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Taste-test After thinking about it for quite some time, I am finally "stepping into the void". Starting in April, I will be departing my everyday life and going into explore mode for a year. For now, I am planning to be in Eastern Europe for the summer '07, and southeast Asia for the winter of '08. But, of course, things could change. Please bookmark this site and join me in my adventure.

Finally the Beer is Cheap!

BULGARIA | Sunday, 22 July 2007 | Views [1888] | Comments [2]

inside looking at the painted chapel and inside perimeter walls

inside looking at the painted chapel and inside perimeter walls

I’ve been moving around so much I kind of feel like I don’t have any focused thoughts to talk about, but overall very positive since coming to Bulgaria. I’ve seen a lot of western Bulgaria already, mostly mountainous and quite beautiful. It actually reminds me a lot of southern Oregon with the tall hills and mix of dry brown grass and pine trees. I have been surprised that it seems most people have a decent standard of living here. They say the country is somewhat poor, and the average salary is so low, but on the other hand, food and supplies are cheap, so the low salaries can go along way. It is fantastic that I’m finally in a country where the dollar stretches so well. I’ve been eating like a king!

Greece feels like a long way away already, but I'll start with a recap from there. I was a bit somber as I left Skiathos on the ferry, unsure if I was going to have enough energy for the next leg in Bulgaria, but I have risen to the occasion I think and am loving the quicker pace and daily adventures. I had my first experience with www.couchsurfing.com, in Thessaloniki Greece, just before I crossed the border to Bulgaria. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s a network of people who like traveling, and are willing to host travelers at their place, and many times its on the couch, hence the name. I’ve found most the people to be in their early 20’s and students. Anyhow, I stayed for free at a fantastic flat in Thessaloniki for four nights, and we had full use of the kitchen, bathroom, patio… everything you need. The hosts actually had to leave on their own vacation but they left the keys to me and two other couchsurfers, one of which was semi-living there. Check out the pictures of the flat… not bad. The highlight of Thessaloniki was that the other two couchsurfers I was with were anarchists. The one showed us around the city and we went to an abandon building where he sometimes lived called a squat. It sounds really sketchy, but its more like a commune of young people that share everything. They all seemed clean and friendly and educated. Really interesting.

I crossed into Bulgaria and was immediately in the Pirin mountains, which was really refreshing after being on the beach for so long. I stayed in two places, Sandanski and Melnink, which are a small town and village respectively. It was here I started jumping for joy at the prices. In Skiathos I was paying 2.50 euros for a half liter beer, which is about $3.50 US. In Melnink I was now paying 1.50 Leva or $1.00 US for the same beer. After being forced to cook all my meals, now I was having 3 course meals for $6 dollars US. Fantastic. Everything else is cheap as well, taxis, supermarket food, buses, trains, whatever. When you don’t have to worry about the money, you can really enjoy yourself. And even better, it will probably only get cheaper as I move East. Hallelujah!

I won’t go through everything, but check out some of the photos of me hiking to the Monastery in Melnink. Melnink is known for their wine cellars in caves in the side of the mountains. When I got to the Monastery in Melnink, after a stunning 3km hike, I was able to witness a baptism in the church.

The second monestary, the Rila Monestary, was the highlight. They allow you to sleep in the old rooms that used to house the Monks. They are very stark, completely whitewashed walls, with one window, and shabby beds that sink about 6 inches when you lay on them. I thought of shipping one to Roseburg for Dad. It’s a strange feeling sleeping inside what is essentially a fortress. You have to be back inside the gates by 10pm or you’re out of luck. The priests, or monks that are there, are also very serious, and have an intimidating look. I was telling a friend that they look like Saudi mafia hitmen when they have their black robes, sunglasses, and are often talking on a cell phone. Outside the outer walls, there are two restaurants. The first night I saw on the menu that a 1 liter mug of Bulgarian beer was 2.20 Leva ($1.50 US). Yes I said 1 Liter. I couldn’t resist. They brought me this gigantic German size mug. Everyone else at the restaurant watched me out of the corner of their eye to see if I was really going to drink all of it. I didn’t disappoint ☺ And I slept quite soundly the first night. The setting of the Rila Monestary is georgous, tucked into a valley of super steep mountains. On my last day I hiked two of the trails, but unfortunately didn’t have enough time and energy to get to any real destination point. Still worthwhile though.

I forgot to mention that while I was at the first monestary, I met this young girl named Ditka, who snagged me as I got off the bus to show me a room in her grandparents house. She was only 14, but she was fluent in English, and her awareness and understanding of global politics was astounding. I had a hard time matching her intellect. She said that the education here is quite good, and that she gets this from the public schools. I think she was probably a step ahead the others. Anyway, a digression.

After Rila Monestary I made my way to Sofia, the capital, staying one night in Blagoevgrad, a smaller town along the route of about 100,000 people. Most notable here is that I got utterly lost, as I thought I had good directrions from a taxi driver, and didn’t have a map. Carrying my huge crushing pack, and about to collapse, for the first time I gave up, hailed a taxi, and just told them to take me to any hotel. It was actually quite a nice reprieve and still only $20 US a night, which is very expensive for Bulgaria.

My introduction to the Capital Sofia was getting nabbed on the tram by city transportation inspectors within the first 30 minutes of arriving. After much effort to find a tram ticket, and then figure out which tram to take, I was grabbed by the arm and pulled off the tram after two stops of getting on. Completely confused and alarmed, they explained to me that because I didn’t get my ticket punched on the tram, and because I didn’t get a second ticket for my luggage, I had to pay a fine. I was immediately skeptical of a scam, and very upset that this was happening because I worked so hard to figure out the system already. They flashed their badges and demanded that I pay a 14 Leva fine ($10). It’s not much, but I was surprised how angry I was at this situation, and I created a big scene. I accused them of stealing from tourists, who they were obviously targeting, and I almost can’t believe I did this, but I refused to pay them. They then said they were calling the police, which I then started to reconsider. But, whether foolish or not, I stood my ground and I told them that if they police arrived, and they told me to pay the fine, I would pay it. So I waited as they were evidently faking phone calls to the police. They eventually got frustrated by how long this was carrying on, and left. They did get 7 leva from me for the first violation, but at least I wasn’t completely taken, and I spoke my mind. I do plan on reporting their badge numbers to some sort of government agency…. Probably won’t make a difference but it will make me feel better.

Sofia is an energetic city, with tons of good restaraunts, cafes, and nightlife. The infrastructure is not maintained well, but it feels like it is a good life here. There is more park space than I’ve ever seen in a large city, and it seems very safe. The people seem happy, they dress well, and they do all the things that we do in the US it seems. I’ll keep this short and just say that I met tons of interesting people at the hostel I was at, and am generally just impressed with peoples lives here. I spoke to one Bulgarian guy that was actually living in South Africa now, that described the people here in a critical but poignant way I thought. He said that after 500 years of Turkish occupation, then years of Soviet occupation, the people here have a slave mentality, and are willing to “bend over” for anything/anybody that wants to control them. Now, he says, it is the American culture that they are bending over for. He was very adamant that the people here need to take charge of their future for once, now that they are finally free. He says communism has made them lazy and complicit. I do see what he is talking about, as they have a long way to go before they would be considered a “modernized” or westernized country. It is no doubt that eventually this country will be, but I think the question is whether the people will define the fashion in which they modernize, and make it their own, or will they allow western culture and aberrant commercialism to drag them aimlessly along.

Oh, one quick anecdote. I believe Bulgaria is the only country on the planet in which nodding your head yes, means no, and vice versa. I have found it is physically impossible for me to switch to these meanings. The people here are dumfounded when they ask if you want a light (diet) coke and you say “da” (yes) while nodding your head (no) at the same time. It seems trivial but it’s a major mind bender.

I’m jumping on a train and heading to Plovdiv, a smaller city with much of its original architecture and rich culture. Here I have another couchsurfer host which I think will be interesting.

Until next time. Cheers! PS. I added about 4 galleries of pictures

PPS  Another anecdote if you care to read this far. My first experience truly feeling homeless.  When I was trying to leave Thessaloniki Greece for Bulgaria, I went down to take a night train, leaving at 12pm.  The ticket agent mentioned that I'd be arriving in Sandanski Bulgaria at about 3am and gave me a concerned look.  I sat down with the ticket and I started imagining myself arriving at a small, closed trainstop in the middle of the night.  Begrudgingly, I decided this would be a bad decision and went back to the ticket agent and asked to take the earliest train in that would get me there in daylight.  The next train left at 6:45am.  I sat back down on the bench in the train station and got ready to lay out and try to get some sleep.  At about 130am, security started kicking everyone out saying they were closed until 530am. I had absolutely nowhere to go.  I walked around the neighborhoods around the train station and I saw that there was a building under renovation, and they had left the entrance open.  I discreetly snuck inside, as it was chilly outside, ended up finding some rolled up cardboard to lay down on, set my alarm for 430am and fell asleep.  Besides a couple abandon cats that scared the crap out of me as I was sleeping, it was warm and comfortable.  Yes it was a bit sketchy to do this, but I didn't really see an alternative at this time of night. I walked out of the building with a big smile on my face, chalking it up to another new experience.

Tags: Misadventures




Wow! I am still the first to leave a comment even when being disconnected for a week! You met some anarchists huh. In my oppinion they are all hypocrites and selfish, but I don't feel like breaking everything down to explain why.
That's awesome you stood up to those inspectors like you did! Show them that we Americans don't take crap from anyone! Hey Dan, what happens if you get some sort of disease from food you eat? Where will you go for medical treatment? Just a thought poped up as you were describing your homelessness. Well, I'll probably be sending an e-mail by the end of the day! Yes, I am officially graduated, just got my grades back!

  Joe Jul 29, 2007 3:17 AM


no more sleeping in sketcy places! sheesh... on a good note, i'm glad you picked up on the scam, good instincts. and yes, whoever as a stranger (especially 2 strangers) comes to you and demands something from you in the form of money or identification, if they don't appear legit, do exactly what you did, throw a loud fit, that is a perfect way to get some frustration out and to attract attention. what adventures... :)

  laura Jul 31, 2007 10:39 AM

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