Bulgaria packs a rich history and hopeful future. From mountain to seaside, the culture is as colourful and alive as ever.
On the edge of Eastern Europe is a country taking its first fresh breaths after a half century of slumber.
Held firmly behind the iron curtain for nearly 50 years, Bulgaria is slowly testing its balance in the new world, especially since becoming the newest member of the European Union Jan. 1, 2007.
Bulgaria sits snugly between Romania to the north, Serbia to the west and Greece to the south. The east stretches along 378 km of Black Sea shore, some of the finest beaches in Europe. The great Danube River flows along the northern border, while the Balkan mountain chain divides north and south.
Bulgarian People are Descendants of Ancient Tribes
Within its borders live seven and a half million people, more than a million of them clustered in the capital city of Sofia. Bulgaria is home to a fascinating population. In the southeast Rhodope Mountain chain, life for the locals is much the same as it was hundreds of years ago. Originally home to ancient Thracian tribes, the descendants still live and work the land amongst archeological treasures.
Winding along the twisted two-lane roads, through the endless miles of sunflower fields, rose valleys, and livestock farms, there are innumerable treasures to discover. Amphitheatres, fortresses and churches abound, entire cities preserved for centuries. Plovdiv, a cherished and lively city, is a 6,000 year old wonder.
Sofia, Bulgaria Will Soon Be a Modern European City
150 kms away in the capital, fashionistas strut by with cell phones glued to their ears, business men and women negotiate over cocktails and construction sounds echo as new condos and office buildings rapidly replace the dilapidated remains from the communist era. At the foot of the city sits Mount Vitosha, the namesake for the fashionable main street.
Here the gap between rich and poor is impossibly wide. A very few elite drive flashy cars and patron ritzy restaurants, while the poorest maintain a horse and cart and live in makeshift houses in the outskirts of Sofia. These are mainly the Roma population, referred to locally as gypsies, which are widely neglected and segregated from the main populace.
Bulgarian People Had Hardship After Communism Fell
Also inhabiting the streets, in sometimes frightful numbers, are the stray dogs. Though the city has been working diligently the last few years to diminish the population, they can still be a pest at best (think sticky mush on fancy new shoes) or a terror at worst. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the people were desperately poor and often turned their pets out onto the street, unable to afford to keep them alive.
Time moves fast in Bulgaria. After being economically and politically stifled for mucxh of its history, the people are gripping the chance to create themselves in modern Europe. As old and new converge, and new life is breathed into the ancient streets, it is an incredible time to go for a stroll down Vitosha Boulevard.