Patricia McBride

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                 The Missing Road Sign


I squint, rubbing my eyes as if the dust from the red desert had penetrated the windscreen and my sunglasses. But, no, I still can't make it out. What is that up ahead?

I've been driving for miles. The road sign at Alice Springs read 'Uluru 280 miles'. I must be about half way. Fast driving: there are no speed limits in this desert. The exhilaration of just putting your foot down: adrenaline pumping in tune with the loud music on the radio.

It's not called the Red Centre for nothing. The soil is red for as far as the eye can see, but I'm suprised there is so much vegetation. Small trees, shrubs clinging precariously to the soil and the occasional flowering bush stain the landscape regularly.

Thank goodness for air conditioning. The air in the car is cool if not fresh, but can't protect my eyes from the dazzle. Even with sunglasses firmly in place I still can't make out that shape.

I hated Darwin. Punishing heat, flies and cockroaches. I swear I even saw, out of the corner of my eye, a bloke with corks on his hat. And I don't blame him; it saves giving the Australian wave so often it feels as if your arm will drop off.

But one great thing about the Australian roads is the road signs. I just love the animal ones. I looked at the black silhouettes on the familiar yellow diamonds and had no idea what half the animals were. Okay, a kangaroo is easy enough, so are crocodiles. But what the hell were the others? More to the point, how big were they? Perhaps, for all we knew, they were as tiny as mice but, like the prcessions of frogs we get in some part of England, appear in vast numbers at certain times of the year.

Sadly, we soon learn their size from the roadkill. Wombats are big cuddly animals, Echidna's are big porcupines that tiptoe slowly past on their claws as if the tarmac burns their feet, and playpuses are just ridiculous.

I'm beginning to brake now. I still can't tell what's ahead, but I'm not taking any chances.

As I slow to a halt and shake my husband awake, the four spindly ships of the desert sail slowly to the side of the road. I get out of the car and the heat hits me a like a road train. I move towards the animals, not knowing if they're likely to attack: up close they're enormous. They watch me suspiciously. 'Mmm,' my husband says, looking bored, 'Arabs bought them over to use to cross the desert before there were decent roads.' He goes back to skeep.

As I move to get my camera they take fright and gallop away. I never did get a picture of a camel in Australia.

And I've never seen a road sign for one either.

Top Attractions in Sofia, Bulgaria

published in October 2014

Sofia is an up and coming tourist destination and with good reason. The history, landscape, friendly people and excellent food make for a great holiday. You’ll be spoilt for choice in Sofia, but if time is limited be sure to visit these five places:

St Sophia Basilica

The second oldest church in the city, St Sophia’s is often called the ‘Symbol of the City’. This unusual building gave the city its name, and was originally built in the 6th century. At different times, it has been a Christian church, a cathedral, a Mosque, a warehouse and now a Christian church again. It does look somewhat warehouse like from the front, but go inside and you’ll find wonderful paintings, sculptures and carvings.

For a small fee, you can visit the lower area where there are extensive Roman tombs and other remains. One interesting, and quirky, thing about the Basilica is that the church bell hangs from a tree opposite the front of the building.

The tower (and indeed two minarets when it was a mosque) all collapsed during earthquakes,

so it was deemed unlucky to house the bell inside the church again.

Location: Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski, Sofia

Flea Market

The most well known flea market in Sofia is situated near the St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It has three areas. The first is a wide passageway where you can buy original paintings and icons for a fraction of the price you would pay elsewhere. Behind them you’ll find stalls selling memorabilia -most of them historical. Finally, just across the road, are stalls where women sell beautiful hand made crocheted and embroidered goods.

There is another daily flea market in the basement of Sveta Paraskeva Church,

situated at 58, Rakovski Street. Be prepared to barter at both places.

St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The cathedral is often considered one of the most beautiful 20th century buildings on the

Balkan peninsula. As you approach the cathedral from Bulevard Tsar Osvoboditel

the golden cupolas are the most striking feature, catching the sunlight as if calling to God.

Inside, the cathedral is gloomy and ‘guards’ hover to make sure you are properly

dressed and don’t take photos.

The interior is richly decorated with icons, paintings and mosaics.

In the crypt you’ll find over 200 icons, paintings and frescos.

I must admit I preferred the St Sophia church but this is still a must-see.

Location: Plashtad Aleksander Nevski, open daily 7am – 7pm.

Crypt open Tues – Sun 10am – 6pm.

Museum of Soviet Art

This museum is really more of an art gallery. Originally called the Museum of Totalitarian Art, the outside space

houses numerous statues from the Soviet era. The massive statues, such as the one of Stalin, contrast with the

smaller pieces showing working people.

The museum building holds excellent modern and Socialist Realism art works. Although works relating to the

Soviet era are not fashionable at the moment, the striking poses of the leaders and the pathos of the workers

and soldiers reflect a period of recent history and make this museum well worth a visit.

Location: ul. Lachezar Staney 7 – Metro station: Joliot Curie/G.M. Dimitrov

Open 10am – 5.30 pm. Closed Mondays.

Food and Drink Tour

The Food and Drink Tour takes you to three restaurants. The first is Supastar, a fast food cafe offering a selection of six healthy soups. We sampled a cold soup – Tarator – a kind of runnier version of Tzatziki, made of milk, yoghourt, cucumber and garlic. It was delicious, especially refreshing on a hot day. Next we went to a Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant – the Sun Moon Organic Restaurant and Bakery – and sampled their bread with two different types of tomato based toppings. Finally, we visited a very traditional Bulgarian restaurant where the decor looked remarkably Turkish. Here we sampled Wormwood wine (which strangely tasted of sausage) and three types of cheese.

Throughout the tour Emo, our enthusiastic guide, explained the history of the food and Bulgarian Cuisine.

The tour is a great way to see part of the city and taste local specialities.

The itinerary may vary from day to day.

Location: Meet at Krystal Park at 2pm daily. No charge.

Sofia tours also offer a general city tour, a Pub Crawl Tour, Bike Tour, and a Green Tour.