one week in bulgaria
I really had no expectations before coming to Bulgaria. Not because I am a snob but because we were supposed to be going to Turkey, so I just hadn't thought much about it. Once upon a time we met some Bulgarian people who were wonderfully friendly and who waxed lyrical about the beautiful nature in their country. Another time we stayed with an English woman who told us, upon hearing our discussion of a possible Bulgaria visit that never eventuated, that her husband had driven through Bulgaria some time in the 80's - pre wall collapse- and that he had not found it very pleasant at all and what a dumb plan why don't we go somewhere better?...
So I didn't really know what to expect. My first impressions, upon arrival, were:
1. Ohhhhhh shit. It's cold here.
2. High heeled sneakers, puffer jackets and matching tracksuits are BIG in Bulgaria.
3. This country is remarkably green. And there are wildflowers everywhere.
We arrived at three a.m. on a bus from Istanbul. Having just come from India we imagined we could simply find a park bench and wait until the morning came, when were meeting my father. Bulgaria is not India however, and when we got off the bus the lightning storm that had been thrashing through the sky all evening finally broke and started throwing a lot of very cold rain at us. We needed a new plan. We didn't know where we were, we only had Turkish lira, it was freezing. Thankfully a taxi driver empathised and took us to a hotel, accepting our useless Turkish money with a good natured (or a 'bloody hell, get in then, I can't very well leave you to freeze') shrug.
So Bulgarian people are friendly! As well as this, after our first week in this little country, I have added to the box in my head labelled 'Bulgaria: Thoughts and Impressions'.
Bulgaria seems to be a remarkably undeveloped country. The forests seem relatively untouched and the land doesn't appear to be scarred by 'human progress'. The villages between the cities are nestled in amongst trees, as if the people evolved harmoniously with nature. I may be wrong, it is easy to romanticize a country you know little about, but the fields of wild poppies and vastness of the thick forests would suggest that I am not.
Unsurprisingly for such a natural country, the people seem to have a connection to nature. Sofia was named Europe's greenest capital, and people are happy to go out into the fields and gather wildflowers for tea or fennel, nettles and herbs for cooking. And to herald the beginning of spring people give each other bracelets made from red and white threads woven together, which they then tie onto the branches of a blossoming tree.
The beaches here have sand. And they are still a bit wild. This is unusual for Europe.
Easter in Bulgaria means decorating egg baskets with wildflowers and dyeing boiled eggs so you can later battle your family and friends with them. The winner is the one whose egg does not crack (hint: it appears impossible to win this game). It means slow roasted lamb and rice cooked with the lambs organs and family and friends and a few days off work.
The cities here have literal layers of history. In Plovdiv you can see Roman ruins, mosques left over from the many years of Ottoman rule, dreary concrete blocks that immediately bring to mind the Soviet BLOC, and traditional Bulgarian houses from the years in between. You can see little cafes lining pedestrian boulevards and the shopping malls of the twenty first century. You are walking through a living history book and I think that's pretty cool.
PIZZA IS SO CHEAP IN BULGARIA! YOU CAN GET A SLICE AS BIG AS YOUR HEAD FOR ONE AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR!
I like it here. It is a beautiful interesting little country and if I ever see that woman again I will tell her she was wrong. And I will probably poke out my tongue.