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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Road Trip Round Up: Shipka, Gabrovo, and Etar

We passed through the small village of Shipka early on Wednesday morning. There really isn’t much there besides the Nativity Memorial Church, which is part of the Shipka Monastery. However, this beautiful church alone is well worth the visit. It’s onion-shaped golden domes can be seen from miles away and are even more stunning up close. The church exterior is vividly colored and the interior, while more muted, is just as colorful. Again, we were the only people on the property (save for a worker or two) and enjoyed the solitude by walking around the grounds (where we heard and then spotted a woodpecker–quite exciting for me!) and then by spending lots of time inside the quiet church. Out of all the churches and monasteries that I have visited in Bulgaria–and there are lots–this one was by far my favorite. It is a bit on the gaudy side, but in that totally eye catching and memorable way. To remember our visit, I picked up two small icons. Not only did I want to help support the church, but I love Orthodox icons. I had never bought any previously; this incredible gorgeous building compelled me to, however. I envision them sitting with all my other toursit-y tchotchkes (not that I think these are tacky) on a dedicated shelf or bookcase in my house one day.

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