People often ask me what my favorite country to visit has been, and I never quite know what to say. There are so many wonderful places in the world! A question that I sadly find much easier is about my least favorite country. The answer? Bulgaria.
I visited Bulgaria’s coast at the end of my senior year of high school with Thomas and Birgitta, a German couple I had been living with for the year as an exchange student. I can’t remember the name of the town we stayed in, but it was full of half-built hotels and mansions and just seemed depressing.
Then again, that’s what a lot of the Albanian coast looks like and Albania is one of my favorite countries ever. So what’s the deal?
The deal is, my issue with Bulgaria really has nothing to do with Bulgaria at all. Instead, it has to do with that one dinner where I asked my host parents how they thought my German was and my host mother sighed and said that, well actually, she was incredibly disappointed by how little I had learned.
I still feel a pain at the back of my throat just thinking about her words, which is funny because that was Birgitta’s most gentle reprimand of the evening.
My host parents went on to tell me that they were disappointed in pretty much everything I had done during my year in Germany, from how quiet I was when I first arrived (because I didn’t speak any German yet) to the way that I always super annoyingly would greet Thomas at the bottom of the stairs when he got home from work to talk about how his day was. Kids are such a pain.
More confessions ensued, which led to a lot of sulking and despair on my part, a day trip to Istanbul that had me fleeing the Hagia Sophia in tears only to get lost in a bazaar and finally make it back to my apparently unconcerned host parents within minutes of our bus’s departure for Bulgaria, and a sit-down back in Germany where they told me that I could stay with them for my remaining two weeks in the country, but they would like me to find my own way to the airport and once I left could I please never write to them, call them, or visit, because they never wanted to see me again.
I moved to my friend’s house that afternoon.
The worst part was that up until Bulgaria I had thought we had had a wonderful year together, which raised the chilling question: How many other people in my life also secretly hated spending time with me?
It took me a long time, as well as no longer being a self-absorbed teenager, to realize that my host parents’ complaints had seemed so unexpected and downright strange (like when they said I was a typical American with zero interest in other cultures) because their real problem probably had very little to do with me at all. I like to think that I hope that they are happier together now, but let’s be real: I’m not quite that mature yet. Like, maybe when I’m 30.
I am, however, mature enough to admit when I’m wrong.
I was wrong about Bulgaria.
Bulgaria was a last-minute addition to Dan and my itinerary, squeezed in when we heard that Dan’s best friend and former partner in rockstar glory (I’m dead if Dan sees that link, but I think it’s worth the risk) had just bought a house for 5 thousand pounds in Bulgaria and would be working on it all summer.
I guess I am a clueless American, because apparently buying cheap property in Bulgaria is now a thing? A really cool thing by the looks of it – I can’t wait to see how Matt’s place turns out when he’s done with it!
Matt’s new house is in a village named Idilevo, just outside of Veliko Tarnovo. And from the moment we arrived, thoroughly exhausted from our long journey from Albania, I knew I was in love. Not with the village – or Matt (awkward!) – but with Veliko Tarnovo. I mean, Idilevo and Matt are both really cool, but it was Veliko Tarnovo that truly stole my heart.
Yes it’s annoying that its name makes me crave apple turnovers, but the city is just so cool!
Set on the side of a hill, Veliko Tarnovo is full of tiny winding alleys that always seem to lead to beautiful lookout points. It’s not exactly off the tourist path, but more like a stop on one of the cooler legs of backpackers’ Euro trips. Before camping out at Matt’s place we spent a few nights at Hostel Mostel and I just loved the laid back, almost lazy atmosphere there (plus they serve free breakfast AND dinner!).
I think it was one of my all-time favorite hostels, and definitely worth booking early so you can stay there! Check current rates and availability here
Of course I couldn’t really love a city if it didn’t come with any quirks, but Veliko Tarnovo happily complied with its beautiful and strange street murals, and an array of bizarrely camp statues.
Veliko Tarnovo also happens to be just a few hours from Buzludzha, which despite having me shaking in my hiking boots for most of our exploration of its eerie ruins, was probably the single coolest site I visited on this five-month journey. I can’t wait to write about it, but seeing as I’ve already bored you all to death with ramblings about my teenage woes, I’ll save that for next time and just say that it was amazing, and so Bulgaria is amazing. Read about my trip to Buzludzha here
As for my host family, perhaps the end to my year with them gave me an unhealthy dose of self-doubt, but I really couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. I got to spend a year in Hüfingen, which simply must be the most beautiful town in the Black Forest, I cycled to school each day along the Danube – in fact my high school was just a kilometer away from the source of the Danube, I lived next door to a girl who is still one of my dearest friends, and I learned just how important it is for us humans to lead lives we can be proud of and happy in.
Have you ever changed your mind about a place?