This Sort of Thing...


Trans Europe Express


We only crossed a tiny bit of Europe but in the time it took the train on which we were travelling to get from the city of Gorna Oryahovitsa in Bulgaria to the city of Sofia in Bulgaria we could have dressed as Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot and solved a murder mystery case. But we had no idea that we would be spending almost three hours at a standstill at a place slightly west of Pavlikeni, it was a bit too hot for running around investigating things and nobody on the train was dead, as far as we were aware.

We had no idea what was going on but we knew that it must have been something quite serious because two employees of БДЖ (Bulgarian State Railways) passed through our carriage handing out a free bottle of water and a Borovets chocolate wafer biscuit to each passenger to encourage them to be patient and not stick their heads out of a window shouting ‘What, in the name of Lili Ivanova, are we waiting for?’ in Bulgarian.

Priyatelkata and I have been to Pavlikeni many times. It’s a nice little town with friendly people, an excellent Tuesday street market and a lovely garden restaurant called the Ranch Inn (Bulgarian: Гостилница "Ранчото") where the grilled trout is to die for (but don’t tell Hercule Poirot because he’ll start an investigation). My only complaint about Pavlikeni (and the people of Pavlikeni may say the same about me) is that I always have great difficulty finding my way out of the place. The road signs, in my opinion, aren’t very good and I’ve often found myself motoring towards Levski, Polski Trambesh or even Bucharest instead of home. Today I wondered if the train driver was having the same trouble. Do trains have satnavs? We were hoping to, within the next few days, arrive in eastern Slovakia so we weren’t too worried what direction we would be moving in as long as we were moving and not towards home.

But we missed the ballet!

But I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about going to the ballet anyway. We had bought tickets to see Tchaikovsky’s Anna Karenina at the grand Sofia Opera House but I wondered was it right to be watching a ballet in an opera house. Surely opera houses were for operas. For me it was a bit like drinking Guinness from a Heineken glass or sitting down on the toilet to do a wee (except in cases where a person’s body is so designed that doing a wee in a standing position is either difficult or messy or both). I also felt uncomfortable about the money we had wasted on the tickets by not seeing the ballet but it would have been the most pretentious thing that had ever happened at a place slightly west of Pavlikeni if I had stuck my head out of the train window and shouted ‘What, in the name of Lili Ivanova, are we waiting for? Do you realise we’re in danger of missing the ballet?’ in Bulgarian.

To take my mind off the Anna Karenina problem and to relieve the boredom I felt an urge to ask for another Borovets chocolate wafer biscuit or Bulgariafy the words of Bobby Troup’s classic travelling song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 but, in song writing terms, Amarillo, Gallup New Mexico and Flagstaff Arizona are much more manageable than Cherven Bryag or Gara Lakatnik and as for the town of Banka in Slovakia, one of the places we were heading for, well it was just impossible to think of a word that rhymed.

So I accepted that I might spend the rest of my life in a train carriage slightly west of Pavlikeni and to amuse myself I adjusted the words of Ian Dury’s song Billericay Dickie, as I often do when I find myself in that part of the world.


Good evening, I'm from Bulgaria

In case you couldn't tell.

My given name's Evgeni,

I come from Pavlikeni

And I'm doing very well.




Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) was another one of Mr Dury’s songs that sprang to mind but again I was having trouble with words to fit around the likes of Borovets chocolate wafer biscuit.

But eventually, having sorted out the problem of the train apparently being in a collision with something (probably the van of a salesman of Borovets chocolate wafer biscuits) we got to Sofia with thirty minutes to spare before Anna Karenina and her mates took to the stage. But by this time of the day, we felt that we couldn’t be arsed with three hours of a Russian socialite and slapper prancing about on a stage in her underwear so we went for a relaxing walk around the Saint Alexander Nevski Cathedral area and the adjacent park, which is absolutely lovely, before taking a table at the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant (a place which rather strangely shares its name with a place of magnificent cuisine in Chippenham, the town in which I lived in nineteenth century England about twenty years ago). In this seemingly Russian owned establishment we dined upon what I considered to be the best Indian food I had ever tasted in Eastern Europe, or even outside of the British Occupied region of West Yorkshire. The only blemish on this wonderful experience was the voice of the very loud posh Englishman at an adjacent table who felt the need to share with the other diners his detailed memories of the six Rolex wristwatches that he had owned in his life and his explanation that he was only wearing his Sekonda on this particular occasion because he was worried about getting pissed on the Shumensko beer, falling over in the street and smashing his timepiece. I thought to myself that I wished he would shut his fat gob. His beautiful wife said out loud that she wished he would shut his fat gob. He said out loud that he was thinking of getting a seventh Rolex and a third Shumensko. I wished for a hot and sweaty Anna Karenina to walk in after her gruelling performance, order a king prawn vindaloo with five chapattis and a jug of rakia and give him a good hard slap in the mouth.  

Sofia is not an obvious choice for a European City Break but, if you know where to go, it’s an absolutely lovely place. The bit near the cathedral, with its cafés and restaurants and sculptures and street entertainers and people just enjoying the life is very enjoyable (as the people just enjoying the life will tell you). L’Opera hotel in Ulitsa Paris oozes comfort and style but doesn’t do breakfasts but just round the corner at the Happy Bakery (Bulgarian: Щастливата Пекарна), for a few leva you can get a lovely cup of coffee and a slab of strudel that turned out over the next few days to put Vienna to shame.

So I sat there covered in strudel crumbs and asked myself why we were bothering to leave our lovely Bulgaria.

Number of comments: 1

20/06/2023 09:57:34 - Billericay Dickie, E-mail address is hidden

Was the Borovets chocolate wafer biscuit a milk chocolate Borovets chocolate wafer biscuit or a dark chocolate Borovets chocolate wafer biscuit?

Asking for a railway company.
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