Wednesday, 29 August 2012
The Sophia Diary: Squalor, sophistication and Robbie the sportsman.
“Driven Boar hunt in Bulgaria”
“Biggest Red deer in Europe”
“Trophy Mouflon in Bulgaria”
“Driven pheasant shoots”
The wonderful Balkan country promises a lot of excitement for a sportsman searching the internet for hunting destinations in Europe.
Having never hunted there, I cannot confirm if it is a premier hunting venue in Europe, but if the quotations for hunts were anything to go by, the prices certainly are premier.
“How can a country, where everything else is so affordable, be so expensive for hunting?” I wondered.
Thus I decided that when next there, I would try to look for local connections and maybe discover some affordable guides and outfitters.
Sofia, the city of churches, laden with history. Centuries of governments changing hands have led to Bulgaria being an amalgamation of Greek, Turkish and Balkan culture traditionally with a more recent eastern bloc flavour. All of this seemed to be epitomised in the capital, Sofia.
The block like purpose built housing estate, beggars on the streets, dilapidated buildings, cracked pavements and roads with potholes, all pointed towards toward a city that had seen better days.
In contrast, the farmers market, the food stalls, the bakeries, all modest in appearance, promised flavours and aromas to rival eateries the world over.
Most of the shops in town were small, not demanding a second glance. True, in one district one did have an odd international jeweller boasting a tasteful showroom but on the whole the marketplace was rows of small, plain looking shops selling average quality consumer goods.
I had gotten addresses of a few gun shops in Sofia and had hoped to run into people who had connections with hunting operators there.
I was making my down the streets of Sofia keeping a sharp lookout for the shop(s) lest I miss them. I needn’t have bothered.
The first shop –and the subsequent ones I visited- was not only big and posh by Sofia standards; they were grand and tasteful by any standards; at least by my experience of visiting similar shops across 4 continents.
The lighting, the interiors, the glass were as if done by a professional designer. The sales people and the clients appeared sophisticated; the goods stocked were all from reputed international brand and the prices were more than I had seen anywhere in the western world! The way the customers were shopping, they didn’t seem to care either.
“I am looking for some information about hunting in Bulgaria”.
The sales girl’s expression (Yes, the gun shops in Sofia have sales girls who seemed to be perfectly comfortable showing semi automatic rifles to customers and answering their questions) suggested she didn’t understand English so with a polite nod, she got another sales person to help me out.
The other person, though was better at English, couldn’t understand that I didn’t want a Sako or a handgun despite (or maybe because of?) me showing him various pictures of me with game on my mobile.
A customer, sensing the confusion, came to my rescue and kindly offered to help me. Pulling out his mobile, he wrote down a number from his contact list.
“Call Robbie. He will help you”, he said with a flourish.
I left the shop thanking him. Not exactly how I had envisioned it. I was hoping to run into a group of hunters who I would befriend and who in turn would tell me how to go about hunting in Bulgaria without taking out a second mortgage. Or maybe even invite me out to go with them.
Continuing my journey through Sofia, I couldn’t noticing that the city once grand but ageing with the burden of time was seeing some renovation like an aging actress getting a facelift. It reminded me of the state of hunting in general. Once the grandest of sports, now neglected and forgotten by all but a few.
Thus lost in such thoughts I came to a second shop and made similar enquiries about hunting in Bulgaria. This time one of the customers gave me a visiting card asking me to “just call. Everything else will be taken care of”. This was more like it. Just as I was about to thank him for his hospitality, he said “This is Robbie’s number. He will arrange a hunt for you.”
I compared the two numbers. They were the same. Maybe there was hope. Maybe this Robbie was the answer to my questions. Maybe Robbie would arrange a big driven boar shoot for me. Or should I ask him for a moufflon hunt?
I wandered around thinking of full curl mouflon, thick palmated fallow deer, imperial red stags and giant boars.
I looked up to find myself in a vegetable market which seemed to be away from the touristy paths as I seemed to be the only outsider. The locals went around their business of buying their fruits and veggies and the stall owners eyed me with mild amusement, correctly assuming that I had lost my way.
Taking out my map, I found my way out and strolled towards another part of town. I chanced upon a grand double storey building that could well have been a flagship store of a designer label.
“What a grand showroom. Looks like a major fashion brand flagship store.” I thought. Suddenly I saw the famous trident of the Beretta logo. This was a gun shop!
I went in and what a sight for sore eyes! Double glass door entrance, trophies on the wall, wood panelling, and glass showcases with soft spotlights focussing on the goods inside. Sections for semi-auto sporting rifles. There were two sales girls who professionally asked me if they could help.
I complimented them on how aesthetically pleasing this gun shop was and how we didn’t have shops of such calibre (no pun intended) in the UK.
After looking around, I went through the routine of trying to explain that I was looking for hunting and if they could help. They went in to fetch their boss who came out holding a glossy magazine in Cyrillic. Though I couldn’t read what it said, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was a high end hunting magazine. He held open a page showing a handsome man sitting over various trophies he had bagged.
“You know this man, yes?” enquired the boss.
Now I admit that I might not follow celebrity gossip but do read books about shooting. And I certainly do not recognise any famous hunters other than Corbett, Bell and a few more. However these photographs were new and which current hunter was famous enough to be recognised just by his photo?
The boss didn’t offer any answers assuming that if I were a hunter, I must know who this man was.
Well in the last couple of hours, there was only one name I had come across so I hazarded a guess.
“Yes correct!” said the boss, not overly impressed. After all, this was the great hunter Robbie and I had taken half a minute to place him.
“Take his number, call him and he will arrange everything for you.”
“Thanks, I already have his number.”
The boss looked puzzled. Why was I asking for hunting contacts if I had Robbie’s number?
I found no other hunting contacts during my visit to Sofia. However I did discover why the hunting prices were the way they were. It seemed to be controlled by one man.
I still have Robbie’s number with me and look forward to meeting this king of hunting in Bulgaria and sharing this story with him.