"Oh, Bulgaria..." Bulgaria by johngayton
Bulgaria Travel Guide: 5,864 reviews and 16,829 photos
I've not long completed my third visit to Bulgaria (Jan/Feb 2010) and have now spent a total of about eight weeks over the course of the last two years just sort of randomly meandering. I've travelled exclusively by public transport, mostly by train, which allowed me not just to take in the diversely magnificent scenery but also to mix with the local people going about their day-to-day lives.
Apart from the Black Sea resorts of Golden Sands, Albena, Sunny Beach etc and the ski resorts of Bansko et al it is still a relatively undeveloped Country tourist-wise. It's the sort of place that the better I get to know it the more it fascinates me and there will definitely be several more visits over the next few years.
On my first visit I had expected to find the country to be very much a rural economy on both the larger scale of the post-war communist collective farms and also on the smaller scale of individual smallholdings. This is definitely the case but I was surprised by the extent of industrialisation, not just around the cities but also around small towns in the middle of nowhere whose very existence seems solely to provide housing and infrastructure for the workers at what are very significant large factories.
Doing some post-visit research reveals that I shouldn't have been surprised by the extent of this industrialisation as Bulgaria was in fact one of the main contributors to the USSR's post-war economy under the communist dictatorship of Todor Zhivkov during the period 1956-1989 and in fact had the 3rd largest per capita income in the Soviet-bloc in the years leading up to his eventual retirement.
During Zivkov's Communist rule vast sums of money were spent to establish Bulgaria's production base and reform the country, altering its very landscape as the new factories were built. Post-communism many of these factories were deemed uneconomic (for whatever reasons of politics) and were closed and so all over the country there are rusting derilict shells in the most unlikely places with their accompanying townships looking equally derelict.
This industrial legacy is however only a minor blight on what is for the most part a country of great natural beauty with its rugged mountain ranges, vast fertile plains, densely wooded hillsides and spectacular beach resorts.
Bulgaria as a nation occupies just under 43,000 square miles and has a total population of about 7.7 million people with 2.5 million of them living in the 4 main cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Bourgas. Thus the countryside has a relatively low population density and the fertile plains are a mish-mash of vast tracts of cultivation alongside many smaller farms growing a variety of crops. The areas not under cultivation are used for grazing and in most cases the various herds of sheep, cattle and goats are relatively small and tend to be looked after in the traditional manner by herdsmen and their dogs and so sights like this pic are not uncommon.
Also not uncommon are donkeys and wooden carts being used for transportation and all in all the pace of rural life here SEEMS wonderfully idyllic.
There is of course no such thing as a "Rural Idyll" and one thing which does somewhat spoil it is the amount of litter, and especially plastic bags, with fly-tipping being a common sight in otherwise perfectly unspoiled areas, quite often by rivers and streams.
During my trips I've visited most of the main cities including Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse, and many of the smaller ones (sometimes only their railway stations!). Particular highlights, so far, have been (in no particular order of importance):
The train journey on the narrow guage railway from Septemvri to Bansko.
Discovering that Tryavna isn't as touristy as it may appear from web searches.
Becoming a "Sharks" fan.
Learning about Bulgarian history at places such as Veliko Turnovo, Karlovo and Plovdiv.
Excellent meals, whether cheap and cheerful at the various "Happy's" or top notch (yet still amazingly cheap) at Pri Monahinite in Varna.
Everywhere has its own characteristics but what they have in common is that they are all, to differing degrees, dishevelled, dusty and have populations of stray dogs. Sofia I found to be the most unkempt to the extent of actually coming across as totally uncared for by its inhabitants with its dirty streets, cracked pavements, peeling buildings, surly restaurant staff, dodgy street characters and even its dogs seemed mean.
Everywhere else tho', whilst certainly not perfect, did at least seem to make the efforts at keeping themselves spruced-up with visible cleaning and maintenance being ongoing, friendly restaurant staff (mostly), relaxed street life and the dogs were even welcoming.
In Varna, where I stayed for 2 weeks I noticed that the stray dogs there all seemed to have their patrons, they had particular cafes and restaurants where the owners, staff and customers would feed them leftovers and even at one place (as in the picture) where the staff provided this cardboard box as a makeshift kennel!!
- Pros:Anywhere outside of central Sofia
- Cons:Central Sofia
- In a nutshell:A surprisingly capricous mix of rural, urban and industrial
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