Thursday, October 05, 2006

Иваново (Ivanovo).

"Where ticket train?"

Wow. The Bulgarians are incredibly nice. I've got a very bad phrasebook (three pages at the end of the Lonely Planet guidebook instead of the usual actual phrasebook--could not get it sent from the U.S. this time), but it is surprising, what you can accomplish using just nouns.

For instance:

"Where can I buy a ticket to the train that goes to Ivanovo?"


"къде билет влак Иваново?" ("Kade bilet vlak Ivanovo?")

or literally:

"Where ticket train Ivanovo?"

At which the Bulgarians smile, chuckle to one another remarking, no doubt, that I'm a foreigner, and who can understand how funny they speak, but then they put their hand on my shoulder and fatherly lead me to the ticket office, laugh with and explain to the clerk that I can't speak Bulgarian, then the lady at the ticket office extraordinarily helpful, patiently writes times and prices down, and when the ticket is printed (it is all in Cyrillic), points to the place in the ticket where it says the time of departure and the price and waits patiently again as I examine my coins and slowly choose the correct ones to pay, saying encouraging words like "Da!" (yes) whenever I pick the right ones.

I like these Bulgarians. The ticket lady at the bus station, too, before I found the train station telling me not only the bus schedules but the train ones too, and not only the ones to Ivanovo but something like 10 other neighboring towns, was very kindly also.

Anyway, headed over to teeny weeny town of Ivanovo because that's where the famous Rock Painted Churches, a UNESCO WHS, are. Getting to them requires you to trek 3 kms into a gorge from the plains where Ivanovo is, and today was rather hot. But it wasn't too bad: I found some interesting, deeply hued berries, which were kind of cool, and I must confess a lot more interesting than the churches themselves, whose paintings were rather faded, and therefore not particularly exciting.

The train ride back to Russe was, again, very friendly. Being the only foreigner in Ivanovo, I attracted a lot of attention: people knew I was a stranger and followed me with curious eyes and wide smiles, but without daring to intrude in my solitude.

I purchased a train ticket, on which the train time was written 2:20 p.m., at the guidance of a train attendant, at around 3:00 p.m. According to the signs on the ticket office, the next train would be at 4 p.m. Since I figured I couldn't ask much in Bulgarian, and this country probably worked a bit like Mexico, where things were often, shall we say, inexact, I simply bought a can of pear juice at the nearby snack shop and sat on a bench by the rails to wait.

At 3:30 a train arrived. I stayed put, not expecting my train until 4.

However, the Ivanovo locals had been watching me since I had arrived, and were, unobtrusively, taking care of me. An older woman turned to me, touched me on the arm, pointed to the train, and said: "Russe, vlak!" to me, and made signs for me to follow her and hop on.

I guess this was the 2:20 train, which had been delayed. But I thought it was nice how the locals, without my even asking, made sure I got to where I wanted. In small towns everyone knows everything about everyone, especially strangers.

And then, on the train, another older woman approached my compartment, said something in Bulgarian, which I assumed was along the lines of "Is this seat free?", to which I assented only. She then started a conversation, asked a small-talk question, which I tried to explain, that I did not understand. "Ne razbirem, turist!" I figured, would do the trick.

She smiled, clapped her hands, and was quiet for a minute or two.

But then a long conversation followed, that lasted throughout the train ride. She found out I was from Mexico, I found out she had an older son in England, she found out I had a brother named Carlos (and did you know, by the way, what the word for "brother" is in Bulgarian? It is brat, which I found very...evocative. ;P), I found out she had also a daughter, and Varna, apparently, was a place I should not forget to visit.

In-between, other things were said.

I of course, did not understand most of them, nor when I spoke, do I think, did she.

What I did understand though, was when she said: "Aaah, Elisa, Elisa, Elisa!", opened up her arms wide, and then drew both her hands to her heart, and smiled, saying something else.

To which I answered: "I too, am very happy to have talked to you, for Bulgaria, and its people, are among the most beautiful things I have encountered so far in my travels."

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