Of course I went to Starbucks. I went at the first opportunity — which opportunity didn’t present itself until late Saturday afternoon, when I finally got a chance to walk around Sofia in the daylight. Map in hand, I boldly set a course for… well… home. I had my heart set on adding to my collection of Starbucks storefronts in languages other than English. I fondly remembered (well, remembered) this one from Moscow.
And since the Bulgarian language uses the same Cyrillic alphabet, I imagined I would find something similar. So here’s a picture of that.
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It seems that since I last traveled to this part of the world, the Starbucks corporate overlords have decided that the countries of the world have gone on long enough using quaint little “languages” of their own, and from now on everything — all signage at least — will be in English. This is how we conquer the world, my American friends: one coffee shop at a time.
Still, it was pleasant to step in out of the cold and into the friendly confines of a place I know so well. Charming barristas, free wifi, comfy seats, strong joe… what more can the idle expatriot ask? This would have been a perfect opportunity to strike up a local conversation and soak up some local culture. Meet some new friends. Take their pictures. Here’s a picture of one of my new friends.
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Hey, it’s not that Bulgarians are not friendly (they are; very much so). And it’ s not that they don’t speak English (enough do that you expect it.) And it’s not that I’m particularly anti-social (I like to say sdrawei — hello — as much as the next man.) It’s just that I had my stupid iPhone with me — and did I mention the free wifi? — so instead of being present in my world, I was absent in my device.
That thing is really starting to get on my nerves.
Because it’s so damn entertaining, with it’s web browser and kindle and stupid, pointless, mind-numbing games, and apps, apps, apps, apps, apps. It’s like having your head buried in a good book, except the book is fully multi-media and goes off in a thousand directions at once. At one point I looked up at all the people and thought, they’re just like the images on my iPhone, except in 3-d. I found this strange.
Finally, in self-disgust, I shut off my phone (after checking my email one last time) and headed back out into the cold.
Into the not-too-cold, I’m happy to say. Those of you who followed my Moscow winter adventures will perhaps remember my sliding (as in sliding on a sheet of ice) scale of cold: cold; really cold; stupid cold; ridiculously cold; and “are you freakin’ kidding me?” So far, Sofia has presented only cold and really cold, with just a hint of stupid cold, and for this I am grateful.
I walked in a big, awkward circle through the streets around my hotel, filling in my mental map, acquiring not just the Starbucks, but the local Greek restaurant, one or two casinos where one might play poker (though why that interested me, I cannot imagine) plus various shops and stores, malls, underground passages and random Russian churches. Truth is, I’m less interested in seeing the sights than I am in just filling in that map. I want to feel like I know where things are, so when I walk, it’s a mapping mission. After this afternoon, I think I know my way around.
I am, of course, almost totally wrong. But in a world where Starbucks insists on English-as-the-only-language, I guess one more arrogant American does not rock the balance.
I will say this about Sofia, and from my heart: The city really works for me. After Bucharest, which was a challenge, and Moscow, which made Bucharest look like Moscow, Idaho, it is great to be in a place of civil size. Sofia contains 1.1 million people, I’m told; the country tops out at under 9 million — about the same as Los Angeles County. Downtown is walkable. The streets and roads handle a decent amount of cars. Rush hour — trust me — is nothing. Seriously, Sofia rush hour compares favorably to Moscow (where rush-hour never really ends), Bucharest, even Managua. You can get around. It’s lovely.
Tomorrow is an off-day, then Monday brings me right back to the exciting grind of making television in a place I’ve never made it before. Fact is, I suffer Sunday. It’s nice to have time off (time for more mapquesting) but the truth is I can’t wait for Monday. And who can ask more from a job than that?
The report from the front, then, is that I’m happy in my work, happy with the geography, even happy with the weather (for now, though I know this will change).
So far, Sofia.
More later, -jv