Cafes of Bulgaria, Part II

Trip Start Jul 28, 2004
Trip End Sep 21, 2004

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

On Friday we took the bus to Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire back in the day. (What day, you ask? I don't know. My brain is full.) I loved watching the countryside roll by, the air quality improving noticeably as we moved farther from Sofia. The rural areas appear totally untouched my modernity, with flocks of sheep and goats being tended by ancient couples in hand-stitched colorful clothing. I wondered what went through their minds as they paused to watch our little modern-world-on-wheels pass through their quiet landscape.

In the villages, bright red peppers hung drying in large clumps from front doors and windows, breaking the monotony of brown wood and white clay. Wizened old ladies sat on street benches, probably chatting about the wizened old men who stood staring from storefront doors. The mountains rolled out on either side of us, the leaves just beginning to turn golden. What a different world from the grey streets of Sofia!

Once in Veliko Tarnovo, Alex and I set out to find a place to stay. Being the savvy traveler that I am, I had not thought to bring my passport, so we couldn't stay at the main hostel in town. Our search led us to a man who had converted part of his house to a guestroom, nicer and cheaper than the hostel. I was impressed with Alex' ability to converse in Bulgarian (especially since she recently accidentally told her hairdresser that she had "long, blonde goat." From what I've seen of Bulgaria, this may or may not have seemed strange.) Our second night was spent in a place called "Rooms Gilko," or something like that. It was an Alice-in-Wonderland type place, with checkered floors, three-foot-tall locked doors in the hallway, a spiral staircase with a different height for each stair, and absolutely no signage whatsoever from the street.

Veliko Tarnovo is a nice old town with, as you might have guessed, a variety of lovely cafes. The main tourist bit is the Fortress, a fortified hill with the remains of houses, shops, churches, monasteries, etc. We generally had no idea what we were looking at, since none of the interpretation is in English. But it was worth the trip for the views of town, and just to get a sense of Old Bulgaria.

We walked along the river, and I was sorry to see that Bulgaria has the same problems with litter that plague so much of the world. The path along the river was covered with plastic bottles, trash bags, bits of paper, etc. Like so many other countries, Bulgaria seems to have adopted the consumerist ways of the West before it could develop appropriate ways of dealing with the waste.

On Sunday we made our way back to Sofia. For reasons that we still can't explain, Alex and I were unable to procure seats on the bus, so we found more creative means of making the three-hour trip. The long and short of it is that we spent the evening with two twentysomething windsurfers on their way back from the coast, talking about their experiences growing up under a communist regime and watching that regime fall. Travel can be so surreal sometimes.

Alex and I said our goodbyes this afternoon, and I'm just about to touch down in London to catch a flight back to the States. It was so wonderful to see Alex and her boyfriend (a term I love, given his - ahem - "mature" nature!) They were the best of hosts and made sure that I tried All Things Bulgarian, except for the local liquor. I am at least savvy enough to know that the only reasonable use of any local liquor, anywhere, is as disinfectant or, possibly, paint thinner.

My travels in Europe are over for now, and I have a week to screw my head back on before flying to Peru. I plan to spend the week unpacking, packing, re-unpacking, repacking, and intermittently running around the house demanding to know what my parents have done with my socks, shampoo, vital documents, etc. Business as usual in Virginia!
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