Here and there: Gone today, returned tomorrow

Handmade sheepskin hats, called cojacs, or căciuli, on display at a road-side Gypsy market in Brasov, Romania, Nov. 21, 2017. | Photo courtesy of Kat Dayton., St. George News

FEATURE — We met the boyfriend of our Airbnb host the last morning in Sofia, Bulgaria. He, an underemployed local snowboard instructor, was only there to retrieve the keys to the flat but quickly evolved into our impromptu airport shuttle driver when he realized the size of our party with luggage would require two cabs.

Graffitied buildings in downtown Sofia, Bulgaria, Nov. 17, 2017 | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

In a place like Bulgaria where smart foreigners download instructions to differentiate between the logos of the two reputable cab companies from the many imposters, that’s a near impossible feat.

And there is still the question of the individual cabbies.

During our five days in Sofia, we had a full assortment of characters. One cabbie team hustled us while simultaneously espousing their charitable work at an orphanage. Another cabbie was the Bulgarian incarnate of Ted Kackzynski with a hoarding problem.

And I had one very long seven-minute ride with another who insisted on informing me, while repeatedly glancing at me in the rearview, how helpful it would be if he had an American wife.

In addition to saving us from a potentially risky double-cab situation, Scallywag, the snowboard-instructer-Airbnb-host-boyfriend-turned-airport-shuttle-driver, would soon impart a robust analysis of the religious and social conditions of Bulgaria.

All that while weaving in and out of traffic, intentionally driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid congestion and nearly rear-ending stopped traffic during an especially impassioned speech about the gangsters who control the government and sport glittery crucifixes.

The other problem, according to Scallywag, is the gypsies. Gangsters buy their votes for a single euro and then exploit the countryside. The gypsies, in turn, exploit everyone else with their pickpocketing prowess.

His parting words to us were, “be extra careful of the gypsies in Transylvania!”

For the remainder of the trip, I carried my Thread wallet in the inside zipper pocket of my three-quarter length black parka.

Strada Sforii, which translates to “rope street,” is billed as one of the narrowest streets in the world. Brasov, Romania, Nov. 21, 2017 | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

I kept it there as we walked down Strada Sforii, said to be one of the narrowest streets in the world, in the charming city of Brașov, Romania.

I kept it there as we strolled the aisles of a Gypsy road-side market near Bran Castle, the geographical inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” where dozens of vendors were selling nearly identical, handmade hats of rippled, black sheepskin; and where dozens of toothless and wrinkled old men stood huddled in circles, talking animatedly, around smoking grills with sausages.

I kept it there while we explored a dirt path on the mountainside outside of Râșnov and came upon Pestera Valea Cetatii, a large stalagmite cave where they regularly hold string concerts.

And I thought I still had it there when I boarded the plane from Bucharest to Paris a week later.

It wasn’t until we’d deplaned, passed through customs and immigration and cued up for a solid 15 minutes in the RER B ticket line (for the Réseau Express Régional rail service) into central Paris that I realized my wallet was gone.

A credit card, a debit card, about a hundred-dollars’ combined worth of Romanian leu, Bulgarian lev and euro and my driver’s license.

All gone. Right under the nose of my new-found-Gypsy-vigilance … from the inside of my 3/4-length black coat.

Back in Utah a month and a half later, I was still awaiting my replacement driver’s license when the U.S. Postal Service informed me I had a package that required a signature.

I trudged down to the post office with more annoyance than curiosity about whoever or whatever was making this inconvenient imposition on my time. Who sends certified mail these days anyway?

The answer: The American Embassy consular section on Bucharest Place in the District of Columbia.

And what do they send? American driver’s licenses lost in Bucharest.

When I contacted the U.S. Embassy in Romania and inquired about the remaining contents of my wallet, it was no surprise they knew nothing of their whereabouts.

They only knew about my license, which had been discovered at the airport and returned to the embassy, sent via diplomatic pouch to the United States and then on to me via certified mail from their office in Washington, D.C.

I’ve thought a lot about what Scallywag told us on the way to the airport that rainy November morning in Sofia: about the corruption; about the poverty; about the communist leaders changing their hats, not their hearts; about the people not caring; and about the gypsies.

Most of what he said felt true.

But then there he was … a Bulgarian stranger helping a random American family get to the airport. And there was my wallet lost in an airport but certainly not stolen by Gypsies in Transylvania. I don’t know what it all means. But maybe, just maybe, we’re all better – and they’re all better – than we think.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Whatteverrr March 5, 2018 at 4:57 am

    That first pic looks like INVASION OF THE BODYCATCHERS PODS
    oldie but a goodie

  • mesaman March 5, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    So, am I supposed to be elated, or excited, or entralled with your travels? I’m not, just so you’ll know.

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