08 Mar Travel: Bulgaria
There are few places on the planet that can rival the diverse history of Bulgaria. Located at the intersection of Russia, Europe, and the Middle East, it’s been a hotly contested region for thousands of years. Human habitation has been traced all the way back to 70,000 BC here, but the most evident clues are in the architecture. The Thracians gave way to the Roman empire, the dark ages, and three separate Bulgarian empires fell and rose. Through all of this turmoil, an amazing culture has risen. A country proud of its history, and its future. Stunning architecture of the past juxtaposed with the new. Everyone I have had any interaction with has been nothing but pleasant, excited to help a clueless American try to navigate the Slavic language barriers.
The capital city of Bulgaria. I’d say this is the best place to start as it will feel the most familiar to a western audience. Its a stunner of a city, with the charm of most European cities but mixed with the ancient Roman structures. Whenever they find them, they make a real effort to preserve and display them for everyone to enjoy. Food and shopping are some of the best in the world. Largely because the conversion rate is so heavily in our favor. 1USD = 2 Lev roughly. I found my wedding suit here in a very swanky shop and it was under 200usd. Hands down, nicest suit I’ve ever owned. The food seems to be some kind of magic anomaly. I’ve never once had a bad meal here! They have anything and everything you can think of, and a TON of pizza. Museums are TBD still as COVID has kept them all closed every time I’ve been here. The city itself can just about count as a museum however. When you come across some ancient Roman structure, theres always a plaque or sign telling the history in Bulgarian and English.
A couple hours southeast of Sofia is the second largest city in Bulgaria, and the oldest city in Europe. Roman theatres, mountains, wine country, and fortresses all within about a 30 minute radius of Plovdiv. We stopped on the side of the road for some wine a guy was selling on the roof of his Lada and it was not surprisingly, delicious. One cool thing to note about Plovdiv, is many of the ancient buildings and structures are still in use today. The Philippopolis theatre? Yeah they host summer concerts and plays there. Bachkovo monastery thats been around a few thousand years? You can spend the weekend there like its a hotel. Its nice that none of this stuff is really roped off to the public and is respected by the people who visit.
Easily the coolest cave I’ve ever seen. Its home to the oldest human habitation remnants ever found. And it also looks like its out of a fairytale. Getting to it is also interesting. The highway to Lovech is still under construction, so you drive through some very small villages to get there. This is where the effects of communism are still largely being felt it seems. The small towns were just really sad. They used to be supported by the communist factories making (low) quality goods. Now all that remains are the gypsy squatters, living with no running water and rarely electricity. That being said, the lunch we had in the city of Lovech was delicious, and the people were again, so accommodating and nice. The gate attendant at the cave’s was also the same, the language barrier never seems to be much of an issue here as the smiles from the Bulgarian people are infectious.
Nearly all the way to the Serbian border is another historical gem. Belogradchik Fortress. This trip I learned that in winter, storms can be a real issue. Having checked the weather the day before, I deemed it good enough and we set off on the 3 hour drive. It was another side road excursion, this time through much higher mountains. We traversed what seemed to be 3 mountain passes in near blizzard conditions. I was the lucky one driving, and was thankful for my experience in Michigan’s winter conditions. When we arrived, the clouds were unfortunately covering most of the rock formations the region is famous for. A silver lining however was we had the whole place to ourselves! Also make sure you have cash on hand, the credit card machines seem to be pretty unreliable on the outskirts and ATMs are sparse. The fortress itself is a wonder, truly something out of fantasy novel. Constructed during the occupation of the Roman empire, its main use was for surveillance. Over the years it moved to a defense outpost and now sits as a cultural monument.
Ridiculous as the conditions were, we still had a blast. Snowball fights were plentiful, and we even made a snowwoman for International Womens Day. Being that everyone there except for myself was Vegas based, they all wanted to destroy the snowwoman. I guess thats a thing? Probably for the best as I’m sure the caretakers of the facility would have been confused as to why a well endowed snow sculpture was standing at the front gate. Before making the long 3 hour drive back we stopped for lunch at a tiny restaurant that was seemingly in someone’s backyard. Maybe the best food I’ve ever had in Bulgaria. If you ever find yourself here, Tavern Markashnitsa is the spot.
So far thats all I’ve managed to see! Hopefully I’ll have a few more day trip opportunities but in the summer when its a little warmer. Sunny Beach, and Varna are pretty high on the list of things to see. Thanks for reading, until next time!