So the random number generator we use to chose the next country to visit has eventually allowed us out of Africa. We went to Bulgaria. I was last there some 18 years ago when it was the first country to be picked out of the hat at the start of my Guinness European Capital City challenge after visiting Dublin. That seems a long time ago now. I remember being very excited about embarking on the challenge combined with the excitement/nervousness of travelling alone to a destination I knew little about. It also had the challenge of coping with the Cyrillic alphabet.
I’ve watched a few videos of modern-day Sofia. The multitude of ‘places of worship’ are still there as are the relic of the communist era but it somehow seems tidier than it used to and maybe there are not so many missing man-hole covers as there were making it safer for the pedestrian on a night time walk. The tour of Bulgaria by Rick Steves was interesting. I also listened to an interesting interview with Bulgaria’s new Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov.
I must say that I don’t think I’ve got properly under the skin of Bulgaria in this ‘virtual’ visit meaning I’ve not attempted any whimsical imaginary trips so please forgive me. Maybe there were too many other distractions in the month we spent there or maybe I got a bit disillusioned about my failure to meet a Bulgarian. I think I’d better reign back my ambitions a bit next month.
Meeting someone from Bulgaria
It’s took a while but I did eventually manage to meet a Bulgarian. Sneja, from Plovdiv, Bulgaria runs the Pekarna stall at farmer’s markets. We met up with her at Insole Court and purchased various items made with hand-made filo pastry, a recipe taught to her by her grandmother and a Bulgarian loaf of sweet bread. It was a pleasure to gift her a clock I had made in the shape of Bulgaria.
We had just the one meal at home this month, a Bulgarian moussaka – which is a bit like the Greek version but made with potatoes instead of the aubergines. And very tasty it was too.
We found Bulgarian Deer Point wine available and got hold of a couple of different bottles and very palatable it was too.
Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov. That was sure an interesting read. A labyrinth of stories. Provoked a lot of self-reflection in me. Not difficult to read but in many ways dense and not to be rushed. I lost the thread at times and read it more as a series of short stories. Well-written and well-translated.
On the lighter side I also read ‘A Brit of Bulgaria’ by Richard Clasby. Written in diary format, a good intro to life of an ex-pat in Bulgaria, but one who works as an odd job builder, does lots of charity work and grapples bureaucracy with plenty of wildlife thrown in. Strangely enough it was this book that gave me perhaps my greatest insight into modern-day Bulgaria.
Zift (2008) – A man is freed on parole after spending time in prison on wrongful conviction of murder. Jailed shortly before the Bulgarian communist coup of 1944, he now finds himself in a new and alien world – the totalitarian Sofia of the 1960s and onwards to the modern day. Filmed in black and white, full of somewhat bizarre characters and events but enjoyable.
Love.net (2011) – a film about that follows the parallel stories of a number of characters who are trying to change their lives via the Internet or are simply having fun online. Not a great film but not awful. Improves as it goes on and the stories develop. Too much unnecessary titillation in my opinion (I must be getting old!). Didn’t get too much insight into modern Bulgaria except that the apartments looked very smart and modern.
I tried a number of Bulgarian playlists on Spotify but I kept coming back to a CD I purchased in Sofia when I was in there in 2004. Looking back at my notes from that trip it was a band of five male singers, three of whom were blind, with an accordion performing in the street. Lots of good harmonies. I wonder if they are still performing?
A friend also recommended that I try listening to Ivo Papasov and his Bulgarian Wedding Band. Turned out to be a good recommendation.
I managed to obtain a nice bit of off-cut hardwood from a local carpentry business from which to make a clock in the shape of Bulgaria. Another interestingly shaped country, perfect for a clock!
Casting my mouse around to see if there was a Bulgarian charity I would like to support I came across the work of Friends of Bulgaria which focuses on the wellbeing of children growing up without parents or family in institutional care. What particularly caught my eye was an upcoming triathlon they are competing in and raising funds for Ukrainian refugees in Varna.
Bulgaria is the first country on our virtual tour we’ve visited that has an extensive railway network. I contacted my friend Ian who is aiming to travel by rail in every European country. He’s almost made it. And yes, he has been to Bulgaria and was kind enough to share with me his blog of his 11-day trip there. I was tired just reading it! Ian is a great planer and record keeper as well as someone who finds interesting things to do and see even in destinations described as dull and boring in guide books. I can tell you that on his trip there in 2011 he travelled 1154 miles by train at an average speed of just 30mph. He’s also good at finding restaurants, another reason I like travelling with him!
Used Bulgarian stamps are very inexpensive and you end up with quite and eclectic mix. Art and theatre seem to be one theme they concentrate on as well as sporting achievements.
When I went to Sofia in 2004 geocaching was still in its infancy. There were a few geocaches in Bulgaria but not in Sofia itself. I had an idea of creating a virtual geocache whilst I was there and did all the homework but when I returned home, put it all together and submitted it for review, it was rejected on the basis that I was not a resident of Bulgaria and could not maintain it, even though it was a virtual cache and did not have a physical geocache at the end of it. Bulgaria remains one of the few European countries where I have not found a cache.
As part of this challenge I want to solve a mystery cache in each country I visit virtually. Things have changed a lot and there are now loads of caches there including many mystery caches. I tried to solve one based on the tile game 2048 and must have attempted it more than ten times but failed every time. Instead I solved one called For Bravery and based on the date of the Serbian-Bulgarian War. Not only was it interesting but it reacquainted me with using Excel spreadsheets.
The highest peak in Bulgaria is Musala which stands at 2,925 metres (9,596 ft). A peak that is reasonably accessible in summer months, in particular on days the gondola is running which takes you part way up. It is snow-covered for many months over autumn-winter-spring making ascents much less common. Rob Woodall gives a good account of his ascent, when he was unfortunate enough to turn up on a July day when the gondola was not running.
Again I failed to find a game Bulgaria were competing in where I could cheer them along. After a bit of research I came across the high-jumper Stefka Kostadinova. Her world record of 2.09 metres has stood since 1987. That’s a long time! She was the 1996 Olympic champion, a twice World champion, and a five-times World Indoor champion.
A lot seems to have changed since I was last in Bulgaria in 2004. Perhaps the biggest change is that Bulgaria is now in the European Union and the UK isn’t. One day it would be nice to go back there in person.
If you enjoyed reading this you may like to read about other countries we have visited as part of our Armchair travel Challenge.
One thought on “Bulgaria”
Great read as ever. I look forward to seeing where the random number generator sends you next. Personally I’m hoping for a Pacific island nation like Fiji.