New cities in the desert.
TRANSIT ZONE, Sofia- I sat down at the breakfast table and quickly looked down at what was in front of me. It looked like yogurt with a bed of muesli beneath it. So far, so normal. Then I sunk in my spoon and there was milk within the muesli but hidden below the yogurt.
“Is this a joke?” I asked my wife.
For April’s Fools my daughter froze my muesli and laughed as my spoon unexpectedly hit the solid milk. I thought something similar may have been at play — once more prank before daddy goes off to work.
Nope. My wife did it in all seriousness.
“Is this normal? Is this something that people do?” I then asked, wondering if it may have been me who was strange for thinking that muesli and milk and yogurt was strange. Nope.
I was told something about running out of milk when my bowl was being poured and having yogurt tossed in to make up for it as though I wouldn’t notice or something.
It reminded me of the hamburger that I once ordered in Livingston, Guatemala that came without a hamburger.
It was just a go day. For me. Alone.
My wife hates being left behind.
I arrived in Sofia a week ago. I’m at the airport leaving today. Going to Oman. However, I should be back in a week — I will dig into Bulgaria then.
I’m going to Oman to go way out into the desert to look at this new city that’s being built there. A new dot on the map, an irresistible intrigue — especially when far out in the desert, giving the experience the patina of old time travel.
I’m kind of an adventurer in reverse: instead of going out into the deserts of the world searching for the mythical cities of ancient times I go looking for new cities being built up from scratch. For some reason, people have always built cities in the desert.
I guess it makes sense: there isn’t much else out there.
I rode the subway out to the airport from the center of Sofia — easy and cheap — and then did my strange, though necessary, check-in ritual:
Hang two cameras around my neck and then fling them around to my back, cover them with an overshirt, put the external battery pack and SSD in the back pockets of my jeans, take out my laptop and hold it in my hands … sometimes I even have to stuff cameras down my pants, but this trip I’m going light. The object here, of course, is to ensure that the weight of my bag is under seven kilos — the rather slim carry on limit.
I travel with a bag full of cameras and cameras and their associated gear tends to be heavy and you can’t check this stuff in.
The immigration officer looked with wonder at my passport as she flipped through the pages. Her eyes were open wide and I believe she even said “ohh” at one point. Yes, I think its girth and volume is impressive too but I’m usually humbled when immigration officers treat it like a normal little wieny passport or give me shit about how it has taken on the shape of a crescent (or butt). I wasn’t humbled today.
In the transit zone I put myself back together, looked up, and saw a neon sign that said “BEER.”
The most inviting sign I know.
So I walked over to the beer garden — a fenced off area in the middle of the terminal — ordered a pint of local stuff and took a seat at one of the round wooden tables. The wooden tables and chairs reminded me of the ones that my grandma used to have.
My grandmother and grandfather never wrote anything, they never filmed themselves, and besides the normal theatrics that was my grandfather’s everyday life, never really did any art. Nobody ever knew what they were thinking. In nearly all of the photographs that we have of them they are posing.
My grandmother had a giant flower garden. That’s what she did. She liked watching Little House on the Prairie. She hated Dolly Parton. She called my grandfather “Him” and pretended to like Billy Ray Cyrus because she knew that pissed Him off.
Their 100-year-old farm house is gone. Demolished, removed, gone without a trace. At least this is what I’m told. I haven’t been back there for over a decade. From what I hear there is no reason to ever go back. If I ever wanted to take my kids out there they would probably just look at me and say, “Dada, why did you take us all this way just to look at a fucking field?”
I would then try telling them about all the fun we had in that field, about the old farm house, about the barn, and the all the animals, the chicken coup, and the shed, and the mean dog named Star that was chained up in the back yard that I was scared of as a child. I would tell them about the rhubarb plants. I would tell them about the woods out back and the creek that was poisoned by the nearby chemical plant. I would tell them how I used to like watching the plastic buckets melt in the fire pit that we’d toss our garbage in. I would tell them we used to have these huge football games.
They’d say, “It’s just a fucking field!”
I’m on a Fly Dubai flight. The intro announcement informed passengers of the entertainment program that they could pay for to watch movies and all that. I watched as they tried and tried to actually use it. They were getting frustrated, calling over the flight attendants. “Mine’s not working,” they’d say, to which the flight attendant would tell them she would do something then walk to the front of the plane and do nothing … presumably hoping they’d forget?
It turned out that the company who runs the entertainment system went out of business.
I tried to turn off my screen. It wouldn’t work.
A can of Budweiser costs $8.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
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