Travel in Eastern Europe - Finding My Family Roots and Battling Techeniye
Phil Golobish is an adventure traveler. He’s not an adventure traveler in the sense that he hits the road to go skydiving or swimming with sharks. He’s an adventure traveler in the sense that when he goes on a trip he doesn’t really do a lot of planning aside from where he’s going and when he’s coming back. Last year, Phil decided to travel in Eastern Europe. The plan was to visit friends in Italy, then head to Bulgaria and end up in Istanbul, Turkey. Along the way, he wanted to stop in Slovenia to experience some family history.
“I don’t plan on being in Slovenia very often during my life. I was in Italy, on my way to Bulgaria, and I figured I’d do Slovenia really quick just so I can say that I touched foot in my ancestors’ homeland once in my life.”
Phil ended up in Koper, a small port town in the southwest of Slovenia. Koper is the oldest city in Slovenia and was part of Italy and Yugoslavia before gaining independence in 1991. But none of that was on Phil’s mind as he walked the streets of the city.
“I was looking around thinking, ‘I wonder if I’m related to him.’ If I said my name the way they would understand it, would they say, Oh yeah, they live up the hill.”
“It only recently came out that we were from Slovenia. We had always thought that we were from Croatia. I’m operating right now that it’s true that we’re from Slovenia. When I was there, people looked like me.”
Phil said his family doesn’t have extensive records of who begat whom which made tracing his history difficult.
Still, there was a certain sense of fulfillment in knowing he may have been walking in the footsteps of distant relatives. After experiencing Slovakia, Phil made his way to Sophia, the capital city of Bulgaria, to visit a friend working with the Peace Corps. She’s currently stationed in the town of Karnobat, which is on the east coast of the country near the Black Sea. During the 5 hour train ride, Phil unexpectedly experienced a bit of Bulgarian culture.
“I was on a train Sophia to Karnobat and I’m in a car with two elderly Bulgarian women. The way they command everything around them is not something I’m used to. I’ve never met these women before and they’re basically telling me how to sit and how to act and then midway through the train ride, they change clothes right in the middle of the train.”
“They call elderly Bulgarian woman Babas and everyone has their own Baba story. So mine is these super rigid, ‘kinda mean and strict Babas in this train car are telling me what to do and then thinking it’s ok to just change clothes right in front of me.”
Eastern Europe is home to lot of myths and legends, most notable among them are vampires. But Phil’s train ride was further hampered by fears of another sort. “Older Bulgarians have this legend that there is a wind spirit that takes your life away. It’s called Techeniye. So you’ll be on a train and there’s no air conditioning and everybody’s afraid of Techeniye. It’s wind that comes in through a window. The Babas won’t open the window because they’re afraid that Techeniye is going to come in and steal their soul.” But despite battling the heat on the train and fear of Techeniye, the trip was extremely rewarding, in large part because of the people Phil met along the way.
“The amount of weird serendipitous stuff that happens when you’re trying to get places is really kind of cool. You’ll meet a bunch of cool people like the Babas on the train. Then you’ll also meet somebody who has absolutely no business helping you. They’ll say, ‘OK, you don’t speak Bulgarian and I don’t speak English. Let’s make this work.’”
“It was cool and it’s a way to begin 50% of the conversations I have until I go on my next trip.”
“When I was in Bulgaria…”