Sunday, January 15

Jinx

[I've been in Europe for a year now. It's hard to believe. Time really flies.]

Ivo, one of my good friends from Montreal, was born in Sofia. Most of his family still lives there, and so he suggested that I look up some of his cousins while I was in town. I managed to contract three: Rali, Dodo, and Darina. All were very nice, and showed me some of the nicer parts of town that are easier to miss, as well as explaining the history of many areas and monuments.

After spending four days more in Sofia than had I originally planned, I decided to take a bus to Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

The woman who was working at the bus station was in a pissy mood, and sold me the ticket as fast as she could. She scribbled something under destination that was completely illegible, and she didn't even tell me which platform to go to until I asked. The driver of the bus that was waiting there nodded when I said Bucharest, and so I hopped on and away we went.

The drive to Bucharest was said to be six hours, and after five I started to wonder why we hadn't passed customs, and why all the signs were still written in Cyrillic. It was pretty clear that I was going in the wrong direction.

When we got to the end of the line, I got off and checked the bus station to see where I was. It seems that to Bulgarians, Burgas sounds a lot like Bucharest. Because that's where I ended up. 400 km. in the wrong direction, on the Bulgarian sea side. The worst part was that it was already dark, and I of course had to wear my bags. I may as well have had a big neon 'TOURIST' sign over my head.

First came the cab drivers. Bulgarian taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off foreigners, and they didn't waste any time jumping me. About three of them came running, all acting like my best friend. It didn't matter how many times I told them that I didn't want a cab. They all followed, no matter which way I turned. Each one trying to shout out over the others. After five minutes, I nearly screamed myself into a fit. They mumbled something about me being crazy and let me be.

That was a cake walk compared to what came next. The cab drivers must have hidden me from view, because as soon as they left, something much worse moved in. The hookers. And as persistent as the cabbies were, they were in a league of their own.

One was particularly bad, and followed me even after the others had given up. She kept growling 'SEEEXXX' at me, followed by grabbing at my crouch. No matter how many times I smacked her hand away and shoved her back, she just kept coming. In the end it took a massive 'FUCK OFF' [which I screamed so loudly that my voice almost gave out] to make her do just that. She spat a big wad at me as she leaving. Luckily she missed.

As if all of this wasn't enough to sour my opinion of Burgas, all of the hotels had special tourist prices. And I don't mean a discount. They charge about twice the price you'd pay in Paris. It was much cheaper just to take a night train back to Sofia and start over.

So after that lovely sidetrack, I arrived the next morning, back where I started. Minus 18 hours of my life and 25 euros to boot. As one might imagine, I wasn't in the best of spirits. I went back to the information desk, and asked quite plainly for a schedule to Bucharest, ROMANIA. Yet the only answer that they would give me was 'I don't know.'

'Do you know where I can find out?'

'Across the parking lot maybe.'

Once I went across the parking lot, another person in a little booth.

'Do you know how I can get to Bucharest, Romania?'

'No.'

'Do you know WHERE I might find out?'

'Across the parking lot.'

This of course was the same place that I had started from. After playing this little game a few more times, back and forth, I finally lost it. Although I didn't scream. Instead I just glared at the bitch. And told her, in a tone that I'm sure was as nasty as I felt, that I wasn't going to move until she told me how to get to Romania.

Apparently I witnessed a miracle, some sort of divine enlightenment. Because somehow the answers came to her. It was best to take a bus to Russe, a town on the Bulgarian side of the border, and transfer to a mini-bus to get into Romania. Why she just didn't say that in the first place, I have no idea. They make a conscious effort to be as useless as possible.

After another seven hours, and a few more hitches that I won't bother to go into, I finally arrived in Bucharest. The distance between the two cities is 400 km.

Bucharest turned out to be a bit boring, and very grey. Most of the classic architecture was destroyed by the communist dictator, who ruled the country until 1989. Still, I met some very nice people while I was there, and heard some interesting stories. The most memorable, and disturbing, was about the wild dogs that used to roam the streets a few years ago. Most were set on the street by owners that could no longer afford to feed them after communism ended, or are the descendants of dogs that were. And there were thousands of them.

What brought the situation to a head was when their numbers got so high that they started to form massive packs, sometimes as large as 60 or 70. And sometimes, when there wasn't enough food in the garbage, they would start to hunt. Mostly for cats or pigeons, but over time they got progressively bolder. Finally, bodies started to be discovered in the alleys. Human bodies. That had been eaten.

The dogs were finally rounded up, and destroyed. Although animal rights activists voiced their discontent, I find it hard to object when people are getting eaten on their way home at night.

After a few days in Bucharest, I started to get bored, and so headed off into Transylvania. Just in time to pass the 13th, a Friday. It's strange, but it isn't creepy here at all. Even Dracula's castle, which was in fact that of a cruel [but not blood-drinking] prince, was rather cheerful. It was almost entirely white, not gothic at all. The only gothy part of it was the merchants outside. They were selling 'Prince of Darkness' t-shirts, among other tacky things.

The three towns that I've visited, Brasov, Sibiu, and Alba Iulia, are all very pretty. Perhaps the most surprising thing that I've found here, outside of the lack of gloom, is that the Gypsies have a king. And an emperor. And they both live in Sibiu. It seems that after the Gypsies stopped being so transient [roughly 60 years ago], one of the more influential ones decided that he was in fact royalty. Though I'm not sure how much clout he has. And not to be outdone, one of his rivals decided that, although he didn't believe the Gypsies should have a king, he himself should be considered emperor.

Though I didn't see where the emperor lives, the 'Royal Palace' was a bit of a disappointment. It looked more like a typical middle class house in the 'burbs. Complete with over-sized satellite dish. Still, I suppose it's definite luxury compared to how most of the Gypsies live. That being in shanty-towns, to put it nicely.

As I read the news from Canada, it seems that Stephen Harper is a changed man. A moderate. All in the space of three or four months, which is how long it's been since he's gone on one of his hard-liner rants. It now looks as though the [Regressive] Conservatives are heading for a majority government. Four years of them having free rein to do with the country as they please. Maybe I'll stay in Europe permanently.

5 Comments:

Blogger governorgeneral said...

A year already? How the time flies...

Is that the same Ivo as McConnell BFS in '98? How's he doing?

The Conservatives definitely have the wind in their sails right now... I don't know how much you get over there, but things are different now than a year ago, even a month ago... heck, even I voted Blue this time. This time.

Hope you're taking care. If you _are_ still there in a few months, I'm thinking of heading over around May-Jun, maybe we can meet up.

\\ v

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tories are going to win in Canada... the world is coming to an end. I did vote but I'm afraid my little voice in the Mt-Royal district won't count for much. Maybe it's time to move the Mars?

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgot to sign the previoys message...

(cr)Dave

8:58 AM  
Blogger Andrew J. said...

It could be worse - they won, but it's a minority, meaning that to get anything done, they have to placate one of two parties that are further to the left than they are. Unfortunately, the NDP does not hold the balance of power, having missed out by two seats again.

Man, this most recent adventure sounds like one of the rougher ones. Thankfully, you avoided being hit by hooker spit...

Andrew

10:09 AM  
Blogger ian said...

to vince, actually, it's a different ivo. this ivo is a friend from my days in math at mcgill. i haven't seen polish ivo (or iwo, depending) since residence days either. last i checked he was looking into a prelaw program.

hopefully i'll be back in montreal by june, but maybe not till july. i may be in kingston at some point, too, so we can always meet up then.

to dave, thank god they didn't win a majority. like i said, the leadership convention for the liberals is also something to watch. there's a front runner who's name is something like mike ignaroff (spelling on that last name is way off, sorry, but i can't think of how to spell it correctly right now) who is way to the right of martin. this guy scares me alot more than harper...

to andrew, i agree. and yes, i was quite happy that the spit missed :) do you still check the same email address? what are you up to now-a-days?

4:55 AM  

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