Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bulgaria - Day 3: Lovech - Did I drink THAT much?

We awake the next morning – fairly early – to partake in the complimentary breakfast before heading out on the 2 hour drive to Lovech- our ultimate destination and base of operations for the next several days. We meet Villy and Tony in the hall - who have slept well and head downstairs to a wonderful breakfast buffet. Fruits, a few meats, scrambled eggs a couple of pastries and cereals what seemed like Tang (not orange juice at least) and a couple of power bars later we were on our way! Over all not a bad experience!

The trip to Lovech was very eventful - the ride there is through open countryside - lots of rolling hills just touching the mountainsides - green pastures - small villages - about a 2 hour trip overall. With the exception of Tony (thankfully) we all dozed here and there.

Upon arriving in Lovech - our first order of business was to get settled in at the apartment we were staying at - which was across the street from Villy’s Aunt and Uncle. Specifically - it was Villy’s Aunt Ivanichka’s father’s apartment that we would be staying at. A spry 85year old that stayed in the kitchen the whole time we were there - even to sleep - apparently he had a bed in there! Lisa and I got our own room and Lisa’s father moved into a room. Once settled - we headed over to Aunt and Uncles to meet the family and start the festivities of welcoming the Americans!

By this time - it was already later in the afternoon - Aunt and Uncle were standing in the doorway as we are exiting the elevator (they live on the ninth floor) - oh yes - these apartments are throw backs from the old days - when the Communist still had control of the country - they are very small and all look alike - think of the old project systems in any American city and you will have a good picture of these apartment building. Since the Communist have left - the ownership of these apartments has been turned over to the occupants and they have really turned them into beautiful homes! Right out of Home and Garden Magazine!

We enter the home and Auntie immediately sweeps Lisa’s father up into her arms welcoming him back into her home - she reminds me a lot of my own Aunt Marge back home - kind, warm hearted - always smiling and welcoming - bright eyes and a HUGE heart. Her blond hair is fashionably spiked up and she is rattling off Bulgarian a mile a minute as if we can understand every word of it! Uncle is standing in the background and the best way to describe him is Tony Bennett - if you had to picture anyone - that is who you would picture!

The room is chaos as people I have never meant sweep me into their arms and kiss me. Hugging me close and praising me with Bulgarian platitudes! We are introduced to Auntie and Uncle (Tony Bennett) as well as Cousin Mimi and her son Hristo (whom I have found has taken a long distance liking to my daughter!) as well as Tony’s wife Ivanichka and their young son Donny. And then there was Nora – Villy’s 8 year old daughter! Blue eyed and blond haired – she is a shy little girl who is sitting quietly in the corner of the kitchen table. Lisa and I have purchased a few special gifts for her and they are sequestered in my backpack which I have next to me. Lisa and I slide into the table next to Nora who looks up, smiling shyly. I give her a gentle tickle and reach into my pack and produce a small pack of Neon Markers along with a Butterfly cut out to color with it. Her smile brightens! We then produce a package of glow sticks – the kind you can make into bracelets! She begins to giggle a little! We then produce a pair of bubble gum color sandals along with a mini metal lunch box filled with sour candies – she opens the candies and proceeds to share them with the table! How cute is that!

And – oh the table! Laden with food and glasses – every spot – for the moment is filled with a setting of Shopska Salad! Everyone has a glass and a shot glass and that is where the trouble begins!

Uncle (Tony Bennett) – pulls a bottle from the freezer – in it is a home made alcohol called – Rakia. Imagine if you will drinking jet airliner fluid – just without the flavor. It is actually very good – in its frozen state (well – it actually does not freeze) – I would be willing to bet that in most of the world this drink is illegal. Uncle proceeds to pour a shot (in a glass size that is actually two shots) into everyone’s glass, include young Hristo’s) – he proceeds to toast the American guest – a toast the Villy must translate (the first of many she must translate for the night) – this first round consumes less than 1/8 of the bottle. I feel that first drink.

I don’t know what time it is – because time no longer exists at this point in the evening. Time is measured by the dead soldiers that are the empty Rika bottles – by this time we have killed four bottles and we are working on our fifth. I do recall several toasts and several shots taken all at once – something I think was not taken likely. At some point – a plate of food was put in front of me – it was delicious – I do remember that. I think it was pork and I think it had cheese – mushrooms and something else on it. I do remember young Hristo having several platefuls – that kid is a machine!

I think I drank some beer too – it was good – but the Rakia was better!

We moved to the front room – of this I am sure – to give away the gifts we bought with us. I don’t recall when – I know we did because when I walked into the front room – Villy was buried under a pile of clothing on the couch and Lisa and her father were tossing more on her. Tony Bennett was crooning to me from the kitchen – plying me with more Rakia – the siren call of alcohol! Uncle had received all purpose tool and it befell upon to explain it to him. I ripped it from its package – toasted it with Rakia and make a carving motion with the saw portion – “Da!” shouted Uncle!

From the front room we heard shouts so we navigated our way back there – the Rakia exhausted anyway – Lisa and her father had discovered a trophy they had made for a basketball tournament they had last year – the girls won apparently and they wanted to present it. Mimi, however, was not present and she needed to be. Where was Mimi? Why in bed!

Young Hristo and I took it upon us to go wake her – we barged into her room and began to shake her violently – something I assure you she was not pleased with! I do believe I was cursed at in Bulgarian!

With Mimi snuggly in bed – Lisa and her Dad presented the trophy to the clothing laden Villy nonetheless. And as we realized that it was already 3:00 AM – we finally decided that it was time to call it an evening! So – after saying our Rakia laced good-byes – we headed out the door – but rather than head to the elevator as we should have done – we headed down the stairs – forgetting that we were on the 9th floor! Hell – it wasn’t until the 5th floor that Lisa’s father exclaimed: “where the hell is the front door?” – choosing to forget the elevator and continue to take the stairs.

Thank God our building was barely a half block away!

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