Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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To Bulgaria Sofia, Bulgaria, Thursday, 26 June 2014 11:08pm

I started out a long travel day in fine Texas style, with Adrienne taking me to Tamale House East for an order of chipotle migas. From there it was a quick hop to the airport, and a short trip through security (PreCheck: the way airport security should be), and I was waiting at my gate.

..and waiting. While a storm had blown through Austin earlier in the morning, Houston was having a tougher time of it. All flights into and out of the airport were grounded due to weather. Our plane was stuck on the ground there, until the weather cleared up a bit.

It did get clearance eventually, flew to Austin to pick us up, and turned around to head back. We left Austin two hours late. Luckily, I'd had a 2 hour layover scheduled in Houston, and my onward flight was delayed 30 minutes. I had to hustle to another terminal to make it, but when I arrived there were still a couple dozen people on the jet bridge waiting to get on the plane. I'm glad that I didn't believe the departure monitors at Houston (which claimed that my onward flight was on time, and thus should have closed its doors 5 minutes before I'd gotten off of my incoming flight), or what the United app on my phone was telling me (which was that my onward flight had been changed to a later one to Munich instead of Frankfurt, which would have disrupted my connection, at best).

Flights that span a lot of time zones are always tricky. Our 9 hour flight to Frankfurt took off at 4pm, but would land at 8am in Frankfurt (which is 9am in Sofia, my eventual destination). So the sensible thing to do would be to go to sleep as soon as possible after take-off in order to get a reasonable amount of sleep. Unfortunately, there was a family nearby with young children who opted instead for the "let the children stay awake until they're tired, and give them an Uno deck so they have something to yell about" plan. I did eventually get to sleep, thanks to sound-blocking headphones, a sleep mask, and melatonin, and even slept through breakfast. But it made the time shift considerably harder.

I had to pass through security again in Frankfurt. Unlike the metal detectors in Austin, the German ones alarmed on every rivet in my jeans and on the metal shoelace eyes in my boots. I spent a while at the security checkpoint, which meant getting to the gate for my flight to Sofia without enough time to spare to have lunch.

The bus ride from the terminal to the airplane seemed interminable. I was starting to wonder if they were just going to drive us to Bulgaria instead of putting us on a plane, but eventually we were dropped off at a plane on the far side of the air cargo area.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the flight service included lunch (tasty sandwiches), and figured I ought to have a German beer, as I'd just passed through Germany. Note to self: don't bother drinking Warsteiner.

Arrival in Sofia went smoothly. The immigration official was smiling as she stamped the first page in my newly expanded passport, the ATM didn't blink at my debit card, I was able to break a big bill by buying some ayran at the airport convenience store, I avoided the taxi hustle by going to the kiosk of a reputable company, when my cab driver made the "I don't have correct change" gesture after I handed him a 20 for an 11.15 metered fare, I was able to hand him a 2 and get a 10 back (I would have tipped him the two if he'd given me the correct change), the hotel had my reservation and decided to upgrade me to a room with a bigger bed at no extra charge, and the water in the shower was nice and hot.

I meant to leave the hotel and poke around a bit before the others arrived, but Tinny texted me from the airport with taxi questions (it did not go so smoothly for them), and by the time they'd arrived, Mo had landed as well, so we waited for the whole group to get together before heading out for dinner.

We had a nice walk through a pedestrianized shopping district and ate at a Bulgarian restaurant with traditional dishes described with weirdly amusing stories ("My brother-in-law thought pickles were too good to waste, but I showed him how to make this stew with pickled peppers", "this is the rabbit that didn't have a hunting license"...), and tried several of the national beer brands. Shumensko is the best so far.