About a year ago, I won a bid on a vacation auction for a 3 day surprise trip for 2 within Europe including flight and hotel. I had 1 year to use it, otherwise it would expire. How exciting not knowing where you would be going until 1 week after you book it. One week later, surprise, you get your destination and all the details.
The only thing I hoped for was it wasn’t a destination I have already been to. Somewhere new where I can explore the culture, people and foods. I waited patiently, okay, not so patiently, every day checking my e-mails to see where we would be going. True to their word, 1 week later, we found out we were going to Sofia, Bulgaria. Cool, I’ve never been there before.
My husband and I began to do some research on the country and see what sites we wanted to see. Our first night was exploring the city, checking out some cafes and bars. It was quite a site to see how people drive their cars without any care at all. Doesn’t matter if there is space, they will pull out of their intersection and squeeze in. The cars parked on sidewalks front facing or in the middle of the road if there is space.
We observed police officers and tow trucks picking cars up with a crane type contraption. We never seen this before. I was wondering how the people would react when they went to their vehicle after a nice dinner or drinks to find their car not there anymore.
The next morning after a light breakfast we decided to go to the Black Sea. Along the way, we stopped to get something to drink in the town of Plovdiv. We were surprised to see both sides of the street for miles having some type of auto auctions. It must have been quite an event because there were people everywhere. Another place very interesting was the Thracian tombs in Kazanlak.
A few vendors there were selling Rose perfume, soaps and oils. Bulgaria used to be the largest global producer of perfume oils in Rose Valley (also known as the “Valley of Roses”. It is surely a source of national pride for this country and have a “Festival of Roses” in the first week in June. We bought a few souvenirs from an elderly woman and she was so grateful that she wanted to give us sample rose perfume bottles to take home.
As we continued towards the Black Sea we observed the difference between the country and the bigger cities.
Sofia is the capital and the largest city, followed by Plovdiv, Varna, and then Burgas.
It’s clear to see that Bulgaria is one of the lowest paid country in the EU. The average salary is 1,012 leva (local money) which is around €517 per month. More than 1/5 of the labor force are employed on a minimum wage of €1 per hour.
This was quite strange for us and you just have to wonder how people can live like this.
Once we arrived in the town of Burgas we were met by some friends and had a wonderful meal at a local restaurant. Our friends ordered for us because we wanted to try traditional Bulgarian cuisine. There is a strong Turkish and Greek influence. Yogurt, lukanka, banitsa, shopska salad, lyutenitsa and kozunak are among the best-known local foods. I especially loved the shopska salad and have made this at home since returning. Rakia is a traditional fruit brandy which I personally did not like. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country. Bulgaria was the world’s second largest wine producer until 1989. We decided to stick with local beer and enjoyed the taste of a light beer (Kamenitza and Zagorka).
Bulgaria is not a large country, but a unique country. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. Bulgarians are the main ethnic group which comprise 84.8% of the population. Turkish at 8.8% and Roma (gypsy’s) at 4.9% according to a census from 2011. Bulgarians are proud to live in Bulgaria and when we asked our friends if they could live anywhere in the world (and they’ve traveled all over the world), they would clearly tell you so. It’s no wonder that it’s considered one of the top 10 countries for tourism. This country has a bit of everything at affordable prices. The skiers are attracted to the mountains in Bansko and Pamporovo and the beach lovers to Bulgaria’s famous coastline along the Black Sea with its beautiful sandy beaches.
Bulgaria has a special charm and my husband started making plans to come back during the summer months. If you look at the postcard, you clearly see it’s worth visiting and off the beaten path.