The Unlocked Level : Bulgaria

Originally posted on Sept 24, 2013

Robin and I are good friends with a married couple of Bulgarian architects, Dessie and Vasko, who stayed with us for ten days in Paris so we decided to return the favor 🙂 Though I tried as hard as I could to not have any preconceived notions about Bulgaria, I did have a vague image of a post-Communistic, gray-and-square country with rural tendencies. To be honest, I had an overall negative view. You can therefore imagine my surprise upon finding very urbanized, stylish cities with thriving commerce and very politically informed inhabitants. Communism was around up until about 30 years which is still very tangible in some of the decaying buildings’ oppressive architecture. Rather than being distasteful, I believe it’s important to keep reminders of our past mistakes around us because lives are long but memories are far too short.

We started our trip to the capital, Sofia. On our second day, we traveled to Stara Zagora (Old Zagora), Vasko’s hometown, and stayed with his incredibly kind, intelligent, and welcoming parents. Unlike hilly Sofia, Stara Zagora is a very flat city where you can see remarkably far with the naked eye.

We continued traveling (by very cozy van) with 10 of our closest friends (strangers) for 3 hours to the beach town of Sozopol. We stayed in the old part of the town which is eastern Europe’s less-touristy Venice with its romantic maze-like stone roads and old-world charm. The beach is lovely and reasonably full of people and the food is great. Mussels with Картофи Соте (sauteed potatoes…the fact that I know the name by heart should let you know how many times we ate them) made a great beach-side meal 🙂

On our way back to Sofia from Sozopol, we got to spend the day in Burgas which is another less-touristy beach town that’s a bit more urban and less kitschy. Unfortunately, we only got to spend a few hours there but at least it’s all the most reason to go back.

Finally, the last city we visited was Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria. We did a tour of the famous houses there in the old town which were all carefully preserved and open to visitors.

Things that stood out from our trip:
1. There is a lot of respect for the country’s history. In almost all cities you’ll find very carefully preserved ruins of previously Roman cities, old mosques under churches, old churches under mosques, etc.

2. Everyone pays very careful attention to the way they dress. Nearly all the women I saw were dressed to the nines from head to toe. Sometimes people dress up just to walk down some of the main streets of their respective cities.

3. Advertisements = SEX. I saw more bare breasts on posters than I’ve ever seen at any French beach.

4. CATS ARE EVERYWHERE. Wild cats rule this city.

5. I didn’t hear English ONCE. Do you know how comforting/odd it is to go on vacation and not hear a single drop of English?!

6. After living in Paris, going to a country where the currency is worth HALF the euro is a very welcome surprise.

7. Bulgaria is worth visiting. The Cyrillic alphabet bit might be a bit off-putting since it makes it interesting (read: frustrating) to get around when you don’t understand street signs but there is so much culture that I’ll definitely be going back for more.

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