I would go living in lights

I would go living in lights: April 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bulgaria: We wish to retract previous disparaging comments

It's a beautiful day in Bulgaria.

I feel compelled to mention that. I've been back in this country for a week now with my boyfriend, Adam. Spring arrived before we did and the air is fresh-smelling and cool. Red and white bracelets adorn the branches of flowering trees- the leftovers of Martenitsa, a uniquely Bulgarian March tradition in which these tokens are given out for good fortune. Out here in the west, the mountains remind me of the ones at home.

This was not my initial impression of Bulgaria during my visa runs to Plovdiv a couple of years ago, as my friend Jessica reminded me recently ("Dulllllllgaria"). I still maintain that Dullgaria is a Very Good Portmanteau, but it felt far more accurate on a cold winter morning shivering at a grey bus stop in the city. So I'm sorry, Bulgaria. That was uncharitable and it won't happen again.

Bulgaria tastes all right

I'm reminded, actually, of a guy I met on the interminable bus trip down from Prague to Istanbul in 2011. He was an older gentleman, very friendly, but also one of those greatly feared public transport chatterboxes who can somehow sense weakness in their seat partners and dive in for the kill. We made small talk, if I recall, for eight hours straight. When our bus eased to a stop in front of the Bulgarian border, he announced, "people come to Bulgaria only three times. The third time, they stay." Given that we haven't yet come across a single other foreigner here, I'm inclined to doubt that, but it's a nice sentiment.

Not everybody seems quite as full of optimism on that point as Bus Man, anyway. A man from Botevgrad- who studies near London and spoke the best English we've heard this side of Romania- laughed and said, "everybody here wants to go to the United States. You are from the United States and come here. Hahahah!" (Then he pointed out some prostitutes on the side of the road). And there was the customs official as we entered the country. Attempting to get a thorough list of Bulgaria's surely extensive tourist attractions, we were presented with the names of three nearby caves. Any other sites? Yes, here is a fourth cave, slightly more distant. Okay, other stuff? Cave.

Don't get me wrong, I like caves. You could even say I like caves *a whole lot*. But I can't help picturing Bulgaria's tourism department as a single old woman snoozing under a flag and, probably, a poster saying BULGARIA: WE HAVE CAVES.

According to this, Bulgaria is doing a resounding "sort of okay, I guess" on the international charts; the annual tourism arrivals stats place it forty-first out of the 188 countries for which data has been gathered. Most foreign visitors here are from the neighboring countries (Greece, Turkey, and Romania) but over eight percent are Americans.

Even Wikipedia manages to give the reader an "eh, Bulgaria, take it or leave it" impression. I will admit that I did not giggle audibly when I discovered that one of its links to a "picturesque Bulgarian village" leads instead to a rather nice *Slovenian* village, but I did think it was comical enough to share.

I hope it doesn't sound as if Bulgaria-Sierra tensions are rising again, because this is not the case. I hope the tourism department keeps snoring away because hey, more deserted forests and mountains for me.