Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Bulgarian Mafia

Since arriving in Sofia I have heard a lot of  talk about a powerful Mafia presence in Bulgaria. And one sees the evidence everywhere which include lots of tough looking guys sitting around in hotel lobbies and restaurants and large black luxury vehicles such as BMWs, Mercedes and Hummers with black tinted windows cruising the streets.  

On Sunday I had a first-hand Mafia experience: I decided to have lunch at an attractive outdoor cafe and sat down across from two stereotypical mafia guys who I initially didn't pay much attention to.  They looked almost identical, both having close-cropped hair, dark sunglasses, black leather jackets, jeans and boots.  For most of an hour they sat drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, talking on their cellphones and surveying the area while hardly speaking to each other.  On the other side of me, parked illegal at the curb, was a shiny black Mercedes SUV with tinted windows.  All of a sudden one of the guys called the waitress and asked for the bill.  After quickly paying, they started to move towards the SUV when one of them paused sharply and went back to the easy chair he had been sitting in.  I watch as he reached into the side of the chair, took out a large pistol and tucked it under his jacket and into his belt.  He had apparently placed it into the side of the chair because it was uncomfortable while he was sitting.  He suddenly remembered it and went back to get it.  He noticed that I was watching but ignored me.  The two of them then quickly drove away. It was a scene straight out of the Bulgarian version of the Sopranos!

Below are a few links related to the Bulgarian mafia.

On Saturday I took a half day trip away from Sophia to the impressive Rila Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site stemming back to the 10th Century, and one of the most impressive monasteries  I've seen.  The following link contains the history and some pictures of the monastery.


Friday, May 2, 2008

In Bratislava

I arrived in Bratislava, the Slovakian Capital, late last night from Kiev after a missed connection in Prague and a five hour layover.  It was a long day and I wasn't a happy camper. When I have days like yesterday I think I should give up traveling.  And when I have days like today, I'm glad I'm still doing it.

Bratislava is only an hour from Vienna and not far from Budapest.  It was formerly called Pressburg and had large German and Jewish communities.  I had heard of Pressburg before but had no idea that it was modern day Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  The Jewish population today is about 800 out of a total of 400,000+ of which 90% are said to be Slovak. is a website which tracks the Jewish history of Bratislava.  Tommorow, May 1, is the European Labor Day Holiday which I will have off and use to tour the city.  I will also see what Jewish sites I can find along the way, perhaps the Jewish Museum if it is open on the holiday. 

My hotel is next door to the embassy which is right in the heart of this very attractive city.  The city fathers have spent a lot of money since the breakup of the Communist Bloc to restore old buildings and to spruce things up. They have a beautiful old Opera House and apparently a very active theater and cultural scene.  Most of the narrow streets in the city center are for pedestrians only  and are filled with lots of outdoor cafes and restaurants.  It is typical of the cafe society one finds in most of the old cities of Central Europe. People sit in the cafes for hours visiting and drinking cafe, wine or beer while musicians play in the squares for tips.  I must say it is very pleasant, especially when the weather is nice as it was today, I only wish that Gertrud and a few friends were here to share it with me. 

The wikipedia page below has a lot of information on Bratislava's culture and history.