Trapped in Sofia, Bulgaria

Trapped in Sofia, Bulgaria

Diary of a digital nomad trapped by the coronavirus pandemic in Sofia, Bulgaria. 13th of March.

These are bleak times for digital nomads. With the coronavirus paralyzing the whole world, some of us recently found ourselves trapped in a country, our flights canceled and our traveling plans ruined.

I am in Sofia, Bulgaria. Panic is spreading, frontiers are closing even inside the Schengen area, and I expect most European countries to restrict freedom of movement soon. Being from Spain, even if I haven’t been there for months, marks me as a high-risk individual in the eyes of the airport and border guards.

You may ask why I use the word “trapped”. Well, the 13th of March, Bulgaria declared the state of emergency. That took us by surprise. As I describe below, we bought some food and started to look at our options, but we were so confused at the beginning to react properly.

Then the 17th of March Bulgaria banned all traffic from and to Spain. Other countries had started to close borders previously, and as Spaniards, we are not welcomed in any European airport right now, even if we have not been in Spain for half a year.

Good news is, Sofia is the capital of a European city, so that means a high standard of living and good hospitals. There are much worse places to be given the current situation. So we have no choice but to stay here until things settle down.

This is a diary of my experience as a digital nomad trapped by the coronavirus pandemic in the east of Europe. I will write a post every day until the situation improves.

Arriving in Sofia, Bulgaria

As I explained in this article, our arrival in Bulgaria was surreal. We arrived there on the 29th of February, late at night. The bus stopped just before the Bulgarian border after passing the Serbian one without major problems.

There was a booth with a security guard and an old lady. As soon as they saw our bus, the lady started to dress head to toe with something that looked like an NBC suit, complete with mask and all. It took her 5 minutes to completely dress before we were allowed to get off the bus.

Then after showing my passport to the guard, I approached this lady. Next to her, there was a metal table full of medical equipment. She told me something in Bulgarian and I replied: “Sorry, I don’t understand Bulgarian”. By the look on her face, I could see she did not speak English. Luckily, the guard came to the rescue and shouted: “It is ok, they are from Spain, not Italians!”. Then the lady let us pass without a problem.

Back then, the coronavirus had only started to spread in Italy, so that was an almost funny anecdote. We arrived in the city, found a gym, a really nice co-working space, and continued with our lives…

First cases and the state of emergency

After the first week, we started to see people wearing face masks on the street. I have been following the evolution of the crisis on the news, so on the 8th of March, googling about Bulgaria and the coronavirus, I found this Wikipedia page that’s actually being updated regularly, including infection and death numbers.

It described the first two cases in Bulgaria. My husband and I were happy to be in one of the countries with fewer cases in Europe. We thought that, with a population of just 1,5M people, and not being a touristy place, Sofia was the right city to stay for a while, as the possibilities of containing an outbreak were higher.

Things stayed relatively stable until the 12th of March. That day, there was a peak of infections, from 7 to 23. The next day, Friday the 13th, the state of emergency was declared in Bulgaria. Except for groceries and pharmacies, all businesses must remain closed. No gyms, no bars, no restaurants…

That’s when my story begins, aptly enough, on a Friday 13th.

13th of March

Today, the state of emergency was announced, early in the morning.

We didn’t expect the Bulgarian government to declare the state of emergency so soon, so it caught us off guard. As we were hearing stories of loots on supermarkets and empty shelves, and not knowing to which extent that was true, we decided to hoard enough food to survive for two weeks at least.

We left the apartment at noon to do the groceries at the Lidl nearby, and there was, in fact, a crowd of people there. They were all teenagers (probably sent by their parents) and elderly people, most of them with face masks.

Feeling part of that crowd was kind of awkward, but we still decided to get some food. Chicken, rice, pasta, bread, vegetables, and fruits. We focused on things we could store and eat for a long time, but also got some fresh vegetables and fruits.

A part of me kept on saying that I was acting silly and supermarkets were not going to suffer from food shortage. But another part of me was telling me that I was in a foreign country, I had no idea about the people, economy or society there, and this was a very uncertain scenario…

We hoarded food.

Stay tuned…

I will write one post every day. I think that will also help the quarantine period more bearable… Want to stay tuned? Subscribe to the newsletter and don’t miss an article.