By the time the boys landed in Bulgaria, I was already in the country for a week, celebrating Christmas with my family. They landed at exactly 18:08 local time at -9 degrees. It was already dark and my dad was on the second home-made rakia glass. This meant that by not having a driver’s license, I had to pick them up from the airport with a taxi. Usually when I am there, I like to order taxis from the ones that are already standing there. This translated into English means: the taxis standing in Sofia International Airport are supposedly tourist-trap-free and relatively safe. We had to order two taxis, as we were 5 people and nobody wanted to take all of us in one car.
Apparently, the two guys who got the second taxi had a perfectly wonderful ride; however we, the ones in the first taxi feared for our lives on the whole way and were praying to just arrive home in one piece. Our driver had some sort of mental problems and was definitely not suitable to be a driver. However, realizing this took us too long and by the time it we did, it was too late and we were in the middle of nowhere. On the ride, he was telling us how he knew 8 languages, was an ex-US spy, but knew too much so they had to let him go, knew how to “drive” a plane and could make any woman happy. Besides all these qualities, he was unfortunately a bit blind and had this tick where he had to first hit the driving wheel with one and then with two hands, and then hit the rear-view mirror – all of this in a perfectly-well aligned harmony. Now the worst part of this ride, was that this was one of the coldest nights for the year and there was this thick fog from which you could literally only see one meter in front of you. You may now know this little-known fact about Bulgaria, but we do not have many street lights, especially in the suburbs where my house is located at. So given the fog, the darkness and our “slightly” blind driver, you can only imagine the shock that we had when he said: “Ops! I cannot see the road lanes anymore…!”
We decided to go to my hometown directly on the second day of their visit. After 5 long hours on the train to my hometown, we finally arrived at the good old train station that still looked as if it is going to fall apart at any moment. One thing you should know about my hometown, is that it is famous for three things: the local blue mountain, the strong wind that derives from it and the gypsies. Now I grew up with them and know them well, but for outsiders like the boys, they seem a bit peculiar. And on top of everything, the boys looked like foreigners from a kilometer away with their heights and blonde hair! So the second we stepped out of the train station we were literally circled by little gypsy boys, with hungry sparkly eyes. They were surrounding us, smiling wickedly and chanting in an unknown language. At that moment, for a second, even I got a bit scared, because there were no taxis next to the station; we were screwed, had nowhere to go and on top of everything, it was almost dark.
We were saved my neighbor’s taxi-driving husband, who knew that I was coming to town, because it is a small town and my grandma knows everyone. He quickly told us the latest gossip in the short 5-minute drive to my old apartment. We had only two days in the city so we had two simple tasks to do: go on top of the Blue Mountain and visit my two grandmas.
The lift to the mountains looked stopped from my apartment window the next morning, but we still decided to go there and give it a go. When we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, the lift operators said that we were crazy for wanting to go up and that it was -20 degrees on top. So we bought tickets and they turned on the whole lift just for the five of us! On the way up, I found out that my boyfriend is afraid of heights, if the weather is windy, -10 degrees feels like -30 degrees, and no matter how resistant an open lift from the last century might be – when it is -10 degrees, it is very probable that it will stop more than once on the way. When we reached the top of the mountain we were greeted by cheers and whistles from the people operating the lift. We were just happy to stand on solid ground, so we went on a short walk on the mountain top. As you can imagine, at -20 degrees, that was a rather short walk.
When we reached the bottom of the mountain later, we were so freezing that we had to stop at the small cafe next to the ticket office and get the first warm thing on the menu. We ordered hot mountain tea, however it turned out that we didn’t have any cash on us (and of course they didn’t accept credit cards for a bill of €1). The people were very amused by the whole situation, and our mountain story, so they said that we could pay them next time we went there. How embarrassing!
After the adventure on the mountain, it was time to head off to the grandmas’ homes. We decided we would first visit my great-grandma and then my grandma. My great-grandpa is quite old and doesn’t have much money to cook for 5 people, so we decided to eat before we visit her and just buy some biscuits and soft drinks for her, as this is the custom back home. Big mistake! She had chicken with rice and salad prepared for us when we arrived. It would have been rude to say no, so we had to eat a bit! She also let us try her home-made rakia. By the way, when I introduced her to my boyfriend, she also (only) half-jokingly said: “It’s nice to meet you. You can call me grandma from now on!” And if you did not get how awkward the whole situation was – I also had to translate everything the whole time as my granny did not speak any English!
When it was time to visit my other grandma, we had to say our goodbyes. My grandma gave us a bottle of her home-made rakia “for the road” in an old plastic Coca-Cola bottle. Both of my grandmas live 5 minutes apart! But this home-made rakia is pure magic in a bottle – you drink it to warm yourself in minus temperatures outside, drink it to have fun, you drink it when you are hung-over to cure it and you drink it when you are sick, among many other great features!
My other grandma’s dinner table was already set with a 3-course meal when we arrived! Salad as a starter, meatballs wrapped in cabbage leaves (my childhood favorite) with potatoes as a side dish and her own home-made rakia on the side. I had told my granny that my boyfriend was a vegetarian, so he would kindly not eat the meatballs, so she suggested he could only eat half of them. I repeated to her that he will not eat them because of his moral standards, so she said he could only eat the cabbage leaves then. She really didn’t understand this whole “vegetarian-concept” at all and because my boyfriend is a sweetheart, he finished both of the meatballs. All of us were pretty full, but because we all have manners, we finished everything that was on our plates. And then my grandma brought desert! After telling her we had already had dinner twice, she still put big fat pieces of cake on our plates. After once again trying to finish everything in front of us, she tried bringing out more cake by using the excuse: “Marina, you told me the boys were full, but see – they finished everything on their plates! Trust me, I know boys and boys want some more cake!” Of course, needless to say, everything was again only in Bulgarian, so I had to keep with up all of the eating and translating at the same time.
All in all, the highlight of the night was when my grandma brought Christmas presents for me and the boys – matching tiger-print house slippers for me and underwear for my boyfriend, and other underwear for the boys that included prints with naked ladies, boobs and a red dragon!