Difference between revisions of "Bulgaria"
Revision as of 17:39, 29 January 2013
Bulgaria (България)  is a country in the Balkans on the western side of the Black Sea. It is surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, Greece to the south, and Turkey to the southeast. Being located close to the Turkish Straits means the key land routes from Europe to Middle East and Asia pass through Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is one of the few exotic nations of Europe, due to the fact that it boasts sublime beaches, lovely churches, winter sport opportunities, to name a few. Although it is not regularly visited compared to other European nations, it is a beautiful place, with a wide range of activities for a traveller to do.
Continental in the interior; cold, damp winters with snow in the higher elevations; hot and humid summers.
Temperate on the coast; mild autumns, cool winters, mild springs and warm and breezy summers.
Mostly mountains with lowlands in north and southeast; highest point : Musala 2,925 m
A branch of the Slavs merged with the Proto-Bulgarians, a Central Asian tribe, in the late 7th century to form the first Bulgarian state in the Balkans.
In succeeding centuries, Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empires dominated South-East Europe, but by the end of the 14th century the region was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. Bulgaria regained its independence in 1878 largely due to the intervention of Russia, who clipped the wings of the declining Ottoman Empire in Bulgaria and elsewhere, and installed a minor German prince as a ruler of the newly independent country. The country's iconic heroes were all freedom fighters to a man: whether Rakovsky (Раковски), who mixed revolution and literature, Vassil Levski (Васил Левски) - the Apostle of Freedom, or Hristo Botev (Христо Ботев), poet and fighter.
After a series of bloody and brutal Balkan wars, Bulgaria had the further misfortune to be occupied by the losing side in both World Wars, and fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination was brought to a swift, but for many people illusory end in 1989; though Bulgaria went on to hold its first multi-party election since World War II, essentially socialist policies were pursued until hyperinflation and economic meltdown drove the old guard out of power in 1997. Today, reforms and democratization have brought Bulgaria into the NATO fold, with EU accession celebrated in 2007.
During Communist times, the Black Sea was a favorite destination for travellers behind the Iron Curtain. Now, increasing numbers of western Europeans travel throughout the country and many have bought vacation houses near the Black Sea or in picturesque villages. During the 2008 global financial crisis, Bulgaria was badly affected by the downturn, where the country entered a recession of 5%, and unemployment lingering near the double digits.
Even though it is among one of the 50 richest countries in the world, Bulgaria remains as the poorest member of the European Union. The Issues facing the country are a weak judiciary system, a moderate level of corruption in the local government, a poor road infrastructure, and a somewhat high unemployment rate. The unemployment has continually lingered near the double digits, an issue the country faces. Another serious problem is the sight of over-development in the country.
The Bulgarian language is related to Serbian, Russian and other Eastern European languages, but contains many international words. Bulgarians use the Cyrillic alphabet which can make the task of getting around the country somewhat difficult if you aren't familiar with this alphabet as most signs are written in it. However, getting acquainted with the alphabet isn't very difficult and may save you a lot of trouble, especially as many common words are homophones of English or French words.
Also, as Bulgarian education emphasizes foreign language studies, especially English language, it wouldn't be a problem to talk and find information in English in bigger cities. It's best to turn to the young population for a direction or an advice.
Baba Marta (Баба Марта) (Grandma Marta), March 1. A very old Bulgarian holiday. People give each martenitsa (мартеница), a type of white-red yarn, as a symbol of health. (this is not a public holiday)
March 3 (Трети март). The day Bulgaria celebrates its liberation from 500 years of Ottoman domination (1393-1878).
20th of April - 20 April 1876 is the official start day the greatest uprising of the Bulgarian people against the Ottoman rule.
Gergiovden (Гергьовден), May 6. St. George and official holiday of the Bulgarian Аrmy.
Ss. Cyril and Methodius Day (Ден на Кирил и Методий), May 24. The day of St. Cyril (827-869), and St. Methodius (826-884), who created the Cyrillic alphabet. A beautiful holiday - with lots of flowers, music, and joy.
Assumption Day - Golyama Bogoroditsa, August 15. There are big celebrations, especially in the main monasteries, with icons being paraded by the monks. (this is not a public holiday)
Reunification Day (Ден на съединението), September 6. The day the two parts of Bulgaria, Principality of Bulgaria and East Rumelia (autonomous in the Ottoman Empire) were reunited.
Independence Day (Ден на Независимостта на България ), September 22. Bulgaria's de jure declaration of independence was declared in 1908 in Veliko Tarnovo
Bulgaria is a member of the Schengen Agreement but has not yet fully implemented it. For EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) citizens, together with those of Switzerland, an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. In no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Others will generally need a passport for entry.
Travel to/from any other country (Schengen or not) from/to Bulgaria will (as of now) result in the normal immigration checks, but travelling to/from another EU country you will not have to pass customs. However, if Bulgaria normally requires a visa for your nationality, this may be waived if you already have a valid Schengen visa.
Inquire at your travel agent or call the local consulate or embassy of Bulgaria.
The visa list is already consistent with those of the Schengen countries fully implementing the agreement.
Only the nationals of the following non-EEA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia_(country), Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro*, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Vanuatu, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work - see below). The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, Australian and New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries—see the New Zealand Government's explanation.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
Further note that
(*) nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel,
(**) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa and
(***) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
There are four international airports: Sofia, Varna, Bourgas, and Plovdiv. There are a lot of charter and last-minute flight offers to Varna or Bourgas leaving from Western Europe (especially Germany and Great Britain). You can go from German airports to Bulgaria and back for less than €100, if you are lucky.
Recently, several low-cost airlines have also started offering regular flights to Bulgaria. Wizz Air  flies directly between Sofia and London, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Valencia, Brussels and Dortmund. Wizz Air flies directly between London Luton Airport and Burgas, Varna airport - the flies are every week all around the year. EasyJet  flies between Sofia and London Gatwick, Manchester and Berlin. Fly Nikki flies to Vienna.
Charter flights can offer very good prices to the black sea airports from a large variety of European cities in summer (such as: Thomas Cook, Thomsonfly, Balkan Holidays Air, Bulgarian Air Charter, Monarch, Condor, Transaero, Utair and many others).
From the USA, major airlines offer excellent connections to Bulgaria via Europe. Lufthansa, United, Delta, American, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Alitalia and Air France are the most popular airlines. The airports that you can get with major airline are Sofia and Varna. They are flights to Bourgas as well, but only with Bulgaria air  from Sofia.
International trains provide a large number of routes to Bulgaria, notably Sofia and Varna, arriving from such places as Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna, and other common cities.
The primary trains from Bucharest to Sofia, and back, run twice daily through the border city of Rousse. For example, recent trains are scheduled from Bucharest to Sofia in the daytime departing 11:35/arriving 21:30 and a night train departing 19:35/arriving 06:10. Romanian passport control occurs in Giurgiu and Bulgarian passport control takes place in Rousse, both approximately mid-trip. Check local train stations for updated information.
There is a daily overnight train Belgrade, departing Sofia around 8 pm. Please watch your belongings, as usual on long distance night trains. Single female travellers should take extra care. The fare costs around €20. It is also possible to buy a ticket to Dimitrovgrad (first city in Serbia) for 9 BGN and then buy a ticket from Dimitrovgrad to Belgrade for around 1000 Serbian dinars from the station if you have enough time (check the schedule well and mind the time zone change) or from the conductor. This way you save a few euros. In the other direction, buy a ticket from Belgrade to Dimitrovgrad, where the Serbian conductors leave the train. Stay on the train during passport and customs control (they will not ask for a ticket). When the Bulgarian conductor comes around, give him 2 EUR/4 BGN/200 Serbian dinars (say nothing and don't expect to get a ticket!). There is no direct bus connection to Belgrade. You can change buses in Nis twice daily.
There is no railway connection to the Republic of Macedonia (it is being built at the moment). There are a few daily buses (around 5 hrs, around 35 BGN one way) from the main bus station in Sofia or from the square outside the main train station. You can take the train to Skopje, with a change in Nis but that takes forever, it is more expensive and you will have to wait at the train station in Nis for two hours in the middle of the night.
A cheap way of traveling to or from Bulgaria might be the Balkan Flexipass.
If you want to reach Bulgaria from Western Europe by car, you either can take a ferry from Italy to Greece, or you will have to pass through either Serbia (make sure you take a green card from your car insurance company) or Romania.
Travelling from Greece you have to go from Thessaloniki towards Serres and then to Promahonas.
In Bulgaria you have to pay road tax at the border (around €5 for 7 days). You will get a special sticker that you have to place on your car. There are no tolls on Bulgarian roads.
Besides the sticker, you may need to pay the Bulgarian authorities health insurance (2 euros per person for 3 days, slightly more for more days). Make sure you get a receipt! Expect long queues on certain days.
Buses to and from Sofia go to most major cities in Europe - while Bulgarian bus companies will be cheaper (and mostly offer less comfort), the tickets are hard to get by if you are travelling to Bulgaria, so you can always take Eurolines buses. Don't be surprised if an extra "border fee" is asked from each traveller by the bus driver - it makes your border passing quicker. Most buses from Western Europe will pass through Serbia, so be sure to check if you need a transit visa beforehand (Serbian visas for citizens of the EU have recently been abolished).
There are no regular boats to Bulgaria. Occasionally there are cruise ships docking in Varna and Bourgas.
Certainly the fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses go from and to every bigger city (you might have to ask or be driven by taxi to the bus station) quite frequently (exact timetables information in English can be found at avtogari.info  or BGrazpisanie.com ); however, most bus station agents (except at the Black Sea and in Sofia) as well as the drivers will not speak or understand any languages except Bulgarian (and, if you are lucky, Russian) and the destinations will be written exclusively in Cyrillic. You can look up bus schedules for the Sofia New Central at the bus station .
Travelling from Sofia to major cities in Bulgaria by bus is a good value. A one way ticket to the Black Sea from Sofia is around EUR 12-15. Several companies operate regular routes serviced by new and modern buses. Timetables and prices in English for couple of the major companies can be found at GRUP Plus  and Biomet .
There are other bus stations in Sofia and also some private buses depart from their own personal station, but for travellers just looking to get out of town with the least amount of confusion - using the New Central Bus Station may be easiest.
Travelling by train is inexpensive, but also slower than by bus. Trains are most useful when travelling along the two major train routes: Sofia - Varna and Sofia - Bourgas. You can travel both routes overnight, but you should make your reservations early because these night trains are often fully booked.
Recently, new equipment has appeared on some the trains on routes between main destinations. New rail lines are also under construction but will not operational until 2011.
There is discount for travelling in group.
Many taxi drivers know only limited English so it is useful to write out your destination or carry a map. In winter 2008, a few of the newer taxis in Sofia have GPS units on the dashboard. Taxi tariffs in Bulgaria are standardized in the major cities. One should be extremely careful about using a taxi in Bulgaria. Especially since you are a foreigner, you can definitely become a target of unscrupulous taxi drivers. When in need, get familiar with the most well known taxi operators in your area, your route and expected bill. Generally the safest way of using a taxi is by ordering a taxi by phone. Some fraudalent taxis even mimic others' logos and labels on their cars. Definitely avoid using taxis waiting at airports and railway stations! An exception represent the Sofia and Varna airports as recently both airports contracted with licensed taxi companies. Currently only these companies can enter the airport area and pickup passengers - prices are standard.
If traveling by car, it would be helpful if you can read the Cyrillic alphabet at least a bit. Most signs have the direction shown in Latin letters, but some don't.
If you are a foreigner, its best to rent a car. If you decide to rent a car note that for any bump, or scrape to the car, whether involving a third party or not, you must immediately call the police to come and notarise the incident, otherwise you will most probably find that your insurance will not cover the damage. Check the Terms & Conditions of your rental agreement closely.
Driving in Bulgaria can be a bit precarious - many roads do not have defined lanes, are not well marked, and are in poor conditions. Locals often do not observe speed limits and do not signal when changing lanes.
When travelling on the road Sofia-Greece, be very careful. There is extensive road reconstruction and you can meet some really dangerous drivers.
From Sofia to Plovdiv, Chirpan and Dimitrovgrad, there is a highway with 2 or 3 lanes per direction.
On all but the major roads, expect to find significant pot holes and uneven surfaces, thorugh to gravel roads with major holes on some routes. Due to the poor road surfaces, you will often find cars driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid these holes, so be cautious when driving around blind bends. Due to the state of many of the roads, it you aren't travelling on new motorway, or other major roads, then expect to travel at an average 30-40km/h when estimating your travelling time.
If you observe the rules, police will not bother you. Bulgarian police have white Opel Astra patrol cars, marked "POLICE" with blue letters - keep that in mind, because in the past there have been several cases of fake police officers stopping cars and robbing travellers. Should you ever doubt the authority stopping you, you have the right to ask them to identify themselves with a certificate issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Министерсво на вътрешните работи - МВР).
Never ever drink and drive in Bulgaria! This is always dangerous, and your first offence will result in a long prison sentence. The once-common practice of bribing a police officer to get out of a speeding or parking ticket is becoming the exception.
Car theft isn't much of a risk, but shouldn't be underestimated. In rural areas leaving your car should be safe, but in the big cities or tourist spots, it is advisable to stay on the safe side by parking either on the major streets or on guarded garages, where fees range from 6 leva a day to 2 leva an hour. If you plan to spend more time in one city, it might be better to rent a parking space, which on the average costs 60 leva a month. Most hotels have their own parking, and even at private lodgings it is often possible to park the car in the garden or so, just ask.
Air travel is still not very common in Bulgaria as distances are relatively short.
Bulgaria Air, the national carrier travels everyday from Sofia to Varna and Burgas. Off peak deals can be found for 25eu r/t after taxes
WizzAir travels four times a week between Sofia and Varna. Off peak travel can be as cheap as 20eu r/t after taxes
Their timetables can be found on their official websites or altogether on BGrazpisanie.com 
Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, mutually intelligible with Macedonian (variant of Bulgarian) and closely related to Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Russian. If you know any of these (or another Slavic language) you shouldn't have much problem getting by. Ancient Bulgarian (also known as Church Slavonic) is considered the "Latin" or mother language of the Balto-Slavs. Some words or/and phrases might even be understood by Westerners since Bulgarian has a number of loans from other languages (most notably French, German, Turkish, Italian and increasingly English).
Modern Bulgarian is difficult to Westerners, especially English-speakers, as it has three genders, the infintive has fallen virtually out of use, and articles are appended to the end of either the noun (if no attribute is present) or the first attribute (example: kuche = dog, kucheto = the dog, dobro kuche = good dog, dobroto kuche = the good dog). However, it is actually easier than the other Slavic tongues as the other Slavs almost never use articles nor prepositions, but have noun cases instead, which makes them more difficult. It takes a short while getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet, a writing system of which Bulgarians are proud. Be sure to be in Bulgaria for the celebrations of the "Den na Pismenostta" ("Day of the Literacy"). The Russian/East Slavic version of the alphabet is almost identical to the Bulgarian one.
Turkish is the second most widely understood language in Bulgaria, and it generally spoken by the Bulgarians of Turkish descent.
It is also important to remember the fact that many Bulgarians - contrary to most nationalities - shake their head for Yes and nod for No! It is better to rely on the words da for yes and ne for no than on head movements. Bulgarians often use ciao for good-bye (instead of "Dovijdane") and merci for thank you (instead of "Blagodarya").
Most young Bulgarians have at least a basic knowledge of English or/and a second foreign language (, usually Russian, but German, French or Spanish can also be spoken) and will often even take up a third one. Those born before the mid-1970s are most likely to speak Russian, German (because of ties with East Germany) or/and Serbo-Croatian and usually have limited or zero knowledge of English at all.
The 100 tourist sites of Bulgaria, a Bulgarian national movement established to promote national tourism covers some of the more popular sites . A reward scheme is available based on collecting stamps from the sites which encourages tourists to travel and sightsee throughout the country.
It is a popular activity in Bulgaria, where a big choice of regions for a day or multyday walking trips is available. The best time for hiking in the highest parts of the mountains is in summer, between late June and September as the snow is already melted and the weather is dry generally. In winter, snowshoeing and ski trips are possible between December and March, depending on the current snow and weather conditions.The main hiking areas are:
There is an extensive network of marked tourist trails available and this allows a large number of different routes. The main accommodation in Balkan, Rila and Pirin mountains are the mountain huts, which usually offer rustic conditions. In Rhodopes is possible to stay in a local guest houses and pensions. A guide with useful information about hiking in Bulgaria - maps, safety isuues, routes, trails, destinations, etc. 
The Bulgarian unit of currency is the Lev (лев, abbreviated "лв", plural: Leva), comprised of one hundred Stotinki. The Lev is pegged to the Euro at 1.95583 Lev for one Euro (which is the same rate as for the former Deutsche Mark, to which the Lev had previously been pegged 1:1). 1 Lev is roughly US$ 0.63 and UK£ 0.40 (as of 07/2012).
Shopkeepers and other businesses in Bulgaria will usually not accept foreign money, although many will accept the euro. Bulgaria remains a largely cash economy in the rural areas; but in major cities, credit cards are generally accepted.
In most cities there are many money exchange offices which are marked with signs that say "CHANGE". Most are legitimate, but some may rip you off. For example, they advertise a very competitive rate on the outside, but on the inside, there is a tiny sign with the "official" rates, and these are much worse – so always make sure to ask how many leva you will get for your money before you actually hand it over, and calculate yourselves (e.g., using your mobile phone) how much money you would expect to get. If you now refuse the transaction because the rate suddenly changed, they will make all kinds of unjustified assertions (e.g., "I already entered it into the computer, it cannot be stopped"), but you if threaten to call the police immediately while raising your voice so that other tourists look your way, they usually will let go immediately.
It is much safer to exchange your money at a bank. Banks apply little or no commissions, and generally offer good rates, although they are slightly worse than at a (non-criminal) change bureau. Higher commissions may be applied to traveller's cheques. Old, dirty or very worn bank notes may be refused. Never exchange money out on the street. Beware of people on the street who offer high rates of exchange or who may ask you to make some change for them.
Over the past years the ATM network in Bulgaria has grown considerably, making it relatively easy to obtain cash from the numerous ATMs in Sofia, as well as in all other major cities and resorts. The national credit/debit card circuit BORICA , to which all ATMs in the country are hooked up, accepts VISA/Plus, Visa Electron, MasterCard/Cirrus, Maestro, American Express, Diners Club, and a number of other cards.
Prices in Bulgaria for some items are around half that of Western Europe, and good bargains are to be had on shoes and leather goods as well as other clothing. Note that clothes from famous international brands, perfumes, electronic equipment, etc. often are more expensive than in other parts of Europe.
In Sofia and a few major cities you can find branches of international hypermarket chains like Carrefour, Kaufland, pennymarket, Hit, Billa, Metro, and other. There are also many local supermaket chains like Fantastiko, Familia, and Picadilly (currently Part of Delhaze group). All Bulgarian supermarkets sell products of European quality. LIDL are now present in many locations around Bulgaria.
Bulgarian cuisine is a representative of the cuisine of Southeastern Europe with some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography produce excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits, Bulgarian cuisine is particularly diverse.
Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of wines and local alcoholic drinks such as rakia, mastika and menta. Bulgarian cuisine features also a variety of hot and cold soups, an example of a cold soup being tarator. There are many different Bulgarian pastries as well such as banitsa.
Certain entries, salads, soups and dishes go well with alcoholic beverages and the alcohol of choice for some is Bulgarian wine.
Restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
Salads made of organic vegetables are very popular in Bulgaria. Three vegetarian dishes that are commonly available are боб чорба/bob chorba (warm minty bean soup), таратор/tarator (cold cucumber yogurt soup), and Шопска салата/Shopska salad. Fresh tomatoes and peppers can be found in many markets and are some of the most flavoursome in the world. American vegetarians may be surprised to find meat inside innocent-looking breakfast pastries.
Popular local dishes
The most popular Bulgarian salad is the shopska salad, which is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, raw or roasted peppers (preferably roasted), and sirene. Traditionally it is dressed only with salt, sunflower or olive oil and vinegrette. Another popular salads are the snow white salad, the shepherd salad and the lyutenitsa.
As a main course you can have moussaka (a rich oven-baked dish of potatoes, minced meat and white sauce), gyuvetch, sarmi (rolls with vine or cabbage leaves), drob sarma (lamb liver and lung with rice), kavarma (minced meat with tomatoes), mish-mash (fried peppers, onion and eggs).
Another thing not to be missed when travelling Bulgaria is the Lutenitsa, which is a red pepper, aubergine and tomato purée, normally eaten on bread. If you cant fınd it homemade, go for one of the vareities wıth chunks in it.
Traditional milk products
There are only two native kinds of cheese: the yellow-colored Kashkaval (Кашкавал) - more or less akin to the Dutch Gouda - and the more popular white Sirene (Сирене) - a kind of Feta cheese, similar to Greek Feta in taste. Originally made from sheep milk, it is available from cow or goat milk, or mixed.
The native Bulgarian kiselo mlyako (yoghurt) contains Lactobacilicus Bulgaricus, a bacterium which serves as the basis for active culture "plain" yoghurts in other countries. Normally made from cow or sheep milk, it can also be prepared from buffalo milk, with a remarkably stronger taste.
Being a staple, and quite favourite around the country, Bulgarian yoghurt also is an ingredient to many dishes, the most famous one being Tarator (Таратор), a cold soup made from yoghurt, water, cucumbers, garlic, dill and walnuts . A drink called Ayran - a yoghurt-water mixture with salt- is also very popular.
Traditional bakeries prepare different kinds of pastry products. Banitsa and mekitsa are the favorites. Pizza, dyuner (döner), sandwich or hamburgers are also very easy to be found at the streets. There are also many local and international fast-food chains. Also one of the best and cheapest fast food options in Bulgaria, are the kebabche and kufte, spıcy meat sausage and meatballs. In general street pizza is very tasty in Bulgaria as well.
There are more than six hundred mineral water springs around the country, so this is something you'd better taste and drink. In some regions tap water is not safe to drink.
Ayrian (yogurt, water and salt) and boza (millet ale) are two traditional Turkish non-alcoholic beverages that you can also find in Bulgaria widely.
Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.
Some of the well known local wine varieties are Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza (red dry), Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, Muskat, Pelin, Kadarka (red sweet) and Keratsuda (white dry).
Beer (bira: бира) is consumed all around the country. Excellent local varieties like Kamenitza, Zagorka, Ariana, Pirinsko and Shumensko, as well as Western European beers produced under license in Bulgaria like Tuborg, Heineken and Amstel, are readily available mostly everywhere.
Rakia (ракия) is the Bulgarian national alcoholic drink and is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal with salads. Its powerful (40% vol), clear brandy that can be made from grape, plum or apricot. In some villages people still distill their rakia at home; it is then usually much stronger (>50% vol).
Another quite popular drink is mastika (мастика) (47% vol), a drink closely related to Greek Ouzo and Turkish Raki. It is usually drunk with ice, with water in a 1:1 mixture.
Menta (мента) is a peppermint liqueur that can be combined with mastika.
Finding an accommodation in Bulgaria is very easy, for any price. You can find everything - from hostels in Sofia and Plovdiv, very cheap boarding houses along the coast to inexpensive hotels in all cities and luxury hotels in large cities. There are many "mountain huts" or villas available for rent all around the mountains in the country. Overnight accommodations can also be acquired at about a dozen of the monasteries. There are also plenty of guest houses and villas. Bulgaria is famous for offering quality budget accommodation for rural and ecological tourism in charming small towns in its mountains as well as at the seaside. In some of the coastal villages, elderly ladies often approach tourists disembarking from coaches and trains, offering accomodation in boarding houses. These can often be excellent value for money (from as little as $5 a night) and can offer an authentic experience, however its recommended you check these out before you agree on a stay.
The oldest Bulgarian university is the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" that in 2008 celebrated 120 years from its foundation. It is considered to be the largest and most prestigious university center. There are many newer centres of education in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Shumen, Veliko Tarnovo, Blagoevgrad, etc.
For most subjects, programs are available in Bulgarian or English, depending on the university. Elementary and middle schools are supported by local authorities budget. As with most nations, teachers complain about small salaries. Literacy is nearly universal. Bulgarian people speak mostly English, German, French and Russian.
Some of the universities that offer education entirely in English are the American University in Bulgaria, the New Bulgarian University and the Technical University of Sofia. The last one offers also degrees in German language.
The American College in Sofia offers secondary education in English.
Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however behave according to common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show too openly that you have money, don't dress too much like a tourist, watch your things, don't walk around the suburbs (esp. those of Sofia) at night, avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a hole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.
Emergency phone numbers
The pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls is working everywhere in Bulgaria since September 2008. If, for some reason, you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely nerve-wrecking, and Bulgarian roads claim almost 1300 lives each year. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Of significant notation that The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. In practice, these rules are often not followed. Take caution while crossing the streets, as generally, drivers are extremely impatient and will largely ignore your presence whilst crossing the road.
In general, organised crime is a serious issue throughout Bulgaria, however it usually does not affect tourists and ordinary people. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crime, and the presence of such groups is slowly declining. Pickpocketing and scams (such as taxi scams or confidence tricks) are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places (such as train stations, urban public transport).
Car theft is probably the most serious problem that travellers can encounter. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets - these locations are likely to attract more attention from the criminals. If, by any chance you do leave it in such a location, you need to be sure that the vehicle has a security system. Such an installment will prevent the vehicle from getting stolen.
Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. As recent experiences has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based websites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist. As a general rule, do not purchase items of websites you are unfamiliar with.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals, are very common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which ATM to use, it's best to use your cash instead of a credit card.
On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. Travelers are recommended to use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield, as generally these Taxi's charge a normal amount, and the taxis with no meters charge for very unfair prices. One useful tip is to check the price for your trip from a trustful source beforehand, such as a friend or an official at station or tourist bureau. If by any chance you are trying to be lured into such rogue taxis, it is best to reject the offer, or just simply walk off.
Bulgaria has very harsh drug laws, and the penalties are perhaps far more severe than in any other country in Europe.
Do not exchange currency on the street! It is a common scam to offer you fake money as exchange in tourist areas such as stations.
Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. While most are friendly and are more scared of you than you are scared of them, they have been responsible for a number of accidents, so do keep on guard. In particular, watch out for symptoms of rabies, which is an absolutetly fatal disease.
Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in woods, so be careful.
Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some policemen or officials may request you a bribe for certain action. If this happens, decline the proposal and ask for the name & ID of the individual. Corruption in customs was also once a problem, but has dropped drastically since the country's EU entry.
The government has fiercely fought the corruption with a huge success. Should you appear in a situation to which you are asked to bribe, or you feel that you are being exploited, you can either fill out an online query with the police here http://nocorr.mvr.bg/, or call 02 982 22 22 to report corruption.
Unfortunately begging and random people trying to sell you stuff is quite common in Bulgaria. In the holiday resorts both in the mountains and on the coast there will be numerous people trying to sell you various things such as roses and pirate DVD's etc. Usually a firm no will get rid of them but sometimes they will persist and often ignoring it will not make them go away unless you make it absolutely clear you are not interested. Also be aware that in many cases these people can just wander into the hotel restaurants in the evening so expect to see them standing at your table at some point! In the ski resorts there are many people who sell "Traditional" Bulgarian bells. They know when tourists arrive and how long they are staying for and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you make it clear at the start of the week that you do not want a bell they will usually leave you alone (for a few days at least) but if you do not say no, or even say maybe they will tag you with a cheap plastic bell to force you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will suddenly become your friend for the week as they try to get you to buy a bell, but of course if you want to buy a bell make sure you haggle! And if you really don't want to buy a bell, by the end of the week your bell man will demand his cheap plastic bell back and won't be very happy! Don't feel bad about not buying a bell as they often charge extortionate prices unless you really haggle. If you do buy a bell however, you will find that the bell men will be genuinely friendly and chatty people and really aren't all as bad as they seem!
As a generally rich country in Europe, it's best to say that health standards are developed. However, there are potential health risks, even though the government has fought the high chances of such things with a huge success. It best to stay that the greatest risk that a traveller can encounter is air pollution. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthma are at a greater risk.
Pollution is no better or worse than in any other European city. Health risks are the same as those in other parts of Europe, so be careful of what you eat, meaning that if you purchase fruits and vegetables , wash them prior to eating. If you are inclined to purchase food from a stand that sells fast food containing meat, know that you are taking on a health risk to yourself, because there are no health codes in those establishments.
If you are at the Black Sea, mind the strong sun at the beach, especially in July and August. Wear sunscreen and do not leave the umbrella in the first one or two days. Do not drink hard alcohol at the beach, it could give you a heart attack.
It is sad to say that Bulgarians, much like Greeks, have a bad reputation for their smoking habits. Smoking is the national pastime, and evading the fumes of cigarettes is even more difficult than evading exhaust fumes in the streets. Effective June 1, 2012 smoking in all indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants is banned.
Eating and drinking
Most food is quite safe to eat. Of course, try to avoid eating at places that are obviously not too clean.
Tap water in Bulgaria is very safe to drink and natural mineral water is also cheap and widely available. Since Bulgaria is a mountainous country, natural springs are quite abundant and many villages have one or more mineral springs.
Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Medical personnel is very good at their job.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgaria's National Healthcare System as long as they carry an Eurocard (or European Health Insurance Card), obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of excellent quality. Many people from Western European come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home countries.
Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller towns, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch or even to sleep over. Often it is a pleasant gesture to give someone a "Dobar Den" when walking past a quiet stall or past a person. Kak sté (hows it going) will usually suffice for the younger generation.
As a rule of thumb for most countries worldwide, you should avoid topics involving politics and foreign relations, and on some occasions football (soccer) as well. If you are pulled in to such a conversation, try to stay neutral. Remember that your own knowledge of local situations is unlikely to be as good as a Bulgarian's!
For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offence (i.e. nationalists and skinheads). Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option.
Most of the Bulgarian people do not feel anger or resentment towards Russians (unlike a number of people from other former Eastern Bloc countries), and Bulgarians tend to have a much better perception of Russians, however caution may sometimes be needed in discussing issues regarding Turkey. Likewise, discrimination against Turks are widespread.
Bulgarians don't really do chit chat, so trying to make conversation with someone at a till in a shop will probably result in odd looks (either from not understanding or not wanting to engage) or they will just ignore you. Likewise Bulgarians are quite impatient and will often honk their car horn at you if you walk in front of a car, especially in winter in the mountains as they try to keep a grip on the road.
Domestic telephone service is available in most villages, via the PSTN or VoIP.
Mobile phones are widely spread in Bulgaria - many people have two or three phones. There are three networks, all using the GSM/3G standards (Mtel, Globul and Vivacom). MTel has almost full national coverage (97% of the surface of the country), followed by Globul and Vivatel (each one with smaller coverage). Fares are average for the European Union (5-40 Eurocent per minute, 7 Eurocent/SMS). Both pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans. Roaming is available but it`s rather expensive. You can buy prepaid cards cards in almost every shop.
Internet access is widely available in Bulgaria, although about 60% of the population has regular access. Broadband internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics, WiMax and LAN connections. You can also access internet with your mobile phone, via GPRS or 3G. Speeds are pretty fast in the capital - with prices being around 10 € for 20 Mbps, with local access about 40-100 Mbps. The speeds are increasing, home access for 10 Mbps being available at around €7.5 per month. Outside Sofia, speeds are significantly lower, fastest being around 7.5 € for 10 Mbps.
Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations.
Wireless access is often available in gas stations (such as Lukoil) and there is also an unsecured WiFi connection in Sofia Airport. Many pubs and hotels will also have WiFi that is free of charge to use. Speeds in Bulgaria are surprisingly good! In fact Bulgaria is in top 10 of the countries with fastest Internet speeds worldwide.
Wireless access is growing, especially in biggest cities, but is still limited, and mainly available in public areas, parks, cafes, hotels and restaurants. Paid wireless access is also available. You can use Wi-Fi virtually anywhere in the bigger cities (especially the touristic ones).
More Travel Information
Vagabond  a magazine in English that will tell you a lot about politics, going-ons and especially travel in Sofia and Bulgaria, is available at newsstands and online.
TheTravelBug  concentrate on the Stara Zagora and central region of Bulgaria but also provides video and photographs of many tourist spots around Bulgaria and advice on what to visit.