‘I’m sorry I splashed you from head to toe’ … in your dreams

Sofia was covered in snow recently. Then it turned to torrential rain a few days later. Those familiar with the exquisite infrastructure of the Bulgarian capital will not be surprised at what ensued.

But, for the uninitiated, here goes … some principal highways in Sofia (notably Tsar Boris III) have turned into rivers, costing nearby businesses dearly. The road is covered in potholes so that the water can’t escape, exacerbated by seriously clogged drainage shafts.

Pedestrians have the hardest time of all. If they stick to the pavement they find that many of the paving stones – known to Bulgarians as ‘spitting stones’ – have become loose. A sudden misstep – no wonder so many Sofians walk around staring at the ground – means that your foot is submerged in filthy water.

Worse still, if you venture too close to the road a passing car can envelop you – and I mean envelop you from head to toe – so it feels like you have been standing under a flushing toilet. Except that in this instance it’s filthy water.

It’s not the drivers’ fault. They don’t do it on purpose, I suppose, although, as ever, they crash through the puddles too fast. It’s not that hapless pedestrians seriously expect the ‘offending’ driver to immediately stop the car and enquire solicitously after their welfare, towel at the ready, or hand over a few leva to cover the cost of dry cleaning. But they could at least cast a cursory glance in their direction.

No, it’s really the fault of those responsible for the infrastructure. Of course, from pedestrians’ point of view, the only ‘solution’ is to maintain constant vigilance and avoid walking too near the road. But my definition of ‘near’ has evolved considerably over the years to the point whereby anything less than 5 metres from a passing car during heavy rain is now hazardous. That means sticking to the pavements which are, of course, in a worse state.

Boots won’t protect you, even if you wear them knee-high with knickerbockers tucked well inside. You need a wetsuit.

It’s all wearisomely familiar to long-term residents of Bulgarian cities. The amazing thing is that nothing really changes – year in, year out. Complaints and protests are widespread – both online and on the street, but last weekend saw the first demonstration that included vociferous demands for higher quality works. Rumour has it that those companies who win public tenders to effect major infrastructural works do not play fair. They allegedly pocket the money and then pay chicken feed – far lower than what is declared  – to inexperienced workers using low quality materials.  Also it seems that the same two or three building companies are always “favourites” to win the tenders, so triggering rumours that the companies concerned paying “commission” to the government.

Meanwhile, Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova visits affected areas and offers hollow reassurance. Somebody has to take responsibility. In a more litigious culture those responsible for the mess would face court action.