Travel Journal

An intense anthropological experience

(Sunday 7 December 2014) by Mariken
Mosaic on an unknown church
Mosaic on an unknown church
I blame it on the lack of visibility, because otherwise I would have to conclude that it was our own fault and obviously we do not want to look that stupid. But no, the reviews were good, so how were we supposed to know? We used, a renowned and respectable website. So don't blame us, or our sense of adventure, don't call us stupid, just blame it on the lack of visibility (even though at that time the sun was shining in Sofia and it was not foggy at all, just blame it on the lack of visibility).

We spent the night in a biker 'guest house' owned by a big Russian fellow, who is a member of the motor club 'Greater Bulgaria', who drinks vodka by the litre and cordially told us he hates Muslims and 'Gypsies', emphasizing his political beliefs by repeatedly bringing the Hitler salute. Right...

What on earth happened??!

Well, the drawback of travelling with a car (any car, not just this one) is that in big cities it is always hard to find cheap accommodation with a free, and preferably secure, parking space. Add the requirement of a kitchen and finding something decent becomes nearly impossible. Sometimes we are lucky, like in Brasov, but mostly we end up somewhere in the outskirts of town or even in a village nearby, taking public transport to the city centre. In Bratislava we discovered the advantages of, a website I do not particularly like, but which is useful for finding cheap accommodation with the required amenities. As several tourist agencies in Sofia could not help us finding the type of accommodation we wanted, we once again relied on, on which we found a guest house with an overall rating of an 8 (out of 10) with shared kitchen facilities, free private parking, free wifi and breakfast included for only 18 euros a night. We were happy, so we booked.

Aleksander Nevski Church
Aleksander Nevski Church
And when we arrived, it was not so bad. OK, it was a bikers place, and at 4 pm they were already halfway the first (?) bottle of vodka but the owner, let's call him Ivan (the Terrible) mostly resembled a big Russian teddy bear and we made friends for life because we were driving a Russian car. So you see, sometimes it is good to have a Lada Niva. So we checked in, paid for 2 nights and had a drink to celebrate, a beer for Jacco and lemonade for me (already then we considered it better to present at least one of us as a teetotaler). We talked a bit about cars, bikes and music, we were informed that the next evening 20 bikers would come for the annual club celebration (involving countless bottles of vodka) and we were cordially invited to join and suddenly this German neo-Nazi marching song was played, accompanied by an outstretched right arm and above mentioned explanation. I felt my stomach clench together, but decided on the spot not to say anything. After all, how well can you reason with a drunk ultra-nationalist in Russian?

We went out to catch a breath, drink a tea and let my stomach unclench and we decided to not have an opinion for two days and regard the whole thing as an extraordinary inside view in the world of ultra-nationalist, extreme-right bikers. After all, I am an academic, even though I am not an anthropologist.

The Monastery's dog
The Monastery's dog
When we returned to the guest house to have dinner, the second bottle of vodka (as far as we knew of course) had already appeared and I really had to dig deep for my long forgotten Russian as the level of English dropped at the same rate as the level of vodka in the bottle. The atmosphere was not exactly charged, as Ivan and his mate remained very friendly to us (even though Ivan was telling the same things over and over again), but occasional racist remarks and Hitler salutes continued to be made. Making dinner, however, was out of the question as the stove would not heat up. Nobody told me so, so I had already chopped vegetables and opened several cans and was patiently waiting for the electric stove to heat up, which simply did not happen. The brilliancy of it all was, that although Ivan and his mate did not realise the stove was not working, they did seem to realise that our dinner was not making any progress, so one of them got up and got us each a plate loaded with Bulgarian sausages with tomato sauce and heaps of bread and went back to his vodka. It tasted wonderfully good and I decided to simply stow away my chopped veggies and opened cans in the hope that in a cold car they would last until the next 'cooking' opportunity presented itself. Meanwhile, despite a fast progressing state of drunkenness, Ivan managed to advise us to visit Rila Monastery, some 120 km south of Sofia and that was our cue: yes, the next day we would 'visit Rila Monastery' and we would go by car and we would simply not come back, but instead moving to another place in Sofia. Too bad about the 70 Leva, but in situations like this, we can easily afford it. At 21.30 we managed to escape to our room and the next morning we miraculously managed to load all our luggage in the car without them noticing (they already had a new bottle of vodka for breakfast, so we did not want to risk the hassle by telling them we were moving out) and after a quick goodbye we managed to drive off 'to Rila'. The day before we had already decided what hotel we would go to (and damn the kitchen facilities), so we immediately went there, parked the car, checked in and went sightseeing in Sofia. Big, big phew.

Looking back at this experience I am still immensely relieved that we managed to 'escape' so smoothly, not from what happened, but from what could have happened. The paradoxical thing was that despite being obviously alcoholics and having - in my opinion - abject personal beliefs, Ivan and especially his mate (a Bulgarian) were not bad men. They were genuinely welcoming and caring, albeit in their own way. Ivan gave us his phone number in case of emergency and told us that if we would call, 15 bikers would immediately come to our rescue, which was most likely true. Furthermore, he got up at 7 am and got out in the pouring rain to get us breakfast. They generously shared their food - and drinks. And if being chronically drunk would have been the only thing (and yes, if that party would not have been coming) we probably would have stayed the second night and be done with it.

Fresco outside the Nativity Church
Fresco outside the Nativity Church
But how could I ever justify to myself that I would have enjoyed the hospitality of people who try to bond over a Hitler salute, who cheerfully play neo-Nazi music and call a dark-skinned television presenter 'Gypsie' with a derogatory snort? I already stayed awake practically the whole first night, worrying about it and debating with myself whether I should have made a stance and speak out for my principles (which would potentially have been very dangerous, especially with them drunk and being on their territory, so no), let alone that I could ever have stayed a second night. :-x

So all in all an intense anthropological experience, hopefully never to be repeated again. Oh, by the way, two days later we did visit Rila Monastery and it was beautiful. ;-)

  • Goed gedaan! by Marianne
  • Voort gaan en niet vergeten by Jac
    • 3 x txt by Jac
      • Opgelost by Mariken

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