A Travel Journalist About Bulgaria

June 25, 2010

Find out how a pro traveler and journalist Anne-Sophie sees Bulgaria as a travel destination.

Anne-Sophie Redisch

Anne-Sophie Redisch is a bilingual travel writer who loves hopping off a train in a new city. Her two daughters often come along, enlivening the travel experience. She has lived in the USA, New Zealand, and Norway, and her work appears regularly in in-flight magazines and various Scandinavian and English media. She blogs at Sophie’s World and tweets as SophieR

Hi Sophie, first of all tell me where are you now and where are you traveling next?

Right now, I’m in Oslo, Norway. Immediate plans include a summer road trip in Cornwall with my kids.

You’ve been to Bulgaria twice. Why Bulgaria and why twice?

Ever since I was a kid, I was intrigued by the mysterious countries hidden behind the Iron Curtain, and especially by the Black Sea. I remember seeing a Dracula film many, many years ago, where the coffin containing the vampire arrived in Varna. It sounded very exciting. So Varna is where I went that first time. I travelled on my own and spent days just walking around that maritime city. It was 1991 then, just after the fall of the curtain, but it still had an enigmatic feel to it.

The second time, 14 years later, I was curious to see how the country had changed. Also, I wanted to let my daughters see the Black Sea. So Bulgaria was an easy choice.

Which places did you visit in Bulgaria and what impressed you the most during your visits?

In 2005, we stayed in Sunny Beach, which tempted with good beaches; important when travelling with kids. The beach was very nice, but also very crowded, so whenever I could get the kids away from the water, we would go to the beautiful walled town Nesebar, right across the water. Nesebar has such an interesting history and gorgeous architecture. We loved walking around in the cobbled streets, especially in late afternoon when most of the day-trippers had left. One day, we went to Sozopol as well, a laid-back hippy-ish town, also very nice.

I would have to say the friendly Bulgarians impressed me the most, though. My then 4-year-old was completely spoiled by everyone we met, in every shop, every restaurant.

Also, I think the proportion of beautiful people is higher in Bulgaria J. Oddly, many seemed to have an eye colour I haven’t seen anywhere else; sort of a grey-blue-green, like the colour of the ocean on a slightly overcast day.

Your first visit was long time ago and your second visit was more recent. How has Bulgaria changed during this interval in the eyes of a foreign traveler?

I thought Bulgaria of 20 years ago was wonderfully anti-materialistic. People seemed to be slightly cautious and it was a bit more difficult to communicate then, as many didn’t speak English or German. In 2005, that had changed completely. Bulgarians seemed more outgoing, especially the young people.

If you decide to visit Bulgaria again where would you like to go?

Lots of places I haven’t yet seen, including the capital Sofia. Mostly, I’d like to head for the mountains, though; the Rodopi or Rila Mountains during autumn would be amazing.

I’d also like to return to Nesebar. It would be in autumn too, I think. I’d be on my own and live in one of the old National Revival houses along those cobbled streets. I’d eat lots of delicious Shopska and sit and watch the ocean.

What do you think Bulgarians should focus on in order to attract more travelers?

Perhaps focus on more nature-oriented and exploring travellers. Also, Bulgaria has a long and interesting history that might not be very well-known outside the country. I see Varna is aiming for European Capital of Culture status in 2019. That should bring in a larger variety of visitors as well.

Read travel articles by Anne-Sophie Redisch  at  Sophie’s World.

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Pleven – Sit Back and Relax

June 19, 2010

In a world without boundaries we are tempted by distant exotic destinations. The further from home – the more exotic and desirable. Then, one day, we are surprised to discover our own home town. We  now see it with a different eye and enjoy the charms of this place the way we never have before.

I was born in a mid-size Bulgarian town. The moment I finished high school I moved to the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia and since then I’ve been everywhere else but my hometown Pleven.

Rainbow over Pleven

A Tiny Bit of History
As it turns out Pleven has ancient history. It was a Thracian settlement, a Roman province and a fortress. It is mostly known for being a major battle scene during the Russo-Turkish War, which you will be reminded of by every monument you see.

The town of Pleven in Bulgaria
At first Pleven looks like a typical post-communist mid-size Bulgarian town. You will see the usual large marble square, the monuments of the Russo –Turkish War and the concrete residential districts inherited from communist time.
However, Pleven is a very special town. It is quiet, laid back and green. It has the most beautiful fountain cascade and when the lights are on in the evening the square looks magical.

Pleven's Town Hall

If you wanna go for a super pleasant 30 minute relaxed walk start from “Pleven’s  Big Ben” (the town hall) – a big red building with a clock tower, where the offices of the municipality reside – and just walk down the square. You’ll pass the marble square with the fountains, continue along a street lined with cafes, pass the Drama Theatre and then reach the shady “Old Main Street’’.  I love its old houses and its cool shade in the summer. And the best thing  – nowhere you will see or hear or watch out for cars. It’s all pedestrian.

Must  see

Here is a short list of ‘must sees’ in Pleven, Bulgaria

Kaylaka Park Reserve in Pleven – a huge park – one day is not enough to explore. It is ideal for biking and walking.

Kaylaka Park Reserve

Kaylaka Park

Pleven Panorama – this is a kind of monument-museum , which depicts the Russo-Turkish War. I remember I was quite impressed as a kid by the reality of the set-scenes. Pleven Panorama is located in a beautiful area –  Skobelev Park close to the so-called Dead Valley Lake. The valley is “dead” because it was covered with the bones of soldiers.

Pleven Regional Historical Museum – one of the largest museums in Bulgaria.

The Chapel Mausoleum – you can’t miss it even if you wanted to. Its right in the centre of the square. There is the “eternal fire” burning in front and the bones of soldiers resting inside.

The Chapel Mausoleum

Cafeteria Street (that’s not its official name) – Pleven is THE place for drinking coffee and chilling. There is a whole street lined up with cafes full of beautiful young people doing just that. There is a word that Pleven women are extraordinary beautiful. Choose a soft chair, order an espresso and enjoy the view:)

Pleven Plattenbauten – just out of curiosity you might wanna visit one of these residential areas – “Druzhba” or “Storgozia”. A bunch of large-panel system buildings or LPS, looking just like one another. Its pathetic! I actually grew up in one of those. The good part was that we had sooo many neighbours and friends – it was never boring!

Concrete Monsters

Shopping
Pleven is all about drinking espresso and shopping clothes. For a small town like Pleven the 3 shopping malls are a little too much!

Where to stay

I can’t really recommend any hotels in Pleven. They are not cheap due to the lack of tourist flow. I would stay in Park Hotel Kaylaka or Orbita hotel only because they are located in Kaylaka park.

Park Hotel Kaylaka

Quick facts about Pleven, Bulgaria

Location:  (see map) about 2.15 h driving North East from the capital – Sofia

Population: about 80 000
Must see: Kaylaka Park Reserve, Pleven Panorama, Regional Historical Museum, the Chapel Mausoleum, The Drama Theatr

Best time to visit: April – June and September – October

*Most of the photos in this post are a present from my friend Martin Milev. Thank you Marto!

Most Popular Traditional Bulgarian Foods

June 4, 2010

As a whole the traditional Bulgarian cuisine is similar to the Mediterranean one – lots of minced meat, pork, eggs, bread, sirene and yogurt.

Here is a list of local dishes and drinks you must try at least once, while in Bulgaria.

Traditional dishes:

Shopska salad: made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, raw or roasted peppers, and sirene (white brine cheese); a Shopska salad and a small cold rakia is a traditional and favourite way to start your meal in Bulgaria

Shkembe Chorba is a type of tripe soup (tripe is the thick lining of the stomach of cattle). Seasoning the soup with garlic, vinegar and chilli peppers is a must. You either love it or hate it – nothing in between. It is a difficult soup to cook and it’s hard to find a place where you can eat a really good Shkembe Chorba. I know many Bulgarians who like to eat Shkembe Chorba after a heavy night of drinking. They say it helps the hangover…

Shkembe Chorba

Sujuk – Sujuk consists of ground meat (usually beef) with various spices including cumin, sumac, garlic, salt, and red pepper, fed into a sausage casing and allowed to dry for several weeks. It goes very well with heavy red wines in the winter time.

Similar to sujuk is Lukanka. It is Bulgarians’ favourite salami. Traditionally, Lukanka is made of pork, beef, and spices (black pepper, cumin, etc.) minced together and stuffed into a length of dried cow’s intestine as Casing. The white stuff on top is flower. You can find different brands of Lukanka in the grocery stores. It is much more expensive compared to other local salami, sausages and meets. We eat Lukanka raw and thinly sliced usually as an appetizer. Foreigners often say that it smells like worn socks to them, but… what do foreigners know:)

Lukanka

Banitsa – a traditional Bulgarian pastry prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs and pieces of sirene between thin pastry and then baking it in an oven. The home-made version is the best because the pastry is actually made by hand. Where they sell banitsa they usually offer boza – a thick, sweet, brownish drink made of wheat, which we think, goes very well with banitsa. You can also find boza in the supermarkets.

boza - sweet thick wheat drink

Mekitsa – is our alternative to a donut. It is fried dough, which we eat with powder sugar, jam, honey or sirene. Not a very healthy breakfast, but so delicious!

mekitsa

Kiselo Mlyako –  Yogurt. Yogurt as such originates from the Bulgarian region. The bacteria which turns the milk into yogurt lives around the Bulgarian region and it is called “bactericus bulgaricus” They have tried to ship the bacteria to different regions but so far no luck with that. Mr and Mrs Bulgaricus seem to have liked the Bulgarian region and refuse to breed anywhere else. Real yogurt has nothing to do with the creamy sweet substance that Dannone produces. In fact not all yogurts in Bulgaria are real yogurts. I can recommend a few brands that still taste like the real stuff: “Био Кисело Мляко”, “Елена” and there are probably good small local brands.

Kiselo Mlyako (Yogurt) - good brands

Sirene (white brine cheese) – pour some olive oil, sprinkle red pepper on top and its the perfect appetizer and goes very well with local red wines. There is a large variety of brands out there. I recommend these two: “Био Краве Сирене” and “Маджаров”. They are pricier but way tastier.

Traditional drinks

Rakia – strong fruit brandy. I am a big fan of Rakia, but I do not drink the one that they sell in the stores. I only drink home-made Rakia – the one made of plums is my favourite. But be careful with the home-made rakia since it can be overly strong. If you have to order or buy rakia the best popular brand is Burgas 63 (Бургас63). Remember this basic equation: Rakia + Shopska salad = great way to  start your meal.

Wines – Bulgaria is a wine country and wine tourism has a bright future. You should try Mavrud a unique red wine, common only to the region of Thrace in Bulgaria.

Learn about the most unusual foreign food finds from pig placenta drink to baby eels imitation as seen by LonelyPlanet travel bloggers and hosted by orange polka dot.