I have gone a bit wild lately, and have made several trips to the Former Soviet Republic of Pork Products and Cheap Alcohol, internationally recognized as the Republic of Bulgaria. These trips have equipped me to offer a traveler some little bits of advice.
The official language of Bulgaria is Bulgarian. Bulgarian is written in Cyrillic, an alphabet developed by the famed Byzantine, Brother Cyril in 855. Cyrillic is deceptive, unlike Arabic or Georgian, it looks similar enough to Latin script that mistakes are easily made:
B makes a v sound
3 is both a number and a letter: z
б also not a number but a letter: b
И may look like an N, but it makes an ee sound
Й no, not ñ, it makes a yeh sound
P makes an r sound
C is an s
Ч is a ch
Ш is not W, but sh
… I could continue but I won’t. Except for these two unique ones that I find hilarious:
Ю looks like a submarine
Д this looks like a squat space ship
…But let’s not kid anyone; you’re not going to learn any language before going to Bulgaria. So, learn some German. It seems to be the only language spoken by anyone in the tourism industry. At least learn the numbers, it really will help.
Border Crossing/ Smuggling
Busses to Bulgaria (from the ‘bul) are frequent, but often at unconventional times. Recommended companies include Metro Euro and Nisikli. We’ve heard Istanbul Seyahat is decent, but those are only rumors, and rumors regarding Bulgaria really should be substantiated.
You may on occasion be asked by bus staff to use your passport in the duty free section, feel free to engage in cross-border smuggling but do remember the film The Midnight Express before doing so.
*Note: This will not be a problem in Malko Tarnovo. The duty free section is a wooden shack built into the one-lane crossing, where you must inquire as to what products are currently stocked, not an ideal place to buy anything in large quantities. Also to our dismay, the shack does not stock wine of any kind. Enter at Kapikule if duty-free is essential, they do not stock any Bulgarian wine, but you can stock up on unlimited pairs of Havanians flip-flops. There is also a Sbarro and a Popeye’s Kitchen if you’re hungry.
Good luck. It will smell like cigarettes. Deal with it. Hope the water pressure is good. If you are staying in Sofia or Veliko-Tarnovo stay at Hostel Mostel, even if you think you’re past the hostelling age. Just trust us, there are two meals provided and a staff that will make you feel like one of the family, but, you know, in a good way.
I can personally recommend the following:
Do not ever blindly accept breakfast soup from a bar owner. Chances are that it will contain organ meats. Even those who enjoy such things would not necessarily enjoy such a meal for breakfast: the one we got in Haskovo was chock full of chopped liver. Tripe soup is a staple here too, it goes by shkembe chorbaya (sorry no Bulgarian transliteration). Breakfast beer is also socially acceptable, who are we kidding, its encouraged.
They eat pork in Bulgaria(!!!!), so keep an eye out for that.
There are also numerous markets where one can easily obtain fruits/veggies as long as you are willing to buy by the kilo, be prepped with a pen and paper to inquire about the price. Or know German numbers.
МЕХАПА doesn’t mean Mexican food, it’s a traditional restaurant where you can eat obscene amounts of food for essentially pocket change, listen to local music, and watch the locals engage in drunken debauchery.
…which brings us to:
Walk around until you hear really, really loud music. Then, find your way upstairs. Keep an eye out for traditional circle dances, feel free to join in, and as the night progresses, you may get a free show of belly dancing. If ever enticed into singing Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like a Woman, give in. If in Haskovo, go to Piano Bar and tell them you’re American. You won’t pay for a drink and the piano player will serenade you with a (truly) rousing rendition of Hotel California.One last note, you might get picked up by the armpits by a giant Bulgarian man, just roll with it.
If you’re into clubbing, we haven’t had much quality luck, but if you’re into ironic clubs, Bulgaria is for you. Highlights include foam machines, spandexed dancers and 1 lv shots.
Bulgaria is not made for tourists, but its a phenomenal place to be one.