I arrived here in Sofia on Saturday evening – took a taxi to my hotel on the other side of the city and promptly passed out after a full day of sightseeing and a 3-4 hour bus ride. Over the next few days I explored the city both on my own and with the help of new friends I’ve made at FISI and through Clark U connections (Thanks Vessi). I also have begun a 3 week intensive Bulgarian language course. Here are a few things that I’ve learned so far this week in Sofia:
1. “No” means, “Yes” — This is one of those things that will take a while for me to get used to. In the U.S. when someone nods their head up & down this typically means they are agreeing or saying “yes” to your question. As it turns out in Bulgaria it is the opposite. When I was riding the cable car in Sofia I asked a woman in Bulgarian if the next stop was the one I needed. She responded by shaking her head from side to side, which I took to mean no and I almost didn’t get off – until she followed that with “Da” which means “Yes” in Bulgarian.
2. Don’t place your purse/bag on the ground — When I was at my real estate agent’s office I sat down and was about to place my bag on the ground next to me when she quickly picked up my bag & placed it on the table. In Bulgaria it is considered “bad luck” to place your purse or bag on the ground. Well, not really “bad luck” as much as it means that you will be less likely to have success or monetary fortune.
3. I can find my own way – It seems that I am not as helpless as I thought when it comes to navigating cities on my own. The Centre of Sofia is very walkable and within the first 2 days I was able to learn most of the major streets in the Centre/Downtown area. I’m able to recognize some streets simply by landmarks and can then figure out where I need to go. I’m of course also relying on a map and asking directions every 5 seconds. But, I’m cool with that.
4. Ohh Public Transportation – In Sofia, there are buses, trolley cars (on tracks), cable cars (on wires/cables) and a new metro system. In just 3 days I have taken buses, trolleys and cable cars as I’ve learned to navigate the city. I still have yet to explore the brand new Metro/Subway system, but that’s mainly because so far everything I need seems to be in the Centre. That being said, Sofia has one of the most confusing Public transportation systems I’ve ever encountered. Now this may also be because all of the bus routes are written in Bulgarian, but even so there are a whole lot of different modes of transportation and bus routes to learn.
5. Knowing a Little Bulgarian Goes a Long way – On many occasions I’ve used my limited Bulgarian to get by – simply knowing how to ask if a person speaks English has been the most useful phrase I know. Also, when I’ve shared with Bulgarians I’ve met who speak English that I can speak some Bulgarian they get very excited. As one new friend explained – very few Expats living in Bulgaria bother trying to learn the language, even those that have been in Sofia for more than a year. This I cannot even comprehend – I don’t know how I’d survive with out the very limited amount of Bulgarian I currently know.
6. Taxis are CHEAP – The other day, I took a cab from my hotel across the city to move my bags to another Fulbrighter’s flat and then took that same cab to my real estate agent’s office on the other side of town. I was probably in the cab for about 20 minutes total and spent about 5-10 minutes hauling my 2 large duffels up 2 flights of stairs, while the cabbie waited in the taxi for me to return. Now in NY or Boston – I’d guess this would cost between $25-35. In Sofia it only cost me 8 Leva, which is about $5.50!!
7. They Have Dunkin Donuts in Sofia!!! – I was wandering around Sofia the other day – and there is was, that orange & pink DDs logo just staring me in the face. I could not believe it. Now, I know that McDonalds is all over the world, and I’ve seen Subway and Starbucks in many countries I’ve been to this summer, but DDs I did not expect. First of all they aren’t even all over the U.S. and I definitely didn’t see them in any of the countries I visited during my EuroTrip. But, here they were in the middle of Sofia, Bulgaria. Coffee Coolata here I come!
8. Street Lights are Hard to Come By – Walking at night in Sofia is definitely a little creepy. There are very few street lights and some of the streets have a lot of tree coverage making them seem even darker and gloomy. Luckily a new friend walked me home the other night, but if I don’t have this option in the future I’ll probably just call a taxi.