Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trip Journal: Day One

The day started early as we were on a 7am flight from Dayton to Chicago-Midway, free of charge because of all my travel miles – this made our tickets from Chicago to Sofia only $500 each instead of around $750 each. All things considered, it was an easy day, just long and tiring. After reaching Chicago-Midway we collected our bags and sat around the baggage claim area while we waited for the hourly bus that runs service between Midway and O’Hare. The bus showed up on time and $25 and an easy ride later we checked our bag for the international flight and were ready to kill about 4 hours before our flight boarded. Another benefit of all of my business travel is that we scored a free upgrade to EconomyPlus on the Chicago-Frankfurt flight, and because of my travel I also have a membership to the United Club Lounge so we were able to go to the lounge for three hours and enjoy some free food and drinks while I got a few hours of work done.

Once it was time to go find our gate we ventured over to the correct terminal and then swapped our shoes for slippers and got our blankets out so we could be comfortable on the flight. Boarding went as scheduled and before you knew it we were onboard, with the only adjustment being that we swapped seats around for a young couple nearby to be able to sit with each other.

The 8-hour flight was pretty easy, with the food being decent and the selection of movies being awesome. I spent most of the time on the fight working and listening to music and then near the end I watched a movie, being unable to sleep much because the flight was pretty early in the afternoon (230 pm) to be trying to sleep.

Once we landed in Frankfurt we deplaned and sat around the airport in a comfortable lounge area before finding our connecting gate and stretching our legs a bit, loading up into the buses and driving out to the plane is something we’re used to now and we made sure we were last on board so we could snag an entire row for the two of us. The flight went great and Maren slept through the entire flight, waking up near the end. All the hours of travel caught up with Maren and she got some motion sickness – necessitating we make use of the puke bag in her seat. Fortunately she had eaten so little due to an upset stomach that it easy to contain and the attendant was Johnny-on-the-spot with a backup bag.

When we arrived in Sofia getting through passport control was easy and our ride was waiting for us, being very confused when “Richard Rieben” showed up instead of “Valerie Rieben” which was on the sign for us. Our driver was a nice gentleman and his daughter who spoke fluent English was with him as well. Unfortunately, Maren got sick again and we had to pull over to let her do her thing on the side of the road. I patted her back and wiped her face like a real pro and then we were back in the car and headed for the hotel.

We got checked in and our wonderful lawyer, Toni had an envelope waiting for us – inside was 200 USD worth of Bulgarian currency, the Lev to get us started as well as a Vivacom SIM card for me to put in my unlocked LG Stylo, which I brought in addition to my Nexus 5x on T-Mobile. I also have a FreedomPop global SIM which worked really well in Germany during the layover (as well as T-Mobile which also worked just fine). We have stayed at the Hotel Budapest (or as we frequent flyers call it, “The ‘Pest”) numerous times and it is a very modern hotel, nicer than many that I stay at back in the states. The rooms are comfortable and the bathrooms have awesome deep tubs which are great for relaxing. It’s not located conveniently to downtown, but that’s nothing a 15-minute walk can’t solve – and that’s exactly what we did. There’s an open-air market a few blocks away so we walked through there and then walked to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is my favorite destination within Sofia. From the cathedral we hailed a cab and took a cheap (3 lv./1.5 USD) ride back to the hotel and then walked 2 blocks to dinner at a traditional bulgaraian restaurant which we’ve eaten at several times before. Maren and I shared a simple and delicious meal of a Shopska salad, bread, pork kabob cooked over a fire and fried potatoes – very tasty and very filling. The meal was about 30 lv. 15 USD so meals are very inexpensive here.

After dinner I hailed another cab and we drove to a nearby supermarket, Billa. We picked up a few basic items like water, juice, snacks and chocolate. After doing our shopping I used a neat app called TaxiMe to call a cab – it works much like Uber but works with traditional cab companies – a few minutes later the cab showed up and we headed back to the hotel for the night.

After washing up, we pretty much crashed at 8pm… hoping to sleep until 6am or so…

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