by Bruce Taylor, Travel Industry Journalist, based in Brussels
“In 10 years as a travel journalist, I had never received any information on Bulgaria, let alone written anything about it or ever felt the urge to visit the country. Yes, I knew about the Black Sea, cheap sun and skiing, but that image of mass tourism is not a positive one.
All that changed when I had the chance to go there for the first time. In the space of just 5 days, my whole attitude to Bulgaria changed. It was the complete opposite of what I had expected. It’s a surprising and naturally beautiful destination.
Here are 10 more tips and useful facts for first-timers to help you discover the real Bulgaria……”
by Bruce Taylor, Travel Industry Journalist, based in Brussels
Another famous BULGARIAN
Petar Deunov was a mystic and Bulgarian guru who founded the Universal White Brotherhood in 1900.
This spiritual movement borrows elements from Christianity, eastern philosophy and sun worship. Duenov’s teachings -centred on love, wisdom, truth, justice & virtue – interested many famous people like Einstein, Paco Rabanne….. In summer 1929 he took his followers camping to the Seven Rila Lakes and it became an annual pilgrimage to the sun. You can still come across them there today. Another of Bulgaria’s well kept secrets!
Good, great, fine thanks. A useful answer and one that is surprisingly easy to pronounce! Taking it a step further; ‘Dobro utro’ is good morning; ‘dober den’, good day or good afternoon (from 10.00 to 18.00); and ‘dober vecher’, good evening. If you like something, just say ‘dobre’ and you’ll invariably get a friendly smile in return.
Real guests in real GUEST HOUSES
In the countryside you stay in family hotels or Guest houses and in Bulgaria this means they are still family-run. The word ‘guesthouse’ in English has lost its real meaning. Here in Bulgaria it retains the original one. You are made to feel a Guest with a capital ‘G’.
Guest houses range from basic to more comfortable, according to your budget, but the hospitality and local food is genuine and you know that your money is going directly into the local economy and making a difference.
LACTOBACILLICUS BULGARICUS, or just plain yogurt…
No, it’s certainly not just plain yogurt! Bulgaria’s most famous gastronomic product is indeed delicious and completely different from what is sold as yogurt in the rest of Europe. There’s nothing like its rich creamy consistency, smooth as silk. Try it with honey & walnuts or bilberries, either for breakfast or as a dessert. It is also used in salads, cold soup (tarator) and numerous other dishes.
A miracle cure for many ailments, it is reputed to have saved France’s Louis XVI from stomach cancer.
And they tell you it’s not difficult to make – just add boiled milk to the culture and squeeze the yogurt through a cloth to drain off the water. Et voilà! The secrets are the length of time and the temperature.
Not quite as easy as it sounds, I fear.
Climb every MOUNTAIN!
Climbing every mountain in Bulgaria could take you a lifetime, like collecting ‘Munros’ in Scotland and the latter are considerably lower! There are 7mountain ranges here which cover some 30% of the land area and they are criss-crossed with 32,000 km of trails. The four major ones are:
Central Balkan Range, an extension of the Julian Alpes and barrier against the frozen northern winds, runs from west to east across the middle of the country for 550km before ending up on the Black Sea.
Rila Mountains, south of Sofia, are home to the fabulous Rila Monastery, the Seven Rila Lakes and Bulgaria’s highest mountain, Mt. Musala (from the Turkish name ‘Near the Prophet’) at 2925m.
Pirin Mountains, further to the south, are alpine with their harsh granite rock and numerous lakes. A UNESCO protected National Park attempts to protect the unique flora, fauna & landscape against the onslaught of the nearby and increasingly commercial skiing industry.
Rhodope Mountains in the south-east, the largest range covering 18,000km2, are sub-alpine. The highest peak is Mt. Perelik at a mere 2191m! It is a rural land of green valleys and forests where time stands still.
Watch out POTHOLES ahead!
Avoiding elephant-eating potholes in the roads is something of a national sport and part of the magic of Bulgaria. If ‘pothole-swerving’ were an Olympic discipline, the Bulgarians would win hands-down. In the Rhodope Mountains potholes are even cut neatly into rectangles awaiting repair, which can take anything up to 2-3 years. Of course, the harsh extremes of weather, especially in the mountains, do not help.
One possible advantage is that they do slow down the traffic, just like the vicious ‘sleeping policemen’ in towns and villages. Beware! Other rural driving hazards include horse-drawn carts, sheep, the occasional herd of cattle or stray cow, hay drying on the road….But don’t worry, you’re never in much of a hurry when you’re visiting Bulgaria. If you’re renting a car, do make sure you’re fully insured.
Rakiya (Bulgarian grape brandy) is an institution, a way of life…and at 40% proof; it must be treated with respect. The first thing you learn is to drink it as an aperitif or at the beginning of a meal, not the end. Yes, Bulgarians do things differently. As my Bulgarian friends told me, it is always served at the start of big family meals and that makes everyone very talkative!
The second lesson is that it is always accompanied by something solid, normally a salad as the first course. It’s also delicious with sliced apple or cold meats. There are infinite varieties and, although I have only managed to try a few (so far!), I can recommend Burgas 63. Homemade rakiya is often the best and certainly the most powerful with an alcohol content of 60% or more. If you don’t go for the grape or plum variety, try another more aromatic flavour such as apricot or sour cherry. Naztrave!
Smelling of ROSES
Bulgaria is one of the world’s largest producers of attar of roses (essential oil from rose petals).
The rose harvest in the Valley of Roses in the foothills of the Balkan Mountains, 2 hours east of Sofia, takes place each year at end May.
Rose Festivals in Karlovo & Kazanlak, on 30 May & 1 June attract thousands of visitors. The programme is eclectic and includes a Rose Queen contest, the distilling of roses, an international folk festival, a photo competition, rose rakiya & rose jam tasting and the re-creation of ancient Thracian rituals. The original roses grown by the Thracians were reputedly ‘unsurpassed in their splendour’. Today’s Kazanlak rose was introduced much later by the Ottoman Turks and is descended from the Damask rose.
The distillation process of turning petals into oil is a complex one which requires many kilos of petals to produce just a single ounce of essential oil. This delicate fragrance is a uniquely expensive luxury and is used in many equally expensive perfumes.
Storks are Bulgaria’s favourite bird. For me they’re the symbol of Bulgaria. The airborne equivalent of dolphins, storks are almost human. Each spring over 5,000 pairs return from their winter migration not just to the same village, but to the very same nest in the very same village. The male comes first to ensure everything is in shape and do running repairs. Then the boss follows, just as in human life. There are strictly two to a nest –no stork swingers – until they multiply into four. No village should be without them. They’re so elegant and decorative. And if you see them walking behind a tractor in the fields, they’re just having a small feast of tasty crickets.
In the autumn some 200,000 storks from all over Eastern Europe congregate by the Black Sea for military manoeuvres, before migrating south again to the winter sun. It must be a spectacular sight, if you’re lucky enough to catch it. They fly in changing formations all the way to the Middle East & Africa.
In the footsteps of TAKE THAT
Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow and Take That chose Bulgaria to shoot their latest music video at the Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia. Today Bulgaria is one of the most attractive destinations in Europe for film producers, thanks to its wide variety of scenic & architectural locations, and its reasonable costs.
Well, that’s all from Beginners’ Bulgaria for this time. Now take a look at the latest news from Odysseia-In.
Do skoro vizdane!
Or just ‘Cia0’ as the say in Bulgarian