Offbeat Attractions in Sofia

Offbeat Attractions in Sofia, Bulgaria

Image via Flickr by George Palov

Bulgaria is a beautifully diverse country. With places to visit like the magnificent mountain town of Veliko Tarnovo, Black Sea city of Varna, and the capital, Sofia, it’s easy to get wrapped up in everything the country has to offer.

Located in the western part of Bulgaria, Sofia, at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, is the most populous city in the country, with more than 1.2 million people.

While there are plenty of tourist highlights to keep a person busy, there are also some seriously fabulous offbeat attractions in Sofia, Bulgaria. Once you’ve checked into one of the many hotels in Sofia, head out the door and explore everything this town has to offer.


Daily Wanderlust: The golden hour at Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Walking down the main drag in Sunny Beach reminds me a lot of Senior Beach Week in Ocean City, Maryland: scantily clad teens and college-aged kids, families, and heaps of parties (hello, laser-foam-pink-eye-factory shenanigans).

Like Benidorm in Spain, Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach is lacking a bit of the local culture. But, for what it lacks in culture, it makes up for in sunsets like this.

Sunset over Sunny Beach in Bulgaria


Daily Wanderlust: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The quaint mountain town of Veliko Tarnovo is a far cry from the tourist-packed Sunny Beach and the charming Varna along the Black Sea.

I never expected to stay for as long as I did in this town. But, when Abby left to return to Istanbul, I decided to hunker down, soak up the air-con and laid-back vibe, drink some rose water (and other yummy rose-flavored beverages) and savor some quiet before heading to the Adriatic.

A top the town is an ancient fortress. While Abby was with me, we tried to get some culture, but were rained out. The next day, we returned under the blistering summer sun and explored the ruins of what was once a mighty fortress.


Escape of the Week: Varna, Bulgaria

Bulgaria may not be the first place people think of to visit for a holiday. While the conversion doesn’t sound great (1USD equals roughly 1.50 Bulgarian Lev), the prices in Bulgaria are cheap.Like 8-Lev-for-a-delicious-dinner-cheap.

And, there are some great places to visit, too.

Windsurfers hang together in the Black Sea, just off the coast of Varna, Bulgaria.

I’ve spent time at two spots on the Black Sea. First there was Sunny Beach, a haven for European partiers in the summer. And then, I went up the coast to the far quieter (and far more charming) town of Varna.

Less crowded and more family-friendly than Sunny Beach, Varna is a more peaceful option for beach-goers.

Located on the Black Sea, Varna has what Sunny Beach does not — a quaint city that mixes history and present day together. Plus, there are far less touts promoting the nighttime discos and foam parties.

The town is known for its beach, which spans 8 km. Depending on what visitors are looking for in a beach, there are different areas. Families should head to the beach with the water park; revelers might like the beaches with clubs plunked down on the sand; and for those just looking to chill, there’s another section perfect for sunning and relaxing. Not a fan of the sand and surf? There is a thermal pool to enjoy, too.

The main beaches aren't without character. Some areas even include cement walls complete with graffiti.

Aside from the actual sea, there are the attractions nearby the water. For an afternoon outside, check out Primorski Park, which runs parallel to the water. It’s got open-air cafes and restaurants to sit and enjoy the scenery.

An old car is parked along Primorski Park.

The promenade leading down to the water can easily soak up an entire day. Wander the pedestrian streets, explore the little shops and boutiques, grab a coffee. And, definitely check out the restaurants offering cuisine from around the world (think sushi, Italian, tapas and more!). The area is gorgeous with its old and colorful buildings mixed with modern shops below.

Colorful buildings line the promenade down to the water.

For those who want more than a beach, spend time wandering the tree-lined streets of the city. There are museums to check out, like the expansive Archeological Museum;  churches to explore; and traditional Bulgarian meals to be had.

A church displays religious art outside its doors.

Where to stay

In terms of lodging, there are plenty of hostels and hotels to check out. I stayed at two — the hot, hot Flag Hostel, which I checked out of, and Yo Ho, which I enjoyed. Keep in mind, in the dead of summer, most hostels without air-conditioning are sweltering.

Worth mentioning

In Bulgaria, shaking the head up and down means “no.” Shaking the head side-to-side means “yes.” Practice.

Also, try anything with rose in it — rose water, rose Raki, rose sunblock. The country is known for its rose products and these items can be found in many places.

Getting there

Depending on where you are coming from, there are both buses and trains to whisk you off to this escape from Bulgaria, Turkey and more. There’s even a ferry that runs in the summer.

Have you been to Bulgaria?



10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue’s Ass

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass


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There was a time a little more than a year ago, when I hated traveling.

After doing it for more than five months, being sick for what seemed like the millionth time, being cramped into a dorm room in blistering heat with no air-conditioning, fearing for my life in Turkey and nearly falling to my death, I was pretty over it as I sat in an outdoor cafe in Varna, Bulgaria.

At that moment, I wanted to be done.

It hurt me deeply to admit that to myself. This trip was supposed to be amazing. An experience of a lifetime. And, instead of planning my next steps, I found my mind wandering to the comforts of my bed in Maryland.  To not having my backpacking weighing me down. To a home-c0oked meal. To breathing in private.

To make things worse, I hated myself for hating traveling.

I was so mad. So disappointed in myself for even letting that awful thought cross my mind. I was embarassed. This funk had embraced me, sucked me deep into the recesses of my mind I didn’t want to touch, and left me feeling cold, alone and sad.

Oh, Travel Fatigue.

When I was going through it, it was the worst thing in the world. I felt like no one knew what it was like. I felt like no one could be of any assistance in pulling me out of it.

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

A sign of Travel Fatigue: feeling depressed.

I was wrong. Entirely.

After being home and having relationships with other people who are/were on the road, I know this Travel Fatigue awfulness wasn’t exclusive to me. It happens to the best of us. And, fortunately, only lasts for a brief period of time.

It took a few things in my life to help snap me out of this funk.

Are you experiencing Travel Fatigue? Here are some steps to help kick it’s ugly ass and get back in the game.

1. Communicate your misery

No, don’t have a huge pity party (no one likes those), but talk to someone you trust about it. Someone you know can make you feel all better. For me, I was messaging with my lovely Anthony, who wrote words that were oh-so true: You’ve got to have the funk to have the fun. That was the start of my recovery.

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

Sometimes you just need to change your perspective.

2. Change your scenery

Nothing can quite snap you out of a rut like waking up somewhere new. There’s just a feeling of possibility that wasn’t there before. It can revitalize you. Abby and I had been seaside of nearly two weeks, so the mountains was a nice change of pace. And totally different and beautiful scenery.

3. Get comfortable

I was tired. I was hot. I wanted to not drip sweat every night after I had showered. Abby and I found an adorable hostel in the hillside town of Veliko Tarnovo. It had gorgeous air-con and a remote so we could make it as cool as we liked. That first night, we both slept with thick blankets on us. In the dead of summer. It was awesome. Naturally, the next day, the remote disappeared from our room. I can still remember the cool air kissing my face that blissful night.

4. Stay put

Even after Abby left VK, I stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

5. Relax

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

How can you not relax with a view like this?

When I was back in the solo realm of travel and feeling better, I treated myself to doing absolutely nothing. I would wake up in the morning, pad  upstairs to the kitchen and enjoy the complimentary breakfast, then head outside to the little balcony overlooking the ravine of green trees across the street. I would chat with the hostel owner, the other guests, and just ease into my morning. Then, when I got hot, I would go to the room, open my computer and write. Not because I felt I had to, but because it felt good. And, I would read. Then, a little nap in the cool room. At night, I would go with the other travelers to dinner, then back to my room for some more reading and then sleep. I did this for three days.

6. Don’t plan until you have to

On the third day of doing nearly nothing, I decided I was almost ready to head out and continue with my trip. Almost. I pondered my next steps. I spent a good deal of time looking at the giant colorful map of Eastern Europe on the wall in the common room. I consulted my guide book. I did research.

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

Take off your shoes, kick your feet in the H20 and BREATHE. Deeply.

7. Go somewhere you really want to go

Not somewhere along the way. I was planning on going to Budva, Montenegro. The long route would take me through a few cities of interest along the way. So, I had to make some decisions. Head to Sophia, Bulgaria? Stop in Belgrade, Serbia for a few nights? Finally, I let my heart win this one instead of my mind, which was saying “heya, Buddy, go to all three cities because you can!” I was craving the sun and the Adriatic. I knew deep down that the sea would help me feel better. So, instead of doing the stops for a few nights in these cities, I plowed through them, getting me to my ultimate goal — Budva.

8. Get out of your shell

When I arrived to Montenegro, I was exhausted. But, there was the Adriatic. The sea I had spoken of for almost a year to anyone who would listen. Just knowing it was there made me smile. And, put me in a better mood. The first day of being in Budva, I sat outside, under grape vines, and was social. I met a group of other solo travelers and we instantly formed a bond.

9. Remember what it is like to Adventure

When I was with these new friends, we planned a day trip together to the gorgeous little sea town of Sveti Stefan. Well, one guy planned it. The rest of us nodded our heads in agreement and walked down to the bus stop with him. It was so warming to be with other people again, to go somewhere. Then, the next day, myself and one of the guys from the group took our adventuring even further and got on another bus and headed to the stunning town of Kotor. It was not planned. It was fun. It brought a smile to my face. It had been a long time since I had done day trips instead of moving, moving, moving.

10. Find some new, non-Travel Fatigue-y friends

After Montenegro, I decided to go to Sarajevo. Another game-time decision. But, it ended up changing the entire rest of my trip … and my life today. When I was in Sarajevo, I met Katie. We spent a few days together in Sarajevo, and then met up with each other a few days later in Mostar. We planned a trip to Croatia together. When I was in Mostar, I met Dave. Together, the three of us embarked on a week-plus adventure, spending time in Brela, Split and our island paradise of Solta together. The two of them were blissfully happy in their adventures. They woke up every day and embraced their trip, and in turn, made me embrace mine. [Katie came to visit me in Las Vegas in June, and I am visiting her in September in Thailand … see … meet friends!!]

Have you experienced Travel Fatigue? Where were you? How did you overcome its grasp?

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Escape of the Week: Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

It has been just about one year since Abby and I bounced around Istanbul and Bulgaria together. Poor Abby saw the worst of me during this time — I was in the full clutches of Travel Fatigue, mixed with being sick.

We didn’t really have any set plans other than meeting in Istanbul. From there, we tried to do Eastern Euro Exotic. After doing a search for top Black Sea beaches, I came across Sunny Beach. If you’ve been to Sunny Beach … well … it is a beach. Whether it deserves the title of “best Black Sea beach” is another story (read my Sunny Beach experience).

It’s fun. It’s rowdy. It has an international flavor (I am pretty sure we heard more Scandinavian and Russian than Bulgarian). From the resorts lining the sandy beaches, to the all-night parties, to the boardwalk complete with little trinket shops, Sunny Beach is the ultimate let loose vacation spot in Bulgaria.

It may not have been my match, but it was certainly gorgeous. Especially when the sun started to sink in the green rolling hills.

Here, a parasailer catches the sunset from a different perspective: above the Black Sea



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Some place with a view

I sat in the back of Brock’s SUV, looking out into the nighttime desert landscape … flat and black, giving way to the Strip a few miles ahead of us.

It had been an emotional six days in Las Vegas. I had arrived days earlier and spent my first night with Kyla, showing her photos of my trip and drinking copious amounts of wine before we finally decided to call it a night.

In between then and that moment in the desert, I had gone through a multitude of emotions.

Why am I loving this town so much?

There’s a funny thing that happens to you when you decide to take your life, turn it upside down and then attempt to turn it rightside up.

You grow. You change. You are no longer the same person you were.

I found myself back in the town I had come to adore. And hate. And then love to hate. And then … love?

I had become mesmerized by the city.

It looks different after finding yourself.

My third night in town was my birthday. I had assembled my normal crew of amazing people for my birthday celebration at the old haunt, The Tuscany Casino.

Through my years in Las Vegas, the center bar at Tuscany had been my lifeline. Friends, lovers … they all had been initiated at Tuscany. It was our spot for “emergency drinks” which happened to be three nights a week back in the day. I was on a first name basis with the bartenders. When my favorite bartender had his baby, I dropped off a present for the baby. When a bartender we knew had passed away, I cried. It was my spot.

And, on my birthday, so many of the people I loved were there. My old family.

My comfort.

The next night, Kyla I went out to see my Bulgarian Travel Buddy, Abby, at a party at Gold Lounge inside of Aria at City Center. Abby had just returned from living the ex-pat life in Costa Rica to the pulsing Las Vegas as an editor of a magazine.

Seeing her was amazing. Refreshing. And then, beyond the ropes was my old co-worker and friend, Aimee, and her husband (also my friend), Ben. And then, another old friend from my previous days in Las Vegas, Jason.

I miss this life.

And then, after that, the five of us journeyed to Town Square to grab drinks and catch-up.

“Aimee,” I said to my friend as we sipped our IPA, “I think I may want to move back.”

Admitting it is half the battle.

“D,” she began, frowning, “You were miserable when you were here. I  am so afraid if you come back you will be the same way.”

I knew where she was coming from. I LIVED my misery. But, I also lived my misery in Atlanta, and coming into my own in Europe.

“This is what I want … I think.”

It wasn’t until two nights later, in the middle of the desert, with Brock, that it really hit home.

I love my friends, never misunderstand that. But, when you are traveling you lose touch. You know when you get home, the friendship will pick-up where it left off. However, there are a few people who I actually grew closer with when I was traveling.

Brock was one of them. He became an important person in the last month of my travels.

When I felt like my world was falling apart, when all I wanted to do was come home, when I needed anything, he was  there. We would talk on IM and he would help chase my sad away.

Seeing him was important to me. I wanted to tell him how much he helped me smile when all I wanted to do was cry in Bosnia, in Croatia. When I was dealing with my grandmother’s sickness, and ultimately her death, he was there … a simple click away, saying what I needed to hear.

And, there we were, six weeks later … and I didn’t so much as whisper it to him.

Everything changes when you come home.

The two of us sat, side by side, in the back of his car, looking out into the desert while he strummed his guitar.

We sat there for hours while he played some of his original tunes. Note: Brock is a super talented singer, lyricist and guitar player.

Then, he played a song that hit home. About changing your life. About taking a chance. About going “some place with a view.”

He sat on the bumper, singing that song, and I looked out as the haunting chorus began. Above, at the twinkling stars. In front of me at South Point’s flashing marquee, at the lightning blinking in the distance, at the spotlight of Luxor extending towards the sky.

Thoughts of my trip came flooding back to me … learning Irish locks were tricky on St. Patrick’s Day Eve, teaching English in Spain, not taking it off in Budapest, stumbling onto the massive funeral in Krakow, experiencing Auschwitz, trekking for gorillas in Rwanda, falling in lust in Granada, wandering through Marrakesh, being a spectator at the F1 race in Valencia, Spain, taking it off in Barcelona, falling off a cliff in Turkey, Abby and I joining forces in Eastern Europe, Katie and David in Bosnia, touching my fingers into the water in the Adriatic, sitting by boats in Trogir and crying when I lost my grandmother, coming home.

I sat there, listening to his lyrics and matching them to the vast memories I had tucked away.

My eyes began to well up as I went back and forth between my past and my present. Between knowing what I wanted and having no clue. I sat there, bundled in a jacket, avoiding looking at him because I thought one look would give too much access to my soul.

And then, as he picked the last chords on the guitar, I realized something.

Las Vegas is my home.

“What do you think?” Brock asked, turning to me.

I wanted to turn to face him. To bury my head in his shoulder and cry. I was suddenly overcome with emotions, with feelings I hadn’t expect to have on that chilly October night in the middle of the Las Vegas desert.

You just made my mind open up. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t want it. Oh, you lovely little mind f#$%.

“It … I … I listened to that song and I really related to it,” I said, trying to sound like I at least kind of had my shit together.


I kicked my foot around as it dangled off of the bumper. Uneasy. Unsure of what else I could say without completely losing it and having mascara drip down my cheeks.

I didn’t want to look at him. There was too much of everything pulsing through me at that moment to make sense.

We sat awhile longer as he played me some more music, but by then I had already come to my conclusion:

I am HOME.

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Hanging in VK

Veliko Tarnovo is an easy place to get sucked in. Well, more specifically, Nomads Hostel IN VK is an easy place to get sucked in.

It’s a lovely hostel. The owners are amazing. The travelers who stay there are nice.

I ended up staying in the little town for five days.

The first full day, Abby and I went to the fortress and walked around for about an hour. Of course, it was ridiculously hot, so after that we decided we would eat. And drink.

“It’s our last meal,” I said, feeling suddenly very lonely and sad Abby was leaving to catch her flight in Istanbul in only a few hours.

Over a lunch of “diet pizza” and rakia, we sat and talked about the future.

I didn’t want Abby to leave. I was just starting to feel better. Now, I wanted to go out. But, it was too late.

As we sat at the train stop a in the early evening, I was sad. I had felt like such crap during Abby’s trip that I didn’t get to enjoy the company as much as I would have liked.

When she got on the two-car overnight train to Istanbul, we said our “see you soons” and then she was off.

For four more days, I stayed at the hostel, venturing out daily to explore, take photos and breathe in the fresh (and hot) mountain air.

The afternoon’s at the hostel included snacks of organic, home-grown sprouts, rose flavored water, homemade rakia and stories of life in the town.

I knew I had to leave and weighed my options. Belgrade? Pristina? I didn’t know.

Soon, I grew antsy and finally made an impulsive decision.

I wanted to go back to the Adriatic.

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Leaving the Black Sea

After nearly 10 days seaside, Abby and I boarded a bus to Bulgaria’s interior — the can’t-miss-town of Veliko Tarnovo. It’s not big. It’s not glitzy. But, it is breathtaking.

Little stone homes line old cobblestone streets. Stairs climb up the hillside, leading people to the main street packed with stores and delicious (and inexpensive) Bulgarian restaurants.

Abby and I arrived in the afternoon to VK and were immediately captivated.

“I wish I didn’t have to go back to Istanbul tomorrow,” she sighed as we arrived to the city. I didn’t want her to go, either.

We were picked up by the owner of Nomads Hostel, Georgi, and he drove us the quick distance to our hostel, a gorgeous and quaint home on the Gurko, a historic street, and overlooking the gorge which splits the city.

It was serene.

We entered the hostel and dropped our bags in our dorm room. With air-con.

It was a unique hostel — not only did our dorm have a bathroom en-suite, it also had bunk beds stacked three high. Different. And cool.

As we walked through the hostel, we learned it was one of Bularia’s green hostels.

From there, we made plans for the evening — a cultural experience …

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Hot hot hostels

“Hello, girls, hello,” Dave, the owner of Flag Varna Hostel said, ushering us into the property.

“Hi,” Abby and I chimed in unison. We were happy to have arrived to Varna.

Immediately, I liked the city.

It was a real city, not a town sprung up around an 8 km stretch of beach with the sole purpose to provide a debacherous holiday.

The hostel?

Not so much.

We climbed four flights of stairs to get to Flag and were greeted with a blast of heat, causing the sweat to drip even more ferociously down my face, my back, my legs, my neck.

“Girls, I am getting inspected today, quickly, leave your bags and go to the beach.”

We dropped our bags and grabbed our laptops.

“Quickly, girls. Quickly. Yes. Please. Quickly.”

We rushed.

“OK,” Dave said, shoving a map in Abby’s hands. “Here is the beach. Walk that way and you will get there. The others are at the beach. Come back at 5 and I will check you in. OK. Now, girls, quickly.”

We smiled, slightly charmed at his anxiety and exited towards the beach.

We had no suits, so instead we landed at Happy, a restaurant near the water with free wifi, and ate sushi, drank some beer and took in the scenery.

Unlike Sunny Beach, Varna had nice shops and restaurants lining the main drag.

Normal people glided by.

Gone were the flyer-pushers (most of them).

Gone was the circus.

Varna greeted us with calm streets, sunny skies and blue water.

After we had our fill of internet (trust, it can be done), we headed towards the shops and then back to Flag.

When we were back inside, I finally got my first good glimpse of the hostel.

And of Dave.

On the door into the hostel, there were two clear signs displayed.

“No guns.”

“No prostitutes.”


We got inside.

“Hello, girls, hello,” Dave said, opening the door and ushering us in.

I looked at him.

He was a character — an ex-Pat from the UK.

Blonde hair dyed blonder from the sun set against a red face. He wore a plaid button down shirt, not buttoned, exposing his sunburned belly, and red and white flowered shorts. On his feet, socks with holes in the heels and sandals.

“Girls,” he began. “I am overbooked. I am putting you in an apartment down the street. You can come here for wireless, breakfast and to hang out.”

I looked around. Where, exactly, would we hang out? The common room was merely a kitchen area with one circular table and a few chairs. There was a fan, which was nice.

Dave poured Abby and I each a beer, having two for himself, and conversed with us, asking us where we were from, what we did, and then made fun of us (in a playful way) for being American girls. He dubbed us the “Spice Girls.”

A few minutes later, he led us to the apartment, about five minutes from the hostel.

An apartment.

Thoughts of relaxation and privacy sprung to my mind.

We were getting a deal.

Then, we entered.

“OK, girls,” Dave directed. “This way.”

I looked up. Stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. Suddenly, I felt the weight of my backpack. The aching between my shoulders from the paragliding incident a few weeks earlier.

“Is there an elevator?” I asked, hopeful.

“No, this is Bulgaria,” Dave chuckled at my question.

We climbed, and climbed and climbed.

Finally, we arrived to the apartment. In front of us, in the main room, were four mattresses laid across the floor.

“This way,” he directed.

Huffing and puffing (at least I was), we entered in, stepping over the mattresses and sleep sofa to a ladder.

“Up here.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

We hauled our bags upstairs and were blasted with heat.

This was not what I imagined.

He left us and I stood there. Sweating.

Oh my god. There is no way I can ever sleep in here.

The heat was stifling.

The windows Dave swore created a nice breeze was really only one window. Downstairs.

Up in the loft, there were three tiny little windows, capable of producing no sort of cooling.

This isn’t going to work.

“We’ll just have to drink so we can sleep tonight,” Abby suggested. A fine idea.

Only, I had started to feel sick again.

My mind crept back to my final days with Chris. He had, as he described it, “felt crook.” And now, I too felt “crook.” My throat felt thick, my head heavy.

Shit. Sick. Again.

At 7, we went back to Flag to meet the group for dinner at a restaurant.

We weaved through the old roads, passing Roman ruins and ending up at a very traditional Bulgarian restaurant where they served one of our table’s meals first, and then the others.

I had one beer.

By my second beer, Sick was back, taking over. I passed my remaining beer (alcohol kills Sick germs, right?) and food to the hungry English guys who were watching their budget, like a good momma hen.

After dinner, our group went to the beach and a game of “I Never” broke out.

Well, at least with the boys. As soon as  they turned it into a game of sexual conquests, the girls fell quiet.

Finally, the people in our apartment — the English guys, the Czech girl, Abby and I, decided to end the night and walked back to our place.

It was hot.

Gross hot.

Abby had to run a cold shower to cool off.

Me? I felt like crap so I closed my eyes quickly.

The next day, we were up early.

“I can’t stay here more,” I announced.

We went to another Happy location where I found a hostel nearby and then went there to talk to them. Yo-Ho Hostel. No air-con. But, up less flights of stairs. And, a hostel. With big windows to circulate air. Not an apartment.

We reserved a dorm, went to break Dave the bad news that our last night in the inferno apartment would be tonight, and headed to the beach.

For three days, Abby and I had a routine. Work in the morning, head to the beach and read, rest, dinner. She was a trooper, powering through my feeling like crap the entire time we were together. I felt awful, but unlike the other times I was sick during my travels, I moved. I sunned. I tried my best to feel OK.

It didn’t always work and unfortunately Abby didn’t get to have a Healthy D on the majority of her trip.

Until we headed to our next stop, Veliko Tarnovo, a quiet and beautiful mountain town in Bulgaria.

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