travel

Bulgaria: Blagoevgrad, Sofia and the Language

Photo number 1

Traditional start and end of my travel photos – a picture of the sky seen from the airplane. This journey to Bulgaria and Greece called for four flights and I enjoyed those from Moscow to Sofia and back the most cause I could see a real patchwork of fields, so colourful and diverse. I could imagine something really tasty growing there, mmm : ) Like these tomatoes grown in the center of Blagoevgrad, my first Bulgarian city ever visited (not counting the ugly suburbs near Sofia airport). The city is more like a town and it’s situated in the south-west of Bulgaria.

Blagoevgrad

I can only say that the landscape is beautiful, the nature is gorgeous, the fields are everywhere. But as soon as it comes to a city, it sucks. Sorry, but it does. It’s as if people KNEW how to build lovely towns and then they forgot. In their rush towards everything fast and more more more they just lost the ability to create not simply a house but a beautiful house. Thanks God there is an old city center and even a small town within the city in Blagoevgrad, where I could enjoy the walk.

IMG_0142

My friends know that I have this weird appetite to decadent old towns which I prefer to glossy or not so glossy new districts. I think that these parts of the city just tell you more about its life, especially about its past. Somebody some years ago took pains to build and decorate hoping that will last for years.

Blagoevgrad

Blagoevgrad is a hectic mixture of very ugly Soviet buildings and nice though decadent neo-classical buildings, interspersed with much older traditional two-storey houses. I could not really make head or tail out of this town.

Blagoevgrad

Talking about ugly Soviet buildings, here they are. Bulgaria never belonged to USSR if you’re wondering but it has gone through its own let’s-build-communism period. Here are some of the adjusted remains of the era:

Communist building, Blagoevgrad

And this one was pretty ugly (haha, pretty ugly…). And to think that someone some years ago could design all this being totally convinced this was to be oh so modern and beautiful…

Communist building, Blagoevgrad

And probably this was the ugliest building, set along the river Bystritsa (literally ‘rapid’ river) running through the town. Again, someone thought that would be the most appropriate building to decorate the riverside…

Communist building, Blagoevgrad

Let’s leave the ugly side and see how contemporary citizens are trying to adapt the cityscape to their liking. I did enjoy these decorations of electrical control units (or whatever these things are called in English) which I also spotted in Sofia:

Blagoevgrad Art

The tag says 2014, I wonder if this is a new fashion or they re-paint the units each year?

Blagoevgrad Art

There were lots of such decorated units across the city, like this food-related one:

Blagoevgrad Art

And yes, this journey to Bulgaria was a culinary one too – I tried some typical Bulgarian food and I ate a lot. In general. We had such copious lunches and dinners at the university canteen, which just cannot be referred to by a Russian word stolovaya. The food is proper food there and you do enjoy it (whereas a stolovaya has such a derisive Soviet connotation stuck to it irrevocably!).

Lunch, Blagoevgrad

And don’t tell me your university canteen had such pretty dishware, eh? The white cheese in the photo is the traditional white brine cheese sirene, something that we call brynza in Russia. Oh this salty cheese was so nicely counterbalanced by fruit!

Vitaminozny Salad, Blagoevgrad

But actually the first Bulgarian thing I tried in my Blagoevgrad hotel’s cafe was this salad called Vitaminozny in Bulgarian (its Russian counterpart ‘vitaminny salat‘ is never so large nor so tasty!). Fresh veggies, salty olives, tasty fresh baked bread with seeds, I was full already with that! The quinoa salad in the background was my colleague’s choice. And then came this…

Fried Kashkaval Cheese, Blagoevgrad

Fried cheese called Kashkaval in Bulgarian (as far as I understand this is the Bulgarian rendering of the Italian caciocavallo). It was different from the fried/grilled/baked saganaki cheese in Greece, cause it was a yellow type of cheese but also quite rubbery and cheesy, if you know what I mean. I find such cheese dishes the best choice for vegetarians – even a small piece of fried cheese can quench your hunger alright!

Sunset in Blagoevgrad

By the way, we enjoyed a great view from the university canteen’s balcony that very first evening in Blagoevgrad. Such a tremendous sunset that was! And such a tasty chocolate cake for the dinner (could not eat more after the fried cheese!).

Blagoevgrad

And now back to the city which I gradually explored during the three days spent in Blago (as the locals call it). The name comes from the family name of a Bulgarian communist, the previous name sounds more interesting – Skaptopara (somehow reminding me of skales, a Greek word for stairs).

Taxi advertisement, Blagoevgrad

This tractor is advertising a taxi company titled Atlas. We live in such a funny world… And yes, Bulgarian language sounds quite funny to my Russian ears, although I listened to various audio courses before coming to Bulgaria. Some words are tricky – they sound the same yet mean something either completely different or opposite to Russian. How about Bulgarian stol which means chair in English but which is identical to the Russian for table? Or how about the adjective skyp which means dear or expensive and means ‘mean’ in Russian? A similar thing happens to Russian speakers when they read Ukrainian – the words are so familiar but either obsolete in modern Russian or bring back the original meaning of the word. There’s this feeling of the old Slavic language in Bulgarian which we’ve lost in Russian.

Theatre, Blagoevgrad

I’ve made a series of photos of just these ‘funny’ Bulgarian words – but they do require the knowledge of Russian. Instead let’s see what the city has yet to offer. The two previous photos show some Soviet-like art on the wall of the youth center and the local theatre. This is a view from the theatre when looking at the green hill (with a newly added cross dominating the city) above the old town.

Blagoevgrad

The third day I did get to the old town. And that walk made me at least get the notion of what Blago looked like when it was still a nice place to live in, for me that is 🙂 Cause sure there are people who will not complain.

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

The old town called Varosha welcomes you with Macedonian like white-washed houses. I was there in the evening just before all the souvenir shops were closed, with children playing in its narrow streets winding up and down the hill. Well, those were very tiny streets cause the district is really small.

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

The art studios seemed to be all closed too.

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

But no one prevented me from enjoying the decadence at its full there.

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

Some of the houses are (being) renovated and look very nice, though the ones up the hill are quite run down.

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

The weather was perfect for such a walk and the autumn leaves added to the experience. As did all the local cats (just like in the old city of Thessaloniki).

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

There was even a Math House, a unit of the Bulgarian Academy of Science. And this church which – they say – looks very much like the nearby Rila Monastery (I hope I will visit it one day).

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

The church is not that super old (there are even some later Soviet-like additions to it) but the icons painted on the walls are washed down quite a bit.

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

There are several tavernas and hotels in the district as well as some small crafts clubs or something. This is how a traditional restaurant is decorated:

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

And here is the entrance to the district (which was the exit for me, a typical thing!). I hope they do preserve this jewel, it really helped me solve the puzzle of the city – if you ignore this district you will most probably call Blago a nothing-to-see town. And ironically most of the people I talked to could hardly tell me where Varosha was…

Old Town Varosha, Blagoevgrad

Cause most of the abide somewhere in these parts – which made me shudder really. What’s this ugly thing has to do with a place where people are supposed to live and enjoy living? =) Oh my…

Blagoevgrad

I did not linger near those fountain, making my way back to the city pedestrian area, with this 1/2 Blue House shop and 1/2 yellow house building:

Blagoevgrad

Walking back to the river I saw this traditional Bulgarian eating place (mekhana) in an old house rising above (or rather crawling up?) the riverside. The weird cement circles down there at the river were possibly added thanks to – again – some other 20th century great idea : )

Blagoevgrad

The last day in Blagoevgrad ended with a dinner at a mekhana outside of the city close to a park which I unfortunately did not have time to visit. This mekhana word reminds of the Georgian word for a taverna – dukhan. I had to get back to the hotel even before the main dish was served as I had to catch my overnight bus to Piraeus, Greece (spoiler: next post!), but I managed to take these photos of the place:

traditional Bulgarian Taverna, Blagoevgrad

Traditional Bulgarian dress and decoration in red-and-white colours (just like the colours of martenitsa – a decoration made from strings that celebrates the coming of spring, I remember making some when I was little!), some parts of the taverna reminded me of the Ukrainian restaurants:

traditional Bulgarian Taverna, Blagoevgrad

On my way back from Greece where I travelled after Blagoevgrad I had to return to Sofia airport and so I decided to spend the morning in the capital. Not much to tell you or show you here. I had all my memory card full with Greece, my mind and heart were full with it too and on top of it all it was rainy and moody.

Sofia Art

More of the crafty redecoration of the units scattered across the city. More ugly Soviet-like constructions and imperial-like buildings. And more of the super-modern somethings which just look out of place.

Sofia Art

Ne pipay means do not touch. And zhivot (last word) is ‘life’ in Bulgarian and in old Russian but means stomach in the modern Russian language. A phrase which sounds funny and at the same reminds me of the real roots of the words I pronounce.

This is Sofia

And this is probably how I imagine Sofia – a weird mixture of Soviet things (I lived just close to the park commemorating the Soviet soldiers liberating the country in the WW2), McDonald’s sign reigning above some indescribable new buildings, the golden domes of the Russian cathedral and other things all together. It was also the city day when I was in Sofia which prevented me from seeing some places in the city (lots of police everywhere).

Red House, Sofia

The thing which I did like in Sofia was my artsy hotel called Red House (ex-residence of an architect), which IS a house with several rooms and a common kitchen and bathroom. If you’re planning on going to Sofia (which is currently invaded by Japanese tourists mostly), do stay there. The breakfast in the pseudo-Russian cafe complements the experience =)

Somewhere in Bulgaria

So far all I could tell you and show you about Bulgaria. I’ve crossed the country’s south-west part twice and I can tell you that the scenery is amazing. It’s just that you tend to rush through the landscape in a bus and then get stuck in the cities, which as I have told you already leave much to be desired. Do try to see more of the nature in Bulgaria, it’s so much more pleasing and even enchanting!

And I will surely come back. I haven’t tried so many cheese & baked things there! : )

G.

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