A (not so) short introduction to Bulgaria

A (not so) short introduction to Bulgaria

Bulgaria has never been on the main crossroad for travelers or a top destination to visit. But this is slowly beginning to change. Thanks to the low-cost carrier flights, cheap accommodation and recommendations by travel websites, the number of visits by foreigners havedefinitely increased in the last years. The country used to be a transit zone to/from Asia and Western Europe, but now more people stop over. The unstable situation in Turkey also played its role. Beach tourists started looking for alternative options for their summer holiday. Below is a (not so) short introduction with a basic info about Bulgaria. I hope you`ll find it helpful if you decide to visit my home country.

So, let`s start with…

History

Prehistory and Antiquity. There is evidence for people existence in the present Bulgarian lands from 10 000 – 8 000 years ago. Somewhere during the Iron Age, Thracians settled themselves on the Balkan Peninsula, mainly on current Bulgarian lands. Many of their tribes had been united around 500 BC by king Teres in the Odrysian kingdom. Later, they were conquered by Alexander the Great (336 BC) and by the Roman Empire (46 AD). In 5th century, Byzantium gained control over future Bulgarian lands and later – a small Gothic community also presented here.

First Bulgarian kingdom. In 681, a peace pact with Byzantium marked the birth of the First Bulgarian kingdom. An year earlier, the Bulgar tribes, coming from Central Asia and led by Khan Asparukh, settled themselves south of Danube. They established a capital (Pliska) and mixed with the Slavs, who had already assimilated Thracians a century ago. The rulers after Asparukh conquered new Balkan lands and Bulgaria had doubled its territory under Khan Krum. He introduced the first written code of law, which was based on the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” principles. Krum became also famous for making a drinking cup from… the Byzantine Emperor Nickephoros` skull, lined with silver.

The monument of St. Cyril and Methodius in Sofia
The monument of St. Cyril and Methodius in Sofia

In 864 Bulgaria had become a Christian country under Boris I.  He also made the Glagolitic script, invented by Cyril and Methodius, the official alphabet of the country. Later, Cyril and Methodius` disciples developed that script to create the Cyrillic alphabet.

Under Simeon I The Great (893-927), Bulgaria had its biggest territorial expansion. It reached the coast of both Adriatic and Aegean Sea. In 896 Simeon`s army even besieged the great city of Constantinople (the nowadays Istanbul). He forced Byzantium to sign a treaty and to pay an annual tribute to Bulgaria. Simeon`s reign became known as the Golden Age of Bulgarian culture. In the new capital Preslav Glagolitic and Cyrillic translations of Christian texts had been made. They were spread over the Slavic world alongside the Cyrillic alphabet. Today Cyrillic is still used by 250 mln. people worldwide. Countries that still use it include Russia, some of the former Soviet states, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Mongolia.

Under Byzantine rule. The death of Simeon I marked the start of decline for the Bulgarian state. In 1014, the Byzantine emperor Basil II defeated Bulgarian army and captured 15 000 prisoners. He ordered 99 out of every 100 men to be blinded, leaving a one-eyed man for each cohort to lead them back home. Although it`s probably a little a bit exaggerated, this act later won Basil II the nickname “Bulgar Slayer”. It is believed Tsar Samuil (“Tsar” is the Bulgarian version of “King”) was devastated by seeing his blind warriors and died of heart attack two days later. Bulgaria fought for four more years but finally submitted and fell under Byzantine rule in 1018. 

Second Bulgarian Kingdom. In 1186, a successful rebellion, led by noble brothers Petar and Asen, re-established the country as a sovereign state. It later spread its limits to Ohrid and Belrgade under the third monarch of the Asen dynasty – Kaloyan. The capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom was Tarnovo. Under Ivan Asen II (1218-1241), it gained fame as the Third Rome, thanks to its commercial and religious influence.

Under Ottoman rule. The Asen dynasty ended in 1257. The country was torn into separate states which fought against Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, Venetians, Genoese and between each other. This only helped the Ottoman invasion at the end of 14th century. In 1396 the last Bulgarian fortress – Nicopolis, fell under Ottoman rule which was about to last almost five centuries.

The monument of Vasil Levski in Sofia. He is considered the greatest national hero of Bulgaria.
The monument of Vasil Levski in Sofia. He is considered the greatest national hero of Bulgaria.

National awakening and liberation. After series of unsuccessful uprisings against the Ottomans, 18th century marked a start of a movement known as the National awakening. Bulgarian churches and schools were restored and national consciousness awoken. In 19th century, a liberation movement began with the foundation of secret revolutionary committees by Vasil Levski, Hristo Botev, Georgi Rakovski, etc. In April 1876 the greatest uprising against the Ottoman rule started, but it was brutally suppressed. Next year Russia declared a war on Ottoman empire after its refusal to obey the Constantinople conference`s decision that an autonomous Bulgarian state has to be restored on the Balkans. With the help of Bulgarian volunteers, Russia defeated Ottomans in 1878 and Bulgaria became a free country again.

Third Bulgarian state. San Stefano treaty (3rd March 1878) declared the country must be restored roughly to its limits from the Second Bulgarian kingdom. But the people`s joy had been short because Berlin congress torn it into two parts much smaller territory – Principality Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. They eventually unified in 1885, but it was not before 1908 that Bulgaria declared its independence. Although Bulgarian army had never lost a single flag in battle in its history, the country found itself on the losing side in Second Balkan War and both World Wars. This resulted in thousands of refugees coming from the territories lost.

After 1944, under the influence of former USSR, the Communism came into power. The period lasted until 1989 when Berlin Wall fell as well as the whole Communist regime in the Eastern block. Today, Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic, having joined NATO in 2004 and European Union in 2007.

Geography

 

Bulgaria lies in the Balkans in Eastern Europe locked between Romania and the Danube river on the north, Serbia and Macedonia on the west, Greece and Turkey on the south and Black Sea on the east. The biggest mountains, in term of area, are The Rhodopes in the southern part of the country. The second biggest – Balkan mountains, divide Northern from Southern Bulgaria. The highest ones are Rila and Pirin with first and third top peaks on the Balkans  – Musala and Vihren. The biggest plain territory is the Danubian Plain in Northern Bulgaria, while Upper Thracian Lowland (Gornotrakiyska nizina) occupies a huge territory in the south. The longest river that lies entirely in the country is Iskar – 368 km (229 mi), while Maritsa is the greatest one in terms of water. Other notable rivers are Struma and Mesta in the south.

The area of Bulgaria is almost 111 000 sq km, which places the country as 16th in Europe and 103th in the World. In comparison with Unites States, it equals the area of the state of Nevada.

Why to visit Bulgaria?

Amphora from the Panagyurishte golden trasure
Amphora from the Panagyurishte golden trasure

Rich history. There are man-made paintings found in The Magura cave in Northwestern Bulgaria, dating from 10 000 to 8 000 years ago, while the Varna Necropolis golden treasure is believed to be the oldest in the world, dating from more than 6 000 years ago. Here you can find one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – Plovdiv, and the oldest (and still active) monastery in Europe – the Chirpan monastery. There are also tombs, amphitheatres, fortresses from Thracian, Roman and later times.

 

 

A beach in Bulgaria

 

Great beaches. Well, this is the primary reason for many people to be coming here during the summer… And the cheap booze, of course (yes, young Brits, I`m talking about you). Although not too long (only 378 km/235 mi), the Bulgarian Black Sea coast offers some great sandy beaches, especially on the south. The only downside – the high season is too short (only three months). But many Russians are not afraid of cold water and keep coming even in May and September.

Lakes in Rila

Beautiful mountains. If you like hikes, this is your place! Around one-third of Bulgaria is mountainous with endless paths to explore in the summer months. You can climb the top peak of the Balkans – Musala (2925 m) or to cross the country from West to East on the extreme Kom-Emine trail (600 km/373 mi) that ends at the Black Sea coast. Or you can simply enjoy beautiful scenery and mountain lakes on the more easier hikes. At winter, ski resorts welcome thousands of visitors with the top 3 being Bansko (in Pirin), Borovets (in Rila) and Pamporovo (in Rhodopes). And a bonus! Sofia is the only European capital with a mountain in a close proximity. Vitosha Mountain is a great place for hiking in summer or skiing in winter.

Mineral springs. Bulgaria has the highest number of natural mineral springs in continental Europe – over 700! There had been thermal baths here since Roman times and the country is still very rich of waters. Velingrad is famous for being the spa capital of the Balkans and is a great place for rest and recover. Top spa destinations are also Hisarya and Sandaski.

The food. I have to admit – the food is one of the main reasons why I still live here! I simply can`t imagine my life with no Bulgarian yogurt, no Bulgarian cheese, no kashkaval, no luytenitsa or no banitsa! Definitely don`t miss trying the aforementioned, as well as other Bulgarian classics like shopska salad, kyufte and kebapche, tarator, musaka, tripe soup (perfect cure for a hangover). The Bulgarian national drink is rakia. It is made of different fruits and makes a perfect combo with shopska salad. I would also recommend trying boza or ayran for breakfast.

Bulgarian folklore. It`s quite unique of its kind. It is not accidentally that folk ensembles like “Mistery of the Bulgarian voices” and “Philip Koutev” fill the concert halls around the world for their performances. In 2008, UNESCO even included the “Bistritsa Babi” ensemble in its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Every region in the country has its own folk dances, songs and costumes. One of the best places to enjoy them is the Rhodopes, which is the heart of Bulgarian folklore. “Kaba gaida” is the name of the Bulgarian bagpipe, which is the most typical musical instrument. In 2012, Bulgarian bagpipe players set a Guinness world record with simultaneous performance by 333 bagpipes.

It will not ruin your budget. Accommodation, transport, drinks, food… Everything is low-cost in Bulgaria in comparison with Western Europe and even with neighboring Greece and Turkey. If you don`t feel like spending too much, you can totally visit it on a 25-30 EUR daily budget.

When to visit?

Bulgaria has a temperate-continental climate. This, translated into human language, means all four seasons are distinct with summer being very hot and winter being very cold. The high tourist season is from June to August when the beaches are full with people. The best months to avoid the summer and winter extremes (up to 35-40 °C/95-105 °F and as low as -15 °C/5 °F) are April-May and September-October. It`s neither too hot, nor too cold then and you might get some great flight deals, as well. The winters are long and with a lot of snow (especially January and February). It`s perfect for skiers and snowboarders, but a normal person would probably say: “I love the winters… but only during the summer” 🙂

Top destinations

Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia
Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia

Sofia

The capital city with interesting architecture, beautiful churches (one of which – Boyana Church, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site), nice parks, many cultural places, great nightlife and a mountain a stone`s throw away. Mentioned in many classifications as a real bargain for tourists.

Plovdiv

Second biggest city in Bulgaria and one of the oldest in Europe! With chillout and art atmosphere, Roman ruins, picturesque Old Town and one the best-preserved Ancient theatres in the world. Elected to be the European capital of Culture in 2019 (alongside Italian city of Matera).

Rila Mountains

Seven Rila Lakes
Seven Rila Lakes

Home of the biggest and most impressive monastery in Bulgaria – Rila Monastery. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can find one of the natural wonders of Bulgaria – the magnificent Seven Rila Lakes and to climb the highest summit on the Balkans – Musala (2925 m). Rila is a great destination for winter sports as one of Bulgaria`s top 3 ski resorts – Borovets, is also here. From Sofia, it is easy to reach Rila Mountains as they are only 70 km away.

Pirin Mountains

A glacier lake in Pirin
A glacier lake in Pirin
A Melnik house with pyramids on the background
A Melnik house with pyramids on the background

Second highest mountain has the best ski tracks in Bulgaria. Here is the top winter resort in the country – Bansko. It hosts World Cup ski and snowboard events and is visited by thousands of visitors each year. In the summer, Pirin is great for hiking. It offers spectacular views, glacier lakes, the third highest peak on the Balkans – Vihren (2914 m) and the fearsome Koncheto Ridge. Here you`ll also find hot mineral springs at Sandanski and Dobrinishte; great wine at Melnik (the smallest Bulgarian town, surrounded by naturally formed pyramids) and the magnificent Rozhen Monastery. Pirin National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

Veliko Tarnovo

Former nation`s capital. Famous for its Tsarevets Fortress, which was the rulers` residence during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 – 1396). The city is very photogenic, overlooking Yantra River. The nearby village of Arbanasi is an architectural reserve with houses and churches from the Bulgarian National Revival period (17th-18th century) and also deserves to be seen.

Gabrovo

Ethnographic Complex Etara
Ethnographic Complex Etara

The Ethnographic Complex Etara is the main purpose for many to visit Gabrovo. It`s an open-air museum, representing typical crafts that have existed during the Revival period. The village of Bozhentsi and the town of Tryavna are not too far away from GabrovoBoth are very picturesque with well-preserved old houses and buildings. Starting from Gabrovo, you can also visit the Shipka and Buzludzha monuments in the Balkan Mountains.

Kazanlak

The main town of the famous Rose Valley. Kazanlak has a Rose Museum and hosts an annual Rose Festival. Just outside of town is the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak – an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. Just like Gabrovo, Kazanlak is as a gateway to the Shipka and Buzludzha monuments.

Koprivshtitsa

A house from the Revival in Koprivshtitsa
A house from the Revival in Koprivshtitsa

As equally beautiful as it`s hard to pronounce its name. Koprivshtitsa holds an architectural reserve with many Revival houses, restored to their original look. Old weapons, craftsmanship, art works and folklore costumes are also represented here. This is also the town where the April uprising against the Ottomans started. To commemorate it, a reconstruction is being staged on the main square around 2nd May.

Belogradchik

Located in Northwestern Bulgaria, this small town is visited for its unique rock formations, known as Belogradchik Rocks, which are incorporated as a natural defense into a fortress. Belogradchik (3 hrs drive from Sofia) can be combined with a visit to the nearby Magurata Cave and Veneca Cave, as well as Baba Vida Fortress in the town of Vidin on the Danube River.

Varna

The sea capital and the third largest city. Varna`s Sea garden is great for walks and here is the only dolphinarium on the Balkans. The local Archaeological museum possesses in its collection the oldest golden treasure in the world, dating from more than 6000 years. Outside of Varna are Pobiti kamani – whimsical rock formations at a place, which is one of the only two naturally formed deserts in Europe (the other one is in Spain). The city is a gateway to the North Black Sea Coast and its resorts, most famous of which are Golden Sands, Albena and St. Constantine and Helena. Not too far from Golden Sands is Aladzha Monastery, hewn into a giant rock. Further north are the town of Balchik with its stunning botanical garden, Kavarna with cape Kaliakra, offering great views over the sea, and Kamen Bryag with the Nature Archaeological Reserve Yailata.

Nessebar

The emblematic windmill at the entry of Nessebar Old Town
The emblematic windmill at the entry of Nessebar Old Town

The Old Town of Nessebar is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a great number of churches from different historical periods, cobbled streets and charming atmosphere. Nessebar is located 30 km north of Burgas and just few kilometers from the notorious Black Sea resort – Sunny Beach.

Sozopol

A view from the Sozopol Southern Wall
A view from the Sozopol Southern Wall

Another 30 km from Burgas, but in the south, is Sozopol, which also holds a picturesque old town. The Southern Walls of it offer great views over the sea. Some nice beaches can be found around Sozopol, especially in south of the town.

Rhodope Mountains

A typical view in Western Rhodopes
A typical view in Western Rhodopes
Snezhanka cave
Snezhanka cave

Probably the most underrated destination by foreigners in Bulgaria. Rhodopes offer a palette of interesting stuff – natural phenomenons Marvelous bridges, The Rocky mushrooms and The Petrified wedding; caves Snezhanka, Devil`s Throat, Uhlovitsa and Yagodina; the impressive 500 years old Devil`s Bridge (it resembles a lot Mostar`s Stari most, but without the horde of tourists); the Thracian city of Perperikon and the Thracian sanctuary at Tatul; the village of Shiroka Laka, which is an architectural and folklore reserve; an open-air Ethnographic complex in Zlatograd; the scenic Buynovo gorge and Trigrad gorge; the picturesque villages of Kovachevitsa and Leshten, both architectural reserves. The top spa resort on the Balkans – Velingrad, and the top winter resort Pamporovo are also here.

Transportation

Bus transport. Unlike Western Europe where, in general, trains are faster and more convenient than buses, it`s exactly the opposite in Bulgaria. Bus transport is the fastest way to travel around the country (unless you have a car, of course). The main cities (Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna, Veliko Tarnovo) have good connections between each other. A good source to check the buses timetable/prices is BgRazpisanie, which has an English version. Average travel times (with ticket price in brackets):

  • Sofia to Plovdiv – around 2 hrs (7 EUR one way/13 EUR two-way)
  • Burgas to Varna – around 2:30 hrs (7 EUR/12 EUR)
  • Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo – around 3 hrs (11 EUR/18 EUR)
  • Sofia to Burgas – around 6 hrs (14 EUR/23 EUR)
  • Plovdiv to Burgas – around 4 hrs (10 EUR/18 EUR)
  • Sofia to Varna – around 7 hrs (17 EUR/28 EUR)
  • Varna to Veliko Tarnovo – around 3 hrs (11 EUR/18 EUR)
  • Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo – around 4 hrs (10 EUR one way/no two way ticket)
  • Burgas to Veliko Tarnovo – around 4 hrs (10 EUR one way/no two way ticket)

 

Railway transport. It is slow and delays are quite possible. But if you are an adventurer type and not in a hurry, you can try it. It will save you money and you`ll have more legroom. Plus, it`s an interesting experience. When you board from Sofia Central Station, you might see a man going up and down the train and screaming loudly. Don`t worry! He`s simply selling newspapers/magazines (If you fancy, you can even buy some for 1-2 leva). On the train itself (especially if you travel to smaller towns) you can see a bunch of colourful people. There`s even a tourist attraction – the only narrow-gauge line in Bulgaria (between Septemvri and Dobrinishte) is used as a scenic train through Rhodope Mountains and is quite an experience!

Railway ticket prices are cheap and you can even get some discounts. Group tickets (3 to 6 persons) are 15% off the regular price and two-way tickets cost 10-20% less (depending on the train). There are online tickets available for certain trips. But it`s good to have them in advance only if you want to travel in a sleeper from Sofia to Varna/Burgas in the summer. In all other cases, there should be tickets available at the cashiers up to 5 mins before departure. Please note – if you buy a two-way ticket, you need to stamp it to the cashier before using the return trip, the opposite might result in a fine for you! The official website of the Bulgarian Railways has an English version, which you might find useful when checking for travel times.

Rent-a-car. Best option to save time when traveling around Bulgaria is renting a car or (if you are not coming from too far away) to drive your own car. You can find rent-a-car deals as low as 20 EUR a day. Here are few things you need to know if you`re going to drive in Bulgaria:

  • Driving is on the right hand side.
  • If you travel intercity, you must have a prepaid Vignette sticker. It is a toll not just for particular highway, but valid for all types of roads in Bulgaria. There are three types of Vignette stickers: for one week (7.50 EUR), for one month (15 EUR) and for one year (50 EUR). I believe, as a short-term traveler, you`ll be mostly interested in the first two options. The sticker must be stuck on the non-driver side of the front car window. If you rent a car, it will be included in the price.
  • Regardless of the tolls being collected for Vignette stickers, most of the roads will be of no good quality. There are way too many holes and uneven parts, so drive carefully! The best highway in Bulgaria is on the route Sofia-Plovdiv-Burgas with the deviation from Plovdiv to the Turkish border also being a good one.
  • Speed limits are as follows: 50 km/h in the city limits (there are higher limits on some fast-speed boulevards, but these are exceptions), 90 km/h out of the city limits and 140 km/h on the highways.
  • Average travel time by car between some of the major cities (depending on the speed you`ll drive) is: Sofia – Plovdiv (1:15-1:20 hr), Sofia – Burgas (4:00-4:30 hrs), Sofia – Varna (about 5:00 hrs), Sofia – Veliko Tarnovo (2:30 hrs), Plovdiv – Burgas (3:00 – 3:15 hrs), Varna – Burgas (1:50-2:00 hrs, longer during the summer), Veliko Tarnovo – Varna (2:30-2:50 hrs), Plovdiv – Veliko Tarnovo (2:30 hrs), Veliko Tarnovo – Burgas (2:30 hrs). These are averages only to get from one city limits to another, but allow more time to get to and from city centers).

 

Shared rides. These become more and more popular in Bulgaria recently. These can take you from one city to another faster than the bus would do for up to half price. Unfortunately, all local specialized websites and Facebook groups, committed on it, are in Bulgarian. I am sure there will be many itinerants speaking English though, cause shared rides are used mostly by young people. But you`ll probably need a help by a Bulgarian friend to arrange the ride itself.

Hitchhiking. Bulgaria is a relatively hitchhiking-friendly country. Hitchhiking used to be a common way of travel before 1990 and is still a popular among young people, especially in the summer months. Unless you hitchhike on a highway, police will usually not bother you and can find generous people that will take you with them. An useful resource is Hitchwiki`s page about Bulgaria. It has an info about the best spots to hitchhike out of the major cities.

Domestic flights. Regarding air travel, the only domestic flights in Bulgaria are between Sofia and the Black Sea coast (Varna and Burgas). If you wanna get to the sea in only 50 mins, you have two options. National carrier Bulgaria Air has flights to both Varna and Burgas, one-way ticket costs 30-35 EUR (with hand luggage) and 45-55 EUR (for checked luggage). The low-cost carrier WizzAir flies only to Varna – 20-40 EUR for hand luggage and 40-60 EUR for using the checked luggage option.

Accommodation

It is not hard to find inexpensive accommodation in Bulgaria. Dorms start at 7-8 EUR while privates are as low as 15-20 EUR. For 50-60 EUR a night, you can stay in some very good hotels and you can even allow yourself 5-star luxury for the price of a 3-star hotel in Western Europe!

I recommend checking the accommodation options on different websites to find the best suitable offers for yourself, but if you prefer to feel like a local, you can rent an apartment through Airbnb.com. If you don`t have a registration, sign up using this link to get a 29 USD discount off your first stay.

The people

The population is 7.1 million people, which makes Bulgaria 23rd country in Europe (104th in the World). It lies somewhere between the US states of Virginia and Washington (not the DC) on that measure. Worth to mention the population used to be 9 million people in 1989, but numbers are only going down since then due to the emigration growth and the negative births/deaths ratio.

The biggest city is the capital Sofia (officially – 1.3 mln. people, but they are probably more), where approximately one-sixth of the population resides. Sofia and few of the other big cities – Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas, are the only to show some growth in population in last years, as people from the little towns move in there due to economic reasons.

About 85% of the population define themselves as Bulgarians, while Turks make almost 9% and Roma – about 5%. There are also small minorities of Russians, Armenians, Vlachs, Greeks, Jews and other ethnicities.

The Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the traditional religion in the country with 59% of the people pointed it out as their religion during the last people`s count in 2011. Muslims consists 7.8%, while Catholic and Protestants make less than one per cent each. Almost 22% refused to answer the optional question about religion, while 9% had stated they have no religion.

Language

I`ve met people down the road who did not have an idea Bulgaria has its own language. So, just confirming – the official language here is Bulgarian. It uses Cyrillic alphabet and and is somewhat similar to Serbian and Russian. A typical Bulgarian should understand 30 to 40 per cent of what a Serbian/Russian guy speaks, even without a knowledge in their language. The least problems Bulgarians have understanding Macedonian. A variation of it is spoken as a local dialect in the Southwestern part of the country.

Do not expect all the people to speak English. Young people in the big cities will usually do, but the only foreign language you may find the elderly would speak might be the Russian. So, it would be useful to learn some basic words and phrases in Bulgarian. Otherwise, you`ll have to practice your non-verbal communication.

Currency

National currency is Bulgarian lev (the coins are “stotinki”). It has a fixed rate to the Euro (due to a currency board) where 1 EUR = 1.95 BGN. If someone is trying to sell you BGN below this rate, he`s simply trying to scam you! I don`t mean small differences (1.945 rate is still fine), but rates at 1.80 BGN (or lower) for an Euro. So, be sure always to double-check the rates when going to a currency exchange bureau.

The rate to the American dollar is a floating one and currently 1 USD ≈ 1.80 BGN. When writing about Bulgaria, I`m gonna use EUR as a main currency. For prices in USD you can very easy transform them by roughly adding a dollar for every 10 EUR (e.g. 10 EUR ≈ 11 USD, 20 EUR ≈ 22 USD, 30 EUR ≈ 33 USD, etc.).

More interesting facts about Bulgaria

Bulgaria is extremely rich in Thracian tombs. Experts believe there are 15 000 of them in the country, many of which still unexcavated. One of the most famous Thracians – Spartacus, is believed to had been born in nowadays Southwestern Bulgaria (in the Maedi tribe, which occupied the lands around Struma river). The Rhodope mountains are said to be the homeland of another legendary Thracian – Orpheus.

Little known fact is that Bulgaria saved all its Jews from deportation to Nazi Germany during the World War II. Although the country had been officially an ally to Hitler, Bulgarian Orthodox church managed to convince the ruler Tsar Boris III to stand against the deportation of 40 000 Jews. Until present day, Israel is still grateful to Bulgaria for it.

Bulgarian folk song “Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin”, performed by Valya Balkanska, is included (alongside works by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven) in the Voyager`s Golden record, sent in the deep space in search of alien life.

Bulgaria is world number one producer of rose oil. The oil, extracted in the Rose Valley of Bulgaria, makes 70-80% of the world`s rose oil. It is a vital ingredient for the perfumery industry.

Only Bulgarian air contains the live bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which gives Bulgarian yogurt a specific aroma and taste. Each year Bulgarians consume about 400 000 tons of yogurt. It`s Bulgarian name is “kiselo mlyako”, which translates as sour milk.

Something important – in Bulgaria people shake their heads for “Yes” and nod for “No”. It maybe somewhat confusing in the beginning, because some people actually adopted rest of the world`s head signals. Sounds confusing? No worries! It`s more about a negative or positive facial expression, which will give you a hint if a person means “Yes” or “No”.

The American of Bulgarian descent John Atanasoff is the inventor of the first electronic digital computer. In 1889 his father had immigrated from Bulgaria to United States, where John had been born. In 1930s, with the assistance of his student Clifford Berry, he invented the digital computer at Iowa State College and patented it in 1939. Today, the Sofia`s high school of electronics carries Atanasoff`s name.

Two other Bulgarian inventors, who emigrated to United States, also gave something to the world. Assen Jordanoff designed the first air bag in 1957, while Peter Petroff worked for NASA and helped in the development of the first digital watch and the first heart monitor.

In 1976 UNESCO recognized the Bulgar calendar, used by the founders of Bulgaria, as the most accurate calendar of all known to date. The Bulgars were the first to add a day on the calendar on every four years. Their calendar had 364 counted days and one “uncounted” – 22nd December, the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year is “the zero day” and marks the beginning of the new year. On every leap year Bulgars were adding a day on the calendar between 30th June and 1st July.

A church with a monument of Vanga in Rupite
A church with a monument of Vanga in Rupite

Bulgarian prophetess and clairvoyant Vanga, who was blind, was quite famous figure when she was alive. Many politicians, among them Bulgarian Tsar Boris III, the former Bulgarian communist leader Todor Jivkov and Leonid Brezhnev himself had sought her counsel. Some claim Vanga predicted correctly the date of Stalin`s death, the Chernobyl disaster, the end of the Soviet Union, the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk and even the 9/11 attacks. These might be only interpretations though, because she had never spoken in a clear and direct way. Today media continue to speculate about what she actually meant when making her predictions. Vanga lived in Rupite, Southwestern Bulgaria, which she considered to be an energy source area.

Bulgaria in the pop culture. Hollywood actress Nina Dobrev, mostly known for her role in The Vampire Diaries series, is born in Bulgaria. Her parents emigrated to Canada when she was three years old, but she still speaks her mother language; Viktor Krum character from the J.K. Rowling`s books about Harry Potter was a Bulgarian Quidditch player. A Bulgarian actor – Stanislav Yanevski, played his role;  Tom Hank`s wife – Rita Wilson is another Hollywood star of Bulgarian descent. She had been born in LA under the name Margarita Ibrahimoff. Her father – a Bulgarian Muslim had immigrated to United States and married a Greek wife; the language Tom Hanks himself was speaking in The Terminal movie was not a Krakozhian, but Bulgarian.

Have you ever been to Bulgaria? Would you consider visiting it? Please, write your comments in the section below. If you`ve liked the post, you can also spread the word by using the social media buttons.

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