A generational shift
Lyuboslav Ilev is an 18-year-old student in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. As a role model of the new generation of Eastern Europeans, he is highly accomplished in languages (his maternal language is Bulgarian) and he has a keen sense of history in both his own nation and throughout Europe itself.
As a former high school teacher, I often gravitate towards adolescents in a destination I am visiting. I inevitably find that in many ways they represent the future of the nation. Furthermore I often find that they are very able and willing to share with me their fresh and unbiased perceptions, and opinions, about their countries.
I first met Lyuboslav in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic and subsequently in Egypt; we simply picked up where we had left off in our previous conversation.
To read Lyuboslav’s overview of his native Bulgaria, please see below.
Bulgaria in the Twenty-First Century
Standing in front of the small airport in the capital city of Sofia, I gaze at the dark silhouettes of the buildings around me. I realize that a traveler who has never visited Sofia or Bulgaria might be surprised that he or she is standing in the capital of the oldest contemporary country in Europe.
Indeed, a strange sight it is — a mixture of old and new, of forgotten ruins, and of modern dreams. As a place where the East meets the West, Bulgaria has always been different from other countries in Eastern Europe.
Then you walk the dusty streets, watch the people meet each new day with silent determination and never-ending resolve, you come to understand how these people managed not only to survive, but to prosper, even when all seemed lost.
But let us begin our journey.
For the First Time Visitor to Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a country situated in southeastern Europe. It is one of the major crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The northern border is the Danube river, the eastern the Black Sea. The climate is temperate, with cold winters and hot summers. The terrain is varied, with mountains in the southwest and central parts, and hills to the north. With the sea to the east, it is the perfect place for travelling, at any time of the year.
In Bulgaria a traveler will find a unique mixture of customs, religions, and people. It is a place of extremes, where the flea markets of the east meet the modern architecture of the west. But what is most unique to Bulgaria is its blend of ancient customs and contemporary ways. Wherever you go, you will see it — even though only an experienced eye will recognize it. From the different religions, co-existing peacefully to the minorities, treated as part of the whole (rather than set apart — as is the custom in many countries), Bulgaria is a model for other countries in this region of Europe.
The first-time traveler to Bulgaria will certainly be interested in the sights in this country — let me assure you that there is, indeed a lot to see.
The capital Sofia (pronounced SO-fia with the accent on the first syllable), is the largest city in Bulgaria with a population of just over one million. In many ways it is a typical Eastern European city. But then again, in many ways it is not. Most of the older buildings have been constructed in a Central European style.
The city was also one of the oldest centres of Christianity and there are many magnificent historical monuments. For exempla, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world. Unfortunately, some of the most beautiful houses in Sofa are occupied by foreign embassies and are not open to visitors.
A must-see in Bulgaria is the ancient capital of Veliko Tarnovo. It is one of Bulgaria’s oldest cities, and traces of human presence here dates from the third millennium BCE. The city attracts tourists with many historical monuments, among which are the ruins of the Tsarevetz castle (which was the royal and patriarchal palace) and Trapezitza, the second fortress of the inner city.
For, those interested in rural tourism, Arbanasi would be a good place to visit. It is a typical small village, situated north of Veliko Tarnovo. What is really unique is the way the spirit of times long gone has been preserved.
Of course, if you visit during summer, you will want to visit the seaside resorts, as seaside tourism has always been a big industry in Bulgaria given that it is situated in part on the Back Sea. A good place to visit would be Nessebar. The older part of the town is situated on a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a man-made isthmus. Because of its many historical buildings, the city has been included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
During the winter months, Bulgaria offers plenty of winter resorts, one of the best being Borovetz (http://www.destinationbulgaria.bg/borovetz.htm), twice the host of Alpine Skiing Cup competitions. With its total of 45 kilometres of ski runs varying in difficulty and length, Borovetz attracts thousands of ski and snowboard fans each year.
Arriving in Sofia, you will probably find yourself waiting in a huge lineup at the airport. Unfortunately this happens more and more often as the airport simply can’t keep up with the constant increase in visitors. You so just have to be patient and wait it out. (Bulgarians do.)
As you leave the airport, be very careful when choosing a taxi. Many travelers have been cheated just because they don’t pay attention. Also, make sure you pay in local currency.
Perhaps the low prices in Bulgaria will surprise you, but remember that you are in a country which has an emerging travel and tourism industry.
As is the case in any major city in the world, when going about on public transport in cities, be mindful of pickpockets.