I had got back from South America on the first of February, and had spent a relaxing six weeks seeing out the winter at my parent's house, the first time I'd been at home for that long for about ten years. While I'd been away, I'd spoken to John about possibly going to Turkey in March to see a solar eclipse, and after I was back we decided to go for it. John got flights to Istanbul, but I found some cheaper flights to Sofia, and decided I'd fly there, explore Bulgaria a bit, and then travel overland to Turkey. So I dragged myself out of retirement in County Durham and headed back south. I moved into a new house in Tottenham, and after a couple of days settling in there, it was time to hit the road.
I arrived in Bulgaria on a warm afternoon, and it was good to be back in the world of Cyrillic script, almost four years after my travels through Russia. I found a place to stay and then went out exploring. As night fell I walked along the cracked and crumbling pavements, barely lit by the dim streetlights. Bulgaria was a matter of months away from joining the EU, but it was clearly a poor country by European standards.
The next day I bought a ticket for the night train to Istanbul, and then explored more of Sofia. I walked down the city's main street, Vitosha, to Yuzhen Park which contained a huge and crumbling monument, apparently commemorating 1300 years since the founding of Bulgaria. I walked on south, past an open air DIY market and the National Palace of Culture, eventually stopping exploring when I found myself amid motorway flyovers and grim-looking suburbs.