We last left our story on the way out of Romania, in a sweaty bus at 1:30am having just lost our passports. It was a tricky situation and one which required every inch of my self control to avoid a melt-down of Kraken-eske proportions. Luckily I am a man with such personal attributes; ‘Umm, excuse me my good man.’ I said slowly and clearly to the bus driver whom I knew spoke no English. ‘Could you please stop driving? There seems to have been an error of some kind, I believe that the Border Guard back there still has our passports.’ That may not be exactly verbatim but it was something along those lines, I can’t quite remember because I was trying to rip the door of the coach open with my bare hands at the time.
Thankfully, the driver seemed to miraculously gain enough understanding of the English language to explain to me that he was pulling into a parking space so the luggage compartment could be inspected and unlike the other passengers on the bus our passports had to be electronically registered before being returned to us. And with such a simple explanation, I waited patiently for the bus to stop, thanked the driver for his assistance, retrieved our passports and promptly returned to my seat escorted accompanied by the aforementioned Border Guard and when asked, promised to remain there until we reached Sofia.
If I’m being honest (and you know that I always am) I would say that Bulgaria was probably the one country that I had the most preconceptions about before I came. However, as with almost all uninformed prejudice, Bulgaria and Sofia showed just how wrong I was. The city is bursting at the seams with culture, history and a whole lot of ‘Communista’.
One thing that I wasn’t expecting from Sofia was just how much Roman influence there is in Bulgaria. Most of the stories that we heard from the tour guides were connected to times where the Soviet regime found some Roman remains or ruins and decided to concrete over them because they didn’t consider them to be particularly important to the State.
Thankfully, with the demise of the Soviet monstrosity, so the elements of the past that would otherwise be lost forever can be recognised and preserved.
Bulgaria recognises that it has a bit of an image problem – during all the years spent under the Communist rule the best thing that they managed to export was tomato’s to Sweden. In fairness, they did get Abba in return so I think I know who got the better part of that deal. Don’t get me wrong, we all know that I love the Swedish sensations more than most people but if your only window onto the world for the best part of 30 years is a few 70’s glam pop records then you can probably understand why they feel like they have some catching up to do.
It’s not all Communist Roman hating, sequin flare loving news stories though. Right across this part of Europe a lot of time is rightly dedicated to the legacy of the World Wars. Here in Bulgaria the complications involved in the Political relationships between the Stalinist USSR on one hand, Hitler’s Germany on the other meant that during the war Bulgaria was occupied quite quickly by the Nazi’s. Not much they could do, right? Well, it seems that they had a secret weapon to deploy, one that any parent of a teenager understands to be horribly effective – complete and absolute procrastination. The Bulgarian Government basically promised Hitler that they would get rid of all their Jews, for sure. Absolutely no problem. Yep, Mr Hitler you can count on us. We’ll get right on that tomorrow. Ah, we can’t do tomorrow because Tuesday is our ‘no gun day’. Next week OK for you? What about the week after, or maybe next April?
As a result of this masterful deployment of colossal diplomatic delay and the fact that Hitler did have a few other things going on at the time, Bulgaria is credited as the only Nazi occupied country not to lose any of their Jewish community to the concentration camps. Good work guys, I salute you.
It seems that of all the cities we’ve visited on this tour, Sofia was the most overt in it’s presentation of inclusion to the world. A city that has housed Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox and Muslim communities for hundreds of years without the conflict that seems to plague the rest of the world can rightly celebrate their ‘Square of Tolerance’. The ‘Square’ is an area of the city which boasts a major Church/Synagogue/Mosque from each of the major religions of the country and is so proud of their diversity that it’s become a tourist attraction. I only wonder how much a better place this world could be if every city had their own.
Elena is a student from Bulgaria studying media and business at University. She’s travelled across Europe and spent some time in Germany and England, so it seemed perfectly sensible to ask her about Brexit.
‘Well, it isn’t great. But I don’t really know what’s going to happen.’ She explained. ‘Will it be harder for us to come to England?’ I had to explain that I didn’t have the answer to that question. ‘I don’t really know why you would make it harder for people to come to the UK but if you don’t want to be a part of Europe that’s your choice.’
I think that is a good summary of the view that most of Bulgaria has towards Brexit, they know what it’s like to be cut off from Europe and they seem confused as to why we would actively choose to do that to ourselves. It’s a good point and I can only hope that we learn the lessons that Bulgaria can teach us.
Now, onwards to stories of Bitcoin millionaires, the Gods of Mount Olympus and how a bloke from a fishing town in Greece invented modern day Turkey!
The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far: