After a 10-day adventure in Bulgaria with my dad, my friends tend to ask me why I choose Bulgaria to visit, how this country was, what it was famous for. France, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium do not seem to interest them as much as this ‘mysterious’ country in the East of Europe. On a day when my mind is not active enough to do research for my dissertation, I suddenly feel an urge to look back at my photos and tell my stories properly. I feel like I always miss something incredible about Bulgaria when I just talk about it without writing things down. It is a bit unfair for this beautiful country.
|A view from our hotel in Golden Sands, Varna | © Vylyst|
First of all, if you have read this post: Top 21 places Vy has always wanted to visit, you would have known that my dad spent some years of his youth in Varna, a city in the east of Bulgaria, as an exchange student. Secondly, I was as curious about Bulgaria as much as my friends were. Finally, I heard that Bulgarian yogurt was the best of them all. As a yogurt addict, nothing could stop me from coming to the land of ‘healthy eating’.
Why don’t you explore this country with me?
1. Breathtaking nature, fresh air, amazing weather in the summer
This might sound naive as summer is supposed to have ‘amazing’ weather. Why would I favour summer in Bulgaria over other places? Yet, do you know how cold and rainy it can be in the UK in the ‘summer’? How extremely hot, stuffy and humid can it get in my hometown to the point that it is unbearable? My 10-day summer in Bulgaria was perfect! The sky was blue all the time. It was quite hot around noon but then the temperature cooled down in the mornings and late afternoons. There was not a drop of rain and the air was pretty dry.
Sofia was one of the cleanest and greenest capitals that I had been to. The air was so fresh I wish I could bring it back to my hometown.
Here is a view from Vitosha mountain in Sofia, a popular place for skiing in the winter and for picnicking in the summer:
|A view of Sofia from Vitosha (16/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
2. Healthy eating, popular ingredients including yogurt, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, potatoes, cheese, fish
To be fair, Bulgarian cuisine is not the most exciting one in the world. Not as delicate as French food, not as mouth-watering as the Italian one. Yet, it is very refreshing and healthy. The cuisine has some resemblance to the Turkish one as it was under the Turkish rule for about 500 years.
Here are some traditional dishes that I like:
|Bosa and Banitsa – traditional breakfast (17/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
|Tarator – cold yoghurt soup with dill, cucumbers and olive oil (17/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
|Shopska salata – salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, herbs and the traditional cheese, sirene (18/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
And here is the best yogurt in the world:
|This thick yogurt can be used to make ayran, a yogurt drink (18/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
3. Sunflower fields and rose valleys
On my road trip from Sofia (in the east of Bulgaria) to Varna (in the west of Bulgaria), I encountered a lot of beautiful sunflower fields. That made me think Bulgaria should have been ‘the country of Sunflowers’ instead of ‘Roses’.
Even though roses were not in bloom anymore, organic and inexpensive skin care products made from them can be purchased in ‘Rose of Bulgaria’ stores in various locations.
|One of Bulgaria’s sunflower fields (21/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
4. Historical monasteries and fortresses, anthropological and art-historical treasures.
In Sofia, my favourite place was a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, Boyana Church. What incredibly special about it was its 13th-century frescos portraying the life of St. Nicolas. The keeper of the church, who was also an art professor from Bulgaria, gave us a wonderful talk about the frescos. Who could expect such detailed and sophisticated works from the Middle Ages? The keeper was so enthusiastic he offered us a second round to look at them as each visitor was allowed only 10 minutes. Photos were prohibited inside so please find images here: The official website of Boyana Church.
|From left to right: Vy, the friendly art historian and Vy’s dad. In front of Boyana Church, 18/07/2015 | © Vylyst|
Other famous and must-see historical places are Rila Monastery in Rila and Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo.
|Some details of Rila Monastery (19/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
|A view from Tsarevets Fortress (21/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
5. Vivid artworks
Close to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in central Sofia, an outdoor market selling mainly contemporary paintings from native artists was a great discovery. They mostly depict colourful nature and traditional architecture under sunshine that could bring viewers such a happy feeling. We bought a painting of the cathedral which was a couple of steps away and another one of a traditional Bulgarian two-floored house in the spring. My collection of travelling art (artworks that I had been collecting while travelling) was becoming bigger!
|An outdoor art market (17/07/2015) | © Vylyst|
6. Wonderful and friendly locals
Most of them were willing to help us even though their English was limited. A taxi driver was so helpful he found my dad’s accommodation that he stayed 30 years ago in Sofia. Locals smiled at us all the time and greeted us in Bulgarian occasionally as if we were Bulgarian. We just felt really welcomed in this country overall.
Visiting a country that was not popular among tourists was simply an advantage. Locals did not treat us like tourists. They did not try to sell things over-pricedly nor feel annoyed by us for taking too many photos. They regarded us as visitors or their guests and they were genuinely interested in our culture.
7. Everything is inexpensive
The country’s currency was Lev and one lev is equal to 0.38 pound and 0.51 euro (as in 2015). A decent mid-range restaurant 3-course meal costed roughly 20 lev/person (equal 7.57 pounds and 10.25 euros).
8. Beautiful beaches that are warm enough to swim
Finally, I made it to my dad’s favourite beach of all time, Varna! He told me his fond memory of how magical it was while he was swimming among glowing tiny dots during nighttime. It was the beach of nostalgia for a generation of Vietnamese students in the late 1970s.
It was the first time I touched the water of Black Sea. I did think that the water had a darker blue colour than other seawater but I could be wrong.
|Taken by me when we were in the Golden Sands, Varna | © Vylyst|
9. Di Wine Restaurant & Wine Cellar – one of the best restaurants in Varna
What could make a restaurant be worthy of dining? Excellent chef, great service, comfortable sitting. Di Wine Restaurant had them all! The steak I had deserved a 10/10. My dad’s risotto was flavoursome and his fish was cooked perfectly. Our waiter was fast and friendly and he gave a private tour of the impressive wine cellar. Plus, the restaurant was situated in an old street full of 19th-century architecture. The restaurant itself was in a beautiful building which was formerly a pharmacy (if I remember correctly).
10. Slow-paced lifestyle
Bulgarians seem to take it easy with their lives. ‘No rush, no fuss’. An ideal destination for retirees.
Sadly, young Bulgarians tend to leave their country to find jobs elsewhere in Europe, leaving the country’s economy to become unpromising. I saw many deserted buildings, mostly in central Varna, making me wonder why it happened. Economic crisis? Low-paid jobs? Unemployment? Also, there is a high population of gipsies living in slum-dog neighbourhoods. Be aware of pickpockets.
Still, Bulgaria is a place of nostalgia, simplicity and tranquillity that is worth being explored.
Here are some photos taken by me in Varna to show you what I mean by a nostalgic, simple and tranquil city:
|The restaurant we dined in | © Vylyst|
P. S: I missed Rose Festival in June so this would be one extra reason why I should go back. I am not a big fan of roses yet this festival is an important cultural event, where I can learn more about Bulgarian traditions.
- We visited Baba Vanga’s memorial. She was the only famous figure I knew from Bulgaria. Do you not know who she is? Check this out: Baba Vanga. Many years have passed since her death, people still come here to commemorate her. She motivated me to travel Europe extensively this summer. One of her predictions was that Europe would be deserted in 2016! Not all of her predictions were wrong. (Well, it is already 2017 now and the prediction on Europe did not happen.)
- If there was something I did not like about the country, it would be unsightly architecture remained from the Communist era (Bulgaria was a Communist country until 1990). Also, touristic restaurants in Golden Sands area served not very tasty food at all.
|Somewhere in Varna | © Vylyst|
The surprise element
While shopping, I and my dad met Shahrukh Khan, one of the highest-paid actors in 2015, at a shopping mall in Sofia completely by chance. We got so excited and asked him to take a photo with us because we have always been Bollywood fans. Having watched so many of his films, we felt over the moon about this unexpected encounter. He is said to be one of the most powerful actors in India, and he is a truly gifted person. Later, we found out that he was in Sofia to work on his 2015 film, Dilwale.