I finally made it to central Sofia – and this picture is the actual view from the window of my hotel. The city is eerily quiet, due to it being a four day holiday in honor of Liberation Day [March 3], which celebrates its liberation via the 1877 Treaty of San Stephano and the end of five centuries of Ottoman rule.
I took an Air Bulgaria flight from Cyprus, and less than three hours later landed in Sofia airport. I sat behind three members of the Bulgarian Orthodox clergy, in full regalia including the round black hat, and as we were landing they were doing so many signs of the cross [the opposite direction from the Catholic way] I thought they were playing a game of “head and shoulders, knees and toes.” The landing was accompanied by the usual European round of applause after we landed safely.
When travelling in the E.U., I always use the Italian/EU passport and have never had an issue, despite it reading Cittadinanza Italiana, luogo di nascita, New Jersey [Italian citizen, place of birth, New Jersey]. I did my usual sprint from the plane to the passport control queue, in the EU queue, and waited my turn. As I approached the female passport control agent, I said good afternoon in my best Bulgarian [more or less dobar den]. She took a look at me, took a look at my passport, got up and left the booth.
I waited there for a few minutes when a male passport control officer approached me. “Do you see that chair over there?” he pointed to a single folding chair at the other end of the large room.
“Yes” I said.
“Please go sit there – we will be with you soon.”
There I waited for almost thirty minutes while every person from my flight passed through passport control. I sat there calmly reading the lonely planet, just in case I’d need another useful Bulgarian phrase to use on the passport control agents like Нямам бензин [I’ve run out of petrol]. Finally, the male passport control agent called me to the booth. He guided me to the original female agent, who was in the booth with another female agent.
The first agent had my Italian passport in hand and was still looking at it. I said “is there some kind of problem?” The second agent responded, “do you have any other form of identification?” I said, “well I do have a U.S. passport too.” Just then, the lights dimmed, a disco ball dropped from the ceiling, and the agents began a sensual striptease for me to a soundtrack by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Well, maybe not. Actually what happened was that the booths all immediately gave way and the U.S. national anthem began playing [not the Christine Aguilera version] and a star-spangled marching band paraded by with tanks from the fortieth armored division, Chevy pickup trucks full of fresh-baked apple pies, Confederate flag-wavers in their Daisy Duke’s giving out NRA bumper stickers, and Dolly Parton.
Well, maybe not. In reality, both agents smiled and said “oh ok no problem, so sorry” and sent me on my way. A short cab ride later, I was in my hotel room with fantastic wifi and a king size bed, taking in the view of Sofia from my window.