Bulgaria, my love.
Spin the Globe: Rebecca Walker in Bulgaria
AFAR chooses a destination at random—by literally spinning a globe—and sends writer Rebecca Walker on a spontaneous journey to Bulgaria.
In the course of a single impromptu trip, the World Wide Web went from being very virtual to being very real. The shift began instantly after my destination was revealed, 48 hours before departure. I was headed for the unknown; what else could I do but send 140 characters to thousands of people I had never met? “Hey Tweeps! What’s good in Bulgaria?”
Within 20 minutes I received a direct message from Petya Kirilova-Grady, a Bulgarian feminist blogger living in Tennessee who said she’d be thrilled to show me her Bulgaria. Her list, sent a few hours later to my personal email, included places for me to go, things to see, people to meet, and food to eat. My trip had officially begun. I didn’t know it then, but Petya’s generosity—and the miraculous nature of the Internet connection—would color every moment of my journey.
When I hit the tarmac in Sofia at 7 a.m., I felt buoyed by Petya’s spirit. Rather than bleak and unforgiving, the stripped-down airport—white on white, with huge windows looking out on blank runways and endless gray sky—was inspiring in its minimalism.
Once in the city, I noticed not the imminent rainstorm but the warmth of the people. Bulgarians strolled the spacious main street of Sofia’s posh Vitosha district in twos and threes, bundled against the chill. They held hands, linked arms, and talked quietly with heads bowed and pressed together.
Petya wrote that I must visit the 10th-century Rila monastery outside of Sofia, so on my first day I rode the local bus two hours into the mountains. At the remote hermitage, I found the sweetest, freshest air and meditated in the impenetrable stillness. I was alone but felt as if Petya was there, too; this person I had never met, who led me to this place I had never been. Back in Sofia the next morning, I fretted a bit about the connection. For a moment, I was determined to do my own thing, to reclaim my adventure. But then I roamed the streets aimlessly for a few hours and came to realize Petya was my adventure. She created the list, but even though I was following her bread crumbs, her magic trail, I was still tracking the unknown.
Which is how I ended up having coffee on my second day in Sofia with Petya’s friend, former world-class and national champion tennis player Magdalena Maleeva, who is also a founder of the country’s ecology movement and now the owner of the only group of organic grocery stores in Bulgaria. We sat in the café next to her main shop in the center of the labyrinthian city and talked about motherhood—how we loved it, how we wanted more children, how we were not ready for the time of cuddling babies to be over.
I asked about tennis—how could I not? Magdalena told me the story she must have repeated 10,000 times: Her mother worked at a tennis club and put all three of her talented girls in classes. Her mother pushed them. The Communist regime, in power from 1946 to 1990, pushed them. They all became tennis legends. “And now I educate corporations about going green,” she said. We laughed.