Day 1 in Bulgaria with My Family- A Day Full of Lessons

Today was... a day full of lessons. All sorts of lessons. About interesting things and frustrated things, and while I would love to say it was an amazing, tremendous, stupendous day, to be honest, more than anything today I felt frustration. However, out of all that frustration came lessons, and with those lessons hopefully ideas on how to improve things for the future.

The lesson that started the day was about Bulgarian parking... which I must say, is quite ridiculous.

Last night as I got my rental car from the company, I asked them what the parking rules were. They told me that there were green zones and blue zones that cost money, and other places were free. Locally, we have something like that also. Blue and white striped curbs is for pay, and red and white striped is illegal to park, and non marked are free.

So last night when I pulled up to where we were staying, I saw many cars parked, and grey and white striped poles, so figured that it was fine to park there.

Only this morning, when I got out, there was this boot on my car. Ha. Guess I couldn't park there after all?

I asked someone who was on the street, who fortunately spoke Bulgarian, and he told me that its paid parking there, and I got a ticket for not paying, and that's why I got that. I asked him how I know its paid parking, and he said there was a sign up the street saying it was a green zone, which I completely missed in the fog last night.

So I asked him how I pay for it, and get this:

No, you can't buy any tickets to pay for parking. No, there are no meters. No, there's no app to pay. What you do is you send an SMS to a specific number with your license plate and that's how you pay. But you can't do it unless you have a Bulgarian SIM card, because the money comes off your plan.

The guy who was there called the service who came andd charged me 31 lev ($17.5 dollars), unlocked the boot...

Ok, so how do I get a Bulgarian SIM card? Well, find a cell phone store. Ok, no biggie. I drove to one (once my car was unlocked), found a paid parking lot (because I wasn't going to risk it this time!) and got a sim card (for my son's phone, because mine doesn't have dual sim card options, and I already paid for an international roaming plan, because I need to be reachable for all sorts of legality and divorce related issues...

Problem should be solved, no?
Ha, not. Why should things be that simple?
No, after you have a Bulgarian SIM, you need to wait 24 hours, before you can fill it up with cash, and only THEN can you send an SMS.

I'm just shaking my head.
What do tourists do here generally?

So anyhow, I learned that parking overnight from 7:30 pm until 8:30 am is free, even in the green and blue zones. So of course I decided to just stay out until that point, keep the car in paid parking, because paying 3 lev an hour is still cheaper than paying another fine, not to mention less annoying.

Since we were in town already, it worked out perfectly, because I had only one thing planned for today (other than grocery shopping and buying the SIM card and car charger). A free tour of Sofia, Bulgaria.

I personally love free tours. Though they're called free, they're really just "pay at the end what you think it's worth" but they end up being great groups of people, fun environments because they want to get you to want to pay.

I travel quite a lot on my own, and I've gotten flack from people who tell me that I should be taking my kids on trips instead of galavanting off on my own. That they also deserve to go on trips, and not just have me travel. But the thing is, in addition to my knowing the importance of me time, I know from various posts I've read on the internet, not to mention my own personal experience as a mom, that trips with kids are not vacations, are not relaxing, and to plan them totally different.

So I said, 4 little kids with me on a trip, today will be totally chilled. Just one thing. Just this one walking tour. Let's learn about the city we're in, especially since my kids have been begging me to bring them to another country.


One kid wanted to be held. And was cranky. Another was whining non stop and crying. And two others kept on walking off without telling me because they wanted to take pictures, and tours are boring anyhow.

We lasted two stops on the tour. I learned about the history of Bulgaria, and how many empires it was under. I learned that lev, the currency, means lion. I learned that there was a terrorist attack in a church in the early 1900s and the only one that survived was the Czar because he was fashionably late. I learned that Bulgaria was actually the one who created the Cyrillic alphabet (they didn't get it from the Russians, but the reverse). And I learned that shaking your head means yes in Bulgaria, and nodding means no. (Which makes pantomiming really difficult when you don't really understand the language because even "universal" things like nodding and shaking your head are not universal!)

And then I had to apologize to the tour guide, because my kids were making too many disruptions, and it wasn't fair to all the other participants, and then we left.

To say that I was grumpy was an understatement. At that point, I may or may not have lost my cool. I go out of my comfort zone, spend a decent amount of money to bring the kids on a trip abroad, because they've been begging me to do that for years already, and none of them, not even the older kids, want to remotely learn anything about the place we are? We might as well have stayed home if they don't even want to explore the place.... I might or might not have told the kids that I totally regret bringing them, and I don't ever want to do this again...

I knew that I needed to have different expectations for this trip, and to set the bar totally different from how I set it when I go on trips (my day would be packed from morning until night!) but I didn't realize just how different I needed to do things.

I asked the kids what they wanted to do, and guess what- they did want to explore the place. Just on their own pace. And without a tour guide. They wanted to pose for and take pictures in lots of places, but they didn't really care to know anything about those places or what they were or what they were about.

So fine, that's what we did. Don't ask me anything about any of these places because all I know about them is that they are in Sofia. Oh, and that some of them are part of the ancient Roman city of Serdica, which used to be where Sofia stands today. I know that because I managed to sneak a glance at the plaques in between exploring with the kids.

At least this way there was less whining.

I mean there still was, because kids, but at least I didn't feel so upset anymore, once I realized that even though I'd adjusted my expectations originally, I needed to adjust them even more drastically, and then some.

And to understand that for me, I may want to know about where I am, what the things are, what they mean...

But my kids don't care about that, and that's ok too.

The point of this trip wasn't for me to explore and vacation and do what I usually do. The point was to give the kids what they'd dreamed: a trip to another country, and a chance to explore things, and make memories.

And that is what they did.

The kids saw places, wanted to photograph them, so we went there and snapped photos.

I think I got some nice looking shots...

Even though I wish I knew what they were of...

Or anything about the places...

And yes, I know I could google it, but it's just not the same as hearing it from a tour guide.

It's quite fascinating how they have all these ancient things buried underneath the modern city...

It started getting a little bit chilly, so we found a place that sold warm fuzzy socks for the kids to layer up with...

Sorry, couldn't choose which shot...

This cutie found this flower to pose in...

So of course her sister needed to pose too...

But then came the highlight of the day.


It has not snowed locally for years! My kids were most excited that Bulgaria had snow! Rose has never seen snow in her life, and Anneliese was a baby last time, and Ike and Lee were still quite young.

There wasn't much snow on the ground, just little patches... But that didn't stop the kids from scooping up whatever they could and making snowballs, and having a snowball fight! They even attempted to make a tiny little snowman!

Right near the snow was this little hot spring fountain. This area has lots of mineral hot springs that bubble up, and this sulfury water bubbling up was wonderful and warm and a great way to deal with chilly hands after playing in the snow. So the kids went back and forth and back and forth from snow to hot spring and it was wonderful.

They also had fun playing with these pigeons here...

To be honest, today was nothing like what I expected or planned.

The biggest lesson really was for me, to understand that my kids have completely different ways of experiencing and enjoying things than I do, and that is totally fine. And kids will be kids with their bickering and arguing no matter where they are, so to expect that.

And with today's lesson learned, I asked my children what they wanted to do tomorrow, so that I can plan a day based on their interests, even if its completely not what I'd wanted to do...

And with Sofia so cheap to travel to, maybe one day I'll come back, and sightsee the way I would like to.

But this trip? It's about my kids. And we'll do things their way.

My kids thanked me so much for bringing them to Bulgaria, because they are having an awesome time. I'm so glad!

P.S. I'm so glad we rented a car. Because if we'd had to do this with public transportation, it would have been hell on wheels.

Those of you who travel with kids, I'd love to hear how you do things. Tips and advice welcome.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I am very moved by the loving, big-brotherly way your boys connect to their little sisters.

  2. not in a million years, would i take my kids on walking tours. lol. lesson well learned. when we went to other countries, i asked people who lived there, what is fun for kids to do.

  3. My kid only just started getting to the point where he's interested in museums, but even so, it depends on the content. The Natural History Museum in Washington DC was a hit, as was the Air and Space Museum when we went. He also loved the car museum (Louwman's, in the Hague) and the railway museum in Utrecht. Art, not so much.

    As for advice and recommendations: 't is the season for Christmas markets, and possibly ice skating! It won't be free, but Bulgaria seems a zillion times cheaper than the Netherlands so it's probably do-able.

    But yes, limit things to things they like and things they like to do. One activity in the morning, one activity in the afternoon. Leave plenty of time (more than you think you'll need) to get to places. Let the older kids do things by themselves sometimes, if they want.

    1. Awesome! I wanted a Christmas market but my kids chose other things instead. But all is good! I did get to see the Christmas markets when I was in Belgium at least.

  4. My two girls are 11&9. We started really travel traveling with them when they were 5&6 respectively with a three week travel trip to Turkey and Greece. Like you, we search budget flights and places we think are interesting. Apart from one snorkeling tour in Thailand last summer, we don't do tour things. We do museums, ruins, beaches, hiking, and LOTS of city walking and popping into places for snacks, drinks, a bit of shopping (window shopping mostly). I recommend frequent food/drink breaks, outdoor activities so they can run around in between museums/sites, and down time back at the Airbnb every evening. And more going with the flow and less planning all your day out.

  5. Lovely to see the brotherly love and the enjoyment despite of. 😀

  6. It's wonderful that it only cost you $17.50 to get the wheel lock off. From what I've seen/heard in large cities like Philadelphia it's a lot more and way more complicated.

    Good for you finally realizing to do it your children's way so you all enjoy for the most part!

    1. I was lucky, I know! I was worried when I saw that, but the fee wasn't too bad.

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