Us in the Bulgarian/Greek hills
What we did: One month in Bulgaria, with a few days at the beginning in Sofia and the remainder of the time based in Ivailovgrad, near the Greek and Turkish borders
Would we do it the same way? Probably not. We had a hard time finding pet-friendly accommodations in Bulgaria. Originally, we wanted to spend a few weeks in the popular resort towns of Borovets or the Black Sea area but we weren't able to find pet-friendly options in that area. We also were sad that we missed out on Plovdiv. So, if we had to do it again and we were without the dogs, we would spend a day or so in Sofia, then head to Plovdiv, Borovets, the Black Sea area, before winding up with a few days in southeastern Bulgaria.
A sampling of common Bulgarian dishes, including the famous shopska salad at the top and ayran at the bottom
Best food: The homecooked fare served to us by Elena , including ridiculously sweet roasted red peppers and preserved figs and peaches.
Best food, runner up: We really enjoyed the meal at Manastirska Magernitsa, in Sofia, which offers traditional regional cuisine with a large buffet of Bulgarian salads.
Worst food: Ayran. Food anthropologists believe that yogurt originated in Bulgaria and the region is justly proud of its creamy, thick, and flavorful yogurt. However, we hated ayran, the most popular drink in Bulgaria, which is yogurt thinned with water and mixed with shredded cucumber and salt. Though reminiscent of Indian raita, we found ayran to be executed poorly and usually bland.
Our favorite part of Bulgaria: The people. These are some of the most hospitable people in the world. On our very first night in Ivailovgrad, we went to the local restaurant and a family at the other end of the restaurant noticed that we were strange tourists there and they bought us dessert. When we got up to thank them, they waved us off in Bulgarian. Everywhere we went, we encountered the same kind of hospitality, from farmers who offered to share their ouzo .
Our least favorite part of Bulgaria:
Driving. Between potholes the size of whole cars and drivers attempting to mimic the Fast and the Furious conditions on crowded single lane highways with the aforementioned potholes the size of whole cars, Bulgaria won the award for worst European driving conditions.
Indispensable item/gear: Good hiking shoes. Roads are dusty and hikes are usually unmarked or with poor trails. Hiking shoes are a necessity!
Calves by the side of the road
Best deal: Everything. Bulgaria is a welcome break from the super expensive EU. We maybe spent about $200 USD for an entire month's worth of groceries, restaurants, entertainment, and gas (excluding costs for housing).
Biggest rip off: Hotels with pet-friendly accommodations. Bulgaria isn't very pet-friendly in terms of travel so we ended up staying at premium accommodations, such as the Hilton in Sofia (which had probably the best Hilton breakfast ever.)
Bulgarian traffic jam
Best new experience:
Waking up to the sounds of the sheepherders with their flocks
walking up the mountains . . . yes, there are real, honest to goodness sheepherders with tinkling bells on their wooden staffs who walk up the hills with their flocks of woolly sheep. Totally romantic.
Worst new experience:
Getting our car stuck on the way up to Lyutitsu
. I'm going to have to do a full post on car troubles/driving in Europe but the road to Lyutitsu was HORRIBLE, with deep trenches in the mud nearly the size of our whole wheel, but Patrick (of course) thought he could keep driving up and up the hill. I freaked out and made him reverse the car which turned out to be for the best because it was partially stuck in the mud.
The must see attraction:
. This simply stunning Roman era villa is tucked away in the unlikeliest of places, down a dirt road in between two rural villages.
Most overhyped attraction: Sofia, in general. Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, is kind of meh. It's graffiti laden, rubbish strewn, and not particularly inspiring. All of the guidebooks said we needed to see it but we weren't all that impressed.
Best surprise: The super, super fast Internet. Seriously, the Internet in Bulgaria rivaled South Korea and was miles faster than what we got anywhere else in Europe. This year it was ranked as having the 8th fastest internet in the world but I don't know how much I trust that ranking since it placed the UK which had seriously abysmal Internet as #11.
How run down most of the tourist attractions are. It's sad because this area is rich with history but most of the historic sites are little more than rubble or not maintained well.
Language lesson: Dobar den = good day; dobre = good/okay; blagodarja = thank you; smetkata molja = the bill, please; lev = Bulgarian money.
The big test, would we go back?
Yes, but I think we'd first go back to Turkey and we want to visit Romania, too. We really loved Bulgaria and it's a wonderful cheap, off-the-beaten track destination in Europe.
And, next on the itinerary: After Bulgaria, we headed on to Turkey and then to Greece (which I'll be writing about shortly.)