Bulgaria

I’ve found myself sitting in cafes and restaurants in Sofia and listening to the different languages.  The sounds of so many different dialects is fascinating, and just beautiful.

After my late-night, unexpected hotel transfer, I settled into my room.  The weather in Bulgaria was perfect and the temperature outside was around 60 degrees.  When I arrived, the window was open (there was not an air conditioning unit in this room).  The room itself has a bit of a musty smell but I figured it would dissipate soon and the room had likely been sitting empty for a while, given the pandemic.  Since I was on the ground floor, I closed the window and went to bed.

I had a difficult time sleeping; the musty and moldy smell kept waking me up, it was that strong.  I woke early the next day and headed out to find some coffee and breakfast.  There was a lovely little café just 10 minutes walking distance away, and I was able to get some ‘life admin’ done while I enjoyed my breakfast and the sounds of the locals.

I headed back to the hotel once my computer died and opened the door and window, thinking I could air out the mold in the room.  I was still doing some writing and sat in the courtyard the rest of the afternoon.  I went to sleep pretty early that night and decided to leave the window open, hoping it would help me sleep with some fresh air.

Well, it did not.  The mold smell was overpowering and the noise of other guests was constant.  I woke up early again and just chalked the entire experience up as part of the trip; what could I do, really?

I headed out pretty early that morning with a checklist of places I wanted to see.  The first one was up a giant hill.  The sidewalk itself was pretty poor cobblestone and the street didn’t have any cars on it, so I opted to go as quickly as I could up the street.  About halfway through, a young man hollered something at me in Bulgarian and I just responded, out of breath, “I only know English…”  And just like that, he said, “Oh, no problem.  Can I help you up the hill?”  And he was there immediately pushing me, without even a question.  And of course, right at the top of the hill, the traffic picked up and we started blocking the very narrow street.  He finished helping me to the top of the hill as a driver in a black transportation van was yelling something out his window and pointing at me.  I left the ‘scene’ as they continued to yell at each other and thought to myself, Sometimes not understanding what is being said is a blessing.  There is no doubt in my mind that the driver was upset about me being on the road and my pusher was defending me.

I continued on my way and saw so many lovely historical sites.  Bulgaria is built on Roman ruins.  In fact, it’s the oldest European country.  It’s also a former communist country, and it’s evident in the buildings and the culture.  Once you’ve experienced a former communist country, it becomes so recognizable, and I knew it within the first hour of being in Bulgaria.  The legacy lingers for so long and in so many ways…the buildings, the demeanor of the people, the signs.  It’s just there, engrained in the country.

In recent weeks, Bulgaria has been going through some political protests.  I don’t want to overexaggerate this, as there are far worse things going on in the world, and protests happen almost everywhere.  But it certainly was interesting to walk around the city and see the flocks of police and police cars on every corner.  The officers themselves were incredibly friendly, and like in the US, I was grateful that they were there to protect the population (and to take my photo when I asked).

I had seen most of the places on my list before I sat down for a meal.  After I put in my order, I was sitting and people watching when I noticed several little red dots on my right arm.  Hmm, this is strange?  Where did these come from and what are they?  It took no more than a minute for me to panic and question if they were bed bug bites.  A serious bed bug infestation can produce a mildew smell, and let’s be honest, the room I was in was questionably clean and very unused.  I knew I had to leave that hotel.  I hadn’t been sleeping and now, with the potential of bugs in my bed, I knew the next two nights would be impossible.

I finished my meal and headed to the hotel, hoping I could get a refund for the two nights I had remaining.  I am so lucky that it wasn’t a problem, and I was pretty immediately given the cash back that I had paid for the room.

I packed my things and headed to the train station.  I had found another room a few train stops away for just slightly more, which I was willing to pay at this point and given the messiness I’ve had with rooms in Bulgaria.

As soon as I took the elevator down and into the subway station, I looked at the signs and realized nothing was in English.  Ok, this will be interesting.  I have a map on my phone with the names of the stations I need, so let’s just match them up.  That should be easy, right?  It was not.  I tried my hardest but ended up searching for an information counter where a woman helped me buy my ticket and get to the right train.  I had to take the train one stop and then transfer.  This seemed easy enough and there was just a small step to get into the train, which a middle-aged man helped me navigate.

I got to the next station and found the elevator to bring me to the platform I needed for train number two.  There was a sign on the elevator door in Bulgarian, and I figured it said something about the elevator not working but thought I may as well try the button.  I did, and I waited, and nothing happened.

I didn’t want to leave the train terminal since I already had a paid ticket but there was also not an information desk anywhere.  I searched and searched and attempted to find someone who could help me with no luck.  I knew I had to leave the terminal to get help.

I found a wonderful woman working at the ticket counter who spoke some English, and I communicated where I needed to go and that the elevator was not working.  She understood and found a train security man to help me.  He, on the other hand, did not speak any English.  We communicated with hand signals and smiles and he took me down five steps, through a hallway, and then back up five steps.  There was an escalator that he pointed to and I gave him the thumbs up signal with a smile.  He smiled back and I backed myself up to the escalator with him holding me from behind.  We rode the entire way down and he pointed at the train I needed.  I smiled back and nodded my head, thinking he had done his part.  But he waited with me and made sure I got on the train.  I told him “Thank you” as the train door shut with a big thumbs up and a smile.  He did the same in return.  Seriously, the Bulgarian people have been so kind.  I am in awe with the culture.

I had a 20-minute walk from the train station to my new room.  I had debated about taking a taxi but since I was paying a little more for this room, I mustered up the energy for the walk.  It was a treacherous walk with giant curbs (no ramps) every few feet.  The curbs were so large that I had to put my bag down on the ground, get out of my chair, lower the chair below the curb, get back in, pick up my bag, cross the street, and do the same exact thing to get back up the curb.  I did this at least 15 times.  Lo and behold, as soon as I arrived at the hotel, they advised that there’s a free shuttle to the train station and hotel…

Once I got to my third hotel in Bulgaria, I immediately inspected all of my things.  I didn’t see any bed bugs – whew!  For what it’s worth, I also did a thorough inspection of the previous room before I left.  I couldn’t find any bugs except a spider that was about five inches in diameter living under the bed in a quite expansive web.  The bites – whatever they were – have since disappeared and I’m assuming it was either a baby spider or some sort of flying insect that came in on the night I left my window open.  None the less, I was able to get two solid nights of sleep, which were much needed, in my new place.

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