Wednesday 1st November
Having decided upon taking a detour via Bulgaria, I embarked upon finding out some basics about the country before my train that evening. My first port of call was the Architecture faculty where I met Barabara who was able to get me on line. An hour of searching yielded a map of Sofia city centre, a vocabulary list, an article about Bulgaria’s president (who if I remember correctly is the only democratically elected European head of state who has also been the king of the same countrt) and a key piece of advice from Barbara: in Bulgaria one nods to say “no” and shakes the head from side to side to say “yes”. This latter point proved a bit of a challenge for the old neuro-linguistic programing.
Later that afternoon we met Ana, and after some divine tasting cakes (that ensured I wouldn’t be eating again for at least two days) we scoured that capital for an English language guide to Bulgaria. The main shopping street’s many book shops are well stocked with lonely planets to anywhere you could think of – the Azores, Vietnam, Jamaica, Vancouver Island – everywhere it seemed except Bulgaria. It seemed extraordinary that I couldn’t find any information about the country next door! On the one hand, the prospect of going somewhere off the not-so lonely planet beaten path (as it appearded to me from Serbia) was quite exciting. On the other, it did leave me wondering why so few people, judged purely on the relative number of books detailing the deligts of other local capitals, seem to head next door.
My tireless and ever-resourceful guides took me on a tour of the disused dock area down by the river Salva just before it joins the Danube. The dockside buildings are in the process of being converted into super-trendy galleries and a bar. We had drinks on an almost floating bar – that is to say, it wasn’t floating but on dry land, but from its windows one might think one is afloat- the nearby real floating bar having been booked out for a private function. To help us believe that our bar was in fact floating, we drank coffee laced with booze. It worked.
By early evening, the cold dry spell had given way to rain. I tried to buy my train tickets to Sofia down at the train station, only none of my cards wanted to work. Ana was able to lend me the cash, but I was suddenly worried that I would arrive in Bulgaria with not a euro cent. I tried to do the sums in my head. With the 100€ in my pocket, I might just have been able to buy tickets to take me as far as Budapest from where I already had tickets home booked, as long as I only ate apples along the way. It didn’t bode well.
Luckily however, just when my worst fiscal nightmares had flashed before me, a cash machine finally decided to be nice and give me the dough. Stocked with food for the journey it was time to wait on the dark and dingey platform for the train to take me away. I was sad to be leaving Belgrade. I had had such a great time with my friends and I was in no mood to continue on my own. Ana and I plotted when we would see each other next. When we first met in Ljubljana the year before, it hardly seemed possible that we would meet again, such is the distance from the UK to Serbia. But with two visits to Belgrade since then already in the travel log, the city doesn’t feel that far away. Roll on our next encounter, Paris in the spring…