We were supposed to have a 10 day vacation. Four of those days we planned to explore Barcelona, Spain. This was the first real vacation / work time off we were going to take since we went to the Dominican Republic back in 2010, nine years ago! Of course, when we were in the DR, we started off each day stopping by the resort’s business center to check our email and messages, and as usual we had work to do. However, after a couple days watching the palm trees sway in the tropical breeze through the window of the only place with internet access, we just stopped going. We didn’t spend a entire day getting from San Francisco to the Caribbean just to work.
We knew work was going to creep into this vacation too and we were already planning on cutting our vacation short once we were settled in Bulgaria, our destination after Spain. It’s okay though, we would have 4 days of fun in Barcelona. Unfortunately, due to a bit of trouble (by “bit of trouble” I mean a fucking fiasco) at the airport we only had 24 hours to spend in Spain, and we’re so stressed and sleep deprived, it was nothing like a vacation. (Click here to read about it.)
We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon. The immigration / passport control officer scanned our passports & simply said, “welcome”. We had to get new passports last summer and this was our fist stamp in what will surely be many. Once in the country, we went off in search of the airport’s metro station.
Barcelona has one of the best public transportation systems I have seen. They offer 2, 3, 4 or 5 day passes for tourists, good for the subway, buses, and cable car. We were planning to buy the 4 day pass and explore as much of the city as possible in our time there. Instead we just bought tickets that would get us to the metro station closest to our hotel. We had to change trains once, but it was clearly marked where we needed to go. It’s a good thing, because we were exhausted dragging our luggage around. An hour later we popped up at street level, right across from our hotel.
The Hotel Concordia is a cute little boutique hotel. Luckily they held our reservation even though we showed up 3 days late. We put our luggage in our room and with out daring to lay on the bed for even a second, we headed out to the nearby Gothic District.
The joy of being back in a European city was fogged over by anxiety and lack of sleep, but we tried our best to have fun. We wandered through the streets and came across an Irish bar. We stopped in for a beer and to use their WiFi to research nearby tapas restaurants. It was a hard choice, but we made an excellent one. Bar Cañete, was a cozy little place and we found seats at the kitchen bar. We wanted everything on the menu, but when I commented on a basket of goose eggs in front of me, a server described a dish they made with these eggs. They poach the goose egg and serve it over pureed potatoes and top with graded truffle. It was not on the menu and delicious!. Howard & I were very proud of ourselves for ordering off menu in our barley functioning state.
The next morning we checked out of our room and left our luggage with the front desk. We had to be back at the airport that afternoon so we didn’t have time to do too much and didn’t want to get too far from the hotel. I looked on Google maps and there were a couple places not too far away, marked with a camera icon, designating something to see there. We headed off in that direction.
It was a beautiful December day, about 16° c (61° f), perfect for exploring the city. Our first stop was the Plaça d’Espanya, an impressive statue and fountain situated in the middle of a large roundabout. Nearby is the Arenas de Barcelona, a large circular shopping center which used to be a bull fighting arena. A long fountain lined avenue runs from the opposite side of the roundabout. The tall Venetian Towers are at one end of the avenue and the National Art Museum of Catalonia sits atop a hill at the other end. There are impressive cascading fountains and the Font Màgica de Montjuïc in front of the museum, where lighted water shows take place in the evenings. Google maps was right, there was something to see here.
After taking a few photos, we started back in the direction of our hotel, zigzagging our way through the city streets. We stopped at small noodle and sushi place for a quick lunch, then it was time to get our luggage and head back to the airport. This was day 5 out of 6 we would be spending in airports. We both fell asleep on the metro ride back.
It’s a short flight from Barcelona, Spain to Sofia, Bulgaria and we saved some money by booking with a discount airline. We were not looking forward to flying on Wizz Air (no, Wizz didn’t go out of business recently, that airline was Wow). We did however, join Wizz’s Privilege Pass club. Membership covers the cost of checked and carry on luggage, and allows seat selection and prior boarding. The cost was about the same as if we paid for everything separately, and they charge extra for every single thing. We weren’t the only ones who did this as about half our flight was in the priority boarding line. I did notice they were letting overweight luggage through with out an extra fee if there were 2 people per suitcase. I’ll have to look into this more as Howard and I only brought one checked bag this time and it was no where near full due to the weight restrictions we were trying to meet.
On board the seats were tiny and not very well padded. I would hate to fly with them for longer that a couple hours, but we were happy the flight took off on time. We arrived in Sofia at 2:00 am. From there we planned to get a cab to the train station and wait for the 6:30 am train to Plovdiv. This was an express train and would take about 2 and a half hours, if we decided to take one of the other trains, it would take about 4 and a half hours as it stops at every station. We were too tired to deal with this so we got on WiFi and booked a car service. It actually ended up not costing much more that 2 cab rides and the train would cost. It saved us so much time and energy. It was well worth it.
The driver met us at the airport with our last name written on a sign. (I can cross that off my bucket list now!) The drive from Sofia to Plovdiv takes about an hour and a half. It was a dark rainy night and I wish I could have seen something out the window. I could tell we were weaving through the mountains and at one point even went through a tunnel. Our driver was fantastic. He took us to a 24 hour market so we could pick up a few things, he called our Airbnb host for us, and even offered to let us sit in his car and wait for the host to show up. We were fine though, the sun was just starting to come up, and it wasn’t as cold as I expected. Our host was also fantastic. He arrived at the apartment by cab and checked us in at 4:30 in the morning. This was above and beyond any thing I would expect from an Airbnb host and I can’t express how appreciative I am.
We spent the weekend catching up on sleep and binge watching Netflix shows. Monday we were back to work. We’ve done a little exploring in Plovdiv, but I will have more about that in my next post. Right now we are just happy to be settled into a nice apartment and back in Bulgaria.