Despite all of this, there were several things I liked more about eastern Europe than west. For starters, you got more bang for your buck at hotels.

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Inside the Sofia Hotel Balkan in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Ben Mack / Insider

The five-star Sofia Hotel Balkan in Sofia, Bulgaria was fancy. Then again, it was literally next door to the presidential palace. And yet, for staying in the marble-plastered palace (floors, walls, bathrooms, bits of ceiling — everything seemed to be marble), it cost just $86 per night, with an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast — that even had things like shrimp, salmon and Champagne — included.

Aside from lodging, transport (including the trains — the leg from Sofia to Belgrade, Serbia cost just $23 for a trip that took all day), and food being less expensive, it was the richness of people I really enjoyed — or, to be more precise, their friendliness. Sure, people in western Europe were friendly, but in eastern Europe I thought they took it to another level — despite the stone-faced stereotype. Not only did everyone seem to say “hello” when walking past, but more than a few people wanted to have genuine conversations to get to know me — and why I was traveling all the way across Europe dressed as someone might have 100 years ago.

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