The flight is short, really. One moment you are standing on the tarmac in Berlin, the next you’re in line at “Passport Control”, slide your ID across the counter, and enter Bulgaria.
The taxi driver speaks Italian, and so you make do, using whatever language at your disposal. And then, four hours after rushing to the airport, you’re sitting in a warm restaurant for dinner, meeting old friends, in an atmosphere that has become familiar over the years.
Of course there are no seat belts in the back of the car. Of course the statues have kept crumbling and the politicians become no less corrupt. You drive by an empty hotel building, a skeleton of concrete before the night sky.
Someone is selling cabbages out of an old bus. But the gas station has vegan waffles. The city center is a flurry of cafés, art supply stores, wifi-equipped parks. Those pastries you enjoyed years ago? They’ve been reinvented, turned into a tradition on steroids, and they’re everywhere. You stock up on them, filling your backpack with baked goods. You meet lovely people, smile, nod. Lora knows everyone, young people seemingly all wrapped up in a project or another. Designing type. Making energy bars. Turning an office space into a makeshift salt cave. It’s Saturday afternoon in Bulgaria and fall asleep in the salt room, waking up to a coffee and Leonard Cohen.
You decipher the Cyrillic, which is the most achievable super power of them all. Writing that used to look impenetrably foreign is resolved into words before your eyes. You read like a first-grader, but you read. You most likely annoy your friends with your fascinating for the letters, but you also can’t help yourself.
On Sundays you normally sleep in. This Sunday you all get up early, drive for just over 20 minutes and find yourself standing on a mountain range, right next to Sofia. It has snowed over night, but of course you left your gloves in Berlin. Jacked zipped up to the chin, you start hiking, regardless. After an hour, the clouds clear, revealing a brilliant sun in the blue sky. The trees are frozen, the branches white like your fingers, and you fumble for your camera, overexposing nearly every picture. The next day, walking to work, it seems surreal that you stood on a mountain not too long ago. That a place can be so close and yet so far, so familiar and yet so different. You’ll miss this place and its people. And that can only happen with familiarity.