How Government Inaction Can Almost Break Your Ankle

My new Plovdivian couchsurfing friend took me to a ruins site to see over the city and watch the sunset as we got to know each other.  I was super pleased to discover he liked the same music as me so I pumped him for information on new bands to discover!  He warned me away from a type of Balkan music called tsauga (I’m not sure on the spelling) which is a sort of hideous pop balkan music whose superstars and role models are essentially high paid prostitutes (his words).  The  music seems to have connections to local mafia (or whatever the bulgarian version is)…

From our vantage point we could see the old and new parts of the city.  The entire city was in view, showing how small a city Plovdiv is.  Later in the week we took a walk around the old city where we saw remains of a roman ampitheatre that stretched all underground and was found only fairly recently as the pavement was being dug up for roadworks.  All the cobbles in old town were original, which I believed because they were in such bad state now.  It looked that all in between the cobbles had worn away and the cobbles had twisted and turned so it was hard to look around whilst you were walking because you had to constantly look where you were going. The streets are so small, nicknamed ‘the trap’ because cars have such trouble passing through.  I saw a lot of  4×4 cars and it seemed that you needed one to live around there.  The whole place is UNESCO protected so if any new houses were built in the area they had to be built in the same style as the original houses.    It looked like a few of the oldest and most important houses had been renovated, but badly –  for example the paint work (which were supposed to be intricate paintings) didn’t look like it had been done with care.  I was told the reason for this is that money given from the government tends to get pocketed and a smaller sum is put towards renovation.  The same went for the religious sector, you’d have priests driving BMWs but preaching in crumbling churches.

At a later point we climed two of the surrounding hills.  One of which had a statue of a soviet soldier as a memorial to russian soldiers that died during the liberation.

We took a  day trip out to Bachkovo (orthodox) monestary.  There were cobbles inside a courtyard, and a church in the centre.  I went inside – which was decorated in the orthodox fashion – every spare bit of wall had been painted but was mostly blackened with age, there were great candelabra type things that had a flat plate on top with lots of tiny candle holders so that people could come in, buy candles, make a prayer and place them lit on the candelabra thing.  There were lots of gold decoration, so intricate and detailed.

Next to it was a nature reserve – the sign made me chuckle as its pictures demanded ‘no littering’, ‘no fires’, ‘no shooting’, ‘no camping’ and ‘no goats’.  Seriously, why would you have a goat with you?  Anyway, we walked as far as the waterfall, the whole place was very beautiful and peaceful listening to the trees rustling in the wind and the water rushing over the rocks.

One night we went to a rock bar, meeting with some of my friend’s friends and some people from the hostel.  I got chatting to some of the locals about life in Plovdiv and Bulgaria.  It seems that there is not much trust in the government, that not much has changed from the freedom from communism.  People  still have the same mentalities and that nothing gets done around the city unless it’s near election time and the  person in power wants to be seen doing something.  But a lot of things are left, or left unfinished because money runs out or ‘there is no money’.  A lot of their friends have left the country to study and making the move can need a lot of money so mostly people put everything into the move and hope they can make a better life for themselves elsewhere.  I mentioned that some people I spoke to in Romania said similar things and I was told that it was worse  in Bulgaria because people don’t complain whereas elsewhere, they do.  Perhaps there will be a protest but after a couple hours the momentum leaves and so do the protesters.   The government therefore feels unthreatened and continues as normal.  There is little hope here but as my friend said, there is always faith that the future can hold something better.  There has to be faith because  it is the only thing you can hold on to to the end.

Last Day In Romania, Meeting The Locals

Since there was so much hiking the day before, I fancied a day that was a little easier.  So staying in the city of Brasov, I went for a walk to the park, where there were stalls selling things from gingerbread to furniture.  There was a section full of seats and chess boards with all these men crowded round playing each other, it seemed a really  nice way to spend a sunny afternoon.  I spotted a building that was mentioned on the map as still having bullet holes preserved from when 1989 protests were being broken up.

Later, in the town square, I was drawing people enjoying the day.  A man and woman joined me on the bench, she leaned over to ask what I was doing (I presume that is what she asked, she spoke in Romanian) and once we’d established I was English we eventually got into a conversation about our different cultures.  I was interested to see their views of living in Romania, not the shiny lovely bits proffered to tourists.  They didn’t seem that optimistic about life in Romania, in fact most people from Romania that I spoke to said they wanted to leave and work in England.  The people that I was talking to said that, yes we may have had a revolution, goodbye communism and all that but it’s still the same mindset, it’s still the same people running the show.  I asked about the future, the next generation will change things surely?  They didn’t think they’d see any changes in their lifetime.  We also spoke about religion- they gasped in horror when I said I was an atheist…  It seemed so odd to be odd in that respect.  And relationships – it seemed a machismo culture.  We went for a walk around the base of Mount Tampas, very green and refreshing just outside of the city.  I very much enjoyed being in the city next to a wall of trees.