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Published: August 27th 2014
It was the tallest group of boys I had ever seen. Gangly guys; More neck than head; Their big Adam's apples nervously Yo-Yo-ing between chin and sternum. They looked like first time flyers. We were leaving Istanbul for Bulgaria. We were on one of those long accordion buses that jet-way anemic airports utilize to ferry passengers to planes. The young men were members of the Iranian National basketball team on their way to Sofia for a game. Half of them looked as if they were straight off the farm. Probably recruited by some government emissary whose sole task was to find Iran's tallest men; athletic talents be damned. On the plane, their heads rested atop their knees. I'll never complain about legroom again.
We arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria. As we landed I noted abandoned military aircraft along the side of the runway. Stripped of engines and parts. Most of the planes were old US Air Force aircraft. Modern air terminal. Sparsely staffed. Security consisted of weight-lifter bully boys who kept everybody in line with glares. At baggage I watched as most of the passengers went directly to the lost luggage counter. For good reason. It is routine for people flying
Beautiful, cafe-lined pedestrian shopping area in Sofia with very few visitors.
to Sofia on Turkish Airlines not to find their bags when they arrive. I talked to a Turk standing next to me who lives in Sofia. "Is no problem," he smiled. "You will have bags tomorrow." And so we filled out our lost luggage forms, were given a complimentary pouch containing a T-shirt, toothbrush, socks, razor along with Turkish Air's best wishes. The Basketball players' bags miraculously appeared in tutto.
We rode into Sofia which lays 9 Km from the airport. A backdrop of mountains to the west dominated by 7,500-foot tall Mount Vatarsha added a vertical element to what is a very two dimensional town. I never saw a building taller than 12-stories. The streets are comprised of wide boulevards lined with huge, statue dotted parks and Neo-Baroque architecture painted in yellows and whites. Population is 1.2 Million people who seem to spend most of their time sitting in traffic. Tourist attractions consist of churches and museums of dubious merit.
We checked into the Hotel Lion. The street in front was torn out to a depth of twenty-feet. I asked the desk clerk when the work would be finished. "In one month!" He exclaimed. I stared at
KJ On The Sofia Metro
Flat-Out; The Best Subway System We Have Ever Used.
him for a long moment and he just smiled at me. Bulgarians are good folk as long as you are good to them. Keep a civil tongue in your mouth and a smile on your face. In return they will help you in any way they are able. Start giving them grief and you will regret it for as long as you are in-Country. I watched a guy at passport control make a smart remark regarding one of the security agents. I think that guy is still waiting to be processed.
The next day we took the subway into the city. The best Metro system we have ever ridden; Bar none. Built in 1998, it is modern and 'eat off the platform' clean. It was the highlight of our visit. We walked around a few parks that were devoid of visitors. Long dry water fountains and half finished Communist monuments. European Square offers western style shopping malls with good grocery stores and food courts lifted right out of the States. Get your MacDonalds on!
Our bags finally arrived the second night we were there and just in time as we were heading to Macedonia the next morning. Sofia
Soviet Era Memorial Abandoned
Work stopped after the breakup. Sofia is loaded with statues and also fountains which are devoid of running water. Local kids use them as skateboard parks.
is a two night town with little to offer culturally. But boy; Do they have one hell of a subway system. That, we will always remember.
After we left Trabzon we spent 2 short days at Tolga's apartment in Itanbul before heading back to our rental apartment for three more delightful weeks in Canakkale. We bled Turkey for just about every Visa day we had coming to us. Our acquaintances in Canakkale were happily amazed to see us return. We found a good local gym and attempted to trim off the fat we had added since we first rolled into the country with limited success. Turkey has been the standout on our trip. We will remember fondly all of the people we met there who took us under their wing. People like Tolga in Istanbul and his extended family. People like Tolga in Canakkale who we had the good fortune to meet on a ferry boat one hot summer's day. He introduced me to moderate Islamic philosophy. Invited me to the University and instructed Karen and I in Iftar and Ramazan. People like Neuzat and Hatice; How can we ever repay you for all you did for
Great Hotel on the Most Metro stop. Very comfortable but at $60 per night it is pricier than you would expect, given Sofia's meager tourist offerings.
us? Hasan in Izmir who taught us the value of Raki and open-mindedness (though we needed little assistance there). Sitting with him in his apartment listening to Jethro Tull and discussing Quantum theory was sweet. Meeting Brainiac Pala and beautiful Joy and all the animals on the Kordon was so fine. The family in Denizli who taught us more about Hazelnuts than we ever wanted to know and enough about true hospitality to make us feel chagrined. To kind, kind Yusuf in Trabzon and his amazing Father. To Tolga's parents in Trabzon and his Mom's wonderful cookies. Thank you for sharing your recipes and your family photographs. Leaving Turkey was the most difficult thing we have had to do thus far on this long trip and it was Tolga in Istanbul who started it all for us. Thank you my friend.
The blogs will start coming short and fast now. We are meeting Noah in Poland on the 19th of September. Between now and then we have a lot to cover. We are now in Macedonia. From here we are going to Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and a few other places that I only know of by map. It's all
Men's Room Art In Sofia
This one was tame compared to the others in there.
new to us now.
Shouts out to John Montgomery and Chris Smith and Stace and Reed and their kids. To the Gutierrez family in Monforte. I hope August was good to you and the Rioja fine. To Rick Stites and family and Agramonte (thanks for writing. I owe you a medal) and our earthquake survivors in Ca. and Raquel (hope you got that Walleye) and my sis April who never writes and Dina who writes infrequently but copiously when she does and Greg and Liz who just got back home and the Tuckers and Giang and Truk and the Densons (I talked to JD for a long time whilst dreaming last week. He's well. Still has his hands in his pockets and eating his fill.)
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