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.
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.
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.
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.
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!