Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bulgaria, the Underrated Eastern European Republic

Hungary has its goulash. Romania has its girl gymnasts and Croatia has that hot Dr. Goran Unpronounceable-last-name on ER. Whither, then, the humble neighbor to the south and east, Bulgaria?

"I'd like to exchange these Bulgarian leva for dollars."

The two currency exchange clerks met my request with blank stares, like they were expecting me to yank a goat out of my wallet or something. It was then that I realized the misperceptions - or a lack of perception altogether - that exist in the U.S. about this country of 7 million.

What many people don't realize (and I wouldn't either, if I didn't have family living there whom I just visited) - Bulgaria combines the best of the regions it unites.

- Mediterranean food and climate: Shopska salad, cheese, mushrooms, olives as big as nectarines...

- European cafe culture: Any time of day or night, where there's a table, chairs and a bottle of wine, people are gathered talking, laughing, playing chess.

- Old-world history: And this is really old-world, as in churches in the middle of Sofia that date back to 800 A.D. and neighbors including Turkey and the former stomping grounds of Alexander the Great (ironically just popped up on Netflix - not one of Oliver Stone's finest moments). Not to mention the Eastern Orthodox art and mystique. Something about wafting incense and gold-leaf halos draws in even a heathen like me.

- Post-communist character: Vodka, chain-smoking, imposing Cyrillic signage and the undercurrent of organized crime - just enough of this remains to give the place flair, yet not so much as to creep out the sheltered Western capitalist.

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At 12:49 AM, Blogger media concepts said...

And they used to have good cheap wine!

At 4:33 AM, Blogger globalchameleon said...

The wine is STILL cheap (and good!) ... thank God they haven't converted to the Euro yet!


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