What took us to Bulgaria? Were we searching for amazing adventures? Exotic cuisines? Celebrity sightings? (Just kidding! I am over that now, remember?) Nope, we went with humble ambitions. We had to renew Feraz’s Visa.
You might say, Sumeera, I am an avid reader of your blog and even read the captions in the pictures so i know that you recently went to Greece. Couldn’t you have just renewed the Visa then?
Why yes, dear reader. We were indeed recently there! But as we were standing in line to get back into Turkey we looked over at the Visa line and were horrified to see there were two whole people waiting. Being the busy and important people we are, we knew there was no way we could waste precious minutes of our lives waiting to renew the Visa.
(Feraz is never one to miss an opportunity to pose like Morrisey. This is on the train)
The train was much better than we expected. We found an empty cabin where we each had plenty of room to lay down. Feraz said he felt like he was in Harry Potter about to go to Hogwarts. Outside the city lights of Istanbul whizzed by. Slowly the last lights faded and we passed the dark countryside. I kind of felt like Feraz and I were at camp. We had packed our backpacks full of snacks. We laid on our respective beds and passed our Tuktus and Milka Gofree bars back and forth while giggling away. Pretty soon I dozed off and didn’t stir until we hit the border of Bulgaria. After going through passport control we had another few hours on the train. When I woke up again, the sun was coming up and we were passing the Bulgarian countryside. Dotted along the coast were farm workers and run down houses and farms. It was beautiful.
And then, the moment we had long waited for. Stara Zagora.
When we first got out of the train station we were hit with an amazing scent. If walking in Istanbul feels like a fat man just farted in your face, walking in Bulgaria feels like you are standing next to a woman who is wearing perfume that costs $652 an oz.
We walked through a park to get to the main part of town and that is when we first saw the boy in the orange shirt. He was standing sleeping up. Jealousy crept through me as I wished that I too could sleep standing up. Imagine the possibilities. Actually as I wrote this, I did try to imagine the possibilities and there really aren’t that many advantages. It seemed really cool at the time though.
Breakfast called and we started looking for somewhere to eat. The best thing to do in a situation where you are in a foreign country, where you don’t know the language or where anything is, is to go where everyone else is going. We soon saw a long line on an otherwise dead street. We walked up to find that it led to what was literally a hole in the wall. I have no idea how they made this hole but there it was and inside it stood a whimsical little lady, a la Audrey Tautou. There was a huge array of pastries and desserts. (As huge as there can be in a hole in a wall) Feraz picked out a cheese pastry which cost .60 lira. He would later rank this the best thing he ate in Bulgaria. Feel free to contact me if you would like a full ranking of favorite eats in Bulgaria.
But a cheese pastry alone would not do. It was time to hunt for coffee. We found something much much better. Iced coffee. Namely, Nescafe Frappe. It is so hard to find iced coffee in Istanbul and when you do it is either at Starbucks or 453534 lira. We devoured our drinks in less than 30 seconds. Then we looked around awkwardly because we had allocated a good half hour for this activity. Only 11.5 more hours to go in Bulgaria.
We walked around Stara Zagora to see what else we could find. We went through lots of shaded and winding residential streets. Much like Turkey, there were little shops dotted along the houses that were stocked with odds and ends. It put a warm feeling in my stomach. We found an outdoor market where we bought a KILO of cherries for 1.5 lira. Doesn’t everything just taste so much better when it is cheap? We continued walking and exploring and eating cherries and perfecting our cherry pit spitting abilities. I am definitely the more talented one in this arena.
We soon had tired ourselves out and decided to take a nap in the park. It was now 10:30 am. We didn’t know it yet, but we had already walked most of the town. In the next ten hours we would make about six more rounds of the town. I wonder what people thought as we passed their shops again and again and again… Luckily no one called the cops on us.
As we stopped to rest in a different park later we saw the boy in the orange shirt again. This time he was sitting on a bench just watching us. We ignored him for the most part, not even fully realizing that we had seen him earlier. A few hours later we would see him in the same park again. This time he had a massive bottle of beer. Like 3 litres massive. This was a teenage boy who was pretty scrawny. It made the bottle look even bigger. We laughed a bit at this but a few minutes later we saw the boy take the bottle and hide it in the tree behind him. Then he got up and walked to a bench two feet away where he sat down, took off one shoe and just sat there with his back to us. Stuff like this happened all day. Particularly in the parks. This alone might be a reason to check out Stara Gazora.
The best thing about Bulgaria was how cheap everything was. As I have already mentioned, the prices were ridiculously low. I had been eyeing this one purse at the mall since I got here but couldn’t justify dropping about 120 lira on something I am sure I would only carry once or twice. We found the exact same (my compulsive looking at this purse for the last few months paid off for something) in Bulgaria for 25 lira!!! I also bought shoes, honey and even hair dye. (Those greys are starting to sneak in! Blimey 26!!)
With such cheap clothes, the range of fashion or lack of fashion in Bulgaria is shocking. We walked into one “mall” and I literally stopped on my tracks. I have never, ever seen so much ugly in my life, not even at the state fairs in Michigan. I looked around to see if people were rolling over laughing but they all took this mall very seriously. Finally I figured out that there had been a competition to come up with the ugliest, tackiest, most ridiculous clothes you could think of and this building was merely a display for the winners. After I figured this out I was able to leave the mall in peace. Also, it cost .50 lira to pee there. No good.
There also seems to be no settled on dress code for Bulgarian weddings. We witnessed two weddings in the park and the guest were wearing everything from cut off jeans, to Halloween costumes, to traditional dresses, to about 3 centimeters of clothing to disco wear. I have pictures to prove this.
There were also lots and lots of old people. They all seem pretty healthy and like to play chess in the park. Well done Bulgarians.
(Happy old people in Bulgaria)
Bulgarians (or Bulgarian shop owners) have amazing taste in music. On multiple occasions I heard songs by Depeche Mode, Cher, and the Macerana, and Another Night, Another Dream. Feraz was not a happy camper because now I will not stop singing these songs.
It is soo hard to find food in Bulgaria. There were no restaurants anywhere! However they have tons of places to drink things. So all over the place there were what looked like restaurants but once you walked in they would tell you there was no food. At one place, we asked for food and the women eagerly nodded their heads. Once we sat down and asked if there was any chicken they looked at us like we were ordering cooked babies. We were soo hungry by lunch time and we spent a good hour trying to find anywhere that would serve us food and we could sit down. (We gave up hoping for an air conditioned place at this point.)
Since we began to think of things in terms of what songs we had heard playing there we remembered that at the very beginning we had seen the Depeche Mode restaurant and trekked back there. It was a glory land. They had sooo much stuff on their menu and the prices were too good to be true. I had half a roasted chicken with potatoes and garlic bread. 5 lira!! Up until we got our bill we didn’t believe the meal could be so cheap but there was no catch!
On our way out of the restaurant, we saw the boy in the orange shirt again. By now I had figured out he was homeless. I wanted to hug him, talk to him, something. Instead I nodded my head at him like a tough guy which made him laugh. But being the tough guy he was he tried to look like he was not laughing. It was a good goodbye.
Oh, Stara Gazora- we developed a major love-hate relationship with it and although we aren’t going to rush back to Bulgaria anytime soon, it was an adventure I am so happy we took.
I used to be obsessed with celebrity gossip.
I shouldn’t be so judgmental. I know I was wrapped up in this culture myself until quite recently. But living outside of it, I can see how destructive and barbaric it is. A lot of people might say that i should lighten up- it’s just for fun. But it’s more than that.