Tuesday, September 19, 2006

2 sides of Bulgaria

You know, Bulgaria is a good investment opportunity for you guys that have too much money and don't know what to do with it. There is a huge property investment boom going on and there are tons of Brits here buying all the land. Property prices are going up rapidly as everyone is anticipating getting into the EU in January and all the good that will bring them here but things are still really cheap. Sometimes I wonder about the EU and their standards though. Both Romania and Bulgaria will join the EU and they are such poor, rundown and corrupt messes that it seems silly to do such a thing. But then I suppose the other eastern european countries were too (and in some cases still are). I just hope they know what they are doing.....
It's a nice country here. I think I prefer it to Romania though I couldn't tell you why. Great scenery and a little bit of everything available. The drivers are complete whackos though and I am not impressed thus far. Good thing we can stick to the trains still. Aside from Mongolia, Bulgaria was the country most attached to the USSR without being part of it, though they applied for admission at one point. Also like Mongolia, the Bulgarian language still uses the cyrillic alphabet. Bulgaria was also the only country occupied by Nazi Germany in WW2 that refused to send it's Jews to get slaughtered. Yay to them!
As I said before, Sofia is nothing special, though living with a family is a great experience and look at local life. They live up on the side of the mountains south of the city and it reminds us of home. So does the weather, as it has been cold and rainy off and on since we got into town.
We managed to do a day trip out to the Rila monastery 120km south of town. Nice drive (if you ignore the driving) and a very strange place. It's black and white or pink and white striped, like it just escaped from jail or something. It's probably the most famous non-beach tourist site in the country and is set in a beautiful mountain setting. Rural Bulgaria is still very run down looking and there are lots of building shells and horse carts still kicking around. The people are super friendly though and I'm disappointed that we won't be able to stay in some little village somewhere and just hang out like we have in other countries.
Well, that was what I was originally going to write about Bulgaria. I'll have to add a little more after a day like today.....
These people are crazy and quite unforgiving too. If you come to Bulgaria, make sure you follow the rules, but good luck figuring out what they are. We were sitting on the tram (I like trams. I know drivers hate them but I like trams.) on our way to the train station for today's field trip, I had just finished saying we needed another something interesting for the blog...... and all hell broke loose. The ticket inspectors came. It's a crappy job but somebody has to do it and what better people to do it than those scary old ladies that are tough as nails and meaner than, well, anyone else I deal with on a regular basis.... Sure enough, 3 of them (2 ladies, 1 man) get on and start checking tickets. The system here, as with a lot of eastern european countries, is such that you buy little tickets from a kiosk and then punch them into a little box on the bus that marks it as used. In some countries it shows a little date and time, here it's just a combination of holes that is specific to the bus or tram you are on. I had my ticket, I had it punched, they saw all that and still they decided to specifically pick a fight with me. (I knew I should have shaved this morning.....). We had bought the "booklet" of 10 tickets to save a few cents on the tickets and they wanted to see the rest of the 10, to make sure I wasn't using someone's old ticket. Whatever, I point to mom and that's it for me. She pulls out the stack but she's been dishing out the tickets in whatever order she feels like so we are missing the #10 and therefore automatically qualify for the fine. What?!?!?!?! They take away the rest of our tickets and want to fine us when we can show that we are not scamming anything but have all the tickets except for 1 or 2 that were used and thrown away already!? Well, we weren't having any of that. Oh, no! We finally got off the tram (but waited until our stop and didn't let them throw us off, despite their threats to call the cops) and were quickly surrounded and cornered by the 3 of them and a few bystanders who decided to help "the good guys". They didn't speak any English (and therefore wouldn't listen to any reason) so it quickly devolved into a shouting match until I looked over and saw Bre and one of the inspector ladies throwing punches, pulling hair and generally abusing each other in whatever fashion they could. I can't believe the inspector lady was actually taunting Bre and spitting at her like they were 6 years old in a fight at school. Sorry Bre, but your application for Ninja Turtle status is refused...... you have to be wearing your big backpack.
I'm happy to announce that we never did pay the fine. Some guy walked up pretending to be a policeman (clearly not though) and after a few minutes of watching us waved us away because he saw the whole thing was going nowhere. The inspectors really didn't have a choice but to let us go after that because the "police" they were calling on us didn't care. Haha! Backfired!
Our field trip was to Plovdiv, a 2 hour ride south east. It's a big town, very popular with tourists because of its pretty little old town and Roman ruins all over the place. It was definately more alive and active than Sofia. Started pouring buckets of rain just before we left to go back to Sofia but a few hours of running around was enough anyway.
That should be the end of the story but no, we had more ticket issues. On the train back to Sofia, the train conductor guy tried to give us a fine too. Grrrr!!! More stupid rules that we could never've possibly known about. We'd bought a round trip ticket so we would be able to just jump on the train coming back whenever we were ready and wouldn't have to wait in line to buy another ticket. The ticket is valid for a month but in every other country we have been in, the conductor scribbles all over the thing and invalidates the ticket after you use it. Not this time. Apparently we were supposed to get it stamped at the station before getting on the train. What?!?!?!?! So here we are with a ticket we have clearly bought just that morning but now it isn't valid and we have to buy a new one because the guy can't just scribble on it or take it away or something like they do everywhere else?! Again, it is obviously a stupid mistake that we couldn't've anticipated and they want to rake us over the coals. Do you have any idea how long it took to convince him that we weren't criminals and it was in his power to just take the ticket away and call it even???? I am proud to announce that we didn't pay the fine AND didn't get into any fights in resolving that issue. Good thing too because he'd just finished slamming some other guys around that hadn't payed for their tickets. These guys are all just a little too agressive in doing their jobs.
This is the problem with the old folks that are still in power after the communist system has fallen. They can't think outside the box and make their own decisions. They are like computers where if you miss one little "."or "-"or something the whole thing does not compute and the system crashes. I imagine Jesse is the only person that can truly appreciate what I'm saying here because today felt just like our experience in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I know you are laughing but seriously, you don't want to mess with the old ladies either! I had actually expected to have to deal with this sort of nonsense the whole time we were in Russia and the central Asian "stans" but they turned out to be largely hassle free. The biggest problem with that has been here in Bulgaria. When you add the fight and doors slammed in our faces in Varna to this, I'd say that Bulgaria isn't the happiest place around Europe. I'm tempted to say they are as crazy and violent as Georgians here. I'll forgive it faster than it deserves, though I'll be shaking my head for a while....


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