Thursday, May 1, 2008

What I learned on my trip to Sofia

1. Don't go to an Orthodox Christian country on Easter weekend
When even Dunkin' Donuts is closed, you know you're in trouble. The town was dead as a doornail. Sure, I've been living in a Muslim country, and my Protestant peeps back home all celebrated the holiday a month ago, but this little oversight made me feel like the kind of cultural ignoramus everyone expects Americans to be. I hate that.

2. Every city park should sell hot donuts and cold beer
Istanbul is particularly lacking on both counts, but even my fair San Francisco is uncharacteristically prudish about the drinking-in-public part. Point for Bulgaria.

3. Cyrillic is like, really, really hard
I generally avoid restaurants with photos on the menu like the plague, but I sure would have loved to find one in Sofia! It was humbling to look at menus and wall signs and train schedules and not even be able to recognize, much less understand, a single word. I could walk past the place I was looking for two or three times before realizing that I had actually found it, since my map and guidebook had everything written out in the Latin alphabet, while all the signage was... not.

(On the flip side, finding myself continually thinking, "I wish I could just ask this in Turkish!" made me realize I'm coming along better than I thought with my language classes. I was besides myself with happiness to come back to the bus station for the return trip and be able to stow my luggage with a quick "Çantam otobuse koyabilir miyim?")

4. The call to prayer sounds awfully forlorn as a solo act
There's just one little mosque in all of Sofia. When the call to prayer began, I kept expecting the chorus to grow, but it sounded thin and lonely with no others to join in.

5. Nobody does spike heels and painted-on pants at church like the women of the former Soviet Union
It's an especially nice touch when the gold of their shoes reflects the golden glow of the candles they're carrying. You don't see that at Eyüp Camii. No wonder one of the Russian churches had a sign indicating, along with the usual "no cell phones," "no cameras," "no food" symbols, what could only be interpreted as icons for "no mini-skirts" and "no backless tops."

6. Pork is really, really tasty
Especially when it's stuffed with bacon and blue cheese. OK, I already knew that last one. But in this case, absence really did make the heart grow fonder.

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