lauantai 1. marraskuuta 2014

BULGARIA! (text in English)

I decided to write this post in English because I want to raise awareness among my friends from all around the world of a very underestimated country called Bulgaria. And I have been traveling quite a lot (nearly 30 countries, mostly in Europe, but also Australia, Asia, North America, the Caribbeans..), but Bulgaria was really a destination that differs from other European countries both in good an in bad. I'll also have to excuse my writing since being in Germany for 2 months now has really affected my English skills :(
Soo here we go!

Poverty, mafia, corruption, Sunny Beach, "Be careful out there!!"...  I'll have to admit that those were the things I (thought) I knew about Bulgaria and the things people (non-Bulgarians) told me before I went there. What Bulgarians therefore told me, is that things in Bulgaria aren't really good atm but they all told me how beautiful nature they have. Well, I left there with an open mind and I didn't really have any expectations. While sitting in the airplane I didn't have any idea of how unbelievably amazing country Bulgaria is and how many times I would get speechless during my stay! I really hope I can put my experiences into words and that you could get at least some kind of a picture of the country.

At first I could tell a little bit about the history of Bulgaria, because it is a big part of the culture and it's development (don't get scared, please keep on reading! :)). I do not know that much yet and I do not want to give false information either, so I'll cut the long story short. The most important happening in the Bulgarian history is probably when it was under the Turkish slavery for 500 years. Under that time the Turkish brutally killed a lot of Bulgarians and there's plenty of horrible stories of the destinies of Bulgarians desperately trying to hide themselves in the monasteries or in the mountains. Tens of thousand of people were killed in the massacres under the Ottoman era and it was a very dark 500 years of the Bulgarian history. At last Russia helped Bulgaria and finally Bulgarians got their independence in 1878, but they had lost a lot of areas, financial resources not t mention the many people who lost their lives. Bulgarians had to start re-building their nation from scratch after all what they had been through. Even nowadays the Bulgarians have a skeptic attitude towards the Turks, which is unfortunate, but understandable.
What is more, the Soviet Union occupied Bulgaria after the second world war and therefore Bulgaria became a communistic country. And yes, there still is a lot of buildings from those communistic years and because of the lack of money (Bulgaria didn't get money from the EU in 2008 because it hadn't been able to diminish corruption in the country) the roads, that are only partly covered with asphalt, are in a very bad condition not to mention the old Ladas that are still driving around like there was nothing weird about that. And according to many Bulgarians it's very difficult to earn "clean" money there. At this point I could mention, that Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU and the average wage is around a couple of hundreds of euros per month. It is surreal that a European country, that is even a member of the EU can be so far behind when it comes to financial development. Differences between Bulgaria and Finland, where sometimes the biggest news in the tabloids is when one of our politicians caught a cold, are incredibly huge!

 The poverty can be seen everywhere...
Old cars and roads that are in very bad condition ^

There is so much more than that! And what I am wondering is why does for example the Finnish media only write about those not so flattering sides of Bulgaria? When did we Finns, and many other European countries, forget about the times before the Turkish slavery, when Bulgarian areas reached to the three seas and when Plovdiv, one of the world's oldest cities was founded? The Bulgarian history is very old and rich: there's thousands of legends that are still told to the kids, a lot of monasteries and fortresses and there folk dances are still popular. This is the part that is unfortunately totally forgotten or unknown among other European countries.

Plovdiv. There's an old stadium from the Roman era under the city center.

This incredible amphitheater is still in use!
Plovdiv is one f the biggest cities in Bulgaria and is going to be the world's culture capital 2019 so there's a lot of restoration going on at the moment. It was built around seven hills, but nowadays there is one hill less than previously because one was destroyed to built a shopping mall on that place (but due to lack of money the mall never got built all the way). Anyhow Plovdiv is very beautiful with the oldest buildings stemming from the Roman era and I can't imagine how it's going to be like in 2019 when they have rebuilt some parts of the old stadium and people are able to walk there, under the city. Plovdiv is really a hidden and not so well-known pearl of the Balkans! 

I fell in love with the city center in Plovdiv!

One of the hills in Plovdiv

 "The nature is all that we have left that we can be proud of". 
The Bulgarians I know are very proud of the nature and now I understand why - and now I'm not talking about the sunny beach! Already the view from the airplane was stunning: mountains everywhere! And I actually spent some time in the mountains too: In 5 days I managed to see several cities and small towns, waterfalls, wineries and the mountains. The schedule was intense, but very well organized and it is easy to visit different parts of Bulgaria if there's access to a car since Bulgaria is relatively small (about a third of Finland's area). Well, Bulgarians drive like crazy on the horrible roads so it's better to have a (local) driver than to try to figure out the traffic yourself. First I visited Svilengrad, a small city in southern Bulgaria next to the Turkish and Greek boarders (well, we also had time to make a day trip to Turkey, a small city where I was pretty much the only "blond" and pale person :D). Then I was taken to an even smaller town (in Bulgaria), where we visited an old fortress and the biggest winery in Bulgaria, called Katarzyna. We got a private tour around the winery which I found very interesting, not to mention the breathtaking views from the terrace of the winery! I could just have stood there for hours and look at the mountains! Oh and the Bulgarian wine is very good ;)
A room for wine tasting

These pics are from the winery.

The view from the terrace

A part from the fortress in Mezzek
The trip continued further into the mountains and on the way there we visited an ancient church, a fair and a monastery. As we stayed a couple of nights in a resort in the mountains we also went hiking on the mountains, to a waterfall and to a cave (where I met other Finns!). Oh, and I'll have to tell you that the warmest temperature was +27 c (in October! :))

Gotta love the mountains!

This ancient church is pretty high in the mountains
An old monastery

The seven bridges

vodopáda :) (= a waterfall in Devin)

What I find amazing is that there were cows, horses and sheep walking freely on the streets!

Last but not least: the Bulgarians. I don't know if it's always been like that or if the culture developed especially during the Turkish slavery, but the Bulgarians do not have a lot (material wise), but they have each other: I don't know any other nation that would take such good care of each other than the Bulgarians! They really care, call friends just to check that everything's ok, to ask how a friend's exam went or to make sure that visitors are enjoying their time. Bulgarians have the warmest hearts I know and I'm lucky to have experienced this authentic kindness! They are also very open and easy to approach and they can start up a conversation with a stranger even if the stranger just asked for the way. Well, I wasn't able to ask for the way since Bulgarians do not have that good language skills on the country side, but something that I was really surprised of was when Bulgarians without any English skills understood that I wouldn't understand Bulgarian without someone translating it to me, they didn't see it as a problem. They just continued talking, looked me into the eyes and talked like we were having a normal conversation. They were not bothered at all by the lack of a mutual language and with someone translating everything to me it felt like it would be the natural way of communicating. I felt so welcome there even if most of the people weren't able to tell it to me in person. They just didn't have to - the smile on their faces, the kind look in their eyes and the whole appearance was welcoming. Well, of course there's the not so warm Eastern European mentality too, sometimes especially girls gave me really cold looks, but they were girls with whom I wouldn't have anything to do with - everyone who was concerned was really nice!
What is more, Bulgarians might not have a lot of money, but they still share from the little they have (what is mine is yours -mentality, something I already found out while working in the US). I don't even have the words to describe the Bulgarians' kindness, you just have to experience it yourself! My description of the Bulgarians is terribly poor and I'll have to excuse myself for not being able to properly shed the light on this subject! Besides this is a very biased text because I wanted to stand up for Bulgaria, but I hope that I raised awareness in people of this underestimated and not so popular country or at least show pics to my friends and family :). Anyways I'm very happy that I went there and I'll go back there for sure. I can warmly recommend traveling to Bulgaria especially if you want to see something exotic, extremely interesting and to have an eye-opening experience (with a small budget! :)).

Blagodarya Bulgaria! :*

4 kommenttia:

  1. What a terrific article! It is wonderful to see how you got right to the heart of Bulgaria, especially in such a short visit. (It was, what, a week? Unbelievable!) I love your thoughtful insights on the rich historical background that so deeply affects life and attitudes of the people. It added depth to your excellent descriptions of places and everyday life. It was was such a delight to read about the warm and friendly way you were treated by the Bulgarians you met. That's the best part of traveling anywhere. I am sure, too, that it was a reflection of your own good-hearted personality and character.

    1. Thank You so much for your kind words! I had no idea that this post would spread in the internet so fast! I mainly wrote it to my (international) friends, but the more people read it, the better. But I would have tried to write it a little bit better if I knew that so many people will read it. It was really an eye opening experience and I will go back there soon!

  2. Great article! I had the good fortune of living in Sofia for 2 years and I traveled extensively around the country. There is so much to see, and it's all quite affordable. I highly recommend visiting Bulgaria!

    1. Thank You for your message! I definitively agree with You! It has so much history and interesting places to visit and what is more, it's pretty small so different cities are reachable during one (short) stay.