As mentioned in my last post, after a whirlwind winter and spring, I have landed in the former Eastern Bloc stronghold of Bulgaria. Why Bulgaria? Well, a U.S. passport can only grant you access to the Schengen Zone (most of the countries of the E.U. including France, Germany, and Spain) for 90 days during a 180-day period, meaning that one cannot simply hop over to Morocco for the weekend and start anew the following Monday (much to the surprise of an astounding amount of people I've met on this little Euro adventure). Thus, two weeks ago I looked up cheap plane tickets from Madrid and found an Eastern Exodus in the Bulgarian of Sofia. Let the misadventures continue!
I'll be spending the next month here, so I figured I'd write a little about my findings in a country that I admittedly knew very little about as of a week ago. If you follow along, you might learn some things with me, minus the potential food poisoning and bed bug attacks. Sound good?
Upon landing in Sofia, I grabbed an AirBnB close to Sofia's biggest park, Park Borisova Gradina. I'm staying with a guy named Atanas, who seems amped on getting his daily workout in and has even got me into his morning smoothie routine. He's showed me where to run in the morning, and the parks here are frigging incredible! So many trails that I spent the first few days just getting lost in the forest—in the middle of the city. Every once in a while I would pop out in front of an old Soviet monument or a strange forest amusement park, the whole scene feeling absolutely surreal.
One of my first nights in the city, Atanas invited me to a friend's garden party (yes, a Bulgarian Garden Party). In my head I imagined Bulgarian cuisine as a mix of soggy noodles, beef, and gravy with some bland bread thrown in, but I arrived to a table full of fresh veggie skewers, hot spinach bread (known as banitza), and homemade hummus. Little did I know that Bulgaria was once the Soviet Union's supermarket, growing a majority of its fresh produce and distributing throughout the Red Regime. Today that translates to a bevy of fresh fruits and vegetables and an incredibly rich and healthy cuisine.
The party was my initial introduction, but since I have been eating fresh almost every day. Atanas is vegetarian, and we've had no issue maintaining that diet throughout the city (though I occasionally peel off for some sausage or grilled chicken).
I figured I'd really have to be strict with my healthy eating regimen during my time in Bulgaria, but I'm quickly learning that Bulgaria of a fresh foodie paradise. Who knew?
Bulgaria Facts: Nearly every major Western Empire has passed through Bulgaria at one point or another, including the Romans, Ottomans, Byzantines, Nazis, and Soviets. The result is a strangely fascinating diversity that sees things like an old Roman Catholic church underneath a Soviet shopping mall, and mosques transformed into Russian Orthodox cathedrals.
The Bulgarian language is also thought to be the origin of the Slavic languages and considered one of the hardest languages to learn in the world (lucky me!).
Bulgarian Word: Nazdrave (pronounced: Naz-Dra-Vay) -- Cheers!