Bulgaria - The Potato Chick

Sofia, Bulgaria

In a sentence...perhaps this will be my favourite Eastern European capital?

Food we loved...everything we ate on our Balkan Bites food tour.

I really liked Sofia. While it is Bucharest that is supposedly known as “Little Paris” (and our guide there cheekily suggested that, in fact, Paris is known as “Big Bucharest”), Sofia had more buildings which looked “Parisian”. On the whole, Sofia felt decidedly more colourful, green and European than Bucharest.

Within an hour of stepping off the bus from Veliko Tarnovo we were strolling the grounds of the Museum of Socialist Art. This was a great collection of statues that would have been spread throughout the city during Communist times. Some of them were just enormous. We enjoyed watching propaganda videos from the time showing Bulgaria’s citizens banding together to tackle large infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.

Perhaps the most interesting footage was of farmers who had apparently “happily” agreed to donate their farmland so that everyone could farm cooperatively. We wondered how happy the farmers were with this arrangement in reality.

The next day, we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather during our free walking tour. At one stage, the tour guide sidled up to Nick to make sure that he was enjoying the tour. Unfortunately she had made eye contact with him just as he was not laughing at one of her jokes. Nick gently explained to her that we had heard that particular joke before. Awkward.

In the afternoon we did a fantastic food tour of the city with Balkan Bites. We wandered the lovely tree-lined back streets visiting places we never would have found on our own and sampling traditional Bulgarian food. The food we tried included Tarator, a cold yoghurt soup with cucumber and dill (surprisingly good), the best burek we had in Bulgaria (fresh out of the oven), delicious dips made from tomato, capsicums and eggplant, Bulgarian cheeses (good) and Bulgarian wine (bad).

The highlight of the tour was the passion and pride evident on our guide Simona’s face as she explained how the Bulgarians discovered yoghurt, a product for which Bulgaria is now “world famous” (I know, it was news to me too). Apparently the Japanese (well known for living for a very long time) eat Bulgarian yoghurt thanks to some sort of “culture-sharing” arrangement.

Later on, I asked Simona if Bulgaria “gave” yoghurt to Turkey, a nearby country that also loves their fermented milk products. She backed down from all earlier yoghurt-discovery claims.

We rounded out our time in Sofia with a morning of separate activities which I think sum up our different personalities. Nick visited the Museum of Sport where he was welcomed as the first visitor for the day (and probably the week) and given a guided tour of Sofia’s football stadium as an unexpected bonus. I walked to a nearby Dutch bakery to stock up on croissants, apple strudel and brownies. A wonderful morning was had by all.

Next stop...Skopje, Macedonia.

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Posted 16 November 2014

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

In a sentence...Bulgaria’s answer to the Blue Mountains.

Food we loved...Burek – we are reunited with one of our Bosnian favourites.

As people who read the last post would be aware, before we could leave Romania we had to deal with a pesky little speeding fine. When we were pulled over we didn’t have any money so we couldn’t pay off the police. Instead, they spent 15 minutes writing out the fine (I’m actually not exaggerating here) and instructed us that we could “easily” pay it at City Hall.

This would depend on your definition of “easy”. Outlined below is the fine-paying process in seven steps:

  • We set off early in the morning so that we would have adequate time to pay the fine before we jumped on the train to Bulgaria. We were armed with the addresses for two different “city halls”.
  • Just to be sure, we asked a policeman where we could pay the fine. He told us to go to the CEC Bank.
  • We went to CEC Bank #1. No, they did not accept payment of speeding fines.
  • We went to CEC Bank #2. No, they did not accept payment of speeding fines. When we asked where we could pay the fine the response was a dismissive shrug.
  • We spoke to a second policeman whose response was “You’re tourists? Don’t worry about it! Just go – have fun!”
  • We went to City Hall #1. No dice. But they provided an address for an alternative City Hall.
  • The last gasp – City Hall #2. Although the security guard’s initial response was “no”, luckily he investigated further and ushered us into another room where a couple of women rustled up a dodgy looking receipt and happily took our 90 Lei.

Only time will tell whether we actually paid the fine. Or just made a donation to a couple of enterprising public servants.

The speeding fine dealt with, we made it on to the train to Veliko Tarnovo with about 3 minutes to spare. We had a five hour train ride ahead of us and so had bought some final Romanian treats from the bakery. The sensible thing to do would have been to pace ourselves with the baked goodies to break up the trip. In reality, we were wiping away the final crumbs as we hit Bucharest’s outskirts.

We arrived at Veliko Tarnovo in the dark which is always a bit disconcerting. We found the homely Hostel Mostel easily though and when we arrived we were greeted by a friendly bunch of fellow travellers and informed that (free) dinner was almost cooked and there was beer in the fridge. What a welcome.

When we woke up the next morning we were pleased to discover that Veliko Tarnovo is a lovely little town surrounded by trees and mountains. The weather was gorgeous and sunny and we enjoyed just wandering along the river.

The onset of cold weather in November meant that free walking tours had finished for the year and so our main activity for the day was visiting the town’s fortress. Situated in a gorgeous spot up on a hill, it was one of the best historical sights we have visited during our trip. Much better than Rasnov’s fortress!

We finished off a lovely day with a sunset drink overlooking the river. I was sensible and ordered (reliably delicious) Baileys. Nick asked the waitress which Rakia was the best. Of course she recommended the most expensive one on the drinks list. We lingered over our drinks slightly longer than usual as Nick choked down his glass of paint thinner.

Next stop...Sofia, Bulgaria.

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Posted 13 November 2014