This past weekend, I went to Blagoevgrad for the weekend. This is a city two hours south of Sofia, and is the location of the American University of Bulgaria. I went for two reasons: the largest English library in the Balkans and my friend Anthony's birthday party.
The first goal was a flop. I was really excited to see this library and get working on my research. I searched through their resources online and was a little worried. There were no books on Bulgarian politics. AT ALL! So, I went into the library, and a nice, quiet Bulgarian woman tried to help. But she couldn't find anything either. I couldn't understand, since this university has MANY classes on Balkan and Eastern Europe politics. The librarian continued by searching for online journals, and the one she came up with was one of the articles I used for my undergrad thesis... I really need to start looking for Bulgarian sources. This means I need to learn more Bulgarian!
The second goal was great. Anthony and I met in 2007 in the Czech Republic when we were both studying in Prague. We weren't the closest of friends, but we have a lot of mutual friends and whenever we hung out in Prague it was fun. I met up with him and met A LOT of his friends in Blagoevgrad. It was this huge oasis, with people from all the world using English as the lingua-franca. A lot of his friends were very interested in meeting me. I read in my guidebook that the male-to-female ratio for university students is something like 7:1. Yep...
On Friday evening, Anthony invited me to a party for his University's newspaper: De Facto. It was a little awkward for me at first, but then they whipped out a game of Twister. This game is probably the best way for two strangers to get to know each other quite intimately... Afterward, we all went out to a place called 'The Underground'. It was a very nice venue, but amazingly crowded. We couldn't really move for two hours. However, beer was only 2 leva a bottle (about a dollar fifty) and they occasionally played decent songs.
Saturday was kind of a run-around day for Anthony and me. We had to buy supplies for the party, find a cake, and run around the dorm to refrigerate various bottles of beer. Of course, I also wanted to walk around the city a bit. Like Sofia, the city had very wide boulevards, as well as some nice buildings. It was a lot cleaner than Sofia, but they didn't have iced coffees anywhere. C'est la vie.
We had a nice dinner 'downtown' at an Italian restaurant. It is pretty much the go-to food if you don't want a Bulgarian meal. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza and made the mistake of giving a slice to an orphan begging for money on the street; before I knew it, I was surrounded by little kids demanding a slice of their own. The orphans are allowed to run around free on the streets here, and many of them smoke and drink at a very young age. Anthony was even telling me that some ten-year-old kids were recently caught having sex.
After dinner we went back to the dorm and got ready for Anthony's party. He really knows how to throw a party, and maybe around fifty people showed up. He had a DJ, and copious amounts of drinks. Anthony's the guy on the right.
I think it would be quite easy to have a bunch of English-speaking friends in Blagoevgrad, but I guess that has positive and negative aspects. I need to meet Bulgarians so I can practice Bulgarian, but I do admit, my apartment is pretty lonely at times.
On Sunday morning I headed back to Sofia. I just missed the bus, so I bought a ticket for the next one, maybe two hours later. However, the train station was connected to the bus station and I noticed the next train left in fifteen minutes. I bought a ticket, and went back to the bus station to see if I could get a refund. The bus lady was remarkably angry. Another reasons why Bulgaria would not get an A in customer service.