Thursday, February 08, 2018

World tour: Bulgaria & Hungary

After Jerusalem, our next stop was Sofia, Bulgaria.  I had been looking forward to this stop because it would be my first extended visit to the Eastern Bloc since serving as a missionary in the former East Germany.  After all the warm temperatures around the Mediterranean, we were also excited for some cold weather.  Bulgaria did not disappoint.  The mountains around the city were beautiful and covered in snow.  Sofia has some huge, forested city parks which were great for walking on cold days.  Despite the cold, Haven insisted on doing laundry in shorts and bare feet:

And of course, the cold didn't prevent our customary visits to every nearby playground:

I loved it in Bulgaria.  The scenery was beautiful, the people were helpful when asked but mostly kept to themselves, everything cost half of what it does in America.  It was also fun to practice the Cyrillic alphabet.  There were no tourists anywhere and the whole country had a quiet, modest and unassuming feel.  I would definitely go back.

Oh, we also did our first escape room as a family.  Copyright laws don't seem to be enforced much in this part of the world, so ours had an Indiana Jones theme.  Honestly, it was more entertaining than the last film approved by Lucasfilm.  Fan fiction for the win.

As we left Bulgaria to fly to Hungary, we got held up at passport control.  The passport agent didn't believe that we had five children and insisted that Kinsey was too young to be their mother.  She kept checking Kinsey's birth date against the children's birth dates and asking the children how old they were.  She was friendly about the whole thing, just being cautious about child trafficking I suppose.

I don't have much to say about Budapest.  It was a busy, modern European city.  It had some cool, old buildings and the Danube was pretty.  It also has the best public transit I've ever seen: clean, fast, frequent trains, always on-time.  Budapest also has a really good model train museum: Miniversum.  The Parliament building was also nice:

Some random observations from our trip so far:

First, we've used six different ride-hailing apps in nine different countries.  Uber works in some but not in others.  Each country has its own app for connecting with the local taxi network.  This industry is ripe for consolidation.  Someday, someone will come along, buy up all the little guys, polish up the experience and make lots of money.  TaxiMe in Bulgaria was one of my favorite ride-hailing apps.  They implement surge pricing through a real time auction.  If you request a ride and don't get a cab, you can place a bid higher the standard fare to lure a taxi.  All passengers in the vicinity are bidding against each other to win a taxi's attention.  It was basically a double auction with TaxiMe acting as auctioneer and it was fun.  I found myself wishing the taxis were busy so I could play the "game".

Second, American credit card companies can be overzealous with anti-fraud measures when traveling in the Middle East or Eastern Europe.  We rarely have trouble paying in-person with a chip card, but are almost always refused when paying online.  On several occasions, I've had to route my Internet traffic through one of my US servers to circumvent the anti-fraud measures so that I can complete a transaction.  So their "security" is not very secure, but it does restrict foreign credit card transactions to only the tech-savvy.  Having a small wad of local cash has proven helpful in many instances.  Card companies give better exchange rates, but cash is handy as backup.

Next stop: Morocco


JJ Hendricks said...

Enjoy Morocco. I bet it will be a very different feel from the typical modern city and very different from Eastern least that is my assumption but I'm excited to hear for real with your next update.

Mary Hendricks said...

Interesting comment about the passport control agent. Nice complement to Kinsey looking so young especially with five children!

Thanks for keeping me updated. Your stories are interesting and make me want to travel to the places where you have been. And of course, I always enjoy seeing pictures of the family.