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One of my favorite parts of “just wandering” when I travel is how I accidentally stumble upon interesting local experiences just by being present.
In June, I was on Seabourn Odyssey and we made a port stop in Varna, Bulgaria. This was one of the places where I did not make travel plans and instead just decided to wander. It was a beautiful early summer day – a great one to wander down a long shopping avenue and people watch.
In the late morning, we stopped for a bit of “corn in a cup” at a street cart (warm kernel corn mixed with my choice of dressings and seasonings – I picked spicy mayonnaise, garlic, and red pepper). I was delighted to take the time to sit down and just enjoy the passersby.
And then suddenly overhead, sirens. Loud sirens. They reminded me of what we hear in the south when a tornado is coming. We looked around to see what might be happening.
It was shocking to see that everyone but us was frozen in place!
The street looked like a gigantic game of freeze tag. Pedestrians were frozen mid-stride. Dozens of school children following a teacher stood like statues.
A minute later, it continued. No one moved.
Going on two minutes later, sirens still going, people were still frozen. We decided to freeze too out of an awkward need to assimilate.
In the third minute, the sirens suddenly stopped and the world became active again. It was as if nothing had happened.
I researched the silence and discovered that we had experienced an annual memorial on the “Day of Botev“, a celebration of a Bulgarian national hero who tried to save the country from Ottoman invaders. On June 2 at noon each year, Bulgarians freeze in place as air raid sirens go off across the country to honor this national hero.
When we returned to the ship, we discovered that most of our shipmates had missed this. Some were off on guided tours and were not in a public place to experience this. Others were out on their own and didn’t think to ask (or research) what had happened as there was no easy plaque or guidebook explanation for what had transpired.
And so they missed being frozen in Bulgaria, corn in a cup in hand, not because they didn’t plan, but because they did.