Sunday, August 7, 2011
Alyssa in Bulgaria (Sofia)
Bright lights, big European city… well not exactly, but I am starting to learn that almost anything feels big compared to Armenia. I never feel the smallness of the place that I am in until I leave it. As soon as that plane set down in Sofia I felt a pressure lift off my chest. As I observed skate boarders, couples walking holding hands and kissing, dog walkers and a plethora of McDonalds and Subways I realized that I Dorothy was no longer in Kansas anymore. Not even close.
When I selected Sofia for my summer vacation, I figured it wouldn’t be too different from Armenia. I mean both are post soviet countries, both have Peace Corps, so both should be pretty similar, or so I thought. I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact I am struggling to make comparisons between the two, so vast are their differences.
As the taxi driver escorted me from the airport to the hostel the first thing that I noticed was the graffiti in Bulgaria, it’s everywhere! It almost has an old school Los Angeles feel to it, except for the architecture, everything in Bulgaria is very cute and what I would imagine to be very European. Everything is so old, and yet so modern. Next to a 10th century church sits a McDonalds and just down the road is a Turkish Hamman which is across the street from a Metro station. Upon my first glance at the city I wasn’t very impressed. Why I chose to come here again, I asked myself.
The Taxi driver took me to my hostel where right away I noticed that this wasn’t your ordinary hostel. I walked into the reception area and bags upon bags were piled around the room and close to 30 people were hanging around playing pool, sleeping on bean bags, and talking. I sat down with the receptionist and she highlighted the places on the map of Sofia that I should go to. To be honest, I was overwhelmed a bit and a little afraid to go out into the city alone. So I sat down for about 20 minutes working up my courage.
Finally I was off, map in hand, going to see the sites of a new country. I was afraid that I would be bored alone, or that I would lose my way, but in fact, I had a great time. The best thing was that I could do whatever it was that I wanted. If I was tired I could sit down and people watch for a bit before going on. If I wanted to skip something that didn’t seem interesting I did. It was great to not have to worry about anything at all. My first stop was for some Bulgarian Ice Cream. The Ice Cream stand was so colorful, and the flavors looked so interesting, though I didn’t know what any of them were because everything was written in Cyrillic. So I essentially pointed to what colors looked best and was rewarded by some of the most delicious ice cream I have ever had. I’d put it right behind Reineers Ice Cream Shop at Sequoia National Park. I took a seat at a busy intersection and ate my delicious treat as I watched people walking by. The thing that surprised me right away was that Bulgarians do not have an autonomous look. They all look very different and sometimes it was hard for me to tell who the tourists were and who the host country nationals were. The second thing I noticed was the way the dressed! Men wearing board shorts and tank tops, men wearing no shirts, people wearing flip flops and girls in nice sun dresses. I almost felt as though I was back in the states, except for one glimpse at the architecture would remind me otherwise. As I sat there a man began to play the violin and people gathered around to watch. No one got pushy with each other, people just calmly stood by to watch. I stayed sitting and closed my eyes for a minute to enjoy the peace. Ahhh vacation!!
After my ice cream was done, I walked to the nearest Church St. Nedelia’s. Once I stepped inside I was amazed. Frescos covered every inch of the walls. Beautiful images of the gospels were everywhere on the walls, while the front of the church was brightly gold. It was somehow exactly as I thought it would be and still breath taking all at once. I walked around staring at each picture, trying to figure out what it was depicting. I lit candles for each person in my family and let the peace of the church refresh me as I sat taking it all in for about an hour. It was nice to be able to take all the time I wanted and not feel as though I had to rush. After this I walked to a few more sites, I basically hit up all the monuments and sites to be seen in Sofia, all in just one afternoon. My last stop was at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and I can’t even describe it effect on me. I have never seen a more beautiful cathedral in my life. The fact that this was made for the glory of God impressed me and while trying to take it in I was overcome with emotion. I lit more candles and I prayed and prayed and prayed. I felt so much pressure unloaded from my shoulders and before I knew it I was sleeping in the church!!! I think I was only asleep for a half hour or so, but when I woke up I was so embarrassed! I wonder if that happens often?!?
After day one of site seeing, I had already come to love and appreciate this charming little placed called Sofia. Not the way I adore Istanbul, nor the way I cherish Armenia, but in a way that I could walk around light hearted, smiling and being smiled back at, comfortable in my own skin, not being stared at, melding in as just one of them kind of way. I felt invisible in a fantastic kind of way that I have not felt once since I have left America. I felt as though I could belong there and no one would know the difference, I felt that in that time and place I did belong there. I was lighthearted and free for the first time in a loooong time!