Bulgaria: A taste of Eastern Europe
Bulgaria was quite a change from the gold-leafed, silver-plated “you-name-its” I’ve grown accustomed to during my recent travels through Western Europe. Upon arrival I remember thinking: “Oh no. What did I get myself into! And when is the next flight out of here?!” But I’m glad I gave Bulgaria a chance. Now I’d be lying if I said the country’s dusty streets and Borovets’ aggressive men “grew on me” — but I will say that the resilient spirit of the country amongst a background of communism and conflict was quite beautiful. While in Sofia we meet with a group of people who are working to better the situations of the abused and improve the atmosphere of the country as a whole — a pretty big task considering The Economist recently named it “the saddest place in the world, relative to its income per person.” We came to ski and board, but I’d have to say the tour around Sofia was the highlight of my week! Here’s a few snapshots I took during my week in Bulgaria…
Monday: And away we go!
Sofia is about a three-hour flight away from London.
From Sofia, we traveled by bus an hour into the mountains to a ski town called Borovets.
Villages like this one run aplenty on the outskirts of Sofia.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: Up in the mountains of Borovets
The trip was organized through a group called Velocity at my church. I didn’t know anyone from the group before going.. but left with so many amazing new friends!
Waking up at the crack of dawn each morning to go boarding!
Me on the gondola heading to the top of the mountain.
Hmm… If I can’t make it down on my snowboard, it’s good to know there are other ways to get to the bottom of the mountain!
…Or even better yet!
It was my first time snowboarding. Yes, I fell on my “bum” A LOT. And yes, I still have the bruises to prove it. But it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I did it!
Took a couple “ouchie” breaks at these restaurants atop the mountain. A nice place to have a cup of hot coco or some mulled wine.
Through the window of the gondola.
At the foot of the mountain.
Not too shabby, eh?
Dress up day on the mountain! Aribbbbaaa!
Me and my friend Suz, who moved to London a few months ago from Australia.
I decided to do one day of skiing. I’d been skiing before as a kid, but once I got to the top of the mountain *GULP!* I forgot just about everything I had learned. As I looked down the slope of that fateful mountain, this lovely man must have sensed my fear and offered to give me a two-hour ski lesson. His name is “Angel”… coincidence? I don’t think so.
Margaritas and Mexican food… in Bulgaria? Yeah, not a huge fan. But it sure did beat the local Bulgarian food — which consists mainly of meat, soups and “shredded-feta surprise”. Luckily, I had another Texas-native with me to share my disgust for anything less than Tex-Mex!
More crazy kiddos dressed up on the slopes.
And this one (^) is just for your viewing pleasure!
Friday: A tour of Sofia and the A21 Campaign
We toured the capital city of Sofia and learned what an organization called A21 is doing to stop human trafficking in Bulgaria.
Nick and Vicki Rough, who launched A21 in Bulgaria roughly five months ago, said human trafficking has become an acceptable part of the culture and legitimate source of revenue among some communities in Bulgaria. Many turn a blind eye to the problem.
Greece is known as the center of trafficking in Europe, but a large percentage of the those trafficked come to Greece from Bulgaria. Nick and Vicki told us that some victims are kidnapped from the streets, while others’ families sell them to traffickers.
We were told this open-air market is located near the area where some traffickers are thought to be holding victims.
Bulgarian pottery — basically brown clay pots with simple designs painted in black.
Two of my lovely roomies!
Local baker making Khubz’arabi, a type of pita bread.
The pita pit. He’d throw the rounded dough against the wall of the oven, wait for it to bubble up, then he’d grab it with tongs and throw it onto a table in front of the shop window.
The Khubz’arabi bread cooling in the window of the shop.
The local butcher — and expatriate from Syria.
Tsentralnata Banya, meaning “The Central Baths”, were constructed in the early 1900s as public mineral baths. They’ve been closed since the 1980s, but you can still fill up jugs with mineral water near here.
Sofia the Wise, whom the city was named after.
Bulgaria has its own currency, called the Bulgarian Lev, short for Leva. Pictured on this fiver is Ivan Milev Lalev, a painter and founder of the Bulgarian Secession.
The golden, doomed roof of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral near the heart of Sofia.
Inside the cathedral.
Lighting a candle in remembrance of those I love.
Interesting to note that no benches or chairs can be found in this cathedral. I guess you have to stand through the service no matter how early/late you get there!
Shopping for trinkets and knickknacks in an outdoor market. This sweet old man tried to sell me Nazi memorabilia, fox scarves and a load of other items he referred to as “super” this and “super” that.
Nazi memorabilia, anyone?
Saturday: Heading home
A long line to get back into the UK. Ayyy, customs.
Bulgaria was a trip off the beaten path, but one I don’t regret going on. I met some amazing new friends — 52 of them to be exact! — and was inspired by A21’s work to stop human trafficking in Eastern Europe. If you want to learn more about what Nick and Vicki are doing check out A21’s website: www.thea21campaign.org.