Bulgaria on my mind: go for the tomatoes, stay for the yogurt.

Pat and I have been back from Europe for two weeks now, but we still are thinking about our wonderful trip to Bulgaria — and the questions so many of you asked “why Bulgaria”?

We were going on a Rick Steves trip, and we felt like we were more likely to need a guide in a place like Bulgaria than in the more familiar climes of Western Europe.

Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria.

As with many of our far flung trips we felt we’d needed help with the logistics and the language. And that’s clearly true of Bulgaria — not only is the language obscure, even the alphabet is strange. They use the Cyrillic alphabet, which means not only can you not understand what they are saying, you can’t read signs or menus, either.

Icon in Bulgarian church.

Modern-day icon just painted in this craft area of Veliko Tarnovo

The Bulgarians are very proud of Cyrillic, incidentally. It was introduced to them by 9th Century theologians — Cyril and Methodius — and spread from there to Russia and other parts of the East. The Bulgarians we met — and particularly our tour guide, Stefan — were intensely proud of their country and their freedom from the Ottomans (in the late 19th Century) and the Nazis and Russians after World War II and the fall of communism.

So the reasons for going to Bulgaria, after all, are several;

First, the food is great. We weren’t expecting much. During our trip to the Balkans a couple of years ago, we ate a lot of cabbage. Bulgaria has a thriving agricultural sector. We had tomato-and-cucumber salad

A daily indulgence.

almost daily. There was fresh fish — much of it driven up from Greece — and a lot of variety. We had some great Bulgarian wine. The local drink is rakia — a very strong drink something like grappa. You have to be careful with rakia, but that’s not difficult.

Because the civilization is so old here — Bulgaria is part of ancient Thrace — there are some spectacular history museums, ancient tombs, Roman

Roman theater in Plovdiv

ruins, etc. Plovdiv, the second-largest city, is one of the oldest in Europe and sits on extensive Roman building.

There is the chance to experience some cultures that we hadn’t seen in other parts of Europe. We visited a Roma village and a Muslim village and were hosted for lunch in both places.

This family in a small Muslim village prepared our traditional lunch — both beef soup and bean soup — and then sang folk songs.

And there is very interesting architecture from the Ottoman era and 19th and early 20th Centuries.

 

 

My advice is like that you hear about many developing areas. Come while its still affordable.

This Russian-style church was built to commemorate Russian soldiers. My sandwich was very forgettable.

This monastery, which dates to the 13th Century, is important for both religious and nationalistic reasons.

 

 

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