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Quick Facts
CapitalSofia
Governmentparliamentary democracy
Currencylev (BGN)
Areatotal: 110,910 sq km
Population7,621,337 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageBulgarian, secondary languages closely correspond to ethnic breakdown
ReligionBulgarian Orthodox 83.8%, Muslim 12.1%, Roman Catholic 1.7%, Jewish 0.1%, Protestant, Gregorian-Armenian, and other 2.3% (1998)

Bulgaria is a country in Eastern Europe on the western side of the Black Sea. It is surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia and Montenegro to the northwest, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, Greece to the south, and Turkey to the southeast. Being located close to the Turkish Straits means the key land routes from Europe to Middle East and Asia pass through Bulgaria.

Regions

Administrative divisions 
28 provinces (oblasti, singular - oblast); Blagoevgrad, Burgas, Dobrich, Gabrovo, Khaskovo, Plovdiv, Razgrad, Ruse, Shumen, Silistra, Sliven, Smolyan, Sofiya, Sofiya-Grad, Stara Zagora, Turgovishte, Varna, Veliko Turnovo, Vidin, Vratsa, Yambol

Cities

  • Sofia (?????) - The capital, is a paradox combining old and new, with run-down Communist-style flats sprouting hundreds of satellite dishes. It features nice parks, a nice town center, and quite a few bars, pubs, and disco clubs.
  • Plovdiv (???????)- The nation's second largest city. Boasts a lovely shopping promenade and many parks, an ancient amphitheater, and many "revival" style Bulgaria homes. Be sure also to take a side trip to Bachkovo Monastery which is about an hour away.
  • Varna (?????) - The nation's third largest city is a primary beach resort.
  • Bourgas (??????) - Known for its commercial port (Port of Bourgas) and oil refinery.
  • Shumen (?????) - see the Madara Horseman carved into the cliff wall. One of Bulgaria's many UNESCO world heritage sites. Also a few hours to the north are many Thracian tombs.
  • Veliko Turnovo (?????? ???????) - a beautiful city along a winding river, the former capital of Bulgaria in the middle ages. The original city castle and walls are reconstructed. Be sure also to visit nearby Arbanassi.
  • Sliven (??????) - Come on now, there is something interesting there too.
  • Belogradchik (???????????) - See the remnants of an old Roman outpost in the Bulgarian northwest. Interesting rock formations might make it an interesting place for avid climbers. A bit hard to get to.
  • Smolyan (??????) - Prefered destination for holiday planners and nature lovers. The municipality town is famous with its planetarium center, drama theater, historical museum.
  • Gabrovo (???????) - the Scots of Bulgaria, with a lot of jokes about them. A place to visit is the House of Humour and Satire. Be sure to visit also Plovdiv at one of the entrances of Rhodope Mountains, famous with its Pamid red wine and with that it is the city with most churches per capita in the country. Be sure to visit the Castle of Assen and Bachkovo Monastery to the south of the city.
  • Melnik (??????) - sample wonderful red wines from the region, see the sand pyramids, and take the long hike to Rozhen Monastery
  • Nessebar (???????) - beautiful small town on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast a few hours south of Varna. Another one of Bulgaria's many UNESCO world heritage sites.
  • Sozopol (???????) - together with Nessebar these are the two sea towns with traditional houses and ancient dig sites.
  • Bansko (??????) - a beautiful old village in the Pirin mountains with refurbished homes, stone wall, and cobblestone streets, but increasingly overtaken by resort hotels. Good place for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. The birthplace of the Bulgarian revival movement. If you want a true mountain village experience, there are a few other villages nearby from which to choose. In the beginning of august an annual Jazz festival is being held in the town. Skiiers and Snowboarders could find BanskoSki (http://www.banskoski.com/index.xhtml.en) useful.

Ports and harbors : Burgas, Lom, Nesebur, Ruse, Varna, Vidin

Other destinations

  • Koprivshtitsa (??????????) - though this town's name might be difficult to pronounce for many foreigners, it is a beautiful old Bulgarian village - certainly a must to visit if you are around
  • Pamporovo (?????????) - one of the most famous winter resorts in south-eastern Europe, visited also during the summer due to the beautiful nature of the Rhodope Mountains. Pamporovo is a favoured destination for skiers, snowboarders, hikers, all those who value nice holidays amid the beauty of the mountainous nature.
  • Rila (????) - in the Rila mountains, is home to the most beautiful monasteries. The most famous one and a must see is the Rila Monastery. This is also the highest mountain in the Balkan pennisula with highest peak mount Musala (1925 m). A very beautiful site to visit is the region of the 7 rila lakes, which is considered holy to the White Brotherhood and attracts piligrims in may and june.

Understand

Climate

Temperate; cold, damp winters; hot, dry summers

Terrain

Mostly mountains with lowlands in north and southeast

highest point 
Musala 2,925 m

History

The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, merged with the local Slavic inhabitants in the late 7th century to form the first Bulgarian state. In succeeding centuries, Bulgaria struggled with the Byzantine Empire to assert its place in the Balkans, but by the end of the 14th century the country was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. Bulgaria regained its independence in 1878 largely due to the intervention of the great powers, who clipped the wings of the declining Ottoman Empire and installed a minor German prince as Tsar of the newly independent country. The country's iconic heroes were all freedom fighters to a man: whether Rakovsky, who mixed revolution and literature, Vassil Levsky, know to Bulgarian as the Apostle of Freedom, or Christo Botev, poet and fighter. After a series of bloody and brutal Balkan wars, Bulgaria had the further misfortune to be occupied by the losing side in both World Wars, and fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination was brought to a swift, but for many people illusory end in 1990; though Bulgaria went on to hold its first multiparty election since World War II, essentially socialist policies were pursued until hyperinflation and economic meltdown drove the old guard out of power in 1997. Today, reforms and democratization have brought Bulgaria into the NATO fold, with EU accession planned for 2007. You can read more about Bulgaria's history here: http://www.digsys.bg/books/

Holidays

24th of May - The day of St. Cyril (827-869), and St. Methodius (826-884), Cyrillic alphabet (check this site for more information about the Cyrillic alphabet http://www.omniglot.com/writing/cyrillic.htm), and Bulgarian educators. A beautiful holiday - with lots of flowers, music, and joy.

3rd of March - The day Bulgaria celebrates its Russia-aided liberation out of the Ottoman Empire after 5 centuries (1393-1878).

6th of September - The day the two parts of Bulgaria (the independent north) and East Rumelia (authonomous to the Ottoman Empire) have declared their reunion.

Get in

Foreigners have to register at the police after 72 hours. If you have booked with a travel agency, this will be taken care of. If not - usually, your hotel will handle the necessary paperwork (ask). If you do not stay in a hotel, you will need to go to the police and take the tedious task of registering on your own. Especially for UK and US citizens, Bulgaria is really cracking down on this. Failure to register might mean a 2000 Leva fine (about $1200 US). Also take care that you have an entry stamp in your passport, otherwise your exit could be quite troublesome.

By plane

There are three international airports: Sofia, Varna and Bourgas. While flights to Sofia are normally priced, there are a lot of charter and last-minute flight offers to the other two cities leaving from Western Europe (especially Germany). You can go from German airports to Varna or Bourgas and back for less than 100 Euro, if you are lucky. Recently several low-cost airlines have also offered regular lines to bulgarian airports.

By train

International trains provide a large number of routes to Bulgaria, notably Sofia and Varna, arriving from such places as Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna, and other common cities.

The primary trains from Bucharest to Sofia, and back, run twice daily through the border city of Ruse. For example, recent trains are scheduled from Bucharest to Sofia in the daytime departing 11:35/arriving 21:30 and a night train departing 19:35/arriving 06:10. Passport control and customs takes place in Ruse, approximately mid-trip. Check local trainstations for updated information.

By car

If you want to reach Bulgaria from Western Europe by car, you either can take a ferry from Italy to Greece, or you will have to pass through either Serbia (make sure you took a green card from your national insurance company) or Romania.

Some people would suggest that it is not advisable to drive your own car to Bulgaria as there is a possibility of it being stolen, although the situation has bettered in recent years. It is rumoured that it works like this - when you drive across the border, your car is registered. That list is somehow handed over to car thieves. Some people have had cars stolen within just 30 minutes of arriving at their hotel. If you leave without your car, then you must pay 20% VAT of its value. Your only other alternative is to attempt to contact the thieves and find out how much you must pay to get it back. In either case - not fun.

But the security situation regarding car theft shouldnt be overrated, too. Being in small villages or the backlands, leaving your car should be totally safe, but in the big cities or the tourist spots it is advisable to either park on the major streets or on guarded garages, where fees range from 6lvs a day to 2 lvs an hour. If you plan to spend more time in one city, it might be better to get an abonnement, which on the avarage costs 60 leva a month. also, most of the hotels have an own parking, and even at private lodgings it is often possible to park the car in the garden or so, just ask.

Also, Bulgaria has recently implemented a new law that you must place a special sticker on your car to drive on the highways, which you have to buy at the border while getting in.

By bus

Buses to and from Sofia go to most major cities in Europe - while Bulgarian bus companies will be cheaper (and mostly offer less comfort), the tickets are hard to get by if you are travelling to Bulgaria, so you can always take Eurolines buses. Don't be surprised if an extra "border fee" is asked from each traveller by the bus driver - it makes your border passing quicker. Most buses from Western Europe will pass through Serbia, so be sure to check if you need a transit visa beforehand (Serbian visas for citizens of the EU have recently been abolished).

Note: There are no buses directly connecting Bulgaria with its neighbour Romania at this time. (However, private chartered tour buses are available.)

By boat

Get around

By bus

Certainly the cheapest and fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses go from and to every bigger city (you might have to ask or be driven by taxi to the bus station) quite frequently (exact timetables information could be found at http://www.bus.light-bg.com/english/input_engl.html); however, most bus station agents (except at the Black Sea and in Sofia) as well as the drivers will not speak or understand any languages except Bulgarian (and, if you are lucky, Russian) and the destinations will be written exclusively in Cyrillic. You can look up bus schedules for the Sofia New Central Bus Station at their website: Sofia - Varna and Sofia - Bourgas; you can travel both routes overnight). Travel by train is not recommended as the trains are invariably in poor condition and are rarely maintained. You can look up train schedules and prices on the Bulgarian State Railways website: http://www.bdz.bg/eng/index_eng.htm

By taxi

Most of the taxi drivers do not speak proper English. Taxi tariffs in Bulgaria are not standartized. It is important to compare prices of several cars, because there are speculators.

By car

If travelling by car be sure you can read the Cyrillic alphabet at least a bit. Most signs in Eastern Bulgaria don't have the direction shown in Latin letters so it could become difficult for you to travel around. Alternatively, better additionally, you have a map with the town names written in Latin and Cyrillic alphabet. So you can at least compare the forms of the letters. http://www.rentauto-bg.com is a Bulgarian company with reliable cars, Western-style service, and good prices. http://www.avis.bg also offers good rates You can also hire a driver for about 50-75 Euro per day plus accommodation. Driving in Bulgaria can be a bit precarious - as many roads do not have defined lanes, are not well marked, and are in poor condition. Observing speed limits as well as signaling when changing lanes are also practices commonly ignored. Street signs are commonly absent, as the gipsies frequently take them down and sell them for scrap metal.

By bicycle

All roads in Bulgaria are paved. The ever present horse-drawn carts help to keep motor traffic calm. As host to the annual [SVS (http://svs-cycling.s5.com/catalog.html)] long-distance bicycle ride, Bulgaria is accustomed and well suited to cross-country bicycle travel. Plentiful roadside cafés can provide the cyclists' fuel and numerous roadside springs (pipes driven in to the sides of mountains or hills) provide a ready source of clean, cool water. Learning the Cyrllic alphabet is strongly encouraged, as many road signs and maps do not include the Latin equivalent. Hostels and tent-camping are good options overnight accommodations.

By thumb

Allright hitchhiking. General 'problem' is that there are no really big roads, so you will mostly not cover long distances. Also communication in English might be rather cumbersome. Have your German, Russian or French on standby.

Talk

Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, related to Serbian and Russian, with a lot of Turkish vocabulary in evidence, testifying to the long Ottoman occupation. Modern Bulgarian is difficult to Westerners, especially English-speakers, as it has three genders, no infinitive, and articles are appended to the end of either the noun (if no attribute is present) or the first attribute (example: kuche = dog, kucheto = the dog, dobro kuche = good dog, dobroto kuche = the good dog). However it is simpler than other Slavic tongues, once you get used to the Cyrillic, an alphabet of which the Bulgarians are justifiably proud (it having been invented by two Bulgarian monks, Cyril and Methodius). Be sure to be in Bulgaria for the celebrations of the "Den na Bukvata" ("Day of the Alphabet"). Be also sure to remember the fact that Bulgarians - in opposite to most nationalities - shake their head for "Yes" and nod for "No"!

For more details:

  • Wikibooks (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Bulgarian) provides a Bulgarian-English guide containing some useful words and expressions
  • SA Dictionary (http://sa.dir.bg/) is a rich and useful English-Bulgarian dictionary

Secondary languages, including Turkish and Romany, closely correspond to ethnic breakdown.

Most young Bulgarians now learn either English or German as a foreign language. Those born before the mid-1980s will likely speak German and/or Russian. In addition, almost everyone knows at least a few words of English, in the same way that the average American will know a few words of Spanish.

See

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Do

  • BulgariaSki (http://www.bulgariaski.com/) - A roadmap of bulgarian winter resorts
  • Programata Online (http://programata.bg/index.php?ln=2) - Flyer-based portal of cultural events in major cities

Buy

Prices in Bulgaria are considerably lower than in Western Europe, and good bargains are to be had on shoes and leather goods as well as other clothing.

Eat

General

Bulgarian food is similar to Turkish and Greek cuisine, with lots of grilled meats and powerful stews; in addition, they have a large choice of salads available. However, the ultimate Bulgarian dish is musaka (??????)

Cheese

In Bulgaria, there are only two native kinds of cheese: the yellow-colored Kashkaval (????????) - more or less akin to the Dutch Gouda - and the more popular white Sirene (??????) - a kind of Feta cheese, though quite different from the Greek Feta in taste. Originally made from sheep milk, it is also available made from cow milk or mixed. Also note that in Bulgarian, there is no word for "cheese".

Yoghurt

The native Bulgarian yoghurt contains Lactobacterium bulgaricum, a bacterium only found in Bulgaria. Prepare for a taste quite different from "normal western yoghurt"! Normally made from cow's milk, it can also be found made from buffalo's milk with a remarkably stronger taste.

Being a staple, and quite favourite around the country, Bulgarian yoghurt also is an ingredient to many dishes, the most famous one being Tarator (???????), a cold soup made from yoghurt, water and cucumbers. Ayrian - a salty yoghurt-water mixture - is also very popular.

Fast-Food

There are many local and international fast-food chains. Traditional bakeries prepare different kinds of batter products, with most liked banitsa and mekitsa. Pizza, Doner or hamburgers are also very easy to be found at the streets.

Drink

A powerful (40%vol), clear grape brandy, rakia (?????) is the Bulgarian national drink and is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal. Especially in the smaller cities, families still distill their rakia at home; it is then usually much stronger (>50%vol). Perhaps at this point it's worth noting that the Bulgarian way of doing things is, at least in terms of drinks, the opposite of the conventional Western method. Bulgarian start off on the heavy stuff, such as Rakia, move on to wine, and finish off with a beer, should they still be thirsty.

Another quite popular drink is Mastika (???????) (40%vol), a drink closely related to Greek Ouzo and Turkish Raki. You should normally mix it with water in a 1:4 - 1:5 ratio. Locals usually drink it in a 1:1 mixture with peppermint liquour, called Oblak (cloud)

Bulgaria has several well known local wine brands. These include Melnik, Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza (red dry), Kadarka (red sweet), Traminer and Keratsuda (white dry).

Local lagers, Zagorka, Kamenitza and Shumensko are very good, inexpensive, widely available and drunk in copious amounts. Many European brands are also brewed in local breweries.

Sleep

There are hostels in Sofia and Plovdiv. Inexpensive hotels can be found in all cities. Luxury hotels are available in large cities. There are many "Mountain Huts" or "Vilas" available for rent. Overnight accommodations can also be acquired at about a dozen of the monasteries.

Learn

Here is an unofficial list of institutions that offer international education in Bulgaria:

Universities

Most Bulgarian universities offer admission to international students willing to study in Bulgarian language. These are mainly residents of other Balkan or Slavic countries. Some of these offer parallel supervision in English. However here are some institutions that offer education entirely in English:

The last one, Technical University of Sofia (http://www.tu-sofia.bg/index.html) offers also german-language degrees. For more information please check the universities' websites and contact their admission offices