For the final official destination on our Remote Year – Kublai European itinerary, we traveled back east to Bulgaria to stay in the capital city of Sofia (Bularian: София). I never thought I would be traveling to Bulgaria. Yet, it is a wonderfully hospitable and chill city. I got some really special views of the sky from the top of these mountains and relished in a restorative yoga retreat (despite nearly dying!).
After my frantic exit from the humid confines of Italy, I was looking forward to getting back with my Kublai group. It was rejuvenating for me. No more humidity!! Though it was still pretty warm.
The skies of Sofia had a dramatic first impression.
Feeling a bit jaded from my Italy trip, I was looking forward to being back in the group with familiar faces. Luckily, I had that and more in store.
This month our co-working space was the Sofia Holistic Cowering Company (SoHo). The internet was fast, the patio was nice (though not quite as beautiful or spacious as the K10 Garden back in Prague). However, the best feature of this spot was the dogs that inhabited the patio during the day. This beautiful golden and her sidekick pup spent their days napping, playing, and getting attention from the guests.
These two were inseparable most of the time. The little one always instigated, of course.
To say this wasn’t at all a distraction would be a lie. However, these pups also helped increase the general happiness of everyone around, which is worth the occasional interruption in work.
Back to Nature: Sunset Climb
My first adventure in Sofia was a hike up the Vitosha Mountain to get a most spectacular sunset view. We were transported by taxi a decent way up first before getting out and walking the rest of the way. It was cool! Literally. When we first arrived and got out of the taxi, the temperature was around 10C (50F). From there, it only dropped as the sun made its way toward the horizon and we made our way towards the top.
It was a crisp hike, as we battled the cool wind along our way up. However, the view at the top was more than worth it. The same holds for the high-spirited conversations and bonding we shared along the trip up. I got to talk deeply with some of the Remote Year staff, a lot of whom were in town this particular day for visits and training. I learned more about my fellow travelers and shared this moment with them.
Once reaching the top, it became much colder and a lot breezier. Suddenly, my single hoodie felt almost inadequate against the sharp gusts of air. Yet, for the spectacular view that awaited, it was not too much of a sacrifice.
At the top, we were asked to take a few minutes of silence as the sun made its way behind the peaks off in the distance. A few moments for quiet reflection was rooted in pure mindfulness and gratitude for this display of nature that I have such a fondness for.
Here are some dramatic shots of me photographed by Maxime using his Pixel. Nice camera on that thing! Is it better than the iPhone 7 Plus camera?
On our hike down, we managed to not get too frigid somehow. The darkness made it a bit more difficult to find our way down an uneven and rocky terrain. However, we made it without issue, with only a few Kubs taking a detour to “water a tree”!
The night did offer an also-lovely view of Sofia lit up at night as well as the rising moon, dutifully reflecting the sun’s vivid colors. The pictures simply don’t do it justice, but it was not unpleasant to the eyes, trust me.
Camping: Glasses Down
My track events this month were outdoor and nature themed. For this event, we camped overnight in the valley of the mountains among the trees and stars. One of the city staff, Laura, and her boyfriend, Asen, worked hard to set up and provide all the materials we needed. That way, we were able to show up, pick a tent, and get fed. It was still legit camping too, though – tents, no plumbing, and just the supplies we fit in our backpacks. Upon arrival, we chose tents to stay in that night. After getting settled, I was tasked with finding some firewood to keep the camp fire blazing. This is where it gets less clear, literally.
I wander my way maybe a hundred or so meters from our camp site, nothing too far. However, I was unable to quickly locate any significant pieces of wood that would keep a large-sized fire going for a decent time. I wander into a nearby forest of pines, hoping to find some downed tree or decent sized pieces of wood. Still nothing. I eventually make eye contact with a long, low-hanging limb. This branch was clearly dead, as it featured no pine needles and was snapped at its halfway point, causing the protrusion to acutely slant towards the earth. It wasn’t all the way to the ground, but it was definitely within my reach. Seeing as this was the largest piece of wood around, I went for a shot at ripping off the limb.
I thought that pulling on the branch would do it, but it was not enough force to snap it off. I then get in my head that it’s a good idea to dangle from the branch so as to have the maximum amount of weight to pull it down. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, because shortly after Tarzan-ing the damn thing, it clean snaps off the tree, falls to hit me square in the middle of the head, and lands me on my ass. Ow. My head and ass hurt only slightly, but my ego was definitely the most damaged. Collecting myself for a second and appreciating the karmic outcome of that branch picking, I got back up, collected the ripped off wood, and began to head back towards camp.
…And then I realized I couldn’t see as well. Oh, no! My glasses. I realized I suddenly was no longer wearing them (my prescription isn’t too strong; I am not blind without them. It’s akin to going from 480p to 1080p kinda). The tortoise shell (in name only) pair of John Varvatos glasses I had lovingly rocked since late 2015 were now missing. I searched around the area where the branch was, or at least where I thought it was, for several minutes. I went back, double checked my possessions, and concluded they indeed must’ve come off when I got hit in the head with the branch. I distinctly remember putting them on before hunting for wood, so I know that was the very last time I had them.
I went back and searched for hours. By this point, sunlight was already significantly waned. Night was fast approaching, and my hopes of being able to see and find my glasses among dirt, tree leaves, and nature were fading fast. I forgot the exact tree where this happened, and all the breaks looked similar to me. However, I maintained they would not have gotten far, and I knew within a 10-meter radius where they would’ve most likely landed. Carin and Vanessa came to search briefly with me, but came up empty-handed. Frantic, a bit anxiety-striken, and without optimum vision, I sadly gave up and made my way back to camp to join the group, now full, bonding over a fire – laughing, sharing stories, making memories.
Everyone was having a good time, except me. Losing my glasses launched me into a funk. I hate losing things. It’s been a trigger for me for many years. I had a mild panic attack and had to sit alone separately to decompress after losing something as vital as my eyewear. Frustrated and in disbelief, I outcasted myself from the group, though thankfully fellow Kubs Jason, Simone, and James came by to ask me how I was doing and re-assure me it would all work out. The next morning, our entire camping group even volunteered to help me look. But spoiler alert: we never found them.
Now this was my first time camping, and so it hadn’t gotten off to the world’s greatest start. Between my now handicapped vision unable to crisply render the beautiful star show above and my subsequent anxiety, I was a bit dejected and mentally removed the camping for a few hours. However, I didn’t want this to ruin my entire night. After some kind reassurances from my peers, I started to talk in the group. I also had some campfire-roasted vegetables, which were delicious and gave me some fuel after expending a fair amount of physical (and a lot of emotional) energy.
We went around the campfire and shared some details about how this trip has impacted us and changed us. This was a wonderful bonding exercise, helping us to get better in touch with each other and share this moment in nature together. Beer drinking, conversations, and stories continued for several more hours before people started drifting off in chunks for bed. I decided soon it was sleep time for me also and so made my way to my newly assigned tent. I tried to sleep comfortably, but was never really able to. We had the luxury of a brand new air mattress, but for some reason I could not easily fall asleep or stay asleep long all night. I tossed and turned, trying not to wake Raji whom I shared a tent with. Lost glasses, no sleep. Blahhhh.
The next morning, we had a fruit-filled breakfast before breaking down the camping materials and preparing to head back to the city. Before returning into the city, we made a stop at the Bells Monument. This was constructed for all the children of the world. The monument features a large bell tower in the middle and along the sides, bells from each country around the world. We made it a point to go around and ring almost every bell.
This is the first half of my stay in Sofia. To keep these posts a bit more digestible (if anyone even reads these!), I’ll detail the second half in another post.