I went to Sofia for a three-day conference last weekend and it was just great…!
It was a public information conference (i.e. How to DO public information and public relations) and I learned so much, I met inspiring and exciting people from 35 European countries and became quite close with the Scandinavian and Baltic representatives. Through my conversations with my new friends, I gathered endless amounts of information about Finland, Norway, Estonia and Latvia, about the landscapes, the people, the communities, the traditions, the food, the winters, the summers, the online habits, the job opportunities, the youth, the universities, the cultures…riveting.
Especially for someone who, growing up in Congo didn’t actually believe that people lived in places like Estonia. I didn’t think that those places were actually real…Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Lapland, Ukraine…the cold northern places were an image in my mind that I got from the first Superman movie I think. I must have seen it when I was 8 or 10 or something, and there is a point in it where Christopher Reeves is in an icy cave with kryptonite for company.
That’s what I thought those places were. People-less, and a setting for temporary super-hero demise.
On Saturday night, the night before our departure, a small group of us wandered off into Sofia, and walked for about an hour in the streets looking for a nice place to spend the rest of the evening.
To make a long story story short, we didn’t find that place, since most of what we found in Sofia were bars where everyone was seated and where the staff completely ignored us, the music, which was eminently danceable was loud and no one danced.
In one place, we walked in hoping to find some space to dance and were told that the girls didn’t need to pay an entrance fee, but that we all had to buy fruit juices once inside. We walked in and found no place to sit or stand: every chair was either sat on or had a “RESERVED” sign placed in front of it. We tried to dance for a little bit, and then watched a bunch of Danes watch vodka being spilled onto the large tiki-decorated bar and being lit on fire…repeatedly. One of the spirited guys from the vodka-burning-watching stood on a table and danced for about 45 seconds until an employee asked him to cease and desist.
Needless to say we walked out again, unsatisfied but stimulated by the ambient weirdness of the city.
Old, unkempt soviet-ish buildings along deserted streets on a Saturday night at 11PM…in the center of the city. Empty neon-lit tramways and buses, cruising the equally empty streets. A strange dungeon-style entrance to a club or bar, a Casino or grand hotel…an interior decoration store that could best be described as “the eighties meet the Stone Age”, and whose customers I could only imagine would be real-life Flinstones. Small closed but lit boutiques with one type of item, lined the streets: stores selling only men’s shirts wrapped in plastic, or only selling plastic flip-flops and surfwear.
Trash cans overflowing with what looked like a week’s worth of rubbish broke the monotony of the streets of empty market stalls. In the liveliest section of Old Sofia we saw older couples walking next to each other. No youth, no crowds… but lots of empty trams and buses.
All the young people were, as it turns out, sitting, drinking and talking animatedly in large, over-decorated bars.
The night was fresh and cool, and our walk was entertaining, because everything was so unexpected. At one point, we saw a dog repeatedly walk half-way across a large street (in front of a casino) stop, sit, turn back, lie down and repeat this a number of times, which just added to the strangeness.
After about two hours of this, we left, not without walking past the center of the administrative part of Sofia, with impressive buildings like town-hall, and square-cobble-stone streets.
We ended up buying a bunch of sodas from a street-vendor-sidewalk-gas-pump-place and watching a couple of hours of weird late-night TV. It’s a definite good-time guarantee to zap through cable channels in a foreign country at two in the morning. Mostly because of the dumb American shows that make no sense when taken out of context, followed very quickly by strange dialogues and wacky long-lost 80’s songs.