My adventure in Sofia just may have been my greatest adventure yet.
The adventure actually began on the overnight bus from Istanbul. The first time the bus stopped for a bathroom break, several of the women stayed on to conceal several packets under their shirts and pants. I honestly don’t know what was in the packets and I wasn’t about to ask, even if they had spoken English. When we got to the border patrol for Bulgaria I decided to stick my neck out. I translated on my tablet that the women might be carrying contraband and showed it to the guard. He just shrugged and waved me on. I thought that was the end of it but a couple minutes after we got on the bus, we were ordered back off and everyone had their bags searched. It turned out that the women were trying to smuggle several dozen cartons of cigarettes across the border. But those were all found in their luggage and I don’t think the packets on their persons were found. As if it couldn’t get any more interesting, it turned out their boss had been sitting in the chair next to me. He had not being too friendly throughout the trip, and at one point had been subtly trying to push me out of my chair. I just ignored him and slept for the final several hours of the journey.
I arrived in Sofia at 6 AM. While my international data plan was valid in Bulgaria, my tablet was down to 2% and my backup battery was empty as well. I used up the last bit of power texting my couchsurfing host that I had made it, and found out where to meet her.
Three hours later we finally connected. Our texts got scrambled, and later I was able to get an old guy in town to call her for me and help to arrange our meeting. Luckily the man I found was only a minute away from her house, so I didn’t have to walk very far. We went to her house, I took a much needed shower and then got a wonderful surprise. My host wanted to go to a free music festival in the countryside, but wanted someone else to go with. So three hours after I arrived at the flat, we were on a bus to the tiny village of Ezdimirtsi with a population of maybe a couple hundred.
We partied for two nights, camping under the stars and drinking rakia and their specialty mastika. I didn’t do too much drinking, as my stomach was still a little tender from something I ate in Istanbul, but I had enough to enjoy it. The concert was local Bulgarian bands and a lot of it was in their own language, but they also played American hits. Overall it was very enjoyable.
On Saturday before the music started, we walked and hitchhiked to a waterfall a few kilometers away and spent the afternoon there. The water was ice cold and so refreshing in the heat. I also climbed up to the top of the waterfall, and was rewarded with several welts on my arms from a poisonous plant growing at the top. Thanks to my European knock-off of Tiger Balm, the pain was only momentary. Coming back from the waterfall, I had one of the wildest car rides in my life. Ten of us piled into a tiny convertible. Well, “onto” might be more correct, since two of the guys were lying on the trunk and I was sitting on the side of the car being whipped by the foliage as we sped through the wilderness.
We got back into Sofia late Sunday night and I tried the local pizza with chicken and corn. Then we went into the center of town for drinks. Did I mention that Bulgarians love to drink? Well, that’s not fair to single them out. The whole world loves to drink.
The next day I went for the free walking tour in Sofia. I had no idea what an interesting city it was. Definitely not big, but impressive with what they have. What’s most amazing is how many Roman ruins they have there. There is even a huge Roman area. The only problem is they built several office buildings on top before they discovered it underground. Such a shame!
After the tour, it was onto my next city. Belgrade, Serbia. I will always have fond memories of my weekend in Bulgaria, and I’m so thankful to my host Petya for bringing me to the festival. I will definitely be back someday to climb the mountains in central Bulgaria and see Sofia when all the upgrades are complete.