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July 14, 2002

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Mom and Dad experienced the rough side of traveling. After border guards kept us awake through a slow midnight crossing, we arrived in Sofia at 3 am. From here we argued with a cabbie over fares and managed to find our way to the dark alley of a youth hostel. We couldn't find anyone at the reception, but since the door was unlocked, we wandered inside past snoring backpackers to a few open beds. I slept on the floor. At daybreak we left the hostel and checked our bags at the train station. Along the way my father had his 'decoy' wallet lifted, this time by a young lady wearing a backpack. Since the wallet was only a decoy, he was happy to have a young woman's attention, if only for a moment. Since pickpockets seem to outnumber tourists, we watch every person who comes within ten feet while we walk Sofia's streets.
It's a far cry from the Four Seasons Hotel: Mom and a strange neighbor at the youth hostel.
A crowded corner serves as my bed.
Rather than let the pickpockets take all of our money in Sofia, we hire a cab driver to take us 120 km south, to Bulgaria's best site: the Rila Monastery. Intricate frescoes, candy-striped walls, fortified rooms, the Rila monastery preserved Bulgarian culture during the Turkish occupation
The Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Sofia's largest church, built to commemorate Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence won from the Turks in 1879.