This morning I decided to take a day trip to Koprivshtitsa and Plovdiv. The bus, or shuttle, I should say, left at around 8:30 am from the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. A tall gentlemen dressed in a bright green t-shirt that read, “Traventuria,” was standing by the van when I arrived.
“Am I late?” I asked. “Right on time,” he replied. I opened the sliding door to the large van and took my seat next to a woman who appeared to be about my mom’s age. Her gentle and kind demeanor even made me feel as if my mother was taking the tour with me. Still, I intuitively braced myself for a lecture.
Her husband sat up front with Martin, our guide. “Small group today,” he said before starting the car. One Bulgarian, two Germans, and an American took to the road agreeing to spend a day out of their lives together.
As we made our way east past rolling green hills and thick forests, Martin ticked off facts and trivia about his country, including Bulgaria’s reign as the leading exporter of rose oil. I made a mental note and filed it for the next time I was dragged to a cocktail party.
We arrived in Plovdiv, which will make its mark as the Euro Capital of Culture in 2019, a distinguished honor bringing the world’s 6th oldest city a little closer to the Paris’s, London’s, and Rome’s of the world.
The four of us strolled through rugged cobblestone streets like old friends, taking in signature Roman theaters, stadiums, and churches along the way. We even got the chance to witness a baptism. “We came on a good day,” I heard someone say.
The road to Koprivshtitsa was long and windy, but worth the effort. We sauntered through timeless streets as a pleasant little breeze washed over us in this little town just 1000 feet above sea level.
I was glad I’d made the trek. A few hours outside Sofia would do me good. I’d traipsed the city pretty well on my own and even managed to add a last-minute walking tour the night before.
Earlier in the day I asked Martin to help clarify the fury I experienced from a ticket agent a day earlier on the city trolley. I'd bought a ticket for 1.60 LEV after confirming the price with two strangers on the street. As I got onto the train I handed the conductor my money and he gave me a small ticket stub in exchange before asking me something in Bulgarian. He quickly nodded me off after figuring out it was a nonstarter.
A few minutes after I took my seat, I handed the piece of paper to the agent who was not satisfied. After several minutes of passionate Bulgarian she tried to convey to me that I somehow owed her, 40 LEV, the equivalent of $20. I declined, opting instead to get off the train when I heard the word "police," or some rendition of it, muffled in her phone call.
As we stood on the street waiting for a supposed authority on ticket stubs I smiled and casually walked away. My temperament was calm, probably earned while coming across similar mix-ups around the globe. Living in New York also seems to prepare you for a lot in life. I ended up spending much of the afternoon wandering through a nearby park.
“You were supposed to take the ticket and place it in a machine on the train,” Martin told me. “But she should have just told you since you’re a foreigner. She must have been having a bad day.”We've all been there, I thought. At least next time I'll know.
Martin, a 20-something tour guide from Sofia, Bulgaria told me: “Live your life the way you want to.”