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Bulgaria, South Eastern Europe's Hidden Treasure

Our stay in Bulgaria was accidental more than planned. It started off with a phone-call from the director of the company I was working for in Spain asking if I would be interested in seeing what was happening in Bulgaria. Living close to Marbella at the time and having all the luxuries to go along with a comfortable lifestyle and having just bought a property, I reluctantly and sceptically agreed to a two week visit. This turned into a six year stay and a complete change in direction with regards to our lives.

I arrived in Sofia having flown Bulgaria Air and landing in what was then the pretty much brand new Terminal 2. An impressively modern and easy to navigate airport. Not too sure what I was expecting, but it certainly exceeded my unknown expectations. I was driven by my boss to his girlfriend’s house in Lozen, a suburb of Sofia. I must say my love for Bulgaria wasn’t at first sight but more like something which grew as the days went by and I met more and more people who would become long-term close friends.

bulgaria beachI returned to Spain two weeks later pretty excited by what I had just discovered in South Eastern Europe. During my two week visit we went to numerous excellent restaurants, visited Sunny Beach on the Black Sea Coast as well as two of Bulgaria’s famous ski resorts; Bansko and Pamporovo. Sunny Beach is a busy and bustling beach resort comprising new buildings, hotels and trendy bars and restaurants. Even though I am not (and never became) as skier, I can understand people’s fascination/ passion for the sport. I did have a go at snow-boarding but a bad knee due to a motorbike accident when I was younger prevented me from doing more than giving it a shot. I did find that the bar at the top of the run in Borovetz served excellent beer and due to the cold, your beer gets colder by the second which is great for a slow drinker.

I persuaded my wife to come for a visit and she too saw something special there which made her decide to look for a job in an international school in Sofia. By August 2008 (12 months after my initial visit) we were now living full time in Sofia. During our time in Bulgaria we visited many places and can say we know the country pretty well.

Bulgaria changed our lives in many respects. One of the biggest changes was adopting a little girl. Katja is a smiley happy very clever little girl who loves traveling and socialising as much as we do. She’s now coming up to 5 years old (we adopted her when she was 8 months old). She has lived in Bulgaria, Spain and now in Qatar. She has also been to Australia, Sri Lanka and UK. While in Bulgaria once again by chance; we discovered international teaching opportunities. This is a great way to travel, see the world and hopefully make a difference!

Bulgarian Food

I can honestly say I never had a bad meal, not one which I can say, wow, that was awful. However, I can at the same time say I can’t recall having a proper hot meal either. Most meals seem to be served luke warm.

One of our favourites has to be a good Shopska Salad which is pretty much compulsory before any meal. Other recommended dishes include mish-mash, Tarrator Soup, various lamb dishes as well as pork and chicken dishes. For anyone wishing to have a quick snack, there’s always somewhere to buy some Banitsa. No meal or social gathering would be complete without a couple of Rakyia shots. When drinking Rakyia, just drink it sip by sip as the locals do! Bulgaria is blessed with a vast selection of great restaurants, most of which are very affordable.

Places to Visit

BulgariaSofia is a small city and there are plenty of places to visit. There are several museums as well as buildings of interest. No trip to Sofia would be complete without visiting the archaeological digs by the president’s office as well as Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Other places of interest include the War Museum, Boyana Church as well as the numerous parks. If you are visiting Sofia in winter, you can always book an afternoon skiing or snowboarding on Vitosha Mountain.

The Bulgarian countryside is very pretty and unspoilt. The air is pure and clean as you leave the city and the views are truly amazing.

Beach Locations: Varna, Burgas, Kavarna, Balchik

Ski Areas: Borovets, Bansko, Pamporovo

Cities of Interest: Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv and Sandanski

Bulgarian Hospitality

We found Bulgarians to be extremely welcoming. During our stay we forged lifelong friendships which we will always value and cherish.

One of the (many) interesting things I came across is the nodding or shaking of the head for yes and no. Nodding means NO and shaking means YES. However, younger generations do both which makes it a bit more confusing. A good Bulgarian friend of mine always said “look at the body language” – Sorry but I was none-the-wiser for that!

Language

The national language is Bulgarian and they use Cyrillic alphabet. My Bulgarian is very limited, I have always found (generally speaking) that most people speak some English and you can get bye. Put it this way, I have never gone hungry or thirsty!

What to watch out for

Biking in BulgariaBulgaria is a safe country but like anywhere else opportunistic theft may occur. Stray dogs are a big issue and one to watch out for. As I love cycling I bought a dog repelling ultrasound gadget from Amazon. It cost around £30 and it was worth every penny! I am not saying everybody should carry one but when we lived there, packs of dogs around Sofia weren’t uncommon. I never had any problems but you do hear of people who have been bitten.

Driving can be an “interesting” experience too. Since living in Bulgaria I have driven in far worse places; however, many roads are in poor condition with large and deep potholes, (large, and I mean large potholes, the kind which will damage a vehicle) mixed with poor driving standards can make it a bit daunting to start off with. However, we covered thousands of miles and neither of us had any serious incidents worth mentioning. We have, however seen many! One of the most popular (and annoying) habits is for people to overtake a row of traffic waiting at traffic lights and go to the front of the queue, often squeezing you out of your spot.

I can speak for all of us when I say we enjoyed our time in Bulgaria and look forward to visiting whenever we can. I try and get back once a year to catch up with friends there. If you haven’t been to Bulgaria and are interested in visiting this fascinating country all I can say is to go for it, I am sure you will like it as much as we did.

Article credit: Michael de Coster-Milman:  Twitter: @mike_de_coster and blog: www.decostersin.wordpress.com

 

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