To say that I was excited to be visiting Bulgaria was an understatement. I would be meeting up with two friends from home who were travelling their way down from Germany and we would be exploring, what was to us, a relatively unknown country. I was so ecstatic, I could hardly sit still in my travelling pants.
I had absolutely no expectations for Bulgaria, we had nothing planned, I didn’t read up about much beforehand, we were just going to wing it. And this, with a try everything attitude and a little bit of spontaneity, really is the best way to get the most out of the place you are visiting. With our first two nights of accommodation booked at Canape` Connections, I woke up with the roosters (if they actually had any in Rome) in order to catch my exceptionally early, dirt cheap flight.
Our meeting point was Sofia, Bulgaria’s beautifully green, highly underrated capital. Our afternoon was spent sharing travel stories, catching up, and enjoying Bulgarian hospitality and cuisine. We tasted some of Bulgaria’s typical cuisine (including our favourite Shopska Salad), and enjoyed large plates of meaty meals. After asking our lovely hostel staff for a recommendation of where to eat typical Bulgarian for dinner, we were dazzled by a very friendly waiter and for the first time ever at a restaurant I was asked what I felt like eating and then delivered a plate which was exactly that (this may have been because they didn’t have a menu in English, but with service like that, they really didn’t need to!).
It was on our second day that we experienced possibly one of the worst travel moments, but also one of the best. Whilst my friend Matty and I were out on a free, three hour bike tour of Sofia’s glorious parks and monuments (we even had a stray dog who loved bike riders follow us around for two hours!), our third musketeer Hannah decided to check out the flea markets and have a bit of down time.
Whilst relaxing in the park eating a punnet of what I was told were delicious, juicy strawberries, she was approached by two gypsies with a pram asking for money. Being a backpacker, she didn’t have money to spare so instead she offered them strawberries. Whilst the lady with the pram was talking to her, the other gypsy sat down besides her and quickly took her handbag which she had only seconds before been using as a pillow. The lady with the pram accepted the entire punnet of strawberries (which Hannah was quite disappointed about until she realised her entire handbag was gone) and then walked away, strawberries in hand, with the pram and her friend. It didn’t take long for her to realise that her handbag had been stolen. She was frantic, Hannah had EVERYTHING in that newly purchased handbag. Passport, UK visa, expensive camera with three weeks worth of travel photos, prescription glasses, travel diary, her red ‘party’ lipstick, insurance details, everything except for thankfully, she still had her new phone (iphone also doubling as an ipod which on this occasion saved it from being resold on the black market).
The first thing she did was run around in a circle. Literally and hysterically. She spotted the gypsies she talked to, chased them down the street and asked for her handbag. They weren’t about to just hand it over, so said they didn’t know what she was talking about. Later she realised that under the blankets in the pram, there probably wasn’t a baby at all, it was a scheme to hide all of her worldly goods. After calling me, from a gutter, upset not knowing what to do next, she was bombarded by the good people of Bulgaria.
There was a damsel in distress in a beautiful backless dress, and the Bulgarian people pulled through. Some firemen came to her rescue and then went off to find a police man, a few locals came up to her to ask if she was ok, but her saving grace that day was Stoyan, the dashing man in the shiny suit. He spoke perfect English and happened to work for the Mayor. The gutter Hannah was sitting in was coincidently opposite the Mayor’s office. Thanks to Stoyan, Hannah met the Mayor of Sofia, who gave orders to Stoyan to do whatever he could to help Hannah and also informed the police that they should do the same.
Stoyan stayed with Hannah for the rest of the day and the following day acting as translator and general gentleman. During this time, Hannah had seen the inside of four police stations and a lot of the city through a taxi window (meanwhile Matty and I were on a [successful] mission to find the high ropes course in one of the big parks we had been shown on the bike tour the previous day).
While we waited for news from the police, we were told that usually the gypsies discard the ‘useless’ passport. So, feeling hopeless waiting around for news, the three of us went back to the scene of the crime and starting rifling through bins trying to spot a blue Australian passport. And guess where we ended up? Another police station, five on Hannah’s check list, two on mine and Matty’s. First we thought we were in trouble, next after miming what had happened, they wanted to help us, THEN finally using Google Translator, they realised we had already been helped and that we were only trying to find the passport. We were sent on our way.
That evening, Hannah received a phone call which was completely unexpected, the police had found her camera and prescription glasses, the two most expensive things in the handbag. It was time to celebrate the good people of Bulgaria with some Rakia (a typical Balkan alcoholic beverage) and a large pork steak.
It was after this, that we could finally commence our road trip from Sofia to the Black Sea. I’ll blog about our adventures across the country in Exploring Bulgaria PART 2, stay tuned!