The Most Diabolical Son in the World!

Lisa is an adventurous stud and the perfect travel companion! She is open-minded and didn’t necessitate any convincing about sleeping in a hostel DORMITORY last night! The ‘Hostel Mostel’ is an excellent backpacker’s hostel in Sofia, Bulgaria that had been highly recommended to me by a trusted source. I wanted Lisa to experience how incredible of an alternative these places can be, but Mostel’s suites were booked when we made our reservation, so we opted for the authentic dorm experience! As should be expected, Lisa was a bit insecure at first, but I think she grew to love the place! We are keeping things diverse, one night each at a: W, boutique hotel, on a train, and in a  hostel dormitory! Lisa’s Newport Beach friend’s probably think I am the cruelest son in the world — but I assure you that hostels can be an incredible and very European option granted you do research and find the cream-of-the-crop! We are heading to a tiny village of 240 people in south-western Bulgaria this morning. Melnik is 20 km north of Greece and produces much of Bulgaria’s most famous wine. I promise I won’t subject Lisa to dormitory style sleeping for at least a couple more nights — now we might try a homestay! I am evil — Lisa is tough!

Our fourteen-hour sleeper car journey from Istanbul was another perspective-broadening experience for the aforementioned dame. We rode in a dusty compartment on an old Russian hulk. We had to cross the tracks from our train to the Turkish passport control office at 3:00 a.m., queued in the chilled air for a couple minutes, got stamped out of Turkey, then shuffled back to our compartment. We dozed back to sleep and were awoken at the Bulgarian counterpart an hour later. We began the final leg of our trek in earnest at 5:30 a.m., and arrived in Bulgaria at noon. the experience wasn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds, and was a breeze by my standards, but I am very proud of how well my mom coped given her normally cushy lifestyle back home. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. I guess the same holds true for roughing it during sleepless nights in foreign lands!

Having said that, Bulgaria is beautiful. We passed through endless lush fields and medieval villages on our way to Sofia. This city is quaint compared to Istanbul, with only 1.1 million people, but exceeded both of our expectations. It is very walkable and is filled with an awakened air. The cafes and shopping districts were humming. However, we did meet one interesting reminder of Soviet stereotypes. We sat down at a very nice Italian-style cafe near Sofia University in between a couple interesting groups of people. There was a clan of leather-wearing, mob-vibe-oozing, bald forty-somethings, another clan of flamboyantly dressed mob-vibe-oozing bald forty-somethings, and a final table with a massive, monolithic, UFC-champ-of-a-man. The latter was named Charlie and he initiated a conversation with us. He was very nice, and continuously massive, as he shared with us information about Bulgaria and his children. It turns out he earned fourth place at the arm-wrestling world championships, twice! He had a massive slash along his bicep which he attributed to an “accident,” and he showed us photos of his smashed up BMW that was crushed in another “accident.” Brave and curious Lisa asked him what his profession was and he said: “I work for the guys at that other table.” A couple minutes later, in the middle of a sentence, when the flamboyantly dressed guys got up from their business meeting with the leather gang, he abruptly stood up and said he needed to leave. The men walked to the car and he was their driver and body guard. Black markets still thrive in the post-Soviet world!

Finally, we ate in incredible lunch yesterday with delicious dollar house-wine and massive platters of fresh vegetables, cheeses, bread and soup. The food and wine will undoubtably continue to flow in Melnik and as we make our way into Albania. I am cruel and Lisa is a stud.

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