Jared in Bulgaria – Part Quarte

Great news everyone! Vladimir bathed! OH, what a relief! I was really beginning to worry that I’d have to spend the next few days in the midst of thick Bulgarian funk…

Okay, on to other news.

After my last installment, I ventured out into the city center of Plovdiv. Ya know what? This ain’t such a bad city. It has a whole strip in the center called, “Knyaz Alexandar” where there are dozens of shops, people hanging out, and people walking to and fro, arm in arm with smiles on their faces. I saw a number of street musicians, artists, and vendors selling different books, crafts, and religious icons. That’s a big deal in this town – religion. I think they are pretty into it – Bulgarian Orthodoxy. They have many old churches dating back centuries with some of the most impressive designs and murals depicting Jesus and his gang, and all their wacky doings.

As I walked around the city center, I came upon a girl playing guitar right in the main square. I decided to approach and listen for a bit. It was one of my goals before I embarked on this journey, to meet and commune with the local musicians, being that I am one and all. I sat down a few feet away, smiled, and motioned for her to continue playing.  She was decent, but her guitar was all beat up and sounded pretty bad. I felt sad about this, knowing that back at my hotel room, I had a pretty nice one sitting there, and if, heaven forbid, something were to happen to it, I could easily buy another if I had to.

She was clearly poor, as she had a box strategically placed for people to drop spare change into. I know she depended on this, so I emptied my pockets of loose change and she looked at me graciously. She said something in her tongue, but I replied, “No speaka Bulgarian. English!”, while making convoluted hand gestures.

“Ahhh, English?” and I nodded, which to her means “no”, but then I remembered and shook my head to indicate “yes.” So, she consequently broke into a rendition of Alanis’ “Ironic.” Imagine hearing this song sung by someone who clearly does not understand the words, and pronounces them with the heaviest of Slavic accents. Go ahead…imagine.

I was nice and I sang along. A few moments later, we were approached by some Mormon missionaries. These guys are relentless….everywhere, converting the world. Even in Bulgaria! I knew right away what they were, so I started talking to them. I guess they figured they shouldn’t bother with me, since I was not one of the local heathens, but I spoke to them for a bit anyway. It was nice to talk to some Americans, after nearly two weeks of solid foreigners….but of course, I am the foreigner now.

A group of rowdy, drunk Bulgarian youth approached to check out the girl who was playing guitar. Clearly, they had their fill of Vodka that afternoon. I was quietly writing in my journal, listening to the girl, soaking up the atmosphere, when one of them came over to me and asked me a question. Again, I said, “No speaka Bulgarian. English”. Bad move.  Seconds later there was a swarm of drunken kids around me saying “American?  American?”

They got pretty close, and decided they were interested in my sunglasses, so I let them take them off my face and check them out. I suddenly became very friendly and pointed at myself saying, “Me, Jared”.  Luckily, they were receptive, as one stepped forth and said “Me, Nicolai”.  Then, they all decided to spout whatever English words they could think of:  “Chicago”, “Cowboys”, “Bill Clinton” (pronounced “Beel Cleenton”), “Derek Jeter”! I kept smiling and nodding approvingly, thinking to myself, “I gotta get the hell out of here”.  Luckily, some of the Politza (police) came over and sent the kids packing. They drunkenly waved and screamed, “bye-bye Americana” and walked away. That was my que to hightail back to the safety of the hotel. I spent the evening in my room, playing guitar on the balcony and surfing through the limited variety of TV channels. Not much on, but Bulgarian porn. Click.

Next day:

I awoke to find out my dad arranged to have an English speaking tour guide named Svetlana show me around Plovdiv. Vladimir took us to the city center and from there, we hoofed it up to the ancient part of the city where there’s some Roman ruins of an amphitheater and maze of ancient looking cobblestone streets with very old-school looking European houses lining them.  We went to the museum of Bulgarian Renaissance.  Eh, I’ll skip that, cuz it was pretty boring, considering all the text was in Bulgarian, and I no speaka Bulgarian. The old city is very nice. It is set on a hill, so much of the walking was on either a steep incline or decline. The hill has been settled for over 4000 years, and Svetlana explained that the settlers chose the site because it was easy to defend.  I guess rocks roll down a hill a lot easier than up a hill.

Later in the afternoon, we drove up into the mountains to the Bochkovo Monastery, which was quite beautiful. The mountains surrounding Plovdiv are more alive than the ones in between Sofia and Plovdiv. There were several quaint towns with red-shingle-roof houses, and step farms carved into the mountainsides.

When we arrived at the monastery, we were greeted by a chorus of bleating sheep and a kind old gentleman with a long white beard in a black robe (picture the typical monk) who was kind enough to show us around.  This place was straight out of a fairy tale.  It was so ancient and mystical looking, that I understand the drawing power it has on the locals, who make regular pilgrimages here to pay homage to their faith and kneel before their prized possession, a very old Icon.

An Icon is a religious painting (I think…someone correct me if I am wrong) that supposedly holds miracle-working powers. The one they have here was found in the hills hundreds of years ago by the monastery’s Patriarch, and it is said to have healed the blind and opened the ears of the deaf. Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, that was today. It’s 7:00pm here now, and I will be heading back to the hotel.  Please keep writing to me! I am heading for the coast of the Black Sea tomorrow!

Thanks for reading,

Jared