Not even once in the past 23 years that I thought I’ll be traveling to Southeast Europe to discover Bulgaria. Not until Miss Bulgaria earned the admiration of the Filipinos during Miss Universe 2015 and not even until I received an invitation to visit a few friends in Bulgaria. And from then on, I don’t understand why people (and Filipino travel junkies) are skipping Bulgaria in their travel plans.
So last December 21, 2017, I traveled all the way from the Philippines. This was after the long and stressful visa application process and months of working my ass off to afford the trip. My flight itinerary started from Cebu to a long layover in Hongkong. Then Hongkong to Istanbul and finally to Sofia. The flight time for a single direction was approximately 15 hours. That’s excluding the layovers, the time spent waiting in the airport, and clearing the security checks and passport control. I know.. I know.. Sounds like a very long trip, right? I can recall all the faces people made when they asked me how long was the flight time and most of them were giving me the “are-you-even-serious” face with the “surprised-eye” effect. But as Vanessa Carlton’s song goes, “’cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles if I could just see you tonight” *insert piano instrumental here* So yes, I flew for 15 hours and crossed different time zones to visit Bulgaria for 15 days. It was also my first winter experience so it’s safe to say that I also came for the snow too! HAHA! Going there during the winter season was indeed a different approach to discover Bulgaria for the first time.
The town of Chepelare in the Rhodope Mountain
Meeting Adventures in Bulgaria: Winter season
All of the people that I met there told me that I was indeed lucky because this year’s winter was a lot more forgiving than the previous year. It was snowing like hell the year before and a lot of them were placed in inconvenient situations. Honestly, I didn’t feel lucky hearing this information because the snow was one of the things I was expecting to see A LOT in Bulgaria. Well, it snowed a bit in Haskovo one morning though.. but just a tiny bit.
During my visit, the average temperature was around 0° in the morning and then drops to -5° in the evening. So imagine a girl from the tropical side of the world walking around the town in this type of temperature. Can you imagine her shaking her ass off from the cold? But of course, these numbers are nothing to the locals. Some of them were even wearing a short dress and a thin pair of leggings underneath while I looked like the Michelin mascot.
Meeting Adventures in Bulgaria: Language and Culture
Communicating with the locals was the most challenging thing on this trip because most of them cannot understand and speak English. Though there are a few who can communicate with basic English, it still helps if you know some Bulgarian basics like the “Yes” and “No”. Remember that..
Nodding in Bulgarian means “NO” and shaking your head means “YES”.
I keep on forgetting this so I confuse myself (and maybe other people) sometimes. And it got even more confusing nowadays. Why? Because you’ll never know if the person you’re talking with is responding in Bulgarian or not so nodding can also mean Yes and shaking can also mean No. This is why my Bulgarian friends always tell me to use words. Da for Yes and Ne for No.
Learning some basic phrases like Zdrasti, Kak si, Ciao, Dovizhdane and Blagodarya for Hello, How are you?, Bye, See you later and Thank you also helps A LOT when meeting new friends in Bulgaria. Not only that, they will also surely appreciate your effort in learning their language.. and they can make fun of you for your pronunciation. (Like what my Bulgarian friends sometimes do to me)
Saw this attraction while walking in Old Plovdiv
The Bulgarian culture is also very interesting which makes me even more excited to discover Bulgaria at a deeper level. Living with local Bulgarians and interacting with them for two weeks was a completely different experience.
Discover Bulgaria by celebrating Christmas and New Year
So during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we gathered around the dinner table and ate Banitsa, a traditional Bulgarian pie, and Pitka, a Bulgarian Christmas Bread. In the Banitsa, a piece of paper was stuck in each slice and everyone in the table must pick a slice and read their fortune that was written on the piece of paper. Pitka, on the other hand, has a coin hidden in one of the slices and the person who gets the slice with the coin is believed to receive more luck for the new year. And guess who got the coin for Christmas? ME!
Bulgarians are one of the most nationalistic people in the world
Have you ever seen houses with flags hanging outside? I have! In Bulgaria, there are households like that. I’ve been to a few towns in Bulgaria and in each town, it’s impossible not to see flags outside one or two houses. Moreover, don’t even start a history debate with them or else you’ll be left speechless afterward. I met someone who can talk for hours about the Bulgarian history with dates and names of persons involved. I am shookt af!
Up until this modern times, I can see that Bulgaria is still keeping their culture and tradition.
Meeting Adventures in Bulgaria: Bulgarian foods
Bulgarian foods are new to my taste buds so, to be honest, I was not a fan at first. I like spicy foods but they’re not really a fan of spicy dishes. They’re more into sweets, I noticed. Finding something that will please my taste buds was a bit of a struggle, however, there were some foods that I eventually liked. Some, I can now tolerate them.
A typical Bulgarian meal consists of bread, cheese, yogurt, Sudzhuk (суджук), and several types of meat. One of my favorites is the Princesa sandwich. Basically, it’s just a slice of bread baked with ground meat, butter and grated cheese on top. I also enjoyed the homemade milk, white cheese, jams, and dried fruits from grandma Radka’s kitchen.
Aside from the traditional foods, I also enjoyed the pizzas and the doner. These foods are almost everywhere in the city center. In big cities like Sofia, you can find big-time pizza parlors like Dominoes.
This giant pizza is one of my favorites in Bulgaria
Do they have rice in Bulgaria?
People keep on asking me this and the answer is “YES” but it’s not their staple food. They also have different ways of preparing rice like the Sutlyash or rice pudding for the dessert.
Meeting Adventures in Bulgaria: the people
Before I came to Bulgaria, I was afraid that people will not treat me kindly. I have heard stories how Bulgarians hate gypsies (no offense) and I’m afraid some Bulgarians might associate me to the gypsies because of my appearance. But I guess I look more Asian than a gypsy though. By the end of the day, I’m happy that I was able to make a few friends.
I also often misjudge some of the Bulgarians because I was intimidated by their large physique. Most especially in the town of Haskovo, people have strong accents and loud voices that I sometimes think they’re arguing a lot. But the truth is Bulgarians are very open to foreigners. They will welcome you warm-heartedly into their home, keep you warm and prepare a tasty dish for you– whether you ask for it or not. They also try their best to talk to you no matter how broken their English may be. These are just some of the moments that really captured my heart.
Discover Bulgaria and the lottery
Another interesting thing about the Bulgarians is their fondness in the lottery. Almost everywhere you can find stores selling lottery tickets. My favorite and I think the most popular ones are the ones which you have to scratch. At one point this also became my “mini-addiction” because whenever we run out of things to do, we go to the city center and buy something to scratch. This was after I almost won a million leva. HAHA!
It’s not goodbye but Be Right Back..
Two weeks was not enough to see everything in this beautiful country but it was more than enough to fall in love with its people and culture. The language barrier made it difficult to get to know the country better that is why I am looking forward to discover Bulgaria even more. Hopefully, this time, I’ll be able to speak the language fluently. I will definitely come back, Bulgaria.
If you liked this post, don’t hesitate to pin the image below and let your friends know about my FUN-tastic experience in Bulgaria..