Now that I’m no longer sad/frustrated/anxious about my work sitch, I’m finally in the mood to put up some pics of my happy times in Europe! But before I do, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned my rationale for going to Bulgaria, have I? I’ve come to realise that there needs to be a rationale for going to Bulgaria. Every time I mentioned it, people were puzzled. I don’t blame them. Who goes to Bulgaria, right?
Well, my reason for going to Bulgaria was…I have a Bulgarian friend. How do you have a Bulgarian friend?! Couchsurfing, duh. She used to work for an airline. She first wrote me when she was going to have a long stopover here. She said my profile is really clever and that I seemed like a cool person. (It is and I am.) We met up, got along really well, and every time she came here we’d meet up. So there.
She’s planning to work in Singapore in the next couple of years, so when she heard about me coming to Europe again and not really knowing where else to go besides Italy and Greece (hashtag firstworldproblems, I know), she invited me to visit her in Bulgaria. Might as well go while I know somebody there, right? And that is why I went to Bulgaria!
Upon reaching Sofia, I was whisked away to ER’s place to unpack and repack my stuff for a 3-day stay at her parents’ place in Velingrad, a 2-hour bus journey. First impression of Bulgaria? Oh, oh, my. Looks like Singapore in the 70s. Not that I was alive yet in the 70s. But I’ve seen pictures. I didn’t look out the window much throughout the bus journey though because we were talking non-stop, much to the chagrin of the lady in the next aisle who kept giving us dirty looks. Ha!
Potted plants in her parents’ garden.
Popped my head into the market. Nothing special here. This was no Parisian market.
After dinner one night ER and I took a walk in the park nearby. Despite the lights it was actually really dark in there. There was a guy wearing a hoodie walking behind us for a while and ER and I panicked. I thought to myself, either this is my rape, my murder, or a simple mugging. I couldn’t stand to lose my phone again, but getting mugged is a hundred times more desirable than rape and/or murder. We quickened our pace, the whole time looking over our shoulder. After what seemed like forever, he changed paths. I don’t know what that was about. We were properly freaked out.
We took a road trip to a town whose name I forget. But there were hills and tall trees and yellow flowers and dandelions in the grass and a lake and wide open spaces I don’t normally see.
A little outside Sofia
Paragliding day! We took the 5:30am bus back to Sofia so I could meet my instructors at 9:30am. The mountain we were going to (not Vitosha, they had decided earlier, because the weather wasn’t right for it, or something) was over an hour away from Sofia, hence the early start.
ER didn’t come with me. She just dropped me off at the station to meet my instructors. I was feeling all fine and dandy…until it dawned on me that I was alone in a car on a rather deserted road with three random big, strong guys I just met five minutes ago. AND WE WERE GOING TO A MOUNTAIN. A MOUNTAIN WITH NO PEOPLE AROUND. AND QUITE POSSIBLY NO PHONE SIGNAL. What if the paragliding company was just a ruse to get unsuspecting girls out to the mountains? They could easily rape me and murder me then leave my body out on the mountain where I wouldn’t be found for days/weeks/months. I promise you I’m not usually suspicious of people. But I was genuinely frightened at this point. And I really couldn’t explain why. I could only pray I was wrong.
Seeing this didn’t help assuage my worries, either. It looked like a scene in a horror movie where girls who think they’re going paragliding instead get raped and killed out on the mountain. What? I’m sure that movie exists! The guys explained to me that these were condensation vapours. It happens when the humid air meets the cold ground. It was fascinating. But creepy.
The mountain – at last! Oh, wait. I wasn’t supposed to be happy. I was getting close to my rape and death now. Still, I nearly wept with happiness thinking these were wild horses. But the guys told me that they belonged to somebody and that they were being let out to graze/chill.
Two of the three instructors walking towards higher ground with their heavy-ass gliders on their backs. They wouldn’t carry those things if they just wanted to rape and kill me, I thought. I would actually get to fly down this mountain. In one, un-raped piece. I began to relax.
I was so stoked. I had never seen so much snow in my life. Walking in it was a pain, however. I kept slipping and sliding and sinking! My calf muscles got a real beat-down, I tell ya.
I sat alone up here while the guys inspected the ground and examined the wind quality a little further away. In the end it was decided that the wind was way too strong to fly in. Dammit. The walk back to the car all the way down there was as excruciating as it was going up. Verdict: Snow is pretty but completely horrible to walk in. Don’t do it.
We headed to another mountain that wasn’t snowy. The wind would probably be better there, they said.
On the way to this other mountain I really needed to pee. Of course there were no toilets around so if I wanted, I would just have to squat behind a tree. I had never answered nature’s call in nature before and was shy as hell. But the guys, being guys, were unfazed. “When you gotta go, you gotta go. So just do it,” they coaxed. They let me out of the car and they drove a little further ahead to give me some privacy. Luckily I’m from Southeast Asia and have had some experience squatting to pee. I laughed the entire time but I didn’t get even get my boots wet. Heh. I’m not exactly dying to do it again anytime soon but if I ever find myself in the same situation, I wouldn’t think twice about it.
Green grass! And other people! Chances I would get raped and killed were looking slim to none. Huzzah!
We hiked up and waited for the wind.
The irritating part about paragliding is the wait, they told me. But it’s all worth it when you’re up there.
I know. I went paragliding in Malaysia last year. I know that feeling.
After waiting an hour, the wind was finally perfect. I was strapped up and eager to fly, as was my instructor. Steady…steady…walk quickly…run! Run towards the wind! And off we went! We were in the air! I was flying! Yay!
Hang on, we’re swirling. Hey, we’re swirling. Hey, I can feel the wind dying. Hey, are we…
The ground looked closer and closer. And suddenly we found ourselves seated. FML. Thirty seconds, that flight lasted. All that hiking and waiting and it was over in thirty seconds.
Not me. Some other guy. The wind was conducive for solo paragliding but not tandem. Tandem was too heavy for that wind.
We waited a little bit more for the wind to pick up but it never did. So we conceded defeat and headed back into the city. Because my flight was so short, it didn’t count as a flight and I wasn’t charged. That’s something at least.
After I got in the car, these two guys were standing outside smoking. We lamented the lack of good quality wind and made small talk. Then, one of them asked me, “Do you smoke weed?” No, I said. Is that weed you’re smoking? “Yes. You ever tried?” No, I said. “You want to?” I hesitated. I kind of did. I came close to being able to give it a try in Barcelona, two years ago, with my host AX, but things got in the way. I had another chance now. Do I do it?
“Yeah,” I said. I stepped out of the car and put the fag to my lips. No turning back now. I took a drag. And I immediately coughed. “You’re doing it wrong. You’re not inhaling properly. Inhale. But slowly.” Okay, let’s try again. A longer, deeper drag this time. Nope. Coughed again. And not even the slightest bit of buzz. The guys informed me that you never get high on your first try. I’d just have to do it again next time. Umm, alrighty then! They finished, got in the car, and we drove off. And the whole way back I worried about a guy who’d just been smoking weed driving the car I was in.
After a crazy morning running around trying to find a tailor to replace the broken zip on my coat (don’t ask), I finally got to pay the city of Sofia a visit.
I had never been to a European capital city with streets that weren’t bustled with people, especially tourist-type people. It was 12:30pm on a Tuesday and I seemed to be the only non-local in the city centre. Or at least I didn’t see anyone else toting a camera. I know Sofia is no grand metropolis but it was weird!
The Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church was converted from an abandoned Ottoman mosque. Also – weeping willows! I like weeping willows.
These are sculptures of two Bulgarian writers, Petko and Pencho Slaveykov – a father and son. The square this bench is located, the Slaveykov Square, is named after them.
The Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria was built in 1981 to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the First Bulgarian Empire. They started to dismantle it a few years ago but as with everything in Bulgaria – so says ER – they couldn’t decide who would pay for it, and also they kind of got lazy and so…they stopped. Apparently there hasn’t been any work done on it for over a year!
So Bulgaria has a long way to go before she is on par with the rest of Europe. But for now the east-meets-west feel is pretty charming!