Thursday, November 23, 2023

Briana in Bulgaria; Taking Some Time in Turkey

If you want to feel poor, simply walk down the aisle of shame on a transatlantic British airways flight past first class. Want to feel even worse, see an entire family settling in to the mini pods of luxury for the 6 hour sojourn, as you carry your backpack to 51E, where you’re deposited between an Eastern European couple on a 4 seat middle aisle.

Or at least that’s how I felt.

Not even able to comprehend the cost of such an expense, I settled in to fulfill dormant WB fantasies for someone in my general age range and 

Want to feel poor?

Board a British Airways transatlantic flight and walk down that long narrow path of shame, skipping right past the prestigious pods fit for a king. 

4 hours at LGR  with lollygaggers, and it the candy kind

Turbulent flight I Sofia where the woman next to me asked why I’d be coming here

No sense of urgency while deplaning when all I felt was that nearly 25 hours into this journey 

My long raven hair and weary traveler spirit has me fitting in right away

The passport line was short and divided by human and machine. I chose human, though he barely registered as one - but that satisfying click of the stamp; the first in this passport made it all worth it.

Id filled out no paperwork and customs seemed to be comprised of a door painted with declare/nothing to declare that left to a small adjoining room with one defunct machine and nothing resembling homeland security.

I suddenly felt confident that I didn’t only but need to devour that envy apple I the fought here but I could have just as easily brought a switch blade, or perhaps my roster WWII rifle and no one would have been the wiser. 

I big bald silent bruit fitted out in adidas stripes head to tow drove me to my humble obese for the coming days, while listening and to the greatest love of all as performed by Whitney Houston. Maybe he would still murder me after all, but if felt like a lesson in don’t judge a book by it’s a cover. 

Oh wait! This is Whitney’s greatest hits!! #respect 

This made me want to immediately call a girlfriend from my childhood who unceremoniously broke up with me over a decade ago under murky circumstances. We’ve become text friendly in the last year or so as I tried to revisit the original incarnation of 90210 and there are certain 90s pop culture touch points I only want to share with her.

Letting people go becomes better with practice but never fun, it easy.

I’m here to celebrate my dads birthday, his 9th without being on the planet.

But I think of Amber too. And am grateful that an errant Brenda Walsh text is seemingly kosher after many years of distance. 

I sang along to Whitney as my driver for get plotted the disposal of my body on his Bluetooth and before you knew it, we’d arrived!

My place is easy to locate and I give my would be murderer a small tip despite the fact that I’m quite certain it is not custom here.

Upon entering, you can tell this is not a non-smoking room, but I have no complaints. It is small and basic and will suit my needs.

I have arrived with hunger and was hoping that Sofia would not be unlike my time in Belgrade where the chilly temperatures only made the warm lights by and warm soup even better while dining late at night.

I am not disappointed.

Seeing I have options is do not go to the place downstairs and get it t to walk to Divaka which says it open until 11, but when I walk in at 9:52 PM, they told me they are closed.

I will just say it, I like the Balkans! 

Covid led me to exploring this part of the world in this part of my life, and I’m grateful for it. Countries like Serbia and Albania, ones you didn’t pay much attention to in school, are untapped sources of culture and beauty. 

Along the cobble stones autumnal streets of Sofia bars, just the alleys and roadways with people spilling out to them, drinking their pints unabashedly in the open air.

Dissident bar has small standing only table is just large enough for a couple frothy Beard coat as friends. Chat excitedly well after sunset.

I try a couple other eateries and it appears 10pm is the cut off. They all seem cute, culturally authentic and reasonably priced, but I am turned away repeatedly.

I consider making moves to Vishtoka Street, a pedestrian only path planked with things happening, as well as the reason I chose this part of the city in which to stay after having asked the front desk ginger from my college dorm advice after his having lived here.

He was more than that. I love him, and still do despite not having seen him since his wedding day.

Anyway, food would be nice as my body has no idea what time or time zone it’s in. 

Manzo, the place directly across from my apartment glances at their watches but decides as I am only one person dining it’s worth the risk.

I don’t know how often I need to tell people - there are myriad benefits from traveling alone. 

One of those benefits is not staring at a group of young ladies with no obstacle in the form of a dinner date.

Teenage girls are annoying in every language. 

My meal was salty and meat centric abs something I’d never eat in my real life. It was also 30 bones.

But I’m fed. I’m grateful. I’m here.

By the time I am able to drag myself out of bed and run a brush through my hair it is nearly 11. Jet lag at 40 is one of the few physical differences I feel from when I started to explore the planet and I gotta say, I’m not a fan.

The streets are quiet but busy and the greenery and occasional fall light offset the sturdy eastern block structures and plentiful graffiti.

I do not see many leggings, but I do see tight pants and I absolutely see greasy hair, complying my subterfuge as a local.

South Park (insert Cartman impression here) is a large Manhattan shaped swath of trees and fountains. It also houses NDK, the National Palace of Culture Park, a mere stones throw from the crib.

I bypass that for a long meander through the southern parts of the park. It is shockingly quiet for how many people are out on Friday morning and shockingly warm for the wool hats and puffer coats that abound.

All of us only see things through our own lens, but South Park is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been plagued by anxiety lately, the physical kind where you can’t catch your breath while standing still. Usually I like to blame this on obesity. But Bulgaria must have made me drop some lbs, because despite it become a Friday afternoon the wind through the falling trees and white noise of the distant traffic acts as a soother to my soul. The peace here is tangible.

I walk in circles before I begin to feel woozy and decide it’s time to dine. The translation for Chevermeto says Tradituibal Bulgarian Restaurant so I’m sold!

I’m seating inside with a colorful, embroiled table cloth and enormous English menu with offerings such as boneless lamb head in butter and spicy pork ears. 

I decide to eat like a king, or queen, or jester and get a color salad and attempt to order a kebab, a safe choice, but as my waitress with bottle black hair and Lauren Graham piercing blue eyes describes it to me in a thick Bulgarian accent it sounds nothing like a kebab. I get assurance that there is no cheese and hope that whatever ‘stuffed’ dish is coming my way is delicious. 

The salad was amazing and will absolutely be attempted to be recreated stateside. The kebab was served in a bowl, so do with that what you will.

Slavic Lauren Graham said you’re welcome before I gave my obligatory thank you at every turn, including when I ordered homemade bread, as my kebab was a deep soup bowl of chicken, stewed tomatoes, mushrooms and browned onions, topped with a deceivingly leaky egg and cilantro. 

While dining I spotted my first foreigners by way of a group of Spanish travelers, you know the kind with the annoying lispy accent. I never take for granted my ability to speak English when I hear two groups of people, both speaking foreign language, silently agree upon English as their shared form of communication.

I also don’t take for granted my ability to blend into so many situations, partially due to my dark hair and readily available olive complexion, partially due to delusion.

The very tall dark skinned black woman in this group was t Spaniards not only stood out because of her ridiculously long legs, but also as the first black person I’ve seen since London Heathrow.

Crossing back through the park it was only 30 minutes or so to reach St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Built in 1912 in honor of fallen soldiers, it’s tall and cavernous and empty in a way I find only churches in this part of the world are, devoid of pews. Standing room only if you will.

I got a few snaps in before Dr. Emmett Brown came over and told me no photos. For which, id of course seen the pictograph signs out front. This is commonplace and remains confusing. Why have something so grand, so beautiful and not allow photos?

Moments after putting my camera away I saw someone FaceTiming the cathedral to a friend and felt even less inclined to follow the rules. 

When I saw a squat, older woman who looked like she had perhaps help lay the bricks pray, singularly focused, at the altar, it made sense. 

This is not a city of smiles, and nods. Having been spoken to in Bulgarian or being asked by the Pepi LePew of Italian men if I’m Italian I know I can be incognito. But when I get chatty - might as well be waving the American flag. I recognize this is an American trait and can often come off as artificial, especially considering Hollywood and packaged foods designed to widget and the apocalypse are our main exports.

After 10 minutes with me I believe it seems quite clear that I’m not bullshit. Id imagine this is why I’ve fostered relationships all over the world, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. I almost respect that lack of agreed upon niceties.

I made it to the Zhenski Pazar Women’s Market just in time to see the largest heads of cauliflower and tallest stalks of green onion known to man. I’m telling you, the stalks were 3 feet tall. The produce was gorgeous and people were closing down shop. I purchased a kilo of what look like an apricot/plum hybrid available at your local Trader Joe’s but I have yet to sample them, so we shall see.

Ok, all day I have witnessed, predominately men, out with their children. From infant to school age, dads are carrying them on their chests, pushing them in strollers, playing with the at the park. Is this a cultural thing of which I am not aware? Are there cultures where genders  either equally split parenting or, dare I say it, men are the primary caregivers?

Vitoshka Street is popping but I choose instead to backtrack to the recommended Sense Hotel Rooftop Bar. It’s nearly sunset and I’ve been told it’s the best view of Sofia. The 180 views do not disappoint, nor do the two local Shumensko brews I happily consume while plotting my Saturday. 

The sun had ticks itself away the mountains and the lemon tree branches that stretch across the bar illuminate with small yellow twinkle lights. The vibe is house meets Ikea and I’m feeling it. Id highly recommend a beer or two in this hip, it slightly overpriced, watering hole.

My Airbnb host had offered some locations for dinner and since one declared itself as vegetarian my interest had been piqued. As I exited the hotel a man walked up to me and asked for the time, pointing to his wrist. When I said 7:42 he was shocked that I had known what he was saying and asked how. Gestures go a long way in communication.

Tipsy from mg 3 beers I took the 11 minute walk down the darkened pathways to Sun and Moon. 

The triangular shaped patio was lit by string lights and the waitress was so young and cute, seemingly perplexed by why an American would be visiting Bulgaria - there is a theme here - that I wasn’t even bothered by the fact that ‘ciabatta’ and ‘hot sauce’ requested to accompany my falafel, were most certai of neither of those things. 

Dinner was over when I went to the bathroom and came back to find a couple canoodling at my table, a drawback from solo travel for sure. I bought an orgasm cookie to go and walked back home to get in mg Gilmore girls pajamas and 100% not orgasm - false advertising!

I booked a ticket for a bus to leave the city in the morning and turned out the lights.

And my turned out the lights I mean scrolled mindlessly through my phone for at least an hour.

I slept, none. I maybe dozed off for a bit after 4 but was absolutely awake my the time my alarm went off at 7. Worried I’d feel like shit on my upcoming 3 hour bus ride down the winding roads of the Bulgarian countryside, I knew lack of rest would not help.

The sun rose bright and clear in the sky as I crossed the city to meet my bus.

The bus system here lacks a certain, technology, and several people checked their hand written ledgers before deciding which vehicle I should board.

Evidently I opted for the Spanish tour in my late night impulse selection which was only more evident as I was seated next to the guide, being what I’m guessing is the only single ticket here.

My front seat is seat was helpful with. Orion sickness and my seat buddy, the huge who speaks 5 languages was pleasant. I had just started to doze off once we arrived at the entrance to Rila Monastery.

Upon walking through the arched entry way I actually became emotional at the beauty. The weather was perfect and the skies were blue with a dusting of cloud. I swallowed the lump in my throat not to make a scene. 

I was briefly detoured when chatting to Italian girls from my bus as to when we were expected to return and we were straight to shushed by some old bitch. I proudly declared myself American as I said she could fuck off before returning to our conversation and the Italians told me they’d make sure the bus didn’t leave without me.

I enter the main church on the grounds and  it’s overwhelming. The gold and filtered light, the holiness and the beauty. It’s special. 

Id realized hours ago that, though my intention was to pack my dad for the day, I’d forgotten. I’m not sure if I’ve encountered a better or more appropriate place to leave him than here and I’m equal parts heartbroken and guilt ridden. In an effort to assuage my guilt and honor my dad, I go through the motions of what has now become our ritual, save for the physical manifestation of him that travels with me in a tiny metal urn.

Tomorrow is his birthday and I hope he knows I’m thinking of him, and Neil Young, in this richly painted paradise in a mountain in Bulgaria.

There is a beautiful little cemetery tucked away behind the monastery near a gently cascading river. I had it all to myself, except for the Slavic spirits that I, frankly, found welcoming.

There was one restaurant with a view and I had over an hour left so I sat down in the sun and ordered what I’d assumed was some sort of local, special, unique fried potatoes.

Only after ordering did I realize I ordered fucking French fries!

I enjoyed the warmth on my face, knowing well and good that it only made my face more difficult to look at - travel selfie game has reached an all time putrid. 

I have seen black people - more than I can count now. I’ve seen interracial couples and more than one same sex couple showing some level of affection in public. Not to mention the hemp and lube front and center at the gas station.

Is Bulgaria liberal?

Has my intentional ignorance, once again, but me in the ass?

Having consumed nothing but crap today I feel miserable, but my soul feels crystal clear.

I’m told the weather isn’t always so lovely and I’m grateful. I buy my piece of religious art for my secular home, I attempt to get a holiday card worthy shot to finish that out and order my 100 greetings this year and I sit in the sun, and feel the mountain breeze, meditate and feel achingly at peace.

This was truly a religious experience.

Back in the bus my seat mate/bus guide Filip, shows me Gus YouTube channel and I try to remain attentive while trying not to get motion sick from looking down.

One of his animated videos is as a Terry Fail. He speaks 5 languages, no shade. I found it to be charming.

I figured nodding off in the bus is much better than getting sick so I’m not mad that I did that for a bit before we arrived at Boyana Church, built in the late 1200s and toted as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which used to impress me a lot more until I realized how ubiquitous they truly are.

We had to wait a little while outside, so I had time to stress about yet another guest in my home who can’t or won’t pay and bitch to a friend about how inconsiderate all seem to he here, regardless of nationality, in terms of obstructing one’s walkway or being on someone’s way. In America it is rude. Here, I’m sure it’s just considered ‘cultural.’ 

The bus arrived back at Alexander Nevsky just in time to hear the cornucopia of noise with the 5 o’clock bells.

It was still light out. It was Saturday night. I was exhausted and dressed like a homeless soccer mom! 

Rarely do I take advice - ever - but in my journeys in particular, but following the lead of a friend of a friend had been nice and I chose to check out Elephant Books, a kitschy corner book mart clearly geared for English readers. Pick up a pair of earring for mom and make my way back to Divaka, which had piqued my interest and been mentioned by my native seat mate today. 

Dinner at 6:30 felt premature, but I had not had a real meal all day and I wanted to be up early tomorrow so I was hoping for early to bed. Sexy, I know.

My very beached, very eyelashed waitress literally laughed in my face when I ordered a Bulgarian salad with no cheese. They love their white cheese on everything here and she went so far as to tell me it wouldn’t be good, but I persisted. 

My appetizer was second hand smoke and judgment and I settled into the wobbly wooden bench in the narrow back patio waiting for more. 

I ate well and read before hitting the evening streets. It was a race against my bladder as I’d had two cups of tea and a large Pellegrino but Vitoska on a Saturday night is filled with you - and I mean young purple seeing, but mostly waiting to be seen.

I, as an adult woman not looking for tuck the  throng of pimpled 14 year old boys was in 3 layers and a beanie. This was in stark contrast to the young, I just got my period girls wearing tube tops and actively trying to be noticed in that oh don’t look at me way only girls of a certain age can master. 

People were out. Lisa Stansfield poured out of Cafe Memento, and I felt sated, cold, and very open to public urination on the streets of this nation’s capital. 

And then I did.

And you know what.

Id do it again!

Another fitful night. Weird dreams and stateside stressors. There were benefits to not having smart phones in that if shit was going in beck home, you didn’t know.

When I finally dragged my ass out of bed and saw that the front door of my Airbnb was wide open, my anxiety was not quelled even a little.

While strapping in my Asics a friend in his own emotional crises called and I okayed therapist for nearly an hour before getting serious about my run.

I came across a gorgeous track that seemed open to anyone around and eventually eventually ended up at the finish line for a race that I am devastated I missed. To have knocked out a 10k amongst the yellow leaves of fall is of Borisana Grandivs would have been a dream. And not the creepy kind I had during my intermittent slumber. 

Hours behind schedule I seem to feel no sense of urgency as I make my way through the vast expanse of the Sofia park system. It’s like I’m in a living Gilmore girls episode except there is no miss patty and I have no snacks.

Feeling like I should have brought a more appropriate pair of pants I try, in vain, to do some shopping but nothing is quite right. I’m fat. I’m sweaty. I don’t need to be spending money.

By now it’s midday and this particular Sunday is a Lou Reed perfect day personified. It’s 69 degrees, sunny but not hot. A Sunday so people are out in the park, there is a market. And I am without my camera or much time. When these situations present themselves I do have to tell myself, in occasion, it’s ok to experience life without documenting it. But only on occasion.

I called British airways in an effort to change my flight and they remind me I didn’t book my flight with them. I shower, pack and leave my cute little one bedroom.

I am running out of time to set out on my intended plan for the day, which in part required having a bathing suit that I’d told myself to throw in my bag and had not. I figured a meal was likely in order as it’s now pushing 3 and, being in a hurry, I arrive at the slowest and least friendly place I’ve encountered so far.

Ugo, which had been recommended by more than one local was only an 8 minute walk and had a large rectangular menu splashed with colorful photos of what appear to be vile facsimiles of pizza. Lucky for me the lady was rude upon my arrival and then had me wait for what was absolutely an unacceptable amount of time in a bit not at all busy eatery.

I’m trying to make it out to Lake Pancharevo for a walk around the lake and ideally a hot springs spa experience but the sun sets early in fall and unlike my recent jaunt to Japan they actually want you clothed here.

My waitress at Ugo finally walks into the glass box in which I’ve been assigned seating and literally looks around to see to anyone else needs her before addressing me. When I order a pizza no cheese she look at me in a way the folks at Round Table have for the last 35 years or so. Yes, I understand the ingredient list once cheese is removed. Yes, I realize this for many people means it’s not pizza at all. Did I stutter??

WWI, communism. Sure. But if this is what locals think constitutes good pizza, I truly feel badly for them. 

My mediocre meal was accompanied by a small child, a girl of maybe 6 who was fascinated by me, I am assuming because I was speaking English. This fascination manifested itself in the way of her growing increasingly physically close to me in her nearly 30 visits from her parents table in the garden to my table. Sound effects joined the party and some point and no matter what I said or did it was run up to me, blabber in my face or click your tongue, have me say something, and run away. I’m not says by all kids are annoying, but…

This day was a wasted one because, though I was in Sofia, I wasn’t. I was in New York, where I had an Airbnb guest being g shady as fuck and no matter what I exclaimed to customer support in my all hours calls to them I only received vague platitudes and dead ends.

My heart is racing and my head is simply trying to keep up and there is not a god damn thing I can do from 10,000 miles away. And I hate it.

Instead of the metro I walk the 45 minutes to Sofia Central Central Bus Station where I deposit my bags for 10lek, after much pantomime communication and go to Lily’s to buy snacks for my impending 10pm bus ride to Istanbul.

With time to spare I see flashing lights down a side street and upon intense investigation, ie glancing at google maps and seeing Hadjidraganov's Houses Restaurant has over 5,000 ratings I enter the darkened wood establishment for roasted red peppers and anxiety. 

My meal was delicious and I stress ate the shit out of it.

I can only hope my minor tear filled panic attack in the corner and my of the restaurant added to the atmosphere for the couple seated next to me.

After more points and stares I ended up at Yonva buses where I sat for 2 hours and stress ate while I live tweeted Airbnb and was anything but present for grateful. 

Before I board this 9 hour tour to the only country that spans two continents, allow me this:

Dear Dad,

Happy Birthday!

Your birthday this year sucked.

Mostly because you aren’t here to celebrate but also cause people are shady AF.

No one knew that more than you.

Thank you for passing along, through nurture it nature your inherent acceptance of a flawed human and desire not to run from them. Thank you for giving me the loving heart that wants to see the best in all who cross their paths. Thank you for raising me to never think I was better than anyone for any reason and that love it blind and infinite.

I wish these qualities didn’t hurt me so often. I wish they didn’t hurt you as much as I know they did too.

I’m sorry that happened.

You deserved better.

People are the worst.

And the best.

What a riddle.

I’m grateful for October 29th because it welcomed you into the world. Which, consequently brought me here too, but I even more than that allowed me the opportunity to know you. 

They say you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. But I knew. And now you’re gone.

Eternally your biggest fan and mortally your youngest daughter,


I’m in Istanbul! 

Does that mean I’m in Constantinople.

I’m sweaty, I’m tired, I’m cash poor and I feel marginally unsafe. This is why I never say vacation.

I’m in a yellow cab jus as the sun breaks the horizon.

The 8 hour cross national bus, generally notorious for being Artic - hence my stealing plane blankets tradition - was a fucking sauna. I’m estimating nearly 7000 degrees Fahrenheit with San ever changing cast of tuberculoses suffering drivers.

When we stopped on a darkened highway to silently switch drivers with a bus parked across the unmarked highway I went so far as to send my exact location to my boyfriend - you know, to look for my remains.

Immigration by car is always a mixture of futility and fear and by the time we arrived in turkey I was a mess.

Not to mention I’d been on the phone with 10 different representatives from Airbnb all of varying degrees of annoyance but their impotence remained gold standard.

I’m desperate for some baked goods at the bus station but I want to use my newly exchanged and absolutely tariffed lira for my cab ride so I refrain.

First(s) impressions, the drive into town feels much like that into Skopje and everyone takes trash about America’s obsession with the flag - but i never hear anyone mention Turkey. That red banner of national pride is ubiquitous and only made more evident by the contrast against the grey skies.

I contemplate wrestling a contender street cat for some baguettes tied up outside a store front but instead I FaceTime my oldest friend.

She doesn’t answer, but I relay via text. I’ve just been dropped off in the middle of nowhere with virtually no cash in a country who’s language I have no grasp on, sweaty and tired with two bags - this is the shit I love; the shit that makes me feel young which I think we all really say just to mean alive.

The driver was unclear where exactly to drop me stop the elevated windy road but he picked the right spot because as I peeked around the corner I saw vegan food in a sandwich board. Then I ordered eggs.

Nakka’s proprietor was a ray of sunshine, seated outside smoking and drinking tea before 8am. He assured me they were open and that they had a toilet and I was sold.

Evidently mennemen is always served with bread and he offered tea on the house. So here I was, having breakfast in Istanbul.

My shashuka like breakfast was surprisingly delicious and my dining companion by way of aggressive street cat was amusing. 

Despite my vowing never to use Airbnb again my host is meeting me in an hour for this particular stop. 

Erme is bright and warm and welcomes me to my split level apartment, beautifully located. The town is waking and I should go shopping or eating or sight seeing but all I really want to do, is get horizontal, and not in a sexy way.

A 45 minute nap quickly and turns into 90. And honestly, it was probably felt better than any other horizontal activity that could have taken in front of my big, open balcony.

Daylight is burning and set out, careful to dress as modestly as possible given what I have with me, as this is a Muslim country.

I see shoulders and legs and bellies, hell I see backless numbers so I figure I’m in the clear but I realize no part on a woman is quite as alluring and offensive than the pubis mound.

I’ve never been a big fan of eye to vag contact and I’m not now either, but there isn’t much I can do, so I trudge on. 

My aunt had given me real ‘insider intel’ when insisting I got the to Hagia Sophia (it’s like saying make sure you see the Statue of Liberty) so I make my way from Europe to Asia to check it out.

The Black Sea is in the north side of the city but funnels unto the Bophorous Strait. A quick walk over the Gallata Bridge and I get to live dying Mandy Moore’s fantasy by being in two places at once.

Id be lying if I said anything other than that it’s cool as hell and, after missing the monastery opportunity earlier this week, a location I think worthy of my dad.

Just maybe not at 11:00am when it resembles, and smells like, fisherman’s warf.

After a lengthy conversation with a friend in an appropriate time zone I recognize that I have been drinking Coke Zero here, frequently. I don’t generally consume soda and in recent years have realized just how intensely caffeine affects me - and I think I’ve located a major contributor in my 2 day anxiety attack.

So when closing in on Hagia Sofia an exceptionally handsome Turkish man was making fresh watermelon juice I thought - not only is that my favorite, it’s also caffeine free.

I’m handed my 140 lira juice and mister handsome asks where I’m from. I say America. He says where do you live. I say New York. He says were originally and I reply California. And the - as if he knows how handsome he is he says - do you speak Spanish.

We chat. His girlfriend lives in Chicago. She had just been there for 2 months. And I thought I’d done long distance!

I wave goodbye to mister handsome, drink my sandia in the sun and listen to the Beatles as a natural anxiety antidote. Which is the only thing, perhaps, that is keeping me from clocking the woman behind me who is almost as wedged under my armpit as my tote. 

Sophia was … ok. I waited in the exterior space of the blue mosque late in the afternoon waiting for prayer time to end and spent an hour watching people in the approaching golden hour. Handsome men who want to sell me a rug and think I’m Spanish abound. Then I went inside and it was … ok.

What wasn’t just ok was the view from Grace Rooftop Restaurant where I got banished to single girl seating but still, through dirtied window could see the expanse or domes tops with gilded points; just past, the sea.

We just as I felt single girl sad for myself the maitre d asked if he could show me upstairs and took my hand to a golden painted sky with seagulls squeaking and boats coming in at the end of a long day and wind in my hair. If he had been an aforementioned handsome man and we have sixpence none the richer playing it would have been a tom com.

Golden hour dinner was lentil soup, hummus and a shepherd salad judgement for no cheese request on the side

I was well fed and sated. $40 is not an expensive dinner, but it’s not a cheap one.

Reading someone’s travel memoir while writing your own is a curious thing. I’m ge been reading America The Beautiful by Blythe Roberson and I love it. I feel seen and heard she … copied. Joking. Her take on a female road-trip feels part funny friend part education in embarrassed I have had already.

Another gentleman tried to take me to the rooftop, presumably to make out, but been there done that. Save for the tonsil hockey.

I take a circuitous route back to the European side of things. Crisscrossing through markets and neighbors. A mosque everywhere you turn. 

I know exactly where I wanted to do my dad ritual and back on Galatea Bridge, where Europe meets Asia, I wait for a moment alone and I scatter scatter him into the wind, the dark yet colorful water welcoming him instantly. I play the two songs I always play and just as the ashes disappear the call to prayer begins.

When my dad and I were in Morocco he lit up like a Christmas tree every time they happened. I loved them too. Now, whenever I hear them I think they’re beautiful, but I think he is too.

And just as I turn to cross the second half of the bridge to the continent of my ancestors, a boat glides by, alone with Turtyol scrolled across the side. I don’t know why noticed, but I did. I don’t know why I felt the need o confirm via google that it means Turtle in Turkish, a symbol held close between father and daughter, but I did.  And I’m not sure why I think it means something, but it does.

Being 8 o’clock and nearly up the mountain I felt glad to lay in bed and scroll until my eyes roll back in my head. But it’s a beautiful day and the streets are packed and, even if I’m not experiencing ‘night life,’ I am experiencing life at night. 

I find and alley butted up against Galata Tower, that is on my list of things to do, and after pacing the uneven foot path I decide Firin Sirin Bakery will do for an almond cookie, some unidentifiable slightly purple tea and an uncomfortable, uneven bistro table out in the action. 

A group of gregarious men sat to my left and even though I thought one to be Randall I offered the other seat at my table to make their gathering more comfortable.

When maybe an hour later I asked for the bill, they insisted in paying my check because of my hospitality … in their country!

The reason I booked my place here was the balcony which isn’t much to write about IRL, but after a slow morning start I did figure out how to open the door and got to look down at the passerby’s and take some stalked photos with my 28”-70”.

I made a left, wanting to explore a new part of town before making my day down to the dock to look for drunk sailors and hopefully be able to catch a ride out to Princes Islands.

I hadn’t planned on stopping so soon but came across the most charming book store who’s named seemed to remain a mystery but whose jazz and golden backlit bookcases were intoxicating.

 I was starving but this was an elevated Starbucks cafe without the packaged baked goods they remove from plastic to heat up and put on a plate for you.

I ordered tea. That was the entire exchange so your guess is as good as mine as to what will show up at my window booked table. 

It somehow just occurred to me, as I lifted my book that the title ‘America the Beautiful’ may seem a bit nationalistic while abroad. Not sure why it simply didn’t cross my mind while holding it in front of my face seated across from Turkish men last night. But oh well!

Sitting here, in a cafe drinking tea, looking lazily out at the street, listening to mellow nearly lullaby like music made me feel like I was in college again. When Caffe Grecco ruled my gear and Norah Jones ruled my airwaves. I was suddenly stuck by emotion and wondered if I was crying tears of joy. Something I’ve only done twice : on a beach in Costa Rica and during an emotional and physical breakthrough with a grown man baby with whom I spent several years of my life. Of course both of those instances didn’t have 42 year old hormones playing tether ball with their feeling in nearly a monthly basis.

I shook it off, blamed it to the nostalgia for youth, the fear of death, and the fun and confusing part in between.

45 minutes later I’ve clearly exited the tourist friendly part of town and the post office, my destination, is in siesta.

I’ve not eaten so to pass the time I enter a corner establishment flanked by windows and housing every warm shade of orange and apricot you could imagine. I try to capture this with my camera, fruitlessly. The men hanging in the corner watch me with reserved judgment.

My potato pastry and peach juice total 80 lira (around $3) and offer me nourishment and a respite while I wait for the post office to reopen. 

Helpful hint: if you’re using a post office in Istanbul you must take a number like you’re in a butcher shop in Des Moines in the 1950s.

I was helped twice by kind locals, first with navigating the number and next when I had to ask for 2 postcards back because I didn’t have enough to pay for all 4 to be sent overseas. 

By the time I exited the post office and walked along the smoggy shoreline it seemed a bit late to make it to Princes Island so I decided today would be a stop and eat and read and repeat situation.

I crossed over the Atatutk Koprusu bridge to mix it to and climbed the hills of suburban turkey to take pictures, sweat profusely and, eventually - eat at Burger King. Now I didn’t particularly want BK, but seeing as Bulgarians are deprived by and large of this American treasure I felt it by duty to represent my people in this unique, continent connecting country.

It was another challenge to order and pay - but I did it. Americans seem to prefer salt on their fries, moving on.

Despite having GPS at the ready, I make many wrong turns but do, eventually, end up at the Grand Bazaar.

I figure some shopping should be done but I hate buying crap emblazoned with the city’s name or wrapped in plastic and made in Taiwan.

I manage to easily select 4 small very breakable bags to bring back in my soft sided backpack for some ladies in my life and heavily debate over a couple of Turkish coffee mugs that I want but don’t drink coffee so am debating their need in my tea game.

I also had the pleasure of speaking with a 23 year old with gorgeous lashes a sunny disposition and a lot of information about his experience as a refugee in Turkey. Readers digest version: it’s not great. After about 30 minutes the market was closed and I began to exit. He apologized for taking up my time but said he likes to talk when he sees a friendly face. Little did he know it made my day!

I traverse back over from Asia to Europe and almost forget … that I preordered tickets to Galata Tower, not to far from the crib. 

The line is still quite a wait but once I get inside I am elevated 6 floors and climb stairs the last two to walk a narrow circular path made for viewing the city using its storied histories for selfies and/or impromptu couple pics made to look accidental and natural but are anything but in 360 degrees. I truly hate the youths. 

Id wanted to go at sunset, but nighttime works well with the lights and the boats and the reflection off of the water. You can never beat a good view.

Id looked into Galata Lily Restaurant for its proximity and menu. Sadly there was no seating outside and no lighting director inside but the staff was kind and the food looked delish. 

I asked for recommendations and we had the inevitable cheese conversation. They were out of Pelligrino,  but offered Turkish Damla Mineral instead - which I now prefer. I asked for Pomegrante tea and was warned it was sweet. For those of you interested I’d liken it to the taste of warm cherry Jello, but not in a bad way. And I tried to order the Lily Special Hummus - twice. And was denied the special hummus - twice. The genial proprietor at first told me both are large dishes and more than I’d need. I submitted. Then I came back for round two, as I’d been told upon arrival that they were very busy and my food would take an hour - maybe hummus now would be good. He checked with the kitchen and again, I was shot down.

If restauranteurs did this in the US would it aid in the oversight epidemic?

I paid for my meal and made the climb back to my apartment but not before buying another pair of earrings - only 2 and a book! I mean - I’m killing it.

I did blow my budget when an old Turkish man with grey hair in his head and black hair covering his upper lip was popping an OG Jiffy in front of the crib. I asked if I could take a photo and paid twice the price for the bag of heavily salted popped corn. 

Usually I only eat my man’s corn. But sometimes you just need some strange.

An Iraqi man helped me communicate and then asked if I was alone and if I needed a friend his table had a seat.

Sitting here now on my temporary could I realize I should have said yes and had the experience but I was sweaty and ready to strip off my spandex and call it a day. 

Awaking at sunrise after showering and going to bed with the window shades pulled all the way back allowed me to see the pink hue drench the city from my very cozy duvet. 

The sound. Silence.

And it remained silent until 9am. Almost on the dot. At that point vehicles exhaust spewed down the cross street and metal gates were lifted to behind another day of commerce. People chatted and machines whirred - but until 9am. The city was bathed in silence and it was heaven.

Id done a very little amount of laundry the day before in an effort to make my crystal light packing stretch in a fresher way than is the norm but nothing was dry yet. This comes as no surprise since I too have been wet since I arrived. Not in a sexy way - though Turkish men, if I haven’t mentioned, are hot, but because the humidity index seem quite high it we’re judging from the small of my back to effort up a hill ratio.

My Airbnb host had suggested the best ice cream in town at a nearby hotel with a rooftop so I circled the location for 30 mins before finally going in an ascending the 5 floors to look out at almost the same vantage point as Galata Tower last night. The floors were tiled and the mix of dried apricots, salty green olives and silver dollar pancakes with honey straight off the comb.

When the drizzle turned into rain I not only realized I should have taken my boat ride yesterday but also moved under an umbrella to enjoy the view of your well dressed couples romantically dining in Istanbul as the eccentric auntie read in the corner.

When a couple, in tan suit and white satin gown with tiara walked I’m onto the rooftop I hear applause before it turned around to see. They looked young and beautiful and happy and I could think was - my mother would not approve of a bride with her hair down. Melody has strict rules about such things.

The rain has stopped and though tucked behind the smog, daylight is burning. I arbitrarily pick a path to Adalar, a name for what seems like two of the Princes Islands a couple hours out into he sea and follow Goolges direction by taking public transportation for the first time since embarking on this journey. 

I am competent in my execution of obtaining a metro card yet that does not stop a throng of locals from gathering right where the cheek meets my leg to impatiently wait their turn.

The above ground metro T1 toward Kabatas was only a couple stops before I got to the port where the boat would be leaving at 14:00 to Adalar for the low low price of 85 lira.

By the time I boarded the Emin Kul, I dare say the Staten Island Ferry it Turkish transportation, I was holding an open bottle of some warm fizzy liquid id purchased for the inevitable motion, id judged the fake Kim Kardashian (redundant, I know) who’s lashes were almost as fake as her fraying Chanel cross body and oh yeah, the sun had come out too!

We all raced to the top deck vying for a wobbly seat with a view like a pre teen at an Olivia Rodrigo concert. I managed to snag a side seat bit covered by a tarp yet flaked by  women with bad weaves and exposed midriffs (see the above Kardashian komment).

Once the boat begins to move. Perfection. Gorgeous. Idyllic. Those are the words that come to mind.

It’s a light breeze San Francisco day in late September but my boat mates - adult people - are too busy clamoring for selfies and video content to simply look around and take it in.

Shame is in limited supply in this global culture.

I’m clearly guilty of this too. Being present it hard. But I believe we owe it to ourselves to try - or at least pretend.

I figure it’s time now to dig into my boat snack. I’m a big fan of carbs and, therefore, I am all for the seasoned bagel type delicacies native to this region. Thinking I’ll mix it up I get what looks like a fluffy everything bagel version. Seems simple enough. Wrong. Once I tear into this there is a black chunky filling. Luckily it’s not Nutella which is vile - I don’t care what you say - but it’s also not amazing. I pick around in juvenile defeat and turn my gaze back to the horizon. 

We make a quick stop in Asia to pick up some peeps and I reacquaint myself with geography and we are off again. This time to Prince’s Island.

Screaming children, two hours of awkward hand gestures during a selfie section, a blond Jesus who id like to crucify and some jellyfish making the sea look like alphabet soup and we’re here! Aladar!

The largest of the prince’s island which, from what I can surmise is a Catalina/Hamptons situation.

Though I was offered several taxis, I wanted to hike it. And man am I glad I did. Quiet streets lined with large Victorians dripping in bougainvillea brought me to the back side of the island which, with the distant laughter of children swimming, was nothing short of breathtaking. Almost out of a scene from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, except not hot foreign men in sight.

I had a quiet moment of repose and I swear, I could feel my dad with me. I don’t believe in heaven and I don’t believe in ghosts, but sometimes I just believe.

Queue Cher.

I circled the island and had internal struggle as to whether it not reaching the summit, mattered to me. Turns out, it did. I walked up toward the setting sun, sweating my ass off, looking like a glazed ham on Thanksgiving morning. Just when I thought I had reached the peak of Heybialada, I checked my maps to see I was about 40 km short. I wrestled with that failure for a while, and moved on.

The boat ride back through Asia to Europe was chilly but beautiful as the sun sunk below the horizon.

Was deposited on the same peninsula as my home but walked back across the Galata Bridge to Ottoman Last Cafe Restaurant and Grill for my final meal. I gave my mom a call to share my idea for her 75th birthday, still several years away and excitedly told her how everything I’d eaten here had been delicious.

That is, until now.

Ottoman had lovely lighting and red leather banquets but I would liken my dining experience as to a TGI Fridays. And though the decor can be charming, the food is tolerable at best.

What a way to leave my tastebuds after several days of delectable devouring.

At least I was full and had spent by far the most on a meal yet. Sadly, no one was sung the happy birthday song and the flare was woefully under represented.

Passing back through old town as it were I saw I’m one of many Turkish delight storefronts. Buying someone prepackaged felt like a cheat so I was looking at all of the colorful logs of indistinguishable materials when a man came up and continued to hand me rather large samples. He knew what he was doing as there came a point when I was all but obligated to purchase some of these local treats that I do believe to be Turkish but in no way did I find them delightful. 

Back across the straight and up the mountain home I stopped at my Airbnb host’s ice cream cart for real this time and had peach sorbet with another Turkish sparkling water that I want to snuggle home.

Bags packed, sliding glass door open so I can hear the street below, electronic charging - last night in Istanbul.

At least for now.

There are some magical properties in this bed; in this apartment. The sun is in my face and there has been a fire detector type beep, beeping consistently for the past 9 hours, but once I get under these covers, I never want to uncover.

I finally do and set out on the street in the direction of my Turkish Hamam experience, by far the most expensive adventure and hopefully the most worth it?

My kind host has allowed me to check out late so I leave my mostly packed bags behind as I wander with the alley cats toward Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, touted as one of the oldest hamams in Istanbul.

I’ve popped into a hip little cafe with a barista who I believe understands my sense of humor as I order several items for breakfast to share with my snoozing meal companion by way of alley cat.

I’m used to boring my meal mates, what I’m not used to is everything I eat being filled with a not so fun surprise. Id ordered two mini croissants not knowing chocolate would come oozing out.

I’ve never been a fan of oozing and I’m certainly not now.

It’s always nice to bond with other foreigners with silent understanding. Then the old Asian man who has decided to sit next to coughed, I recoiled. When he coughed up what seemed like enough phlegm to fill mg Turkish tea cup I was visibly disgusted and the formerly frigid ginger family, a young boy in particular, made eye contact with me - and smiled. I was certain that we didn’t speak the same language and I don’t have a ton in common with an 11 year old boy. But we can both agree when someone is nasty and neither one of us want to be seated next to him.

The hamam is across a major thoroughfare, next to a train stop but once you step inside the stone dome, built in 1580, it’s strictly Calgon take me away. The door has a large silver handle and a modern sign that says women - in English.

Inside the white tile floors echo a the sounds of the sitar music (or some other string instrument). The fountain is flanked by women in white robes and towels lounging on white linen banquettes.

I see a beautiful Indian woman saying to her guide/attendant that it is her first time and a rush of relief washed over me as my apple sherbet digested.

I was led into a room where a woman took my Turkish towel off and tossed a few buckets of water on me before we moved on the the circular heated marble platform peppered with topless women in an apparent virgin sacrifice. Luckily I knew I was safe.

I lay, trying my hardest to relax naked on a marble platform next to other women in various bikini bottoms and things nakedly displayed, facing the heavens.

After about 15 minutes I was informed I could move over the corner stall where a woman at least 70, with low pendulant breasts bathed me. Rubbed me down head to tow. Coppertoned babied me and nuzzled my frothy face unto that bosom while getting my back.

As a as the experience was my skin has never felt smoother and I would 100% do it again. Having had an Onsen experience in march and now the hamam in November I realize the naked body is really no big deal.

Perhaps if I’d grown up in a culture less terrified or titillated by nudity these experiences seeing everyday, normal woman naked and thinking (shrug), I’d have been less inhibited by my own throughout the years.

Historically only if we’re banging the night before am I scrambling your eggs topless the following morning. But I can guarantee you none of my closest friends have seen so much as an areola.  

After my sensual waterboarding there is a respite in the main atrium with tea and water and other ladies who lunch in towels.

Before long I was escorted to my full body massage with Turkish Tyne Daly. It was silent and my face was positioned into the face hole where a platter of Gerbera daisies were waiting for me.

20 minutes in and I totally understood the happy ending. If she had slid 2 fingers I would in no way have resisted and left even more satisfied and relaxed.

An hour goes quickly, less so when your bladder is full, but all of a surgeon Tyne is saying good morning and it’s time for me to take my rubbed and oiled body and get up out of there.

I may come back to Istanbul just to return to the hamam.

I rush back to my Airbnb as my host has been exceedingly patient and by the time I scale the mountain my cleanliness has been sweated away. 

I’ve been made fun of for how tidy I keep a hotel or home stay but this proves why. My things are all packed up and a small pile of things I’d planned to discard are set up in the downstairs living room.

It’s nearly 3 and I haven’t eaten anything of substance so I make my way back down the hill, turn a left at Galata Tower and return to Lily Galata.

The same proprietor is in the doorway and he ushers me in. I am quite certain in just another woman with luggage to him until I order sparking water and he says - the same as last time - I remember. He then sincerely thanks me as I did leave a review on google after I dined here the other night. I’m not prone to doing such things but he was a really positive experience and I realize I’m selecting places based on ratings so why not contribute.

I’ll merely touch upon the fact that two young Asian men as very audibly eating lunch next to me and though I understand there are cultural differences all over the world and largely respect them - making those sounds with your mouth are repugnant and they should be shot.

I put in my headphone to listen to reggae - not exactly the vibe - to drown it out immediately following proprietor man bringing me a pomegranate tea on the house because he remembered I liked it!

This time I insisted on the hummus.

He was right, I didn’t need it.

Turkish tea and baklava arrived gratis after I finished my meal and languished far too long in their establishment.

By the time I exited Lily it has been raining and the humidity had broken ever so slightly.

It was nearing 5 and my bus ride back to Sofia was not until 8:30. Id spent money freely but prudently and figured public transpo to the bus station made the most sense. Schlepping all of your bags around is never much fun, especially when the hills are alive with shin splints.

Turkey has the most beautiful crows I’ve ever seen. I’ve noticed them elsewhere but with 34 minutes until the next bus came AY the Kemeralti stop so unceremoniously acting as a point if importance with nary a bench and a very small, subtle sign - I had time to drink it all in.

The bus arrives. It’s a crowded sauna of dejected locals and confused travelers. I catch a man trying to take a photo of me and give him my newly trademarked Nani Murder Stare. When 45 smelly minutes later I am dropped on the side of a darkened highway in the rain I think to myself how much I hate it when people call my trips vacations. Truly hate it. They simply are not.

As I make eye contact with the homeless man relieving himself on the subway platform to get on the next mode of transportation simply to get on my international coach I think, just like a piña colada on the beach.

I’ve always done things the hard way. And some things just don’t change.  

I aggressively deboard at Otogar. And by aggressively I mean pushing people, in purpose, because people get off a fucking train before other people get in.

The bus station is wet and shiny and locate gate 21 and set up and eat snacks. Snacks I would never eat when in the United States, because calories don’t count over seas.

I meet some lovely Chilean men in the waiting area who have been on a 3 month trip that sounds incredible and I exclaim that I’m celosa.

This company and bus is much different than mine on the way here. The bus does bit have outlets readily available, it’s a much older and cruder form of bus and its filled to the gills.

The only reason the trip from Sofia was not so horrific was that the bus was less than half full and I attempted to stretch out amongst my bags.

When a Gen Z Spaniard shoves get things in the overhead compartment over my records I’m worried. They’re a risk in purchasing aboard but one thing I know my man will use at least once and I think he might like these - so worth it.

Why do people do this though? I see it happen on planes frequently. Do you really think you matter so much more? That your belongings take priority and that no one else has anything rights or fragile?

Anyway, these bitches have me with bags between my legs and my passport in a bin at the front of the bus, which I am not into.

I’m also sandwiched between two women, young and old, watching IG videos without speakers.

What the actual fuck.

The bus ride is awful and save for feeding a stray lactating parent animal a Halloween themed Oreo I then worried could worsen her situation, not noteworthy.

What is noteworthy about the bus rides finale. As opposed to the 6am arrival as stated on the ticket I purchased, and though early a reasonable hour, we were dropped or just after 3 am when it’s pitch dark and the buss ration is the last place anyone wants to hang out.

I quickly realize I don’t have a plan b so I make a b line over to the two nice Chilean men with whom I spoke before we boarded and didn’t so much as glance at since. Some 9 hours ago.

I directly ask, can I come with you guys until the sun comes up and they happily agree. And then there were 3.

It’s still the dead of night and I am walking down a road that is both main and railed with two total strangers, one of whom sort of speaks my language, the other absolutely does not. It is dark, it is cold and my bags have exponentially increased in weight since boarding the bus.

This is the stuff dreams are made of. Or at least 20/20 reports.

Gonzalo and his mute friend, whose name escapes me are both Chilean, both retired, both have one daughter, both are single and both are backpacking in their 40s, just like me!

Now they have a few years on me and are nearing the end of their 6 month sojourn but seem harmless enough so these are now my buddies.

We walk the 45 minutes to their booking, half way through Gonzalo offers to grab my bag and informs me gentlemen still exist. I hate having this stranger extend himself more than me literally asking to insert myself into their journey, but I am also relieved to have the help.

Their booking is not - shocking - open at 4 am and Gonzalo suggest we go to the gas station we just spotted on out walk.

None of us slept on the less than cozy bus ride so when a table reveals itself inside of the gas station convenience store that’s it - we live here now.

I spend the next 5 hours in that gas station, passing the time and passing the dark with the quiet no name and the very gregarious Gonzalo who is absolutely misogynistic and ridiculous but also charming in that way of saying me can say something offensive, slap a shit eating grin on and all is forgiven.

And you know the weirdest part about my stranger gas station hang? We weren’t alone. Evidently there is a community it smell misfits who hangs, seemingly endlessly and on the regular, and the gas station. 

I use my international phone plan to help them try to ahold of their rental but at some point it seems clear that the day has begun and it is appropriate for me to me moving in. I bid them a mucho gusto and backpack my way out club gas station, into the streets whose temperature has dropped dramatically since last I was here and onto a street car.

My Airbnb won’t be ready until after 11 so I spent most of my time vacillating between stressing over whether or not I should add a day and an extra destination to my trip to the cost of my energy levels and bank account and shivering because not only is it 55 degrees I have literally not slept at all. 

I’m looking for a restaurant close to the eventual bed I have paid for and there are very limited options at 9am.

I duck into Coyote that proudly has good and drink scrawled in its artifice, but when I enter and the waitress comes back from working on her own artifice she declares no food.

My back hurts, my Cagney and Lacey role play massage feels like it was ages ago. I order a Mursala Tea and hope to warm up soon.

After asking for a refill on hot water, a foreign concept to my foreign waitress I lumber up and make the 5 minute walk yo my apartment for the evening.

It’s a 5 store my ascent to the very 2 bedroom whose refrigerator is disguised as a London telephone booth.

I’m making my plans for Amsterdam. I’ve already acquired one leg and am hoping to just pay for the convenience of a direct shot for the other. But not before crawling in bed, fully clothed and closing my eyes, for at least 90 minutes or so.

I woke up to beautiful autumnal light streaming through the window and a storm brewing inside. Could it be the lack of the sleep over the last couple of weeks, the diet of meat and sugar that generally are not present in my life, or the litany of gross, smoking humans I’ve been piled into buses, subways and planes with - but I did not feel well.

My 8 day debate over adding Amsterdam to my itinerary seemed decided for me as I could barely make it out of bed.  I walked very slowly to the park and made a left at. Vitosha to get a smoothie from So Fresh So Good, as it seemed like one of the few things I could keep down. 

Vitosha was not yet popping on this Friday night, but it would be - you could feel it. Meanwhile all I could feel were chills and exhaustion.

I dragged myself back to the apartment and up five flights, that had never felt more taxing, took a long hot shower and strategically crawled into bed, so not a square inch of my bed was exposed to the elements.

It was 4pm.

Guilt has always been a feeling with which I battle and luckily no one is with me on this voyage or I’d be destroyed by bad feelings about wasted time.

‘Luckily’ it was just me I was letting down as I lay restlessly in bed until I spelt - for 15 hours.

Sure there was the occasional clock check but I got in bed and 4 and wasn’t really awake until 9.

I exchanged Airbnb messages with Daniella and she told me I could stay until 12:30 so I took my time showering, repacking my bag for the umpteenth time and getting myself up and out the door by noon sharp.

It has been raining since the middle of the night which is romantic from under a plush, quilted blanket. Let so when you’re walking in it wearing a tragic mix of denim and spandex. Id planned my hibernation perfectly as I made it to the post office to send off my last two postcards, written in day one here, with seconds to spare before they closed up shop in a Saturday.

The shopping here looks incredible but I didn’t have the funds or room to bring back a new eastern block collection for the fall. Id cancelled my flight to Amsterdam just as I felt my body betray me last night and by 1 was feeling a bit better physically and regretful if missing out on what was bound to be a good time with a very good friend.

I knew I needed to eat but everything sounded gross, except maybe some saltines. In an attempt to make the day not seem a total wash I walked to Moma, a beautiful traditional Bulgarian restaurant near Vitosha. Arriving near moments after they opened I was turned away without a reservation so I did what 2015 Briana would absolutely do - and went to the next place I saw.

Constantinoff is in the main strip and had sidewalk seating, which was the appeal, but when informed that was the smoking section I made my way inside. Nothing in the menu looked appealing but luckily it was all the overpriced, so it evened out.

I ordered what was bound to be a disappointing final meal and listened to remixes of American classics in a restaurant designed to look like an upscale hotel lobby. 

Meal was had. Lemonade was not lemonade. Moving on.

Not thinking about how I am essentially in Times Square, and with some cold rainy hours to spare I stop into costa coffee for tea and pasty, at least the latter of which I won’t ingest back stateside - but the really delicious item was the two employees quite obviously fighting in front of me, no shame, no holds barred, no comprehension (me). 

The skies had cleared but I felt like it was time to head to the airport, especially since I’d opted to take public transport and wanted to account for any snafus.

With the exception of my visible emotions, it was seamless and I was at SOF in no time. Just for some last minute shots and giggles I got to watch a full grown man with two children and a wife, actively throw his bags in the ground and throw a temper tantrum. I also got to see a bin come through security with a single lighter and a sausage!

Customs asked why I came to Bulgaria - my reply was to eat and look around - he said so, just for the experience?

Yep - just for the experience.

I hope we met your expectations.

Absolutely, it was great.