Bulgaria Week

Light show in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

I had no expectations whatsoever for my quick trip to Bulgaria.  Perhaps in the back of my mind, I was expecting crumbling eastern bloc buildings and smoggy Ladas crowding the streets filled with wrestlers and weight lifters.  Instead I arrived in the spacious Sofia airport, with no lines to get through customs, a fantastically clean modern subway system, and grand avenues with parks, upscale shops and bakeries.  On a late Sunday night, I watched a woman cleaning the stairs of the underground. In the morning, my colleagues and I stopped quickly at the impressive Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in central Sofia, the largest church in the country.  I bought my soya milk and cashew cheese at Zelen Bio food store near my central hotel, to prepare for the trip to Arbanasi and the Haemosporidians of Wildlife meeting.  I feared that there would be no food to eat, but again, I was surprised by a lovely lunch of tomato-roasted pepper salad, and roasted potatoes with mushrooms in the old city of Veliko Tarnovo.

It is hard to imagine that I should fly to Bulgaria for one week.  I used to mark the years by my travels.  In 1989, I visited Lithuania the first time.  In 1988 was a long trip to China.  In 1997, I spent a long time in India.  But now that travel is so cheap and accessible, it is routine to just get on a 13-hour direct flight to Istanbul, and fly to a spot with a 10-hour time difference. It is too convenient, and it is contributing to climate change. All the traveling becomes a blur, and somehow less special.  The airports are crowded and the planes uncomfortable. On the other hand, it allows about 50 scientists from all over the world to attend a scientific conference in a little village in Bulgaria.

The meeting is excellent, with tremendous developments in the field of avian malaria research. The work of the participants would be of interest to scientists in a diverse set of fields, from traditional parasitology to disease ecology to bioinformatics.  And the schedule is loose enough for us to informally discuss science in a splendid, yet inexpensive setting.

You can buy these coffee mugs in Arbanasi!

We witnessed the light show over the ruins of Tsaravets, in Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgaria Empire: lasers and colored light patterns over the ancient fortress.  Arbanasi is famous for its  old monastery and nice views of the surrounding countryside.  This is a modern hotel with a conference center in the middle of a rustic village.  Only after arriving here did I understand the reason for the long trip.   People are curious to hear impressions of the Trump/Clinton election from an American, but I am the wrong person to ask. Am I American?  I don’t follow the news, yet I am certain that Clinton will win. In any case, I think that the USA can do better.  They can learn a few things from the Bulgarians.