Journey to Silistra!

Journey to Silistra!

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 Schedules are out of date or simply unavailable, and changes/cancellations happen frequently with little to no communication.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.

DSCN0619

Train ride to Silistra

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!

Advertisements

My journey begins

Well folks, it’s finally here. Departure day. It’s been almost 4 months since I first received my grant confirmation in April. Since then, I’ve left my job with Target, run more errands than I can count, traveled for several fun vacations and wedding celebrations, and said numerous goodbyes to coworkers, friends, and family. With so much going on, those 4 months flew by, and it’s hard to imagine that today is actually here. The first leg of my journey is behind me, and I’m sitting in Chicago awaiting my flight across the pond. I fly from here to Warsaw, Poland where I’ll connect to Sofia, Bulgaria.

DSCN0182Before: Clothes laid out to pack

luggage

After: Fit ~60% of what was laid out in first picture

It’s hard to articulate how I feel right now. I’m excited, sad, eager, and anxious, all at the same time. I know the anxiety will subside once I arrive and am forced to be sharp as I navigate a new country. I’ll spend my first night at a hotel in Sofia very close to the airport. On Sunday, a shuttle will take me to Pravets where I will participate in the Fulbright International Summer Institute (unfortunately nicknamed FISI) for two weeks. I’ll share more specific information about my classes and the experience in a later post.

DSCN0207

Visa and Flight path: MSP –> ORD –> WAW –> SOF

As a parting thought, when I was at the airport in Minneapolis, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the news story on the TV at my gate: U.S. begins airstrikes in Iraq. For me, it was yet another reminder of why the Fulbright’s mission to enhance mutual understanding is so important. With unrest in Ukraine and rockets in Gaza, the need for reciprocal awareness and tolerance between nations, ethnicities, religions, and people is abundantly clear. Learning about your neighbors and seeking to understand their motivations can go a long way, and ultimately help prevent or resolve conflict. As a cultural ambassador, I’m excited to play a small part in fostering this way of thinking.

Thanks to everyone for your texts, calls, e-mails, facebook messages, and blog posts. Each one energizes me and instills more confidence that I can make a real impact on the world.