Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'Full Servis' Ilia

I'd allowed what I considered a comfortable two and a half hours for my return trip to Sofia airport, but when I went down to the reception to ask them to call me a cab they duly informed me that this would not be possible right now because "it is raining".

It was suggested that I might like to experience this inclement weather more directly by wheeling my cases up to the main road in order to hunt down one of the rare passing taxis for myself. In the end the bell boy went out with an umbrella and after about twenty minutes returned with Ilia, a driver who on Friday night we'd witnessed patrolling Vitosha Blvd on foot propositioning visitors with fast access penetration of the local demi monde.

"What time is your flight?" he asked me once I had settled in. I could see in the reflected disappointment in his eyes via the rear-view mirror that my answer to this question had left little room for a quick detour to a strip joint, and my lack of manipulable chumminess was repaid with what seemed like an alternative tour of Sofia's most congested highways.

Thanks to Ilia I discovered that Sofia Airport has two terminals. There is an old one and a new one, he explained, and flights to the UK leave from the latter. I quickly responded that the dog-eared building with stucco stars on the ceilings that I had passed through four days earlier hadn't struck me as especially recent - they didn't look especially like EU stars for example - but he took me to the wrong one anyway.

Of course there was no meter and on our subsequent arrival at Terminal 1 he proposed a charge of precisely three times what I had paid the driver who had taken me into town on Thursday morning, an unexpected reversal of the usual business travel rule that it is the cab from the airport that tends to attract a premium rate.

I didn't have anything like what he was asking for, so I gave him my remaining local currency and a five pound note and scuttled off before he could go all Balkan on my backside, having promised to return "very soon" for the erotic tour of a lifetime.

During my stay in Bulgaria the Interior Minister Roumen Petkov resigned/was sacked following pressure from the EU (and the threat of withheld funds). Petkov is now sueing a German hack for libel, after claims that he was the mastermind behind an incident back in 2006 on Trakiya Highway which involved a controlled collision and a certain amount of gun-waving, and that much of the blame for the country's late 90s financial crises can be laid at his door.

I noticed that black RAV 4s rather like the one down here on the farm are the chosen mode of transport for Sofia's organised heavies. Here at least it seems to have shed its reputation as a 'hairdresser's car'. There are quite a few Mitsubishi 'Wankers' on the roads too.

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