The first nights of frost had come in Skopje, and walking out in the morning onto crunchy green grass was a good reminder of coming winter. But the days were still bright and sunny, and by the time I reached Bulgaria, even the nights started to be warmer. The leaves had nearly all fallen, leaving only a few dots of gold in the now brown forest, but the season had now become a gypsy summer. It’s the time of year when all the branches are bare, the fields turn gold, and snow should start falling, but instead a warm wind brings back summer days of 20`c. People walk around in tshirts, and we share a small look of confusion when the sun starts to go down before 5 and the temperature drops 10 degrees in a matter of minutes.
There were other unusual things that happened to make Bulgaria more memorable. My first night in Sofia was spent couchsurfing in the office of some international volunteer organization. We visited the underground bar of an art hostel where everyone was higher than a kite and even my sober sense of normality started to feel abnormal. The next day I took a free walking tour, where my guide was more excited about the new subway system than the Roman ruins they destroyed to build it. A traveler I had met first in Albania was randomly on the tour as well.
My next couchsurf host welcomed me to his place, fed me food and wine, gave me his keys, and over the next 2 days I probably only saw him for these 10 minutes. But he had another couchsurf guest and we hung out the whole time, exploring nearby Rila and Rila monastery, and got ourselves invited to Gabrovo by an actress we met thru other couchsurfers. It was a 2 hour drive to Gabrovo, where her theater was, and then she gave us the keys to her car and apartment for nearly 2 days while she practiced for her play’s debut. We drove to nearby Veliko Tarnovo, a relatively touristic destination, and the Bulgarian hitchhikers were very confused with the role reversal of tourists driving locals. We also visited the most impressive Soviet building ruins I’ve ever seen, the so-called spaceship or UFO monument called Buzludzha which sits on the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, with only equally creepy windmills reaching high up into the sky nearby.
I took a food tour in Sofia, where I learned that Bulgarians are very proud of their cuisine, which is very focused on yogurt, and I was lucky not to be lactose intolerant traveling there (but unlucky to not like dill). They have a type of corner store or convenience shop called ‘squat’ shops, which are in the basement of buildings and you must squat down to a window at your feet to see inside and talk to the salesperson. There they fixed shoes, sold books, and even baked pastries. Bulgarians have an equivalent headshake to the Indian booble head, where yes kind of means no and no means yes, so I had to ignore people’s “da da da’s” while they shook their heads from left to right, forgetting body language and focusing on the word I knew meant yes.
The final cherry on the top came with my last couchsurf host, Juan, who was appointed to me by the sort of couchsurf ambassador in Varna who took me to another Soviet monument in ruins, perched on the top of a hill overlooking the black sea. This one was not as impressive, but just as dark and ominous, since we could climb into it and ontop of the larger-than-life concrete soviet soldiers built into the monuments. My last night was spent eating Turkish food that Juan from Spain cooked, and after I taught him the basics of Argentinian tango… all this in a little Bulgarian city.