Images and thoughts on my first trip to Bulgaria in May 2014.
At every study abroad orientation and in every travel guidebook, there is some section devoted to culture shock. It will happen, they tell you, no matter how much you’re read or seen and how prepared you think you are. No one is immune, they warn. There are many things I was expecting in Bulgaria: a different alphabet (Cyrillic), toilet paper going into the trash can and not the toilet, and technology in many places being years behind Western Europe and the U.S. Was I still culture shocked? Yes. And you know why, Reader? Because everything was open on Sunday. Seriously. I was completely disoriented by all the open bars, restaurants, and shops. I don’t know what I will do on my first Sunday back in the U.S. (July 20!)
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I got to Sofia, Bulgaria shortly before dinnertime on Friday after a flight where the most exciting event was an unexpected complimentary meal (read: sandwich and chocolate bar). My friend Lauren–whose face you’ve seen here–was waiting at baggage claim and we headed off to find our hostel. After checking in we wandered the city around before sitting down to a late dinner at a local sit-down chain restaurant popular with the younger generation of Bulgarians, Divaka, recommended by one of the hostel employees. Being the super cool party people that we are, we had gelato for dessert while doing some more wandering and returned to the hostel shortly before 11. On Saturday we did a free walking tour of the city followed by browsing at a book market, visiting lots of churches (and watching the end of one wedding!), and the Ethnology Museum. I really like visiting Ethnology Museums because I’m interested in traditional handcrafts, and this one did not disappoint. Every room had a little hands-on station, some of which were miniature looms, children’s toys, and embroidery. If you follow me on Pinterest you probably know that I cross-stitch and embroider, so I was very happy to be able to get in my daily needlework even while on vacation.
Sunday, as I mentioned, was a bit of a shock to the system since everything was open. I visited the National Art Gallery and the Archaeological Museum before joining another free tour–but you’ll have to come back next week to read about that! In the evening we joined the masses of twenty-somethings enjoying the absolutely fantastic weather at the bars and restaurants on Vitosha Boulevard. Vitosha is a mountain on the outskirts of Sofia, and its namesake is a wide pedestrian boulevard pleasantly lined with trees. We settled in at a table with a view of the mountain and enjoyed cocktails at very low prices. On Monday we wanted to try to visit Boyana Church in the foothills of Vitosha Mountain but could not find the correct bus we were supposed to take. We didn’t quite run out of time to visit it, but with an evening flight I didn’t want to take any risks by heading out of the city and not being able to get back in time. Instead, we checked out some of the sculptures in the gardens of the Soviet-era Palace of Culture, visited another market, and enjoyed more gelato. We headed back to Vitosha Boulevard for a late-ish lunch on the pleasant street but just as our food came the wind picked up, and we spent a large part of the meal picking flower-buds from a nearby tree off our food.
All in all, I had a really enjoyable long weekend away. If I hadn’t gone there to meet up with Lauren, I don’t think it would have ever crossed my mind to visit Sofia. The city itself is very old and you can definitely see how other cultures have impacted it through time. If you’re curious about Bulgarian cuisine, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty to share in next Wednesday’s post!