11 hours!?! I was shocked when my mentor Valentin told me how long it had taken him to reach Sofia. Bulgaria is a small country (roughly the size of Tennessee), so I hadn’t expected such a long journey to reach my new town. Now I was starting to understand why the Fulbright Commissioners had expressed some concern about placing an ETA all the way out in Silistra.
Anticipating the long trip, Valentin and I got an early start on the last day of orientation. We made our way to Sofia’s central train station, purchased our tickets, and stocked up on snacks for the day. As I lugged my huge duffel bags around, I realized once again how terrible a job I did packing…luggage with wheels would have been smart. I was surprised by how little information was available at bus and train stations. Valentin had to run from place to place to figure out when our train departed, which cart we were supposed to sit in, and what track we’d be on. I’ve noticed this several times in Bulgaria. Schedules are out of date or simply unavailable, and changes/cancellations happen frequently with little to no communication. It’s no wonder Bulgarians have such a “go with the flow” mentality!
The train was pretty slow moving. Most of the rail tracks are in poor condition, which prevents the old Soviet trains from moving at their top speeds (not that their top speed would be anything to write home about). Though the train ride was long, I was glad we did it. After having spent the last month in a nice resort or downtown hotels, I felt like I was seeing the real Bulgaria for the first time.
Following a couple of train changes, we arrived in the small town where Valentin’s wife and daughter would be picking us up. The final 2 hours of our journey by car were pleasant, as I got to know Valentin and his family better.
After almost 12 straight hours of travel, we arrived at my apartment. It was dark out, but I could tell the building was newer than some of the communist-style block apartments across the street. We carried my luggage up the 4 flights of steps to my apartment. I was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to collapse in my new bed. Valentin pulled out my apartment key, and unlocked the top of two bolt locks. He moved down to the second, but the key wouldn’t fit. He tried the other two keys on my key ring. No luck. He passed the keys to me to try. No luck. His wife and daughter tried. No luck. It appeared we were missing one of the keys to get into my apartment. A couple of phone calls later, and we realized that the key we needed was with my landlord’s brother in a town almost an hour away!
Fortunately, we all found the situation pretty humorous, and decided to grab pizza at a nearby restaurant to pass the time until my key arrived. An hour and a half later, I was finally in my apartment (pictures to come in a later post), and asleep within minutes. I couldn’t wait to start exploring my new home town the next morning!