Getting to downtown Sofia: Part 1

Posted on
Jan 25, 2011
Posted in: Random Musings

In the wake of last week’s treatise about honestly, I feel I should be truthful about a few more things:

The other day, I was eating what I thought were toffee peanuts (as the bag suggested). Instead, I found myself noshing on a few toffee peanuts, but mostly clumps of weirdly un-homogenous toffee-like particles that had collected in the bag.  They tasted terrible. I went back for thirds. (Update: make that sixths. Second Update: I ate the whole bag. I am weak.)

I just saw The King’s Speech, and subsequently spent way too much time looking up photos of a young Colin Firth. (Insert swoon here.)

I haven’t worked out in like, six months.

And – perhaps most importantly since it’s the only thing that actually pertains to travel – I was absolutely petrified on the first day that I spent in Bulgaria on my own.

There. I said it. Judge me on it if you will, but really, the toffee peanut debacle will probably give you more material.

Keep in mind, the day I spent on my own in Sofia took place on only our second day in town. We had yet to have Paris walk us through town, and hadn’t yet met the lovely and rambunctious group of Bulgarian web entrepreneurs who would entertain us into the early hours of the morning with their antics. At this point, the only thing we had experienced in Bulgaria was getting ripped off by our cab driver.

So while Rand was off speaking at a conference, I was contemplating staying in the hotel room and watching BBC for several long hours. I finally decided to venture out into Sofia. I asked the concierge to get me a taxi – she called one, and told them specifically where I needed to go. It seems that few tourists to Bulgaria actually speak Bulgarian, so at nicer hotels, you’ll find that the staff will call taxis with very specific instructions. Doing so essentially “assigns” the cabbie to you – so when they arrive at the hotel, they won’t take another passenger – they’ll wait specifically for you.

This is awesome, because it reduces the chances of someone stealing your cab.

It’s also incredibly annoying, because if someone does steal your cab, you have to go through the whole process again. This was my situation. After the concierge called for my cab, I stood outside in the cold waiting for it. When it arrived, I started to move for it, but the doorman stopped me. Like, physically stopped me. He help his arm out to hold me back, and opened the door to the hotel with his other arm. A man stepped out of the warm lobby dressed like … well, he was dressed like a European mobster.

Trim black suit. Dress shirt, no tie. Those huge Bono-style glasses that everyone was wearing in 2003 (yes, myself included. Mistakes were made).

Needless to say, I didn’t fight for my cab. Not even when the cab driver tried explaining that he was supposed to go to the NDK (which, by no coincidence, is where I had told the concierge I needed to go). The doorman set him straight, in even, condescending tones. And after a while, they drove off. The doorman walked back, and gave me a look that I have since been unable to decipher. The best I can go with was a mix of sympathy and scorn.

I stood out in the cold a little while longer, trying to figure out if what I thought had happened had really happened. And it seems it had: a mobster stole my cab. Thus far, things were not going incredibly well. I wanted to run back to my hotel room, crawl under a pile of blankets, and sob.

Here’s why I didn’t: I’m pretty sure I found a louse in our hotel’s bathroom. I couldn’t tell though, because I instantly smooshed it with a napkin and then held the remains (a beige-colored streak) up to Rand and demanded he tell me what it was. He implored me to be less crazy. I refused. Those last two sentences are our relationship in microcosm.

So, it was either deal with the possibility of running into another louse, or dealing with Bulgarian gangsters on a frosty morning. I went with the latter.

Also, our hotel room ran the risk of falling apart. I pulled the towel rack out of the wall using brute strength. I had to leave.

Steeling myself for round 2 of Operation: Get to Downtown Sofia and Not Get Ripped Off, I went back inside and asked the concierge to call me another cab. When she explained that she had already done so, I tried telling her what happened, and through the power of indifference and different native tongues, she understood nothing. Instead, she scolded me for not waiting outside (I had been) and not being more attentive (I was).

I wanted to tell her how I HAD NEARLY DIED OF EXPOSURE while waiting for my cab the first time, only to have some dude WHO HAS KILLED PEOPLE OVER LESS steal it. Instead, I politely nodded and asked her to get me another cab. She did so. And when it arrived, another woman tried to hop into it.

“ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME?” I screamed, although for some reason it sounded more like “I think that’s mine”, and in a reasonable decibel, no less.

“No,” she said, firmly, “It’s mine.”

It wasn’t. She hopped in the cab, but went nowhere. When she tried to explain to the cabbie where she wanted to go, he shook his head. NDK, he told her. It was my cab. She stepped out, looking miserable, to wait for the next vehicle. I wanted to explain to her what happened, but the cabbie looked impatient. So I apologized profusely and got in, and wondered if she regarded me the way I had the mobster. In other words, as a total cab-usurping douchebag.

I watched her stand on the side, waiting for her cab. I was sure it would arrive soon. The doorman stood next to her. I glared at he as we drove away. He didn’t see me. But if he had? Well. He’d have gotten glared at. Because I have the maturity of a five-year-old.

I got into the cab, feeling powerless and angry. I wasn’t sure how much I could blame the doorman for what happened. I’m sure if it had been entirely up to him, he wouldn’t have given my cab away. He was probably just following the rules, which in Bulgaria are “Do not fuck with hotel guests who happen to be crime bosses.” And the concierge was completely justified in feeling exasperated: to her, I was just a wholly moronic American who couldn’t step into a cab that had been specifically called for her. And that louse? It may have been a booger (Sigh. I think i just blew my chances with young Colin Firth, didn’t I? Ah, well.)

It was all circumstantial, I reminded myself. A mix of bad luck, compounded by language barriers and unfamiliarity. I was frustrated and upset – but that didn’t mean I had to remain so for the entire day. I breathed deeply and tried to gain some perspective. It was a beautiful day. I had the whole rest of the morning and afternoon to tour downtown Sofia and see whatever I wanted. Provided, of course, my cabbie got me to the NDK, and not some strange, remote corner of Sofia.

And he did – dropping me off right in front of the National Palace of Culture. I was so relieved, I tipped him a ridiculous amount, and he smiled at me quizzically.

“Have a nice day!” I said brightly to the cabbie as I stepped out onto the sidewalk. And as I looked around me, at the sun drenched architecture of Sofia, I said it again, quietly to myself.

“Have a nice day.”

I was determined I would.

Stayed tuned for tomorrow’s post, in which you find out if I skipped culturally-enriching experiences to shop and get drunk on chocolate loaded with booze. (Spoiler: yes, and yesh. I am a horrible human being.)

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