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Super Plovdiv! Or that is what the Lonely Planet says in its opening lines about the place. Bulgaria's second city is certainly nice, but super might be a small overstatement. The city of about 300,000 is a collection of history's conquerors, architecturally demonstrating the various periods of foreign rule. There are ruins from the ancient Thracians that go as far back as 5000 BC, ancient Roman theatres and bath houses, Turkish mosques and minarets, several Russian orthodox type churches, beautiful Bulgarian revivalist/medieval homes, and a collection of Soviet concrete blocks and monuments. Without a history lesson, the place is about as consistent as a bag of multicoloured jelly beans. But it's really cool. More so than any other old town we've seen, this one feels alive as old ladies are cleaning flower baskets at every turn, little cats are running around everywhere, and workmen are busy sawing new pieces of lumber to fix something up while smoking a couple of cigarettes simultaneously. The whole scene is quintessentially Bulgarian, and it's just fun to walk around.

I forgot to mention one of the other things common here in the last entry, and that's metal. The Bulgarians are really into heavy metal, and almost everyone listens to old stuff like Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne (from the Black Sabbath days mainly), and most of he kids will dress either in metal goth gear or football (i.e. soccer) stuff from Addidas. When we took the train from Veliko Tarnovo to Varna, we were accompanied by a student from the university in Veliko who had the goth dress style down pat, and he graciously entertained us the entire 4 hour ride with all his metal songs from his MP3 player which he had plugged into a speaker that was built into his CD case. The other passengers didn't seem to mind; as though this was perfectly normal for the trains. It would have been alright, except for the fact that there was some technical problem with the player, and we were constantly treated to the same THREE (yes, only three) songs over and over again. When I pointed this out to him, he sort of shrugged and said, "Yeah, I know, isn't it great?" I guess I wasn't clear enough. If it wasn't for the brief interludes of Queen's "Too much love will kill you", I think I might have jumped from the train (Queen was far superior to any of those metal dudes in my opinion - battle me on this opinion if you must....). Freddy and Brian were masters.

Anyway, that's just another story relating to the quirky culture in this country. A couple more little stories. This morning we were walking around Plovdiv, and we had a seat near a fountain just to take a break. Slowly, this guy starts taking pictures from afar, but steadily moving closer to us. He keeps trying to pretend he's shooting the fountain behind us, but it's pretty obvious that he's got us in the viewfinder as well. He must have shot about 15 shots before we got up and started walking away. As we strolled along, hew came up to us saying something in Bulgarian. Realizing that we could only speak English or French, he said a few words in broken English, asking us to return to the fountain and pretend to speak. He said he was a reporter doing a story. About what, we will never know. I expect that if you decide to plan a trip to Bulgaria in a few months you might be handed a brochure with us on the cover enjoying a funny moment in front of some non-descript Soviet fountain. Either that or it's the prelude for a porno or something... Hey, I didn't even ask to get paid!

A little later we were accosted by a guy who was obviously suffering some form of mental illness. He spoke (well yelled really) mostly to me, and I think I handled it really well. He asked me a number of personal questions like "Do you have any diseases for me?" and my favourite "Are you negro"? That one was prefaced by the "Are you a human?" question, to which I replied calmly, "Well as a matter of fact, yes I am". I think he was rather surprised that I was engaging in the conversation with him - I imagine a lot of people just ignored him, or walked away. At first he seemed really aggressive, but then he calmed down just a little. His next line of reasoning involved family. He grabbed his genitals and said "I have my child in here!" I wanted to tell him that I wasn't going to be able to help him with that, since I was not capable of providing him with any eggs, but I think he thought he was pregnant or something. I wasn't sure how to handle that one really. Fortunately, he abandoned that thread, and went back to asking me if I was human, and when I said yes again, he through his arms up in the air in disgust and stormed off down the cobblestone lane babbling to himself in Bulgarian. What do you say to that? I noticed that about 15 cats had gathered to watch the entertainment... They appeared equally perturbed, but then again, cats are good at adopting deceptive attitudes when they want to. I think they were just laughing at me...

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