So quickly, I’ve already brought my Balkan adventure full circle, returning to Zagreb after getting a taste of what the region has to offer. From Belgrade I took the night train to Sofia, Bulgaria to visit even more friends from last year’s Indonesia Arts and Culture Scholarship. Just like in Belgrade, my hosts treated me to an in-depth experience of many aspects of local life. Yan gave me a full tour of the city, including historical facts, important places and his favorite bars, which we tried later on. For culture, of course.
The experience also ranged from a rowdy Bulgaria vs. Serbia volleyball match to a serene day in the countryside. I met Yan’s friends and family, ate grandmother cooked food and, of course, learned an Indonesian dance at the embassy. IACS will have a hold on me for a long time, I feel.
|Just before the start|
One of the most noticeable parts of seeing the world is experiencing the enthusiasm locals have for their homes. It gives meaning to what could otherwise just be a generic place. Such a love is what turns a location into a destination.
|Tour guide Yan and his lovely Sofia|
I think working as a tour guide in DC helped me see this (or made me take so long to notice, depending on your perspective). It’s what made my job so exciting, helping people to understand the “why” of a certain place. That’s what I’ve been sure to discover with every place I visit here, and my hosts have gone over the top to show what is so special about their homes.
|Thankfully Yan didn’t go so far as to join the guide turf war inside this very, very tiny (but remarkable) 10th century church filled with frescoes that I couldn’t photograph|
It’s inspiring to see how every little corner of the world has such a unique personality worth discovering. From snack foods (provided by Irina’s boyfriend) to historical figures (pretty much everyone in this Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria) those little things that locals enthusiastically share as part of themselves add up into something beautiful. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but I’ve been walking around in a constant state of awe and wonder, in part due to this. Seeing people so lovingly share their lives has further enhanced that starry-eyed idealism I mentioned at the beginning of the trip, and has energized me to do this when I return home.
|Koprivshtitsa: home of Bulgarian independence, symbolic root of their strong spirit|
So I’m always sad to leave a place that has won my affection, but equally excited to discover what the next destination has to offer, and the personality that goes along with it.
|Photo credit: Yan and his ever-ready selfie mode|