priest sveta nedelya cathedral sofia bulgaria

Bulgaria – Notes from the Road

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

Airport Taxi

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 back 7.”

Reluctantly he does.

I then stupidly give him a 2 leva tip, as is customary here.

But no thanks. No goodbye.


Early Morning in Sofia

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 a church. Man brushing his teeth to the sound of early morning traffic..

Ravens shrieking overhead.

Wounded swallow on the pavement, wings hopeless. Bloody neck cut.

Crow prancing, gloating at its victim.

I stop. Crow flies off.

Should have put the poor thing out of its agony.

But I walk away, saddened; dispirited by the laws of life.

Food & Alcohol

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 a lot of huge—like obese—people here.

Eat, drink, enjoy. I certainly have no desire to leave this world as a beautiful corpse.

Helpful Locals

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/

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.

Not so Friendly

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 blankly stare at 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.

Wandering the Woods

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.

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

Bus Station Beers

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 and 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 a 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 away, 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.

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 I had waited over 3 hours for just a 1 hour bus journey that was delayed in mountain pass traffic back-up for over an hour because of road construction.

So a “free piss” stop amid nature… was a most welcome outcome.

Travels in Bulgaria – 2015

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