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Published: September 14th 2010
With my backpack on I walked alongside the tatty train on the station platform looking for a word or number that I could read. I still couldn’t read a bloody thing in Cyrillic - despite it only taking about ‘an hour with a beer to learn’ according to the Lonely Planet at least. So I climbed aboard the train and loitered in the gangway looking up and down for a conductor.
The interior of the train was fairly modern with fairly modern seating but they were all occupied byt hot-looking people. It was stuffy inside, there was no air-conditioning and the only cooling ventilation was provided by open windows.
The conductor eventually came along and looked at my ticket - I asked for a seat number - but he didn’t point to anywhere and moved on to other passengers. I was bemused. Luckily I was stood with two tall Bulgarian guys who helpfully interpreted my ticket for me and looked for my seat - which they found, opposite two fat ladies in the corner who were occupying my seat with their overloaded bags; so commenced my first train journey in Bulgaria.
It was sweltering and stuffy inside the
train, everybody looked hot; I sat there fanning myself with my hat as the two fat ladies fanned themselves and men sneaked a look at the strange looking foreigner. The lads eventually came to my seat and we got talking; they took off their shirts and got stuck into their two litre bottled beer as well as the vodka.
After awhile we got talking, Victor was 16 years old, about 6 foot 2 inches tall and brown as a chestnut. Cvetko was a similar height and aged around 21 - despite the council estate look he was studying fine art at the University of Sofia and in fact both were amiable fellows.
They had both had had a great time at the Spirit of Burgas festival - I was surprised at how much they knew about The Prodigy - old school classic dance/trance music. However, they were now returning as two of their party had had their wallets and all of their money stolen whilst crashed out asleep on the beach. Victor and Cvetko had paid for their friends and were thus short on their own money so had had to return. I liked these geezers - they said stuff like ‘most English people and Americans don’t know where Bulgaria is. They ask me where Bulgaria is, “is it in Asia?” Victor, the sixteen year old had the best English so we talked about Bulgaria - which was mafia-run according to them - something which British holiday home owners might well agree with. Cvetko went further and with a sneer described Bulgaria as a ‘toilet’ - corruption everywhere was rife.
My initial reticence talking to two big Bulgarian blokes not wearing any shirts and who was drinking beer in the open changed once they opened up and told me their thoughts on Bulgaria. But then they got talking about the E.U. and the gypsies, an ethic minority who are universally loathed here in Bulgaria. So, seemingly educated and friendly people come out with vitriol like this from Victor who declared that “you know, I don’t hate any race but the gypsies I do” and ‘I would never let a gypsy into my home’. According to Cvetko, European Union money was simply going to the gypsies, something that they resented in Bulgaria. I was quite shocked by their open racism and wish I could have said som ething but I simply accepted my ignorance on the matter - and I didn’t live here - God knows the travellers in the UK are loathed as well, imagine a million of them like in Bulgaria, I thought?
Anyway, as we neared Sofia and they shared their beer with me and made toasts Cvetko inquired as to where I was staying, so I started looking for hostels in the city. But he asked me if I wanted to stay with him in Sofia - his parents were away on holiday. I thought about it quickly and decided that this was basically couchsurfing, albeit more random, that I would experience a little bit of Bulgarian hospitality and bugger, it was better than the cloistered-tourist existence in a hostel. So I accepted. However, this offer triggered a counter offer by a drunk bloke that we had been talking to in broken English - which I was forced to politely decline.
When we hit Sofia, Cvetko who had become more and more talkative in English warned me about coming to the train station because it was dangerous - (gypsies, criminals and fuck-ups). The station was indeed a chaotic broken mess and I was glad to be with two lanky Bulgarians. We said goodbye to Victor who was picked up by his surgeon father and I was soon on a tram with Cvetko passing gypsy prostitutes along the dark end of the streets followed by the warning that ‘you would not to want to fuck any of them my friend’. Cvetko seemed to be my friend and my protector, but I still wasn’t sure if this weird turn in my Bulgarian sojourn was going to end well or not.
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