Sunday, March 20, 2011

So Long, Sweet Sofia

Traveling the way I do is particularly hard for me, I think, because I get so attached to people and places.  I’m forever coming and going, making new friends and then moving on.  That means I’m always having to say goodbye, and I don’t like it one bit.

It’s going to be especially hard in Sofia, where I’ve made so many sweet connections over the past weeks.  Take the waitresses at The Café Memento on General Gurko Street, as just one example.  I’ve been going to the café each day to drink cappuccino and pound away on my book.  Each time I walk through the door, the waitresses greet me warmly, like they’re genuinely happy to see me back again.  They remember me and even know my usual—a cappuccino classic—which, incidentally, comes with foam on top in the design of a heart.  I took a picture, because I’m sentimental that way. 

Sometimes my new friends at the Café Memento and I get to chatting.  One of the girls told me it is her big dream to visit Los Angeles one day, but she can’t conceive of actually doing it.  For one thing, she doesn’t know anyone there, and plus, she said, her English isn’t too good.  “Well, I didn’t know anyone here,” I pointed out, “and your English is much better than my Bulgarian.”  I assured her that it’s easy to go places, even by yourself, and even when you don’t know the language.  “Save your money, get on a plane, and go; you’ll meet people and make friends,” I told her, from experience. 

I had a selfish motive, too, for encouraging my new friend to follow her dream.  I thought maybe if I could convince her to visit Los Angeles someday, I could then legitimately say something temporary-sounding when I left the café for the last time.  Something like “well, I’ll be seeing you!” or, perhaps, “catch you on the flipside.”  

But I was foiled.  When I got up to leave, my friend spoke up first.  “Goodbye,” she said, and in my heart I knew she was right.  This was goodbye, so I said it too.  But I couldn’t just leave it at that.  I told her that I really hope she makes it to L.A. one day.  Who knows, maybe I’ll run into her walking the stars down Hollywood Boulevard, or cruising up the PCH, or strolling down Rodeo Drive.  But for now we parted ways, and I walked back to the hostel a little dewy-eyed, thinking how much I’ll miss the Café Memento, and my new friends, and Sofia. 

The truth is, my first impression of Sofia was not a good one.  On the bus ride from the airport into the center, all I kept thinking was, what kind of a sh&#hole is this?  I was reacting to the post-communist blight spread over certain parts of the city.  I’ve since discovered that Sofia has a lot of beautiful parts too, with a blend of modernity and antiquity that is both charming and unique.

But the true beauty of Sofia lies in its people, from the friendly women who sell nuts from metal stalls around town, to the helpful couple who stepped up to assist at the post office, to the concerned passengers who made sure I got off the tram at the right stop.  And--last but not least--there are all the wonderful people in my hostel who made Sofia my home away from home.

Everywhere in this city there are people who made me feel welcome; people who made me laugh; and people who will make it hard to say goodbye. So I won’t say goodbye.  Instead I’ll say:  So long, sweet Sofia.