Why Bulgaria? (Part I)

We get asked this question a lot. 

In fact it’s rare that–when we mention that we’re on our way to Bulgaria–the response is something other than “Why Bulgaria?” We’ve come to refer to it as The Question. 

If you were asking The Question, I could give you a list of reasons, such as these: 

  • The Cyrillic alphabet to decode and enjoy. 
  • Natural beauty in the Rhodope Mountains (and elsewhere).
  • Unique and delicious food traditions. 
  • The complicated and interesting political history.
  • Generally lower costs than most of Western Europe. 

But somehow, listing attributes isn’t satisfying for me or you. What you’re likely really asking is: “Why Bulgaria and not [place x]?” 

If we were departing for, say, Ireland, I doubt we’d be called upon to explain our choice. Ah, yes, Ireland, you might say. We’d both envision green hills and castles and pubs and charming accents and that would be that. Italy? Definitely. Germany? Sure. 

Over 10 million people visited Bulgaria in 2020, but less than 1% of them were from the United States. It’s possible if you are from the US and you’re asking, you may not be questioning our judgment so much as simply requesting information. Americans don’t grow up hearing much about Bulgaria. Is it beautiful? Is it interesting? And…um…where exactly is it located? We may not know about Bulgaria unless we specifically seek it out. 

And that, I think, is my best answer to The Question. Bulgaria because I don’t know much about it. Bulgaria because I want to go to a place new to me, a place about which I have very few preconceived ideas. I’ll admit this, too: Bulgaria because I’m contrary enough to want to go to a country that causes many Americans to raise their eyebrows. Bulgaria because it’s unexpected. 

Sometimes The Question elicits my own personal existential rabbit hole. If we’re asking Why Bulgaria?, then it’s a short journey to Why anywhere? Why bother to travel at all? And if we do bother, what is the effect of our bothering? Why are any of us here at all and what are we doing with our time? 

I’ll be in Bulgaria soon. I’ll walk along Bulgarian streets and snap photos of Bulgarian architecture and do my best to wrap my mouth around Bulgarian phrases. Perhaps I’ll find the answer, my answer anyway, to The Question. Perhaps I’ll even figure out why I’m traveling at all, why any of us are journeying through space and time and what might be the result of our bothering. 

That might be a lot to ask of Bulgaria. 

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem impossible that Bulgaria will have an answer. It’s been through a lot, this country. The Bulgarian people have a reputation for being pretty easy going and very resilient and deeply kind under a thick layer of reserve. These seem like thoughtful responses to life. They may have delved into some existential rabbit holes of their own and have something to say about it. 

Or, they may have a very nice shopska salad served with a glass of Bulgarian wine in a sidewalk café, and you know, that might be enough. 

That might even be the answer.

More at Why Bulgaria? (Part II)

Thanks for reading, and by the way, I love comments. Bookmark fieldtripnotebook.com for more on travel, minimalism, books, public transportation, and hikes. For daily postcards from, well, wherever we are, subscribe to launaatlarge.substack.com.

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