Ever since my first trip overseas 2 years ago, I can’t get enough International travel into my schedule. I’m constantly trying to work around holidays and any other way I can manipulate my vacation time to get out of the country as much as possible. It also helps when you know people overseas who can help make this happen often.
My college roommate, and one of my closest friends, moved to Sofia, Bulgaria a few years ago to do some pretty awesome work in this lovely country and make it her home. Finally, I was able to visit her last summer and it has been one of my most favorite adventures.
I love being able to visit my friends around the States and other countries because you get to see what it’s like to be a local. Traveling not only can teach you so many things, but also show you what a small and big world it really is.
I was the only American on my plane on the way there and back on my connecting flights through London — that was a first. I’ve also never heard a plane erupt in clapping when the plane landed until this trip.
What did I learn about Bulgaria? Not many Americans travel there. Or, really, tourists in general. Most people, when I mentioned where I was going, didn’t even know where it was geographically. I also learned that even being just a few miles from downtown Sofia doesn’t mean that there are a lot of English speakers. The Cyrillic alphabet and the Dracula-sounding, Bulgarian female, English recording on the train also threw me off a little.
This was definitely the most foreign I have ever felt in the 7 countries I’ve visited, but there’s something about it that makes it much more fun! I learned that quickly when I left the apartment one day on my own to go to the neighborhood grocery store. A shrug and a smile goes a long way when you realize that neither of you speak the same language.
So what’s in Bulgaria?
Hristo Botev Hall
A month or so before I embarked upon my journey, I just so happened to find out that Slash was going to be playing in Sofia while I was there. Yes, SLASH. One of the greatest guitarists of all time. Honestly, I can’t say that I would have normally gone to one of his shows, but it is Slash and I was in Bulgaria, and Kat eagerly agreed to go with me so, why not? [typical theme of my life] Also, I can honestly say this is one of the coolest and best decisions I have made. The venue? Smaller than my high school gym. We were only 10 yards away from this guitar god rocking out with Miles Kennedy, and only a row in front of a large, Bulgarian man shouting every lyric to every song in heavily-accented English for a solid hour. I’m pretty sure I lost some of my hearing that night. Worth it? YES.
One really great thing about going to Bulgaria from America is that the US dollar goes a long way there. I budgeted about $200 for the trip which I thought might actually not be enough until after I withdrew $140-ish from an ATM on my first day there. I love being able to treat my friends to dinner and things like that when I can, but this was great because I was able to spend that on the whole week for both of us! That included food, transportation around town, and our bus ride to Plovdiv at the end of my trip.
This is some of the best street food you can get in Bulgaria [IMO]. It’s very Middle Eastern (which I love). You can’t go wrong with lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, delicious sauce, and french fries wrapped up in pita bread.
If you love cheese… I’m not really sure what the difference is between Bulgarian feta and other types of feta, but I know that it tastes amazing. They also love to put it on and in everything. Tomato and cucumber salad? Put some feta on it. French fries? Put some feta on it. Pastries? Put some feta in it… I’m okay with that.
Three words. Go to Confetti.
WHAT TO DO:
Sofia Walking Tour
Best part — it’s free! An English-speaking tour guide gathers a group together at the courthouse a couple times a day to take a 2 hour walking tour of the city. It is SO interesting and such a nice way to see the city. They take you to all of the major landmarks and are very knowledgeable about the history of Sofia. It is a really great way to spend a nice day!
I also had the privilege of getting to see what it’s like to be an American celebrating the 4th of July in another country. Her wonderful Bulgarian friends were so gracious to have all of us out to one of their mountain cabins in Vladaya to eat and drink and shoot fireworks. The views were incredible! One thing that really surprised me about Bulgaria was how mountainous the landscape is. They went on for miles and miles — a view I wouldn’t mind every day!
Take a Bus to Plovdiv
My last full day there, we took a bus to Plovdiv which is a very old city about 2 hours away from Sofia [$14 ticket round trip]. I fell in love with it shortly after stepping off the bus onto the tree-lined streets. We walked down to the market area where there were a lot of shops and restaurants. I loved being able to walk into a deli just to grab some food to-go and sit down anywhere to eat.
The streets of Plovdiv were old and beautiful. We took our time wandering the cobblestone streets where there were a couple older men playing guitars that lead us up to the amphitheater. I can’t remember when it was built, but it was really old, of course. We walked up a little more to an area where we could see out over the city — mountains everywhere. I might be a little in love with this place.