awesome coastal areas of Reedsport, or head to Boulder to get stoned – you can expect to see a lot of hippie vans and tie dye along with plenty of ‘square’ types sparking up bowls. (Note: While recreational marijuana isn’t yet legal in Oregon you can expect that to happen very soon – things just take longer when everyone is stoned.)
Vacation in Morocco
If I didn’t mention Morocco, I would be doing a disservice to a fabulous country and a fascinating people. A trip to Morocco is the  trip you will never forget. Morocco is a fairly laid back Muslim country that will overload your senses and blow your mind. No marijuana needed. The old medina of Fez is the world’s largest car free urban area and the only inhabited Islamic Medieval city in the world. Get lost in the more than 13,000 streets and have a tajine!
Those are my recommendations for 2014 – What about you? Where are your travel holiday hot spots for 2014?

Vagobond in Bulgaria – Part 1 – Sofia Tourist Sites

During the time I traveled in Sofia, I managed to see and do a huge number of things. I can’t fit it all in one, two, or even three posts. To sum up, let me just say that Sofia was a great place for me to visit. On the one hand that’s cool, but on the other, when the first act of a play is awesome, it makes the rest a bit harder to appreciate.

I mentioned before that one of the cool coincidence’s about my host in Sofia was that he had a website and magazine called Vagabond. In fact, that’s a bit of a lie. It turns out that he used to work and is still associated and friends with Vagabond Magazine. Tim, left Vagabond to start his own company, Intercontinental Recruiting, which finds Bulgariand and other Eastern Europeans jobs in Western countries.

Tim and I hit it off immediately.

Communist Stadium Bulgaria
Apparently the communists liked Tennis a lot.
First of all, he had me watch the video about Sofia, then we went for a long walk through communist parks, into a communist hotel, and past all the great sites we’d seen in the video. Along the way, we mostly ignored the sites and talked about what had brought us away from the USA, how we liked the countries we lived in, what we wanted from life, and how cool it was to actually see the old communist stuff. I’ll do separate posts about statues and parks and the various churches and places of worship in Sofia, Bulgaria later.

Here is some stuff that is already written over at WikiTravel. The pictures are from Tim and my walk.

Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe with ruins spread across the city center. It was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters. In the city alone there are 7 independent mineral water springs. Bulgaria hot springsOne of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody – cross the square behind the mosque, next to TSUM (the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets).

In the administrative center of Sofia the streets are covered with a specific yellow pavement. It was laid in the beginning of the 20th century and were a present to the Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand for his wedding from the Austria-Hungarian royal family.

* National Assembly of Bulgaria, 2 Narodno Sabranie Sq., ? +359 2 939 39 (, fax: +359 2 981 31 31), . edit

Sofia University in Bulgaria* Sofia University, 15 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd., ? +359 2 9308 (fax: +359 2 946 02 55), . edit

* Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1 15 November Str., ? +359 2 979 53 33 (fax: +359 2 981 72 62), . edit

 Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Bulgaria, Sofia * Ivan Vazov National Theatre, 5 Dyakon Ignatii Str., ? +359 2 811 92 19 (, fax: +359 2 987 70 66), . edit

* SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library, 88 Vasil Levski Str., ? + 359 2 988 28 11 (fax: + 359 2 843 54 95), . 08:30 to 20:30. edit

* National Palace of Culture, 1 Bulgaria Sq., ? +359 2 916 63 00 (fax: +359 2 865 70 53), . The biggest congress center in the Balkans (a massive monolithic communist-style building). If asking for directions, ask for NDK (en-de-ka), as most Bulgarians refer to it by this acronym. edit

* Central Military Club. It`s a multi-purpose monument of culture building in the city center

Back at his place we had a delicious Bulgarian meal of chicken and potatoes and drank a bit of bulgarian wine with Bulgarian friends. I got to learn about some Bulgarian traditions, Bulgarian monsters, and Bulgarian customs.

The next day I wandered