Capital city of Bulgaria: Sofia
Currency: Bulgarian Lev. 1 Lev = 0,5 € = 0,5 $
Timezone: UTC +02:00
Population: 7,2 Million
In the series ‘Impressions’, I want to tell you about my fresh, first-sight impressions on a new country I visit. Thoughts I gather along the way in my mind, things I notice here and there, how people look like to me, etc. I think writing them down helps a lot. When we are traveling, our brain is constantly working. It’s catching new colors, new faces, food we’ve never seen before and it stores everything. It’s very easy to forget something, so I thought I’d better write them down as soon as I can. Let’s start!
First of all, I have been to 4 locations with my travel buddy Ivano. 3 days and a half in Sofia, 1 day and a half in Burgas, half a day in Sozopol and a day in Plovdiv.
The first thing I noticed, I couldn’t do anything else, was that everything was damn cheap. Damn cheap. Sorry, I’ll repeat it many times. Half a liter beer in the airport’s small lounge was 4.8 Lev| 2.4 €. In Italy? Thrice more. Bus tickets: 1.6 Lev. In Italy? Averagely 1.30. The food is amazing and I wrote about it in a different post. I’ll just let you know that with 12 € (24 Lev) you can get stuffed as hell, really to the point of shame. And I eat a lot. For average-eating people, 8 € will be enough to have a wonderful dinner. Read about Bulgarian food here!
Going from the airport to the city center made me realized the buildings and everything, in general, is painted with pastel-like paint. You know, those colors typical of the Soviet Union. I’m not an expert on Soviet history, but that’s how I always imagined a country which formerly had a Soviet regime.
People: it could be that I watched too many times Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but I was strongly influenced by the nature and the features of Viktor Krum. Yes, the national Quidditch player and captain. I didn’t talk with many Bulgarian people. Some of them were friendly, some of them absolutely not, others were not speaking English and were just staring at you very oddly. I think tourists are still somehow not well seen. Fortunately, young Bulgarian people are well aware of the great potential of their country. Hostels and free tours will help you to befriend some true Bulgarians.
The European Union flag is everywhere, probably because they want people to believe it’s strongly present throughout the territory. It looks like everything is funded by the European union. In Sozopol, a sea resort on the Bulgarian coast (it’s like Cannes in France or Rimini in Italy), everything is funded by an EAA. This fund includes Lichtenstein, Norway, and Iceland. I’m talking about millions of euros! Plovdiv, another great city, is actually overwhelmed with European funding as it will be the European capital of culture along with Matera, Italy in 2019.
Despite this presence, the very same week we were there, the pro-Russian party won the presidential election. The new guy, who harshly fought to avoid EU sanctions against Russia, said that he *hopes* Bulgaria will still be part of NATO and EU.
Bulgarians love to clean autumn leaves. They are piling them and taking them away many times a day, from the morning to the last sunlights. Doesn’t matter where they are. I asked our free tour guide because I thought it was kind of a tradition, but she replied they are normally cleaning. I still don’t believe you, Moni! This whole thing of the leaves must be anyway such famous they have also made a fridge magnet of the typical straw broom they use, which we found in a random souvenir shop in Burgas.
Coffee machines. They are just everywhere. It seems like all shops must have their own coffee dispenser outside. Evidently, the espresso at the bench as served in Italy and many other countries is not enough! However, the cost is ridiculous: 0.50 Lev | 0,25 €.
Being that the country is experiencing an increasing tourism, be that backpacking or luxury travel, a big improvement would surely be putting signs, directions and all sorts of indications in English. And everything that could make the city more comfortable and familiar for strangers. When we wanted to go to the Vitosha mountain (the fourth highest peak of Bulgaria, just 20 km outside the capital Sofia, and one of the main attractions), there were very few indications. The same for the Boyana church, a UNESCO site, outside the village of Boyana. We ended up we took the wrong path. Still, we managed to visit a magnificent place, the Boyana Lake (frozen!) and come back to the Church thanks to a random guy we met while making our way down to the village.
Many restaurants do not have an English menu, and this usually brings tourists somewhere else. Furthermore, when you say something in whatsoever foreign language many will answer in Bulgarian pretending you are speaking this idiom – uhm, sorry but I am not. Tip: bring a cheat sheet with the Cyrillic alphabet, spend a morning reading everything you see as much as you can. Maybe, if you have some basics of one of the Slavic languages, you will end up understanding something. When language is not enough, gestures will solve the situation in no time.
Public transport is much more efficient than I thought. Besides the process of booking, which can be pretty complicated, trains are awesome. We took two, a night train and a standard one; Sofia to Burgas and Burgas to Plovdiv. The night train was comfortable and you can choose between the three or the six berths compartment. There’s a little sink in your cabin and if you sleep hard you’ll also overcome the problem of the noise. Buses in Sofia and Plovdiv were frequent, as well as the metro in Sofia.
Overall, Bulgaria surprised me – a lot! Surely I’ll go back before the price will increase: I urge you to do the same!
Have you ever been in Bulgaria? What are your thoughts?