I’m Bullish on Bulgaria

This item appears on page 40 of the July 2016 issue.

Did we get an idea of what we’ll find there and can we picture it? Were we given a sense of the culture or atmosphere of the place? Was there an experience or encounter described that lifted us? If any of these questions are answered in the positive, an essay is held in higher esteem by the ITN staff judges.

The essays submitted for this month’s topic, “I’m Bullish on Bulgaria,” were in a range of styles, and three earned rewards for the writers. Coming out at the top was the work of BARBARA MUELLER of Casper, Wyoming. She will receive a 3-year extension to her subscription to ITN (or she can pass her prize along to friends). Following just behind were ROSINA WEISKOPF of San Mateo, California, whose subscription will be extended by two years, and CAROL M. BECKMAN of Old Bridge, New Jersey, who will get an extra year of ITN.

This contest is for ITN subscribers only, and the next essay topic on the list created by ITN’s founder and original publisher, the late Armond Noble, is “Nice is Nice.” If you have been there, in no more than 300 words (note: 300 words), describe what you experienced in Nice, France, that evokes a sense of the city’s atmosphere, culture and/or attractions. Email your essay to editor@intltravelnews.com or send it to Essay Contest, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the address at which you receive ITN. The deadline is August 31, 2016. A prize will be given for the winning essay, which will be printed in ITN.


When we visited Bulgaria, we were largely unfamiliar with this ancient Balkan land, now a part of the EU. We went with open minds, which soon were filled with wonderful memories. 

Sofia, the capital, was literally paved with golden stones and delicately arrayed with pastel-colored buildings, fountains and lively coffee shops and patisseries. 

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with its multiple gold-covered and green-copper domes, and the more intimate Sveta Nedelya Church inspired sacred reverence with their stands of tapered candles, smoke-darkened murals and the ethereal singing of unseen choirs during the Orthodox Mass.

We drove past fields of sunflowers to Rila Monastery, a black-, white- and red-striped confection. The porticos of the main church were filled with brilliant frescoes featuring saints and heaven and (a truly horrifying!) hell. 

On the way back to Sofia, we passed through a small village near Samokov, where we saw a parade of sheep being herded in from the fields. At each street, “parents” waited to collect their woolly children and escort them home.

In Koprivshtitsa, a mountain town still traveled by horse carts, we strolled among wooden houses which had been home to merchants, poets and anti-Ottoman revolutionaries and now serve as ethnographic museums. Lunch was a delicious shopska salad — chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers and black olives served with a generous topping of creamy white cheese. 

We also visited Plovdiv, a city of cobbled streets, ancient stone walls and stately 19th-century National Revival houses in shades of violet and gray, peach and mustard. These were remarkable for their extended upper floors and the graceful painted decorations across their facades.

We had seen only a minimum of what the country that birthed the Cyrillic alphabet has to offer, leaving us feeling bullish on Bulgaria and ready to take the charge again! 

Carol M. Beckman
Old Bridge, NJ


Bulgaria is a land of natural beauty where time has been known to stand still. 

I started my trip in Sofia, an Old World capital spiced with Ottoman touches, a vestige of what Bulgarians refer to as “the Turkish yoke.” l was captivated by one of the many highlights, the magnificent multidomed Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, built in Neo-Byzantine style, which accommodates 10,000 worshipers.

The city of Plovdiv, with fabulous examples of Roman, Greek and Bulgarian architecture, plus the part of the Old Town with its monuments of various periods was a feast for the eyes and kept me at awe.

Dating back five millennia, the charming city of Varna on the Black Sea, with shady sea-gardens and a white, sandy beach, was especially relaxing and enchanting.

Driving through the Valley of Roses and inhaling the heavenly scent, where hundreds of workers pick rose petals early in the morning and transport them immediately to distilleries where expensive rose attar is produced, was a most wonderful experience.

But the highlight of Bulgaria was the visit to the Rila Monastery, located between the Alps and Caucasus mountain ranges. Driving through these pristine mountains, I felt like they greeted me as they did pilgrims and monks in the 10th century, when the original monastery was founded by John of Rila, a hermit who would become Bulgaria’s patron saint. 

The monastery sits on a wooded knoll in the middle of nature — a unique, spectacular sight! As I stepped into the inner courtyard, I was flung into another era. The transition almost felt physical — a shove back to the Middle Ages. l have never seen anything like it, and I am a globetrotter.

Bulgaria has aroused all my senses, and it is a “must see” for any traveler.

Rosina Weiskopf
San Mateo, CA


I arrived in Veliko Tuˇrnovo (Bulgaria’s capital from 1185 to 1393) in October 2002 to teach at the local university during a warm “Gypsy summer.”

The outdoor markets were laden with produce from the fall harvest, and the smell of roasted green peppers filled the air. (These peppers would be combined with fresh red tomatoes and topped with creamy sirene cheese, which would melt into a vinaigrette dressing to create Bulgaria’s iconic shopska salad.)

By November, the gray streets and mountains had turned white with snow. Friends invited my husband and me to spend New Year’s Eve at their farm, where they served us homemade kebapche (a flavorful minced-meat dish) in the remodeled wooden barn which served as their home. 

We needed to ascend an outside staircase to reach our second-story bedroom, warmed only by a green-tile stove that reached from floor to ceiling. (It proved more beautiful than practical, however, since it needed to be fueled with wood throughout the night!)

By March 1, winter had given way to spring, which was eagerly celebrated by the Bulgarians by exchanging martenitsi. These 3- to 6-inch-long wool figures (red for females and white for males) bestow wishes for a long life and good health. They are worn by the recipient until he/she sees a stork, a swallow or a budding tree, all harbingers of spring; the martinitza is then tied to the branch of a nearby tree. The students decorated the trees along the path from town to the university with these colorful red-and-white “ornaments.”

As the semester ended, the flowering fruit trees began to blossom. I would return to the US before I could taste the fruit, but an imported bottle of the locally made plum brandy, rakia, still reminds me why I am “bullish on Bulgaria.”

Barbara Mueller
Casper, WY