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My Bulgaria: Far Away, Yet So Close

I miss home today, so I decided to show you where I come from. Bulgaria is a small, but beautiful country in Southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. We have magnificent mountains with amazing ski slopes, gorgeous beaches with fine golden sand, wonderful fresh food, warm and welcoming people, and centuries of rich history.

Ancient Thrace was partially located on the territory of modern Bulgaria, and Thracian culture provides a wealth of archeological sites within the country. In 681 A.D. the first Bulgarian state on the territory of modern Bulgaria was founded. This state consisted of a mixture of Slav and Bulgar people. In 864, Bulgaria adopted Orthodox Christianity. The First Bulgarian Kingdom, considered to be Bulgaria’s “Golden Age,” emerged under Tsar Simeon I in 893-927. During this time, Bulgarian art and literature flourished. Followers of Saints Cyril and Methodius are believed to have developed the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria in the early 10th century. (For more facts and history on Bulagria, click here).

These ancient ruins of a Tracian royal city found near the village of Kabile, just 10 minutes away from where I was born, date back to 341 BC. When I go there, I always think how amazing it is to have something that old still standing, and I try to imagine the people that have walked there before me numerous centuries ago.

Kabile used to be one of the most important and largest towns in Thrace. The architectural remains are impressive, most of them preserved and restored. The town was finally destroyed in the 6th century AD by the Avars. In the 9th century, the surrounding region was fully integrated into the Bulgarian Empire, and a Bulgarian settlement was established over the ancient ruins, where the nearby town of Dubilin (Yambol) was build. That’s where I was born, just a couple of centuries later 😉

Yambol (Bulgarian: Ямбол) is a city in southeastern Bulgaria, which lies on both banks of the Tundzha river in the historical region of Thrace. Yambol was founded by Roman Emperor Diocletian in AD 293. When the Slavs and Bulgars arrived in the Balkans in the Middle Ages, the town became part of Bulgaria in 705 AD during the reign of Khan Tervel. It has been an important Bulgarian center ever since.

The predominant religion in Bulgaria is Orthodox Christianity, but during the Ottoman period many mosques were built, some of which still remain. In Yambol Christians and Muslims live peacefully together, as in the rest of the country.

One of my favorite places in Yambol is the city park. It is an island, surrounded by the Tundzha river, beautiful in spring and magical in winter. I’ve spent most of my life in this town, and I love going back home and revisiting the friends and the places I know.

After I graduated high school, I moved to Sofia to study English Philology at Sofia University. It is the oldest higher education institution in Bulgaria, founded on 1 October 1888. I was lucky to be at the Rectorate – The University’s main building that you see on the photo.  Higher education is much cheaper in Bulgaria, and since it is very affordable almost everybody goes to the University after High School.

In case you didn’t know, Sofia  is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 15th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.2 million people. In Sofia you can find many universities, museums, galleries, theaters, restaurants, clubs, tourists, narrow cobbled streets, traffic jams, beautiful churches, farmer’s markets, street peddlers, modern office buildings, shopping malls, American fast food chains, the Vitosha Mountain, and cosy Bulgarian diners. On the photo you see a detail of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the symbols of Bulgaria, constructed in the late 19th century. It occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,100 sq ft) and can hold 10,000 people.

One of the things I miss the most in summer is the seaside! For decades the Black Sea Coast has rightfully been the most popular, the most preferred and the most visited Bulgarian destination. Why? 237 miles of beaches, 240 – 300 hours of sunshine in the summer, and uncountable cultural and historical sights – is that good enough for you? It always works for me 😉 We get lots of tourists every year, but the locals know the best beach spots 😉

Sozopol is my personal favorite seaside town. It is one of the oldest towns on Bulgarian Thrace’s Black Seacoast. The first settlement on the site dates back to the Bronze Age. Undersea explorations in the region of the port reveal relics of dwellings, ceramic pottery, stone and bone tools from that era. The “Old Town” is where we always stay – I am in love with the cobbled streets, the wooden houses, the small shops and the terraces over the sea.

Apart from its rich history, Sozopol is also known for the Apollonia art and film festival (which takes place in early September) that is named after one of the town’s ancient names. The busiest times of the year are the summer months, ranging from May to September as tourists from around the world come to enjoy the weather, sandy beaches, history and culture, fusion cuisine (Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish), and atmosphere of the colourful resort. The increasing popularity of the town has led to it being dubbed the Bulgarian St. Tropez, seeing stars like Ralph Fiennes, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Goldfrapp exploring its beauty and charm.

Here is my seaside routine. Wake up early for the sunrise, go out for a photo walk, grab a coffee, head for the beach when the sun has just come up and there’s hardly anyone there, walk where the waves come crashing by, enjoy the sunshine and the salty sea air and the sand in my feet, go to the room, change, grab breakfast, go to the beach and tan and swim, get lunch at a nearby restaurant, go back to the beach, shower, change, go out for a walk, have an afternoon coffee, eat dinner with friends some place on a terrace by the sea, go to see a movie at the outdoor movie theater or listen to some live music, or walk around and just be. Sleep. Repeat.

Sometimes I manage to take pictures of the sunset, too. Like when we go on an evening boat trip 🙂 I know you are jealous by know, and it’s perfectly OK. There’s something about life by the sea – it’s totally different…

Early in the morning, this place is empty, but in the evening it is completely packed. The pizza is really good, but what keeps me coming is the view. The sea is right below the restaurant, and you can feed the seagulls from the tables on the lower level.

One of my early morning finds… Napping on the beach after a fun night… Why not? Do you see the rocks at the end of the bay? They are the best picnic place 😉

I like to follow the sun.

You can even camp on the beach. Golden Fish beach is located very close to Sozopol and is famous for its camp sites and the beach sports. The beach is really long, and it offers great opportunities for Windsurfing, jets, scooters, and, of course, long walks 😉

Have you ever surfed? It’s fun to watch them fall and stand right back up.

All summer long I can live on that! I present you the world-famous (in Bulgaria, at least) Shopska salad. It is made of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet banana peppers, chopped onion, savory, parsley and grated feta cheese. Yum!

If you want fresh veggies, you might as well grow them. Some people in Bulgaria still work the land like that. It would be wonderful if some traditions never die.

The soil in Bulgaria is very rich and in every region of the country different crops are grown. Near Yambol a common sight are the yellow canola or sunflower fields. Agriculture accounts for about one-fifth of the national income of Bulgaria. Wheat is by far the most important, followed by corn (maize) and barley; rye, oats, soybeans, and rice also are grown. Tobacco, which is of a good-quality Oriental type and is grown mainly in the south, is an especially important industrial crop. However, our most-prized crop by far is the Rosa damascene – the essential oil produced by it is a very important ingredient in every perfume. It may be hard to believe, but of all the places in the world where roses are cultivated, there are just a handful of regions in only 2 countries that provide just the right conditions to grow this incredible flower in large enough quantities to produce rose essential oil! One such area is in Bulgaria, and the others are in Turkey. The Bulgarian rose oil is better quality, though… 🙂

We have storks in Bulgaria. They are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills and I’ve never seen them carrying babies… They migrate to Africa every fall, and return to Bulgaria in spring. Their nests are very large and may be used for many years. Storks are also very attached to their partners, and they are believed to be monogamous.

Let me take you to the old Bulgarian capital very quick. A trip to Bulgaria will not be complete without seeing Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgarian: Велико Търново). It is one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria, having a history of more than 5 millennia. To go from Yambol to Veliko Tarnovo, you have to pass through the Shipka Pass, a scenic mountain pass through the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria.

During the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 and 1878, Shipka Pass was the scene of a series of conflicts collectively named the Battle of Shipka Pass, fought between the Russians aided by Bulgarian volunteers, and the Ottoman Empire. The Shipka Memorial, which you see on the photohonors the lives of those who died for the Liberation of Bulgaria during the Battles of Shipka Pass in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

Often referred to as the “City of the Tsars”, Veliko Tarnovo is located on the Yantra River and is famous as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, attracting many tourists with its unique architecture.

We have one more stop to make. What is next? The Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, better known as the Rila Monastery (Bulgarian: Рилски манастир). It is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It is situated in the southwestern Rila Mountains, 173 miles south of the capital Sofia in the deep valley of the Rilska River.

It is traditionally thought that the monastery was founded by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila, whose name it bears, during the rule of Tsar Peter I (927-968). The hermit actually lived in a cave without any material possessions not far from the monastery’s location, while the complex was built by his students, who came to the mountains to receive their education. Ever since its creation, the Rila Monastery has been supported and respected by the Bulgarian rulers.

The complex acted as a depository of Bulgarian language and culture in the ages of foreign rule. During the time of the Bulgarian National Revival (18th -19th century), it was destroyed by fire in 1833 and then reconstructed between 1834 and 1862 with the help of wealthy Bulgarians from the whole country, under the famous architect Alexi Rilets. The monastery complex, regarded as one of the foremost masterpieces of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, was declared a national historical monument in 1976 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. If you can read Cyrillic, you will see my name in this beautiful detail of one of the frescoes. (Slava = Слава ;-)).

Sources: wikipedia.com and personal experience.

This is just a glimpse of what my home country is like. For some breathtaking photos from Bulgaria, visit Evgeni Dinev’s website here (he is an amazing Bulgarian photographer). For a beautiful video tour, click here. To hear the Bulgarian folklore song that flew in outer  space (that’s right, the song by Valya Balkanska was recorded on golden CDs and was on the spacecrafts Voyager 1 and 2 as a message of the human nation to other civilizations), click here. To purchase a ticket to Sofia, Bulgaria, click here. If you buy one for me, too, I’d love to be your guide 😉

About Slava

I am a twenty-something Bulgarian girl in the USA, re-discovering the world through the lens.


4 Responses to “My Bulgaria: Far Away, Yet So Close”

  1. Love the architecture. Seems like Bulgaria always gets overlooked by travelers to Europe. Everyone always goes to France, Germany and Italy.

    Posted by beaufortninja | April 8, 2012, 10:29 pm
    • We’ve been having more and more tourists lately, mostly German, Russian and Italian. They all come primarily for the seaside, but Bulgaria has a lot more to offer. It’s an undiscovered European jewel 😉

      Posted by Slava | April 8, 2012, 10:32 pm
      • I recently traveled here from the U.S. very impressed with the history in Plovdiv and also when I stayed the weekend in Sozopol. Bulgaria definitely has some beautiful landscapes to include the rose and sunflower fields and the Seven Rila Lakes. I really enjoyed my stay here. 🙂

        Posted by Larry | June 20, 2016, 10:08 am
  2. Beautiful! I love to camp, so the photo of the camper just made me smile… and the photo of the man napping on the beach… just lovely. I’d never thought of Bulgaria for a vacation, but you are talking me into it one day!

    Posted by Michelle | April 8, 2012, 10:57 pm

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