14 equals 20

imageThe 14 hour ride to Sofia Bulgaria began under a full moon in Istanbul and about two dozen passengers – primarily European backpackers.

The average age on the ship was 62′ here it is 22. Riding along were a 63 year old Swede who has no home and has been on the rails or wings for 3+ years (woman problems) and a 50 something Scottish couple who opted for the train over flying home from holiday. Ours was a 4 person sleeper with them….and he snored (“Get in me belly….!”)

We had stayed in Western Turkey……trains were very slow to the east, and Syria and Iran loomed large as the neighbors. We still felt guilty…….and even more so when we met a 24 year old new teacher from Germany. She had taken the bus from Berlin to Istanbul, met her sister and they took busses to the Syrian border to help Syrian refugees for a few days before launching her career in inner-city Berlin —- she will have no Germans in her 9th grade class although some families have lived there 30 or 40 years. She helped us out with language later on the ride.

We got rousted out for about an hour at 1 a.m. to check out of Turkey and about 40 minutes later to get checked in to Bulgaria. It was cool and fresh like home.

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At about 6 we stopped but most people continued sleeping. By 8 most were up. So far as we could determine, either the locomotive or the engineer had quit.

So until about 10:30 we sat at a remote station which had no services, no coffee, no language other than Bulgarian. The setting looked like 1960′ s Russia. Bulgarian train people have no uniforms….so the 50 year old workers in shorts and t-shirts blended right in with kids.

Eventually we rode to a larger station, mostly deserted, hooked to a larger train,rode it for awhile , got directed off and told to run to another train which was a “local” and arrived at 6 pm. The best explanation was that our train got lost. At any rate, that’s how 14 hours equals 20 in Bulgaria.

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The countryside stretched from horizon to horizon with a carpet of sunflower, grain and cornfields. The grain is ripe. And golden, so it stands out from the green….literally 100’s of thousands of acres… dry farmed in rolling foothills which eventually gave way to mountains, irrigated fields, alfalfa, evergreen forests and fruit trees laden with ripe fruit. No cattle though……just a few milk cows.

It’s about 73 degrees, blue skies with brilliant white clouds building and cat tails growing in the drainage areas…… very reminiscent of a Carson Valley afternoon in late July. So the ag production looks big and modern, but we are told the owners live in Germany.

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Train stations are closed or deserted. In just our few hours we saw abandoned rolling stock….literally 1000’s of rusting train cars and locomotives rotting away. Many stations have 11 tracks but only 2 get any use. At least they are beginning to tear up the extras….. but by thieves or the RR who knows?

Someone told us that the release from communism just re-aligned the 1%. There is a new ruling society, more millionaires and a few billionaires. There are more freedoms and product choices. But for the masses, communism was better because at least they worked and ate. Quine sabe?

Sofia is clean and quiet except for what appeared to be a small protest opposing government corruption. The center of town is full of heart-warming pre WWII houses, office buildings and churches.. pleasantly or apocalyptically uncrowded. At 7:30 a.m. the metro has empty seats and no one standing. No jobs I suspect.

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Police watching the protestors.  On the BBC the next day we saw it turned into a riot - wall to wall people, etc.

Police watching the protestors. On the BBC the next day we saw it had turned into a riot – wall to wall people, etc.

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Paige is at the train window snapping shots of meadows, corn fields, mountain rivers and the sheer cliffs behind them as we go east to Bucharest. She said something about Count Dracula’s castle.

The language and alphabet are very foreign, and the locals don’t speak English, so our ride is pretty quiet. A partially filled three car train from Sophia to Bucharest. Could you imagine such between Paris and Geneva in July ?