Bulgaria PHPLast modified 2022/09/14 11:14
I left the flat in a panic, I assumed I would be queuing at the airport and would need to be there 2 hours before take off. The planned journey would be a tram ride followed by a bus to the airport. I ran to the tram station, waited 10 minutes, got off the tram, realised I was one stop too early, ran to the next stop, looked around frantically for the bus station whilst trying to make sense of the map on my phone, when I found it the bus had just left and I paced up and down the pavement while people started to aggregate for the next bus in 10 minutes. After ten minutes there was no bus, nor after 20. There was a taxi and I decided to take it. At which point the bus promptly arrived, the Taxi probably saved me 5 minutes and cost me €20 extra.
When I arrived at the airport I quickly found my check-in, there was no queue, my bag was taken. There was no queue for the security check and within 10 minutes of arriving at the airport is was in the boarding area for the plane, and I had an hour to spare.
It was cold in Berlin and I expected it to be cold in Sofia, I debarked the plane in a jacket with thick sweater and a hat and it was warm outside. It was warm enough for t-shirts. I was quickly through the passport control (Bulgaria is part of the EU but not of Schengen). There was a driver waiting to pick me up with another speaker, Milana Cap, who had flown in from Serbia.
The driver took us to Sofia and pointed out some of the sights on the way. The hotel was in the center of the city, directly opposite the Palace Congress - the conference venue. The National Palace of Culture. An absolutely massive building, the conference would be held on floors 6 and 7.
Then began the mission. I boarded the plane with two pairs of shoes including my trainers, both pairs smelt similarly to dead cats and I was not looking forward to spending the next few days steaming in them. I had to buy ome new shoes and fortunately my trainers were nearing the end of their natural life, they were falling apart, and I had a perfect excuse to buy some new trainers.
I missioned out of the hotel to the high street which was pointed out to us by the driver on the way to the hotel. There were plenty of shops, which were very much open as the darkness descended over the city. There were some sport shops but none of them had running shoes, I checked my phone and map and found that there was a running shop in a shopping mall on the other side of the town. I found the mall and got some brand new trainers and walked back to the hotel.
In the evening I met up with the other speakers for dinner and, led by Miro Svrtan, we headed to a Bulgarian Restaurant and sat at a long table and ordered food and drinks. Half way through the meal dancers emerged into the restaurant to the loud beat of drums. The dancers, two boys and two girls, swung around each other. Later a horse (two people in a costume) roamed around the hotel nudging it’s head onto peoples shoulders in a bizarre fashion. “It was a good dinner, I was molested by a horse!”.
The next day we all got in a bus and were taken on a day tour to Plovdiv, the journey took around 3 hours. Our guide introduced himself in the bus and provided us with a short history of Bulgaria. In Plovdiv we got off the bus and were taken around the Roman ruins, followed by lunch.
Afterwards we were taken into the countryside, another journey of hours, where we would taste wine. The wine tasting was in an isolated health spa, and on approaching the huge traditional complex we saw tractors and diggers ploughing up the road, the road was being constructed and we had to get out of the bus. The spa insisted on sending us some smaller vehicles rather than allowing us to walk the remaining 200m.
We were guided around the wine and Rakia making facilities with a group of Bulgarians by a young woman who had to first talk to the Bulgarian group and then repeat in English to us. We were taking to a dramatic underground cellar.
The cellar was arranged around a central circle, with parallels on the outside. The inner circle was arranged in a Thracian style. There were imitation murals on the walls and convincing imitation marble benches around which the two groups sat. The young woman produced a bottle of wine and her voice reverberated around the stone room and she proceeded to pour the wine. There were four glasses for four wines. In between the tasting there were biscuits and water.
The journey back took some time and we finished off with the speakers dinner at the restaurant and one of the organizers, Mihail Irintchev, presented us each with a home brewed beer.
Fortunately the party didn’t go on into the night and I was able to sleep at a reasonable hour and was not hungover in the morning.