Well, I’ve only been here a little less than two days and I’ve seen a really limited amount of the city–we’ve walked quite a bit but mostly along the same routes. What I’ve seen is mostly run-down, littered, and completely in need of repair. The sidewalks are “tiled” as in instead of pavement, they are set with rows upon rows of concrete tiles, which over the years have buckled and become rather uneven. I’ve stubbed my toe once and a couple of people have tripped. The women here all wear high fashion boots and I cannot imagine how they can handle walking down those sidewalks. Last night at dinner, someone was saying (and it makes sense) that the Bulgarian government is almost completely bankrupt and can’t afford even basic infrastructure repairs. The people have money, though, which explains the really expensive clothing and more european aura of the city. So it looks like there is money here, just not enough to repair buildings or roads. I’m no political scientist, so I don’t know what caused it, but the gentleman last night said that it was caused with the Soviet withdrawal of Bulgaria, and that a similar situation exists in most former-Soviet Republics.
We ate last night at a restaurant called “Happy Bar & Grill”. The Lonely Planet guidebook calls it a Bulgarian chain restaurant. It’s actually a theme restaurant in the vein of TGIFriday’s or Chili’s in the U.S. What the theme is, I can’t tell you–maybe the theme is “Ridiculous American Theme Restaurant Paraphernalia” because one of the posters was a giant Alf poster that says “Got Cat?” The waitresses all wore “skirts” which were like little red strips of fabric worn across their ass to allow for some semblance of modesty. Anyway, most of the new arrivals to Sofia from our class were snapping photos of the menu in its misspelled and misphrased glory. The food was bleh. My greyhound came in the form of a huge froofy glass of grapefruit juice and a side tumbler with vodka and another side tumbler with ice and little tongs. It was a bit overdone. Jennifer S. and I each tried Rakia, which is the Bulgarian national liquor. It really reminds me of Grappa in Italy, earthy and fruity, but very strong. Incidentally, I tried Turkey’s version, Raki, at our hostel and it is much more like Sambuca in Italy, or Ouzo in Greece: more anise flavored and slightly sweeter. I bought a bottle there, so maybe I’ll crack it open on Thanksgiving.
I’ve had some serious misgivings about the guidebooks for Bulgaria. I bought both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books for Bulgaria (both 2008 editions) and they’ve been pretty off-the-mark on a lot of stuff in Sofia. Restaurant reviews seem to be geared at the “American Tourist” (bland and cheap), which isn’t the usual reading audience for either publication. If I wanted that, I’d just buy a Fodor’s or Frommer’s guidebook. Anyway, it’s no big deal, they both have maps which is really what I need them for. It was just a thought.