04 December 2009
Sweet, Sweet, Sofia
Sixty six days on the road from Hong Kong to Sofia, Bulgaria and I’m only just starting to fully grasp how old every non-USA civilization is. Or, to be more precise, how young the USA is. We arrived in Sofia - the capital of Bulgaria - via bus from Bucharest.
Per usual, people were wildly helpful in making sure we located the bus we needed. Me: “Excuse me, where does the bus to Sofia depart from?” Lady behind the window: “Ten minutes. Out there (points out the window at absolutely nothing in particular).” Fortunately, the bus has a teeny tiny placard that read “Sof” (the rest of the sign was covered up by the driver’s coat). We boarded early and then, in an event that I have never actually witnessed in person before, the bus DEPARTED EARLY. Since the trip started in Romania I took out enough Romanian cash to pay for the adventure. Naturally, they did not accept Romanian cash. “No. Only Euros and Bulgarian Lev.” WHAT? “But we are IN Romania,” I pleaded. “But Romanian money worthless. Don’t want it. Also no dollars.” Yes, he compared Romania Lei to the US Dollar, so that’s just super.
The owner of our hostel met us at the bus station. Within minutes our history lesson began. “Bulgarians are the first Europeans. We are the oldest society in Europe. The first white people. Everything here is old and important. Bulgarians invented the horse saddle. And also the girls are very pretty. Yeah, we are just great.” That overview combined with my guidebook’s factoid - that Bulgarians score second highest in the world on IQ test - set the stage for my exploration of this exceptional, intelligent, old city and oh my goodness, it’s all of those things.
In the exceptional category we have the world’s highest rate of corruption, with nearly 70% of all GDP either earned on the black market or filtered through it at some point. That is coupled with a profound level of religious tolerance. There is a Protestant church, an Orthodox Cathedral, a Mosque and a Synagogue (the oldest synagogue in Europe) within 100 yards of each other! In the intelligent category we have more book stores per per capita than any other city in the world after Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Also, Bulgarians read more books per capita per year than any other place on earth. In the old category we have EVERYTHING. Just two days in Sofia and I’ve spent most of it going “wait, that was built when?” Churches that are 1000 years old. Layer upon layer of ruins tracing the tens of thousands of years of settlement in this part of the world. An entire capital city built on more than 100 feet of old cities below. It’s just absolutely mind-boggling to think that Bulgarians had been chugging along for a thousand of years before the first white settler landed in North America and stole the continent from the Native Americans.
In five days we’ll be in Egypt looking at the ancient pyramids. If I can’t grasp 1000 years how on earth will I wrap my head around all that jazz?