I was in Latina and one evening went out to go and have a beer alone, (even though in reality you are never alone because you always meet people you know). I arrived at a friend’s pub and sat down at the counter, after a while a group of boys approached, I know by sight but one of them I knew well because he was a former colleague of mine. They talked about taking a trip to Bulgaria, as some of them already had tickets. Obviously the result of that evening was that I returned home with a ticket to Sofia. I had never thought of a trip of a few days in a city like Sofia and I was very curious to discover a country of which I knew nothing except that I was going to a place that changed its name 8 times in history, which was under two dictatorships and various empires and that is the third oldest city in Europe.
On 18 December 2017 we left for Sofia with the Ryan Air flight and in the late morning we landed at what was called Sredec. The city was pretty, neat, clean and wonderfully green.
We arrived directly at the center of the city, in Viale Vitosha which begins in the historical center and ends in one of the most beautiful parks of the city, Yuzhen Park (South Park), a favorite destination of the sofioti to spend Sundays there. The avenue is full of shops where you can shop, bars, restaurants, and there is also the National Palace of Culture (NDK), where conferences and concerts are held.
To welcome us there was a friend of my traveling companion, an Italian who has a company and who passes them to Sofia many months a year, kindly gave us the opportunity to stay at his home.
We settled in the apartment and went out to eat together for lunch; the rest of the day we spent visiting the city playing with the snowflakes that fell on our heads.
In those 3 days we visited the impressive Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Ivan Vazoz theater and walked in beautiful parks.
On the third morning we were lucky because as we walked we found a square not far from the center full of very colorful Christmas stalls, with Christmas songs in the background, all characterized by a wonderful white coat. It was wonderful to meet local people who advised us what to eat and what to drink to keep warm, it was one of those cold mornings but where the genuineness of the people and the sharing of a lunch became one of the most beautiful moments of that holiday.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to eat, and that above all I love doing it on the road to discover the flavors of the country in which I find myself, in fact one of the things that struck me most was obviously the Bulgarian culinary part. We were invited by a couple of locals to have dinner at a typical Bulgarian restaurant. After anticipating their typical dishes, on their advice I decided to try the shopska salad, a typical Bulgarian dish very popular, which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted peppers and cheese; to follow we savored a frequent dish in Sofia, the Kecapcha which are the traditional meatballs made of cow or pork meat.
At the end of the dinner we were served Baklava, surely one of the most famous and well-known desserts of Bulgarian cuisine. It is a dessert made from dried fruit and honey (or sugar) originating in Turkey, which however is also very common in the Balkan peninsula. Telling the original recipe is very difficult, since each region has its own variant. Wherever you go, however, the basic concept is the same: very thin sheets of fillo dough, buttered and “seasoned” with chopped walnuts or pistachios.
This dinner was pleasantly accompanied by the stories of a Bulgarian couple, who immediately wanted to let us taste the dessert, The Rakia is a spirits, created through the distillation or fermentation of fruit. It is a very strong distillate, which often involves the use of plums and grapes. Be careful to drink it if you are not used to such high alcohol levels. At that moment I learned something very special for me, namely that
When they say yes, they want to say no!
Bulgaria is one of those countries where some gestures are different from other countries. Among these, the movement of the head that we use to nod (from bottom to top), for them means NO. On the contrary, shaking your head means yes.
So, if you go into a pub and ask if there is a free table and they shake their heads with the semi-empty room, it’s not because they want to hunt you because of your frizzy hair and you look like a drug dealer. They are telling you that yes, the place is there and you can sit.
After dinner we went to a very nice place that many Bulgarians frequent. We sat at the counter and ordered a drink. That evening there was the show of a band that faithfully reproduced 80s-90s songs and to my amazement many covers of Italian songs sung very well. What surprised me most was to see the clientele singing loudly and dancing on pieces by Eros Ramazzotti or Pupo. Ahahhahah was really nice!
This impromptu trip to Bulgaria made me understand the importance of knowing even the smallest European capitals, with their history and their culture. I’m used to making long journeys and in Africa for obvious reasons, but the world, even if taken for granted, is really all to discover.
This is why my advice to you readers is to leave nothing to chance! If you have the chance, go also to visit the smaller cities, the ones that you never thought to see, and to consider this a journey too. A journey to discover the culture, the everyday life and the enthusiasm of people to let you enter their world!