World travel can bring you face to face with round the world adventures or people from your home town. Pernik, Bulgaria is a place I wouldn’t have experienced without running into someone I already knew.
It’s always funny to run into people you know when you are traveling. Facebook of course, makes it much more likely. I was looking at facebook and saw that my wife’s friend Borislav was posting pictures of Sofia as i was there!
Through the magic of Facebook we managed to connect and I learned that he was spending some time there with his Bulgarian grandparents. He’s half Moroccan and half Bulgarian, but when we’d met before I had thought he was half Ukranian! Borislav was a contestant on the Moroccan version of American Idol and has had his face plastered on billboards in Morocco. I was incredibly surprised to find him in Sofia but it was a great chance for us to hang out.
He invited me to come up to Pernik, a cold war era industrial town which sits to the north of Sofia as a relic of a time when communists worked side by side in the coal mines and factories of Pernik. These days, with it’s broken factories, abandoned nuclear power plant, and aging black lung population, Pernik is more like visiting Mordor.
Borislav’s grandparents were amazingly wonderful people and from the time I got there we ate delicious homecooked Bulgarian food, drank homemade wine, homemade rakia, and tried to have conversations.
I thanked them for their hospitality when I got there and Borislav’s grandfather told me that I hadn’t experienced Bulgarian hospitality until I was drunk from Rakia and homemade wine! By the end of the night, I was the recipient of full Bulgarian hospitality.
Borislav was left in the difficult position of translating as his grandfather and I discussed the glory days of communism and the downfalls of capitalism. Thanks again for that buddy! It was my first time to ever speak with a communist worker who had taken part in everything from the revolution to the collapse. His reminiscence of the days when workers walked and worked in equality were only as powerful as his stories of the days when the communist bosses began to flaunt their wealth and power.
For him and for many other older Bulgarians, the early communist era is remembered as a golden age. Meanwhile, Borislav’s sweet grandmother showered me with smiles and kisses of the kind that I haven’t experienced since my own grandmother passed away. I’ve always suspected though, that under all that old lady affection lies the remains of the smoking hot young flirtatious women they used to be. Seeing her picture in the flower of her youth, I can only imagine what it was like to get such kisses then.
Finally, after finishing the bottle of homemade wine and the homemade rakia we all went to sleep but not before Borislav’s grandfather had offered to take me and Borislav hiking the next day and show me his summer house where he makes the homemade booze. Of course, I was glad to accept. Borislav later told me that he’d been avoiding the trip since he arrived since the weather was icy cold, but I was glad to have the opportunity to see a bit of country life.
The Liberation of Bulgaria turned Pernik from a small stockbreeding village into a 20th century powerhouse with the development of the rich coal-beds of the area though the locals had been gathering the coal since the 10th century with shovels and picks. but more about that in my next post.