Clubbin’ it up in Bulgaria

Whenever I pictured Bulgaria in my head, I pictured lounging on the beach by day and visiting wild parties by night. I’ve always had a strange affinity for Bulgarian dance music, especially for the very famous singer Andrea– my college roommates can attest to this, since they’ve often heard me blasting these sexy, exotic tunes right before going out for a night of drinking. Well, suffice to say, my experience in Bulgaria wasn’t really like that. when I arrived in Sofia, it was after a long night on the bus, cramped into a small seat next to a large woman wearing an even larger fur coat. She took up her own seat and half of mine. By the time I got to the bus station, it was still dark outside, and I had no idea what to do next. I was tired and overwhelmed; was I crazy for embarking on this race through 8 countries, none of whose languages I speak? I calmed down a little once I had waited out the nighttime. My personal trick is to never leave the airport/bus/train station until you are feeling confident and comfortable, which means that I slept/sat in the bus station for a few hours before I was ready to leave. I found my way to the tram, which was so primitive it barely had a door. But the windows, fogged over by the cold, cast a very peaceful glow on the interior. In the early hours of the morning, I enjoyed the silence and solitude of the ride. after dropping my stuff at the hostel, I took one of the free city tours. I guess that these exist in many towns throughout Europe. It’s a good idea, but unfortunately my tour guide focused so much on the history/architecture of the buildings and not very much on
people/arts/music/food/behavior,
which are things I’m more interested in. Some of the buildings were really cool though:

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The city has some cool spots, like many thermal water fountains that are open to the public, and large cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues. I learned that the Bulgarian language was the first to use the Cyrillic alphabet. I was also reminded that in Bulgaria, a head shake means yes, while a nod means no… let’s see what kind of trouble I can get into with this! the biggest point of interest was one I found on my own: an arts and crafts flea market. There were many vendors selling crafts, mostly crosses and other religious paraphernalia. I decided to test out a theory that a friend had once shared with me. She had said that street vendors get overlooked and ignored by most people, to the point where they can stop feeling like a human being worthy of being noticed. She had talked about the experiences she had had of just allowing vendors to she her their merchandise, and even if she didn’t buy anything, they were grateful that she had given them a bit of her attention. So I wandered through the market, allowing people to show me their crafts. It was a really heartwarming experience, as people eagerly showed me the items that they had built their livelihoods around. One old woman showed me her knitted cats with such pride, and when I told her how beautiful they were, she had the hugest smile on her face that I’ve ever seen. This walk through the market was possibly the best part of the Bulgaria trip. for lunch, I decided to go through the supermarket and pick out the most unique looking things. The first was a tub of goose pate. It tasted kind of like cat food. The next thing I tried was a drink made with yogurt and chunks of chocolate in it. I definitely wasn’t used to having chunks in a drink like that. Then the third thing was actually really good– a roll filled with some kind of pumpkin mash and powdered sugar. back at the hostel, there was a very strange situation developing. A Japanese man who didn’t speak English or Bulgarian was living at the hostel, in some uncertain (strained) arrangement with the management. The other tenant/worker in the hostel would always try to talk to him and ask him to do stuff, like go to the market to pick up some groceries, but by the time they succeeded to communicate, she might as well have gone herself. Listening to them try to interact gave me a headache– it took 10 minutes for her to get him to understand about the groceries. I could barely understand her, but his English was unintelligible. It was like watching 2 toddlers try to interact in their own made-up languages. You could really feel the frustration growing every time they tried to talk. I am really curious why that guy decided to go live in a place where he couldn’t at least understand English… what a strange and difficult life. anyhow, the night was the best part. Any of the people who lived near my dorm room in college have probably heard some unusual music coming from my room at party time– I am really into Bulgarian pop artists such as Andrea and Liana. Anywho, it happened that Liana was performing live at a night club that evening!!! Seeing her was one of the highlights of my trip, it was so cool to see that this music is actually listened to and appreciated in some part of the world– I had always wondered how authentic it was. I learned an unsavory fact about these singers though: most of them are prostitutes, including my two favorites. It’s just part of the business in Bulgaria. I saw for myself how men came up and whispered to Liana during the breaks in her performance. Um…

The next day I went to the ethnographic museum. One cute fact is that when a woman got married in the countryside, traditionally she would bring her spoon with her to her new home. I guess she was trying to say “hey yall, I’m here, where’s ma dinner?” Another cool thing is that Bulgarian women share a large amount of mitochondrial DNA with Native American women. I wonder how this link was formed.

After the museum, are at Hajidragonov’s cellar, an underground restaurant with absolutely delicious food, like pork stew cooked in a clay pot.

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And tried some clover tea with solid honey. I didn’t know that some honey was solid. It was kind of like biting into fudge.

Overall, it was good to get my feet wet in Bulgaria, but I will definitely need to be back. I’d like to see the beach areas, as well as some more culturally immersive places such as Plovdiv. Sofia is not a tourist city– it’s just an average city.

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