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Life In Bulgaria- 11 Incredible Things I Learned Living In Bulgaria

Life in Bulgaria as a foreigner can be and probably will end up being a daring adventure. Nestled between the snow-capped mountains of the west and sun-kissed coastlines of the east lies a country that’s home to a proud nation that managed to preserve its traditional way of life in the era of modern city life. If this sounds compelling and you’re contemplating a move to Bulgaria, keep reading my friend, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of useful insights here…

Living in Bulgaria Will Be An Adventure

life in bulgaria sofia

Bulgaria boasts scenery that can leave you breathless, from the snow-capped Rila and Pirin ranges to the sun-kissed beaches along its coastal line, yet this beauty is only the tip of the iceberg. Delve deeper, and you’ll find that life in Bulgaria is an adventure of its own, one that goes beyond picturesque landscapes.

From the cobbled streets of Plovdiv’s Old Town, a city older than Rome, a city where you can just feel the weight of millennia under your feet to the hauntingly beautiful melodies of Bulgarian folk songs that encompass ancient warriors, the strive for freedom, and timeless romances, there’s a rhythm to life in Bulgaria, an old-world charm that’s juxtaposed with the bustling energy of cities like Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, that does a great job in combining the past with the modern society present.

But let me be candid for a minute; the vistas and traditions are more than capable of captivating one’s soul, but the real adventure for a foreigner is navigating Bulgaria’s unique cultural tapestry. Ever tried expressing gratitude and ended up signaling ‘no’ with a nod, thanks to the distinctive Bulgarian head gestures? Or perhaps found yourself at a loss, trying to discern the layered flavors in a homemade banitsa? These moments, as trivial as they might seem, can be both amusing but at the same time challenging and that’s just the beginning which conveniently enough leads us to my next point…

Understanding Bulgaria: Beyond the Lens of Western Europe

understanding bulgaria

Picture flicking through a glossy travel magazine, and between the pages of popular Parisian attractions and Venetian gondolas, you come across some of Bulgaria’s rolling hills, ancient monasteries, and stunning folk dances but if you start reading the content, you’ll inevitably come across some typical stereotypes that Western European have about Bulgarians.

To be brutally honest, Bulgaria often gets pegged as the ‘black sheep’ of the EU. Poverty? Yes. Corruption? Unfortunately. Close historical ties to Russia? A reality. But is that all there is to the Bulgarian tale? Not even close.

First off, let’s talk about that ‘black sheep’ narrative. Bulgaria has its struggles, no one’s denying that. However, gauging a country’s value merely based on its economic indicators or political turbulence is not just simplistic, but it’s also frankly unjust. Here’s a my personal two cents: Bulgaria’s richness isn’t in its bank vaults, but in its heart and soul.

Let’s break it down a bit. Imagine comparing a homemade Bulgarian ‘banitsa’ to a Parisian croissant. Both flaky, both delicious, but inherently different. The banitsa isn’t trying to be a croissant, and it shouldn’t be. Just like Bulgaria isn’t trying to be France, or Germany, or any other Western European country. It’s marching to the beat of its own ‘tapan’ drum.

And this my friend is one thing you have to embrace if you really want to learn about Bulgaria. Only once you open your mind you can truly…

Learn To Look Beyond & Embracing Bulgaria’s Contrasts

bulgaria contrasts

At first glance, Bulgaria might seem like a nation of contrasts, much like the colorful juxtapositions seen in the streets of India. The old with the new, the rich histories clashing with modern aspirations, traditions rubbing shoulders with contemporary vibes, sights of poverty noticed right next to luxirous modern buildings…

But here’s the thing – it’s these contrasts that form Bulgaria’s very soul. Venture into Sofia, the capital, and you’ll witness centuries-old Orthodox churches standing proudly next to shimmering skyscrapers. Not too far away, in one of the most underrated European cities– Plovdiv, Roman amphitheaters echo stories of ancient times while hosting the newest global music festivals. A bit of a head-scratcher? Absolutely. But that’s the magic of Bulgaria, it keeps you on your toes.

Living here, one learns to embrace these contrasts rather than resist them. Much like how Indian streets teach resilience amid chaos, Bulgaria teaches you to find beauty in disparity. It’s in the local ‘mehana’ where the elderly folks chat about politics and then, in the same breath, discuss the latest from Silicon Valley.

But here’s the kicker: To truly immerse yourself in the Bulgarian way of life, you have to peel back layers. Look beyond the obvious. Understand that this isn’t a nation of black or white, but a beautiful mosaic of grays.

And our next section will be the first piece of the beautiful mosaic that is Bulgaria…

The Bulgarian Way: Time, Traditions, and Trysts

Sofia, Bulgaria - The St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral

As we briefly touched upon, Bulgaria is a country often overshadowed by its EU counterparts and sadly, seen through a narrow perspective that pegs it merely for its economic challenges. However, like India’s streets, Bulgaria’s culture, its approach to life, is rich, deeply rooted in tradition, and comes with its own unique rhythm.

In Bulgaria, time has a different essence. It isn’t just about the hours ticking by on a clock; it’s about soaking in the moments, cherishing traditions that have stood the test of ages, and engaging in trysts that offer profound life lessons. It’s where an afternoon might be spent enjoying homemade Rakia with neighbors, discussing everything from politics to the latest village gossip. Where the fiery dances and lilting songs of folklore aren’t just tales from the past but a pulsating, living part of the present.

But, just like every coin has its flip side, immersing oneself in the Bulgarian way comes with its own set of challenges. The language barrier can sometimes seem insurmountable. The bureaucracy, often perceived as tedious, can feel like navigating a maze without a map. Yet, it is precisely in facing these challenges that one discovers the true Bulgarian spirit – resilient, warm, and ever-inviting. A spirit that says, “Life might not be easy here, but it’s worth every moment.”

It’s that very spirit that’s weaved into the essence of life in Bulgaria and what’s a better demonstration of this than…

Crafting Solutions from Scraps: The Essence of Bulgarian Resilience

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I’ll only base this one off my personal experiences and I’ll start my story in a remote quaint village nestled in the Rhodope Mountains, I met Baba (grandmother) Vanya, an elderly woman with twinkling eyes and hands that have seen decades of hard work. With remarkable dexterity, she transformed old, worn-out fabrics into vibrant quilts showcasing with every stitch, Bulgaria’s indomitable spirit.

One more example is Dimitar, an old enthusiastic mechanic in Sofia’s suburbs who uses a collection of parts, many rusted, some gleaming (again that most might consider to be garbage) to breathe life into old automobiles. For Dimitar, this wasn’t just a profession, it wasn’t just about fixing cars; it was about crafting solutions with what one had, ensuring that nothing went to waste and this is not an isolated example; this is Bulgaria’s soul in a nutshell.

These personal encounters highlight a larger narrative – that of Bulgaria’s inherent resilience born out of tough times throughout its history. In Bulgaria, innovation isn’t just about high-tech solutions; it’s about everyday people finding new ways to enhance life with the resources at hand.

And this is because people have seen nothing but tough times for a while. After all, there’s a reason why…

Bulgaria’s Population Is Decreasing Fast For A Reason

bulgarian people

If you’ve been keeping a close eye on European demographics lately, you might’ve come across a startling fact: Bulgaria’s population is shrinking, and rather rapidly at that (from 9 million in the 1990s to 6.8 million today). The question that then arises is – why?

Let’s start with the obvious- it’s officially the poorest country in the EU and ranks as one of the most economically challenged in Europe. And joining the EU in 2007 has made it much easier for Bulgarians to move to some of the other, more prosperous EU counterparts…

One evening, as I sipped on a cup of aromatic Bulgarian herbal tea at a café in Plovdiv, I got chatting with Ivaylo, a local university graduate. His tales painted a candid picture of the challenges Bulgaria faces: poor infrastructure, inefficiencies in administrative processes, and the looming shadow of corruption. These issues, he shared, often make daily life in Bulgaria frustrating for the average Bulgarian, overshadowing the nation’s numerous charms.

But perhaps the most poignant part of our conversation revolved around the sense of despondency among the youth. With limited opportunities and an environment that sometimes seems resistant to change, many young Bulgarians are packing their bags and seeking futures abroad. Ivaylo’s own sister had recently moved to Germany, lured by the promise of better job prospects and a higher quality of life in Bulgaria.

However, as I said in the beginning, not everything in Bulgaria is black and white and we have to admit that…

It Has Gone A Long Way

sofia bulgaria night

Let’s dial it back a bit, shall we? The 90s and the early 2000s were turbulent times for Bulgaria. Talk to any local from that era, and they’ll recount tales of mob killings and crime rates that would make one shudder. Sofia’s streets, which now echo with laughter and the hum of bustling cafes, were once darkened by the shadow of crime. But today, and the narrative has taken a turn for the better. The crime rates? They’ve plummeted. The menacing figures from yesteryears? They’ve receded into the annals of history. While no place is entirely devoid of problems, the days of rampant crime in Bulgaria are well and truly in the past.

Turning our attention to the healthcare system, well, I won’t spin tales. It’s still a work in progress. However, the education system has seen commendable strides. More Bulgarians than ever before are pursuing higher education, and the curriculum is continuously evolving to match global standards. Now, if you’ve ever wondered how this transformation became possible, look no further than the support from the EU. The influx of EU funds has revitalized infrastructure, public services, and even the arts. Roads, parks, and cultural centers – you name it, the EU funds have breathed life into them, enhancing the quality of life for all Bulgarians.

But here’s the cherry on top: Bulgaria boasts extra-fast internet speeds, making it a hotspot for digital nomads which brings us to our next point…

It’s Somewhat Attractive For New Comers

Plovdiv old town

First off, let’s talk numbers because, let’s face it, our pockets do influence our choices. With its flat tax rates and the general low cost of life, Bulgaria gives you more bang for your buck. Imagine savoring sumptuous Bulgarian cuisine or witnessing the golden hues of the Black Sea sunset, all without making your wallet weep. Enticing, right?

But there’s more to Bulgaria than its economic allure. The pace of life in Bulgaria isn’t dictated by the constant rush of city sirens or the relentless buzz of notifications. No, siree! Bulgaria thrives on a relaxed rhythm. The coffee is sipped leisurely, the walks are unhurried, and conversations flow like a gentle stream, not a rapid torrent.

Now, if you’re fretting about the language barrier, fret not. The Bulgarian youth are not just versed in the latest global trends, but a significant chunk of them speaks fluent English. And it’s not just about the language. The warmth and friendliness of the locals would make anyone feel at home. They don’t just see you as another face in the crowd but as a new addition to their expansive family.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like our Serbia travel guide and our Macedonia travel guide.

There’s Lessons To Be Learned Everywhere (Including The Cuisine)

bulgaria food

Bulgaria is a country where every corner has a story to tell, every season paints a new portrait, and every meal…well, it’s more than just a gastronomic delight. It’s a lesson. A philosophy. An art.

Bulgarian cuisine introduced me to the value of balance. Much like the intricacies of life in Bulgaria, their dishes blend a variety of elements. Sometimes it’s the comforting sweetness of banitsa, and sometimes, it’s the robust bitterness of certain traditional stews. But isn’t that what life’s all about? A mix of sweet and bitter memories that give it depth, flavor, and essence.

If there’s one thing Bulgarian dishes scream out loud, it’s reverence for nature. Every season dictates what lands on the plate. Be it the fresh veggies in summer or the preserved delights in winter, Bulgaria doesn’t just eat; it dances to nature’s tunes and enables people to stay in sync with nature’s rhythm, respecting its ebbs and flows.

Let’s talk patience. The slow-cooked magic of dishes like kavarma or gyuvech thought me that the most incredible things, the most flavorful experiences take their sweet time. Just like a Bulgarian stew that simmers to perfection, life too unfurls its best chapters when you give it time.

But what truly stands out? The sense of community. Whether you’re diving into a crisp Shopska salad or raising a toast with the potent rakia, Bulgarian meals emphasize togetherness. It’s a heartfelt nudge that food, much like life’s moments, is best savored in the company of loved ones.

Being a Traveler vs. Living as a Local in Bulgaria

living in bulgaria

To the occasional traveler, Bulgaria might seem like an untapped European gem, waiting with its picturesque views and vibrant nightlife. But scratch the surface, and the real Bulgaria, in all its layered beauty, begins to unfold.

Choosing to live here is choosing to immerse in the culture far beyond the holiday snaps and postcards. You swap the five-star hotel breakfasts for morning banitsa from the local bakery. Instead of getting a mere taste of rakia in a fancy bar, you’ll learn the art of toasting with the locals in a neighborhood tavern. Those cobblestone streets aren’t just scenic pathways but become routes to your daily errands, reminding you of the history underfoot.

Residing in Bulgaria is to understand the sigh of an elderly woman as she reminisces about the old days, or the pride in a local’s voice explaining a traditional dance during a village fest. You don’t just visit historical sites; you live among them, appreciating their significance in everyday life.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like our Romania travel guide and our list of fun facts about Romania.

How Life In Bulgaria Taught Me To Live in the Moment

life in bulgaria

The bustling streets of Bulgaria, echoing with folklore melodies and the hum of conversations, were my first hint that this place had a lesson or two for me. As days turned into weeks, I soon realized that Bulgarians had mastered something that many of us often overlook: the art of being present.

In Bulgaria, time seems to flow differently. Whether it’s the elderly sharing tales from yesteryears on park benches, or families gathered around the dinner table savoring each bite of banitsa, there’s a deliberate slowness, a savoring of the now. It’s not about rushing to the next big thing; it’s about appreciating the journey itself.

The spontaneous dances during local festivals, or the patient wait for the first sip of freshly brewed rakia, everything speaks of a culture deeply rooted in the moment. Life in Bulgaria isn’t a series of events, but a collage of moments, each to be lived fully.

Through these moments, Bulgaria didn’t just teach me about its rich history or delicious cuisine. It taught me to slow down, to breathe, and to truly embrace the magic of now. It’s a lesson I’ll carry with me, long after I’ve left its shores.

Helpful Resources For Life In Bulgaria

For the cheapest flights to Bulgaria, you can use this Qatar Airways special offer. Personally, I use this offer a lot of the time when I fly and get up to 15% off on all flights to Bulgaria.

If you’re looking to rent a car in Bulgaria, this AutoEurope offer can get you 15% off on all car rentals.

For the best deals on local transportation in Bulgaria, check out Busbud (for more info, check out our Busbud review).

For accommodation deals in Sofia and other Bulgarian cities, use this Booking offer to get 10% off on all accommodation rentals in the city.

Last but not least, another thing to have in mind for your life in Bulgaria is travel insurance. From my own experiences, I’d recommend towards SafetyWing. They offer some long-term plans for digital nomads and unlike some insurers that might tempt with low rates but skimp on coverage, SafetyWing ensures a comprehensive shield. For a deeper dive, check out our SafetyWing review.

Enjoying expat posts? Then you may also like our guide to living in Georgia country, living in Moldova, and life in India.

How did you like my guide to life in Bulgaria? Are you planning to move there? If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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