After weeks of trying to get up early and go, my friend Ms. R and I finally managed to wake up
at the crack of dawn in order to go to bitaka – the flea market in Malashevtsi. “Bitaka is epic,” in the fact that if there is something that you would like to buy, it can be found here. Old clothes, memorabilia from the 60’s and 70’s, post cards, old photos, kitchen ware, bric-a-brac, artwork, and furniture. It’s a very come as you are kind of place – many of the merchants are the scavengers you see during the week digging for treasures in the garbage containers. In America, we refer to this as “dumpster diving,” and I can attest that most of my furniture has been fix-me-ups I found in my neighbors’ front yards on big trash collection day (scheduled every three months). One place that connects people’s old stuff with new owners is freecycle, a service that is committed to keeping refuse out of landfills. In Bulgaria, a similar site is www.podariavam.com, but you need to act fast since good items go quickly.
On this day, I needed to go to bitaka to find some souvenirs for my friends in the U.S., and Ms. R wanted to sell some donated items. Among many things, Ms. R deals with waste. A researcher from the University of Michigan, her purpose for being in Bulgaria is to understand how waste affects our world, and furthermore how waste is treated in Bulgarian society as compared to in the United States. She’s the American that is following scavengers around Sofia, digging through the dumpsters by day, and attending cocktail parties by night with Sofia’s elite. She really is a brazen and ingenious person, who isn’t afraid to tackle an issue that we would rather throw away. Our
trash makes an impact on the environment, and as she can tell you, our trash is giving a whole faction of society a way to make money. One of her recent projects was “Slivi za Smet (Plums for Trash),” an international item exchange titled after the Bulgarian folk tale by Ran Bosilek about a man who sold plums in exchange for garbage in search of a wife for his son.
Because we had so many items, we needed to take a taxi rather than the bus (see post), which gave me an opportunity to touch on a kind of transport people use in Sofia quite frequently: taxis.
Chances are, if you’ve had a bad experience in Bulgaria, it’s been in a taxi cab. Although the
drivers have been more tame in recent years, they will still take advantage of a tourist who 1. can’t speak Bulgarian, 2. don’t know the fare rates, and 3. have no idea where they’re are going. I’ve been in Bulgaria six years, I speak fluent Bulgarian, and occasionally I’ll get a driver who tries to push it. So what are you to do? This is my advice: If coming to Sofia by plane, feel free to take a taxi. But rather than just flag one down outside, order one from the O.K. Taxi info desk which is represented in both of the terminals, have an address to give them, and ask them to run the meter. To most destinations in the city center, the fare will be 8-15 leva, and to distant suburbs, as much as 20. If you would like to negotiate a flat fee, feel free to do so, but expect some outrageous offers. For example, a meter charge during the day will be 59 stotinki during the day and 70 sto. at night per kilometer, with 18 sto. per idle minute. Other reputable companies beside O.K. Suptertrans are Radio CV, Yellow, and Edno Evro. In Sofia, it is normal to hail cabs from the street if they have a green light showing, but I tend to call from a number programed into my cell phone. When I do call, my address pops up on their computer screen which makes things less complicated concerning my accent.
To be forewarned, there are a few “premium” cabs that lurk around downtown and are traps – usually the ones parked at busy intersections. These are the cabs that look like reputable companies (i.e., instead of O.K. Supertrans, they use the same logo, but written as C.K. Superfast), and charge anywhere from 1-4 leva per kilometer. My colleague and I made the mistake of taking one of these cabs last year on the way to our school’s Christmas banquet. After four kilometers, I saw the fare was 15 leva, and my colleague started yelling. “Oh, we need to get out of the cab now,” she said. “This man is trying to rip us off!” At the next stoplight she got out, and then I did, and then the driver. He told me that we needed to pay, and I told him that I would give him 5 leva, which was more than the fair amount. He told me that he would call the police, and I told him “to go ahead and do that, because they won’t come for an hour anyway and when they get here, they won’t want to deal with the paperwork for my passport.” I asked him again to just take the 5 leva, which he did and promptly spit in my face. He then got in his taxi, squealed his tires, and drove off.
On the way to bitaka however, we flagged down a regular O.K. Taxi, at 8:36 a.m. at the corner of Laius Koshut and Skobelev near Ruski Pametnik. The driver, Nikolai, was really polite and helped us with our baggage. He had a heavy foot, but I like that because it makes my day seem more urgent and exciting. We arrived at bitaka at 8:48, a distance of maybe five kilometers, and a total fare of 4.94 BGN.
Once at bitaka, we set up our blanket between several really nice vendors, who were very confused at why two Americans had shown up.