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Down day in Svilengrad

(written by Dave)

We had hoped to leave Svilengrad this morning but issues with something Nancy ate had caused us to have other plans.  After a very un-restful night, we decided to stay another day here and let Nancy’s “Bali belly” have a day to work itself out.  We shared much of the same food items yesterday and I was not feeling overly flash either, though I never got sick – we’ll leave it there, keeping this post family friendly and omitting more graphic details.

I decided to take advantage of the free day to get some laundry done.  Armed with my trusty iPhone and google translate I hit the town in search of a laundromat.  I flashed the translated word for laundry to a couple locals and in no time found a place that appeared to wash clothes.  I then used my phone again to give the woman an idea of what I wanted.  She responded by writing “6 lev for 5 kilo” on a piece of paper and I was in business.  I returned to the room to gather up our dirty clothes.

When I arrived back at the laundromat a man had arrived who appeared to be in charge.  He spoke no more English than the woman but called a friend on his mobile phone who did.  I explained to the person on the other end of the phone that I wanted cold wash and no dryer (bad for bike clothes).  Her English was pretty good, we agreed on what I wanted and I handed the phone back to the man.  He proceeded to speak in animated tones with the woman for a good 5 minutes and then handed the phone back to me.  The phone person and I spoke for 10 seconds, agreeing again on the service and on the new price of 12 lev.  (a good deal given our alternative choice is the sink – I was not bothered by the slight inflation over the initial offer).  The man and phone person then spoke for another 5 minutes –the conclusion was the man saying to me, “wash cold, line dry, pick-up 2PM for 12 lev”.

I don’t know why this took so long to explain in Bulgarian.  Either Bulgarian is a much more verbose language or I was actually not in a laundromat after all.  I’m always pleased when these interactions work out – or as Nancy later pointed out, I can only really be pleased when we get all of clothes back clean without being shrunk by 2 sizes.  My iPhone and google translate make a huge difference.  And the shop attendants having a mobile phone is a big help as well.  Between google maps for navigation and google translate for local interactions, I’ve become a big fan of smart phones being essential touring tools, especially in a foreign country.  Update: I picked up the clothes,  returned to our room and counted everything except missing two pairs of my underwear – woops – so much for the translation joy.  I returned once again to the laundromat and they found my underwear – all clean and in a separate bag.  Score one for persistence and the iPhone.

I ran around getting Nancy tummy friendly food, then wandered town a bit.  I thought that we had missed some town yesterday but learned that we hadn’t.  It is just a small border town and there is not much to it.  The population in Bulgaria is 85% Orthodox Christian so there are no more mosques.  There are a few churches, but they are very run down and pretty small.  Fifty years of Soviet no-religion policy have had an effect.  I couldn’t find a “scenic old-town” section, just more and more grey boxy Soviet inspired architecture and lots of buildings that have seen better days.

It is pretty clear from our one day here that communication is going to be harder than it was in Turkey.  In Turkey, they use a roman alphabet so you can always sound the words out.  I’m afraid here that we’re back to the “triangle – backwards B – squiggle – tent” that we struggled with in Greece.  My friend google translate presents results local script so assuming that the translation is correct, we can get pretty close.

Having limited historical knowledge of Bulgaria and the Balkans, I decided to do a little reading.  The Balkans are roughly made up of countries on the Balkan Peninsula, sandwiched between the Adriatic and Black Seas.  The northern countries of Croatia and Slovenia like to consider themselves part of Central Europe and Greece likes to consider itself Southern Europe so even though they are all technically part of the peninsula, they are not generally considered Balkan.

During the cold war, the Balkans comprised mostly of Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia broke up into Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.  The borders and countries that exist today seem to have stabilized but it wasn’t long ago that this whole area was in some form of conflict (1990s).  We’ve been warned about not venturing too far into the woods (for fear of unexploded land mines) and for sure not to discuss politics.  We will be following the advice closely and will never be able to understand enough of the history to engage in debate on the Balkan political topics anyway.  And remember, all the Balkan war strife is just the latest in probably close to 3000 years of conquer, re-conquer, starting with the Greeks.  So, which side would an outsider take anyway???

Bulgaria was spared most of the Balkan war issues but it has still struggled to break out of the post Soviet era malaise.  It has the lowest GDP in the EU and still rumored to have a relatively high degree of corruption.  While the first free post-Soviet elections were held in 1989, it wasn’t until 1997 that the old guard was fully removed from power.  Everyone on the street seems friendly and we are not being stared at near as much as we were in Turkey.  Fewer shop owners call out “my friend, I have a question”, as they did in Turkey.  I think this is good.  We are looking forward to more everyday interactions and seeing a bit more of the countryside.  The centre of the country has is more mountainous and there are supposed to be some nice parks.

All we need now is for Nancy’s little “bug” to move on.  Nancy is resting now after a small lunch.  We’ll see how we go tonight and make a call in the morning.  Next stop is Haskovo, about 75k from here.

Happy 78th Birthday to Nancy’s mom Jan – hope you have a great day!

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4 responses to “Down day in Svilengrad

  1. Hope Nancy is lots better. I love hearing about the differences in the countries you visit. Happy riding!

  2. Any leftover antibiotics still around? Although maybe its just a reaction to the fried liver! Dave, your childhood memories on liver seem to be much more pleasant than mine–sorry mom, but the Peterson liver experience required a lot of ketchup!!

    • Hahaha – I remember that ketchup-covered liver….. To be fair, I don’t think it was Mom’s cooking, I am not sure you can really make liver taste good however you cook it. Even breaded and deep fat fried it still smelled and tasted like liver!

      Recovered okay without dipping into the antibiotics – will save those for later (hopefully never)!

      Nancy

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