22 June 2012

Things Bulgarian People Like

Re-Posted Death Notices.  We first noticed posted death announcements in Albania.  In each country since, we have stopped and looked at the simple, mostly black and white flyers with the departed person's photo, age and a brief word about them, hung at/near their residence.  In Bulgaria, we would see the same person's face on multiple notices, called "necrologs" here.  One young woman's face appeared on so many that we thought maybe it was actually a notice about her being missing. 'Have you seen this girl?'  As it turns out, Bulgarian tradition calls for a reposting of the necrolog on a number of anniversaries - 40 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 18 months, and then every year until there is no one left around to remember them.  Even with newspaper obits a regularity, most people still prefer this style of commemoration and continued celebration - to see one, two, five sets of grandma's eyes greeting you at your front door.
The Black Sea Coast.  It is pretty simple to see why Bulgarians would adore their coastline so much.  What country doesn't love their beach?  It's been funny, though, how adamant everyone has been about us getting back to the coast.  In other countries, we are asked where we have been and where we are going.  In Bulgaria, the question is always simply, "Have you been to the coast?!" When we answer that, yes, we spent three nights in Balchik, loads of suggested itineraries and recommendations are thrown our way for further travel down the coast.  It doesn't matter that it would now take us about 7 hours by bus to get there.  The thought is, why would we be anywhere else? 
Cautionary Cars.  The number of road fatalities in Bulgaria is about double the EU average and it was placed in the top five in car accident deaths in a large scale study of European countries, conducted in 2007.  It's so interesting that the ones who get the unfortunate crown are all countries with a low car ownership percentage and less traffic density. (Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria).  Since then, the rate has dropped.  In fact, in 2011, the number of people killed in car crashes was the lowest it had been in 44 years.  We saw these totaled vehicles displayed throughout our many hours on the road.  Who knows how much they factor in to the positive change - and how much more of it has to do with road rehabilitation and the huge amount of traffic cops we also saw along our drives.  But there they are. Graphic proof of the risk.
A Side of Ice.  I've gotten a cup or small bucketful of ice with water, lemonade, wine, just about everything but beer.  There's always that joke that Americans have to come to terms with the fact that they won't often be served ice in Europe.  Some go so far as to say ice is 'an American thing.'  Well, I assure you, it is also a Bulgarian thing.  And it is wonderful.  Speaking of icy drinks...
Not Your Average Lemonade.  Well, not my average lemonade at least.  Beginning in Serbia, through Romania and now in Bulgaria, I have been on a lemonade kick.  Like fresh orange juice in many other locales, squeezed-to-order lemonade is a popular mainstay in the Balkans.  In Bulgaria, I was happy to see my summertime companion was just as readily available.  But I never knew exactly what I was going to get.  It could be lemon juice with sprite, with club soda or with water.  More than once, it was lemon juice with nothing else at all.  Merlin took the first sip of that one and the contortion of his face was priceless.  (and on that note)
Shopska Salad.  The Shopi people after which this ubiquitous salad is named are historically from the area surrounding Sofia.  So, even though it was absolutely everywhere in Macedonia, it is considered a Bulgarian thing.  Menus here almost always have a very long list of salads - which we'll go into with greater detail in a Bulgarian Food post to come.  But Shopska almost always wins out.  Here, a dozen or so tables are pre-set for a big party in Balchik.  All of the Balkan essentials are there, shopska salad, Coca Cola and Fanta.  The weddings that would inevitably be taking place wherever we stayed on a Friday or Saturday, would have the same place setting.  But, of course, with wine.  Tomato, cucumber, shredded sirene and a black olive on top.  It's as simple as that.
Front Yard Vineyards.  Bulgarian wine is great and they produce a lot of it.  Some statistics place it close to the tippy top of wine exporting countries in Europe.  Around 80% of Bulgarian wine winds up in the UK, the US and Russia (depending on how well they're getting along at the moment).  This is probably because it's a) way cheaper than any of their Western European competition and b) Bulgarians aren't crowding the wine aisle in the grocery store themselves.  They're simply making their own!  Especially in Southern Bulgaria, we saw grape arbors stretching door to door down small town streets. 
These Roadside Patrolling Stations or whatever they are.  Anyone know?  We just saw a manned one today in Sofia. I have to assume it is for policing purposes, but the design is just too unique not to mention.

Honorable Mention

Confusing Head Gestures.  Obviously, they are not confusing to other Bulgarians, but the fact that people shake their head for "yes" and nod it for "no" was very difficult to get used to.  It is something to know and keep top of mind if you plan on traveling to Bulgaria.  You sort of don't realize how much communication is done with nods (especially when their is a language barrier) until you find yourself in this situation.  You order something, they shake their head.  So, you order something else.  Now, they're confused. Your confused. Everyone's confused.  All because of a simple head shake.  Luckily, Bulgarians happen to be extremely nice and willing to work with bumbling reverse-nodders like us.

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