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Our Welcome to Bulgaria

The lost luggage agent handed us a form…….. we kept looking back at the carousel as if our bags would somehow show up after everyone had already left the area. They didn’t.

Minneapolis

I don’t recall exactly how long the flight was from Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. I only know that it would prove to be the easiest part of the next couple of days. Our welcome to Bulgaria was anything but easy.

Lisa and I arrived at the airport two hours early, as we were instructed to do by the all-knowing internet, only to discover that our flight had been delayed for, “a short time.”

Three hours after our scheduled departure time the realization came upon us that we would now have no chance of making our connecting flight from Paris to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we had planned to spend the next two weeks on vacation. The person at the ticketing gate, however, was very reassuring as she booked us on the next connecting flight from Paris on a competitor airline. 

An hour and a half later we were in the air. Done. Nothing to worry about. Easy.

Paris

Charles De Gaulle Airport is massive. Luckily for us, all we had to do was take a bus to another terminal and check in for our next flight. We tried that. It didn’t work.

At the check-in counter we were informed that the flight we were scheduled to take to Sofia was not only the last one to that destination today, but it had been overbooked by someone in Minneapolis, and that we had been bumped off the flight. Insert explicative.

I was grateful that the airline employees spoke such excellent English. I wouldn’t have lasted the entire hour of negotiations with them had they not. A team of about 8 people behind the desk were trying to figure out what to do with us. Finally, after several rounds of what seemed like frantic exchanges between them, they had come up with a plan.

The person behind the counter handed us two tickets, printed on 8×10 sheets of paper, for a flight that was already boarding. We would have to HURRY to make it! It was headed to Vienna, Austria. We asked no questions and ran for the gate.

Security turned us back seeing as we didn’t have a boarding pass, only a copy of a ticket printed on a plain piece of paper. We ran back to the ticketing agent.

Now, I don’t know how the hierarchy of foreign airport employees is set up to function. I now have a good understanding, however, that nobody should make the ticketing agent manager angry. The manager saw us returning to the desk after being turned away and she came running toward us, told us to follow her as she ran up the stairs skipping every other step, and confronted the security agent that we had just spoken to. The French language, it is said, is a romantic language. Not this time. After about three very loud sentences of which I understood not one word, we were silently escorted through security and to our waiting airplane.

Vienna

winged go-cart

We hadn’t planned on stopping in Vienna, Austria, but here we were. The more relaxed atmosphere in the airport should have been comforting to us. We, however, have now been traveling for the better part of a day and we are exhausted.

We were directed to the tarmac to climb the stairs onto a 50-some passenger go-cart with wings and a pair of propellers.

But next stop is Sofia, our destination. It will be late at night, but we will be there before the sun comes up.

One Night in Sofia

The lost luggage agent handed us a form written in Bulgarian and rather broken English. As we tried our best to fill it out, we kept looking back at the carousel as if our bags would somehow show up after everyone had already left the area. They didn’t.

We knew the name of the hotel we were supposed to stay in that night but only had a partial address. It was not comforting to hear that they would try their best to locate us when our bags did arrive in an estimated two days. In our carry-on luggage we each had a pair of socks, a pair of underwear, and our hotel reservation receipt.

The receipt stated, in no uncertain terms, that check-in for a room ends at 8pm. It was 10:30 at night. I called the phone number listed to explain our dilemma which fell on Bulgarian-speaking-only ears. Which was fine, I don’t know their language either, but there was no use in trying to sort out the language barrier. He hung up on me after the third time I tried to tell him we were on our way.

Getting a rental car was no real trouble except that our reservation and insurance information was in our luggage. We later found out that one of our bags was still in Paris and the other was in Vienna. Before we could get the keys for the car, we had to buy an additional $400 insurance policy on top of the $500 that we had already spent online weeks earlier.

Nothing could shock us anymore on this day. Surely our technology won’t fail us. Unless of course, our cell phone provider back home hadn’t upgraded our coverage for international travel like we paid them to do. No luck. We have no internet connection which I was relying on to help us find our hotel somewhere in the mountains outside of town. Luckily, I had downloaded an offline map of the city prior to leaving home. This meant stopping every several blocks to determine our location and hopefully, pick the correct next turns to get us to our destination. After an hour and a half, most of which on cobblestone, mountain roads, we pulled into what amounted to the parking area of our hotel. It was now 12am local time.

The hotel had been a ski resort in its prime years. The Soviet occupation of a good part of the last century, and many years of financial struggles, had rendered it in need of mcuh repair. It was very charming, though; a cute little chateau in the woods, but we were desperate to get some sleep and didn’t care much about where that happened.

We were greeted by several, fairly intoxicated, people on the front patio of the hotel. One of which, I’m sure, was the gentleman who had hung up the phone on me. One spoke a small amount of English. The four others didn’t speak a word of it. I should have expected this when planning the trip and wished that I had spent some time learning the basics of the Bulgarian language. I hadn’t. I think we were informed that, because we had missed our check-in time, our reservation had been cancelled. The one we had paid for months ago in the planning stage of the trip. Luckily, they had a room available. It seemed that one of their guests hadn’t showed up earlier that day. Duh!

We paid for our room, again, in cash, because of course, the credit card machine wouldn’t work, and we passed out in our beds knowing that the next day would be amazing seeing as everything that could go wrong already has.

The Next Day

Everything had already gone wrong so far. We felt empowered. Wearing the same clothes that we had spent the past 33 hours wearing, we headed down the mountain and into town. Might as well get started enjoying our vacation while we wait for our clothes to catch up with us.

Sofia is a beautiful city! We stopped to visit the cathedral in the middle of town. It was our only stop that day other than going to the cell phone store to fix our internet problem. We cowered back to the mountain hotel immediately after paying a law enforcement officer the parking fine. He removed the “boot” that had been placed on our car’s front wheel for parking in an apparent no parking zone.  We had forgotten that not “everything,” had gone wrong the day before.

We spent the day back on the front porch of the hotel lamenting our traveling decisions.

Day Two

Well, never having been a couple that sits around for very long, we decided to head to a town called Plovdiv the next day. It’s now been some 60, or so, hours since we had changed clothes. Plovdiv was truly a wonderful city! I truly recommend seeing it. I’ll tell you more about it next time. It deserves its own story.

When we got back to our hotel that evening our bags had arrived from their own little European vacations. They were beaten up, scratched and dented, but they were here.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

We showered, changed clothes (!), slept, and left town for the Black Sea coast the next day.

Finally, On Vacation

Our troubles finally behind us on this trip, the next couple of weeks were awesome! Bulgaria is an amazing place. I can’t wait to share our stories about the place with you along with some of our other travels. Please stop back soon to read all about it.

In the meantime, leave us your travel trouble stories on our Stories page. We’d love to read that we were not the only ones!

Our First Encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail

The SHT is a beautiful trail! We had trouble realizing that as we complained about having too much weight to carry in the form of camping gear and dog food.

Lisa and I had been searching for something to do together for quite some time. We both have interests of our own, but rarely do they cross paths. I’ve enjoyed more physical sports as my pastimes; things like skiing, hockey, rock climbing, and the like. She is more of a yoga, meditation, exercise type of person. Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail would start to change that fact.

Last spring, we were on a weekend road trip to see a friend in northern Wisconsin. On our way home, we took a different route than normal and drove past a sign pointing to a Superior Hiking Trail parking area.

“We should try hiking a part of that.” I said.

“Walking. Yeah, we’re probably skilled enough to do that.” She answered.

We set a weekend aside in June of 2019 with the intention of covering approximately 10 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) over two days. The SHT is a wonderful trail that primarily follows the north shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

Little did we know what we had started!

Setting the Stage

Now, I’ve hiked and climbed mountains in the past. Lisa, along with her daughters, has hiked 220 miles of El Camino De Santiago in Spain. The last time that either of us has been backpacking with 50 pounds on our backs, however, was about 20 years ago. We forgot about that part.

Not only did we expect to cover a lot of ground in two days, but we thought that bringing our two dogs along would be fun as well. One is a ten-year-old boxer who spends most of his days curled up on the couch under a blanket. The other is an over-weight beagle mix with very little tolerance for other dogs.

See where this is headed?

We parked our car, unloaded a massive amount of camping gear, leashed the dogs, and caught the Superior Hiking Shuttle (superiorhikingshuttle.com) which took us to the trailhead where we were to begin our journey. Five minutes later we were hiking… sort of.

On-the-Trail Education

Within minutes we had discovered several things: we’ve brought too much stuff, we should have started with an easier section, we should not have brought the dogs, it’s really hot out, we should have not decided to use this as an opportunity to quit smoking cigarettes, basically we had no idea what we were doing.

This hiking thing seemed doomed to fail before the first hour had passed.

The SHT is a beautiful trail! We had trouble realizing that as we complained about having too much weight to carry in the form of camping gear and dog food.

Our boxer was well behaved but felt the need to stop and relieve his bladder on nearly every single tree and plant that he could reach on his leash. The beagle pulled as hard as he could without hurting himself until we started meeting other dogs on the trail, at which times he would bark and lunge at them in full-on attack mode. He never got a hold of another dog but holding him back was a challenge.

After about 3 miles our feet and shoulders were aching, and we needed to stop and rest. I placed a bowl of water out for the dogs. The beagle collapsed, exhausted, into the bowl.

We were not going to make it to the 6-mile point where the nearest camping spot was located.

After a long rest, we reluctantly got back to moving along the trail. We were no longer hiking, we were simply staggering forward, attempting to reach the next trailhead which happened to be near the main road, where we could make some, much needed, decisions.

Another mile and a half and we found ourselves on the bank of the Temperance River. I lead the dogs out into the water to cool off. Another 1/3 of a mile and we made it to the road. Our weekend adventure was over after 6 hours.

I was lucky enough to stumble across somebody who, after hearing of our plight, offered to give me a ride back to my car. I happily accepted, got the car, went back to pick up Lisa and what remained of the dogs, and we headed home.

It turned out to be something other than the amazing success story we had assumed it was going to be.

Reassess and Set Our Goal

So, there’s the backstory. It’s not exactly our proudest moment. Both of us were humbled by the events of that day. The dogs are no worse for the wear and we’ve learned since to be better caretakers for them.

Despite the difficulties of that day, we had found something truly wonderful. A simple trail, just a couple hours’ drive from us, where we could go to unwind from the tensions of the real world, where we could spend quality time together, where we could physically and mentally test ourselves, and where we could learn together.

First, we decided that we would eventually hike the entire distance of the Trail. Not all at once, not even more that a tiny bit at a time. We are not as young as we once were. We needed a plan. We needed a very forgiving, easy plan. I purchased a set of trail maps from the Superior Hiking Trail Association and spent quite a bit of time soaking up information from their website, superiorhiking.org.

Second, we determined how much time we thought it should take us to complete the Trail. Then doubled our estimate. This is going to take more than several years to accomplish.

Then, we made a plan. The dogs would stay home. One is too old, and the other is not built for long distance walking. We would only hike one section at a time, which ranges from just a couple of miles to several miles. We would not be doing any thru hiking which eliminates the need to carry heavy food and camping gear. We would start slowly on easy sections, work our way up to the harder ones, and we would get started immediately. One trip a month sounded good to us.

Baby Steps on the Superior Hiking Trail

Immediately didn’t happen. Life gets in the way sometimes. The next time we got to the Trail was three months later. We left our home in the Twin Cities at 4 am. Caught the shuttle 4 hours later and were ready to hike a 5-mile section minutes later.

It was wonderful! The weather was rainy and chilly and generally lousy. Lisa and I spent the next few hours hiking, talking about the fun things in life, singing ‘80s tunes together, and falling in love with each other all over again.

Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail brought us past this beaver lodge
Beaver pond on the SHT

This time was much easier than the last time and will forever serve as the day we solidified our determination to hike every inch of every mile of this amazing north woods wonder.

We drove home that afternoon, tired and sore, but smiling all the way!

We were simply learning to walk in the woods. Together.

Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail was followed by this sight on a trip in September
September leaves on the SHT

Learning to Hike the Superior Hiking Trail

Autumn was in full swing, with a foreshadowing of winter, a few weeks later when we set out to tackle another section. About an inch of snow greeted us as we departed the shuttle at the trailhead once again. The leaves that hadn’t fallen yet were a brilliant shade of gold and the cloud-muffled sunshine filtered through to create a warm feeling despite the cold air.

After having completed two sections of the trail in the previous 3 months, for a total of less than 10 miles, we weren’t exactly experts yet. But we were learning. Our packs had become significantly lighter. By now we had purchased proper footwear and were just starting to learn to pace ourselves. About a mile and a half an hour was turning out to be the average that we could rely on.  

Lisa had made sandwiches for us to enjoy halfway through this day’s hike, which we treated ourselves to on the crest of an exposed rock outcropping. Wind and sleet soon compelled us to move along. She didn’t know at the time that the sandwich ritual would become a thing.

Again, we drove home smiling.

First snow of the season on the SHT
Gold leaves in October on the SHT

Stay Tuned

That’s the story of how Lisa and I began our journey on the SHT. We’ve taken two more trips there between then and now. We’ve had two more trail sandwiches each. It is now early December and we have one more trip scheduled before the end of the year.

More to come….

In the meantime, please share your trail stories with us on our Stories page. We’d love to read about your experiences on this, or any other trail!

Late October snow on the SHT