The Unflappable Kindness of Strangers

The train crossed the border round about 3:30 am. Bleary-eyed travellers disembarked to have their passports stamped. The train took off, and stopped about 10 minutes later into a new country, and a new way of life. A nation struggling to overcome its former communist occupation was unfolding before me. The old soviet style block homes, soviet factories rusting away, and roadsides that looked in need of a good lawn mowing. Having come from a male dominated Turkey where many of the women were veiled; it was good to see an equal society back in effect, with not only men drinking in the cafes and bars.

During my last couple of summers working in the States, I had made some good friends with some seasonal employees that had come from Bulgaria. I lived in a house with numerous international workers, and of those about a half dozen were Bulgarian, and I had kept in contact with several of them. Of my international roommates, the Bulgarians were some of the coolest. Hardworking, always laughing, and easy-going, they made great people to live with.

Arriving in Blagoevgrad

So upon arrival to Sofia I quickly caught a bus to the city of Blagoevgrad, two hours to the south, to meet up with one of them and was invited to stay in their home. So it was there that I was adopted by my Bulgarian family. The hospitality I received was unparalleled – for the next two days I wasn’t allowed to lift a finger, they refused my offers to pay for anything, I was even forced to watch them as they washed and folded my clothes. Best of all I was given a police escort to get me through many of the tourist’s sites as Dani’s boyfriend is was a police officer.

Upon arrival, they promptly brought me out to a riverside restaurant, where I was introduced to the culinary world of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian cheese quickly became a favourite, and I continued to be delighted by each new meal I put down. The costs were also quite low, and the food was always quite tasty.

A Different Kind of Underground

That first night in Blagoevgrad I was whisked away to one of the local discos, the Underground. Stylishly fashioned to look like the London underground, the place was bumping with good music. The beers were already cheap, but the bartender hearing I was American decided to make me numerous potent concoctions. Other people that had worked in the states started coming out of the wood work too, and I was really made to feel very welcome. Not to mention the gorgeous Bulgarian girls dancing quite seductively in every direction...

The next day we went to Sofia, the capitol of Bulgaria, to surprise another former roommate who was now in town with her husband whom she had met in the States. On the way we stopped to take in the Rila monastery. Tucked back in a valley below the mountains, the monastery is one of the most visited sites in Bulgaria. The area offered numerous hikes, although the previous nights disco had prevented us from taking in any of them. One of the more notable hikes was to a cave atop the mountain, where it is said that to pass through the cave you need to be pure of heart, and cannot have too many sins. I knew right away that last nights impure thoughts of Bulgarian women would prevent me from getting anywhere near the caves exit. So after visiting the old monastery, we set back out for Sofia, to visit our two friends, Vanya, and Reggie. They were quite surprised as I walked up unannounced to the table and sat down. I hadn’t seen them in almost 2 years, and they'd no idea I was in Bulgaria.

From One Family to the Next

They then invited me to visit them in a town in central Bulgaria, and to stay with their family on the farm. How could I refuse? After spending one last night with my Bulgarian family, I then left for another. We spent the day seeing the old sites of Plovdiv, and then spent the night chatting with the large family that had gathered to welcome home their daughter returning from the States.

Again I was treated extremely well, and filled to the brim with Bulgarian cuisine. Sitting and drinking some home made Rakia, a local spirit, and chatting with the grandfather I began to learn what it was like to have grown up in Bulgaria. Stories of the Communists killing his parents, and sending him off to forced labour nearly brought tears to his eyes. To him and many other Bulgarians, America had always been a symbol of freedom, and hope under the propagandist days of the Soviets. I decided not to bring up the ever tightening grip of government in my country, but instead Cheers his perseverance to now have such a large, happy, and prosperous family around him.

The next day Vanya, Reggie, another cousin and I went to enjoy the sea-side. We left as the first chickens were beginning to crow, and found ourselves in the town of Nesebar by mid-morning. The Black sea is an ever blossoming tourist destination and was beginning to take on some of the traits of a couple of the Turkish towns I’d passed through. That is they began to look more and more like England by the sea. Here prices were double than everywhere else, but having Bulgarians with helped save me some time and money. Still the water was warm, and the beaches were great. Well worth a visit, if not just to plop yourself down to take in the Bulgarian beach culture, and take in some rays.

My Bulgarian friends took off the same night, and I awoke the next morning to head further up the coast to Kavarna, where I would catch a bus, and begin my assault on Romania. Not much to see in Karvarna, but as a whole Bulgaria has proved to be a good find, and I now understand much better the lives of my friends the Bulgarians.

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