Was This Nostalgic Plovdiv Just A Dream?

IMG_3429I’ve been a lucky traveller. I haven’t been mugged, I haven’t had anything stolen (although I’ll never know what happened to my camera in France :(), I haven’t missed a flight although I’ve been close, or had my luggage lost. The scariest thing that has happened to me (apart from getting struck by lightning) is getting lost.

I had loved my time in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I thought it was a thriving new city with a beautiful old town. After spending a decent time happily and aimlessly wandering the old town, I thought I’d best head back to the new town to get lunch. I’d slept through my alarm that morning and skipped breakfast in order to make my bus so it was fair to say I was famished.

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The old town is on a hill and I walked down the steep, uneven, cobblestone path back to the road. I crossed the main road and that’s when I realised something wasn’t right. There had been a church right before the traffic lights and now there wasn’t. I ruled out the possibility it had been demolished in 2 hours and decided I’d just come down the hill at a different spot. Easy, I thought, I’ll just turn left and walk back along the road to where I was certain the new town was. Little did I know I had come down the hill on the other side…

10 minutes later I came across a market hall. Now alarm bells really started ringing. I had definitely not walked past this earlier. “It’s ok,” I thought. “There has to be a sign or map somewhere.” Yes, there were plenty of signs but they were all in cyrillic. I felt a panic attack starting. I started to breath really quickly and my palms started sweating. “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” I tried to reassure myself. “You can ask someone for directions.”

5 minutes past. I didn’t see a soul. Of course at 11am on a Sunday morning there will be no one about. “Go into the market place. Surely there will be someone there.” Good idea brain! I went back and … CLOSED.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Suddenly I saw some people. I ran over to them.

“Dobro utro. Angliiski?”

They shook their heads and kept walking, paying no attention to the lost, lonely traveller.

By now I really couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding. I was sweating from both the heat and the fear. My mind was racing “You’ll never get home, you’ll be lost forever, you’re in some remote area of Bulgaria, you are an easy target, your story will be the inspiration for the next Taken movie.” Now not only did I have all these horrible thoughts racing though my mind but horrible images of being thrown into the back of a van and being a sex slave for the rest of my life because my dad is Liam Neeson.

I have no idea why I did what I did next and I am deeply ashamed.

I called my mum back in Australia.

“Sam! Hello! What are you doing? Is everything amazing? What’s the weath-”

“I’m lost. Help.”

“Ok, where are you?”

“IF I KNEW THAT I WOULDN’T BE LOST,” I cried.

“Alright. What country?”

“Bulgaria. Plovdiv. I need to be at the bus in 20 minutes!.”

“Sam, calm down, I can’t understand you.”

“BULGARIA. PLOVDIV!!!”

“Dad’s getting up google maps. How do you spell Plod – what is it?”

“PLOVDIV!!!”

“Ok, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. That’s an interesting -”

“I’M LOST. I NEED TO BE BACK AT MY BUS!”

“Can you see any street signs?”

“THEY ARE ALL IN CYRILLIC!”

“What’s that?”

“LIKE RUSSIAN SYMBOLS. I CAN’T READ IT!”

“Can you spell the street name?”

“CYRILLIC, MUM! SYMBOLS! I’M GOING TO DIE HERE ALONE!”

I started crying then. Real classy.

“Sam, can you please calm down. It’s ok.”

“I CAN’T. I’M LOST. NOW I ONLY HAVE 10 MINUTES!”

“Can you call your tour guide?”

Silence. Well that would have been the logical solution wouldn’t it? Damn panic.

“Sniff, yes, sniff, I have her number, sniff, she’ll hate me, sniff…”

And then a miracle occurred. I walked around a corner and suddenly I knew where I was!

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“I’VE FOUND IT! I KNOW WHERE I AM! BUT I STILL WON’T MAKE IT TO THE BUS ON TIME! I’M STILL GOING TO DIE ALONE IN BULGARIA!” I panted as I started sprinting down the street.

“Call your tour guide. Tell her you’ll be late.”

“I – pant pant – can’t – puff puff – ”

“I can’t understand you, Sam.”

At that point I hung up on my poor mum and ran and ran and ran past the restaurants with food – oh food my stomach rumbled, past the cafes with the jugs of water – oh water my throat screamed – and I made it back to the bus as everyone was leisurely climbing on.

I ran to my seat, put my sunnies on so no one could see and started to cry – in fear, in relief, in hunger, in exhaustion, in thirst. I let the silent tears fall and started to breathe normally again as I admired the sunflowers out my window. I sent an apologetic text to my mum.IMG_3502

“I’m SO sorry mum. I completely freaked out and reverted to a child for a minute and thought mum will fix it. I’m back on the bus now and I’m ok. Plovdiv is a really awesome place. I loved it. I’m so sorry again. xx”

She replied immediately.

“Even big brave travellers need their mum sometimes. You’re still my little girl. Glad to know you’re ok. Enjoy your day! xx”

Oh dear … I’ve been lost plenty of times before but I guess the heat, the language barrier, my hunger and exhaustion just got to me that day.

I still can’t believe I thought calling mum in Australia would fix it! That’s travel for you. Utterly crazy!!

 

Getting Struck by Lightning and Exploring Ruins

There are three reasons why I think I got struck by lightning in Veliko Tarnevo, Bulgaria:

1) The day before I had stood on the stage of a Roman amphitheatre and Dionysus (Theatre God) wanted to punish me, a mere pleb, for trying to perform.

2) One of the ladies on my tour made a joke that our local guide was secretly a Russian spy and I laughed.

3) 30 minutes before I got hit I had taken a photo in a Church when photography was prohibited.

Here’s what happened …

The sky was ominous. I was amazed at how in the space of a few hours it could go from sweltering hot and sunny to dark and cloudy. From my seat on the bus I watched the trees swaying angrily whilst I listened to my guide talk about the history of the medieval Bulgarian Kings who had made Tarnevo their capital for more than two centuries and then their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. He painted a grim scene and the wind howled although also in mourning.

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Our bus weaved its way up the hills to Veliko Tarnevo. We disembarked only to be attacked by the lamenting wind. My guide had talked of the wonderful ruins of Tsarevets Fortress. Most people lasted barely minutes off the bus before deciding their idea of fun was not exploring ruins under a foreboding sky, with a storm well and truly on its way.

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It wasn’t raining, yet, and anyway I wasn’t going to let a little bit of rain bother me so I decided to go exploring. I was alone in my decision. One lady kindly lent me her umbrella. As she gave it to me she warned “I bought it in Singapore with loose change so I’m surprised it’s lasted this long. It’s not very good, but hey, it’s better than nothing!”

The bus continued off to the hotel with everyone either laughing at my braveness? stupidity? or mouthing “good luck” out the window.

It was suddenly just me, a hill with ruins and an impending storm.

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I began walking up the hill going past the cowardly/smart people going back down to the town. The guard smiled and grunted “dobar den” and something else that I’m sure meant “what are you doing?” and pointed to the sky and then to this sign.

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I made a mental note not to try dancing demi-pointe on a crumbling wall on the edge of a cliff.

It began to rain. After a blistering hot day, the droplets were cool and refreshing but this didn’t last long. It started raining harder and harder. The flimsy umbrella stood no chance against the wind and rain and within minutes my clothes were soaking wet, my make-up was running down my face and there were puddles in my shoes. Considering I was already soaking wet I jumped in puddles (there were more puddles than there were paths), twirled my umbrella and pretended I was the lead in ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’

IMG_3569The only thing that even remotely suggested this used to be a fortress were the amount of ruins. It was difficult to make out what any of the crumbling stones were, or used to be, however one thing that was evident was Executioners Rock. Half a tower remained on the edge of the cliff and there was a long, sharp drop into the Yantra River below. As I imagined how horrible it would be to spend your final moments looking into the abyss you were about to be mercilessly pushed into, a crack of thunder shook the hill. It gave me shivers.IMG_3544

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IMG_3555I continued running around now with thunder and lightning to accompany me. Eventually I made my way to Patriarch’s Complex, also called the Church of the Blessed Saviour, the reconstructed church on the top of the hill, trying not to slip on the soggy grass or slippery paths. We owe this reconstruction to the Communists. Being the nerd I am, earlier that day, I asked my local guide how the reconstruction was possible as no new churches were allowed to be constructed during communism. He smiled and patted my shoulder, proud at my astuteness, and told me considering this was a ‘reconstruction’ and not a ‘new church’ it was allowed. The joy of legal loopholes. The joy of being a history nerd!

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IMG_3580It was not the reverie I’d hoped for. The frescos were neo-realist and portrayed a deformed, surreal Christ in black, red and white harsh brushstrokes. There were electric candles illuminating the interior and their eerie glow combined with the thunder outside gave me an uneasy feeling.

IMG_3586I exited into calmer weather. It appeared the storm had stopped. Ironically it was now I decided to slowly make my way back down to the town. 30 minutes later I was almost at the bottom when it started to drizzle again so I put up the poor, cheap umbrella once more.*

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Suddenly I heard the loudest crash of my life. I screamed in terror, certain a bomb had gone off. It echoed around me and thundered in my ears. Later, back at the hotel, I would be told they thought there had been an explosion. The sky lit up in an eerie glow. There was a flash and I swear I saw a flame come out of the base of the umbrella. There was a sharp sting in my hand holding the umbrella. I screamed again: in pain, in shock, in fear and threw the umbrella.

Some people came running over to me pointing at the umbrella, then their hand and whether they were questioning why I had thrown the umbrella, indicating they had seen the flame or suggesting the same thing happened to them I’ll never know.

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My hand, in fact my whole arm hurt. It no longer stung, but it ached and tingled. I hurried back to my hotel shaking my hand to try and get rid of the strange sensations but to no avail. I was terrified I was going to drop dead but was also laughing hysterically out loud on the street thinking “I think I’ve just been struck my lightning.” ** I was absolutely drenched, my clothes and hair were stuck to my body, my make up had run, I was walking strangely due to the amount of water in my shoes, shaking my hand and laughing. I must have looked like a mad women. Maybe I was. I don’t know many people who go exploring Bulgarian royal ruins in the middle of a thunder storm!

*Why did I put the umbrella up after a thunderstorm? Well it had been at least 30 minutes since I last heard thunder. I thought it had passed and I would be safe.

**A lot of people said “If you were really struck by lightning, wouldn’t you be dead?” Well, we think it was a side flash. That is the lightning struck the tree near me and jumped from that to the umbrella, travelled down the umbrella and into my hand. So by the time it got to my hand, it wasn’t as severe. Regardless I was very lucky.

Tacky Tourist Souvenirs

I have a confession to make.

I love tacky souvenirs.

When I travelled with my Granma she didn’t hesitate to remind me that what I was buying was “crap,” as she so eloquently put it. Apparently I was wasting my money. Apparently buying keyrings and magnets and t-shirts is a phase all travellers go through. Apparently you grow out of it quickly. Apparently not. It’s been 6 years since my first trip and sometimes I still can’t help myself.

So here are the best (or worst) things I’ve shamelessly bought.

Cow T-Shirt

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Kids t-shirts in Switzerland are way cooler than the adult ones. Luckily for me I can fit into them (although they make me look like I am 12 years old)! It was a difficult choice but I settled on this one because yes your eyes are not deceiving you the tail of the last cow is a cord.

Yodelling Cow Keyring

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What is not to love about this? It is a plush keyring, it says Switzerland on his hat, he is chewing a daisy and HE YODELS (or it used to. His battery doesn’t work anymore. The day he stopped yodelling my heart shattered into two. But he used to wolf whistle and then yodel for about 20 seconds before finishing with another whistle.) My friend was mortified when I met her in London with him attached to my bag. When we did a day trip around Tuscany there was a 1 year old little American girl who was obsessed with Cow. I let her play with him all day and when we arrived back in Florence she did not want to give him back. Any other person would have let the child keep the child’s toy. Not me. I got Cow back.

Hapsburg Imperial Dolls

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Meet Sisi and Marie (Maria Theresa). I bought Sisi in Austria in 2011 and Marie from Budapest in 2013. Next time I’m over there I’m going to get a boy and name him Franz and I will have the Hapsburg family. I adore Sisi. She travelled with me the rest of 2011 and she came with me when I lived in Italy last year. She has also been to hospital with me and she proudly sits on my bed. I am 21 years old and I am not ashamed to have a plush doll.

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Snow Globes

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My ultimate guilty pleasure. Some buy magnets, I buy snow-globes. I have 32 from all the major cities I have been to in Europe. There is no more room on my shelf so perhaps it’s time to finish my collection here and move onto magnets. Despite carting them all around Europe only 1 has broken. After travelling with my Granma I met up with my friend in London to continue on and Granma flew home. She packed the 9 snowglobes I entrusted her with in her hand luggage. Of course this was a problem as a) you can’t take glass on a plane and b) they were over the 100ml limit. A lovely Qantas official from Heathrow took pity on my poor Granma – “You don’t understand! My grand-daughter will be devastated” and checked them in underneath. Mozart from Salzburg did not survive.

Clearly I am the coolest, tackiest traveller around.

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