Part Three: Bulgaria

If you’d asked me before my trip to Eastern Europe what I knew about the small country of Bulgaria, I would have been hard pressed to come up with anything. It wasn’t a place that had ever blipped on my radar. I hadn’t yet seen its stunning, 200 million-year-old rock formations.

Our first day in the country was spent traveling to Belogradchik, a small town at the foothills of the Balkan Mountains. We hiked to the top of a path which gave us an up-close view of these somewhat eerie stones.

There are many legends associated with the Belogradchik rock formations. Several involve variations on the theme of a damsel in distress who is saved from some dire fate by being turned into stone along with her beloved and her persecutor. The same fate for all?

Not sure who is supposed to be the damsel, the beloved, and the persecutor in the formations below.

Riding through the red rock countryside of Bulgaria to reach the location of these rock formations gave me a glimpse of how life was during the years of communist rule. In a word, bleak.

Look at these apartment buildings thrown up to house citizens relocated from small villages to work in Soviet-era factories.

Since the fall of communism, many factories have been abandoned. People are poor in Bulgaria, and sadly, government corruption has been rampant. In fact, one of our tour guides said there is currently no central government in place.

The population is shrinking, now that emigration to more prosperous countries is possible.

But there are bright spots in Bulgaria. This street in a small town shows life. There’s even a sign in English for a General Broker.

Here’s another sign containing some English meant to capture the tourist dollar. (It worked.)

We were treated to a Bulgarian lunch with a wonderful salad (lots of feta), warm pita bread, and a hearty stew. Dessert was a yogurt concoction. Yes, the food seemed a lot like Greek cuisine. Bulgaria and Greece aren’t that far from each other and share a common heritage going back to the Medieval Ages. And both were part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly five centuries.

Lively folk dancers entertained us during lunch. Although traveling abroad came with three required Covid tests and lots of mask-wearing, I was glad that my presence helped these performers to work again.

Bulgaria marked the end of our time on the riverboat. We disembarked on the morning of day eight of our trip and boarded a bus bound for a two-night stay in Bucharest, which, unlike Budapest, thankfully, was open for tourists.

In my next post, the last of this series on my trip to Eastern Europe, I’ll talk about what I saw in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

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