CHAPTER VIII. BULGARIA, ROUMELIA, AND INTO TURKEY.
The road leading into Bulgaria from the Zaribrod custom-house is fairly good for several kilometres, when mountainous and rough ways are encountered; it is a country of goats and goat-herds. A rain-storm is hovering threateningly over the mountains immediately ahead, but it does not reach the vicinity I am traversing: it passes to the southward, and makes the roads for a number of miles wellnigh impassable. Up in the mountains I meet more than one " Bulgarian national express " - pony pack- trains, carrying merchandise to and fro between Sofia and Nisch. Most of these animals are too heavily laden to think of objecting to the appearance of anything on the road, but some of the outfits are returning from Sofia in "ballast" only; and one of these, doubtless overjoyed beyond measure at their unaccustomed lissomeness, breaks through all restraint at my approach, and goes stampeding over the rolling hills, the wild-looking teamsters in full tear after them. Whatever of this nature happens in this part of the world the people seem to regard with commendable complacence: instead of wasting time in trying to quarrel about it, they set about gathering up the scattered train, as though a stampede were the most natural thing going. Bulgaria - at least by the route I am crossing it - is a land of mountains and elevated plateaus, and the inhabitants I should call the "ranchers of the Orient," in their general appearance and demeanor bearing the same relation to the plodding corn-hoer and scythe-swinger of the Morava Valley as the Niobrara cow-boy does to the Nebraska homesteader. On the mountains are encountered herds of goats in charge of men who reck little for civilization, and the upland plains are dotted over with herds of ponies that require constant watching in the interest of scattered fields of grain. For lunch I halt at an unlikely-looking mehana, near a cluster of mud hovels, which, I suppose, the Bulgarians consider a village, and am rewarded by the blackest of black bread, in the composition of which sand plays no inconsiderable part, and the remnants of a chicken killed and stewed at some uncertain period of the past. Of all places invented in the world to disgust a hungry, expectant wayfarer, the Bulgarian mehana is the most abominable. Black bread and mastic (a composition of gum-mastic and Boston rum, so I am informed) seem to be about the only things habitually kept in stock, and everything about the place plainly shows the proprietor to be ignorant of the crudest notions of cleanliness. A storm is observed brewing in the mountains I have lately traversed, and, having swallowed my unpalatable lunch, I hasten to mount, and betake myself off toward Sofia, distant thirty kilometres. The road is nothing extra, to say the least, but a howling wind blowing from the region of the gathering storm propels me rapidly, in spite of undulations, ruts, and undesirable road qualities generally. The region is an elevated plateau, of which but a small proportion is cultivated; on more than one of the neighboring peaks patches of snow are still lingering, and the cool mountain breezes recall memories of the Laramie Plains. Men and women returning homeward on horseback from Sofia are frequently encountered. The women are decked with beads and trinkets and the gewgaws of semi-civilization, as might be the favorite squaws of Squatting Beaver or Sitting Bull, and furthermore imitate their copper-colored sisters of the Far West by bestriding their ponies like men. But in the matter of artistic and profuse decoration of the person the squaw is far behind the peasant woman of Bulgaria. The garments of the men are a combination of sheepskin and a thick, coarse, woollen material, spun by the women, and fashioned after patterns their forefathers brought with them centuries ago when they first invaded Europe. The Bulgarian saddle, like everything else here, is a rudely constructed affair, that answers the double purpose of a pack-saddle or for riding - a home-made, unwieldy thing, that is a fair pony's load of itself.
At 4.30 P.M. I wheel into Sofia, the Bulgarian Capital, having covered one hundred and ten kilometres to-day, in spite of mud, mountains, and roads that have been none of the best. Here again I have to patronize the money-changers, for a few Servian francs which I have are not current in Bulgaria; and the Israelite, who reserved unto himself a profit of two francs on the pound at Nisch, now seems the spirit of fairness itself along-side a hook-nosed, wizen-faced relative of his here at Sofia, who wants two Servian francs in exchange for each Bulgarian coin of the same intrinsic value; and the best I am able to get by going to several different money-changers is five francs in exchange for seven; yet the Servian frontier is but sixty kilometres distant, with stages running to it daily; and the two coins are identical in intrinsic value. At the Hotel Concordia, in Sofia, in lieu of plates, the meat is served on round, flat blocks of wood about the circumference of a saucer - the "trenchers" of the time of Henry VIII.- and two respectable citizens seated opposite me are supping off black bread and a sliced cucumber, both fishing slices of the cucumber out of a wooden bowl with their fingers.