My First Massage Ever: Bulgarian Hotel Basement Style

The day before Halloween, I caught J’s flight to Sofia, Bulgaria!

Hotel view

Hotel view

Stepping out of the airport and into Sofia’s cool autumn air was immediately invigorating. The stuffiness of the hot, dusty desert was nowhere to be found.

I should have been satisfied with the crisp, feel-good air. But no. After we checked into the hotel, I decided I wanted a massage.

I had never received a real massage before. The top two reasons for this are 1.) I don’t like being ripped off (paying to be touched feels very rip-off-esque to me), and 2.) I don’t like strangers touching me. Strangers touching me makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll talk all day with someone I’ve just met, but that someone had better stay out of my bubble.

Since J gets a discount at the hotel spa, I figured it was time to try this massage thing I hear so many people rave about. We called down to the spa and scheduled our 45 min massages. I’d be the Guinea pig and go first, then come back up to the room and get ready for dinner while J got his.

With only 15 minutes to get ready, I had no idea what to wear. I decided on black work-out capris (the ones that have seen more time on the couch than on a treadmill) and a t-shirt. I waited anxiously in the glass elevator as it descended from the sunlit top floors of the hotel to the underground darkness of Floor -2.

The elevator doors opened across from a contemporary looking, dimly lit sitting area with a counter. Nobody was at the counter, so I waited around a minute before being greeted by the only spa employee I would see that day. The dark haired, middle aged lady was dressed in what appeared to be white spandex leggings and an equally tight, white V-neck shirt. I’m not sure what kind of attire I was expecting the massage therapist to be wearing – maybe scrubs? maybe a polo shirt and slacks? maybe something a little more professional?

She handed me a big, blue bathrobe and a pair of disposable hotel slippers, pointed to a dark room and told me to go change. Through the dark room, I found a changing room/bathroom, where I changed in a hurry and wondered if it is only in America that we worry about the privacy aspect of things like etched glass doors with no locks – or maybe it’s just me?

Holding the beltless bathrobe around me, I shuffled back to the spa counter and The Woman in White led me to the massage room. It was a very small, very warm room, dimly lit, but not dim enough that I couldn’t see the Bulgarian lotto scratch-off ticket next to the massage table. Is that normal!? Are these things normal?! I tried to imagine a scenario in which a massage therapist brought a scratch-off ticket into the massage room. Did she really not have enough time to scratch it off on the way to work? Not even at the front desk? Was it somebody’s lucky day in the massage room!?

Then, The Woman in White wanted my bathrobe. I kind of thought she might turn around to allow me some privacy, but obviously this was my mistake, because she wanted the robe and she wanted it now! I hesitated, and she laughed, asking me where I’m from. I thought about saying, “I JUST CAME FROM A MUSLIM COUNTRY WHERE I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOW ANYTHING BETWEEN MY KNEES AND SHOULDERS SO CUT ME SOME SLACK IF I’M A LITTLE SLOW TO GET BUCK NAKED IN FRONT OF YOU!” but I just said, “USA.” The Lady in White laughed and said, “You look like Italian lady!” It seems there really is no place outside of the US where I will ever look American…

Before handing over the bathrobe, I tried explaining “breast implants.” Yes, I have breast implants. No, I don’t like to lie on them. Why not? Because ew gross, and I am afraid they are going to shoot out my sides, and ew gross again. Anyway, “breast implants” does not translate very well, so there was a moment of comical hand gestures and awkward laughing and I finally just gave her that stupid blue bathrobe and got on the table. She gave me a few towels to stack up and create an “airbag moat,” and the massage – the one I waited 27 years to receive – began.

The sweet scent of citrus oil was overshadowed by what sounded like a classic adult film soundtrack  playing in the background while The Lady in White smacked her gum from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. For all I knew, there was a giant bowl of Rice Krispies flying around the room, snap-crackle-and-poppin’ as loud as The Lady in White pushed hard, much like a car with a stereo playing louder the faster it goes. Porno jams and Rice Krispies eventually teamed up with a squeaky booger, so that 45 minutes later, The Lady in White informed me I never really relaxed and maybe I should just get a head massage next time.

When I got back to the hotel room, I laughingly told J about my experience, and wished him luck in his 45 minutes of Bulgarian bliss! When he returned from the spa, I asked him what he thought. He reported, “I’m glad it was cheap… she looked like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys… I just, I dunno… I dunno if I like massages any more…”

Although I won’t likely do it again, I’m glad to have finally tried a massage, even if it was in a Bulgarian hotel basement.

What is the craziest massage experience you’ve had?


Yellow & Blue

Sometimes, while we are enjoying a life of considerable luxuries, the weight of the rest of the world gets to feeling really heavy.

From certain angles, we have an awesome view. To one side of our balcony, there is a marina which is home to many extravagant yachts and superyachts. To the other side sits a neighborhood of brightly colored, Venetian-inspired apartment buildings. Seated on our living room couch though, one looks directly at the building next door that has been under construction the entire year we have lived here.

View from couch

View from couch

For many months, looking over the edge of our balcony provided a view of the imported construction workers, a.k.a. worker bees or Lemmings, taking their midday nap. On the concrete. Mostly under direct sunlight. At the construction site that will eventually be a near carbon copy of our building.


concrete siesta

One day, I was observing their building methods (ex: hard hats as buckets, lack of safety ropes when working on scaffolding, etc.) when I noticed a worker on a balcony who seemed like he might be looking my direction. So, I waved at him. He waved back, and we both broke out into huge smiles!

See, a lot of us Westerners like to frown on India’s caste system, but we all know damn well that we don’t interact with them, unless they have a service or product that we want/need. Many places here don’t even allow entrance to blue collar male workers.

The cool thing about smiles is not only are they beneficial to our health, but they are immune to language barriers.

Feeling inspired, I took off my jewelry, changed into workout clothes, and hurried to the building next door. I was going to make a difference. Free English lessons for all!

The construction site was teeming with dirty, dark, stone faced, fatigued men.

“Supervisor?” I asked one after another. “Supervisor?” Nobody spoke a drop of English.

Finally, a security guard approached me. I eagerly told him I am giving free English lessons, and anyone interested should contact me via SMS. I figured if I received a text message, I could use Google Translate to arrange, at minimum, a place to meet, then we could go from there. The security guard promised he would pass my number along to the workers. I left thinking this was the best idea ever, and the beginning of something amazing. Then it dawned on me… THESE GUYS DON’T HAVE PHONES. I have yet to receive a text regarding free English lessons.

सुरक्षित रूप से काम करते हैं. परिवार आप के लिए इंतज़ार कर रही है.

सुरक्षित रूप से काम करते हैं. परिवार आप के लिए इंतज़ार कर रही है.

The same kind of un-airconditioned bus that drops many of them off every morning also picks many of them up at 4:30PM.

Waiting for the bus

waiting for the bus


single file with “dabbas”

The other day, I decided if I couldn’t help anyone with English, I would at least take them something cool to drink before the buses came. I walked to the store between my building and theirs, filled a shopping cart with 100 bottles of cold beverages (juice, water, pop), paid, and, much to the dismay of the grocery store employees, wheeled the cart full of refreshments off to the construction site.

I lucked out this time and found a worker of Asian descent who spoke English. I wondered why he was doing this shit job when his English was actually pretty good, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him because a bus pulled up. Workers started boarding when I yelled WAIT! and started handing them bottles. Bottles of mango juice, bottles of orange juice, bottles of kiwi juice, bottles of strawberry juice, bottles of apple juice, bottles of mixed berry juice, cans of Coke, bottles of water.


The cart was empty in less than 30 seconds.

“How many workers are at this building?!” I asked the English speaking worker. “I only brought 100 bottles!”

“One towsan,” he replied.

“What?! One thousand?! This building?!” I couldn’t believe it.

“Yes,” he smiled.

By that point, a grocery store employee had tracked me down and was more than happy to return the cart for me. Empty handed, I walked home with more weight than when I had pushed over the cart full of drinks. It hadn’t been full enough.

I spent a few minutes on our balcony this afternoon, eyeing the under-construction building next door. A worker sat in the corner of a balcony at that building while his comrades tried to pull him to his feet. No luck.

So. Hot.

So. Hot.

Tomorrow doesn’t look much better.

July 3

Almost every time I go out on our balcony now, I find a worker to wave at. Sometimes I have to stand there and wave twice, or even three times, but I’ll be damned if I can’t get a return wave and a smile.

I want to say to these workers, I see you and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are over here being exploited as all hell, making pennies and living in a labor camp, roasting to death (sometimes literally) under the desert sun. I’m sorry I moved into this building, because if people stopped moving into these places, you wouldn’t be building them. Every time I look out my window, I am so fucking sorry. You can’t even begin to imagine how sorry I am. My heart weighs a gazillion pounds when I see how thirsty and tired you look and I am just so so so so so so so so so sorry.

I’m sorry I have been here for a year and can’t think of a fucking thing to do to make anything better.

Until something comes to me, I am going to bake rainbow cupcakes and give them to everyone I see.