My greatest love about travelling is always about connecting with the local people and the generosity and sincerity shown to a complete stranger. I’ve experienced this so many times in Bulgaria in the short time I’ve been here.
Take the young couple who got off the bus with me after a 4 hour journey to Plovdiv (like Rome, straddles seven hills) . We were just abandoned in an empty street some way out of the town. As usual in Bulgaria many of the maps have few landmarks so I had little clue where I was or how to reach my destination. This couple stood chatting with me and guided me to a bus stop, helped me into the right bus, warned me that no one will speak or understand English as these are locally used buses, showed me what the area looked like where I needed to get off the bus and paid the 1 Lev fare for me. Would someone in England do that?
Something about buses in Bulgaria just abandoning their passengers in random places. This happened again in Sozopol. There’s a place between the New Town and Old Town where buses pick up and stop off, except this bus, 6 hours after leaving the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, was in a rush, so stopped on the outskirts of the New Town and dumped me by the roadside with my oversized, overheavy suitcases on an excessively hot day during an unusual red warning heatwave (still cooler than SE Asia). Not a taxi in sight. So I dusted myself down, grabbed the handles of my luggage and entered the first building that looked like I might get some help. After ordering a taxi I sat down and one of the cleaning staff suddenly thrust a bottle of water into my hand. I can’t tell you how grateful at that precise moment I was.
Or the lady that could see I was in pain and needed to get to hospital. We got on the bus together and it became obvious she spoke a little English but had felt embarrassed to try to speak aloud. She overcame this when she noticed how much pain I was in and got off the bus one stop after hers to walk me to where I had my appointment. She started to increase her confidence as she distracted me from my pain telling me her brother works in England in ‘loud ham’ and she wants to go also because there’s little work and low salaries in Bulgaria.
Then there’s the Atanasova family whom I’ve been staying with in the Old Town of Sozopol. Their house is built into the rocks overlooking the sea by Wild Beach on Morski Skali which means sea rocks. I came for 2 weeks, 2 months ago! I’ve been welcomed into their family unit as the honorary English member spending time with Irina who is ever increasing her grasp of English, her adult children who share with me what it’s like living in Bulgaria as 30 somethings, and the cutest of cute granddaughters, one of them giving me daily piano recitals as she practises reluctantly and the other marvelling in the way she says ‘Judie’. On a regular occasion I’ll get the faintest of knocks on my door and Irina will thrust a plate deliciousness into my hand. How can I resist when her food has by far been better that any restaurant I’ve visited. So if you need a place to stay in the Old Town Sozopol let me know and I’ll pass on Irina’s details.
Then Stephanie who accepted me to housesit for her, in a tiny village outside of Popovo in the Targovishte region of Bulgaria, whilst she planned to visited her husband in Armenia. Little did we know that I would have to let her down at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances. I felt awful. But she was delightful and asked me to come and stay anyway for as long as I want, no cost, just come and stay whenever you want, even on my next visit to Bulgaria!
And the ladies in Ravda in the Guildhall who rang the doctor for me as they could see I was in distress, spoke no English but sat and kept me company until the ‘ambulance’ whisked me away.
There’s the man who stands outside his small wine shop in the Old Town who won’t let me pass without trying whatever bottles he’s opened that day, even when I don’t buy one. He takes great pleasure in just letting me try and appreciate the delights of locally produced Bulgarian wines.
And it’s not just people I’ve met in Bulgaria who have shown great kindness to me in the last couple of months. Debra Levine, who I met briefly in Chiang Mai, in one of my many AC offices, Starbucks, called me knowing how difficult distance and family animosity can be when Plan A falls to pieces and you have what seems like no where to turn.
There are many other instances when I’ve been ‘rescued’ just at the right moment. And a mention to my UK friends who again have been at the other end of skype quite a bit recently.
You may have started to read this thinking it might have been a post about sight seeing in Bulgaria but I’m not a travel guide and let’s face it it’s easy enough to Google. My ramblings are more about the honest, down to earth people who have open hearts full of love. The more I travel the more I find this.
Ok maybe I have a few words to say. For a country who spent 54 years under communism and nearly 30 on the other side I feel a sadness. Whilst Bulgaria is part of the EU and trying to embrace some western ideals the population is in decline. Due to lack of jobs the generation born since the end of communism are choosing to leave to find better lives abroad, better paid jobs, and more hopeful futures. Those hard working Bulgarian people who remain will eventually be replaced by the growing (in size) Romani gypsy families. The older people still living a village life are disappearing together with their old traditions. It might be that in the next 30 years Bulgarian is no longer the home of Bulgarians if the exodus continues. It’s a prime target to be annexed by a bordering country who wants to extend land mass.
Please note I’m not saying my ramblings are true they’re just my thoughts on what I’ve seen and heard and not based on any official published facts.