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The Bulgarian-Polish wedding from my previous post reminded me of an essential cultural idiosyncrasy that I must clarify in the name of the friendship between our two peoples – the difference between getting drunk in Poland and in Bulgaria.

As you probably have heard, Eastern European nations have notorious drinking habits. In other words, the drunkenness of Russians, Serbs, Polish, and Bulgarians has passed into a proverb. But as a proud Bulgarian, I feel obliged to draw an important difference between the ways the Polish and the Bulgarian drink.

The difference is not in the quantity, because both the Polish and the Bulgarian would drink legendary quantities on any particular occasion. It is not in the results either because anyone hardly ever remembers the results. The key differences, as a matter of fact, are three: the type of alcohol, the speed, and the mezze.

The Type of Alcohol: This is very straightforward: The Polish drink vodka. The Bulgarian drink rakia, mastika, beer, and wine in no particular order. This difference is determined by geography – the Bulgarian climate is favorable towards a greater agricultural variety, so we can produce more types of alcohol.

The Speed: The Polish take shots. The Bulgarians savor the drink. Therefore, a Polish gets drunk much quicker and immediately starts dancing, while a Bulgarian will drink, talk, sing, and dance (in this order) throughout the entire night.

The Mezze: The Polish just take shots. The Bulgarian take their time eating, drinking, and socializing around the table. As long as the Bulgarian munch on thinly sliced lukanka or sour pickles, their full stomachs slow down the effects of the alcohol.

In conclusion, although the Polish seem as the more mighty drinkers during a wedding, the Bulgarians will eventually catch up and will probably keep on drinking long after the Polish are under the table.


This weekend, I went to my friends’ wedding. It was probably the wedding I have enjoyed most so far! The bride and the groom were very young and so were their guests, so for once I didn’t have to explain myself as a kid to someone’s parents or grandparents. Also, the music was perfect – the best hits from the 90s, which I’ve grown up with, and only very few evergreens like ABBA, Beatles, Elvis, and the such, which usually the older crowd enjoys. There was even plenty of Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Anyways, this youthful wedding was terrific!

And then it occurred to me that the newlyweds weren’t that young at all. Actually, they were at the age at which people normally marry, 25-27. So it wasn’t that they were so young, it’s just me who is getting older and leveling with the age of marriage!

A few years ago, I thought that only old people get married, and now finally it’s people my age that do! It gives me the chills to think that in another 15-20 years, the bride and groom will seem like youngsters to me and I won’t be able to recognize any of their music! Sometimes we need such events that are anchored to a certain period in life to realize how time passes by.

So much for my eye-opening experience. Congratulations and cheers!


On Oriana’s last day in Bulgaria, my friends and I took her for an evening sightseeing tour of downtown Sofia and a night out dancing chalga (the notorious Balkan pop-folk style). Unfortunately, her camera had frozen three days ago and mine had exploded in my hands on the previous day. So without pictures, I guess you would just have to use your imagination!

In the end of my post series, I would like to share with you three observations:

1. Bulgarian and the Slavic alphabet are not so difficult to pick up. Bulgarian tomatoes and Bulgarian sirene can change the pallet even of the biggest food hater.  Oriana likes the pop-folk/chalga rhythm and dances surprisingly well to it, even better than many natives! J

2. I’ve really enjoyed reading Oriana’s blog about our trip because I see how the same experiences have affected us differently and have left us with different impressions.

3. Traveling the world and staying with friends is one of the best things you can do!


Nesebar is as overcrowded with tourists as Sunny Beach, but at least the beautiful ancient architecture of the city makes it feel quaint and charming. Since the Antiquity, this port town has been ruled by the Thracians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and the Bulgarians, and there is plenty of ruins and old buildings that remind tourists of Nesebar’s long history. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t go there on the best beach day.

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back to Sofia, we stopped at Burgas, Bulgaria’s biggest port city, to see the Festival of Sand Sculptures. Every July, artists from various countries (I spotted names from Australia Portugal, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, and Bulgaria) take part in the annual festival in the Sea Garden in Burgas. The sand sculptures are built with 3300 tons of special river sand mixed with C200 glue, so that they can hold strong at least until the end of September.

This year, the theme was Cinema.  Indeed, the sand sculptures can take you on a journey through the greatest Hollywood movies with their incredible scale and detail – the fine lines on Professor Dumbledore’s face from Harry Potter, the elvish writing from Lord of the Rings, the beads in Jack Sparrow’s hair from Pirates of the Caribbean, the sleeping girl by King Kong’s side. Which sculpture is your favorite?


11 August 2011 – Armin Van Buuren, DJ Number One in the World, played at Cacao Beach in Sunny Beach until 7am on the next morning!

The show was the finale grande of Solar Summer Fest 2011- an annual festival organized by Yalta Club – voted #19 in DJ Magazine Top 100 Clubs, and sponsored by Tuborg.

The concert was absolutely mind-blowing! There is something incredibly inspirational about dancing on the beach all night long under the refreshing summer rain together with thousands of young people!

As the night was progressing, Oriana and I kept moving closer and closer to the stage until we spent the last hour or two on the frontline! When the sun rose, Armin came down from the main stage and reached out to his fans! He touched both mine and Oriana’s hand and signed his name on every hat and flag that his fans threw towards him. Finally, he took a big Bulgarian flag and wrapped it around himself to show how much he loves the Bulgarian audience – and thus completely and utterly won each one of us forever!


Can you spot us?

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Scroll down for the answer:

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There we are! Read my next post to find out more about this concert.


 

Sunny Beach is exactly what this video makes you think – crazy, young, party destination! People call Sunny Beach the Ibiza of the Balkans or the Eastern European Cancun – so probably not the place to go with your grandparents.

By day – long beaches with fine golden sand and plenty of water sports opportunities!

By night – Wild nightlife in flashy restaurants, bars, and clubs! Virtually no legal drinking age – as long as you are tall enough to reach the bar.

In reality, Bulgarians tend to avoid this resort because it is very expensive, overbuilt with hotels, and overcrowded with foreigners and especially foreign high-school and college students from Western Europe who, in return, come here for cheap alcohol tourism.

Related articles


As religion and revolution have intertwined in Bulgarian monasteries (read my previous post), so have religion and politics fueled one of the biggest social issues of the day in the States.

Oriana, a high school teacher near Boston, told me that one of the gravest issues she encounters in her work is teenage pregnancy (no wonder why Oriana couldn’t stop watching European music TV channels – the American MTV has replaced music clips for reality shows called 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom). She said that every year, there are pregnant girls going to classes or pregnant girls who drop out of school. I was very surprised because at my high-school there has never, as far as I know, been such a case. So don’t your students use any protection, I asked? No, said Oriana, they don’t use any protection and some of them don’t even know how to use condoms. That’s when I found out that Americans don’t have sex education!

In all Bulgarian high-schools, teenagers have a few sex education classes where they teach you the basics of the reproductive system, sex, STDs, etc (if you draw the short straw you might even get to put a condom on a banana in front of your giggling classmates). The classes are usually given either by a teacher or by the school psychologist.

Apparently, on the other hand, the States not only forbid sex ed, but in fact forbid teachers from even talking about sex or “even worse” – about abortion! (Which again confirms my belief that in America, sex is a taboo and violence is acceptable while in Europe, sex is art, and violence is hidden).

Why, I asked, is sex ed forbidden if teenage pregnancy is such a big problem? The explanation according to Oriana, lies somewhere in the relationship between the American voters, the Church, and lawmakers.

The anti-sex ed laws together with the anti-abortion laws, were established by the Republican party, whose electorate is to a great extent comprised of strongly religious people (of whom America has many) who belong to the middle or lower strata of society. These extremely religious voters do not necessarily agree with or benefit from everything the Republicans stand for (especially in terms of the fiscal policy), but they still vote Republican because of their coinciding belief in the doctrines of the Bible: that there should be no sex before marriage and absolutely no “killing of the innocent unborn child”.

Therefore, Oriana concluded, having sex education at school and explaining how to use condoms would be as if approving sex before marriage or sex with a non-reproductive aim.  Thus, everybody who is against abortion votes Republican and gets sex-talk-free schools. This system, however, proves to be corrupt because even though some might be pious, many teenagers in schools like Oriana’s are obviously not abstainers.

So it’s not enough that American parents stand against sex ed; to top it all, teenagers have very strong opinions on abortion (dictated by their parents and their churches, of course). Once they get pregnant, the vast majority of Oriana’s students keep their babies. Actually, there is even peer pressure to keep the baby! I could hardly imagine this: it’s not enough that you are teenage and pregnant, that your parents’ Republican representatives frown upon abortion on TV, that you hear about pro-life choices during Sunday mass, but on top of everything, your schoolmates discuss another classmate who made the right decision and became a mother.. for the second time!

An unfortunate vicious cycle, right?  Your religion forbids you to have sex before marriage, your country forbids you to learn about pregnancy prevention in school, your socio-religio-political convictions prevent you from getting an abortion, and in the end you find yourself pushing a baby cart to prom.


Today we went to the Preobrazhen monastery near Veliko Turnovo. It is a secluded male Orthodox monastery situated on one side of a deep gorge; on the other side of the abyss, we could see a convent.  Years ago, an earthquake had broken off three huge rocks from the cliffs just above the monastery, but miraculously none of them had damaged the bell tower or the church itself.

The brightly colored paintings on the façade of the cloister represent floral ornaments together with scenes from the Bible. The most famous mural, however, is that of the great Bulgarian icon painter Zahari Zograf, the Wheel of Life.

Wheel of Life, a mural by Zahari Zograf at Preobrazhen Monastery

The composition portrays the months, the seasons, and the cycles of life with its many meanings and symbolical layers. The outer layer shows the material possessions one aims for: the man on top of the wheel is holding a scepter and a bag of golden coins, but drops them as he moves closer to death. The inner layer represents the true virtues that one should aim for in life: to educate oneself and to work hard, so that in the end, one can gladly sit down and enjoy the old age. What do you think the woman in the middle represents? What about the two figures on both sides of the wheels?

The significance of monasteries, I explained to Oriana, is more than religious. During the liberation movement against the Ottoman Empire, these were safety havens where monk-revolutionaries hid the rebels and pointed them to secret passages leading to the mountains. The monks also preserved the Bulgarian literary and cultural heritage and helped spread it during the time when the Ottomans were suppressing it. Lastly, monasteries are holy places with special energy to which even earthquakes bow down.

The Preobrazhen Monastery was built by the great Bulgarian architect Kolio Ficheto

 

The monastery was spared by an earthquake, which caused three huge rocks to fall in the garden, just meters away from this building


On our first night in Veliko Turnovo, Oriana gave me an important lesson. It was the night of the 9th to the 10th, or the night before my birthday, when we decided to go for a cocktail at a local bar. As we were sitting down at one table, the three boys who had entered the bar just after us asked if they could join us. As Oriana later said, I had knitted my brows to form a big and shocked “go away!” Thankfully, Oriana’s ever-ready smile had outshined the clouds on my face, and the three boys sat down next to us.

They were three Italians vacationing in Bulgaria. They were coming from Sofia and were headed to Golden Sands resort at the Black Sea. Two of them were from Milano and went to Bocconi, where I have many friends, and the third one – from Florence.

We talked about Oriana’s trip around the world and what a shame it was that she would visit Germany, France, and Bulgaria (“Heeey!..,” I objected) but not Italy, about the difference between south and north Italy (which is almost like that between Barcelona and New York), about thin-crust pizza in Venice and risotto in Milano, about what they had seen so far from Bulgaria and how much they liked our cuisine.  We exchanged blogs links and travel tips.

When the clock hit twelve, they all started singing Happy Birthday to me in different languages! Among the five of us, these were seven languages – English, Italian, Bulgarian, Spanish, German, Turkish and Chinese! So this is how thanks to Oriana’s open-heartedness and friendliness, I received an unforgettable multi-lingual birthday party!

As we were walking back to our place, having said goodbye to our new friends, Oriana shared with me her father’s words of wisdom:

Always say yes. If a boy comes up to you and invites you to a dance, just say yes. You don’t know how much courage it took this boy to ask you, and you don’t know how wonderful of an experience it might turn out to be, so just say yes. At least give him one dance only, but just say yes. It makes life so much more interesting!


After having shown Oriana Bulgaria’s nature and ethnography, I had to give her a lesson in history too.

Russian church at Shipka

From Plovdiv, we headed north towards the Balkan mountain range and the Shipka Pass. We stopped at the town of Shipka in the foothills of the mountain to pay a visit to church dedicated to the Bulgarian-Russian military friendship during the war against the Ottoman Empire.

I explained to Oriana that for about 500 years, from the 14th to the 19th century, Bulgaria and the entire Balkans were part of the Ottoman Empire. Under their yoke, our culture, language and religion were heavily suppressed; nevertheless, we did not lose our identity as a distinct people. After a series of riots and with the great help of our “Slavic brothers”, the Russians, we eventually won the liberation war, which lead to the intervention of the Great European Powers and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Shipka Memorial

Today, the memorial on Shipka peak reminds us of great battles. In 1877-78, the Russo-Turkish War, this was the main pass through the Balkan Mountain Range: the north of Bulgaria was the stronghold for the advancing Russian army, while the south was still occupied by Ottomans. Thus, it was up to the Bulgarian volunteer troops to guard the Shipka pass from the Turkish hordes until the arrival of the Russians. The poet Ivan Vazov eulogized the key battle: when the ammunition ended, the brave Bulgarian soldiers started throwing every empty gun, knife, and stone at the Turks at the foot of the peak, and when even those weapons ended, the Bulgarians lifted up the dead bodies of their fellows and threw them at the enemy.

On the way to Veliko Turnovo, we stopped to take pictures by a sunflower field. We visited Etar, an ethnographic and cultural town-museum, and Bozhentzi, a village with historical significance, which in recent years has become a place of escape for many public figures.

Sunflower fields near Shipka

Oriana was interested to know more about communism, so I told her what I tell all Americans who ask me about it: it’s nothing like what you studied in school.

Back in those days, people felt more secure: my grandmother says she always had enough food for the family, a secure job, enough time for vacation and opportunity to send her children to summer camps and trips. Yes, they didn’t listen to Western music and didn’t wear jeans, but that’s not as important, is it?

Veliko Turnovo over Yantra river

My mother and her friend started recalling stories from their teenager years, like the time when they had to hide from their parents and sneak into the basement at night to listen to the forbidden radio stations from Western Europe. Lidia remembered when as a schoolgirl, her headmaster penalized her because she was wearing long socks and had teased her hair: an indecent, Western manner.  Years later, my mom had to save money for several months to be able to buy a Beatles vinyl record.

We arrived at Veliko Turnovo in the afternoon. Veliko Turnovo is the old capital of Kingdom Bulgaria and bears the signature of the Asenevtzi dynasty, who liberated the country from Byzantine influence in the 12thcentury. One of their greatest feat of arms is that they stopped the advancement of the Fourth Crusade, which was presumably sent by the Church to protect Constantinople, but in fact looted our lands and conquered the Byzantine throne in Constantinople. The Bulgarian tzar Kaloyan captured the crusader and new emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin, and locked him up in a tower near the Tzarevetz fortress in Veliko Turnovo.

The Asenevtzi Dynasty

Oriana was particularly impressed by the unique museum-church surrounded by fortress walls at the top of the Tzarevetz hill. We were also hoping to watch the audio-visual night show at Tzarevetz, but alas, they didn’t have it that day. Oh well, Oriana needs a reason to come back, right!


Today we drove through Buinovo gorge, a spectacular 10-kilometer canyon over the Buinovska river. The river has carved the vertical walls of the gorge, and they rise so close to each other that, according to the locals, wolves can jump from one side to the other. The region is rich in caves and other notable natural formations.

We explored the Yagodinska Peshtera (Strawbery Cave), arguably the most beautiful cave in the country. In addition to the more well-known cave formations such as stalactites, stalagmites and stalagtons (or pillars), we saw other less common shapes: cave pearls and leopard skin patterns on the walls.

These stalactite and stalagmite will "kiss" in 300 years.

I especially liked the biggest hall in the cave, the Christmas Hall (called after several rocks shaped like Santa and his elves). This is where many speleologists and cavers gather every year to celebrate New Year’s in a behooving manner – under the ground. This hall is in fact an operative ceremonial hall and many cavers have gotten married here. However, the Yagodinska Cave performs marriage ceremonies only. For divorces, the spouses have to go in the nearby Devil’s Throat Cave: where two go in but only one comes out!

And speaking of relationships, Oriana managed to stick her coin to the wall of fidelity, which means that she has no sins. The coins of those who have been unfaithful will fall on the ground.

Oriana managed to stick her 5 stotinki coin to the wall - she is not a sinner!

We spent the evening in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. We walked around the old town, the modern shopping streets, and the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheatre. We almost lost my mother to a big antique shop – after almost an hour of digging through aged thingamabobs, she finally bought a very old book of recipes. The pages looked like burnt and were falling apart and its language was old-fashioned and pretty funny. Still, as my mom said, the book contained timeless housewife wisdom.

The Plovdiv amphitheater

The old town in Plovdiv

By her third night in Bulgaria, Oriana had already discovered that almost every meal, be it drinks, soups, salads, or main dishes, had cheese and/or yogurt and/or tomatoes. On the last day of the trip, she actually confessed that before visiting me, she had hated tomatoes with passion but since trying her very first Shopska salad, she had been devouring our tomatoes with great appetite. Here, she also tried for the first time rabbit stew, grilled octopus, cow’s tongue in butter, and pork (the last one, by mistake, oops!)


The bagpipe contest in Gela

My mom, her friend Lidia, Oriana, and I left Sofia early in the morning to go to the Bagpipe Festival in Gela.

The drive is about 3.5 – 4 hours on narrow meandering roads through the Rhodope Mountain, which gave me just enough time to teach Oriana how to read in Bulgarian. I wrote down the Bulgarian alphabet (the Cyrillic alphabet that we share with the other Slavic peoples) and its transliteration in English. Oriana picked it up very quickly because unlike in English, in Bulgarian you pronounce exactly what you read. Her only difficulty were the differences between lowercase and uppercase and the variety of misguiding fonts. Soon, she could read all street signs!

Dancing horo to the music of the bagpipes on a meadow above Gela village

The festival in the village of Gela was in fact on a wide clearing among the hills above Gela. Hundreds of people had set up camping tents for the two-day festival and thousands more had come on foot for the day. As at any village fair, there were open grills with kiyfteta and kebapcheta, stands with souvenirs, jewelry, and toys, and machines for cotton candy and caramelized apples.

We left my mom and Lidia in the line in front of a gigantic barbecue with seven lambs roasting on skewers. Later, we saw the two of them had taken out a Maid of the Mist* raincoat to protect themselves from the pieces of roasted lamb that were flying from under the butcher’s axe. (*My mom still keeps the raincoats from our visit to Niagara Falls ten years ago).

You can't have a festival without the roasted lambs!

Meanwhile, Oriana and I sat down on the ground in front of the main stage of the bagpipe contest, in Bulgarian gaidarsko nadsvirvane. We saw men and women bagpipers, young boys and girls bagpipers, a duet, and even a bagpiper trio, and all contestants were dressed in colorful national garments.

Each time the bagpipers switched to a more upbeat rhythm, the crowd broke out dancing! Oriana didn’t resist and quickly joined the horo! Watch the video and see how fast she picked up the rhythm!

 

We saw a bagpipe maker who explained to us that Scottish bagpipes and Bulgarian gaida are very different: the Scottish instrument has three pipes and produces a solemn sound that makes it suitable for military marches and memorials; the gaida has one long pipe and a more melodious sound that often accompanies folklore singing. The most famous type of Bulgarian bagpipe is the kaba gaida.

With Oriana in Shiroka Laka

After a day of horo dancing, folk songs, and roast lamb misadventures, we went to the nearby Shiroka Laka village for the night. Shiroka Laka, with its  quaint little cobblestone streets and two-storey houses with white stone ground floors and wooden second floors with balconies full of flowerpots, completely charmed Oriana. I think she said she could live there. In Shiroka Laka, we also saw the famous school of Bulgarian folklore music, which most probably is where many of the bagpipe contestants study.

Until late at night we could see happy tipsy people coming back from the festival in Gela. One such happy and tipsy Nordic-looking boy was playing his own kaba gaida and walking down the street. He told us, in broken Bulgarian, that his mother was Norwegian and his father – Bulgarian, and that he had found himself a gaida in Norway and for the past six months had been teaching himself how to play by simply listening to folk music!

The Norwegian-Bulgarian who taught himself how to play the gaida

We stayed at the house of one of my father’s friends who is a famous journalist. The rooms were full of interesting souvenirs from all over the world, and the garden was inhabited by at least four cats. When we continued our journey in the morning, we left several bottles of our family winery Villa Melnik as a sign of gratitude to our host.

Today was a great cultural experience for Oriana. I think she appreciated the legendary Bulgarian folklore and ethnography.


My plan was to dazzle Oriana from the beginning – with a hike to one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful places, the Seven Rila Lakes (Read my previous post about the Seven Rila Lakes and the Paneurhythmy rituals that take place there.)

Our friends Alex and Yoana joined us at my place around 8am, and we began the day with breakfast of champions: yoghurt, lutenitsa, bread with cheeses and meats, ayran (a drink made from yogurt, water, and salt), and my mother’s specialty: banitsa with cheese!

Getting our feet and hands exfoliated by small trout - natural SPA!

By 10 o’clock, we had met with Martin and Emi at Separeva Banya, and drove together to the lift at Chalet Pionerska. The 20-minute lift ride to hut Sedemte Ezera (Seven Lakes) was freezing, and at one point we could hardly see the seats in front of and behind us because of the fog.  Still, we were determined to conquer the lakes despite the weather, and set off towards the Dolnoto ezero (Lower lake), Ribnoto ezero (Fish Lake), and Bliznaka (the Twins lake).

Oriana is a high-school teacher of English Literature, and she was very surprised to learn how international my friends’ education is. Alex, Martin, and I graduated from the American high-school in Bulgaria, and currently study in universities in the States and England, and Yoana has just enrolled in Belgium. During our hike, we switched between English, Spanish, and Bulgarian, with occasional remarks in German coming from our polyglot Marto. I explained to my guest that an increasing number of young Bulgarians get their bachelor’s or master’s abroad. As part of the EU, we are allowed to study, work, and travel freely, and as true Europeans, many of us speak three, even four languages and love traveling to different countries.   

The weather turned out to be very favorable. Every time we reached a new lake, the fog moved away and allowed us to enjoy the view. We dipped our hands and feet in the Trilistnika lake (Three-leafed lake) and let a school of small trout exfoliate our skin (you’d pay a fortune for this in a SPA center!). We snacked on my mom’s banitsa and dried fruit near Bubreka (the Kidney lake), drank pure Rila water from a waterfall, and climbed the steep path to the two highest lakes, Okoto (the Eye) and Sulzata (the Tear). From the peak of the mountain, we saw the entire seven lakes and the opening where the followers of the White Brotherhood perform Paneurhythmy every year.  Had there been no fog, we would have seen the entire Sofia Valley and the Balkan Mountain Range.

The fog is moving away from the Kidney Lake, so that we can take pictures of it!

It took us about 3.5 hours going up and 1.5 hours coming down the mountain. On the way back, we stopped for juice and sandwiches in Separeva Banya, where we saw (and smelled the sulfur fumes of) the highest geyser in Bulgaria.

I thought that a day in nature will be a good introduction to Bulgaria, but this is only a little piece of what’s coming up.

 


Today is My Birthday! 

Since I feel very wise with my just recently completed twenty-two years of rich life experience, I would like to share with you one of the most important lessons I learned in the past 365 days.

A friend isn’t someone you necessarily have known for a long time or someone you think you know very well. It doesn’t have to be the one you expect or the one you hope for.

A friend could be a recent acquaintance or a previous casual encounter that you have already forgotten. It can definitely hit you like lightning and light up the whole road ahead of you.

I wanted to express my gratitude to exactly those true friends whose companionship presented me with the best gift: some of my brightest and warmest memories.

… To the cousin I had been estranged from for many years – our renewed friendship showed me that blood is blood and that there is a lot that connects us whether we remembered it or not,

… To the friend of a friend of a friend whom I had met only once before she offered me hospitality and camaraderie beyond imagination – I intend to follow your example and open my home and heart to every guest or lone stranger in a foreign land,

… To the one whose brief introduction impressed me and whose getting-to-know has completely charmed me and inspired me to pursue my own epic journey – I want to be brave like you and never stop traveling,

And to all other new and old friends of mine, A BIG THANK YOU! You are my best birthday present!

A friend is like a gemstone that you find on your way and keep as a good luck charm. 


My friend Oriana has been backpacking Europe for about a month now, read her blog here. Today, she is coming to Sofia, and I have prepared for her an epic 10-day trip in Bulgaria full of cultural, natural, historic, and party destinations. I’m uploading our itinerary here and hope that it will give you ideas for your own journey.  Check back for updates and photos from our adventure!


Thursday

Oriana arrives. Evening sightseeing in Sofia.

Friday

Seven Rila Lakes – day of hiking (read my previous post about this magical place and my post about the White Brotherhood that convenes there). Evening sightseeing in Sofia.

Saturday

International bagpipe festival in Gela Village, near Shiroka Luka, Smolyan. Night in Gela visitor’s house.

Sunday

May stay for the second day of the festival in the morning. Visiting nearby Trigrad Gorge, Yagodinska cave, Dyavolsko Gurlo Cave (Devil’s Throat) – read my previous post about it, and Chudnite Mostove rock formation. Night in Plovdiv.

Monday

Morning sightseeing inPlovdiv: Renaissance town and ancient Roman amphitheatre. Traditional arts and crafts at Etar village. Night in Veliko Turnovo in the most beautiful old house in town.

Tuesday

A day in Veliko Turnovo, the ancient Bulgarian capital: the castle, the river, the market. The Preobrazhen monastery. Maybe visit nearby Arbanasi and Bozhentsi, two villages of rich architectural heritage.

Wednesday

A day at Sunny Beach sea resort, the Ibiza of the Balkans! 😉

Thursday

Second day at Sunny Beach and the near-by town of Sozopol. At night, an Armin Van Bruuen concert at Cacao Beach– the gran finale of the Solar Summer Fest!

Friday

Morning in the port city of Burgas (unfortunately a day ahead of the Spirit of Burgas festival) – the sand figures exhibition. Night at Hisarya – visiting the mineral springs Roman Baths and the Roman ruins.

Saturday

Visiting Starosel near Hisarya in the morning – the Starosel Winery and the Thracian temple ruins. Back in Sofia.

Sunday

Sofia by day. Oriana doesn’t want to leave in the afternoon.


What is the most delicious fruit in the world?

Forest strawberries from Rila mountain that you have picked up yourself (or with your mom’s help)!

Have you been to the most beautiful place in the world, the Seven Rila Lakes?

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