The Turks in Bulgaria
I got to the Bulgarian border with a truck with a very nice driver. He was a Turk from Bulgaria. As such he held two passports which I had an occasion to see. The names in both differed, in Turkish passport he had a Turkish sounding name whereas in Bulgarian one a Bulgarian sounding name. I was struck by a quite dramatic reason for that. Actually, between 1984 and 1989 Bulgarian communist government forced 900’000 Turks to change their names to Bulgarian ones (so de facto 10% of the population of Bulgaria had their names changed). Later, Maria from Sofia recommended me a movie about those events – “Stolen Eyes.” I still have to watch it but I believe I can already recommend it for those that are interested. On the way with this truck driver we stopped few times. Once, he sold 110 litres of gasoline from his truck in a car workshop on the side of the street. I guess oficially his gasoline usage is now higher than in the reality. Interestingly, on this transit road between Serbia and Bulgaria – there is amazingly high amount of Turkish trucks. As a result, next to this road one can find dozens of Serbo-Turkish cafes. Owned by Serbian they offer traditional Turkish food and drinks and have Turkish cable TV. We stopped in ‘Instanbul Park’ and I was offered a chicken soup and a strange pepper which you can find in the gallery. Another Turk on my way which was extremely helpful and friendly – I just cannot wait to arrive in Turkey. I think it is going to be the best country for hitchhikers.
When I crossed the border, as usually, on foot I had a sign with Sofia written on it. The moment my passport was given back to me by a Bulgarian customs officer a car came to me. A young nice couple that sat inside asked me whether I was going to Sofia – they simply noticed my board and me crossing the border on foot. Happily I answered that indeed I needed a lift, and so I had a ride straight to Sofia from the border without even attempting to hitchhike. Since I had no Bulgarian money on me and there was no ATM next to the tram stop this friendly young couple gave me 1 leva for a tram ticket. Shortly after I bought it there was a control in the tram and I thanked in my thoughts this couple that they offered me this one coin. Otherwise I would end up with a fine. It is worth noting that although I stayed in Sofia for almost 2 weeks that was the only control that there was.
The person I had pleasure to stay in my first days in Sofia was my good friend from Rotterdam – Lyubka. She greeted me with kinder bueno which we ate while enjoying a panoramic view of Sofia. Then we had a warm tea which I always enjoy a lot after a hard day of hitchhiking. On journey like mine, it is definitely a moment you wait for – to see a familiar shining face of your friend. And so staying with Lyubka was a great moment to take a breath full of energy. Lyubka organised my time perfectly so that I could enjoy everything starting from good food and a movie in a cinema (which I longed for for quite a while back then), partying and sightseeing, to a trip soutside of Sofia to Koprivshtitsa. Furthermore, I had an amazingly big bed just for myself and a big white towel which was softer than any towel I had so far on my journey. Purely great!
One of the biggest attractions for me was one of the chalga bars that we have visited – BIAD. Chalga bars are music clubs in Bulgaria where you can listen to Chalga music. Chalga is one of the most puplar music genres in Bulgaria. It mixes Balkan, Arab, Greek, Turkish, and Bulgarian influences together. Arriving to BIAD was a great experience because I have never experienced party like this (apart from some Chalga parties in Rotterdam organized by local Bulgarians – but this one was a full-scale one). There were at least 5 drum stations in this club where some guys were playing together with the dj music. They were just placed randomly over the club and next to tables. Apart from that there was a saxophonist running around BIAD with a connection to the main speakers and so he too accompanied the dj. In the air one could spot napkins from time to time (you see them on the picture above lying on the ground). As it is a local custom to throw them high in the air as a part of a party (in some places admittedly they can cost quite some money, in Biad they were sold for a euro or two). There were a lap dancers going round the club and dancing for guys for a tip. Moreover, there was no dance floor and all the people danced and had fun around their tables which is unusual for many other countries. What struck me the most, however, was the amount of alcohol bottles around. It seemed like no one was buying drinks or beers – only whisky or vodka bottles. In Poland kids surely cannot afford doing that (we were not in a fancy club with elite kids but just in a normal club). The whole night I stayed with my eyes wide opened. I tried to record all I saw in my memory and the smile would not go away even for a minute from my face from bewildering and amazement.
In one of the days Lyubka and her friends Mihael, whom I know from Rotterdam too, and Toma took me to Koprivshititsa. It is a historical town nearby of Sofia hidden in between little mountains. It is very beautiful only with old houses and nice scenery. Just take a look at the pictures. We were there in a middle of a snow storm which made the experience even more interesting. Afterwards, we were all invited by Mihael’s parents for a very nice dinner. For the first time in my life I ate mussles – and I liked them! (As I decided I am going to eat everything on my journey that is given to me.) In total I stayed 4 days with Lyubka and the day she was going back to Rotterdam I went to Pirin mountains for hiking.