Sunday, November 04, 2001

The clock ticks down... not long until I'm nationally famous in Bulgaria. I may have to invest in some sunglasses to remain inconspicuous.

We're back in Sofia then and have been since yesterday. My entire time sense is messed to hell because we've had two overnight trains in three days, so what has only been about 4 days, seems like about 9. Or something. I don't know.

How was Bucharest then? It was, uh, I'm not sure. It didn't get a fair chance really. We arrived about 9am after the overnight from Sofia, which wasn't terribly restful, and checked into the "Elvis hostel". I know, a name like the Elvis hostel sounds suspiciously dodgy, but the owner turned out to actually be called Elvis, which excuses it slightly. Elvis was, however, definitely suspiciously dodgy. I honestly don't have a clue what was true and what wasn't, but it was certainly true that he was a burly Australian with dyed blonde hair. Whether he was half-Serbian and had been a mercenary in the war, whether he had spent 5 years travelling with no longer than 6 days in any one country, and whether his bullet wounds really were bullet wounds, all depends on your personal trust in the man. Written down it seems nonsense, but I'd rather not bet either way.

Anyway, apart from Elvis (who I spoke to mainly as he was naked, except for a pink towel) there were a few others in this very clean, very pleasant and very social hostel. A guy born in Singapore, from Australia and lived in Canada who I never got the name of, but he reminded me totally of Stan, for those of you who know who Stan is. Which probably isn't terribly many. He seemed to be seeing as many tourist attractions as was humanly possible in one day. Perhaps even more. So I only saw him in the passing. But we did speak a lot more to two rather attractive Canadian sisters called, uh, Bambi and Barbie. I'm not sure how much these names really represented the people underneath. Barbie had been travelling or working abroad for a year, and Bambi had joined her since the month previous. We immediately got on pretty well, as they seemed to be of the same cultural level as us. As anyone who knows myself or Simon well, our level of culture is exceedingly high. We are very, very cultured people indeed. So far in three months we have racked up over two museums and just under two art galleries.

I'm not sure how many pubs we've visited.

We left the wenches to their own devices, as we wandered a little aimlessly round the confusing streets of Bucharest. That first day I was rather pleased by what I saw. From other people's reports, I'd been expecting Bucharest to be a dark pit of hell, swamped with child beggars and evil lurking round each corner. But the weather was bright, the city was bustling away safely, and it looked not unlike Budapest. It all seemed pleasant enough. Maybe after the trashy hells of Shkodra and Tirana, a city really has to be bad. Bucharest was no Zagreb or, ahem, Aberdeen, but it seemed ok.

Our time was limited but their was one very obvious target in the city. Ceaucescu's giant palace. Apparently the second biggest (in overall volume) building in the world, second only to the Pentagon (even with a plane stuck in it). I was really rather excited by the prospect of this. A giant gargantuan palace. I had images of this behemoth monster of a building, sprawling beyond the limits of my eyesight, like a giant ugly growth on a diseased dog. So you can imagine my disappointment when the second biggest building in the world turned out to only to be big to the power of 20, rather than big to the power of 200.

It was very big, sure, but it just didn't knock me to the ground in awe. If it really is the second biggest building in the world then I am disappointed in all of humanity for not building much bigger buildings. It can't be hard to do. If I was president of some small and obscure country, say Liberia or Holland, I'd plunge all my resources into constructing a truly impossibly big building. Perhaps the size of a city. The building could be the city. It'd cost a lot, sure, but imagine how impressed the rest of the world would be. On a scale of 14 to 60, they'd rate no less than 57. I'd called the building "The Almighty Emperor Nev Palace of Wonder and Glory", but I'd get the Latin translation, because Latin always sounds more ominous.

Anyhow, after this, me and Simon got a cheap crap pizza and headed back to the hostel. We talked for a while to Bambi and Barbie, about any sorts of rubbish, until an American Peace Corps volunteer (there's been hundred of them recently) appeared, called Jennifer. And changed the tone of the conversation entirely.

Jennifer was sort of cool, sort of. Both grave and serious, but also totally loopy. She'd been working in a small Romanian village for two years, and it had begun to affect her, as we slowly became aware of over the course of the evening. Just in a curiously eccentric way. After I educated the three of them on mullets, which rather shockingly they were ignorant of, Jennifer revealed her own passion - collecting, uh, phonecards. She was very enthusiastic, and was very delighted when Simon gave her an old one from Montenegro. She gave me a Romanian one with Gheorghe Hagi, because she had loads of them. She also had a fascination for going into shops and touching the products, because most Romanian grocery shops work over the counter. And there was something else too, but I can't quite remember what it was. Finding the 15 year old male pupils she taught attractive?

All this occurred over the course of the night, which went from a couple of drinks, plus pasta we scrounged off Bambi and Barbie because it didn't live up to their expectations (it certainly lived up to mine), into a pub, and then back into the hostel. A few drinks then, sampling the local culture. Everyone was getting pretty well. Upon getting back to the hostel, we headed down to the TV room.

The TV their has 800 channels. Of which only about 20 seem to work, and all of these appeared to be hardcore porn. Seriously. Every button we'd press would take us to yet another hardcore porn channel. A couple - Maurice the Australian and Becky the English girl - were down there when we descended on them (I'm sure they were watching something completely innocent) but didn't hang around too long, so we just sat around, trying to find a channel that didn't feature a mix of men and women in compromising positions.

That was that night then, the next day we left back to Sofia. But first agreed to meet back up with the Canadian girls, probably, in the near future. They were heading to Istanbul that day, which we'll be at on Tuesday morning, so an arrangement was made to meet up with them there. But even if that falls through, then they seemed quite keen to meet up with us in Egypt, when we get there late November. That was their rough time of arrival, and they'd heard a lot of stories about Egypt being ruined for unaccompanied female travellers by incredibly persistant men. So being the weak and helpless girls they were, if they could be around some guys, the whole experience would be far more enjoyable. And hey, any experience withy myself around is more enjoyable. Nah, but neither me or Simon had any problem with it as they were cool girls, easy-going and fun. Also, it means when we meet up with Justin and Susanne (and Bison?) in Egypt in December, they can meet them, so they know we're not making all these people up.

Finding Bucharest bus or train station from the hostel turned out to be an ordeal. It was pissing down with rain, and much I'd like to say our going utterly the wrong way was total misfortune, some less tolerant people as myself would have blamed Simon utterly and completely for the massive wrong direction we went - and continued to go after a ludicrous amount of time. Not me however. We eventually got to the train station after a superior navigator took over, and despite some very pushy and unpleasant dodgy Romanians insisting on helping us buy our tickets, and wanting to see our passports, and then wanting us to buy them a beer for the "information" they supplied us with, we managed to get tickets for the overnight to Sofia. By ourselves.

The train jorney turned out ok. We were joined by Maurice and Becky, from the Elvis hostel, and later a Moldovan student in Sofia who gave us heaps of food. I even got some sleep which turned out useful because upon arriving in Sofia at about 6am, and getting back into our hostel, me and Simon immediately went on a day trip to the very very beautiful but very very cold Rila Monastery (meeting a Korean TV journalist), only getting back at 5pm.

Yeah, I'm rushing this part, as I'm running short of time. I always write too much these days, leaving some parts written about inadequately. I should say heaps more about Maurice and Becky, and about Melissa the attractive Australian also at the hostel as there's a good chance they're also going to be part of our Istanbul experience. So I suppose I'll get another chance to describe them a bit more. Melissa was cool because we felt cultured around each other. The five of us went for a colossal Chinese meal, which had the horrific consequences of filling us up so much that we couldn't drink any more and had to go straight to bed, after a little MTV culture.

Ok, that's about it. Today I shopped at the dodgy memorobila market, filled with Nazi and Soviet memoribilia, and bought four hats (a Soviet Russian one, two Bulgarian ones and an Uzbekistan one) and an old globe entirely in Cyrillic. In addition to the glowing red spider I bought yesterday, and the "pure Romanian fusion" tape and the mobile phone torch I bought with my spare money in Romania. I've been on a bit of a binge recently. None of this fits in my rucksack needless to say.

Ok, have to go. Tomorrow, me and Simon become famous, and have to leave to country to Istanbul. Maybe we'll get drunk in the meantime.

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