For those of you who’ve been following along on Instagram you know that I love a good fact. Over the summer I visited many countries in the Balkans that I honestly knew nothing anything about. I couldn’t have pointed out Kosovo on a map or told you the capital of Albania. But I’ll keep the facts on my new “10 Things I Never Knew About X” series a bit more interesting, I promise! Let me know in the comments which countries you’d be interested in learning more about!
10 Things I Never Knew about Bulgaria
1. Bulgaria is Outside the Schengen Area
I hadn’t realized before that Bulgaria wasn’t part of the Schengen zone. They are members of NATO and the EU but they’re outside of the grouped 90 day visa zone in Europe. Americans can actually stay in Bulgaria for 3 months during a 6 month period. Playing the Schengen zone visa game is what initially led me to the Balkans this summer and ultimately to discovering so many incredible places. If you’re in the same rut, I would absolutely suggest adding Bulgaria to your wish list of European, non-Schengen places to visit.
2. Bulgaria is Home to the Oldest Inhabited City in the Europe
Bulgaria’s second largest city is also the oldest in Europe clocking in at 8,000 years. Plovdiv is even older than Athens and Rome! Over the last 800 decades it’s been under the rule of the Romans, Macedonians, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks and of course, the Bulgarians.
3. A Bulgarian Psychic Predicted Major World Events
While in Plovdiv on the Free Walking Tour for Visit.org I came across a portrait of Baba Vanga on Sahat Tepe Hill. She’s surrounded by historic Bulgarians and is the only woman muralized here. Baba Vanga had lost her vision after suffering an injury as a child. With her sight gone, she was blessed with the ability to see the destinies of others and the world. She’s been making headlines lately as she had claimed that there would be no 45th President of The United States of America. She correctly foresaw that the 44th President of the U.S. would be African-American. The clairvoyant had predicted 9/11 in 1989 stating that she saw steel birds attacking the American brethren.
4. Bulgarian Tomatoes were Once Worth Their Weight in Gold
Or more correctly, in ABBA Records. During the Iron Curtain of communism, Bulgaria’s government agreed to trade their prized tomatoes with Sweden for ABBA records! They were the only thing that crossed borders during the era. The music brought citizens joy in an otherwise dark time.
5. Not a Single Jewish Bulgarian was Sent Abroad or Killed in WWII
During WWII Bulgarians saved their entire Jewish population by convincing the Nazi party that they were needed locally for infrastructure work. The building projects would be continuously extended to keep the Bulgarian Jews out of Holocaust camps. Ultimately 48,000 Jewish Bulgarian citizens were saved.
6. Sofia is a Secret Foodie City
Her Majesty, aka Banitsa, is a delicious, gooey, cheese and filo dough pastry that you haven’t lived until you’ve tried. Bulgaria is the queen of all comfort food offering an incredible array of fresh soups made with local produce and of course, lots of cheese. The current food culture is shifting back towards traditions of farm fresh meals prepared slowly. Ingredients vary from local veggies to more modern, trendy foods such as quinoa, avocado and matcha. Some of my favorite spots were Sun Moon, Supa Star and Made in Home. The Balkan Bites food tour was a highlight of my trip and cost absolutely nothing.
7. The Oldest Building in Sofia is 17 Centuries Old
St. George is the oldest building in Sofia and the only one dating from the Roman era. Incredibly, its complete original structure from the 4th century is still standing. With its round shape it is no surprise that it was originally used as a warehouse for coal in the ancient town of Serdica. If I hadn’t gone on the Footura Sofia Walking Tour with Visit.org, I would’ve never seen this historic structure as it is hidden in a square surrounded by modern hotels.
8. Red Red WIne
I had no idea that Bulgaria made some truly incredible wines! In the south-west area of the country, near the picturesque Melnik village and the mountainous border with Greece, there are dozens of extraordinary vineyards. Melnik 55 is produced by Logodaj Winery and is one of the best wines I have ever had! It is a heavy bodied red with cherry, spice, vanilla and nut aromas. A bottle cost less than 5 euros. We also visited Villa Melnik and Orbelus, which has a winery shaped like a massive barrel!
9. Bulgaria has Pyramids
When I am on the road a lot of my planning is done by zooming into google maps to find historic sites. As I am usually doing this on a bus, train, plane or car without WiFi it often means I can’t access the pictures but can just see the location on the map. I was immediately interested when I kept seeing markers for pyramids in Melnik. Without WiFi I could only assume that these must be some ancient structures built by early humans. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are actually a pretty amazing feat of Mother Nature. These natural pyramids are constantly changing over time as they’re made of sand, not rock.
10. Bulgaria has The Most Beautiful Monastery in the World