Monday, January 24, 2011
Beating the snow - drive to Sofia
Snow forecast for all Saturday in Bucharest – but just a flurry at 07.00 as I drove off, alone, for first a Russe meeting at 09.00 with Zhechka my great local colleague on the project 2 years ago who has an office both in her home town and in Sofia. The flurries grew thicker as I crossed the Danube at 08.30; bought my Bulgarian road vignette for the year (34 euros not bad) and met up with Z who took me to her office for coffee and briefing - she tells me she managed to get the rent of an office suite (and shared common facilities – an entire floor) dropped to 200 euros a month! The route she led me to exit Russe took me past some great fin de siecle buildings (by the gorge) and, with some trepidation, I joined the snow-flecked highway – thinking I would be lucky to make my 16.00 meeting in Sofia with my Italian friend Enzo’s landlord but in the event – with the snow flakes disappearing as I had anticipated as I headed south - I was able to phone him at 14.00 (on the start of the Balkan mountains highway) to report that I would be an hour early!
I had had some initial difficulty finding a place to rent for 2 weeks when, just over a week ago, the Dicon company announced that my presence would be appreciated on 25 and 26 January for the start of the training activities of the project of which I am (titular) Team Leader.
Initially they said they would be happy to recomend a flat for me (they have, after all, a local office – and experience of people needing short-term rents). I refused the palace their agency first offered me – and accepted the next 2 (they had problems paying a deposit for me!) but, when I said I wanted a small dining table to celebrate Rabbie Burns’ birthday, the letting agency warned me that their flats were not suitable for „meetings and parties”!
My bawdy reputation of laughter and poetry must have spread from 2001 Tashkent and 2008 Sofia! Assuring them of my respectability and sobriety (and calling my previous landlady here into the lists – the widow of a Bulgarian Ambassador), they first graciously accepted and then (after overnight reflection) rescinded. I consider this quite a feather in my cap at my age!
And (to continue the metaphor) hats off to Enzo – whose friend Blago came to the rescue (at very short notice) with a flat they normally don’t offer for short-term rentals. It’s for long-term rentals to Bulgarians who normally bring their own facilities – so it lacked the basics – eg kettles, pots and pans, knives and forks, reading lamps, radio, bedding (!!) – so Blago was very good in trekking around with me to get this stuff in. A young man with a majority shareholding in his own (property company), he drives a plush Mercedes – as do all the best young men like my friend Ivo (I almost said Iago!). And Zhechka tells me that my young (ever so diplomatic and skilful) friend from the Institute of Public Administration here in 2007/08 is not only still there – but is now the Director!!
I’m always happy to drive down the pass from the Balkans into the bowl of Sofia – the first time I saw it (on my way to Thassos in early summer 2007), I was horrified by the smog which concealed the famous Vitosha mountain which towers over the central pedestrian st (Vitosha) where our office was. But I’ve seen glorious views of the mountain as I’ve completed my drives from Bucharest (to emulate the painting I have). Today fog and smog prevented vision. Another disappointment was the experience of yet another fucking shopping mall (Siderca – 10 minutes walk away from the flat). But this latest is so huge that we actually got lost in it. Typically neither the flat nor the mall had any reading lamps (stupid man! But the Bucharest IKEA has such fantastic deals so there have to be some readers here!). At least there is a wine barrel shop nearby (from Divin no less – not far from Romanian Recas the other side of the Danube whose Pint Griș/Riesling I have actually brought with me – for Burns’ night - in a 5 litre drum)
Neither the central heating nor the internet is yet operational in the flat – but heating is adequate – and 48 hours without access to the internet is an excellent discpline – not least encouraging me to read some of the large volume of stuff I:ve downloaded in the last few months!
The painting is a Dobre Dobrev