Jared in Bulgaria – Part Cinque

Hi all! I will keep this short, because Vladimir is waiting to take me back to the hotel.  It’s kind of nice to have a chauffer, even if he reeks.

We left Plovdiv this morning and set out on the 6-hour drive to the coast of the Black Sea, IN a town called Varna, a major city in this country. It’s supposedly a resort town where all kinds of low budget Europeans come for vacation. Looks to me more like a ghost town full of run down hotels, and half built complexes, seemingly abandoned in mid-construction.  Oh well, what can I expect? I’m in Bulgaria, for God’s sake.

The drive here was quite annoying, because my father sat in the front with Vladimir and they were speaking Bulgarian the whole time. Here’s an exercise to perform:  Get a tape of a foreign language of which you do not understand a word, place in Walkman, and listen for six hours without stopping. Then, you will understand what I went through today. God,  I thought they would never shut up! There is a word in Bulgarian, “tooka”, which I think means “there is”. Like, if you were to say, “There is an Internet center here”, you would say “Tooka Internet blah blah blah”.  So it pops up all the time in conversation. All I heard was “Tooka tooka tooka tooka” all day, and I was about to go insane when we finally arrived.  No offense to any Bulgarians out there…it’s not you, it’s me.

So, I have officially laid eyes on the Black Sea. Looks like your average body of water to me. We checked into the hotel, which is right on the beach, but wayyyy the heck out of town. So, I am basically going to be stranded here for the next few days, because we are sending Vladimir back to Sofia. So, you may not hear from me for a few days.

My dad wants to remain here for two weeks of rest and relaxation. I want to hop on the next bus to Turkey and begin my own personal journey……but that will probably not be until Tuesday. Oy. Well, thank the maker I have my guitar, and I bought a really good book called Exodus by Leon Uris. All about the creation of Israel. Good stuff; very interesting. It has my official stamp of approval.

Sorry, I don’t have much exciting things to report, cuz I spent most of the day in the car, and I got Funky Vladdie standing over me looking all impatient and stuff. So, I’ll leave you now.

Onto Turkey! Hopefully soon…

Jared

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

Jared in Bulgaria – Part Trois

Day Three:  My water supplies have run out, and I am lost in a Bulgarian desert with no food. Wait…is that some Feta cheese I see in the distance? Ohhhhh…..I am saved!

Reality:

Last night Vladimir (our friendly cabbie) returned to the scene for a little tour of the surrounding mountains. Sofia is quite dramatically set at the foot of a huge mountain called Vitusha. It’s one of those gigantic pointed-peak, snow-capped types that and is quite breathtaking. I can see it from the balcony of my room.

Vladdie trucked us up to the foot of Vitusha to this quaint little restaurant by a lake. We were served up the real Bulgaria goods this time. They have the best Feta cheese here, and for those of you who know me well, that should tell you I am a happy camper when it comes to food. This cheese is a staple in their diet, so it came on the salad, and in a fried form mixed in with corn meal (I never had anything like this before).

The main dish was chicken, with onions and peppers in a tomato base…it was okay, but it didn’t blow my mind. I couldn’t finish all the food that came, so I wanted to make sure it was not thrown away. In a country where many people cannot afford to eat, that would be a grave shame. I had my dad ask the waiter what he would do with the leftovers, and I was told not to worry that it would be eaten. When we were walking out of the restaurant, I peered around the corner and saw them dumping the food into dog dishes. Well, at least Fidofsky didn’t go hungry last night.

We hired Vladimir to drive us across country to the Black Sea coastal town of Varna, by way of Plovdiv, the second largest Bulgarian city, and supposedly its cultural capital. The next morning Vladdie showed up at 10:00am, and my bags were packed and ready to go.  As I was carrying them around the car to the trunk, he met me there to assist in lifting the bags (he’s a little overzealous). Immediately, I was met with the heaviest punch of body odor that I have yet to smell from European or Israeli people alike. Whoa…I almost fell backward as the pungent odor filled my nostrils and went straight to my brain’s “nasty sensors”.

I was not looking forward to riding two hours in a car with this beast-like smell.  As we got underway, I rolled the window all the way down and practically stuck my head out like a dog would, with my face to the wind. My dad screamed at me to close the window, because it was cold. Hell no. Next time hire a cabbie who bathes from time to time.

The Bulgarian countryside is full of rolling hills and mountain backdrops. It’s clear that the land is for the most part neglected, because it has an overall tinge of brown to it. You know, the color of dead plant life. There is also a strange haze that seems to hang over the whole country, as if to reflect the lack of clarity and direction that its people seem to have.  Along the way, I listened to music provided by my good friend Kevin Kline (it was the Zeppelin mix CD, Kev…). With the wind blowing in my face, I was able to survive the ride with Funky Vladdie.

Right now, I am sitting in an Internet center in Plovdiv.  Many of you may wonder where I am accessing the Internet from so often from. Well, there is a strange contrast of extremes here in Bulgaria. While you can find things like Internet access, and the standard trappings of western goods (I speak mainly of food), the situation is indeed as bleak as I have been painting it. Plovdiv, however, seems to be a lot nicer and better kept than Sofia.

First of all, our hotel is not a dump. It can actually be said that it’s “nice”. I wouldn’t go further than that though. There is definitely a more youthful and alive energy to Plovdiv.  Young faces roam the streets, in modern dress and style. The town center is not grungy, and there are many shops and street vendors selling religious icons and various handcrafted items. And, of course there’s the local McDonald’s. 🙂

So, that’s that. I am about to go and explore Plovdiv for a bit….maybe have a snack or something, and then meet up with dad and Vlad later for some dinner. I hope Vlad is smelling better by that point.

Stay tuned…

Jared