Bulgaria The Secret Rose of Europe
The Epoch Times, article by Chani Blue, 13th Nov 2005
|With a still struggling economy since the fall of Communism, hidden in the Balkan region, Bulgaria is Eastern Europes secret rose. Its beauty and charm arent found in grand architecture or carefully tended gardens, but in its crumbling cities and street side cafes in stark contrast with young ladies on the cutting edge of popular fashion. |
Thanks to the Beautiful Bulgaria Project, a mission to renovate and beautify public buildings nationwide, parts of the old districts have been restored. However, many streets and alleyways remain derelict and ramshackle with a post war zone feeling.
|In the older parts, with cobble stone streets, mud brick houses and strings of peppers hung up to dry in the windows, its as if life has not changed for the folk who live here. Horse- and donkey-drawn carts are still used and real shepherds and shepherdesses can be spotted sitting in the fields with their goats or sheep. |
In the cities, the standard accommodation for the majority of the population are run down unit blocks with neglected play grounds that make for a somewhat eerie urban wasteland feel, although there is much to see in other parts.
|Most tourists visit ruins like the Roman thermae (thermal baths) in Varna or the well restored and still used amphitheatre in Plovdiv. These ancient relics are a reminder of the affluent and cultured history of the Romans in Bulgaria. |
It wasnt just the Romans who claimed what is now Bulgaria as their land. Thracians, Greeks, Macedonians, Slavs, Bulgars and Turks all moved through, taking turns to conquer and civilize.
Orthodox Christianity became the official religion in 865 A.D. Under Turkish rule, however, many churches were destroyed and rebuilt underground and in caves. These isolated and remote churches, became places where people could worship in secret and in peace. These fascinating historical sites are the highlight of the tourist route and also the means by which the orthodox religion was preserved to the present day.
|Rila Monastery, nestled in a narrow valley in the Rila Mountains, is Bulgarias prized possession. Founded in 927 A.D. and continually restored during the years to come after fires and invading Turks, it is the largest monastery and said to be the most revered and holy place in the country. |
Its hard not to find peace and solitude while walking around in the mountains. Wild roses and herbs growing on the hillside can be smelled in the crisp breeze. If lucky, one may even stumble upon edelweiss (a rare white flower loved by all Europeans).
One thing that is synonymous with Bulgaria is the rose. The Valley of the Roses occupies 780km² (301 square miles) in the geographical center of the country and owes its name to the vast fields of the much sought after, exquisitely perfumed roses which have been grown here since the 18th century.
Although rose-blooming season is from the end of May to mid June, rose products from jam to brandy can be enjoyed any time.
|Bulgaria offers much to the outdoor-loving traveler. Well signposted mountain trails in the Pirin and Rila mountains can lead one to explore some of the most spectacular and awe inspiring scenery in Europe. |
Bulgarias wild forests are also home to brown and black bears as well as many other types of animals, including wolves. Although there are no formal warnings, caution must be practiced when taking any long walks into the forest.
Foreigners might find it a little hard not to succumb to and indulge in fine dining, as the food is very cheap, delicious and healthy.
|Salads dominate the menu, along with stuffed vegetables, grilled meat and cheeses. |
Yogurt is a popular accompaniment and ayryan (buttermilk) is commonly drunk with meals.
Doner kebabs made from falafel or chicken and fries are an affordable lunch that dominates the fast food market.
Filo pastry is used to make bunitza, a baked slice made from layering the pastry with butter and feta cheese. It is also used to make delicacies such as honey-drizzled baklava.
At first glance, the Bulgarian people appear serious and a little solemn but, when the ice is broken, they are very obliging and generous.
Although many have not traveled overseas, their knowledge of the world seems abundant.
When celebrating with company they offer shots of rakiya, a traditional homemade brandy, for which offense is sometimes taken if one refuses. Drinking strong black coffee and smoking cigarettes appears to be the national pastime.