Late this afternoon we were standing in the sanctuary of Sofia’s spectacular, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral watching the formalities of their Mass. This cathedral holds 5000 parishioners. Its renowned choirs angelic voices filled the massive space, their sound gave us a tingling feeling. Tim, one of my passengers came up to me and said – “Bradley when people go and get their hair done they come out of the hair studio and say that was awesome but they are wrong – THIS IS AWESOME”. I think we all felt the same way.
Earlier in the afternoon the Pope was conducting mass right behind the deluxe hotel we are staying in. Some of my passengers passed through relatively short lines to clear security so they could see the Pope. One gentleman said – “I never thought I would ever see the Pope” – thank you Bradley. The closest side street to our hotel was filled with diplomatic vehicles from various embassy’s and there was security but nothing in comparison to what I have seen at similar events. This is the 2nd time in history that a Pope has walked on Bulgarian soil. For some this was a very special day but this is an Orthodox country so there was some controversy about his visit. If nothing else for my passengers and I, Catholic or not it was an exciting event – watching all the pomp and circumstance – and knowing in a small way that we were part of this historic, special event.
Another wonderful experience was when we spent time with some locals in a small town of 400 – Golyam Ivzor. In its prime this place had a few thousand residence but now there are less than 10 jobs here – no doctor – no pharmacy – no store – a kindergarten school but no students – a crumbling Orthodox Church that the local seniors are doing their best to preserve – no weekly mass, the only time there is one is on a special day. The sad reality is there are many towns just like this one in Bulgaria. The younger generation have left to find work in other European countries. Bulgaria is experiencing the fastest shrinking population in the European Union. These people have gone through so much hardship but through it all are very proud. We were so warmly welcomed with homemade bread – visitors to a home are traditionally welcomed with bread – you accept 2 pieces – and dip one piece in salt and the other in honey. The meal the local ladies prepared for us was amazing. We also tasted the important brandy’s – plum (for the men) and apple (for the ladies) that the local man distill in their basement.
Our farewell dinner was at a beautiful restaurant in the foothill of the mountains. Here we tasted a delicious array of local cuisine and were entertained with folklore music and dancers. Canadian singer, Bryan Adams is one of many celebrities that have dined here.
Sunday’s is the most popular wedding day in Bulgaria. We heard car horns echoing throughout the city – announcing the newly married couples.
What a spectacular day – one, most of us will never forget.