Girl Meets Bulgaria

Musings of an American expat in Bulgaria (with detours in Utah and Alaska)


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*Re-post* Road Trip Round Up: Nessebar, Burgas, and Sozopol

I thought a little blast from the past was in order today.

Last March, Vince and I took an incredible road trip across Bulgaria. Our visit to Veliko Tarnovo was a highlight, but nearly breaking my ankle there really put a damper on the trip (click on the Veliko Tarnovo link below for the full story). After almost a year my ankle only recently stopped hurting. I wish we had been able to take another road trip this year, but life got in the way.

I leave Bulgaria and expat life behind tomorrow. Even though I won’t be living here anymore, I will always feel deeply connected to this amazing country. I hope this connection has shone through in my blog.

W.

My first attempt at a retro-postcard design in Photoshop!

Here are the previous posts in the series, if you want to take a look (and why wouldn’t you?!):

I’ve had such great comments and feedback on this series so far. I truly enjoy sharing my travels and photography with others. So thanks, ya’ll!

Now on to the gorgeousness that is the Bulgarian Black Sea coast!

Our first stop was Nessebar (Несебър), a small island connected to the mainland by an isthmus. This picturesque little spot on the sea was charming as could be. I’ve heard the place is completely packed in the summer months, but it was pretty much just Vince, myself, and a few locals here and there. That’s really how all of our stops were–deserted, quiet, and calm. I would love to head back to all of our stops during the summer months, but I am so happy that I was able to experience them without the crowds of tourists. I feel they are their more authentic selves in the off season.

Nessebar is a photographers paradise–small and easily navigable on foot, sun drenched fishing boats float lazily in the sea, the sound of seagulls ever present, and medieval churches stand strong amongst the newer structures.

I could have lazed about on the island for hours. Instead, we walked around a bit, drove the entire perimeter of the island, and I snapped photos throughout.

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Free Sofia Tour in Photos

When my friend K. was visiting us in January, we hoofed it up the hill at my apartment complex and hopped the Metro into the city. It was my first adventure outside the apartment without Vince and it felt really liberating. After hearing about it for a few years, I figured joining the tour was a good idea and a great way to give K. an overview of Sofia’s most well known buildings and attractions. The weather was also unseasonably warm and beautiful for January, so that was a huge bonus as well!

The Free Sofia Tour is a no-cost English-language walking tour of Sofia’s center led by volunteers. Our tour started near the lion statues at the Palace of Justice and wound through the center, past many notable and important sites, before ending at the Parliament building. Our guide (I forget his name) was really nice and knowledgeable; I learned a lot more about the city’s long, interesting, and (at times) tumultuous history.

(hover over photos for titles)
Meeting the Free Sofia Tour in front of Palace of JusticeMeeting the Free Sofia Tour in front of Palace of JusticePalace of JusticeSveta Nedelya Church

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Shiroka Laka’s Pesponedelnik (Kukeri) Festival 2013

We’ve only been back in Smolyan for a few days and already we are traveling up a storm! On Saturday we drove out to our village house to pick up some potatoes and bottled goods and see how the property fared over the winter (it was looking good and there wasn’t even a hint of snow left!) We then went to visit family (our adorable 14-month-old grand-nephew, Konstantin) nearby before taking a longer route back to Smolyan.

Sunday we went to the 2013 Pesponedelnik Festival in the village of Shiroka Laka. We went last year as well and knew that we had to try and make it back this year because we enjoyed it so much. I’ve said it before, but I absolutely adore Shiroka Laka. This little village is beyond charming on an ordinary day; add a lively festival with Kukeri’s, unique shopping, and yummy food and I am there!Shiroka Laka Pesponedelnik Festival 2013Shiroka Laka Pesponedelnik Festival 2013Shiroka Laka's main squareMe with some kukeri

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Saturday Brunch

They may look like scones but mekitsi are SO much more than that! They are fluffy pillows of deliciousness sprinkled with powdered sugar. Most people like to eat them with jam or honey, but I just like them with plain with sugar. Mmm! I sure missed my Mother-in-Law’s cooking!

mekitsi

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Честита Баба Марта! (Happy Grandma March!) | 2013

Честита Баба Марта!

(Happy Grandma March)

martenitsa2

March 1st is one of my favorite Bulgarian holidays.

Why you ask?

MARTENITSI!

Martenitsa_magnolia

These red and white bits of awesomeness make for one great month!

Read about martenitsi and the holiday here and here.

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The big move back to Smolyan is today so things will be a little quiet on GMB for a few days until we get internet.

We’re heading to Shiroka Laka tomorrow for the 2013 Pesponedelnik/Kukeri Festival, so expect lots of photos when I return!

♥W.

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European Apartment Living

Living in a European apartment comes with its own unique set of positives and negatives. Well…Perhaps negative is the wrong word. I think quirks is a better way to describe it! Add in some uniquely Bulgarian features and it really is quite the experience! Anyone who has moved overseas probably has their own stories of odd living spaces with a list of things that took some getting used to. I’m sure many people also have a long list of things they love (or loved and miss).

We’ve been living in our apartment in the Druzhba neighborhood of Sofia for about 4 months. I’m getting around to this post now because we are actually moving out next week and it was now or never. The specifics around the move are a bit of a long story–one that I will get into in another post soon–but for now I just wanted to show you all the place we called our own for the first time in our marriage. It may have been short lived, but we have really enjoyed it.

So, here we go! A tour of our Sofia apartment; quirks included!

Our apartment enters into a long hallway. Straight ahead is our bedroom. The first door on the left is the laundry/storage room (closet, really), second door on the left is the bathroom, and the door at the end of the hall on the right leads into the living room/kitchen.
DSC_2163_bLooking down the hall towards the kitchen/living roomHall--looking towards entrance

Bulgarian tradition dictates that shoes are removed at the door. Most people have slippers for their guests as well as for themselves. Most Americans do not take their shoes off at the entrance, so this is still something that I struggle with sometimes. Oftentimes I forget and just walk into the apartment and Vince never hesitates to admonish me! We keep most of our shoes in our closet and just those that we wear the most often by the door.

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The Beauty of Bulgaria | Guest Post by Ellis Shuman

My wife and I love to travel. You could say that we’ve been traveling on a life-long journey, as we were both born in the United States and have been living in Israel since we were teenagers. Europe is so close, but getting there, even from Israel, has been expensive. Like most people, we simply couldn’t afford to make all of our travel dreams come true. And then we were offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in Bulgaria for two years.

As Israeli ex-pats we were set up in a comfortable apartment in Sofia and immediately began our daily routine of working in the local support center of an Israeli Internet marketing company. We shopped in a nearby Piccadilly supermarket; bought flowers from a friendly lady on our cobblestone street; and smiled at our elderly doorman, even though we never fully understood what he was saying. We hired a tutor to teach us conversational Bulgarian, but because we worked with English-speaking colleagues, we failed to learn more than a few basic phrases.

And we traveled. Using Sofia as our base, we traveled at every opportunity we could. We took a train north to Vratsa; we went by bus east to Koprivshtitsa; we flew to Varna and later to Burgas on the Black Sea coast; and on many weekends we rented a car, enabling ourselves to get out into the countryside completely on our own.

We fell in love with the beautiful scenery we saw around us. The sculpted rock formations of Belogradchik; the traditional Bulgarian Revival houses of Plovdiv’s Old Town; the striking Rila Monastery; the ancient churches of Nessebar. We quickly came to appreciate Bulgarian history. We visited Shipka Pass, where Russian and Bulgarian troops were able to fight off the might of the Ottoman Empire and liberate the country in 1877-8.

Belogradchik Rocks

Belogradchik Rocks

Traditional Bulgarian architecture in Plovdiv

Traditional Bulgarian architecture in Plovdiv

Church ruins in Nessebar

Church ruins in Nessebar

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

We were captivated by Bulgarian culture. We ate in traditional Bulgarian mehanes, enjoyed Shopka Salat; drank rakia with our meals; exchanged martenitsa on March 1st; and watched the spectacular parade during the Festival of Roses in Kazanlak. It was an amazing time, full of adventures and new experiences. We made many friends in Bulgaria, and have many good memories of our time there.

Although we are now back at our permanent home in Israel, close to our family and two young granddaughters, we often think back fondly to our Bulgarian adventures. We experienced a wonderful, beautiful country, and we will always love the beauty of Bulgaria.

Ellis Shuman and his wife, Jodie, lived in Sofia for two years 2009-2010. During that time they maintained a very active blog, Ellis and Jodie’s Bulgarian Adventures, detailing their travels. Ellis is the author of Valley of Thracians, a suspense novel set in Bulgaria.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Shuman).