Last weekend, I decided to do a mini solo trip to Bulgaria. As a foreign student in Turkey, we are required to get this thing called a residence permit in order to leave and come back to the country. To put it lightly, it is extremely annoying, expensive and time consuming to get. Because of this, I felt a bit obligated to use it to leave the country at least once. Bulgaria is only a 9 hour bus ride, so I figured I would just do an overnight bus and spend a couple days to experience a new country. I thought an overnight bus would be good because I would be able to sleep, but at around 2:30 in the morning, we reached the border and spent 2 hours at the border with passport checks and a luggage check. So by the time I reached Sofia at 8 in the morning, I was beyond exhausted. Unfortunately, I could not check into the hostel until 12 so I decided to walk around the city for a bit before I crashed. I walked to the national theatre, the center of the city and happened to ask for directions from a Bulgarian who spoke nearly fluent English and was eager to speak to an American. He told me a bit about the city and things to see and it really helped me become acquainted with the city. First I went to see Bulgaria’s Hagia Sophia (that is what they call it) even though it is probably 1/15th the size of the actual Hagia Sophia. It is a small church that has some underground graves that was built by Constantine. There were no photos allowed inside, but the graves were really interesting to see.
The next thing I saw was the Alexander Nevski church, the most famous church in Bulgaria. This church was much more impressive with high ceilings and gold inlay on the outside. When I went inside there were many people praying in front of a shrine of the Virgin Mary.
I walked around the city and got to see the university and the Parliament building. I also saw a few swastikas around the city, which was a bit unnerving. Although I should not have been surprised since Bulgaria was under the Iron Curtain until 1990. I turned in pretty early that night since I had gotten very little sleep the night before. The next morning I got up early, anticipating a mid afternoon bus back to Istanbul to avoid the annoyance of the border at night again. I just continued to walk through the city observing Sofia, a much poorer and MUCH less crowded version of Istanbul. Here are some city sights:
My last memorable experience in Bulgaria was when I was walking around the bus station waiting for the bus to come. I was walking next to the taxi station and one of the taxi drivers on break said something to me. I do not speak a word of Bulgarian, so I just replied, “English” and the taxi driver said,” Deutschland? Heil Hitler!” I began to nervous smile and briskly walk away. I have read about neo-Nazis but never in my life had I experienced something like that.
Aside from the anti-semitism, the most shocking thing for me in Sofia was my inability to communicate. In Turkish, I am competent enough to have a conversation about where I am going and food, help, where I live and many things of the sort. In Bulgaria, I did not even know how to say hello or Thank you. That was a very uncomfortable feeling for me and it was heightened by the alphabet difference as well. They use cyrillic, so I could not even attempt to read the signs. Even after two days there I was craving the comfort of my surroundings in Turkey. I wanted to be back in my comfort zone. Never in a million years did I think Turkey would be my comfort zone.