Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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Bulgarian Liberation Day

Bulgarian Flag

135 years ago today, Bulgaria was liberated from 500 years of Ottoman rule.

As you can imagine, March 3rd is a very meaningful day in the country and most people celebrate in some way. Later this evening in Smolyan there will be a public gathering and fireworks display. Even with continued national protests and government strife, Bulgarians are proud of their country and heritage.

It is common to see statues and memorials of liberation heroes decorated with flower wreaths and handwritten notes of thanks. Yesterday, on our way to Rudozem, we passed the Polkovnik Serafimov monument–high in the mountains above Smolyan– and it was covered in beautiful flower arrangements.

bulgaria_national_day_2013-1057007-hp

Being married to a Bulgarian has made me feel much more invested in this country and its history. Our children will be half-Bulgarian and I want them to be proud of their heritage–on both sides.

To all of my Bulgarian friends and family, Happy Liberation Day!

W.

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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).


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Bulgarian Liberation Day

On March 1st when I posted about Baba Marta, I forgot to mention an even more important Bulgarian holiday: Bulgarian Liberation Day.

Liberty Monument at Shipka

Today marks Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottomans, who ruled the country for nearly 500 years. Liberation came on March 3rd, 1878, when the Treaty of San Stefano was signed by the Russian and Ottoman Empires outside of Istanbul.

After the Congress of Berlin took place a few months later; Bulgaria, a country ruled by the Ottomans since the 14th century, was now an independent nation.

Vince told me that people celebrate by placing flowers and notes at the many Liberation monuments around the country. Some also bust out the fireworks like Americans do on our own Independence Day, but the majority of people (especially in those towns and villages that saw battles during the 1877-78 battle for liberation) celebrate in a more subdued and reflective way.

Google even marked the occasion today with its Google Logo featuring the Bulgarian flag and the monument in Shipka (on Google BG)

In my opinion, however, being freed from a tax-hungry and over-zealous king thousands of miles away pales in comparison to the freeing of a nation that had been occupied by another empire for almost 500 years.

Now, don’t think me unpatriotic. I am proud to be American and I know the sacrifices our country and its founders when through so that we could be the country we are today. It just boggles my mind when I think about how a country like Bulgaria was largely able to retain its own traditions and culture after having been occupied by the Turks for nearly half a millennium.

America was born after our liberation from the English, we didn’t have centuries upon centuries of history and a national identity prior to that like the Bulgarians did.

I know the two situations have little in common, It just got me thinking about my own country’s history and struggles.

Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand officially declared the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire on September 22, 1908 in the old Bulgarian capital of Tarnovo. This date is celebrated annually as the nation’s Independence Day.

I am still learning about the many holidays here in BG, so if any of this info is off or I stated something incorrectly, please feel free to correct me in the comment. I know how fiercely proud Bulgarians are of their liberation and independence, so I would hate to offend anyone!

I am a huge history buff, so learning about Bulgarian history is very interesting to me.

W.