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Subject: soc.culture.bulgaria FAQ (monthly posting) (part 3/10)

This article was archived around: 23 Jun 2001 04:00:53 -0400

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=============================================================================== CHAPTER 4: TRAVELOGUES ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4-1 Visit to Varna (by Austin Kelly) Some advice from an American who lived in Bulgaria in 1992-1993 (by Austin Kelly) The following is based on 9 months of teaching at the Technical and Economics Universities of Varna, and a limited amount of traveling throughout Bulgaria in the 1992-93 academic year. While I can relate my experiences, bear in mind that there is an enormous amount of diversity in Bulgaria - take all advice with big grains of salt. First piece of advice - go there, and travel around. The Black Sea Coast is beautiful year round, and has excellent swimming from July through September (June or October if you are really lucky). The mountains are beautiful for hiking, hunting, or skiing in the Winter. And the art and architecture of the monasteries is not to be missed. Most of the large state-owned hotels charge rip-off prices ($100-$200) to foreigners. In Sofia the Sheraton, the New Otani, and to a lesser extent, the Grand Hotel and Park Hotel Moskva provide high standards at high prices. The other big hotels provide the high prices, but don't bother with the service. Private hotels provide a much better correlation between price and service. In Turnovo the Hotel Veliko Turnovo charges stiff prices ($80 dbl) but gives good service in return, as does the Grand Hotel Varna in Sveti Konstantin. The other big hotels in Sveti Konstantin and Golden Sands are badly overpriced. There are alternatives to consider. In Sofia there is a very small hotel between the airport and downtown attached to the Archeological Institute, called the Hotel Kedar (Cedar, as in Cedars of Lebanon). The rooms are small but clean, the prices are cheap, the staff speaks French or German, and its on a main tram line. Another alternative are private accomodation bureaus. BG Tours in Varna booked me into a wonderful room near Sveti Konstantin for $8.00 US a night - it was a short walk downhill (a LONGER walk back uphill) to the beaches, and the balcony looked out on the Black Sea. The owners spoke no foreign language that I recognized but we got along great. If you're really on the cheap universities will rent out any available dorm rooms at around $2 or $3 a night - the trick is connecting with the right person. If you speak Bulgarian or Russian ask a cab driver, etc. the way to the nearest obshezhitie (dormitory) and negotiate with the front desk. If not, try any coffee shop at the university for an English speaker and start asking around. Car rentals are not cheap ($30-$40 a day for a Lada with a manual) but are plentiful. They will advise you to remove your windshield wipers when parked, leave no valuables or packages in the car, and always set the alarm. TAKE THEIR ADVICE. Long-distance buses are fast, comfortable and inexpensive. In Sofia long-distance buses congregate around the Novotel Europa, in Varna they are either at the Cherno More Hotel or near the Cathedral. Trains are slow but generally not too bad (if you ignore the odor in the restrooms). You can probably get around pretty well without a car. Balkan flights between Varna and Sofia are frequent, several a day, more or less on time, and cost $65.00 one-way last time I checked. Balkan's Sofia JFK flights are extremely comfortable. Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Air France, CSA (Czech Slovak), Malev (Hungarian), LOT (Polish) all fly to Sofia. Lufthansa and Balkan treated me fairly well in Sofia, the staff at Air France were obnoxious, and CSA put me through hell like you wouldn't believe. Malev offers discounts to students under 26 for flights throughout E. Europe. In general, flights within E. Europe are much cheaper than to W. Europe. Balkan charged about $200 less r/t Sofia Bratislava than Sofia Vienna, for instance. In general, supplies for tourists are plentiful. If you have a favorite American brand of deodorant or shampoo, bring it. Most of the imports are Turkish, Italian, or German. There are plenty of places selling Kodak and Fuji film, Sony cassettes, etc. Outside of the expensive parts of Sofia fluffy white toilet paper is rare - always keep some with you. Money changing places are ubiquitous - most charge no commission for cash and deal in cash only. Banks charge commissions - some take traveler's checks - a few do credit card cash advances. The commission for these services can be stiff (5%- 8% for traveler's checks). Shop around a little for rates and commissions - there's not a lot of variability but a few places will try to rip you off. NEVER deal with the "change money?" boys, unless you want a handful of Yugoslav dinars, the most worthless currency on earth. Maps in German or English can be found in the touristy areas. The guide to E. Europe published in Berkeley has a pretty good section on Bulgaria. Many people in Sofia and on the Black Sea speak a little English or German - a few know French or Italian. If you know Russian you're all set. Try to at least learn the Cyrillic alphabet - it won't take long and it will make reading train and bus schedules a hell of a lot easier. Crime against persons is rare by the standard of someone living in Washington D.C. (me). I walked around late at night in Varna for 9 months and never felt threatened. The only "crime hotspot" that I know of is near the Hotel Pliska in Sofia. Don't be stupid - don't flash money or jewelry around, etc., and you should be OK. Property crime is more common, and thefts of or from autos seems to be a Bulgarian specialty. VOA and BBC are on FM in Sofia - VOA is on 89.3 FM in Varna, at least for a few hours a day. A small pocket short-wave radio is a good idea, but FM will get you the news in English in at least a few places. The International Herald Tribune is 1 day behind in Sofia, 2 in Varna. There are weekly business newspapers in English published in Sofia. The scarcity of goods in Bulgaria is pretty much over (although a scarcity of money remains!). The most appreciated gifts that I found were books in English (literature, travel, culture, and, especially, business), booze with official US or British tax stamps attached (so the recipient knew it wasn't adulterated swill), and cassettes or CD's of "uncommon" music, ie Blues or Bluegrass anthologies, rare Rock cuts, etc. Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, R.E.M. and Jesus and Mary Chain are available for $1.50 on cassette all over Bulgaria. In downtown Sofia, Veliko Turnovo, Nessebur, or Golden Sands people are pretty much jaded towards visiting foreigners. Many are quite friendly, a few are rude or hostile, and a lot are indifferent. If you go anywhere smaller, especially the places that Bulgarians think tourists should see, like the ruins at Pliska, the Madara horseman, or hiking the Rodope mountains, or if you ride the 2nd class train compartment to Varna you'll find a lot of people who are still fascinated that an American is kicking around in their country. They'll do all they can to help. Its worth the trip. By the way, to continue with a couple of threads that I read today: In June in Varna matchbooks were being used by shops in place of 50 stotinki pieces - a tram ride in Sofia was 2 lv, and jeans were around 500 Lev. Bulgarian folk music is alive and well. The Restaurant Liverpool on Ul. Dubrovnik in Varna has a live band on Fri. and Sat., the private radio station I worked for in Varna (Kannal Komm) played Bulgarian folk on week-ends and holidays, and in May and June every restaurant in Varna was booked on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for weddings, and every wedding had a band playing folk music. Country-western and Speed Metal haven't completely displaced Bulgarian folk. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4-2 A Journey Through Romania and Bulgaria (by Melissa Harris) Portico, The College of Architecture and Urban Planning Newsletter University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Spring/Summer 1993 A JOURNEY THROUGH ROMANIA AND BULGARIA by Melissa Harris While teaching for a semester at the Technical University of Vienna, Melissa Harris, an assistant professor of architecture, and three graduate students from the College took a two-week trip to Romania and Bulgaria. (...) So why go? Adventure. Yes. I was also interested in seeing the vernacular architecture of these countries. But most intriguing was a strong urge to be inside cultures which have been historically oppressed and yet remained beautifully productive. Being immersed in extremes often generates interesting revelations. Extreme contrast, engaging the edges and touching, even briefly, opposite ends of various spectra are the essential characteristics of this trip. First a quick introduction to my three companions on this adventure - all graduate students at Michigan studying architecture for a semester at the Technical University in Vienna. Ted, the forward man, confident and charismatic. Susan, a blossoming talent, thoughtful and analytical. And Dave, whose wisdom seemed to comfort us, like a blanket of security, at all the right times. It wasn't long before each of us realized that a larger group could take risks far too dangerous for someone traveling alone. (Part related to travel through Romania is posted on s.c.r.) Bulgaria welcomed us back to lands of negotiable travel. Everything was impressive about our introduction to Sofia. We got right to our destination by tram and within a half hour had secured two double rooms for the night, rented a car for the next morning and changed money. On the way to our great rooms in a family's apartment we picked up wonderful fruit. How very thankful we were for a shower and a bed. After showers and some fresh fruit, we set out to explore downtown Sofia. The city seemed to be prospering, with streets full of cafes, vendors and color. Though l am sure it is prevalent, hardship was not nearly so obvious as it was in Romania. What was prevalent were former monuments to fallen Communist leaders. Many of these buildings are being put to other uses or house new governments, but some remain empty. A specific monument, the former mausoleum which housed the embalmed body of Georgi Dimitrov (Bulgaria's first Communist leader) has now become an outdoor toilet. When protests mounted in 1990, his body was removed and cremated. The mausoleum sits on an elevated base with a surrounding arcade. Between the columns and the building, feces has accumulated. There isn't much trash, only human waste. Questions about the relationship between form and a building's successive uses resurfaced. Walking around the building, the new use seemed quite logical. The columns are wide enough to provide privacy and the width between them and the building just wide enough for passage while someone might be relieving themselves. It is slated to become a museum. After we had walked around in the rain seeing former monuments, the Alexander Nevsky church, more Roman ruins, and basically getting a sense of the downtown, we decided to eat in a fancy restaurant in the Grand Hotel Bulgaria built in the `30s. The circular dining space had a dated but somehow trendy feel with balcony seating around a two story space which opened to a great skylight. As the meal progressed and we became buddies with our waiter, he treated us to the main feature of the space. The huge circular skylight actually opened mechanically to the sky. Though it was still rainingabit, he opened it partially so we could get the idea. Must be glorious in the summer. The next morning we picked up our car and were reassured that it would be no problem that our only road map for Bulgaria was in the Latin alphabet not Cyrillic,which Bulgaria uses. Other maps and street signs we had seen were only in Cyrillic, an alphabet which at first glance to an uninformed Westerner looks like the swearing from a cartoon character's mouth. No, no problem, signs will have both. Rila Monastery was our first destination. We beat all the tourist buses by an hour and therefore had it to ourselves initially. Situated on a mountain cliff, the views were spectacular. Essentially a wall of rooms rings the church in the middle, forming a protected exterior court. The most impressive space was the kitchen. It was as though you walked into an oven, sized to cook whole humans. The ceiling scalloped as it rose nearly 45 feet into a chimney. The pans sat on large fire places and were more than eight feet in diameter. Before departure I got a bus driver to write out all the cities we would be passing through in Cyrillic. The car rental agency was quite wrong. We saw few Latin letters once we left Sofia. Despite the fact that we now had critical translations, we had to stop at the base of every major road sign so we could hold up our printed destination and compare it with the sign. >From Rila we headed to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest but perhaps most beautiful city. Cobblestone streets twisted to accommodate the grade. An interesting attitude toward architectural history pervades the city. There are literally layers of time incorporated in the buildings. When a ruin is uncovered, they weave it into the current life of the city - assigning new functions like a cafe or a stair. Next stop was the Black Sea. We had no reservations, so it became a race to get to Nessebar before the Balkan tourist office closed. Ted was driving. We almost flew through the stunning countryside, traveling first through mountains and then rolling farm lands, ultimately ending in flat fields close to the sea. As in Plovdiv the night before, we convinced the hotel woman in Nessebar that we could fit four people in a double room despite the rules. She finally agreed as long as we were out before eight in the morning when her shift changed. She wanted no part of the story if we were caught. The actual sea coast was forgettable, but both Nessebar and Sozopol had hundreds of beautiful wooden seaside houses which sat on stone bases. The overhangs were large enough to protect the rooms from sun and wind, The wood frame was filled with tiny wood slats and overlaid once more with thin battens every two feet or so. These elegant structures represented at one time very progressive ideas about living, containing unprecedented spaces for women who had just given birth. We ate wonderful fresh fish that night. Our waiter took great care of us, even running out to a cafe to get us chocolate cake for dessert. Bulgaria rekindled my interest in vernacular architecture. In fact, it reminded me of what I love about the mountains of North Carolina. The buildings have a direct, clear relationship with the land and with the function they house. As we drove through the Valley of the Roses (near Veiliko Tarnovo), we stopped in many small towns - Arbanassi, Zeravna, Gabrovo. Each seemed to have a subtle and specific architectural response to its location. Our last night in Bulgaria was the best. It provided us a beautiful place to rest, to reflect, and to cook ourselves a meal. Now that the trip was almost over, we had learned to call ahead for accommodations. When the woman in Nessebar heard that we were traveling by car, she said, "I have a place for you." A small town she likened to a museum because of its houses, Bozenci was just a few miles outside Veiliko Tarnovo, our destination for the final day. Bring your own food, she advised, because there is nothing there. A man named Stephan will be waiting for you in the square. We tried to tell her we were not sure when we would arrive, but she insisted. He would be waiting. We stopped at a big roadside market near Gabrovo and bought eight pork chops, three loaves of bread, olives, and fruit. That was the entire choice. We had no idea if we could cook them at our place or not. Spring had exploded on the hills of Bozenci and the smell of white blossoms filled the air. We followed the map the Nessebar woman had scratched out for us. It didn't show much: a road, a center square with a well, a nother road and the house. We got out and walked up the hill which seemed to be the road of Stephan's house. Wonderful view from the top, but no Stephan and no house which looked like the photos she had shown us. We split up, with assigned territories to cover. My job was to understand the woman worKing in the post office, who had begun helping us. I was trying to decide if she was connected to Stephan. I began to draw as I spoke, illustrating each part of my narrative: calling from Nessebar, securing a house from Stephan, what the agreed price was, its location, etc. When she finally shook her head and led me out of the lobby, I heard Sue yelling from the top of a hill, "I found Stephan." And so she had, and with him our little two-bedroom house with a porch overlooking the mountain side. We moved in quicily, reveling in the luxury of our own place, the view, the cleanliness, and its intimacy. Dinner was started immediately. Cooking for ourselves was an indescribable pleasure. Dave's ingenuity with rice rewarded us with a terrific dinner overlooking the mountains, now dotted with perfumed flowers. We toasted our collective spirit of adventure and the amazing luck with which we had been blessed. You don't hear or read much about Bulgaria. But city after city, street after street, we uncovered stunning views and wonderful architecture preserved through layers of time and movements. We rarely saw other tourists. Bulgaria is a country where one can still afford to eat five course meals, have coffee in an outdoor cafe overlooking a Roman amphitheater and the entire city below, tour castles and museums, and dance all night for 50 cents. I will see Bulgaria again in my lifetime, Back in Vienna I saw this city in a new way, imagining it as home. Thinking back over our experiences in both countries, Bulgaria pales against Romania - not because of what either had to offer, but because, for me, people transcend place, architecture, and accommodation. Our personal experiences with people were all Romanian. It just turned out that way this time. Perhaps this addresses the question of how issues of the human spirit relate to architecture. The power of people to impart significant meaning, memory and experience far surpasses the ability of architecture to do the same. One is merely a stage for the other. But both possess a spirit which affects everyday life. The Arad waiting room will haunt my visions and inform my conceptions of public spaces for years. I relearned a valuable lesson for someone committed to visual education. Drawing not only connects people to their own thoughts and sights, but also to other people. Those people then frame the experience and experience structures the story. After all, as John Barth said, "The story of your life is not your life. It is your story." ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4-3 Visit to Bulgaria by Balkan airlines - 1 (by ron@doc.cc.utexas.edu), last updated: 30-Oct-1995 We took a group of 15 to Bulgaria in 1993. Most flew Balkan Air. Balkan Air lost 2 reservations, denied boarding to one woman, lost 1 set of luggage, found it and sat on it until the woman was ready to leave, causing her to have to buy new clothes and stuff for the trip, and very rudely denied all compensation. Needless to say, we will never fly Balkan again. If you do, we wish you luck. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4-4 Visit to Bulgaria by Balkan airlines - 2 (by Ernie Scatton), last updated: 30-Oct-1995 In Feb, 1994, my son and I flew roundtrip JFK NY to Sofia on Balkan Air. The flights were on schedule, the service was good. On return we were diverted to Toronto because US East Coast was snowed in. Balkan personnel were very helpful in getting us alternative flights back to States, and we arrived home one hour later than we'd been scheduled to through NY. I wouldn't mind flying them again at all... particularly since the non-stop direct flight is so much better than connecting in West Europe. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4-5 Food in Bulgaria (by Rolf Henze), last updated: 01-Jan-1995 The food supply is OK. Nothing to complain from my point of view. One bread costs around 12 Leva. The transport in Sofia is easily done by tram or bus or taxi, if you like. Don't expect the tram to have western standard, they are very loud, but they are working. The administration is busy to install a subway system, but it's not yet working. Travelling in the country can be done by bus or train. Busses are going very frequently and to almost everywhere. What I don't like that much is that as a foreigner you have to register 48 hours after your arrival at the local administration, if you're living in a hotel it can be done there. If you like southern kitchen and vegetables, you will probably appreciate bulgarian food. The wine is comparable to french wine (Bordeaux type). Best wishes for your trip ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4-6 Travel to Burgas - travelogue (by Vesselin Velikov), last updated: 23-Jul-1995 Most of the information is as of end of '93 - summer of '94. BG Airport Service times for International flights are no better than your average US intn'l flight check-in. She will probably be required to show for check-in anywhere between 120 to 60 min in advance. Given that it is Monday morning she will have to plan also to have to meet rush hour trafic in Sofia in the morning if she arrives by train or bus. There are always night trains labeled "Express", "Inter-city", "Fast"("Burz vlak") which leave from the corners of Bulgaria at somewhat convenient times in order to arrive in Sofia at approximately two time slots: 1) between 6:00 and 7:30; 2) between 8:00 and 9:30. I am almost sure there will be a train from Burgas, which will leave approximately at about 10:30-11:30 p.m. from Burgas and arrive at Sofia (last stop) about 6:00-7:00 a.m. If there haven't been a major cut in public transport (I doubt it on this route as it's the major tourist route for Bulgarians in the summer) there will be 2 trains - an "Express" one (approx. 4-5 stops till Sofia) and a "Fast"/"Inter-city" one (approx. 8-12 stops). She can buy on either of those: 1) a "sleeping car"/"couchet car" ticket; - recommended not that much for the "convenience", but rather for the fact that those cars are "less trashed"; there is a good chance of getting into a "not so good" compartment in other types of cars; - she will be able to secure the compartment she'll share with 2-3 more female travelers with a dead-bolt/chain-lock (I felt quite insecure last summer traveling overnight in a "regular class"/"second class" compartment with brocken locks, brocken doors, 90 % brocken lights in an almost empty train carrying my international passport, US visa documents, $100 cash, $300 travelers checks and my credit cards. I didn't know what would have been better - to go into a compartment with a lot of people and fall asleep or go into a dark compartment alone); - those compartments are kind of tight (always remind me of my army boot-camp - 3-story bunk-beds, climbing to your bed on a ladder... :) but they are clean at least) but she'll get at least some sleep so that she can manage the rush next morning till she gets on the plane; - no other people are allowed in these cars but only those who carry tickets for them, in general you can't even pass from the rest of the train to these cars after about 30 min after the train has left the initial station; - those tickets are hard to buy at the last moment!!! Especially at the end of August when a lot of people return from their holiday at the black Sea resorts; It is highly recommended that you arrange with somebody to get that ticket bought at least 2 weeks in advance! If she'll be staying in Bourgas or Sofia for a day or two any time between a month to 2 weeks before August 21, she can go to a "Travel Bureau"/Railway-Station-Advance-Purchase-Counter and buy the ticket herself. 2) first class ticket - in the absense of "sleeping car" tickets this is your next best alternative: - 6 seats per compartment; wider seats, wider compartments, somewhat adjustable seats as compared to "second class" cars where there are 8 seats in a smaller compartment and very often the seats are so worn and uncomfortable you start to hurt after 2-3 hours. - in general - cleaner cars, - as the price of this ticket is much higher than "second class" and people with second class tickets are not allowed to "stand" (see below) in first class car - it is less crowded ergo - safer, less noise etc. - due to the higher price of the ticket in general in these compartments there is a better chance to travel in "more comfortable" environment (educated people, people knowing some English, people who wouldn't be "interested in changeing money" etc.). Your worst scenario in this case is a family with a "crying baby" but even that is better than what you might come upon sometimes in other cars. General comments: - I do not recommend "second class" car in her situation - you don't want to play your chances: often during that time of the year and especially on Sunday night trains there are so many people who want to travel, that the entire train (excluding the sleeping cars) is full (the coridors included, with standing people!!!) - It is a nightmare in such a situation even if you are "experienced" in such a travel; - despite what you might hear, trains are fairly on time! Last summer I never had a case to be on a "late" train. Especially if it is an "Express" - the railways always try to make those arrive at the destination on time, usually about 10 min in advance; - I would suggest she exercises some caution at Sofia Railway station, especially when picking the taxi!!! On a Monday morning it is very, very crowded place. I myself, despite being a Bulgarian, got "busted" last summer arriving on a busy Monday morning with a friend-foreigner and being in a hurry - a guy "caught" me at the main exit, asked me if I need a taxi and I said "Yes" after which he lead me to an UNMARKED car, which gave me a 20 mile trip to a place 7 miles away and charged me on a tripple rate. All in all, we paid $7.00 (in BG Leva) and that's nothing for anyone used to Boston, NY and Chicago cab-fares. But... given that kind of "special treatment" you never know where you'll end. I kept silent all the way despite seeing that I was lead not through the shortest way - I didn't want to invite something worse than the waisting of few bucks. Varna and Burgas are close, but: - transport between the two cities is convenient only if you own a car - it will be more difficult to get a reliable transportation Burgas-Varna, than Burgas-Sofia; - A 7:00 a.m. flight Varna-Sofia is almost a guarantee she will miss her 9:00 a.m. flight from Sofia: domestic flights are considered rather as an "optional" fast and comfortable transportation, they have a higher chance though of getting delayed than a train - the international and domestic arrival/departure areas at Sofia Airport are two separate buildings. Although they are very close (2-3 min. walk) that means she will have to wait for her luggage to clear from the domestic line, take it and cross that distance to the international arrivals. I don't thing Balkan does "final destination baggage check" the way it is done in the West. I'm almost sure she'll be late for her 9:00 a.m. flight check-in if she leaves on a 7:00 a.m. flight from Varna (and we are even not talking about early morning fog at Varna and possible delays because of it). Unless your Balkan (BG Airlines) travel agent (I assume she is flying BALKAN) guarantees that a 7:00 flight from Varna will connect to her other BALKAN flight - just forget it! You don't want to risk even if they promise! It's not your Western airline guarantee, unfortunately! One last possibility: There are domestic bus lines between the major cities and Sofia, run by private companies. One of them is "GROUP". They are preffered by business travellers on a day trip, from what I've heard and many people recommended them to me when I traveled between my hometown and Sofia last summer. The buses are comfortable, Western made, have minimal conveniences like buying a soda and coffee on board, make stops on the way. (the draw back on an overnight trip is that you have a very uncomfortable sleep, but otherwise they seem to be very reliable). My schedule (from last year) shows a trip leaving from Burgas at 16:00 (is that too early?) and arriving in Sofia 23:00 (there might be new scheduled trips, including overnight ones, as this company seems to be expanding really fast on the marlet). It might seem to you that it arrives late in Sofia, but(!) the "Bus-Station" at Sofia, despite looking more like a run down parking lot, is right behind (about 100 meters) one of the respectable hotels in Sofia - "Novotel Evropa". If this works - she will be sure that she arrives in Sofia well in advance, slips in the hotel right away, has a decent sleep and is awaken in the morning, have a reliable taxi-cab called and taken on time at the airport. I have all the necessary phones of the offices of this Bus company both in Sofia and Burgas. In Sofia they have even FAX number. If you can have someone who speaks decent Bulgarian you could even arrange this by calling and checking the options from Boston and leave to your daughter just to arrive on time at the departure place in Burgas (Some place outside the railway station, where every taxi will be able to take her I guess) and pay her ticket upon boarding the bus. Or have her walk-in at the Sofia office or drop by at the Burgas office at her convenience to pay and receive the ticket. Of course - if she can leave Burgas around that time - between 16:00 and 18:00 one could as well check about a train, which will arrive in Sofia even faster and at approximatelly the same time and she could stay at the same hotel as it is 500m from the railway station (<$1.00 taxi trip to its doors once she "clears" the walk through Sofia railway station) You/she will need to reserve a room at the hotel One more thing - I just found the brochure of the Bulgarian franchise of "EuropCar" - "InterBalkan Rent A Car", a rental car agency having offices in Sofia and Burgas. Rates (compacts Nissan, Fiat, Reno) are HIGH, higher than USA $23-$39 per day plus $0.23-$0.39 per km plus $10-$15 CDW plus $3 medical/accident insurance - at 392 km listed distance Burgas-Sofia total will be I guess $120-$180 (PLUS 18% VAT taxes). There is no additional fee if she drops the car at EuroCar's office at Sofia Airport. BUT the main problem is that highways in Bulgaria are not for an unexperienced driver!!! I could compare night driving there with driving through the Adirondacks (or US-419 through the WV Appalachian Mountains - something I have done... :)). Unless she is an experienced driver or has a reliable BG driver - I do not recommend this!!! "Balkan Holidays" - US representative of the (formerly) state tourist organisation BalkanTourist claims in a broshure that cars can be rented from "Hertz-BalkanTourist" '...WITH OR WITHOUT A DRIVER...'. Whether that claim is "real" and how much that costs can be checked probably by calling "Balkan Holidays" at their USA office. Phones and FAXes: All BG phone numbers require Intnl code -359-; the code for the city I list here is preceded by a -0- when calling long distance within Bulgaria. (car rental, w/ w/out driver) ************************************* "Balkan Holidays" - "Hertz-BalkanTourist" USA: New York: (212)-573-5530 Bulgaria: Sofia-Airport: (2)-7-12-01 "Novotel Evropa" - (I don't have it, see the hotel's number) ***************************** "EuropCar": Sofia-Central Office: 8 Positano Str., Sofia, phone (2)-83-50-49, FAX: (2)-88-35-93, (2)-83-11-35 Sofia-Airport (Mon-Sun 8:00 am - 9:00 pm) phone: (2)-72-01-57 Burgas - Hotel "Bulgaria" (Mon-Fri 8:00 am - 7:00 pm, Sat 8:30 am - 1:00 pm) phone: (56)-4-21-47 ************************************ (bus company) "Group" - 85 Rakovski Str., Sofia phones: (2)-83-14-54, (2)-83-12-15, (2)-83-24-69 FAX: (2)-83-24-26 "Group" - Burgas (outside railway station/at city bus station?!) phone: (56)-3-25-88 (Railway ticket advance purchase) - At special counter at the railway station of departure Also: Sofia: Central Ticket Office at the lower level of National Palace of Culture ("NDK") phones: (2)-59-31-06 (tickets for any line, any direction) (2)-59-71-24 (tickets plus sleeping car tickets, any line, any direction) Burgas: there should be a ticket office in the center of the city but I do not have info on it. (Hotels) "Novotel Evropa"(4-star, 597 rooms) - close to Central Railway Station and "Group"-company Bus Station 131 Knyaginya Maria-Louisa Boulevard, Sofia phone: (2)-3-12-61 =============================================================================== CHAPTER 5: EDUCATION ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5-1 The Bulgarian Educational System (by Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission) Education in Bulgaria is free at all levels and is supported by the state through the Ministry of Education and Science. It is compulsory for children from seven to sixteen years of age. The Bulgarian educational system falls within the continental European tradition. The main types of secondary schools in the country are: general educational, vocational, language schools, and foreign schools. Private schools are also being established and they are beginning to compete with the state schools. There are over forty Higher Education institutions in Bulgaria offering degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. The academic year for Bulgarian universities begins on October 1 and consists of fall and spring semesters. Full-time study programme takes 5 years, or 10 semesters. The academic year covers 30 calendar weeks. University teaching is usually formally divided into lectures, seminars, and practical training, but flexibility is increasing. Attendance of seminars and practical training sessions is obligatory. The teaching load, depending on academic rank, averages twelve hours per week . Classes usually meet once a week for 75 minutes; some are double 45- minute periods. Bulgarian students are admitted after taking qualifying written exams for a number of state-commissioned places. Each exam is highly competitive and ensures a tuition waiver. Those who are not admitted in this way compete for an additional number of places, but are expected to finance their studies, either individually or by finding scholarships or grants. The qualifying written exams are held each year on previously announced dates. After each semester students take exams (in accordance with the curriculum of the respective program) in the course of the regular examination period. The exam period is 3-4 weeks. Many of the university students are a joy to teach. Bulgaria's specialized secondary schools produce some very well educated 18- and 19-year olds. Depending on the study program, students will be expected to take a graded exam (written or oral), a pass/fail exam (p/f), to defend a term project or paper. A six-grade system of marking is used, six being the highest and two- the lowest score. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5-2 Major cities and universities in Bulgaria (by Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission), last updated: 31-Jul-1994 Sofia, the capital, is the largest city with a population of 1.3 million and a dominant position in the country's economic, political, and cultural life. The St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia is the oldest university in Bulgaria, having been granted its charter in 1909, and is the largest and most advanced educational and research center in the country. Students can select among fifty programs in the Humanities and Sciences, Social Sciences, and Business Administration. More than 20,000 students were enrolled in the sixteen faculties of the university during the 1992/1993 academic year. The main building of the University, which is architecturally one of the most remarkable buildings in Sofia, was designed by the French architect Breanson. The University Library plays an important part in the history of the St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia. The Library stock of books exceeds 1.5 mln volumes. Among the other higher educational institutions of Sofia are: The University of National and World Economics, The Higher Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering, The Medical Academy, The Academy of Fine Arts, The Higher School of Drama and many more. Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, is located in the Thracian Plain in Southern Bulgaria. Plovdiv was built on seven hills along the Maritsa River, and its ancient history and especially its picturesque old town, lend the city a characteristic charm. The University of Plovdiv was established in 1961. During the 30-year period of its existence, the University of Plovdiv has grown into a presti- gious institution of higher education offering a variety of majors combined with teacher training. Varna (ancient Odessos), is the third largest city and is often referred to as the sea capital of Bulgaria. It is internationally famous for its seaside resorts of Zlatni Pyassatsi (Golden Sands) and St. Constantine. Varna is a university city as well, with the following major higher institu- tions: The Higher Institute of Economics and The Varna Polytechnic. Veliko Turnovo, the former medieval capital of Bulgaria, is a university city in North-Central Bulgaria, also famous for its archaeological and architectural heritage. The Sts. Cyril and Methodius University is the second well-established University in Bulgaria with over 10,000 students. Blagoevgrad, about 100 km south of Sofia, is known for the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), founded there in 1990 and the Bulgarian South- Western University. At AUBG English is the language of instruction and eva- luation procedures follow the US academic system. Most of the faculty are American scholars. The other higher educational institution in Blagoevgrad is the Southwestern University where the emphasis is on the humanities and teacher training. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5-3 Bulgarian University Degree Equivalency (by gopher://rodent.cis.umn.edu:11131/00/Country_Sheets/Bulgaria) BULGARIA RECOMMENDATION Look for an average of 5 or "very good" for admission. Class rank, if available, would also be of assistance. GRADING SYSTEM 6 = Excellent (otlichen) 5 = Very good (mnogo dob'r) 4 = Good (dob'r) 3 = Average (sreden) 2 = Poor (slab) 1 = Very Poor (losh) OTHER INFORMATION Requirement for Admission: University degree (diploma of specialist) or professional title based on curricula of four years or longer. The duration of the primary-secondary program of education is usually 11 years. Exceptional Institutions: University of Sofia Higher Medical Institute of Sofia Higher Institute of Architecture and Construction in Sofia Higher Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering in Sofia Diplomas from the above institutions are considered exceptionally good. There are many other higher educational institutions, including mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical engineering institutes, and institutes of mining, forestry, economics, and education, as well as the University of Plodiv and the University of "Cyril and Methodius." Graduate Degrees: Candidate of Science (kandidat na naukite) granted on basis of research and thesis, usually requires three years beyond the undergraduate degree. Doctor of Science (doktor na naukite) granted on basis of original and significant scholarship. Both degrees are awarded by the Higher Commission for Diplomas. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5-4 Educational Opportunities in Bulgaria (by Dragomir R. Radev), last updated: 31-Jul-1994 American University in Bulgaria AUBG Campus 2700 Blagoevgrad TEL: (359) 7 320 951 FAX: (359) 7 320 603 E-MAIL: DATE FOUNDED: 1991 DIRECTOR: Dr. Julia Watkins The American University in Bulgaria's academic partner in the USA is the University of Maine, which provides accreditation, curriculum development, and initial recruitment of faculty. 25 of the 29 faculty members are American, and the university began admitting American study abroad students in 1993. Courses of study are offered in a wide range of disciplines. The university radio station, opened in 1991, was the first privately licensed radio station in Bulgaria. Fulbright, IREX and USIS Information: Fulbright Office Ministry of Culture 17 Stambolisky Blvd. 1000 Sofia TEL: (359) 2 884 517 FAX: (359) 2 884 517 E-MAIL: USIS Office 18 Vitosha St. Sofia TEL: (359) 2 880 005 or 876 821 FAX: (359) 2 800 646 E-MAIL: Sabre Partner Organizations: Center for the Study of Democracy 1 Lazar Stanev St. 1113 Sofia TEL: (359) 2 706 165 FAX: (359) 2 720 509 E-MAIL: csdbg@bgcict.bitnet DIRECTOR: Ognian Shentov Open Society Fund 1 Bulgaria Square NDK Office Bldg., 11th fl. 1463 Sofia TEL: (359) 2 658 177 or 801 780 FAX: (359) 2 658 276 E-MAIL: ososo@bgcict.bitnet DIRECTOR: Boryana Savova ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5-5 Schools in Bulgaria offering admission for foreigners (by WorldWide Classroom), last updated: 10-Jun-1995 An incomplete list: American Univ. in Bulgaria, Director Int'l Programs Lydia Grim Blagoevgrad, 2700 Bourgas Free Univ., Director Int'l Programs 10 Alexandrovska Street, Bourgas, 8000 Foreign Students Faculty of the Technical University of Rousse, Chr. Foreign Lang. Dept. Rada Karshakova 8 Stoudentska Str., Rousse, 7017 Higher Technical School Angel Kunchev Open Faculty, Director Int'l Programs Tsonka Inanova 8 Studentska Street, Rousse, 7017 New Bulgarian Univ., Director Int'l Programs Mr. Julian Popov 22 Parchevich Street, Sofia, 1000 Plovdiv University PAISIY HILENDARSKY, Rector Prof. Ognyan Saparev 24 Tzar Assen Street, Plovdiv, 4000 Sofia University SAINT CLIMENT OHRIDSKY, Rector Prof. Ivan Lalov 15 Rusky Blv., Sofia, 1000 The Foreign Students Institute, Director Int'l Programs 27 Kosta Lulchev Street, Sofia ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5-6 Transferring degrees (by John Bell), last updated: 12-Aug-1994 The comparison between US and BG higher education began with a question of how BG educational records are evaluated by US institutions. In my original answer I said that there are private organizations that will prepare an evaluation for a fee. Since that posting an intimate friend gave me an advertisement for one such service. It is called "World Educational Service" with an address at P.O. Box 745, Old Chelsea Station, New York, N. Y. 10113-0745. It offers to provide an evaluation of non-US educational credentials - diplomas, certificates, transcripts - on an overall or course by course basis for fees ranging from $75 to $125. I don't know anything more about the organization beyond what its ad says. I am not endorsing it, but passing on the information for anyone who might be interested. =============================================================================== CHAPTER 6: INFORMATION FOR BULGARIANS ABROAD ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-1 Bulgarian Embassy in DC (by Civic Education Project), last updated: 25-Jan-1995 Embassy of Bulgaria HE Snezhana Botusharova, Ambassadress/Mr. Boris Ratchev, Economicf Counselor 1621 22nd. Street, NW Washington, DC 20008 Phone: (202) 387-7969; Fax: 462-8051 fax (202) 234-7973 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-2 Consulate General of the Republic of Bulgaria in Toronto (by Plamen Stefanov), last updated: 23-Jun-1995 Consulate General of the Republic of Bulgaria 65 Overlea Blvd., Suite 406 Toronto, Ontario, M4H 1P1 phone: (416) 696 2420 fax: (416) 696 8019 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-3 Bulgarian Embassy in Sweden (by Daniel Belovarsky), last updated: 07-Aug-1995 The Embassy has usually open Monday through Friday 10.00-12.00. Tel: 08/ 790-59-42, 08/ 723-09-38 Fax: 08/ 21-45-03 Address: Bulgariska ambassaden Karlavägen 29 114 31 STOCKHOLM ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-4 Archive for Bulgarians living abroad (by the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC), last updated: 31-Jul-1994 An Archive Center for the Bulgarians abroad has been founded with the Sofia City Library at 4, Slaveykov Square. Being sponsored by the Association for Promotion of the Bulgarian Culture (An United States based organization) and OPEN SOCIETY FUND Sofia the Archive Center is collecting books, documents, brochures , articles, photographs, film footage and posters which reflect all aspects of the accomplishments of Bulgarians living abroad in the sciences, in the arts and in public life. The Sofia City Library hopes the Archive Center which functions since 1992 might be a good opportunity for the Bulgarians abroad to donate important archival books and materials as well as to sponsor its numerous and broadening activities. For additional information, please, contact: Tatyana Kmetova Sofia City Library 4, Slaveykov Square 1000 Sofia Phones: (359 2) 864 239 (359 2) 874 854 Or: EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA 1621 22nd Street, N.W. Washington D.C. 20008 Phone: (202) 387-7969 Fax: (202) 234-7973 Boyan Papazov Cultural Attache E-mail (INTERNET): Bulgaria@access.digex.net ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-5 Consular Office of the Embassy of the US in Bulgaria (by Valentin Petrov), last updated: 20-Oct-1996 Address: 1 Kapitan Andreev St. 1421 Sofia Bulgaria Phones: (+3592) 963-2022 (direkten) (+3592) 980-5241 (telefonistkata na konsulstvoto) Fax: (+3592) 963-0086 Contact Person -- Yova Todorova, consular assistant. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-6 Sending Money to Bulgaria (by Ned Nikolov), last updated: 30-Jan-1997 (This entry is in Bulgarian) Az skoro prevedoh valuta na moi rodnina po bankov pyt i nyamah nikakvi problemi. Parite byaha izpratehi do Bulbank i polucheni ot choveka v originalna valuta. Uchudvashto, no celiya transfer be osqshtestven samo za nyakolko dni. Informacijata neobhodima za prevejdane na valuta v BG e slednata: 1. Trite imena na poluchatelya 2. Edinen grajdanski nomer na poluchatelya 3. Ime i adres na Bankata v BG (traybva da byde valutna banka!) 4. SWIFT kod na Bankata (mnogo e vajen!!) Poluchatelyat NE e zadqljitelno za ima smetka v sqotvetnata banka. Za tezi koito se interesuvat, koordinatite na Bulbank sa: Bulgarian Foreign Trade Bank 7 Sveta Nedelya Sq. 1000 Sofia, BG SWIFT: BFTBBGSF ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-7 Bulgarian Cafe in San Francisco (by Dimitqr Bojanchev) There is this restaurant in San Francisco called "Stoyanoff's Cafe" on 9-th ave. and Linkoln. The owner speaks as clear Bulgarian as one would do. I assumed that he is Bulgarian -- but than at some point he interrupted me to tell me politely that he is not Bulgarian, but a Macedonian from Tzarigrad (Istanbul). OK, I accepted it but I must admit that I was confused ever after about how to judge the local nationalities. There is this barber named Dimitar Vulkanoff on Columbus Street,right on the edge of the Financial district, a block from China Town. Passing by his little barbershop that looks not any less shabby than one back in the rural areas of the homeland I hear him playing clarinet (actually, this is the fifth barber/clarinetist I know from the Balkans!). To make things even more extravagant it is a shabby little room just with a picture of his family and grandfamily (circa 1920) on the scratched wall and his business license. The barber chair is vintage 1935 and the primary clientelle consists of Chinese, several local Greeks, and other Balkan individuals. Every once in a while an executive type will stop by and get a haircut. This is all about 50 meters from the TransAmerica pyramid (the symbol of SF) amidst ritzy looking boutiques and vanity stores. I see him often entertaining native ChinaTown residents whileplaying Daichovo horo on his clarinet in the trademark Balkan 9/8 beat and they seem to nod in appreciation (a lot of them don't even speak English). The surrealistic picture gets even more when the executive types enter while he stops and starts lecturing them with great excitement that they shouldn't be listening to black rap music anymore (as if anyone of them ever does??) but listen to Bulgarian music instead. In the area of the political correctness he is lagging behind as he doesn't hold back his views on women (although that he has three daughters) -- but besides that you feel that the guy has got a heart. Then he takes off blowing the clarinet inPaidushko horo with its 5/8 beat. Every time I stop by to get a haircut I feel that I miraculously re-emerge back into the old world that I am so familiar with in my guts. Although that he is Macedonian from Bitola he has a great fondness towards Bulgaria and its music and avoids ever making a statement about his nationality (I've tried to trick him into it several times). He absolutely refuses to venture into discussing Balkan politics and makes a painfulgesture with his head when I bring up some of the issues the Balkans face today. He holds no grudge against the Greeks and told me that makes a lot of money playing at Greek weddings. Of course, he plays everywhere cause I've seen him at the Bulgarian gatherings and the Macedonian too. He also likes to brag that he can read notes and even play Weber's concerto's on a better day... ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6-8 What are some travel agencies that are related to Bulgaria (by George Demirev and Bojidar Filipovich), last updated: 22-Jan-1997 Smart: 1-888-SMART02 Internet Tour: 1-310-204-3624 -- Drago -- Drago