Bulgarias wisdom 140 countries later
Since October 10th 2013: 141 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
I'm exhausted but happy
My thoughts lately have been circling around: "what are you doing?!?" What is the Saga? What is it to you? What is it to me? What is it really about? Hmmmm...
Well one could ponder that for a while and perhaps never come up with a single answer to the question. Lately I have found that the core of the Saga is about not giving up. The social media, the Red Cross Red Crescent along with my persona are in a symbiotical relationship and the Saga would not be the same if you removed one or the other. It all plays a role but when I'm not motivated by any foreign factors (e.g. Red Cross or social media) then it all rests on me. And when I'm in physical and/or mental pain then it's hard to see why I should keep on moving forward - because if that's the case then why am I doing all of this? I think it's about not giving up. In most cases giving up is synonymous with having no change. It could be completing an education, getting a job, approaching the one you love, family issues, health issues, loosing weight, loosing hope, pain or a number of other things. The moment we give up the results stay the same: no education, no job, no partner, no improvements of any sort. It's easy to give up. It's tough to keep on going. Not giving up is the essence of the Saga as far as I'm concerned: "don't give up for anything!!" We just keep on keeping on...until we reach the other side ;)
There is far less respect these days from people I meet regarding completing a journey to all countries in a continues journey and without flying. It's as if people mostly believe that they could do it if they had the money and the time to do so. I completely understand and completely disagree. Before leaving home I definitely thought this would be a lot easier and I was unable to imagine many of the obstacles which would lay ahead. After all, how hard is it to buy a ticket and sit in a bus? ;) I guess that if you can ward off the urge to give up and go home then you could, with money and time, visit at least 80% of the world without greater difficulties. There are challenges hidden within the last 20% which you cannot possibly imagine. However I did a quick survey on Twitter and found that those who follow already know.
It was quite the journey to reach Sofia in Bulgaria from Odessa in Ukraine. I was dreaming about a boat which could have brought me from Ukraine to Bulgaria. However I gave up on finding out how and when to do so. I'm not great at reading Cyrillic letters and the process of booking definitely did not seem straightforward. Besides, everyone was telling me to take the bus - so I did. The bus left Odessa, headed to the border with Moldova and then crosses a tiny bit of Moldova before continuing inside Ukraine once again.
Then after many hours of driving past various fields the bus reached another tiny part of Moldova before it entered Romania. Several hours across Romania got us to the Bulgarian border and we finally stopped at Varna in the east (where I wanted to sail to). Then another bus brought me to Sofia, which is Bulgarias capital. All in all it took about 26 hours and technically I have now been to Moldova 3 times in my life and Romania twice :)
You may imagine that I was tired when I reached Sofia but I still opted for joining a free walking tour in the city center. You're not forced to pay anything on a free walking tour however tipping is welcomed. They do a great job at www.freesofiatour.com they do a great job! So great that more than 100 people had arrived for the 6pm tour. We were divided into 4 groups and given different guides. My group got Dimitar. Sofia is a really special capital and, as far as I'm concerned, definitely also a place I could see myself living. History is literally stacked up in different layers and depending on where you are in the city you can explore the Roman Empire, Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Communist era and a lot more. Bulgaria wasn't a part of the Soviet Union but it was thankful for its liberation from the Ottomans and therefore loyal. Bulgaria is often referred to as a satellite state in that connection.
Getting the countries first McDonald's restaurant in 1994 was a big deal back then and a huge step in the direction of the western world. Today they are a part of the EU and NATO. NATO was the same year as McDonald's ;)
Sofia or Sophia means wisdom in Ancient Greek. In the center of Sofia there happens to be a statue of Saint Sofia who was martyred in 137 AD for being Christian. She's got nothing to do with the cities name! But her name is Sofia and a the statue went up in the year 2000. The origin of the cities name stems from a temple called Hagia Sophia (holly wisdom) which is today the 2nd oldest church in Sofia. Back in the day knights and travelers would pass the temple on the road between Constantinople (today's Istanbul in Turkey) and Belgrade in Serbia. They would stop to pay there respects and over time (Hagia) Sophia became a reference as in: "hey there good sir knight, have you been to Sophia?" And now you know a little more than before ;) I approached Dimitar at some point during the tour and you know how a stranger is a friend you've never met before - so we ended up having dinner the next night at a restaurant along with a few of Dimitar's friends.
After a day or 2 the rain came and it would rain from morning to evening. That really demotivated me from going outside but I was also just tired...perhaps exhausted. I dream about a room with no windows, doors or responsibilities. Container ships are almost like that for me and I love it. I guess prison would be like that too? Perhaps I should rob a bank! Kidding aside I need a break of sorts. Maybe when I reach Cyprus or Lebanon? I need to get to the bottom of a lot of "paperwork" which has been building up since I left Africa. The hostel I picked was the opposite of a party hostel and it was a great place to do nothing. Although as soon as I procrastinate or do nothing I immediately begin to feel guilty.
Teodor is a great guy from Bulgaria who has been following the Saga and invited me out once I arrived :)
I mostly got out of bed after noon those days except for my last day when I REALLY needed to get some stuff done! I was up early to go and collect my new Salomon boots, which had been sent to Maersk's office in Sofia. The Sagas partner www.dbschenker.dk/log-dk-dk/start.html arranged for the collections and delivery without a hitch. I haven't worn any other footwear than Salomon since I left home. My 3rd pair lasted for more than 63,915 km (39,714 mi) and there's "only" 40,000 km around equator. They did well. Michael Hundeboll from www.salomon.com arranged for them as he also did the 2 times before that. Thanks a lot!!
Warning: the pair on the left are far more worn then what they appear to be.
With my shiny new shoes I was off to meet with the Bulgarian Red Cross, who surprised me with a massive media attack!! The moment I opened the door to their HQ there was a camera attached to my face!!! The camera followed me to the receptionist where I tried to pretend like nothing. I was guided to the conference room where we held an impressive press conference and I think that every media house in Bulgaria might have been present: radio, TV, newspapers... Okay, maybe not everyone as Bulgaria has a population of 7 million people but it sure felt like they were all there! I think the Bulgarian Red Cross were surprised too. I recently made a decision to restructure the Red Cross involvement within the Saga. The Danish Red Cross wanted me to write an "always present story" for each of the 190 National Societies around the world. In order to do this I did not only need to get in touch with the individual National Societies, but I also had to find something to write about each time so that the stories weren't to similar. On average I've been spending at least 2 days with the Red Cross or Red Crescent in each country which quickly adds up. I wouldn't mind doing it if I was being taken seriously, however I couldn't see any of those stories being valued or put into practical use? I've written 127 such stories and it has been massively time and energy consuming. In return the Red Cross rarely helps with anything although usually stays nice to me and often offers a cup of coffee, a handshake and a selfie. I do all the bookings, reservations, visas and work. That didn't sit well with me. In Geneva you have the IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent). The IFRC is theoretically linked to all the National Societies all around the world. I tried to bring it to the attention of their communication department that they were sitting on a relatively unexplored goldmine. However they didn't see it that way and largely dismissed me. Having met with, or at least written about, the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 127 countries (at the time) I was grossly disappointed and considered leaving the Red Cross at the doorstep and completing the Saga without being a goodwill ambassador.
However on and off I get really motivated by individual National Societies or by young volunteers and then I can't bring myself to quit the Red Cross. Besides: IT'S THE RED CROSS!! We all know, or should know, that the Red Cross isn't perfect and at times makes mistakes. The movement consists of humans and: "errare humanum est" (to err is human). It's small stuff though in the big picture and we all know how people and media like to focus on the negative. The truth is that the Red Cross and Red Crescent make a colossal impact to hundreds of millions of lives and nobody really knows it. Some people may assume it's true but most don't know it. You'll just have to take my word for it. The end of this "song" is, that next to writing all these stories I have also been interacting with volunteers, visiting beneficiaries, visiting project sites and raising awareness through interviews and social media. The recent restructuring involves removing the hassle of the unused stories and focusing more on inspiring, motivating and generating visibility. There are huge untapped resources within the Saga for the Red Cross as far as visibility promotion goes. I'm happy to say it has so far been quite successful. Most of the countries National Societies I have visited since I left Africa have in different ways gained much more than before. The Bulgarian Red Cross definitely got themselves some massive visibility :)
In Bulgaria you will not receive your drivers license before you pass your first aid exam. Smart! www.redcross.bg
After meeting with the Bulgarian Red Cross I actually had a meeting with Gabriella who's a journalist. I was sorry to have to tell her that her story was now far from exclusive but I promised to feed her information that nobody else had. Gabriella did not mind at all. She was confident and replied: "their stories have not been written by me". She was really cool and we sat down for tea for a few hours. When we finally split I had to get some lunch and I decided to splurge with a fancy meal at a fancy restaurant. I had grilled fish with vegetables and a bottle of still water. It ran me $12.60 ;)
For $12.60 the fish even came filleted ;)
The bell at Hagia Sofia. No bell tower needed :)
I really like Bulgaria! "But Thor! You didn't travel around or spend much time there?" Yes that's right. But you didn't live during the Roman Empire and yet you have some understanding of it from books, movies, museums and speaking to people. I have some practical understanding about Bulgaria from looking out the window of a bus while going across the country. In connection to that I have spent time with real Bulgarians (yes, they exists), I have walked around in the capital, I did a very recommendable free guided tour and I've done more online research than you might imagine. I'm telling you: I could live here and be happy! :)
I believe it was Albert Einstein who once said: "everybody can handle order, but only a genius can master chaos". For me that applies to Bulgaria. Bulgaria is as far as I'm concerned full of wonderful, friendly and easy to talk to people. There's also a sense of chaos which just kind of works out anyway somehow? Bulgaria is a "historical bus stop" and its green lands have been spiced with the influence of invading empires and armies over the years. It all adds to what makes Bulgaria: Bulgaria. Bulgarians also have this enormous history to be proud of along with its culture and it appears to me that Bulgaria is staying loyal to that all whilst moving closer towards western world mentality. Okay, chaos might be a strong word but I'm sure there are more than a few Bulgarians that know what I mean ;)
After devouring my fish I went to a café to get online. I had checked out of the hostel in the morning so I was carrying all my stuff with me everywhere I went that day. And it was raining. Fortunately, thanks to Salomon and DB Schenker, I had a new pair of dry boots to put on!! :) In the evening I was meeting up with Dimitar and friends again for dinner and then I dashed off to catch my bus leaving at 10pm to Istanbul (Turkey).
That was another long ride. My last day in Bulgaria had been hectic and I really felt exhausted. I've been eating to little and irregularly while I haven't been sleeping neither well nor enough. So much for taking good care of myself. The drive itself was actually only 8 hours but we reached the border between 2-3am where everyone had to get out and in and out and back in again. I didn't sleep before then and perhaps caught a few hours of bus-sleep before reaching Istanbul. In Istanbul I had to wait 1 hour for the metro to start operating. I then made my way through the city until I reached a park where I slept for 1-2 hours. Some birds and a dog came to wake me up. A fly did a good job out of keeping me awake too :) Then I marched on until I reached the Renaissance Istanbul Polat Bosporus Hotel (5 stars) where I was meeting Lars Østergaard Nielsen who is the managing director of the East Mediterranean Cluster for Maersk Line. That means that he manages several country managers and is based in Istanbul. The meeting went pretty well in spite of my lack of energy. More about that next week ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - never giving up!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga