You know that person that slams their foot on the invisible break while sitting shotgun? That’s me. And, because I’ve had a car at my disposal since the age of 16 it hasn’t been much of an issue. But, it has lead to the reinforcement of my dislike for long trips. Because I’m always the one in the driver’s seat, I’ve never been a good traveller. I’m impatient too. I like going new places, to be sure, but I hate the jostling of travel. I would much rather choose one city and spend a week exploring than hitting seven countries in seven days. And, since I only have Fri-Sun to travel due to my work schedule, most of my trips feel rushed. I’ve never been a “its about the voyage, not the destination” kind of person, but this past trip to Bulgaria has started to soften this resolve.
Kara, Lucian, Cass and I left Friday morning, with Joe making a surprise appearance at the bus station. We pow wowed for the trip to the Bulgarian border, taking turns telling stories about life at home and in Turkey. After arriving in Burgas, we quickly discovered that there were no busses and due to a strike, no trains that could take us to our destination.
While debating what to do, we were approached by a taxi driver, sporting a US Marine Corps Veteran baseball cap, with the rim still flat as a board, who then asked us in English where we wanted to go. I know no Bulgarian beyond voda (water) avutogara (bus station), shkembe chorbaya (tripe soup) and da/niet (yes/no), and had spent the morning digging through the annexes of my memory for any remnants of my German, since that seems to be the only foreign language spoken by Bulgarians who are employed in the transportation industry.
But English! And a faux American Marine Corps Vet?!
He laughed when we said Veliko-Tarnovo.
Lucian asked him, playfully, how much to take the 5 of us. Nikolai’s wheels started churning, doing the math. 280 leva. Ha! 200, we countered. After going back and forth we settled on 220 leva (~$160, about $30 a piece). Pretty reasonable we thought, for 250 kilometers (about 3 hours).
Nikolai stuffed our belongings in the trunk of his car, next to the gas tank, then borrowed a spare tire from a friend and off we went. Well, off we went to the gas station where Nikolai suspiciously disappeared for 10 minutes as the attendant pumped the tank full of petrol. As the gas poured in, the tank rattled and shook, making a grating, growling noise. We could do nothing but laugh, so we laughed historically as the attendant peered in on our snuggle-fest in the back seat.
As it turns out, Bulgaria has the best radio I’ve heard in a while. While Turkish music is entertaining, after a while, it all sounds the same. Bulgaria has the classic European love for American pop and rock, and we benefitted. We heard Natalie Imbruglia, Spice Girls, and other 90s singers who graced the top 40 once and disappeared into the depths of cocaine addiction and reality TV. Nikolai dodged traffic police, announcing POLIS! whenever he spotted a speed trap. And, because we were an illegal four in the back, Lucain would dive down between the seats, I’d cover him with a jacket, and we’d pull seat belts across our shoulders. We told stories of college breakups, worst first dates, and best stories from our placements in Turkey.
About 12 hours after embarking on our voyage, we arrived in Veliko-Tarnovo. The weekend was phenomenal, the city was beautiful, the hostel cozy and it’s staff friendly and obliging. The weather couldn’t have cooperated more. We ate delicious food, full of pork. We drank lovely wines, for reasonable prices. We celebrated 25 years of Hayfa, another Fulbrighter, by dancing in a bizarre Bulgarian night club (they had uniformed dancers who body slammed poles and danced on balconies). But, the best part of the weekend was those hours spent en route, where we had nothing to do but entertain one another.
I’ve been picking on Turkey lately, and for all its faults, it’s making me a more interesting person. I’ve learned to roll with the punches, take cleansing deep breaths when necessary, and occasionally give in to the voyage, because it can outshine the destination.