I decided to post a blog with my thoughts from traveling to Bulgaria this past summer. Bulgaria holds a very unique place in my heart because it represents the end of my time as a camp counselor with Eagle Lake. However, it also represents the beginning of a whole new chapter of my life abroad. I went from a narrow view of the world to a hopeful perspective of how big God is. This is something one cannot simply be told about, but must be learned through experience. To see the joy in the faces of the Bulgarians as they expressed their love for the creator of the universe and being able to speak that same language of love was powerful. Of course I am not talking about speaking Bulgarian or English, but the language of heaven.
Anyway, out of a sheer lack of will to condense my thoughts into anything practical, I have decided to simply post everything. This first post is only a description of our tourist behavior in Sophia. There are some small points of interest, but I will let the reader struggle through the dryness of my writing to discover them. After this I will post my thoughts on Istanbul, which are much more interesting. So you have something to look forward to!
We arrived in Sophia after traveling for almost 24 hours. My first impression of Bulgaria was an empty airport. I expected to see more people since the airport is in the countries capital. After we went through passport control, Marti and Didi, the Bulgarian couple that graciously showed us around Sophia, immediately greeted us. At first I remember feeling a little cautious following them into their cars, let alone allowing the other half of the group to ride with Didi in a taxi. Looking back, I can’t believe how worried I was. However, it was my job to worry. I soon learned to trust Marti, rather was forced to trust Marti because of the crazy drivers in Bulgaria. To give an example, lines painted on the road are more of a suggestion than the law. People in Bulgaria feel more free to drive on both sides of the roads than in America. Anytime we were on the roads, I could expect something crazy to happen. That night we went out to eat at a nice little restaurant. It was about 20 minutes away via bus. I rather enjoyed the bus ride although by the end, I was very sleepy. We got back to the church/school where we were staying and I got a good nights rest.
The next day we went to the national museum of history. Before we left Marti and Didi brought us some baklava, although a little much in the morning, it was amazing. The museum was located in the ex-communist president’s palace. The outside looked communist, simple and efficient; however, the inside was elegant. I felt like I was stepping into history, which was the point I assume. I loved the museum. Usually museums are boring to me but I felt more connected to the actual history. In America, there is more of a disconnect when one is not actually where the history happened. After the museum, we went to a bus station where I saw two gypsy women sweeping the streets. I will never forget these two women. I was shocked that this was their life, and felt strangely blessed and motivated to do something with my life. We then got on a bus and traveled to the main parts of Sophia. We got off inside a giant overpass and went up a huge flight of stairs where the national theater is located. Marti explained that after communism fell there were large groups of Christians that would gather at the theater. We then went and got some ice cream. This would happen frequently on the trip. We then walked down a street with various shops on both sides of the road. It reminded me of window shopping in the U.S. We took a right turn and stopped at a park to wait for Marti who was bringing us some lunch. We ate lunch on the steps of an old theater where Didi told us a story of how Marti had gotten on the roof and posed in one of the chariot statues as a boy. This is where I also tried Turkish coffee for the first time. Intense but delicious. On our way to St. Alexander’s we walked through a park where a gypsy woman sent her daughter who was maybe six or seven to ask us for money. My initial reaction was compassionless. What a strange thing it is to be asked for money from a small child. I didn’t know if it would actually helping her by giving her money since it was obviously going to her mother. So I didn’t. I am still not sure what to think of my reaction. We then traveled to St. Alexander’s Church in Sophia. This was an incredible experience since my church background is Presbyterian! We were fortunate enough to visit during a service. The church was orthodox in all its glory. I remember feeling so separated from the church, which was weird since I believe in Christ. People mostly came in, light candles and left. The whole group was quiet and observant. Then we left, just like everyone else. Boom, gone. Across the street from the church is a place where women gather to sell linens. Eddy asked us to go there and meet one of his wife’s friends. I think her name was Lydia. We bought many things from her. One of the other women selling linens got jealous and scoffed at us as we passed. We then went back into St. Alexander and got to hear the evening liturgy. This was interesting because although it was powerful to hear the singing, again I felt disconnected. After listening to the liturgy we went down the street to another place where there are street venders selling an assortment of touristy things. I bought an icon of St. George. He slays a dragon in the picture. I also almost bought an accordion. Thanks to Whitney, the price dropped 50 dollars. This was not enough to persuade me though. I am thankful for this because I ended up getting one for free later during the trip. We also learned that one of the bands Howard and I enjoy means “wild woman” in Bulgarian. It turns out that we were just pronouncing it incorrectly. The real word means nothing in Bulgarian because it is actually Russian for “girl”. I like “wild woman” more, oh well. We then went to St. Nicolas’s church. On the way we passed a Bulgarian wedding party and fountains for water. St. Nicolas was a beautiful little church. We could not go inside because the rain made everyone’s shoes dirty. The only place we were allowed to go was down to where St. Nicolas is buried. The room was long and had many things painted on the walls. There was a small book where one could write prayers to the Saint. There was a girl passionately writing something, and I believe Josh wrote something as well. After this, we walked to the capital building. Inside the building square are some original Roman architecture and a Roman road. This was awesome to walk on, since I am a history nerd. Also, an extremely old church that still has services is located next to the Roman road. There was some connection to the road, but I do not remember how. We then went to see some old fortress walls before going to a Bulgarian mall. The guys and girls split up. I have no idea where the girls went, but the guys went to an electronics store and watched something on one of the TV’s. Typical, right? That night we went to a small pizza and pasta place, got on a bus and went back to the school where we were staying. I was so tired that I had no idea what was next for our travels, Istanbul.