I’ve only been to Bulgaria once, so far. I arrived in Sofia at the end of December 2008 excited to be visiting with V. for a month.
We hadn’t seen each other since he left Alaska in mid-September. For a new relationship like ours that 3 months apart was hard!
After a LONG flight with a layover in Paris, I finally arrived in Sofia’s gleaming new-ish Terminal 2. Before exiting the terminal to meet V. I stopped to reapply my makeup, international flights are not great for a girl’s appearance!
I pushed open the exit doors and there he was, huge smile on his face, holding a bouquet of flowers. Needless to say we shared a long and well deserved hug and kiss.
Our Bulgarian adventure started from there, after he introduced me to his beloved Volkswagen Polo, of course! We didn’t spend any time in Sofia, V. was eager to get home. The drive to his hometown of Smolyan, located in southern BG, took about 4 hours and I stared out the windows the entire time just soaking it all in. I have been to Europe before, but not Eastern Europe. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe large bronze statues dedicated to long dead Communist-era figures (they do exist, but not in the numbers I imagined), horse-drawn buggies, and the Communist hammer and sickle emblazoned on every street corner. What I expected and what I actually encountered were completely different. While it did feel like BG was in a bit of a time warp of old vs. new, globalization vs. traditions, it was much more “Western” than I would have thought, which depending on how you look at it may or may not be a good thing.
Leaving Sofia, we entered the rolling countryside. I was exhausted so much of the drive is a blur. I do, however, remember the mass of wedding and prom dress stores in Asenovgrad.
Smolyan itself is located in the narrow valley of the Cherna and Byala rivers in the beautiful Rhodope Mountains. It is said to be the highest city in Bulgaria, however, people dispute this fact. Nearby are the Pamporovo and Chepelare ski resorts. The city itself has a population of about 30,000 people and is easily navigable. As I was there in January it was fairly cold and everything was covered in a layer of fine snow.
I was hit hard by jet lag for about the first week of my trip. It sucked! It was all I could do not to sleep all day and be up all night. V. had little compassion and forced me to stay up! I was only there for a two days before we headed off to Rudozem to spend New Years Eve with V’s parents and brother. V’s mom was incredibly sweet and welcoming and immediately began trying to feed me.
Over the next month we visited various cities and attractions in Southern BG. My favorites being: the lovely village Shiroka Laka, Yagodina Cave, Devil’s Throat Cave (which sported an underground waterfall), Smolyan Regional Historical Museum (which was closed-but for a small “donation” the security guard turned on the lights and let us in), Smolyan Lakes (frozen and covered in snow-breathtaking), Pamporovo ski resort (just had a look around, didn’t ski), Plovdiv (finally got my Chinese food fix), Blagoevgrad and its delicous doner kebab (sort of like a gyro), and much more…
The language barrier was hard. Really hard. At one point I even broke down and had a good cry. It was just hard not being able to speak to V’s family and friends, read signs, or order my own food in a restaurant. However, as the days passed I started to catch on and by the end I was able to understand a little bit of what I was seeing and hearing (my visit really showed me how crucial it is that I try to learn as much Bulgarian as is possible before I move).
A couple other things I noticed: Bulgarians stare. They seem to have no concept of it being rude. Clearly I do not look Bulgarian, but in America staring is considered rude. I took it in stride and tried to ooze an aura of confidence-even if I was extremely self-conscious on the inside. Also, many people asked me how I was enjoying Bulgaria. When I would reply with compliments or my approval they would scoff at my responses, as if I had to be lying. I don’t know what that is all about. The roads and sidewalks in BG are treacherous. Potholes and uneven pavement abound. I already tend to walk staring at the ground on the lookout for obstacles, so that probably helped avoid a painful fall or ankle-snapping.
Overall, I more than enjoyed my stay in Bulgaria and was ecstatic to ring in 2009 with V. in his home country. Both the people and country itself are (for the most part) genuine, warm, and welcoming. One month was not near enough time to get my bearings and truly get a feel for the country. I am so looking forward to moving to BG and experiencing all that the country has to offer-both the good, bad, and the ugly!