Elissa Rudolph gives a presentation in Ybor City on ''Mensa In Bulgaria -- Why Not?'' (Photo by Michael Freeman).

YBOR CITY – Elissa Rudolph’s most vivid impressions: it was wet – very wet – and seemed eternally dark.
”It’s dark all the time,” she said. ”It’s kind of a dark and dreary city. On every corner is a convenience store selling every type of liquor imaginable.’’
But there were compensations, she added.
”A U.S. dollar is worth about 1.7 Bulgarian leva,’’ she said of the currency in the Eastern European nation of Bulgaria, which she recently visited while attending a meeting of Mensa’s international board of directors. Rudolph, who lives in Delray Beach, is the chairman of American Mesna.
”Part of my duties as chairman is I also sit on Mensa’s international board,’’ she noted. ‘’Bulgaria is not one of those top vacation spots, but we went on this excursion to not only see what Bulgaria is like, but also to attend a meeting of Mensa International. We met in Bulgaria because they presented an exciting bid to us. We only get together once a year because it’s very expensive.’’
Rudolph recently gave a presentation on ‘’Mensa in Bulgaria – Why Not?’’ during the annual Memorial Day weekend regional gathering of the Tampa Bay chapter of Mensa, which was held at the Hampton Inn at Ybor City.
She decided to give this presentation, Rudolph said, to demonstrate that Mensa – an organization of the top percentile of people with high I.Q.’s – has a strong presence worldwide, and is getting even bigger. American Mensa alone has more than 56,000 members.
‘’I went there for the annual meeting of Mensa International, on which American Mensa sits,’’ she said. ‘’One of the things I enjoy is travel.’’
The trip took her to the former Soviet-dominated country, now a capitalist free market nation, and to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, where she stayed at a resort with a uniquely American name.
‘’We stayed in the Hotel California,’’ she said.
Attending the convention was part of the reason she went on the trip, Rudolph said, but having the opportunity to see this little-known nation was another.
‘’We were armed with a Sofia transportation map, and Bulgarian leva,’’ she said. Highlights of the trip, she said, included a visit to the Alexander Newski Cathedral, a very historic building.
‘’It was built in the 15th century, and is beautiful to see inside,’’ Rudolph said. ‘’That is the number one sight to see.’’
The three-day Mensa International meeting attracted delegates from Sweden, Singapore, Finland, Norway, Italy, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, Cyprus, China and, of course, the United States. Mensa has shown particularly strong growth in China, she said, a country where it was once extremely difficult for Mensa to even form.
‘’Everyone knows there are plenty of government and political obstacles to get through in China, just to be a non-profit organization,’’ Rudolph said. ‘’But look for a big wave of Mensa China once those political obstacles are removed. That was really good news, that we could get an influx of young Chinese Mensans. They’re gaining members pretty quickly.’’
There was also a surprise when the convention ended, Rudolph said, courtesy of Mother Nature.
‘’On the last day of the meeting, it snowed, and people from tropical climates were so excited,’’ she said. ‘’They wanted to taste it and play in it.’’
Rudolph herself and a friend decided to spend her last day visiting the public zoo in Sofia, which as a Floridian turned out to be a major challenge.
‘’It was so cold,’’ she said. ‘’I could not get warmed. But I loved the striped hyenas at the zoo. Here we were in Bulgaria, watching African animals.’’

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