Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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).


One Month in Bulgaria + Introduction to Smolyan (Смолян)

Now that I’ve been in Bulgaria for a month (to the day), I figured it was high time I told you all about the city I now call home–Smolyan.

Side note: This also happens to be my 200th post. Fancy that!

Smolyan (Смолян) is settled in a valley in the central Rhodope mountains, between the Cherna (Black) and Byala (White) rivers. Archaeological evidence dates the region to around 1 B.C. The town’s name comes from the Smolyani tribe, who settled the area in the 7th century. Over its thousand+ years of history, the area passed from the Byzantines, to Bulgarians, to the Ottomans (who ruled for over 500 years), and finally back to Bulgarians–resulting in an incredibly rich history.

The Rhodopes are said to be the birthplace of the legendary Orpheus–the mythical singer and poet who could charm all living things with his beautiful music. Tales of Orpheus are well preserved all over southern Bulgaria, and in the Smolyan region especially.

See the purple arrow?

Smolyan, as it’s known today, is actually made up of 3 smaller villages: Ustovo, Raykovo, and Ezerovo–which were combined in 1960. Smolyan is the administrative seat of Smolyan Province, which includes 79 smaller villages. The population of Smolyan itself is around 30,000 people.

The city is located just minutes from several major ski resorts, including Pamporovo and Chepelare.

The Rhodopes are renowned for their buttery, yellow potatoes. My in-laws grow them at our country house and we eat them almost daily (much to the chagrin of my waistline!). There are lots of other foods the region is known for, but I’ll leave those for another post (or ten!).

Smolyan itself is also known for: it’s planetarium and observatory (the largest in Bulgaria), The Cathedral of Saint Vissarion of Smolyan (the largest church in southern Bulgaria), The Rhodope Drama Theatre, and regional historical museum.

In time I hope to do more posts detailing all of these and more.

I find the people here to be gracious and welcoming; the food to be varied and delicious; and the land to be  vast and beautiful (how could you not love living in the mountains?!).

I was here once before for a month, but I have definitely gotten to know the city better this time around (and I don’t plan on stopping!). I can’t wait to search out more nooks and crannies and explore all the surrounding villages.

Downtown Smolyan (Blvd. Bulgaria) 2009

As much as I sometimes wished we lived in the faster-paced Sofia (or even Plovdiv), I am just fine living a quieter life here in the south (for now, anyway!).

Hope you liked this brief intro to my new hometown!



Our apartment block

Small church in the Raykovo area

Blvd. Bulgaria (pedestrian portion)

Smolyan Planetarium

The Cathedral of Saint Vissarion of Smolyan

Strollin' in Smolyan

Some photos taken by some friends of ours from Alaska (when they visited in October):


To see all the photos from my previous trip to Bulgaria, visit my Flickr!


Top 25 Best and Worst Things About Being An Expat

Brokerfish (an expat medical insurance broker) posted links on their Twitter feed yesterday to two lists I found worthy of mentioning here on GMB:

Now, I’ve only been an expat for a few weeks now, but lots of the things on both lists apply to me.

I really think the lists warrant a few minutes of your time; especially if you, like me, are an expat (but I still think you will find them interesting, even if you are not).

They really give some insight into both the good and bad that come with packing up your life and moving overseas.

One recommendation: read the “best” list before the”worst.”

All the amazing perks of being an expat really make the not-so-amazing things seem a little less important.

I’d love to hear what you think.


*I have no affiliation with Brokerfish. I came across the links to their blog on Twitter. Just wanted to give credit where credit is due.