Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series.
The next day, I took a train journey to Sofia, Bulgaria on an old dirty overnight train that had no sleepers and hard uncomfortable chairs. A stop at the Bulgarian border took two and a half hours to check passports, even though there were few passengers.
The information office at the train station did not provide any English speakers, and all of the signs were in Cyrillic. They have a long way to go if they want to attract independent travelers. My couchsurfing host here gave me poor directions and a description of a five-minute walk was more like a mile. The pavements were cracked and I had difficulty pulling my luggage because of the potholes. Asking people for the metro just drew shrugs. Luckily, McDonald’s provided free Wi-Fi, as well as clean facilities.
With my trusty iPad, I Googled the directions to the metro, and it was just around the corner from the fast food restaurant. My directions were to take the metro to the end and meet in front of Raiffeisen Bank. All signs were again in Cyrillic, and walking a couple of blocks in each direction was unproductive. Finally, I just walked into one of the banks and asked where Raiffeisen was located, and that was it.
After my hostess arrived, we went to her apartment. It was impressive, with large bedrooms, living and dining rooms and two bathrooms. It was the nicest place compared to most of the Eastern European countries I visited. The prices here are higher than in Romania. There was heavy traffic with many cars, but I did not see many fancy makes.
Fashion here consists of drab colors and styles. The farmer’s market area has large and luscious looking fruits and vegetables. I bought some apples that looked better than they tasted. I noticed stores were not selling any cereals, so Kellogg’s and Post have a potentially large market, but probably Nestle will beat them here.
The next day, I was offered a free two and a half hour English tour of Sofia old town. The large group gathered included visitors from Minnesota and Vermont. One mother was visiting her Peace Corps daughter who is teaching English in a small village near the Greek border. She told me the town is Muslim and she is Jewish. There is a great deal of tolerance for different religions here, as we saw a Protestant church, a synagogue, Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church in close proximity. We were told that during World War II, Jews were saved from death camps in this country.
After the tour, an inquiry at the information office for a good restaurant led to a park with a restaurant in the middle of a manmade lake. Unfortunately, again, no one spoke English, and the menu was undecipherable. I just pointed to an item and received french fries, so I made a chicken sound and got grilled chicken. Inhabitants here aren’t into ice cold drinks, and ice was never provided.
“Ciao” and “merci” are heard frequently, expressions that have been incorporated into the language.
Corruption here is a major problem. I heard that doctors won’t treat pregnant patients without additional compensation, even though it is supposedly a free government program. Corruption in Romania seemed to be petty compared to here. The recommended places to visit included several churches and monasteries that I didn’t visit.
I left Bulgaria with no desire to return, but to be fair, tourists who took an escorted (expensive) tour gave high marks for their visit. Someone who stayed at an upscale hotel said the concierge arranged for English speaking guides for day trips, and even ensure the train trips were smooth by providing an English-speaking porter to seat them correctly. It took half an hour to buy my ticket on Bulgarian Air for my departure, and the line for security grew and grew. Bye-bye Bulgaria, there are too many more promising destinations to see.
Las Vegas Tidbits
Aviation Nation will again take place at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10-11. If you have never seen an air show, this will blow your socks off. This is Nevada’s largest free event. Bring lots of water (no coolers), and I recommend freezing the plastic bottle. I also recommend bringing a head covering, chairs, camera and binoculars. Read what items are allowed, as security is very strict: www.nellis.af.mil/aviationnation/security.asp. Info: (702) 652-1110.
The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.