Monday, September 29, 2008

Rest and Relaxation in Georgia

Based on the media coverage that Georgia has recieved in the past few months, most people imagine the country as a heap of smoldering rubble. It is true that Russia has been bullying the small nation around, but luckily the military clashes have been isolated in two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are located in the north of the country. The rest of the nation is unscathed and going about their business as normal. In fact, I have found Tbilisi to be a fairly calm and quiet capital city.

Not only is Tbilisi calm, it is located in an incredibly beautiful setting; mountains surround the city and the Mtkvari River (how is that for a consonant cluster?) runs through the center. There are ancient churches of all kinds (Armenian, Georgian, Zorastrian, Muslim) scattered throughout the city. There is a little bit of a Soviet feel in the outskirts of the city, but the center does not appear to be Soviet at all, but much older. Despite the ubiquitous historical monuments, the city is very cosmopolitan and is Westernizing at a very rapid pace.

I scored big with my couchsurfing arrangment - I have a huge apartment with a balcony overlooking a main street all to myself! My host has moved out but still has the place for the remainder of the month, so until tomorrow morning it is all mine. It has been good to catch up on some sleep after a week of traveling. My night train from Batumi to Tbilisi involved a four year old with access to unlimited Fanta, candy bars and chewing gum. Needless to say, it was not a quiet night and I didn't get much sleep.

I spent the day touring the city and taking pictures of the main landmarks. Unfortunately, I am an unskilled and unenthusiastic photographer with a sub-standard digital camera. Thus, my pictures make Georgia look grey and dull. I assure you that everything I have photographed looked twice as good in person. Now that you are excited to see my pictures, here they are.

Tomorrow I head East on a mini-bus for Gremi Village in the Kakheti region to join the Temi-Community for a month of grape harvesting. The village is fairly remote, so I don't know if I will have any internet access, so there may be an extended lapse in my postings. Hopefully there will be a nearby internet terminal so that I can get at least a weekly information fix and stay in touch.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Unexpected and Unbelievable Turkish Hospitality

Traveling alone has its own set of risks and rewards. There is the ever-present risk that you will be scammed, conned or ripped off. There is also a certain loneliness that you experience on an 18 hour bus ride during which you hear hardly a word you can understand. These conditions can easily lead to isolation, but I learned an important lesson on my bus trip to Trabzon - most people are genuinely nice and helpful. This of course does not mean that I will assume that a random stranger is out to help me along, but it does mean that being overly paranoid will not lead to enjoyable travels. I just have to trust my instincts and go with the flow.

Go with the flow is exactly what I did when I met Celib on the bus. He noticed that I spoke English and no Turkish and tried extremely hard to communicate with me, despite the fact that his English vocabulary consists of about 10 words. It is amazing how much can be communicated with 10 words, lots of hand gestures, and 18 hours on a bus. Near the end of the journey, I realized that he was inviting me to his home outside of Trabzon. I was immediately suspicious and I relented. I then realized that the probability of him taking me to his dungeon and hacking me to bits was very remote, so I decided to go for it. He seemed like a nice guy, right?

I couldn't have been more right. We got off the bus about 30 kilometers before Trabzon and hitched a ride into the green hills that overlooked the Black Sea. It was stunningly beautiful, like nowhere I have ever seen. We first visited his house where he lives with his parents, sister and grandmother. By Western standards, he is very poor, but they have everything they need. They grow nearly everything imaginable - Kiwis, Bananas, Potatoes, Pears, Apples, Corn, Carrots, Hazelnuts, and fruits whose name I don't even know. They also have chickens, a cow and doves (for eggs apparently). After a quick tour of his home, he rushed me up to the village school so that I could speak English to the school children. I really had no idea what to expect, but I was so engrossed by the exotic beauty of my surroundings I had no time to be nervous. When we entered the school and he announced that I was an American I was immediately swamped by students yelling "Hello America!". I was then ushered into the teacher's lounge where I chatted with the teachers using the English teacher as a translator. They had a lot of questions about my perception of Turkey and Islam, none of which I was really comfortable answering, but I tried my best. I then went to the English class and started to help with the lesson before I was summoned to the Principal's office. Yes, I was in trouble. Apparently strange foreign guys who randomly show up on a bus aren't allowed to hang out in classrooms. Not really a bad rule when you think about it, but the English teacher was furious. I had an awkward half hour in the Principal's office before escorting out to take some photos. Celib's younger brother then walked me back to his home.

Since it is Ramadan, no one in the village (except young children) eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. This is obviously tough to do, so most people take a substantial nap during the day, which is exactly what I did when I got back. I woke up to the evening call to prayer echoing within the valley and the family sitting down for their long-awaited dinner. It was a delicious feast of fish from the Black Sea and various fruits and vegetables that they had grown. I was forced to eat until I was stuffed and then we went around to Celib's various relatives houses for more tea and snacks. It was an amazing display of hospitality, and I was barely able to express my thanks due to my absolute ignorance of the Turkish language.

The next day I was fed breakfast even though they could not eat themselves. I showed the family pictures of my family from my Ipod and now they are all invited to Turkey next year! I don't think that is going to happen, but I know the offer was genuine. Celib then gave me a huge shopping bag full of roasted hazelnuts (which I love) took me to the bus station in Trabzon and insisted on buying my ticket to Batumi, Georgia, as well as buying me snacks to take on the trip. But no, it didn't stop there. Once I was on the bus, he came on board 3 times to tell me what was going on with the driver and why we were running late. He even asked people sitting around me if they spoke English so that I would have someone to talk to!!! He did all of this and expected absolutely nothing in return.

I am now safely in Georgia waiting for an overnight train to Tbilisi. I'm staying with a Couchsurfer for two nights and then I'm off to Temi-Community in the far Eastern corner of Georgia. I'll try to post pictures and stuff about Georgia in the next few days while in Tbilisi because I don't know if I'll have any internet connection for a while after that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Good Time to be Abroad

In the past few days I have been trying to keep updated on local and national disasters that have befallen my home. The national banking crisis is shaking the US financial system to its core and my hometown of Silex, Missouri is recovering from a catastrophic flood. I have been gone for a month now, and this is usually when the first wave of homesickness occurs. Knowing that the US economy is crumbling and that my hometown is busy scraping up river mud reminds me why I went abroad in the first place.

Of course I have a great deal of sympathy for my friends and family who have had their homes destroyed by the Cuivre River and part of me wishes I was home to help them in this time of need. However, I do not have the least bit of sympathy for the investment bankers who are so shortsighted that they couldn't put their greed on hold for a minute in order to prevent this collapse. Thank goodness good ol' Uncle Sam will be there to bail his high dollar friends out. My only question is this; if the government can afford to spend $700,000,000,000.00 to bail out wealthy bankers, why can't it afford a few thousand dollars to bail out the financially strapped victims of a devastating flood in the nation's heartland?

Enough about the eternally frustrating world of money and politics. Istanbul is awesome! I have been a bit under the weather the past few days with a head cold, but I still had plenty of time to wander around the backstreets and gaze at the innumerable ancient monuments around the city. I also had the pleasure of hopping from Europe to Asia and back again in the same afternoon. That's right; Istanbul is the only city in the world which occupies two continents. It truly is where East meets West. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes are very exotic. Unfortunately, there are many people who can spot a tourist from a mile away and instantly see dollar signs. I have a few tricks for dealing with these people, including dressing down as much as possible and speaking Spanish when they approach me. When I go out in sandals, riped up shorts and an old T-shirt, I become invisible to the hundreds of carpet salesman, tour guides and club promoters who assume I'm a bum, or worse, a dirty hippy. The truth is that they aren't far off - I budget does not allow for buying any Oriental rugs while I'm here.

Today I leave for Trabzon, which is in the far Northeastern corner of Turkey on the Black Sea coast. I'll spend two nights there staying either at a Catholic Convent (free rooms) or with a Couchsurfing host. After that I'm off to Tbilisi, Georgia! Luckily I'll have two more visits to Istanbul, so I didn't feel pressured to see it all this time around.

Sorry there are no pictures, this internet connection is extremely slow and my photos aren't uploading. I've been spoiled by the fast connections in Bulgaria that are faciliated by the EU. I don't know how much internet access I will have for the next month, so posts and photos may be patchy at best.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I'm now blurry eyed and dazed ın my hostel lobby ın the beautiful city of Istanbul after an adventurous night of passport controls, customs agents, bus transfers and visa purchases. Adventurous ıs euphemıstıc because the entire night was a hurried and confused blur.

I spent the day packing and saying my goodbyes to the wonderful people of Hotnitsa, especially the Sutherlands who have been amazingly gracious hosts throughout the past two weeks. So gracious that Allan called nearly every hotel ın Veliko Tarnovo trying to find someone who would sell me some Euros or Dollars. Why do I need Euros or Dollars when I'm traveling to Turkey, which uses the New Turkısh Lira Good questıon. The inexplicable answer is that an entry visa can only be purchased ın US Dollars or Euros. Of course I don't fully realize this until Sunday evening, two hours before my bus is scheduled to leave. Luckily Allan and Eileen came to the rescue and made some strategic calls, eventually finding a frıend who could sell me 20 Euros in exchange for Bulgarian Leva. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning. On route to their friends' home, Allan and I became stuck behind a military parade marching through the center of Veliko Tarnovo. Brilliant. The detour led to us getting lost in VT's meandering back streets while our cell phone's low battery alarm chimed incessantly and the low fuel light flipped on. With only 20 mınutes remaining until my bus left, I may or may not have become slightly anxious. I now realize that Allan only wanted to make my last few minutes in Bulgaria memorable - which they were - and he delivered me to the bus station with 20 Euros and time to spare. Whew. With all that behind me, I was ready for anything that the Turkish Border Control could throw at me.

The actual bus ride was almost pleasant: spacious seats, a stewardess who delivered free snacks and drinks, and regular bathroom breaks. Greyhound should take note. The border crossing was annoying at worst with lots of needless waiting around and too many guys with mustaches holding enormous machine guns between 1 and 3 AM. I finally arrived ın Istanbul at about 7 and spent about an hour trying to figure out (without a map or guidebook) how to get to my hostel. I was too efficient because now I am here and have to wait three more hours to check-in.

I'll have pictures and stuff about Istanbul in a few days once I am settled. I'm going to spend today resting and strolling and napping. It should be an interesting time to be here because it ıs the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours. This ıs my first visit to a Muslim nation (albeit a secular one), so I have a lot to learn.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Strawbale 101: Alternative Buildings and Lifestyles

The "three little pigs" were all wrong - believe it or not strawbales are an excellent building material. I have spent the past week working on a strawbale house that is very stable, extremely well insulated, and relatively easy and affordable to build. Despite what most people think, strawbales are not a fire hazard and are compact and durable enough to last for ages. Not only does straw make pragmatic sense for economic reasons, it is also a sustainable building material that can be acquired locally.

When I arrived in Hotnitsa, the basic structure of the house was in place, so we have been working on sealing the outside of the straw with layers of lime plaster. It is very dirty work, but also rewarding when progress is made. We have successfully finished the first coat since I've arrived and are due to begin the second outer coat tomorrow. Hopefully the second coat will be finished before I leave next weekend, but none of us are experts and we may still encounter a few surprises . . .

I find it fascinating that people were using strawbales to build houses in the Great Plains a century ago, but only recently has the practice been rediscovered as an economic and environmentally friendly way to build a structure. The ability to "Do It Yourself" is also attractive to many people who want the satisfaction of building a house themselves from the ground up. I am really interested in these sorts of alternative building methods, including cordwood, cobb and straw. I'm glad I am seeing the not-so-glamorous side of this alternative building method; I now have a real sense of how much work a project like this can take.

Natural housebuilding takes a lot of work, but it is labor intensive rather than capital intensive. This distinguishes it from modern construction in that it takes a lot of man hours rather than expensive equipment and specialized tools. This is where I come in - cheap labor! Allen and Eileen are registered on the Help Exchange website in order to recruit interested people to help them finish their project. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement for several reasons. The host get an extra set of hands without having to pay - an obvious plus - but simply provide accomodation and food. The volunteer gains experience in a project of interest and free accommodation for their time. In my case, I would never be able to afford a year long trip across Eurasia if I had to pay for accommodation and three meals a day. Also, this project and others give me a chance to gain practical, hands-on skills and get to know one region in some depth.

I have received a lot of grief from people when I tell them that I am 'volunteering' or 'working for free' while abroad, and at times I have questioned why I went to school for so many years if my time is worth nothing more than a bed and three squares a day. In reality though, most people work only for food and accommodation. I was working 60 hours a week in Missoula, but I had very little money left after I paid for my food and accommodation, and what little was left over I saved for traveling. Now, I work only 30 hours a week (6 hours a day/5 days a week) and I have lovely accommodation with three delicious meals that I don't have to prepare myself! And I am doing it in interesting corners of the globe! It is a much simpler arrangement than I had in Missoula - no bills, no taxes, no shopping - and I am learning a great deal.
I have just a few more days here at Hotnitsa, then off to Istanbul, Turkey for a few days before a long bus trip along the Black Sea coast to Tbilisi, Georgia! The next leg of the trip will be a little more adventurous - goodbye Europe and hello Asia!
P.S. - Sorry for spelling errors - the Spellcheck isn't working :-(

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Global Socio-Economic Stratification. Fancy Term in a Simple Village

It is strange to travel thousands of miles and find yourself nearly where you started. Living in the village of Hotnitsa is not unlike living in Silex (population 197) - I fled one small, provincial village for another. Of course many things are different - the language and culture - but much of the rest is the same. Most people make a living in either construction or farming. Everyone knows everyone else's business. Even the climate here in Bulgaria is strikingly similar to that of rural Missouri.

Today while I was walking around with a camera taking pictures of quaint scenes I'm sure the locals thought I was either crazy, very bored or a CIA agent. Of course I would laugh an any foreigner who purposefully travelled to Silex and took pictures of the lackluster scenery, but that is precisely what I want to see and experience during my time abroad. The monuments and museums of lively cities are naturally worth a visit, but I want to capture the mundane aspects of everyday life that are so often ignored. I can get on Google Earth and download a thousand pictures of Rome, London and Prague, but it is much more difficult and rewarding to see the surroundings of the average population. I am an American, but I feel no more at home in New York or San Francisco than I do in London or Toronto. These cities are all international and don't reflect the local history and rich culture of a region. If I wanted to show a foreign guest how Americans really live, I would in fact take him to Silex to hang out at the Kwik Store and cruise the back roads.

Although I am living in a traditional village, it will not be easy to become immersed in Bulgarian culture during my stay. I am living with a British couple (which is a cultural lesson all its own) who have limited Bulgarian social contacts. They are extremely kind and conscientious people who are making a solid effort at getting to know their neighbors, the local culture, and the language. This is made difficult by the fact that Bulgaria is experiencing an influx of British expats who are relocating due to the favorable climate and much more affordable cost of living. Since the Sutherlands have moved to Hotnitsa in 2003, about ten other British families have followed them. These families have naturally become close to one another and have created a community within a community.

An entire anthropological study could be conducted on this phenomenon of European integration. It is fascinating how the British are moving to Bulgaria for the cheap property and low cost of living while tens of thousands of Bulgarians are moving to Britain for the high wages and higher standard of living. The Brits here in Bulgaria seem to be getting along very well - they can get by with very little Bulgarian and the locals are happy to have them as neighbors. I wonder if the Bulgarians in Britain have had such a smooth transition. Undoubtedly they can not get by with only Bulgarian - they must learn English to function - and I'm sure that more than a few individuals view their new Eastern European neighbors with some suspicion. All of the Brits I have talked to here tell stories of being invited into homes for traditional Bulgarian family meals, which makes me wonder how many Bulgarians are invited into their new British neighbors' homes for dinner. I do not mean to say that people in Britain are snobish, rude or racist in any way, at least not any more than the average Western European. I just find it interesting how it is easier to move down the socio-economic heirarchy of nations than it is to move up it. The same can be said of an American moving to Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans will likely be very welcoming and open to a new neighbor from the U.S., but most people in the U.S. would be unlikely be as welcoming to a new neighbor from "south of the border".

Just some thoughts I have had while I'm elbow deep in straw here in Hotnitsa. I've really enjoyed my stay so far. I'm learning a lot about strawbale construction, which I'll post more about once we have made more progress on the house. Today was a day off, so I wandered through the town and walked to the Hotnitsa waterfall. Well, I tried to walk, but I was quickly picked up by two Bulgarians and a Swiss tourist. They were headed to the waterfall and my beard gave me away as a non-Bulgarian. We had a great time hiking around and attempting to communicate. Our conversations was partly in English, but we then moved to Spanish. Yes, one Swiss, two Bulgarians and one American trying to communicate in Spanish. This is why I love to travel!

More Hotnitsa Pictures

Monday, September 8, 2008

So Monasteries ARE Worth the Visit

My thinly veiled disapointment about missing the Rila Monastery was cured yesterday. I spent the entire afternoon (in +90 degree weather) hiking up to a remote monastery in the hills above Veliko Tarnovo. The hike alone was worth it; amazing views of the city, the fortress, and the surrounding hills and valleys. Also, I didn't meet even one other person during 4 hours of hiking. Bulgaria has a ton of well blazed trails which even I didn't get lost on, despite the fact that I had no map and had gotten only sketchy directions from my hostel.

There were a few tourists visiting the Monastery, but they were all Bulgarians out on Sunday drives. It has been amazing how few tourists I have seen in Bulgaria, and of those tourists only one has been an American. Most of the tourists have been Brits or Germans who are passing through on their way to Turkey. I've enjoyed the lack of tourist traps and overrun attractions. Even Missoula had more tourists than Sofia or Veliko Tarnovo!

I was picked up by my Hotnitsa host, Eileen, this morning from Veliko Tarnovo. I was relieved to find that Eileen and her husband Allen are incredibly kind and welcoming people; working with them will be a sincere pleasure. They have a beautiful home in the small village of Hotnitsa and their strawbale house project is progressing nicely. I have especially enjoyed their British expressions and the frequent tea breaks! We got right to work this afternoon and I enjoyed getting my hands dirty. I'll have pictures of the project and the village soon, but now it is dinner time . . .

The pictures of the monastery and hike are now up and added to the Veliko Tarnovo album. Hotnitsa pictures still to come.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Who wants to go to a Monastery anyway?

Traveling can seriously mess up one's sleep schedule. Tired when one should be out and about and wide awake when one should be sleeping. Such was the case for me the day I was to leave for the Rila Monastery. I couldn't stay awake past 8 p.m. but then was wide awake at 4 a.m. only to be back asleep at 7 a.m. - just in time to sleep through the only bus that goes to the Monastery from Sofia. Luckily I had not yet purchased my tickets and because I am traveling solo I can switch up my itinerary any time I like. So I got over my frustration about missing the bus and decided to head to the ancient city of Veliko Tarnovo instead. Good choice - how much fun can one have with a bunch of monks anyway?

Veliko Tarnovo did turn out to be an excellent choice. The city is much more relaxed than Sofia and it is a lot more scenic. There are endless places to stroll around and there are Bulgarians napping under every tree. My hostel is also very good - a big veranda, free internet and two free meals a day. I have spent a lot of time relaxing outdoors and enjoying the summer weather. Most of today was spent just strolling around and getting lost in the winding streets, taking in as many scenic views as possible. I also toured the "Tsarevets Fortress" which overlooks the city. It is a stunning site - castle walls surrounding towers and a restored church on a hill overlooking the town and river. The city itself is mainly a college town; it is home to one of Bulgaria's largest and most prestigous universities. Classes have not yet begun, which is one reason why the city is so quiet.

I have one more full day in VT before the folks from Hotnitsa come to pick me up. I'll probably spend it hiking around some of the hills and maybe going out on the town with some friends from the hostel. Otherwise I'll just be hanging out and planning the next leg of my journey from Bulgaria to Turkey to Georgia. I did some research today and it appears as though I can travel to Georgia as planned!! The situation has stabilized and as long as I steer clear of the conflict zones (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) I shouldn't have a problem. That came as a huge relief to me because I would have been deeply disapointed if I could not visit the Temi Community home in Georgia.

More pics (of much better quality than these) can be found, as will be the norm, at my Picasa site.

My next update will be from the village of Hotnitsa in the care of the Sutherland family!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chest Hair and Cigarettes - A Full Day of Sofia

I think Sofia's charms have won me over despite the almost complete lack of tourist infrastructure. Of course that is one reason why I chose to come to Sofia in the first place - it is off the beaten tourist track. It is so far off the track that I couldn't even find a postcard. Anywhere. In most cities they are everywhere you look, but Sofia apparently does not get many tourists. The few non-locals I saw were the same young backpackers that are staying at my hostel. (A quick shoutout to Hostel Mostel - by far the best hostel I have ever stayed at. Clean, friendly, fun, free internet and two free meals a day. If you ever find yourself in Sofia . . . ) Also, few people are willing to speak English. I say "willing" because I know they study English in school, but I get the feel that they seldom use it in their day to day life and are apprehensive about speaking to an American. That's OK, I'm good at hand gestures and slaughtering Bulgarian words with my tiny knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet. Another benefit of have few tourists is that I have not been harassed at all! Usually Americans abroad are automatically assumed to be rich and are hounded by tour guides, taxi drivers and homeless for money. Not so in Sofia, I am left to wander the city at my leisure with little stress.

Sofia is interesting for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it is the gateway between the East and West. The people here do not look "European" (whatever that means) but rather they look Turkish, with dark black hair and a darker than olive complexion. The Soviet influence is also interesting, but does not dominate the landscape or architecture. I am very impressed with how clean the city is; the infrastructure is not in great shape, but there are few pollution or sanitation problems. The city is very pedestrian friendly and it is full of electric buses. Many US cities could learn a thing or two from the Bulgarians, but maybe I just have not been to the rougher parts of town.

If you are wondering about the title to the blog, those are the two things which I first noticed about the city. EVERYONE smokes cigarettes. Constantly. Apparently tobacco is a large cash crop for Bulgaria, so it is almost a national obligation to chain smoke. Little old ladies to 12 year olds in the park - I mean everyone is holding a lit cancer stick. My second observation was that all the men are very clean cut - short hair and clean shaven face - but they invariably have a huge unibrow and two buttons undone to expose their bountiful chest hair. So if I trim the beard and chop off my hair, I'll finally get to be fashionable!

Tomorrow I think I'm off to Rila Monastary to stay the night in a monk's cell! Should be rustic, beautiful and (I hope) memorable.

For the rest of my Sofia pictures, check out my Picasa gallery

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NYC to Sofia

I have finally made it to Bulgaria! Oddly enough, I had no access to the internet while I was in NYC, but now that I am in Sofia I have unlimited free internet access, so I have some catching up to do with my posts. Where to begin???

Sunday and Monday where spent shuttling between a cheap hotel in New Jersey and sightseeing in Manhattan. There was no way I could afford a hotel anywhere in New York, so staying at the Econolodge in Jersey was the only option - just a short train ride from Times Square. New York really is all it is cracked up to be - lively, internatonal and HUGE. I could spend weeks just walking around and people watching. It seemed as though no two people where from the same place - the variance of dress, language and ethnicity was amazing. I spent Sunday with my family on a bus and boat tour of Manhattan, which was a great way to see the highlights.

Monday I was on my own to stay at the "Ritz" hotel (the cliche sleazy hotel that charges by the hour) and wander around Central Park before going to JFK airport to catch my evening flight to Dublin. I was able to catch a few hours of sleep on the plane before I had to catch another flight Tuesday morning from Dublin to London. I then had the pleasure of hanging out in the airport for 16 hours trying not to go mad from boredom. I caught a little sleep and read a lot, then caught my next flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. I stumbled off the plane at the Sofia airport exhausted, smelly and more than a little confused. I decided to be adventurous (and cheap), so I took a bus from the airport rather than a taxi, which costs more but would have dropped me off right outside my hostel. I hopped on the bus and had no idea how to buy a ticket, so I decided I just didn't need one. Big mistake. My first interaction with a Bulgarian was with an overweight and grumpy man who flashed me a badge and asked for my bus ticket. Of course I had nothing to show him, so I was charged a 20 leva fine. This made my bus ride substantially more expensive than a taxi ride would have been. Foolish, but lesson learned. I eventually found my hostel, which is one of the best hostels I have ever seen - breakfast, dinner and even a beer included!! I got a full nights sleep last night and today I am ready to see what Sofia has to offer. I'll be posting again very soon with pictures, so stay tuned.

Finally the journey has begun!!