Bulgaria. Let’s all say that together…Bul-gar-i-a. I absolutely cannot believe that I am in Bulgaria, but I really am! It’s real folks!
Some questions you may be asking yourself are, “Bulgaria? Where the hell is that? And why the hell would anyone go to Bulgaria?”
First let me say this – Right now, where I am sitting, I am less than a few hundred miles east of Bosnia Herzegovina. Yep, I can smell the ethnic cleansing.
Bulgaria is a tiny country, roughly the size of Pennsylvania in the Balkans, with a population of 8.2 million. If you go to maps.com and check out a map of Europe, look for Greece and Turkey. Bulgaria is right above both countries, bordering the former Yugoslavia on the west, and the Black Sea on the east.
Now as for why I am here: My dad was born here, in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia (accent on the first syllable), and he has not been back here for 50 years. He has this crazy idea about retiring here, because it’s so damn cheap. This country has barely seen the light of capitalism and a free market economy, since it broke free from communist Russia about 10 years ago when that whole game fell apart. So, he wanted to come and check it out. When he invited me to come too, I thought, “Hell no”, but then I realized it would be a free ticket to Europe, and I’d get to check out all the places that he has been harping about for 20 years. Well, I am not sorry I came yet …
Here’s a little story ’bout how I got to Bulgaria, and my first impressions:
My dad and I left the Kibbutz in Israel around 3:00am to head for the airport and catch a 5:30am flight. We passed the rigorous Israeli security inspection (they are completely obsessed with security, and rightfully so), and I managed to get by the customs people without getting hassled about why I am not an Israeli citizen and in the army. Whole other story.
We made our way to the Balkan Airlines check-in. Ever heard of Balkan Airlines? Me neither. When I found out this would be the airline, I immediately envisioned myself sitting next to a goat or a sheep, with chickens running around the isles of the plane. I dunno… Maybe they were the official Bulgarian airline/poultry and livestock transportation method. But the flight was civilized enough. The food was nasty though. What can you expect?
When we arrived at the airport in Sofia, I immediately got the impression that this country does not have its shit together. It was pretty dirty … locals sitting around smoking cigarettes, and the air was cloudy with smoke. We made our way through the crowds of people holding signs in what looked like Russian (Bulgarian is a Slavic language like Russian, and there are many similar words), and arranged for a taxi into the city.
Along the way, the first thing I saw looming in the distance was the Golden Arches of Mickey D’s. Yep, seeds of western ways are being planted already. I had to laugh. There are Coca Cola signs all over the place, indications of a society envious of the west, but not quite grasping it.
As we passed through the city, I noticed many fine European structures, Coptic looking Churches, and potentially magnificent houses. As we got closer, it became immediately evident that all these buildings, once the pride and glory of this city, had been left to the wind by 50 years of communism.
The city, by and large, looks like a run down remnant of a time long past. The people in the street don’t seem to have much to be happy about and there are many beggars. It appears that the standard of living here is quite low. Even our hotel room, which costs $85 a night (expensive by this country’s standards) is pretty grungy. But there is still an element of the old city there, as parts of it have been better kept than others. I have yet to really explore this place, so I will fill in the details later.
We already drove by the house where my dad was born, and it was very nice to be with him as he returned to it. Of course, when he would describe it to me when he was as a child, he made it out to be this glorious mansion with all kinds of decorative adornments. Now it’s just as run down as the rest of city. I imagine it was a disappointment for him, but just being here has already triggered many memories for him. I am happy for him.
Anyway, it seems I have just written a book. I am sorry if this is too long for many of you to read through completely. I do hope you enjoy reading though.
Bulgaria. I have to pinch myself. I am really in Eastern Europe. What shall become of me? Stay tuned….