I arrived in Sofia last night at exactly 10:30 pm. The hours of my journey seemed to move like the train. Sometimes the minutes careened and weaved past like small villages and lakes, while other times it came to a standstill; the seconds ceasing like the squeaky wheels at each border crossing.
I sat nearly alone for the 10-hour journey with the exception of a young Bulgarian girl who was seated quietly just a few rows behind me. We didn’t utter a word for the entire voyage, but occasionally exchanged curious stares. The only time we traded remarks they were lost comically in translation as we tried to corroborate whether or not we were in Sofia - the place we silently agreed we should be.
I hopped in a cab to make my way to my AirBnb and was charged 20 Levs, no doubt more than the ride’s value, but it was late, I was new, the town unfamiliar, thus negotiation and pride worth tabling.
The driver and I made small talk before I soon found myself on Ivan Vazov Street, named after a Bulgarian poet, novelist, playwright, and National leader whose birthday also happens to be tomorrow. I stood outside and marveled at the graffiti that lined the entire block. I felt briefly as though I were waiting for a New York City subway to take me to Far Rockaway during the early 70s.
After a few text messages, my host Ivo, sent an ambassador to deliver a key. Her name was Mimi and she smiled as she politely introduced herself and made her way up to me through the dark night. As we entered the building it dawned on me the apartment had seen much better days. I began to silently regret my decision not to just stay at a hotel.
We climbed the stairs as Mimi joked she was out of breath after the 4-flight journey, while I alone schlepped two not so light bags. I braced myself as she slowly opened the door thinking back on how cleverly previous AirBnB hosts had snapped photos of their dwellings, making it look like the Peles Castle. Duped again, I thought.
Then, came the second best surprise of the evening; the first being the stunning hillsides, winding rivers, and the beautiful old homes nestled into the mountains I saw as we inched closer to Sofia. The apartment was terrific. Ivo had clearly taken excellent care of the space and I considered how less interesting this adventure would have been if I had simply stayed at the Ramada.
After a droopy stroll towards the corner market to pick up a snack or two, I sauntered back to my quarters, headed to the bedroom, and dozed off in a room, in a city, in a country I knew virtually nothing about.
My friend Anna, 35, a filmmaker originally from London, England shared with me this bit of advice: “In terms of advice, I've had a lot of great advice - perhaps more from watching other people's behavior than anything; but I had a great role model at Cambridge, a wonderful Spanish literature teacher called Erica, who from time to time I still recall telling me to take my ideas and my writing seriously. Good advice for anyone I think.”