Bionic Thracian Pollen

We’ve just completed our ambitious sweep through Bulgarian Macedonia; three towns in three days: the Rila monastery, the university town of Blagoevgrad, and the inexplicably abandoned mountain resort town of Bansko. From Bansko we took a train out of Macedonia, tracks cut into the mountainside, out of the Pirin and the Rhodopes and into the Plain of Thrace, a flat agricultural expanse that will stretch us to Istanbul and the first shores of Asia. The five-hour train ride cost about three bucks.

We’re currently in Plovdiv, the onetime capital of Thrace and now the most happening metropol in Bulgaria, relaxing and regaining our gumption to set out again. Plovdiv is not as populous as Sofia but is tangibly hipper. There’s a wide boutique-lined pedestrian avenue in the center of town, which is pretty clearly the place to see and be seen by Plovdiv’s young and careless. There’s a labyrinthine old town that is now purely a tourist construct, and there are ancient ruins scattered throughout town, notably underneath the plexiglass floor of one of the shopping centers.

Don’t think it’s all fun and games here in Thrace! I’m nursing what I imagine to be an allergic reaction to the bionic pollen they pave the streets with in this area. And Hazel is worried that her traveling clothes, chosen as not to outrage the more conservative Turkish elements later in the trip, are making her look prudish and frumpy in the local Bulgarian context, which admittedly tends towards the tight and the skimpy.

We’re trying to figure out the best way to get to Turkey. At one travel desk I started the conversation with my usual, halting “Goovarettilee Angliski?” and the lady shot me back a “Nay. GoovarettiLEE Russki?” My look of panic must have given her a little pause, so she continued, “Franski?” So I was all like “Oui! Heuu…. oui. Heuuu… bonjour! Heuuu….” But soon enough my high-school French came back, and before long the Bulgarian lady and I were like old mates.

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