ReDux. Sofia, Bulgaria [Massages with Lucy the Lesbian]

ReDux, Sofia, Bulgaria

Massages with Lucy the Lesbian

Bulgaria is not well known outside of Bulgaria for the many things that go on in it.

It is an insular country and its people are proud.  The country is built on a corner, surrounded by Serbia and Romania to the north and Greece and Turkey to the south.  The less said about the five hundred or so years that the Turks called it home, the better, and despite or perhaps because of the ‘Yoke’ as it is referred to, the Bulgarians have a very strong, very distinct national character.  They are proud people and they are proud of their lands, especially the natural habitat, which has abundant mountains, mostly very accessible from almost anywhere within the borders.

It is not a country that is top of the list for a lot of snobbish and serious travelers perhaps, although for years there have been bucket type holidays, especially to the Black Sea coast and especially for the British and Russians that enjoy a brief summer holiday in a good summer season that is hot and on good sandy beaches.  In the main they arrive on cheap flights and stay in fairly ugly multi built concrete blocks which are rapidly spreading along the long coast.

For the average Briton or Russian, the offer is good.  Very cheap alcohol, a lot of sunshine and OK food.

Bulgaria has many other layers though.   The interior as said is blessed with accessible high mountains, good skiing in the winter and a lot of spiritual places that every Bulgarian will happily talk about, including one or two that are very strange indeed, such as an alleged invisible city that many swear exists somewhere, hidden (inevitably) in one of the many mountain ranges.

One truly eye opening festival that combines both the mountains and this sense of spirituality is the Paneurhythmy which takes places place at summer solstice in the Rila Mountains.

I have never taken part, but it does look fun, in an eat your muesli kind of way.


There are several famed monasteries in the mountains too, oases of a spiritual fastness that dates back hundreds of years.  The Rila Mountains are exceptional and there are others.

On a day to day basis if you prompt them a bit, especially after a glass of rakia the local form of deadly spirit, most Bulgarians will tell you even more tales of their spiritual past and their relationship with the natural world.  In fact, away from the sunny beaches, the country is virtually one big nature reserve. There are to be fair some exceptions, the odd brutal factory that you expect in a former communist industrialized country, but generally these can be easily avoided.  Best avoided is a town called, ‘Metal’, it is truly brutal and now very poor.


The best escape from the cheap beach holiday are the spas, some whole towns, some smaller villages, that are known for the therapeutic water that bubbles up and has been exploited for years.  Sofia, the capital is on top of a lot of naturally hot water.  There are some bad examples, but these are generally modern and pseudo-built for Party people, or nowadays the mafia.   The most established though are world class, and there are many.

My favourite is a collection of villages generally known collectively as Vellingrad which has about eighty springs that go from hot to very hot indeed.  Getting there is nice too, at least from Sofia.  Take the road to Plovdiv, an ancient Greek town with a fabulous amphitheater and a lazy coffee bar culture, and hang a right into the mountains.  The road is not much, but is a pleasure to drive along, with steep cliffs either side, lots of bends, rivers, nature all around and a train line, though I never saw a train and I guess this is the leisurely way to arrive.

The spa hotels are comfortable and there are many treatments on offer.

I liked the sauna and then dipping into the variously hot pools, which steam in winter.  My first wife went in for a chocolate inspired treatment and was thrilled for many days after about having her spiteful breasts coated in chocolate by a large woman in pseudo-medical garb.

She still dines out on the story today.


Outside of the spa towns there are closer to home opportunities for relaxing the body, mind and perhaps soul.

When I first met Lucy in Sofia she did not want to treat me.

Lucy is a masseuse, and a very good one.  She has treated national football teams and the national Olympic team.   She did not want to treat me though and her reason was that I have what she called. ‘The Gift’, in very heavily accented English, ‘geeeft’.  And here I became introduced to one element of Bulgarian spirituality that I don’t think most locals would consider strange.

For a start, as Lucy taught me, Bulgaria is vampire country.  Energy vampires.  Not the lot that pop into your bedroom at night and sink their teeth into your neck and leave you pale, wan and probably a vampire yourself.  No.  Energy vampires are all around us.  Your dog might be one, your boss (likely), a co-worker, even your child and quite possibly your wife.

Lucy suspected that I am one.


Eventually I passed the test and Lucy agreed to massage me.

I saw Lucy every weekend for about two years.  In that time she told me many interesting things and was quite open about her sexuality.  Her massage room is in a gym that also trains professional dancers and we often used to admire them together over cokes after my massage.  Lucy was a lucky girl with some of her clients, many of whom were perfectly formed females of the blossoming type, but also included a judge, several politicians, and many somewhat dangerous business men and women.


Winter in Sofia can be a bit trying.  The weather can be awful for those not used to really hard winters, complete with abundant snow, ice, and harsh wind from the mountains.  Sofia is also a high up capital city at 558 metres above sea level and with a big ever present mountain, Vitosha, right on the doorstep and rising to 2,292 metres.

Lucy’s room was always a sanctuary from anything that the weather was up to outside.  You arrive, you get changed – early on we established that boxer shorts stay on – and take your place on her professional table, where you lie face down with you face fit snug into a comfortable hole, in a room warmed by a fan heater and smelling of many different types of massage oils.


Lucy frowned a little on beer drinking prior to massage.  I can see why.  If you are foolish enough to have a Saturday beer or two before the privilege of a good massage in the hands of a spiritually inclined and physically strong professional as Lucy, you may as well be a corpse on the table.  For this is an action that is very physical, very intimate, and one that must be enjoyed, appreciated and savoured every moment.

In the hands of a professional like Lucy you are transformed.  There is no high quite like it.


First, you are naked but warm, because the heating is good after the cold outside.  You have about five minutes to relax, with your face in the hole.  Then Lucy comes in and asks what massage you would like.  There are several, including a painful hot stone massage that burned my tummy, but I generally went for the ‘classic’, with one of Lucy’s fabulous oil mixtures.

Then the magic starts.  Every part of the body over the course of an hour – generous by most standards – is slowly taken on a journey that leaves the mind in such free fall that gentle spiritual thoughts flower and the base hassle of dealing with everyday functions recede and recede and a real spiritual calm envelops body and mind.

I used to dribble through the hole in the table, thoroughly enjoying myself.


It is a two way process, and in my view one in which a great deal of respect must be shown to the master that is in control, mastering your body.  You are aware of your physical state, your meat and your bones like nothing else.  It is very intimate.  And your mind is faraway, somewhere tranquil, and believing.

When not dribbling, or snoozing on my part, we spoke.

Massage is a healing – a deep healthy thing – and in such a state of being physically there, but mentally so far, the mind begins to open.  I do therefore believe that there is a mountain in the Himalayas where there might not be dragons, but according to Lucy, an authority on the subject, there is a proto-type human race that are our forefathers genetically and that want us to evolve.  It is quite clear also that vampires exist, everywhere, and that they do not necessarily want to suck us dry, they just can’t help themselves.  A bit like small boys contemplating a pot of good looking strawberry jam.

After two years of this I also know how to spot your average vampire, and some very practical ways of keeping them at bay, not involving stakes and silver bullets.

Most Bulgarians do to, but to find all that out, you will have to visit, and if you can find her and persuade her to treat you, pay Lucy to tell you how.


ReDux – Sofia, Bulgaria 2009.

Sofia (II)

Bulgaria, 2009

‘Up in Smoke’

I became an avid fan of smoking cigarettes aged about twelve or thirteen.  Now in semi-recovery, that is to say that I have quit again, I have smoked off and on, mainly on for over thirty years.  That is not a record that I am particularly proud of, but then it is not something that I lose much sleep about.  Some guilt for sure, mainly as I secretly smoked my way through my first marriage to an avid or rather, rabid anti-smoker.

In Bulgaria, where I lived for three years from the first day of Bulgaria’s membership of the European Union in 2007 to the end of 2009 the idea of quitting started to seem like a good idea. Not financially.  Today in the still (just) United Kingdom a packet of my favourite fags (that is British English slang for cigarette), a strong one branded red white and black, costs £8.27 for a pack, (EUR 10, $13.70) while in Bulgaria a pack is about 4 Leva (Lions!) which is exactly EUR 2.05, as the exchange rate is fixed to Euro, and today £1.60 or $2.81.  Not a lot for a packet of tobacco so strong it could kill a cowboy, these fags are that good.

I digress.  I am in recovery.  I follow people about that are smoking in public, when I find their hiding places; I seek out draughty doorways, alleyways with litter in them.

Nor strictly was it to do with health, because I did not really think about that due to the cunning way in which the habit expertly buries all the black shadows in the lung stuff to the darkest recesses of the mind, there to stay safely buried in the echo chamber of cliché – another nail in the coffin, five minutes off your life for every one smoked, and so on.

No.  The reason was based on an ingrained sense of duty not to conform and married to sheer bloody-mindedness. Non-conformity with the majority that is, for the majority of Bulgarians are serious, dedicated chain smokers.  It was not unusual to see chic girls (Balkan chic, more on that elsewhere) young and sexy in an in-your- face sort of way, lighting up in between the low fat options and sometimes half way through a salad. 

Prior to the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces that arrived locally on June 1st 2012, all pubs, cafes and restaurants bar McDonalds were thick with smoke, cliché thick with smoke, smoke that you could slice with a knife.  Part of me still thinks that maybe this is more honest and a better thing than all the guilt and hypocrisy that is common in the UK and too of the pariah status that is ladled on smokers there, but I caved, I quit.  I do not preach though to those who continue to smoke though.

I tolerate, I do not encourage;  I have Dutch ancestors.

I have been fairly successful too, but I have always had help, a secret weapon in the form of an herbal concoction that has been available in Bulgaria for many years:  Tabex.

Tabex is manufactured by the large formally state owned pharmaceutical company Sopharma.  Well it is based in Sofia and it is a pharmaceutical company, so they sat around for ages to come up with a name.

However, this product is worth buying the company for, and if you are a cigarette manufacturer, shutting down production.

Tabex is an ingenious concoction.  Like most modern drugs – the majority in fact – it is made from a plant.   The active ingredient – cytisine – is found in several plants including golden chain (Laburnam), and also in Māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) which is very common in Hawaii and in which the cytosine can reach a concentration that is lethal to most mammals excluding sheep and goats who are apparently immune to it, along with one or two birds and a caterpillar that eats the stuff it to make itself poisonous to avoid getting eaten.

Man is of course a mammal, albeit quite an evolved one, but according to the instructions Tabex does not contain enough cytisine to be lethal to us.  The drug has after all been tested on mice in high doses and not one of them died from poisoning, though it is not reported if any successfully quit smoking.

The clever thing is this. Cytisine is an alkaloid chemical that is very similar to nicotine. So on consumption the cytisine molecules rush to something called the nicotinic receptors in the brain and the brain then sends out the signal that it has had its nicotine hit.  The even cleverer thing is that cytisine is not addictive.  So the idea is that while taking it you can stop smoking and get past the worst aspects of quitting.

So the deal is that you start taking the tablets and that you keep smoking the tabs.  You start with five a day [I went for more like ten to fifteen] and gradually reduce the dose over about a month.

Take it as read and the total gospel from me that after about three or four days you start to wonder why you are putting a burning plant in your mouth and inhaling the smoke.  After a maximum of a week – at least for me – you just stop smoking one morning, and about the same time you just do not want to even look at a cigarette.  You start to look at people smoking in doorways and down alleyways, when you can find them, like they are stark raving mad.  True if like me you overdo it, you get a bit breathless for some reason, perhaps because it is a lethal poison to mammals, including those mammals evolved enough to opt to take it in high doses.

In short Tabex works.

It is not a placebo effect either.  I have a dedicated addictive personality and very little will power.  If Tabex is a placebo it would never have worked on me.

Fact is, the United Kingdom National Health Service agrees.   Not so long ago it said in public that Tabex is effective.  I suspect that other pharma companies have taken the cytisine molecule and rearranged it slightly, re-branded it and are selling it at a high price and champix for example, which is a synthetically built molecule that happens to, guess, bond with those nicotinic receptors in our evolved brains.

It is cheap as well.  A packet of 100 pills costs about 20 Euros or £16.50.

A guaranteed painless quit.  Shrill morals and boorish lectures aside that is good mathematics pure and simple.

Sopharma by the way make several different potions that are not quite approved by Western legislators.  One other that I experimented with is called Tribestan.  This one is not detected in the blood somehow, and was a great favourite of the muscle bound weight lifters from the Eastern Bloc that used to dominate the Olympics.

Let’s just say that it also puts lead in one’s pencil, and leave it at that shall we.