Wednesday, October 7, 2009

From Southeast Asia to Southeast Europe

It's been a long time since I last updated this blog and perhaps that is because there is too much to say and too little time to properly make a blog post about each moment of inspiration or discovery. But to zip though my summer of sultry heat oppressive nights and bank office days in Hanoi, my fall started with moving continents. Now, I have ended up in Southeast Europe. Varna, Bulgaria to be exact. A city on the western coast of the Black Sea if you want to point your finger on a globe.

I started this Europe jaunt in Cologne, Germany working my way East. Getting back to the Western world brought a relief and strange feelings of readjustment. When was the last time I drank from a public water fountain? Without the loud sputter of thousands of motorbikes even the big cities in the West seem rather peaceful. Local people look at me and start speaking the local language. Oh right, I remember, I'm not in the racial minority anymore. Or I just look a lot like a German girl. Before confidently stepping into traffic, I pause, and press the crossing button and wait until the line of transport vehicles has a red light while supressing a drive to saunter across a busy street. But pedestrian crosswalks continue to trip me up. Is this a crossing where cars will stop for me or I have to stop for them? At every intersection I enter a mental conundrum: go, stop, wait, walk, pause, wait. Ah, which one is it? It's nice not being hassled on the street to buy antique lighters, fruit, or various assortments of plastic sandals but where is the pho soup vendor? Because all I want now is to squat over a plastic stool and have my insides warmed by steaming broth. Not to mention the fact that everything seems incredibly over-priced to the standards I adapted to.

But after I realize that yes, I can drink the tap water, life is pretty good.

But back to Varna, Bulgaria. I never consciously planned to travel to Bulgaria and it remained distant enough to make me question whether or not it had it's own language. (It does. Here people speak Bulgarian and not too much English). But pulling into the decrepit dusty bus station in the border town of Ruse and having a Bulgarian friend I met on the bus from Bucharest, Romania help me buy a ticket to Varna, I feel washed over by nostalgia. If things hadn't been written in the Cyrillic alphabet, I could have been waiting for a minibus in Southeast Asia. Huddled in the corner of the bus while I cringe at the driver's breakneak pace I cannot help but feeling incredibly excited about travel again after incredibly efficient Western European trains. This is not to say that I despise any form of rules, regulations, and safety, but perhaps I have learned to appreciate and enjoy places and things that are a bit (ok, maybe a lot) rough around the edges. And that is exactly what Southeast Europe has been so far.

This coastal town is starting to boom with tourism. In the local markets there is a row devoted entirely to kitschy tourist items, Currency Exchange Bureaus on every corner, and a 20 meter length of second home real estate listings in the middle of main square. Yet with a central area that seems to be mainly comprised of pedestrian only streets and a 8 kilometer stretch of public park overlooking the Black Sea, Varna is charming enough that I don't seem to mind the washout that tourism occasionally brings. As much as I was giddy to dip my feet in the discovery of a new body of water, the Black Sea, (which to be honest, didn't seem that black to me, I would say, a deep blue) I am very satisfied to report that the results are in and Bulgaria is my 30th country! So let's go swimming in the Black Sea!

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