Having used my month in the north of France to recover and recalibrate, I set off for a new adventure. This new adventure has included several exciting firsts which I approached with a nervous excitement.
This is the first time I have a major project to work on while on the road. I’ve done a few small projects here and there over the last year and a half, but for the most part experiencing life has been the priority. I was very curious to see how well I could stay focused knowing there’s a whole country out my door ready to be explore.
The second first is that I’m staying in a co-living/co-working accommodation for the first time. This type of accommodation is popping up more and more as the digital nomad idea makes its way deeper into the consciousness of the workforce.
As my days in Lille wound to a conclusion, I was stuck with analysis paralysis trying to decide where to go next. I knew I had to leave the Schengen, so most of Europe was off-limits. I also knew I was going to Ireland in September, so I wanted to try to stay close to make travel easy and low cost.
At first, my thoughts had me drifting back to places I’d already been, that I enjoyed and found comfortable for working. Albania and Türkiye are at the top of that list. I had even reached out to my host in Antalya to see if their room was available for the entire month.
As I searched, I stumbled upon an intriguing place in Blackpool, England. This was when the idea of co-living/co-working came into my head as a viable option. The place itself was extremely charming with quaint rooms and an excellent co-working area. The price was excellent and it’s obviously close to Ireland.
However, after chatting with several of my UK friends, I was told in no uncertain terms that Blackpool itself was, how to put this kindly … a shithole. To a tee, every one of them told me it was a hard pass. But I was still considering it simply because the accommodation itself looked absolutely perfect for me given I was going to need to focus on work.
In an effort to learn more about the place, I found it listed on a couple of other websites, including one called coliving.com. This is where my head really exploded. It’s basically an Airbnb for co-living places around the world, and there are lots of them! As I poked around, I found one in Sofia that looked almost too good to be true.
Large, private rooms with private bathrooms. Co-working office, gym and restaurant onsite, as well as a terrace with sweeping views of Sofia and the surrounding mountains. Much like the photos, the price also seemed almost too good to be true. Top it off with the fact that I absolutely love the Balkans and Bulgaria was one of the Balkan countries I had yet to visit and it was game over. I booked in for a month with an eye on staying for another month if it was as good as it looked.
Arriving in Sofia, I noted that for perhaps the first time I was arriving in a new place with absolutely ZERO trepidation about being in a foreign land. Perhaps having spent three months in the Balkans last year has given me a confidence in knowing how things work in this part of the world.
As I exited the airport, I was smacked across the face by my own overconfidence, realizing everything is written in Cyrillic. Nothing like realizing you can’t read the street signs to let you know you’re in a foreign country. But this is why I do this, this is what I love about travel. Problem-solving skills activated!
Thankfully, like the rest of the Balkans, everyone here is extremely friendly and helpful. English is pretty well spoken here so the fact that I’ll be lucky if I acquire any Bulgarian phrases won’t be socially crippling.
I arrived on a Friday night, so I spent the weekend getting to know my new coworkers and neighbors. On the first night, I joined a group dinner and agreed to make brunch for everyone the next morning. My new Italian buddy, Manny, and I made crepes for a group of about 15 people. Everyone else contributed with baked goods, fruits, coffee, mimosas and plenty of laughs. This co-living situation was off to a great start!
With the project ramping up a bit slower than I anticipated, I was able to spend the first week easing into a new living style. A routine has started to emerge almost immediately. Coffee and some reading on the rooftop terrace, light breakfast of bread, yogurt and fruit, then a full day of work. In the late afternoon, I find a workout of some type, either a run, some yoga or my new favorite, bouldering. The evenings typically feature a happy hour, dinner and a nightcap back on the rooftop terrace. Rinse and repeat daily, and the weeks just fly by!
Perhaps my favorite part of this unique work/live arrangement is how dedicated everyone is to their projects during the workday. It’s incredibly inspiring to see this and it keeps me highly motivated to complete my tasks each day. With everyone so locked in during the day, we find ourselves releasing the day’s tensions at happy hours full of libations and laughs. And so, the dates on the calendar seem to be sliding by, as I'm comfortably numb inside this cocoon of satisfying routine.
Originally, I was apprehensive to book a place for an entire month, sight unseen. In this particular case, I had nothing to worry about. WorkNomads has been the absolute perfect landing spot. The facilities are top-notch, as are all the people calling this place their temporary home.
So excellent had the initial few weeks been that I extended by an additional several weeks, right up until I head to Ireland. With my project looking likely to take at minimum three months, having a place that is conducive to both work and play is extremely important.
My coffee buddy, Natalie, and I now make cups of delicious Aeropress throughout every day. We've also found the delightful Martines Roastery, which has an amazing rotation of interesting beans for us to enjoy. Having top-shelf coffee at my fingertips is an awesome life boost.
Our group continues to make brunches, lunches and dinners together regularly. Dishes from China, Switzerland, Thailand, Italy, Japan and Korea have all been served to overwhelming fanfare. Cooking is always something I miss a great deal when I'm moving too fast. Being stationary with access to a good kitchen is another life boost.
Without doubt, my top activity here in Sofia has been bouldering. Simply put, I'm obsessed. It's this incredible blend of muscle uses. Mind-melting puzzle solving paired with feats of strength and body manipulation.
My fingers might not like it right now, but I can't get enough. I found a climbing gym only a five minute walk away, and have been going 2-3 times per week. Mixing this in with my runs and a bit of yoga gives me a nice variety of exercise and workouts.
Weekends are for exploration and I've wandered across this city, as well as back into the wilderness. Bulgaria is a definite hidden gem, within the Balkans, and the European continent beyond.
It is a country with a vast history, dating back well over 150,000 years. Some of the earliest traces of human activity are found here, from Neanderthals to Home sapiens. Along those same lines, some of the earliest societies are located here, dating to at least 6,500 BCE.
The history is rivaled by its natural beauty. Multiple mountain ranges run across the country, east to west. Sofia itself sits in a valley between two of these ranges. This provides easy access to many of its natural wonders.
Taking full advantage of this access, our group has embarked on several excellent excursions into mother nature.
At the end of the first week, a group of us decided to hike up into the Vitosha wilderness, which sits in the mountains just outside Sofia. The plan was to take a cable car from the edge of the city up into the wilderness and then do some hiking from there. It felt so good to get out of the city and be walking in nature again.
Many parts of the hike reminded me so much of the Camino. Our initial ascent was straight up a mountainside and had me remembering the climb up into the Pyrenees on our first day. After we had added over 700 meters of elevation, the terrain leveled off a bit and we enjoyed some wonderful ridge-line walking. We were graced with sweeping views of the wilderness interior and the valley that Sofia sits in. We capped the day with a night out in the city. After starting off at a fun speakeasy for cocktails, we made our way to a multi-tiered bar with a dancehall on the top floor playing Bulgarian trance.
On another occassion, we rented a private dolmus for a day trip to Rila National Park. The highlights of the park are its seven lakes. Each situated slightly lower than its sibling, making it a wonderful hike full of stunning views and ice cold waters.
The entire area and hike was giving me strong Dumitor vibes, constantly sending me back to my hikes in the mountains of Montenegro last year.
With the co-working/co-living in full swing, its worth noting some of the things that are personally conflicting for me.
As this is the first time I've had a large project while on the road, I will say that I am struggling to balance the work with the play at times. It's not a lack of concentration during the workday. If anything, it's the other side that's been difficult. I can feel the fomo constantly creeping in.
I know I'm here to work, and I know this is what being a digital nomad is ... simply working from somewhere else. It's just a different mentality that takes some getting used to.
It also has a secondary, and perhaps unintended consequence, which is I often can't be bothered to do much after the workday ends. There's been a few too many days, where once I've arrived in my room I simply don't leave again. Not for food, not for drinks on the rooftop, not for anything.
Perhaps some of it is also just being in one place for long enough to get comfortable. Sometimes its nice to have a day to lounge around, but when that spreads to multiple days, you've got to address it.
Thankfully, there are lots of great people here that are constantly going to do things. This makes its so much easier to push through the malaise and be active.
While I still have a week left here in Sofia, I feel it's a good time to post about my time here. It's been a whole new type of adventure here. The challenges and the rewards have both been plentiful.
I couldn't have asked for a better environment to begin my first large project. That alone has been enough to keep me engaged and excited with the work. Toss in the energy from those around me and my cup runeth over with inspiration.
The inherit networking in such an environment shouldn't be overlooked either. I could build a complete team to tackle any project from those I've met here. And no doubt many of us will work together in the future.
The conversations and activities have been non-stop, providing an abundance of thought provoking stimuli. The cultural exchange has been of a ridiculously high quality. Which is matched only by the hilarious culture misunderstanding, all leading to good laughs and new inside jokes.
This place has given me a new perspective on what working from the road can look like. I've seen how I can find space to concentrate amid the beautiful mayhem that is my life.
I'm looking forward to my upcoming short break in Ireland. I'm looking forward to reuniting with my Camino friends and spending some time out exploring.
But I'm also very much looking forward to getting back to the project and seeing it through to its completion. To have found this work life balance here is Bulgaria is something I'll forever be grateful for.