The only visitors... wherever we go

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Sep 04, 2008

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Flag of Bulgaria  , Plovdiv,
Saturday, August 16, 2008

I am in Bulgaria

Natasha and I were the first ones in our program to leave Istanbul.  We all splurge on our supper at Leb-i Derya and congregated in my room while I packed everything.  I asked Natasha to take my National Geographics book on Egypt, and Rachael took my Advanced Diving Manual.  I just did not have the heart to throw them away.  Lauren was wearing her ridiculous Turkish veil hat and waving a mini-Turkish flag as Natasha and I carried our luggages downstairs.  Laura actually cried.  The one thing that stopped me from crying too was that we were going to see each other next month at University.  Still, the group dynamic won't ever be the same again.  I am actually glad that Stan and the Turkish boys left before me because saying good-bye to everyone at once would have left me a big mess.  The check-out process consisted of simply giving the night manager our keys.  Then we were off to the Sicersi station at 9pm and arrived there in 10 minutes.  We had a sleeper cabin to ourselves, and it was surprisingly well-designed and not as smelly and grimmy as we had expected.  We did not have a third person, so we did not feel jammed.  I lifted the desk and found a sink underneathe- nifty! Lying on the bed, I could see the civilization outside, and the wind blew on my feet and the curtains.  I have not slept in a cool bed in 2 months.  What a great feeling!  And I passed out.

At 3am in Edirne, we were forced to get off the train and sleepwalk to the otherside of the track for a passport check.  The night chilled my skin; I quickly grabbed my windbreaker.  There were three New Zealand guys in boxers and tanktops- ridiculous!  There was an invisible line behind which everyone stood around, not knowing what to do.  After staggering for about 45 minutes, the guard signaled us OK, and the New Zealanders and I sprinted to the counter like Russian race horses.  Natasha unfortunately lagged behind, but still we were both done and in the cabin within 10 minutes.  Gule-gule, Turkiye!

The next few hours were a blur... some more passport check, some strange smells, the shaking of the train, late-night munches, the cold, cold air, several mosquitoes whizzing around... then we woke up around 7:30am to get ready to get out since we were to arrive in Plodiv, Bulgaria at 8am.  When it hit 9am and we were not in Plodiv, we got worried.  Plodiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria; yet, endless grassy plains stretched out the train window.  Natasha got really paranoid and kept going to the conductor's room without a satisfactory answer.  I finally managed the conductor to tell us that we did not pass Plodiv and that it was 20 minutes away.  He was not lying, and we were indeed in Plodiv (albeit 2 hours late)!  Yay!  All the signs were in Cyrillic!  Hurrah?

I knew nothing about Bulgaria other than the fact it is old and has a lot of old churches and monasteries, namely Rila Monastery.  It was a convenient place to stop by on the way to the main course: Romania, Austria and Germany.  Similarly, our first stop was a convenient place to stop by on the way to Sofia and Rila Monastery.  We did not quite know what to expect.  According to the free Plodiv we picked up, Bulgaria is the oldest surviving country in Europe with its original name, since 651 AD, and now has a population of 8 million, which is half the size of the city of Istanbul.  The official language is Bulgarian.

We took a cab to our hotel.  I think we overpaid.  A shit ton.  Oh well, our hotel room is quite nice and air-conditioned.  Putting aside my backpack and lounging in the comfy bed, I marked 5 must-visit places on the free map, and we took off.  Half a sweltering day was enough to visit all the places plus a couple other side-tracked churches and houses.  Plodiv has cobblestone streets, National Revival-esque 19th C houses, and trees that drape the unruly sidewalks.  The calm atmosphere and the interior of the houses resembled of Safranbolu.  Today was some kind of feast day, so people filled the Bulgarian Orthodox churches with candles and flowers

The entrance fee to houses and museums was like 1 Leva (=1ytl, 0.86 USD) for students and 5 Leva for adults.  The ladies did not even question us about our student status.  I think they were just happy about human presence, as Natasha and I were the only visitors in all but one (ethnographic museum) place.  We could just take pictures with flashes and sit on the chairs and do whatever we pleased.  Such a different experience from the restricted Ottoman houses in Turkey!

We got pizza at a small cafe for like 1.5 Leva and made a few stops at street cafes because we were so dehydrated and exhausted from our "Asian efficiency".  For dinner, we went to Happy Grill right next to our hotel.  It was like the Bulgarian version of Hooters, and the food was DELICIOUS!  I got spaghetti with chicken, and it tasted like Chinese stir fry with a load of MSG, which believe it or not, I miss so much out here.  We enjoyed the sunset from the ruins of the Thracian fortress.  The place is apparently a hot date spot because in every corner was a couple kissing.  Eck.  The night was much, much cooler, and there were definitely more people out.  People don't stare or take pictures or say "Japon, Japon" or make grotesque noises at me, which is at once refreshing and disappointing.  Girls are definitely a lot hotter here in my opinion.  They dress tacky and wacky though.  But then again, who am I to judge in my brown flowy skirt, plain white tank top, and dirty flip flops. 

We are off to the capital Sofia tomorrow!  I could have done without Plodiv but definitely don't regret coming here.  It was a good starting point!
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