Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bulgaria - Day 1: Sofia - Part 2

While Tony and Villy drive off to take Hristo to his 2 hour bus ride to Lovech with our bags - which we will find out later is something of and event! We pile our remaining bags (yes - there are still bags left over - carry on bags, we have to dress after all) and ourselves into a taxi to what is supposed to be a short ride to the hotel.

$53.00 lv (Bulgarian dollars) later - we arrive at the hotel - the name of which escapes me (forgive me for not writing it down - I am sure my father in-law will correct me and then I will correct this post). We are certain the cab driver took the Americans on the scenic route and even more certain after we tell Villy the amount we were charged!

The hotel itself looks very luxurious in an old world sort of way - like something out of an old James Bond movie in the 1960s!

Think ‘Casino Royal’! Very cool! Yea Baby! Swing!

Orange colored, tight shag carpeting, beige fabric like wall paper - the kind with a little texture to it - egg crate ceilings so that maintenance can get at the air conditioning units (if your room has one - which we do - we paid an extra $10.00 lv) - very comfortable beds that sat low to the ground and like all European hotels - very small. All in all - a very nice place - with one exception - the air conditioning that we paid extra for - did not work! At least as we expected! There was barely a whisper of cool air coming from the vent - you had to press your hand to it just to feel the breeze (if you could call it that). So - being the industrious Americans we are - we called down to the front desk to ask for assistance!

Shortly - two burley Bulgarians arrive armed with a step stool and a can of WD40 - they enter the first of the two rooms we have let - climb up the ladder - remove the orange egg crate ceiling - spray the WD40 and proclaim: : “Da!”. They enter our second room and repeat the process.

Remove orange egg crate ceiling - spray WD40 - “Da!”. Problem solved.

Yet the air is still a whisper - except now we just cannot hear the motor churning as the WD40 has done it’s job in freeing up the fan and it no longer squeaks. God Bless America! Luckily the windows open and at this point the sun is going down on this very hot day and as we are headed out to dinner in either case - we open the window to help cool the room as we head out. Problem solved!

Stepping off of the elevator into the lobby we are struck by the sudden surge in nationalities at the hotel. Apparently there is a Folk Dance Festival in town - representatives from throughout Europe and Asia are gathered to perform and many are staying right here at out hotel. Of course Lisa’s father wants to get pictures of himself with some of the prettier girls from Korea - dressed in their ceremonial garb as they are headed out to their buses! After chatting and picture taking as we walk out the door – we finally arrive at Tony’s and we are ready to head out to dinner.

Mind you – at this point – the three of us: Lisa, myself and her father – have been up for nearly 28 hours at this point.

Villy has had in her mind to take us to a very particular restaurant situated in the mountainside that included such sights as singers and firewalkers! Apparently they took Lisa’s father there last year and he enjoyed it so much they wanted to repeat the experience. The only problem: she was not sure of the name or the location. She had an idea of how to get there and felt confident we could find the way. Her brother, Tony– was less confident. He was not a resident of Sofia – nor does he like the larger city. But – with a twinkle and a smile – he agreed and we headed off!

Before we begin:
Montage is a technique in film editing that can refer to: montage sequence, a segment which uses rapid editing, special effects and music to present compressed narrative information

Now we are off to the restaurant: We travel up the mountain – there is much laughter, silliness – fun! We stop ask directions – we travel down the mountain – there is much laughter, silliness – fun! We stop ask directions – we travel up the mountain – our speed increases – there is much laughter, silliness – fun! We stop ask directions – we travel down the mountain – steam begins to erupt from Tony’s ears, the car lurches forward fasters – the turns become a little sharper – there is much laughter, silliness…..fun! We stop at what looks like a Police post – a longer conversation concerning directions takes place – we head back up the mountain and this time to the right! More steam from Tony’s ears, the car is careening around the corners dirt and gravel spewing from the rear – there is much laughter, silliness and just a little less fun at this point! We stop at a different restaurant – to ask for directions – the logic being one restaurant will know another. Frenzied U turn and we are headed back where we came from! But this time we make another right and we find the road!

Turn by turn – we follow a path through beautiful woods as we head up the mountainside to the restaurant – more and more becomes recognizable and the mood of Tony turns brighter and brighter. The car – no longer lurching – settles into a normal sped and soon we are pulling into a gated parking lot. The restaurant: Dyado Liben – looks like a northern woods type of place – a country cabin – where all of the best eating is located outside. A singer is located in the front – she is accompanied by a keyboardist – her voice is sultry and deep, stained with cigarette smoke and years of performance. It is a very soulful sound and very pleasant to listen to.

Soon we are all ordering what seem to be endless plates of food. Of course we have to order the national dish – Shopska Salad. Shopska Salad is made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, raw or roasted peppers (preferably roasted), and sirene (white brine cheese). The vegetables are usually diced and salted, followed by a light dressing of sunflower oil or olive oil, complemented by vinegar. Mmmmmmmm! This is Lisa’s father’s favorite dish and throughout the trip he will have this at every meal.

For dinner we have a combination of items from chicken to pork to lamb! All of it delicious all of it so very filling! Recently I worked very hard to lose some weight – I knew in an instant that I would be gaining it all back during this trip!

We were nearing the bottom of what seemed to be endless plates when the Firewalkers came into the area. This was amazing! Dressed in ceremonial garb – a man and a woman walked (actually danced) in – she carried a religious icon – it looked like the Mother Mary – he lead her into the area. There was an open circle where a fire had been blazing all evening – it was now reduced to red glowing coals – you could feel the heat pulsing from it! While the music thumped – the man and the woman danced around the edge of the glowing embers – never really stepping onto them – always on the edge of them – building up the suspense as people positioned with their cameras. The music began to build and their movements began to quicken (our hearts began to quicken as well I might add) – suddenly – they were walking through the fire – sparks and embers kicking up from their heels as they crisscrossed through the hot coals! The music rose and the tempo increased – the woman began to dance in the center of the coals reaching down into the coals and throwing them into the air like confetti! Several pieces landed in her hair as she twirled about! Then – the music reached its crescendo and the dance was over! The firewalkers stepped out of the coals – their feet and hands black with soot – they took their bows and walked off to what I am sure was a tub of ice water!

As soon as they were done – the restaurant began to empty! That’s the funny thing that I have learned so far – and you will see this in future posts – in America – restaurants are all about turning the tables. Serve the food as quickly as possible – get the patrons in and out so the tables can make as much per seating as possible. In Bulgaria – you come in at 8 and sit until the place shuts down at 2 or 3 AM!

We head back to the hotel - which is much easier to find now that we have located al of the roads on the moutain - to have a nightcap and head to bed for some much needed sleep. At this point - we have been up for nealry 40 hours!

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