Where am I?

Created this blog to document my travels, experiences & thoughts thru Central & South America but hell plan to blog my travels to where ever. Goofy harmless Free Spirit hoping to spend most of my time with locals & enjoy the world! So hang on as I travel, drink cervezas, raise a little hell, maybe piss off a few people & hopefully not give Canadians a bad reputation! Of course don't do these things on purpose but while having a good time well "Shit Happens"!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My fanastic couch surfing & stay in Sofia Bulgaria where met & made some cool friends!!

So yeah I had never couch surfed before even though I had hosted people at my home! So I sent out a few emails to people and in Turkey and Balkan countries people either had other couch surfers, had family staying, were traveling or busy! So I wasn’t feeling too good about trying out couch surfing! But I got 2 positive results from Sofia in Bulgaria. One was Elena and the other Olga so had to pick one without being unappreciative to the other. But guess what convinced me was Elena also invited to join her and her friends on a weekend out to the country.

What surprised me was Elena is doing 2 things as she is going to school and working full time both full time. Yet she finds time to host people and also go on weekend excusions to the country side. Olga seems like a real nice person who is a single mother of 3 kids and works full time! Olga also had a Greek friend coming to stay for the weekend I was arriving.

So Elena’s plan was that I would either meet them at the train station or contact her before 6 pm on the Fri. So I decided to meet them prior to 6 pm so would take the overnight train on Thur from Istanbul so I would arrive early Fri am. Well that plan sounded good but there was some trouble with the lines out of Istanbul so the trains weren’t running. So I had to catch an overnight bus instead. The train station was about 3 blocks from the hostel I was staying in Istanbul which would have been more convenient. While the bus station was a tram ride followed by a metro ride to the bus station. Shit when I went to catch the tram it was chockerblock (packed) at the station that I was getting on. So people were pushing to get in before the doors closed like a subway! But shit I had my backpack so the door kept opening when it hit my back. So I kept trying to push my way in the door. But this old man got pissed at me and pushed me out the door - the asshole! So when the next tram that came along well I made sure I was one of the first people in the door.

I was given instructions to take the tram to the end of the line. Then go to the metro station and take it to the bus station . This all sounded easy but as usual I somehow I forgot & got off at the wrong tram station as I asked a lady if the metro line was close. Which it was but not the metro line I was to catch cus it was a 3 block walk so it was hard to find. But luckily a guy was nice enough to show me the way.

So anyway after all that shit I got on the right bus to Sofia. But shit when the bus got to the Turkish / Bulgarian border around midnight it was a 2 hrs hassle to get thru. First the bus got to the Turkish exit check & everyone was either Turkish, Bulgarian or EU except me! So this dude takes my passport away like I was a terrorist or something and tells me to wait there. So everyone leaves for the bus and I’m waiting to get my passport back. By this time the driver is running out of patience and drives the bus away. Luckily his conductor or assistant is nice enough to wait for me. But she can’t speak English so couldn’t tell me why the delay with my passport. So when the guy finally bring my passport she goes running after the bus so I follow. But shit don’t know why we hurried cus the bus goes back intoTurkey & into a line where we had to take out all our bags for a check. I guess they randomly pick buses to check so maybe they thought shit there’s this crazy Canadian dude that looks like a terrorist or something so let’s check out the entire bus! Then after we get everything checked and back in the bus. We go maybe 25 meters and the bus stops and everyone gets out again. So I follow thinking this must be for the Bulgarian entry stamp offices. But when I go in I realized that it’s Duty Free and every one including the driver are busy buying shit like cigarettes & liquor. So I followed this one girl who looked like she knew where we get our Bulgarian visa stamp. But shit it turns out she was headed for the bathroom/WC/toilets which was OK cause I needed to go anyway. But hell like all places in these countries it pisses me off as they wanted money to pay to use the facitilies. But the girl had no Turkish liras left & seemed she had to piss like a racehorse but they wouldn’t let her in! So I offered to pay for her visit along with mine. It turned out she was English so we could speak so I told her why didn’t u threaten to pee on the floor! Cus a few times in some countries’ bus stations I didn’t have the cash or refused to pay so either walked by the person taking the cash or just walked outside and pissed behind a bus! So after the Duty free & the piss session we climbed back on the bus to go another 50 meters to reach the Bulgarian border where the guy comes on collects our passports and brings it back stamped.

But after wasting 2 hrs at the border in the middle of the night where I lost 2 hrs of sleep we still got to Sofia at 6 am. So here I am in Sofia without any Bulgarian currency & it’s too early to call Elena’s number plus it’s raining. So I got my computer out to check my Lonely Planet on it as I thought shit maybe I should get a room till the afternoon. Cus I was kind of beat after the 2 hr border crossing and little sleep. But I managed to waste about a hr getting some Bulgarian Leva’s and checking my computer. So by this time it’s about 7 am so figured shit why not call Elena as she told me she was taking Fri off work & classes to go hiking in the nearby mtns first thing in the am. So even though I’m like telephone challenged (meaning I can’t figure out how to use or like phones) with the help of a nice Bulgarian guy I manage to buy a telephone card and call Elena. Luckily it was raining cus she decided not to go hiking that morning so was home. So I told her I’d take a cab over cus didn’t want her to have to wait if I walked and got lost. So I catch a cab and get charged about 10 Euros / 14 CAD for a trip that I could have walked in the same time cus the dude was taking a long route and time getting to Elena’s place. But shit I was sleepy, was raining and couldn’t be bothered arguing as I usually would do in similar situations!

So the dude drops me in front of a big house with a walled fence! So I figure wait a minute this looks like a mansion or business of some kind. Also the sign on a plaque on the wall said Embassy of Peace. So I search my foggy brain and think shit is there a country called Peace which I didn’t know! Also shit when I got to the front door of this big building well it’s locked & they lived on the 3rd floor plus there’s no door bell so I knock. But no one answered so I figured shit I better call & tell her I’m waiting outside her house. But I can’t find a phone to call her. ‘So I go to this business that’s open & offered to pay the lady for the use of her phone. But she couldn’t speak English so we couldn’t communicate but managed to learn that she had no phone. But hell in these countries like in Canada everyone has a phone! So finally I go back to the house and in desperation I ring the buzzer of the Embassy of Peace. Then finally Elena comes down to answer my distress ringing.

She shows me this room that one of her flat mates uses but she is in Montenegro working for a couple months so it’s empty. So I crash there for about 4 hours. Then I got up and it’s sunny so I go out to walk around to check out Sofia. Well Sofia is like most former Soviet controlled countires as it is awaking from a long sleep. But it seemed more advanced than most. What I liked is it didn’t seem to be showing the Glittery façade & impression of “let’s show foreigners visiting that we are modern so the downtown core is modern looking while the outside area are still the same old shit” like they did in Yerevan in Armenia & Tbilisi did in Georgia!

So around 6 pm we walked down to the train station which is next to the bus station I arrived at 12 hrs earlier. Then I knew that asshole cab driver literally took me for a ride & charged me double cus I was a foreigner – fuckin asshole cab drivers dislike everyone as just parasites!

Well we meet Elena’s friends as some brought bikes while others like me didn’t. So we get the tickets and hurry to the train. We are catching the train to go to this one guy who’s hosting us at the house he inherited from his grandfather. But not all of us can get on the train as it’s full. So the train left and 8 of us couldn’t get on. So a couple of the guys go to check if any more trains were leaving for there that night. As it turns the only train we can catch goes half the way there. So we catch that train & get off in the dark to walk up this mtn side to this shelter/hut that some of them had used when rock climbing. But shit it’s kind of raining, dark & we’re going up a trail with bikes & bags. So it was a bit of a struggle to make it up the mtn in the dark and slippery conditions. But we made it up to the shelter but got a bit soaked.

The shelter was pretty basic & wat that just a shelter from the elements as the doorway and window were open and the floor was bare. So we made the best of it and brought out some drinks to smooth edges. Well they brought this Rakia which is homemade moonshine that probably tastes like horse tranquilizer or something. But it warmed us up quickly as couple of the guys had their shirts off and are dancing to the music from a boom box one of the guys brought. So the party is underway & they bring out some food! I could only supply a little hashish that I brought for medicinal purposes. Well this went on for a few hours but slowly after a long bus ride the night before the toll is catching up to me so I grab my shitty thin sleeping bag (actually more like a sleeping sheet) and crash! While I think some of the others followed me but a couple stayed up till 5 or 6 in the morning.

So in the morning it’s nice and sunny but a bit damp and wet everywhere. So we eat what food is left, clean up the site and head back down the mtn to catch a train to the village or city of Viden we were going to meet the others at that day. Well I could see the big hill/rock that people rock climb on it and it was pretty impressive looking but don’t think I could climb it! As we headed down the steep trail I realized that we were actually walking on the side of a mtn and it was a steep drop down in a few places! Plus some were pushing their bikes thru the bushes and mud by the trail!

We just got down to the station by this village when the train arrived. It was a 3 hrs ride to the city of Viden which is in north west Bulgaria on the Danube River across from Romania. I guess Virden is kind of in an economic crisis as there is a lot of unemployment. So the prices are cheap for everything and u can rent an office for like 30 Euros/ 50 CAD a month (I noticed the Euros was dropping & the CAD was stronger so that helped my cause). Also we could buy a large beer for about 75 cents CAD. The food in all of Bulgaria is cheap and Virden was even cheaper. So we ate and drank some beer until the others who made it on the train the night before met us. They had gone to the house in this village to stay the night. Then they biked 30 kms to the city to meet & the ones with no bike took the train. Then there was a kind of a festival going on in the city with people in the native Bulgarian costumes dancing so we checked it out. Then some of us went to check out an old fortress and the Danube river.

Then some biked back the 30 kms while people like me with no bike took the train back to the village. Shit they seem to have trains running to all the small village. But ironically this city had no train line to it at that time cus they were repairing the lines. So we had to get off the train at a village about 5 kms away & take a bus to Virden.

So we got to this small village with probably 100 people mostly senior retires living there. So it was a real sleepy hollow as everyone came out side to check us all out as there were about 12 of us visiting! There was this kind of mentally challenged/slow guy of about 35 who followed us all around. He kind of reminded me of this guy/kid who I volunteered coached to ski in Seattle a couple years ago. He was busy talking to us cus no one in the village would probably listen to him anymore. One of the girls Miro who is a real kind soul took the time to listen to him so he had to show her his goats and rabbits which he had names for each one! While we just wanted to chill and have a beer.

We got to the house long before the ones biking made it as it was a 30 km ride. So we went to the only shop in town for a beer and whatever we could get for food! Then when the others came we started a fire cus by this time it was getting kind of dark. Then everyone reached into their bags & got out some food & started to prepare some food like salads and sausages, etc. It was getting quite dark and the fire was raging when some guys threw in potatoes.
They went next door to borrow an electric bbq which is a pleasant surprise cus we had no briquets but why we could have used the hot coals from the fire. So we had some nice tasting Bulgarian sausage filled with some veg or something, salad, bread, olives & whatever food ppl brought. But I really liked how they make their traditional Bulgarian salads as it sort of like a Greek salad cus Bulgaria is next door to Greece! So we had a real nice meal outside around the fire. So again the party started with the boom box, singing and dancing till I don’t know what time. Then slowly we all found a place to crash as the house only had 2 rooms but luckily a couple of people brought tents! But I found my usual place on the floor to crash in my sleeping sheet. Its funny how the Rakia sort of softens a person’s bones and back so u can sleep anywhere and it’s like a mattress ha ha!

We couldn’t have been too loud or the neighbors were so old and deaf that they couldn’t hear us. Cus in the morning this old woman brought over a pot of hot goat milk for coffee or whatever. So after we ate we all took a walk to the waterfall which was close to the house. It was amazing that there was this maybe 8 or 10 meter waterfall so close to his house. But the walk there was down a steep hill which was groomed so it was like quite slippery and muddy. Then we had to
Take off our boots to wade thru the water to get to the bottom of the waterfall. Some of the guys repelled down the falls but I didn’t have a change of clothes so had to give it a pass. But it looked like fun and the water wasn’t too cold.

Then we slowly started to clean up and get ready to go catch the train with a stop at the shop for a couple beers first. We had the usual mentally challenged guy out to greet us and follow us or should say Miro down the highway to the shop. The village is so small with probably hardly any visitors that when some one does come well it’s a real occasion. Someone said u could probably buy one of the vacant houses there for a song of about 2000 E. or so. I think some of the people moved from a city to retire cheaply in these kind of villages as many grow their own veggies, have chicken, goats, etc.

So by the time we were on the train back to Sofia well I was getting along great with the guys cus everyone except the host of the trip could speak English. All the recent generation learn English in school so speaking with them was no problem. But when I first met them I didn’t know if they could speak any English but u start to have great conversations when drinking or smoking! So we got back to Sofia about 9 pm and a couple of the people wanted to meet the next night for a beer so I said sure I’ll come.

It seemed that the group from the couch surfing flat in the Embassy of Hospitality (as I called it rather than Embassy of Peace on the door) seemed to come and go all the time. The others from the flat didn’t come except Elena and her boyfriend but he didn’t live there even if he was always over there. I was getting ready to hit the sack but around midnight Elena and her boyfriend Timur said they’re going to the store to get some food to make a meal and if I wanted to join them. So I joined them to get the food and they made a traditional meal which looked similar to the cornmeal that the Ukranians make. It was nice with the great Bulgarian salad that I like. All the people in the flat are vegetatians so I wanted to buy them some food before I left but didn’t know what to buy so just got them some fruit for the flat cus that’s always good to snack on. So It was 3 am by the time we ate and others joined us. It seemed like no one went to bed too early in the flat! So it was up my alley cus I like to stay up late too! But shit it was Sun night and we had just come back from a busy weekend and the others had to get up to work the next morning. But what the hell I didn’t!!!

But I met Miro a guy who was working from home all the time and also was writing and soon would publish a book of poetry! Then there was Ivan who shared a room with Miro and he had published 2 books of short stories. He worked nights in a hostel tending bar. Then there was Chris who I was sharing a room with as he was probably the most laid back guy in the flat as the room he used was also the kitchen and living room. I know he was taking philosophy but was working at some place while in between his studies. Chris seemed to disappear for a week or so at a time and return to say he had been to Turkey or some place. Then I met Marta who was staying in Mira’s room who was away working in Montenegro. Marta was only staying temporarily cus she got accepted to take her masters in Germany. She worked in a telephone Call Center serving German clients so she was excellent in the language! Then I met the 6h member of the place, Tony who was kind of quiet and kept to himself so I knew little about him. But did meet his girlfriend who passed thru the kitchen a couple times. In fact I met a few of the girlfriends and boy friends of the group but got confused on the names and who was who. The place was like a revolving door with friends and couch surfers passing through quite frequently. Chris mentioned that a couple of Polish girls were going to couch surfing there the next weekend!

It’s funny cus most of the people in the couch surfing flat were or had taken Arts type courses while the people I met and hung with during the weekend were IT people. I guess Bulgaria has a huge IT employment industry. They serve and do work for many European countries cus their labor is cheaper! So they mainly worked for software houses. But the guys in the flat all had computers as most do in Sofia cus it’s hard to find an internet café as everyone has internet connection at home. All except this couch surfing flat guys who had internet but they steal it off their next door neighbor or someone.

So the next day I had to wash my clothes from the weekend and was to meet the other couch surfing host Olga. She said she would be near the Embassy of Peace cus she would be working that day Mon. So lets meet at the Russian Church where she’d be at 12 or 1230. So I went down to the church in my shorts, tank top, flip flops, floppy hat, sunglasses and generally looking like I always do. But shit I looked like a fish out of water entering the conservative Russian church. I asked for Olga which I figured would be a common Russian name. But she wasn’t there or they didn’t understand me but think they thought I was quite weird! So I left thinking a Russian church is not where I like to hang out! But later I found out that Olga didn’t work at the church but only suggested we meet there as it’s a landmark. She worked in IT but shit got my signals wrong again. I felt bad cus we never did get a chance to meet.

So that night a couple of the guys who wanted to meet for a beer outside the Embassy of Hospitality didn’t show up at 830 pm as planned. But at 10 pm Tsvetan calls Elena and says he’s going for a beer and if I wanted to join him. Elena & her boyfriend aren’t big drinkers or party types so they didn’t come for the beer. But she drew me a map of how to get to the bar. But when I met Tsvetan and Miro at the bar they suggested we go to the National Theater and have a beer outside as the bar’s patio had closed. So we went there and Mihail joined us and we hung around the fountain and drank a couple beers until midnight or so. There were a lot of people drinking there cus guess it’s the place to meet your friends for a casual get together without making plans but just pop by and see who’s there to share a beer or whatever. U have to walk to the nearest shop to buy a cheaper beer cus the cafes close charged too mch. Plus the nearest bathrooms were the bushes.

So the next day I got a hold of Yassan and Milena who I met traveling in Venezuela last year. So Yassan said we can meet after work around 630 pm and I suggested we meet at the National Theater. So I invited a few of the guys from the weekend and the flat to join us if they weren’t busy. So a bunch of them showed up and we hung and drank till midnight. It was so cool to see Yassan and Milena again! They are really good people and great to hang out with to have a beer on a warm evening in Sofia, Bulgaria!

The next morning was leaving to go to Skopje, Macedonia. So after talking to people especially Elena I was going to hitch hike. But shit the next morning I was hurrying out the door of the Embassy of Hospitality when the people in the Embassy of Peace (the real name of the building) locked the door. So had to get Elena to open the door for me & somehow I lost the map she drew for me to get out of Sofia to the highway to start hitch hiking. So had to take a bus instead but that was OK cus just wanted to sit back, chill and reminisce about my awesome time in Sofia and the cool nice people I met and became friends! Thanks Sofia as it was a great time!

No comments: