All good adventures must come to an end. Here are some observations and reflections from the guy who was perhaps the least prepared tourist in Bulgaria in 2018.
People Are Gone, But Not Forgotten (At Least Until It Rains). One of the first things that struck us as we walked around the town of Veliko Tărnovo was the 8 1/2 x 11 printouts attached to trees, windows, doors, and, generally available spaces by the sidewalk. They are written in Cyrillic, so we could not read them, but each posting included a photo of a person. Is this the Bulgarian equivalent of a missing persons post on the back of a milk carton? That’s a lot of missing persons, but not unbelievable in a post-communist state. Well, as it turns out, these folks are, in fact, missing – permanently. The postings are Necrologs, essentially a more public and visible forum for obituaries. Now that’s a way to decorate the town!
Give Every Bulgarian A Shovel. Now that the hammer and sickle are passé, provide every Bulgarian man, woman, and child with a shovel and ask them to start digging. Right there. Anywhere. Just dig! Why? Because seemingly every day, someone in Bulgaria stumbles upon a Neolithic, Roman, Thracian or other archaeological site right under their feet. Whoops, there was a massive Roman road and fortress underneath that hotel parking lot? The most significant Thracian city was intentionally sunk under a reservoir? In the last two years, a police pull-over of a car found the car carrying millions in Thracian gold and valuables (the thieves would not reveal where they dug it up), an archaeologist driving by a construction site noticed Roman tiles in the rubble that led to the discovery of one of the largest Roman baths in the country, and a man randomly handed in a 2,500 year old gold-plated Etruscan text. What are you waiting for, Bulgaria? Start digging!
Passive Queuing Is For The Weak. I still remember being confounded with waiting in line while traveling in Russia in 2001, when no matter where or when I queued for something (getting through customs, waiting for entrance or just the bathroom), I would be one of the last if not the last one through the line. There was a magic and mystery to their methods in Russia, a subtlety of technique, refined under years of communist rule, that I would never be able to learn, but that I could, as I watched myself slowly sucked into the vortex of line’s end, appreciate. Fast forward to Bulgaria in 2018. They, too, have mastered some form of the line sidesaddle/slow-and-subtle cut technique, and it’s still alive and well here. But I’m experienced, aware, and a lot less patient now than I was in 2001 – and I have elbows. Two of them. Game on, old Bulgarian women. I want those freshly fried and sugar powdered donuts as much as you do.
The 80s Are Alive And Well in Bulgaria. Our cab driver smoked cigarettes and blasted Metallica. White Snake played in the background while the two women with light pink dyed and crimped hair chatted at the cafe table next to us, each holding a half liter of Zagorka in one hand and a long, thin cigarette in the other. In Bulgaria, seemingly everyone’s day starts and ends with a smoke, and the music of choice for many is 80s metal. You can enjoy both over your choice of beer, Pilsner or Pilsner, nostalgically priced at less than a dollar a pint.
You Can Share A Cheeky Moment With A Roman. In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered an ancient Greco-Roman ampitheater buried under 6m of dirt and rubble. It had been destroyed by Attila the Hun in the 5th Century (rumor has it that Attila was not a fan of heavy metal music), and is now used regularly for concerts, operas, and other performances. And, not only does the audience enter the theater through the same cooridor (vomitoria) the Romans used, but you can put your rear on the same marble slabs as old Antonius, fight for leg and passing space like Claudius and Domitilla did thousands of years ago, and even use the same toilet that nearly swallowed Marcus in the 2nd century. Well, the toilets have been (somewhat) updated, but that’s likely for the best. No one needs an authentic antiquity toilet experience.
Beware Friendly ATM Women. Beware the woman who wants to help you with the ATM. Yes, she’s wearing an official shirt and a big smile, and she wants nothing more than to enter your security code for you so you can head on your way with a pile of Lev. Well, I’d believe it, if I hadn’t had this problem with a Nigerian prince once…
Signs. Here are some of my favorites.