02 January 2011

SNOW- okay, it might be slightly in convenient, or TBC is trying to ruin my life

One morning I woke up to this- I was thrilled

(This was mostly written right after that day it snowed, which was like erm, more 2 4 weeks ago)
Last night, I did what I do every night – after dinner I head into Bordeaux and hang out with Tristan at MacDo (the internet was broken though, it was tragic).
Anyway, at around 11:45, I was going to head back home. As we approached the tram stop I noticed something was off. Then I could read “service terminé” (I don’t need to translate, do I?). So my first reaction is to be like: did I lose track of time and miss the last tram? But that didn’t make any sense because it was Thursday and the last tram leaves the terminus at 1 am. And the sign stated quite clearly that it was 11:48 or so. Then it switches and shows an announcement, which we eventually translated as saying “the tram service is stopped after 10 pm because snow is predicted”).
This made (and makes) no sense for two reasons:
1)      There was NO snow; it had mostly melted away during the day.
2)      It had snowed that morning, quite a lot, actually, and the tram was running THEN.
So Tristan and I stood there in utter bafflement. (Tristan lives by this stop, so this only REALLY affected me- but he isn’t a jerk so he didn’t ditch me).
I’m not sure why, but we stood there for like 10 minutes. I think we were certain that there must have been some mistake. In fact, the tram was still running in the opposite direction.
Finally, I was like okay, this sucks, but there is also a bus that goes to Pessac (and that is actually faster) (I discovered this bus when I was stupid and missed the last tram- even though I knew when it was leaving). So we walk to the bus stop. When we arrive, a totally random man sitting there tells us that the bus service was also stopped. So now I’m all: great, I’m stranded in Bordeaux.
We went back to the tram as if we expected something to have changed. And I spent my time exclaiming “THIS MAKES NO SENSE. THERE IS NO SNOW!” etc.
In fact, I’m pretty sure this is why this happened.
Three TBC workers are sitting in the break room eating lunch. One is on his I-phone.
TBC 1: You know what sucks?
TBC 2: What?
TBC 1: Working. 30 hr weeks are too hard. I think we need to work less.
TBC 2: I agree work sucks.
TBC 1 & TBC 2: *pout*
TBC 3: Hey guys, it might snow tonight!
TBC 1: SO? It does that sometimes.
TBC 3: No, you don’t understand
TBC 2: DUDE, it’s not that complicated: white stuff falls from the sky. Happens every winter.
TBC 3: YES! I know- you see, snow is DANGEROUS. Especially for public transit.
TBC 2: No it’s not, STUPID.
TBC 3: You don’t get it- There is NO way we could keep providing public transit. It’s too dangerous.
TBC 1: Oooh!
TBC 2: I still don’t get it…
TBC 3: Let’s take the night off
All: YES
Anyway, I stood at the tram for a bit, waiting in vain and considered my options
a)      Walk for an hour and a half by myself after midnight in just above freezing weather.
b)      Attempt to procure a bike (the TBC has a nifty thing called Vcub where you can take a bike from one station to any other), however, this is likely to fail because it requires a European credit card- which I don’t have.
c)      Nick Johnson it (ie party it up until the trams start running again at 5 am)
d)     Call host family (hahaha NO)
e)      Take a taxi
Taking a taxi seemed like the best option, so we walked off in search of a taxi. We found a taxi stand, and I was lucky enough to share a ride with some others headed to Pessac, so I only had to pay 6 euro instead of 18, yay. Our cab driver was bit of a jerk though: “this isn’t a bus”. So I got off with the others, and walked the rest of the way (a bit farther than usual, but not much), and just as I turned on to my street the predicted snow began to fall softly.
Then, as a going away present, the TBC went on strike for my last two days in Bordeaux (canceling almost everything, particularly anything that could be useful to me). They probably did this to spite me for laughing at their earlier strike (“I have to wait 10 minutes instead of  6? OH NOES”). Therefore I had to take an actual train to get into Bordeaux, which was annoying, but not awful because I totally didn’t pay for it (they owe me—remember the 40 extra I shelled out because you wouldn’t print out my ticket, SNCF? I want it back). Then on Sunday, they canceled the one tram that was still running (the one Tristan was using to get to the train station), but it was kind of a legitimate cancelage, what with everything being icy and dangerous to WALK on. So I ended up walking halfish way to Tristan’s house, and then back to the train station with him.
I’m going to miss you :( I love(d) that tram.

It’s been a more than a month since I was there, but I’ll try to explain why Bulgaria was so awesome

Our plane landed and we took the most terrifying taxi ride ever to our hostel. Our taxi driver actually cut off a cop, and got away with it- you can’t make this stuff up. In between being slightly convinced that I might die, I got really excited about all the Cyrillic everywhere. It was like signs had become an awesome puzzle- what initially looks like complete gibberish becomes something you understand if you just sound it out. 
For example: g-a-r-a-j
            We arrived at our hostel, and checked in.
Hostel and Kitty

            Then we went off in search of food. We were planning on eating at a place that the hostel had recommended to us. A random American we met at the atm by our hostel joined us. But she ended up being ridiculously pretentious:
Her:  I teach english in Istanbul- I HATE English.
Us: (later, after she was gone) That first part is really cool, but the second part, not so much. Also, if you hate it so much, why do you teach it?
And then she bailed on us at a random pizza place that we later frequented.

The food at our restaurant was good a ridiculously cheap. It was awesome.
The next morning we had planned to join a walking tour of the city, but it ended up being canceled. Therefore we took ourselves on the walking tour (which was conveniently labeled on our map).
I saw my first mosque looking mosque I’ve seen:
It kind of pales in comparison to the mosques I saw later in Istanbul...

Sofia was a city of dogs, inexpensiveness, and awesome broken downess. The company was great, and the city was great. And I suppose that’s all that’s necessary for awesome. 

We saw the bathes, which were closed, and then we went into an appliance/ electronics store. Then we continued towards the former building of the communist party. This required us to do a rather large loop because they were blocking off a section of road inexplicably. So we saw lots of pretty things- I am quite fond of yellow buildings. 

Then we saw this: 
Orthodox cathedral...

Which is the main attraction of Sofia, I guess. There was a huge line to get in the whole time we were there. But the people who were in line weren’t necessarily touristy type people.
In fact, Sofia was very untouristy. I get the impression that the touristy parts of Bulgaria are the countryside and the coast which feature beautiful nature, and possibly resorts. Sofia was not a resort. But I thought it was beautiful, even if lots of it was falling apart.
We visited a mall on the out skirts of the map (our map didn’t show all of Sofia, just the main city center, we kind of felt that this implied that if you go off the map you might die/ be abducted by aliens or other creatures.) Then we sat on a grassy knoll and talked and admired doggies. 
Then we headed back to the hostel for a nap. When we arrived in our room it was empty except for one girl, sitting in her bed watching something on her iphone. It was around 3 o’clock.  We left a few hours later to get dinner – the girl was still sitting there with her iphone. We ate pizza at the place pretentious girl abandoned us at (1.60 lev, or 0.80 euro cents per gigantic slice). And then headed to bar that the hostel had recommended. We spent the most of the evening there just hanging out. Later we stopped at another bar for one drink, and then we came back to the hostel.
We made friends with a Dutch girl and New Zealander guy who met in Peru, and accidently insulted a girl from Georgia. And we talked to a guy who wanted to drive down the coast of California, which led to Tristan and I arguing about whether or not the 1 goes all the way to San Diego (I WON) during which the guy walked away which was funny. We also talked to a guy who was teaching English somewhere in eastern Europe, which I think sounds really awesome. So all in all we had a fantastic first day.
The next day we had considered getting up early and taking a train to another Bulgarian city, but we ended up being up until around 3 (the girl was still sitting in her bed watching her iphone) so we decided that getting up early would not lead to happiness. So we wandered around Sofia again, and took pictures to prove that we were actually there. Then we came back and took naps- but they were unfortunately fail naps due to our newly acquired French roommate. When we entered the room we found him wearing just underwear- so we both figured he had just gotten out of the shower or something and we had caught him at an unfortunate time. So we get in bed. Then I hear grunting/ heaving breathing, which turned out to be because he was in the middle of out room still wearing just underwear doing sit ups. Weird- no?  So I put on my ipod and turn it up. Enter two more new roommates- French Canadians. Underwear guy scoots to the side and continues his sit ups while conversing with them in French. This displeases me, but I’m not willing to give up my nap yet. Then I feel a presence near my bed, and I look to find that this man, still wearing only his underwear, is using the top bunk to stretch- ie his foot is by Tristan’s head, despite the fact that there were three other vacant bunks, one of which was his. Thus, we quickly gave up on the nap because this was hella uncomfortable making. We went into the common room and lounged about- Tristan watched a soccer game and I fell asleep. Nothing much happened this night, except that we went to sleep earlyish, and then got up for a midnight snack at 3 am. Yeah. (I’m not sure why I wrote yeah here, but I’m leaving it.)
The next day we had some time to kill before our flight. So we walked to the train station. This walk took us through some less nice areas of Sofia, but they still looked better than Bordeaux 3. The train station itself was kind of epic- especially the subterranean store area which was completely abandoned except a few dogs.

Then we took a taxi to the airport and arrived WAY early. This led to me buying some Bulgaria playing cards with a different picture on each cards (and some postcards). And then we played an EPIC game of war, using the jokers as gods who pawn everyone else. One of the gods was quite fickle and he kept switching sides. The other stayed loyal to Tristan almost to the end, however, he eventually jumped ship, leaving me the undisputed winner. Unfortunately, these cards have disappeared of the face of the planet, which is sad because they were kind of awesome.
We flew to Paris, stayed over night in a hotel, and left early the next morning on a train for Bordeaux.
And that is why Bulgaria was awesome.

I think I might want to move to Bulgaria (a prologue)

I was back in Bordeaux for only four days before my next trip. In this time that I had lost my credit cards came back to haunt me with a vengeance. First off, I had bought my train tickets online using my cards weeks ago (our plane was to leave from Paris), but somehow instead of being able to print them myself, the option to have them printed at the station had been selected. This required me to show my credit card- which I didn’t have. The first women I spoke to was completely unhelpful. Basically she was like “sucks to be you, now go away” (only in French). This kind of shocked me, so I got out of the way to consider. I got back in line, got another lady and asked her if she could speak English. And she said she couldn’t but told me to go down to one of the first windows, and that they could. So I did that, and the women there informed me that she couldn’t speak English either, but that she would try to help me anyway. I explained my problem, and she spent some time fixing it as best she could (by canceling my tickets and buying me new ones). Only one of my tickets could be canceled, however, so I ended up having to pay an extra 40 euro. *sigh*.  So that was an unpleasant hour or so. By this time I was beginning to get concerned because I needed my parents to wire me money to pay rent, and it was after 5 pm, on a holiday (Armistice/ Veteran’s Day), in France. It turned out that there was only one place still open, I made it there an hour and half or so later. It was dark and raining. Everything in this strip mallish thing was closed except one sandwich place. As I approached it, I was talking to my mom on the phone. I walked by a car full of totally sketchy youngish men. And the sandwich place was swarming with them. The sandwich place didn’t seem to have a western union, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get close enough to find out. In fact, I was pretty sure that if it did happen to have one, I would get mugged on my way out anyway. Then the sketchy guys started calling me out, which mostly consisted of them saying “English”. So, I gave up on getting money. I got out of there as quickly as possible.
I spent most of dinner staring at my placemat, hoping that somehow my host family hadn’t noticed that I was there. Unfortunately they did, and I received a 15 minute lecture on what an awful human being/ host student I am, etc. It sucked.
Early the next morning, I left for the Pessac train station. Only when /I arrived there the sign said that the next train would be coming at 11 or so. I was more than 15 minutes early for more train, so I was certain I hadn’t missed it. Furthermore, this train is kind of a commuter line, and it runs every hour or so. There is no one else by the tracks (this is a tiny station), and the station was completely closed, so there was no one I could ask about it. So I start to get a bit nervous. I consider my options: I have 45 or so minutes to get to the other train station – which is only possible on public transit  if I get extremely lucky, or I can wait here and hope that a train gets there. But I WOULD get to Paris, I was determined. About 3 minutes later some other people showed up, looked at the sign and joined the freak out party. Fortunately, all of our freaking out was for naught, and a train showed up about 3 minutes later. I got on it even though it didn’t think it was technically the train I booked (it takes about 6 minutes to get the other train station, 5 minutes of which are spent pulling into the station- so they have no time to check tickets anyway). I got on my train to Paris with Tristan without further event, THANK GOD.
When we arrived in Paris, I stopped at a western union on my way out of the train station to pick up my money. Then we had a few hours to kill before getting to our bus stop to go to the airport. Firstly, we had to print out a confirmation for a taxi in Bulgaria we had booked with our airline. This led us to decide to go towards Sacré Coeur, because it’s in a less classy neighborhood, and therefore more likely to have internet cafés about. It took us a bit to find an internet café of the appropriate sketchiness (selling probably stolen jewelry on a bright red faux velvet window display is a no-no).
Since we near there, we went to Sacré Coeur, and laughed because we were surrounded by tourists who were like “OMG PARIS” and we were like “*shrug* we’re just here because our plane leaves from here, what’s all the fuss?” Then we got attacked by gypsies, which basically consisted of them attempting to get us to sign something us, and us having none of it, and them surrounding us and trying to corner us.
Eventually we made our way to the bus stop, where we would take a bus to “Paris-Beauvais Airport”. We paid FIFTEEN euro, one way. And then sat on the bus for 90 minutes or so, to go to an airport that would have been more aptly named “Middle-of-nowhere Airport”, but I suppose that isn’t very catchy.