There are similarities between countries that force themselves on me.. For example both Ecuadorian and Bulgarian passengers clap their pilots after they have landed the plane. Both countries like to place "jackets" on the chairs in their dining rooms on special occasions.
There are discoveries about a new place I visit. For example, in Sofia on a recent visit I found out that the Opera and Ballet House were organising concerts for under three year olds - yes for babies. The aim was to introduce them to gentle classical music. I wish I had been there..
Am I looking for different languages? In Sofia, I asked the taxi driver for some words of Bulgarian. So "ulitsa" meaning "street" sounded like the Polish "ulica". Fine. For some reason I couldn't get my tongue around the Bulgarian word for "thank you" which is "blagodarya". I'm using our alphabet for these words. Later I found that everyone uses the French word "merci", pronounced "mercy" for "thanks".
More than anything I like to be stretched out of my comfort zone, of being challenged. So when I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel on a grey, drizzly day and saw street names in the Cyrillic alphabet with no translations, I knew I would be in trouble with map reading. The second challenge was the information that Sofia was about to have its 4 week holiday break wrapped around the next weekend. My heart sank. I had experienced a similar situation when in Chile. However I recalled how creative I became in my approach. By not cramming a mass of activities into the holiday break, I found that rich and rewarding experiences stepped into my life.
In Sofia, people came into my life in the same way - by coincidence. I went to a concert and heard the first English spoken since I had arrived. I started up a conversation. The lady had been visiting her brother who lived in Bulgaria. The couple told me about an information centre in the main park which served as a small library for the locals. There I was told about a pub crawl, cycle tour and cultural tour all walking with qualified guides. The deal was just to arrive at Palace of Justice at either 11am or 6pm. I chose a cultural interactive experience where I ate local food, drank a local spirit based drink called rakia and even danced some steps of the best known traditional dance.
On another occasion, a friendly soul in a supermarket saw me using sign language to ask for live yoghurt and offered to take me to a shop where I could buy live yoghurt handmade by monks. On a very practical level I was experiencing West meets East in Sofia which Constantine the Great called his "Rome". I was happy to note that Bulgarians used their holiday time to enjoy dancing in front of the Ivan Vasov Grand National Theatre.. And so time passed and the days brought fresh experiences. . . .
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Ruins of amphitheatre in Plovdiv