Thursday, 15 May 2014
An early enough three-hour flight from the UK plus a couple of hours of added time and all of a sudden we’re well into the day as my EasyJet steed taxies to the terminal in Sofia and I disembark with all the anticipation and trepidation of the finely-timed journey across an alien landscape that awaits me. After an incredibly slick entry into this newest of EU countries I am through passport control within twenty minutes of landing, my luggage is right there and after a few short paces through the green channel I am at large in the arrivals lounge.
I say ‘lounge’ as if anybody would hang around in a leisurely manner but, negotiating the small gaggle of hawkers pimping rides by private taxi, dodgy non-official bus services, charabanc and, for all I know, donkey, I pay heed instead to the instructions I have memorised and make my way to the rank of ‘Okay’ yellow Taxis. It’s not clear for a minute or two why there are people standing around waiting while a gridlock of empty taxis is going nowhere, so I approach the taxi at the head of the queue and using the international language of monosyllabic Slow English I get a ride to the bus station where, I have been told, there is a slim chance of catching the 1:40 to Kardzhali.
Either my powers of communication are better than I thought, or the driver is telepathic... or maybe the speed restrictions are merely advisory in the case of taxi drivers, because we hurtle across Sofia at speeds approaching the sound of “Oh my God!” twice veering widely to avoid cars with the temerity to be on their own side of the road. White knuckle rides are always so much fun and I settle back in the brace position to enjoy the new sights flooding in. And the smells. Ah, the earthy, rustic essence of Bulgaria... or is it, I belatedly wonder, the taxi driver?
Looking out as we get into the busy streets I am surprised (but why should I be?) that instead of the multicultural palette imposed on British cityscapes, Sofia appears to be splendidly and unashamedly monocultural and furthermore, being largely Caucasian in appearance the local population looks more comfortably British than The UK has looked for a decade or more. Furthermore, despite a 12% muslim population I saw not one single burka. People like us. (Yes, I said it. No you’re a racist!)
At the bus station my enquiry is met with a blank expression and sharp retort of admirable efficiency. “33. Go now.” I hover, expecting to buy a ticket – I am, after all, at the ticket desk. The lady behind the glass gives me a withering look; she must deal with imbeciles all day long. “Go! Run!” So I run, out into the sunshine, locate stand 33 and reach the bus just as it prepares to close its doors. Talk about close timing. Soon we are leaving the outskirts of the capital and I settle down to watch the scenery go by.
Typically, the other passengers retreat into their own worlds, to absorb the next four hours, so I dig out my headphones and select some music. On the way out of Sofia I saw numerous posters announcing the forthcoming arrival of Lisa Stansfield, who is playing the National Palace of Culture on the first of June, so that seemed appropriate. Only kidding – I chose some nice, soothing Led Zeppelin; it’s been a long time since I rock’n’rolled! We rambled on across a wide flat plain flanked by distant snow-topped mountain ridges.
My mission is to begin the rewire of an old school that Roo – some of you know him – has bought in the south of the country. I have seen pictures of the astonishingly insouciant existing installation with new cables nailed to walls and twisted to the ancient existing wiring. “I keep getting odd shocks when I touch things” he has told me in the past, to which I have generally responded – Tommy Cooper style – that he should stop touching those things. But on arrival he informs me he has also being getting a tingle n the shower and he doesn’t think it’s from his new citrus body wash. We solve the immediate problem by resolving not to bathe until we’ve fixed it, but in the meantime a welcome beer is called for. The work will come round in its own good time... Bulgaria time: сутрин which roughly translates as mañana or in Cornish, ‘dreckly’. It may be a while before we get that shower.