Early morning. 2:00am early morning. A slight drizzle and I’m standing outside the border guards house shivering. Tonight we cross from the East into the West – Turkey to Bulgaria. It’s exactly as I would have imagined it. Cold, rainy, gray eastern Europe.
After an hour or more mingling around we get back on the bus and finish off our journey by arriving in Veliko Tarnovo sometime in the late afternoon. It feels late because the sun is quickly setting, but a glance at the watch reveals it’s only 3:45pm. The northern latitudes in which Bulgaria sits has taken me by surprise and means we’re going to have short days until our flight to Cape Town.
Veliko holds a special treat for us, it will be our first attempt at couch surfing since our experience way back in Bolivia. In fact, due to shrinking savings we’ve got couches lined up for our entire stay in Bulgaria and Romania. It’s a leap of faith and I’m nervous about what all these strangers have in store for us. Do we trust them? Do we have to bring gifts? Will they like us or will we like them? Turns out my worries are completely unnecessary.
Day one of our couch surfing adventure is with a Bulgarian student and his Belgian flatmate. The excitement doesn’t stop from the moment we come through the door. Finding the door was an adventure in itself. Hristo, our host, told us his apartment is on floor 2 or 5 depending on what door you come in. I was expecting some kind of Harry Potter magic and us roaming various floors looking for floor 9 and 3/4. While we manage to bang on a few wrong doors, and push more incorrect doorbells, our persistence wins out and we make it “home”.
Both hosts are out when we arrive and we’re surprised to be greeted by a Dutch guy who is also couch surfing. And he’s not alone. A Dutch girl, a Hong Kong girl, and two Israelis are also staying the night. No less than 7 couch surfers in one apartment with two existing tenants for the night! It feels more like a hostel, but no one is paying. The Israeli girls are off playing volleyball with our Bulgarian host and are scheduled to cook up some shakshuka for dinner (a wonderful egg and tomato dish soaked up with bread). The conversation between the 5 present surfers flows easily and we exchange the usual stories of where everyone’s been and getting to know each other.
An hour or two later the Belgian host arrives home and then several more before the Bulgarian one appears. By that time, the couch surfers are well acquainted and sharing laughs and beers. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed and becomes energized with Hristo’s arrival. Immediately it’s on to more drinking, music, and introductions all over again. The Israeli girls make their way to the kitchen to start up dinner and with the aromas of the kitchen mingling with the conversation in the air, I’m thinking, why didn’t we do this sooner?