Any time of day – but on mass in mornings men and women standing around smoking, disposable plastic cups of coffee in hand. Truly enjoying a “whore’s breakfast” (not my phrase).

Leaving the airport, I avoided the taxi overcharging scam by following a warning to use only OK Taxis. The young chatty driver used the meter. It was 12.80 leva to downtown Sofia … But he says, “20 okay?” “No, give me me back 7.” Reluctantly he does. I then stupidly, give him a 2 leva tip, as is customary here. But no thanks. No good-bye. Nothing.

Jet lag arrival from China sees me wake at 4 am, so I take a walk around downtown Sofia at 5 am.

Homeless waking at park gardens near church. Man brushing his teeth to the sound of early morning traffic..

early morning trams sofia

Ravens shrieking overhead. Wounded swallow on the pavement, wings hopeless. Bloody neck cuts. Crow prancing, gloating at its victim. I stop. Crow flies off. Should have put the poor thing out of its agony. But instead I walk away, saddened; dispirited by the laws of life.

F**k, am getting fat. Need to make another notch in my belt.

Must be the meat + cheese + alcohol? But damn, I love the hearty food here. And so do the locals – I assume, as there’s alot of huge – like really fat – people here. Eat, drink, enjoy. I certainly have no desire to leave this world as a beautiful corpse.

gold face woman statue sofia

Statue of Sveta Sofia – Saint Sophia.

I get lucky with the brilliance of some people when I look lost.

“You’re not from here, are you” she asks, of me, wandering with backpack. The young couple then precede to find me a cheap guesthouse; and again, this time there are no buses running and a young man suddenly says “Can I help you?” and gets me taxi all the way to Melnik, a 15 km ride for 10 euros, as dusk slides over the mountains.

On this sunny afternoon within Belogradchik fortress there is this young couple approaching me, with an older woman in tow, probably mum. Soon they are staring at me – like curious people do in say China, Africa, India, anywhere the foreign traveller goes. I say Hi.

But instead of responsive waves and smiles they all blank stare me. Like what? Are their expressions as the young man immediately seems to quiz his woman, jealously: Do you know this guy?! They just stare. I forget that here in europe I’m really not an oddity, and that friendliness in this part of the world is more reserved towards strangers.

Am laughing aloud at myself for being so dumb as to just keep wandering these countryside tracks and forest trails. Getting lost in bush, scratched ankles from blackberry barbs, to backtracking 5 km to where I started from. And as I chuckle loudly – snorting my derision, so it startles a deer – near me – hiding in the long grass; leaping out and away.

bulgaria countryside belogradchick rocks

Backcountry of Belogradchik – not a bad place to get lost …

Am drinking beer – a few actually, killing time between long bus waits at a station kiosk. Middle-aged woman shows me a sign in Cyrillic + English. Buy a pen for 1 leva ( 50 euro cents ) and support the deaf. I do. She’s smiley; thankful.

Later, a beggar with matted hair and beard, maybe 35 years of age but grizzled by alcoholism, limping along with walking stick.

He asks me for money. I give him 1 leva. He buys a beer, and sits beside me. “Thank you my friend. … “No problem.” He’s incoherent, and he stinks. But hey, I’m in a compassionate mood. But when this young woman and her mum, shuffle further way, and he hugs me, tries kissing me on the neck that erases my soft touch. He reeks. His alcoholic slur is stifling. So I wander off, returning when the coast is clear, and buy another beer.

aleksander nevski church sofia bulgaria

Aleksander Nevski Church built between 1882 – 1912 in memory of 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria’s independence during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78

I return to the bus station WC – the pay for a piss concept – for the 4th time and pay my .40 leva as I joke to the English-speaking kiosk girl, who’d helped me with bus schedules – and sold me beers across the afternoon: “I need another piss – cos beer + bus = problem”.

But as it happened, I had waited over 3 hours for just a 1 hour bus journey that was delayed in a mountain pass traffic back-up for over an hour, due to road construction. So a “free piss” stop amid nature … was a most welcome outcome.

 priest passing Sveta Nedelya cathedral in Sofia.

Lucky early morning shot of priest passing Sveta Nedelya cathedral in Sofia.

Travels in Bulgaria – 2015

PS: Bulgaria is awesome: posts on wondrous Melnik, Belogradchik + Rila … (soon)