Trip Start Apr 16, 2012
34Trip End May 18, 2012
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Where I stayed
My hotel is booked tonight in Sofia and I ponder my options. A quick search at Kayak reveals there are no flights at all to Sofia. All flights go to Montenegro. Interesting concept for an international airport and a handy thing for anyone traveling that way.
Further research yields a bus leaving at 4. After breakfast, I check out, leaving my bags at the desk and walk along the Nisava toward the center, passing the ruins of an 18th-century Turkish fort and a large outdoor market where everything from pickled peppers to panties is on offer. Just past the market is the bus station where I confirm that the Sofia bus does leave at 4 and buy a ticket
Up one ATM-free street and down, I finally change my sole remaining euro note, a 50, at an exchange kiosk and receive 5650 dinars. I feel quite flush. Back to the bus station, I slap down 1500, scoop up ticket, change, and passport and now have just six hours to kill before bus time. With 4300 dinars burning a hole in my pocket, I make for the park inside the grounds of the fortress and order a cup of coffee at a cafe. 80 dinars. If I sit here all afternoon I could enjoy another 52 cups and have change to spare.
I knock around the fort for an hour, walking the walls and strolling shady paths before heading into the center square. It's dominated by the '70s-era Ambassador Hotel complete with dark lobby and plastic paneling. I read that it's still state-run. It looks it. Across the square, U.S. ambassador Ronald McDonald sits on his fiberglass bench grinning at traffic on the boulevard in front of his cafe-style restaurant
Lunch at a restaurant by the river, cheese and walnut tortellini, and back to My Place to read for an hour before heading once more buswards.
At the Bulgarian border a sign reads:
Passports are collected by the Serbs and we wait. Passports are handed back by the driver and we drive across the expanse of no-mans land concrete to the Bulgarian side. This time, we all get off the bus and proffer our documents personally. Meanwhile, birds fly overhead from Bulgaria to Serbia ignorant of their wanton violation of international protocols.
Into the outskirts of Sofia under a lid of clouds, with curtains of rain draping the hills behind the city and soon a cloudburst engulfs the bus and we slow to a crawl as we roll toward the center, raindrops stippling the streets
Conversation with the driver follows the surreal pattern of comprehension just beyond each other's grasp.
It is first time in Sofia?
Yes. It's very beautiful.
Thank you. Is your hotel?
Sorry? Sheraton Balkans.
Yes. I know. Reservation?
You stay here?
Yes. Sofia for five days. Then Varna. Have you been to Varna?
The wide drive in front of the hotel is jammed with cars. We squeeze around a gleaming black sedan displaying the Norwegian flag and there are men in suits with wires running from collar to ear everywhere
Thank you? Blah-go-DAH-ria.
Rs are well-rolled here.
Another woman joins the conversation. Both are curious about what I am doing here. Business? No, holiday. Why would someone from America come to Bulgaria for a holiday? There are people back home asking the same thing. And why is the bar so empty? (It's 9.30 and there are only the three of us.)
It is that this hotel is mainly for business, and so ... most have their meetings in the city in restaurants and other places, so not so many people on holiday like you here, and so the bar is... She gestures at the empty room.
Or, perhaps it's that the bar menu is lacking for Negronis.
I have a comfortable room on the top floor with a window that opens onto Sveta Nedelya Square between the hotel and St. Nedelya, the Eastern Orthodox church that was bombed by Bulgarian communists in 1925. A light breeze lifts the inner curtains into the room but the air is still heavy. I fall asleep to the sounds of Sofia at night.