Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sofia again..... with time to reflect.

So with just over a week before we moved in I continued to explore Sofia, take photos, drink beer, drink Rakia and get more used to the customs, especially the delicious food, and moreover, the completely non British way of eating it. I began to reflect on my hitherto experience of this new country.
As I have said on www.bulgariatravel.uk.com, I was fascinated by Bulgaria the first time I visited in March 2011. Not only did it look more 'foreign' when compared to other countries I had visited, it felt like it. Many times I have visited France, Greece and much of Europe. Yes, they are foreign countries to a Brit (or English as I prefer), but Bulgaria felt kind of alien, in the nicest possible way of course. The long ancient history, 500 years of Ottoman Rule, many years of being hidden behind the Iron Curtain and of course the Cyrillic Alphabet, in my view,  had totally created a country so different from the rest of Europe. And nature has blessed it with astounding beauty that really must be seen. 
My first visit was for the for the holiday of Baba Marta, the celebration of the coming of Spring on the 1st March, and the celebration of the ending of the Turkish Yoke in 1878 on the 3rd. Baba Marta is Grandmother Spring. Little red and white ties or figures called Martenitsi are pinned to friends' and relatives' lapels', whilst they are wished 'Chestita Baba Marta', or Happy Grandma Marta Day. The tradition, which dates back to Pagan times states that if Baba Marta is happy then the Spring weather will be pleasant. Also if you see a stork then the Martenitsa should be hung on a blossoming tree to wish fruitfulness. I love this custom!
Apart from experiencing Sofia which began with the fascinating Archaeological Museum, we visited friends in Yablanitsa, a mountain town in the Stara Planina and also the ancient city of Plovdiv, with its amazing colourful architecture, straight out of the world of fairy tales.
It was in Yablanitsa that I realised how different having a meal is here. For a start, unlike the UK there is little formality. It is usual to begin with a salad which is often accompanied by Rakia, the extremely potent spirit that is traditionally made all over Bulgaria, from just about anything such as grapes, apricots, plums etc. Another point here is that whereas Brits drink without eating most of the time, it is unusual for Bulgarians to drink Rakia or even beer without an accompanying salad or meze. Also it is noticeable that in the UK we serve separate courses usually in portions, but in Bulgaria, similar to Greece, everything else arrives on the table soon afterwards. It is a very leisurely dining process which can continue for hours and usually does. 
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia.
By now I was getting used to the Bulgarian 'yes' and 'no', with the shaking of the head for 'yes' and nodding for 'no'. It was a little disconcerting to go into a bar and ask for a beer and get what I perceived to be 'no' when they meant 'yes', especially if it was not done with a smile. I got the feeling that the next thing that would happen would be a polite "bugger off", but it is completely the opposite of just about everywhere else. 

Outside the Ivan Vazov Theatre, Sofia.

House of Alphonse de Lamartine, Plovdiv.
Old City, Nessebur.


I also spent Christmas week 2011 in Sofia. Here I am in a snowy Loven Park. It was really nice to have a white Christmas and once again to enjoy interesting customs different from the UK. Vegetarian food and presents on Christmas Eve. 

So to bring us back to my emigration, it was now only just over a week before moving to Rudartsi. Every day I would take the bus into Sofia to soak up the atmosphere and the sunshine, which was now very strong and hot. 
On the following Thursday I was walking with my camera when I noticed a lady, brightly dressed in red and yellow, remonstrating with an Eastern Orthodox Priest. I don't know what her grievance was, but her manner made me avoid any contact. I failed, because as I crossed the next street we both converged. She began to shout at me too, in Bulgarian of course. I told her I was English and she continued in fluent English. She bawled that I had no right to be here...that I was a warmonger and Obama supporter. On the first point, I did not happen to have the Treaty of Rome, or any other European Treaty on my person for that matter, but the second points could be discussed, which I had no intention of doing ! 
I squeezed myself away from her flailing arms and went on my way in front of a group of smiling builders who had enjoyed the whole scene. 
So there was proof that I had become an immigrant ! A strange experience, and it did cross my mind what really serious discrimination might be like. In reality, despite Sofia being the capital and duly possessing its anonymity, I must say I find the Bulgarian people the friendliest I have met and very sociable. 
On the 2nd June we spent the weekend with two friends in the quiet village of Gurlo.

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