serendipity: finding something good without looking for it.
i started planning my february trip back in january, which is my usual ants in the pants practice. i am so enthralled with seeing and doing new things that it takes me only minutes to already be planning my next adventure. something i am often asked is if i use a travel agency or something similar to plan all of my trips. i do not, and i can tell you, it takes a lot of work and research to figure out how to get from a to b, from z without a stop in q all while landing at a reasonable hour. however, on the rare occasion, sometimes things just fall into place. my next escapade will play out in two parts, for two very special reasons.
the first part of my trip took me to sofia, bulgaria on lufthansa via munich. i have to say that my absolute favorite airline to fly is lufthansa. the planes are new, the staff is great and i can literally fly one stop from boston to just about anywhere in the world through munich and frankfurt. sehr gut!
sofia is such a fantastic city, i’m not sure why i didn’t visit sooner. i landed in the late afternoon, and in february, that means there isn’t much sunlight left in the day. but because i am a planning extraordinaire, my hotel was in such a great location that i was able to go out to see a few sights before i went to bed. travel restlessness at its finest. i walked around the alexander nevsky cathedral in awe, and also noticed i was literally alone. one of the benefits of travelling in the off-season 😊 i was able to walk around the cathedral and get pictures from every angle, fully engrossed in the glow of the lights surrounding it. it really was beautiful, even at night.
daylight offered a bit more color and i spent my day getting completely lost. sofia has well over a million inhabitants and i think i walked past a least half of them over my 8 hour walk the next day. it’s funny because whenever i talk to my travel friends they always ask “oh did you see this? or this?” and usually i say no, because for me, getting lost in a city and coming up on something unexpected or picture-worthy is part of the fun in travelling. plans and tours aren’t my thing, and i always prefer quiet alleyways, streets, forgotten statues, and people on-the-go to crowds of tourists fighting for prime selfie space. that being said, sofia has it all. world famous sights, beautiful cathedrals, quiet cobblestone alleys, and bridges adorned with giant lions. super cool if you ask me. our bridges suck in america, time to step it up.
a short flight later i was in serbia, home to the nikola tesla airport (fun fact, he’s from the area and not just the name of a car). belgrade reminded me of being in a gritty big city that hides its true gems in little alleyways and side streets. a city just waiting to be discovered. even in the cold winter rain it was really fun getting lost and seeing the streets come to life as the day went on. one highlight was seeing the national assembly lit up at night. it was really gorgeous and seemed to glow against the night sky. named the white city, some of the most beautiful things to see are belgrade’s white churches (church of saint sava was massive, and a must-see) mixed in with soviet-era apartment blocks. they also have other colors in belgrade too, incase you were wondering. check out st. mark’s church, kalemegdan fortress, belgrade fortress, and gardoš tower.
after belgrade i stayed the night in vienna fully expecting to be on the 5am train i already paid for to bratislava, but when you drink a giant stiegl before bed and are jet lagged, the chances of doing anything other than oversleeping are about 10,000 to 1. needless to say, i never made it to slovakia and now it’s going to be a total pain in the ass to figure out how to get there since i have been to every other country in that area. well done, cori, well done. but as time always does, it marches on and i was off to dortmund to see some friends and go to my first ever european soccer game.
i must confess that i am a liverpool fan and have been for quite some time, but seeing a game live, no matter the team, was really amazing. the energy of the fans and the buzz around the stadium was almost as intoxicating as the beer being served. fun fact, you can drink at soccer games in germany. also on the trains. and while walking on the sidewalks. and in cars. forget everyone wanting to move to europe for free healthcare and college, that is my idea of heaven. prost!
as i have mentioned before, i have spent a good amount of time in germany over the years but a few german must-dos have eluded me, one of which was going to carnival in cologne. as chance would have it, when i was traveling in february, dates and flights just happened to work out and i was going to be in the cologne area during carnival. everything happens for a reason, right?
there was a lot of drinking, and even more costume wearing, but the best part of the evening was continually defending the patriots honor after losing in the super bowl to the eagles only a few days prior to carnival. while that may not seem like a big deal because how would anyone even know i was a patriots fan, you may ask? well…… before i left for europe, i agreed to dress as tom brady while my other two friends were going to dress as rob gronkowski and danny amendola (i should mention i pack light and of course that was the only costume i had with me). initially i figured no one would even know about the loss, i mean, i was going to be in germany and they are soccer-crazed maniacs, right? wrong. i stepped one foot out of the taxi at the bar we were going to and was immediately heckled by two guys. “hey!! tom brady, you suck” was the first comment i heard, followed by “nice job losing to the eagles” in thick german accents. all i could think was that if someone even breathed the word deflategate i was going to start a fight and probably get deported.
inside the bar i was relatively safe from haters and even met a guy dressed as joe flacco. however, the same cannot be said for carnival gronkowski. amendola and i left earlier than the others (and by earlier i mean 3am, germans know how to drink, in case you didn’t know) and heard this story the next morning over breakfast: apparently gronkowski was waiting with some other friends for their taxi when two girls approached them and casually asked “didn’t the patriots lose the superbowl?” this obviously didn’t sit well with gronk who went into a tirade about how these girls knew nothing and did not even understand how the world works. and if that wasn’t clear enough they also were told to keep their opinions to themselves (in a polite, non-mean drunken way, of course…). even in germany you must defend your team, goes with the territory. i do feel sorry for browns fans after this, how do they even function in society??
with carnival done and dusted, i was back in dortmund for the night and my two friends and i were off to eat our weight in schnitzel for dinner. one entertaining part of having foreign friends is that we had a whole discussion about what “the slimy things with houses on their backs” were called in english (snails). i love germans, they have a word and a very spot-on detailed description for everything. no wonder it’s said there is not enough time in this life to actually learn german… after the snail discussion, we were informed we had an invite to a neighbor’s apartment for wine and vodka. i was flying off to budapest early in the morning and had spent all morning swearing off alcohol for the rest of my life, while the others had to work, so we were not totally enthusiastic, but for some reason we all ended up going, you know, for a quick drink (wink wink).
as i walked into the apartment, not knowing any of its inhabitants, i was greeted with a giant hug, a glass of wine, a shot of vodka, followed by introductions. priorities i can get behind. one was the sweetest, most energic ball of energy, another a guy in a onsie about ready for bed, and finally a german friend named tim who just arrived from norway that day. an interesting group to say the least. we spent the next few hours talking about american politics, drinking wine, telling travel stories and laughing nonstop. the rumors are false, by the way, germans do have a sense of humor and are quite funny. who knew?? and after just a few hours i knew tim and i would be forever friends. we were laughing at how similar our travel lists were (he was off to nepal next month, one of my top 5. i was insanely jealous and practically invited myself along), he listened to me talk about american life and we found out we had everything in common from our favorite wine to having small blue notebooks we write everything down in. after he told me his grandfather once told him being half drunk was a total waste of money i knew we were destined to meet that day and undoubtedly would see eachother again.
as i boarded my flight to budapest the next morning, i had one more thing on my mind, and it wasn’t how much hungarian goulash i was going to consume over the next 24 hours. funny thing this serendipity.
keep reading, keep checking in… i promise it gets better.
NEXT UP: georgia on my mind, among other things.