An American in Bulgaria: Day Four

Day Four: Sunday June 26th, 2011.

Although we went to bed when the sun rose, we felt guilty when we woke up at 1pm.

We basically farted around the apartment, watching a Steven Seagal movie (which is weird, because an advertisement just came on TV about him as I type this.) (It’s also funny on a separate level because the deep and ultimate question is on my banner: is it really and truly OKAY to watch Steven Seagal movies AND are they FILMS?)
We did our nails with Mama Ves, aka her mom, who kept asking what we were going to do that day but really wanting to know if we were going to party some more.

Zhas and I got in the car for what turned out to be my first Bulgarian Mall Experience. Here in my notebook, I wrote <<“We bought a couple of partsalki” (sp?)>> and I honestly don’t remember what this means. I tried googling ‘partsalki’ with limited success. If I don’t remember, it can’t be that important.

I saw a whole bunch of fascinating things, including a little kids’ caterpillar-shaped train and small children floating inside plastic bubbles in a real pool. IT BLEW MY MIND. I drew a picture of it in the notebook, but I didn’t have my camera on me when we saw this wonderful things. My only concern is their limited supply of oxygen, otherwise I’d say to leave those kids in their all day.
http://cache.virtualtourist.com/3109821-Kids_in_Bubbles-Beijing_Shi.jpg

I also braved the registers and purchased some stuff for myself at Zara, Bershka, some knockoff Armanic perfume shop, etc. where my American accent met with various reactions: crankiness, amusement, surprise, downright rudeness. Whatever.

We went to the other mall to meet up with Veso and the girls, which somehow felt really awkward, and was even more awkward when we decided to go bowling. All of us are pretty competitive; Bulgarian lanes also have no concept of using bumpers so we had to actually play for real. I came in second-to-last. Whatevs, penultimate ain’t so bad, particularly when you use the word ‘penultimate.’

We parted ways, Veso and the girls going back to the villa for whatever, whereas Jujka and I went to Godzila by the sea for pizzas. With beer, airan, and shopska salata, I also had a ham, mushroom and pickle pizza. It was almost unfair, how awesome this part of the night was, because we were supplied free entertainment across the street in Punta Cana. Apparently Sunday is Latin-dancing night so we ate our pizzas while watching these unreal salsa dancing people who kept switching partners after every couple of songs. It was sort of like a really beautiful swingers night where all the guys just look flat-out gay.

And then, of course, because we can’t resist to party a little bit, we met up with everyone again at Cubo to celebrate two separate birthdays: Sasho and Zlatev, who we will come to know very well in the coming days. OH FORESHADOWING.
Anyway, this is the first time I said “Milka Chocograins” out loud in mockery of the weird Bulgarian commercial. The guys thought it was the funniest thing that ever happened and nearly pissed themselves. More mojitos (complimentary, in honor of the birthdays) and then we were off for some munchies at Subway. Bulgarian Subway: new experience.
Veso ended up eating four McDonald’s cheeseburgers, one 6-inch sub, half of another sub, and then an ice cream cone. Zhas and I split a 6-inch “Beibe Puyeshko” which boggled my mind. If everything is metric, why are the sandwiches in inches?! EXPLAIN.  I would also like to note that McDonald’s around the world have specialized foods to cater to local palates: Germany has beer; France has wine; Guam has spam; and apparently the Philipines have spaghetti. Bulgarian McDonald’s (which looks a bit like mkgohalgks in the Cyrillic script) has a sandwich called the McZorba, which features some type of grilled meat, cucumber and feta. Sounds good, though I never got to try it.

All in all, a fine night and a rest from the excessive partying.
JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU READ ABOUT MONDAY.

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An American in Bulgaria: Day Three

Day Three: Saturday June 25th, 2011.

We woke up early in Veso’s parents’ room of the villa, feeling better than expected out on the balcony. We had leftover breakfast with everyone outside on the patio and then the reality of the DEADLIEST HANGOVER EVER set in. Was it worth it being the greatest American ever?
No.
Perversely, I made a positive impression with everyone on behalf of America but I also thought I’d vomit all over Kabakum Beach. While I curled into a ball on the sand, everyone else watched the Formula races, ate tsatsa, and drank ayran or tarator. Finally the wind and the clouds broke and we went back to our respective domiciles with the intentions of meeting up later that evening.

Back at Zhas’, her dad gave me an aspirin and a thumbs up and I recovered many hours after the fact. We went downstairs to her brother’s flat to celebrate Mary’s birthday with the grandparents. (I had showered, to which her brother said “Why did you shower? It’s not a holiday.”) We watched Mitko and Mary’s wedding photos while we nibbled on this really interesting cake… Like a thin cake filled with jam and raisins/assorted fruits, and then rolled and covered with cream. It oozed when you tried to eat it so, effectively, it was super delicious. Everyone kept offering me various types of alcohol and I had to refuse like a broken record. All in good spirits of course. (Hawhaw, see what I did there.)

We walked around Primorska Garden and saw so many weird and interesting things… There was a carnival in the center of everything, completely lit and running but with no one there. Carousel, mini golf, paddle boats, a row of coin-operated cartoon-shaped riding-things.

While being harrassed by drunk men in a mineral spa on the side of the road, we walked to Sardinia (restaurant, not the island) where we met everyone for mussels and/or pizzas. It was good. Not much to say about that, really.
We walked down the seaside street to Cubo and I lost an earring. Unimportant. Cubo is basically a massive tent on the sand, with chairs and umbrellas and loud music. I had two pretty epic mojitos.
You’re supposed to pay one lev to use the toilet, but no one was there at the door so I walked right in… to what I thought was the men’s room. Why? Because there were NO TOILETS. Perplexed, I stood in the stall and waited until I heard the sound of two other girls coming in and doing their business into the holes in the ground. I wish I could show you my notebook, because I drew a small model of the hole in the ground, complete with rubber anti-slip grips. Point being I PEED INTO A HOLE IN THE GROUND. And on that note, it was time to go to the club.

Xtravaganzza is essentially a warehouse filled with three separate bars, walls lined with shelves to hold drinks, and lots and lots of drunk Bulgarians. You can also smoke inside, but they must be one of the few places in Bulgaria with a ventilation system, because that much of smoke in an enclosed space would leave anyone blind for two days. (We did, upon later notice, discover that we smelled TERRIBLE re: sweat, alcohol, and smoke.)
Because there were about ten of us, we bought two bottles of Bushmills whiskey and like 20 cans of Coke. The music was good and we had our own table up front next to the DJ booth. What I wasn’t prepared for was the ‘showtime’ that kicks off at midnight. A couple dozen half-dressed writhing young ladies on a stage above our head. After that, they sort of tag-teamed each other and dance couples came out: either two girls or a girl and this guy. And THIS GUY was probably the most flamboyant dancer of all time. We watched him literally dance with his own shadow until he noticed Kim mocking him.
I don’t know.
Veso does a pretty good impression of him.

We kept it up to chalga and left around 4:30am because I kept going “OHMYGOD I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW LATE IT IS.” When we got back to Zhas’s flat, we stood in the kitchen and raided the fridge for a literal feast of meats/cheeses. Sated, we retired to our sleeping quarters and prayed to not feel sick the next day. PARTYYYY.

An American in Bulgaria: Day Two

Day Two: Friday June 24th, 2011.

She said typewrite
Sad and all I had
She said circles in squares ain’t bad

As I said, I woke up laughing at being in Bulgaria. Exotic!

Breakfast was about as ridiculous as dinner the night before. We had the cheeses, meats, strong coffee, banichki, milinki and boza. Banichka and milinka are dough-based pastries, a bit tart or sour like a natural yogurt taste. Boza is a fermented wheat drink with a low alcohol content that tastes like Cream of Wheat and looks like sewer water. WIKIPEDIA FUN FACT: “In Bulgaria it is part of the traditional ‘Banitsa with Boza’ breakfast. Although a popular beverage, boza is used to describe something (film, piece of music, etc.) to be bland, boring, and of low quality.”
 

Our plan was to go to the beach but before that, we needed your typical supplies. We walked to the corner store (there’s WHITE POWER graffiti on the wall) and I felt really Anglophonic in there. I didn’t want to speak too loudly to give away my foreignness, but HOLY CRAP, there were such cool products in there that Adam would’ve loved the packaging.

Zhas drove to a beach further North than Varna’s city beaches because we wanted to sneak into the resorts.  We were concerned about parking behind the bus stop because the Bulgaria cops were hanging out there. While one chatted on his phone and another talked to a lost couple, we awkwardly stood there. He spoke to me as if I knew was he was saying, so I nodded a lot and smiled. We got a thumbs up and we crept through a hole in the fence into the resort territory where the poor Europeans go on vacation.

It was a beautiful day for the beach: sunny, breezy, not a cloud in the sky, no waves. The water was the clearest and cleanest I have ever seen in my life, which I shall continue to use as a standard for excellence. The two of us lounged on the beach or floated on the pink floaty raft thing. I sketched the pier and wrote a bit when, hours later, a group of friends and acquaintances stopped by around 3pm.

“I don’t deserve to be here. I graduated college as an average student with minimal distinguising qualities and now I’m in Europe. I find myself being driven around the backstreets of an antiquated country in a stick-shift, listening to chalga and dodging gypsies.
We just started playing volleyball with a new group of friends, which I understand to be Veso, Mitko, Jessie, Kim and another person whose name eludes me. I’d like to brush up on my Bulgarian grammar and not sound like a precocious two year-old, but this is more interesting.”

Zhas and I got ready for a dinner held later at Veso’s villa somewhere out of the central part of town. The house was a huge spectacle on a crazy narrow road. Mostly I felt pretty awkward at the beginning because I only knew Zhas, the guys were at the grill (skara) or else they were in the kitchen chopping vegetables.
As we opened some bottles of Bulgarian beer and peeled potatoes, Zhas and I experienced an awkward pre-dinner conversation with the two American girls. This Bulgarian beer, by the way, was Stolichno– a really strong black sludge. This was a starter for the epic dinner that ensued…

The table sat 7-12 people at varying times for shopska, handmade fries (ow hot oil,) “steaks” (highly Vegeta-seasoned pork(?)) various salads (Russian, Picadilly, tsatsiki) and 1.5 litres of homemade rakiya in a plastic lemonade bottle. I felt like I had something to prove so by the end of the night, I was sitting on the grass and shouting “DAI ME RAKIYA” like a champion. It really wasn’t a good idea, because I was eating sour cherries off the backyard trees before dragging myself upstairs to the room Zhas and I commandeered.

Hopefully I didn’t snore, but we’ll get to what I DID do tomorrow…

Lessons learned:
-Not only smart people go to Harvard.
-“ox” Harvard students.
-Do not mix beer and rakiya.
-Don’t do it.

An American in Bulgaria: Day One

Day One: Thursday June 23rd, 2011. Two weeks ago.

And you think you’re a guest
You’re a tourist at best
Peering into the corners of
My dark life.

I got up early to take the train to Luton, which sort of sucked. Getting to Luton, I mean… It wasn’t that early. Luton is a funny airport, and by ‘funny,’ I mean ‘complete shit.’ I sat around for two hours with a bunch of disgruntled American bikers (complete with bald eagle tattoos) and drank scalding cappucinos. The woman at the bureau de change was named Natasha and wanted to know how long I’d be in Bulgaria for and if I was going by myself. She advised that I look after myself. Still don’t know what to make of her.
Here begins an excerpt from one section of my notebook.

“It is with great trepidation that I walk around Luton– this airport sucks and it doesn’t make any sense. I’m also really nervous that I’m going to die in Bulgaria and no one will know except for my brother. And Facebook. I teared up on the bus from Luton Parkway and I realised it’s because I was sad to leave England, even though I also know I’m coming back. Duh. But holy crap, talk about facing the unknown… I have nothing to my knowledge except for that which I’ve gleaned from Eastern European tourbooks in East Brunswick library which only mention Bulgaria in passing.
Two points of irony:
1) I’m leaving England on the nicest day we’ve had so far: sunny, mild, NO RAIN.
2) The food I chose to buy for an early lunch was a feta salad, which is retarded because shopska salata is literally going to be served every day, or so I hope. I also bought grapes and a stick of delicious Wensleydale for £1,50 so there’s that too. I like food.
[…]
I just opened the door of the plane toilet because it was green and said VACANT and a Bulgarian woman hastily hiked up her oversized panties. I shouted SAZHALIAVAM at her and closed the door. This sort of thing happens from time to time…? On the inside of the door, the sign for locking is in English and Polish but what kind of retard doesn’t lock the door?!
The plane ride was spent reading the WizzAir inflight magazine in English and Polish, looking at the Alps we flew over, and trying to ignore the smell of the feet of the woman next to me. She took off her shoes for the 3-4 hours. Ick.

After one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever experienced, the majority of the plane clapped and cheered. ‘New experience?’ I thought simultaneously with ‘What the fuuuuhhhh?’ I think I had the ‘white people grin’ on my face as we were transported from the tarmac into Varna airport itself. It had to be at least 85ºF.
Zhas was waiting for me at Arrivals and I’m pretty sure we both had a moment like “IS THIS REAL LIFE?”

The majority of her family lives in the same building on this crazily narrow street. I was introduced to her father and her grandparents with what seemed like a great success. Having only learned it the night before, I did my best to stammer out “I’m pleased to meet you” which incidentally is one of the most complicated sentences ever. Her grandparents are the cutest people ever and her dad is not only great, but EXCELLENT.

Dinner was an enormous affair of mixed nuts, meats, cheese, and multiple salads all over the table. Lukanka, soujouk, chicken filet, two types of feta, kashkaval, olives, Shopska salata, Russian salad, rakiya, orange juice, tropical juice, soda, chianti, dessert wine, etc… And then Mama Ves was like, “Ok, entree time = chicken with mushrooms and gravy!” I learned that the word for ‘mushroom’ (‘guba’) is also the word for ‘sponge.’ After that, there was ice cream cake to finish it off.

Despite feeling like the fattest person in the world, I wanted to go out and see Bulgaria’s Thursday night-life. We walked out the building and into the streets of Varna, to my general disbelief. Actually, it was pretty deserted but there were fair amounts of people by the seaside. I think my first impression was a not-quite-lucid “Shiiiiiit.” We stopped at a place called Punta Cana, although I couldn’t remember the name of it until the next time we would be around there… Anyway. We sat down on a covered couch with curtains right by the sea and I encountered my first entirely Bulgarian menu. Luckily, I can read the Cyrillic and a lot of the alcohol has the same name. (Gin is spelled sort of like ‘djin’ because there’s no j sound.)
The two of us ordered what turned out to be gross cocktails– mine was a big gay colorful cocktail of rum and cherries. Zhas had an icky drink with Drambuie in it because we didn’t know what it tasted like and neither did the waitress. We toasted to being in Bulgaria and I watched the sea change colors under the lights of the chalga/barbecue tavern place next door.

The rest of the night was pretty uneventful, but I woke up the next day, laughing.