Monday, May 11, 2009

Bulgaria, Inside And In Style

Daisy, Emma and I took a memorable trip to Bulgaria a few weeks ago.

We got to see the country inside out, in a way, because we went with our close friends, Momchil Blagoev and his wife, Tanya Kancheva, and their son Victor.

Momchil and Tanya were born and raised in Bulgaria, and by traveling with them, we were offered a window seat to their world, to their Bulgaria.

We met lots of family members -- mothers, fathers, brothers, nieces, cousins, and Tanya's 87-year-old grandmother, Yona Kancheva, who lives in the tiny village of Klimentovo.

We ate lots of incredible home-cooked food -- from drob sarma, a subtle Bulgarian lamb and rice pie, to what seemed to me to be an entire roasted lamb, cooked to perfection. We drank what seemed like liters of homemade rakia, a fruit brandy that packs a powerful punch. (Check out my separate slideshow on the food of Bulgaria.)

We saw chickens hatching from eggs in the kitchen of Momchil's parents; hand-colored Easter eggs in the kitchen of Tanya's parents in the city of Ruse, in northern Bulgaria; sipped glasses of exquisite Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon straight from oak barrels in the vast aging room at the Bessa Valley vineyards; and strolled beside the Danube in the sunshine.

Click for a full slideshow with captions.

We took a cable car to the still-snow-capped peak of Mt. Vitosha, looming over Sofia (accent on the first syllable, if you please); toured the broadcasting center of the world-famous Bulgarian National Radio, thanks to our old colleague, Stefan Radovanov, who is now the very important director of programming there; and were surprised to find the president of Bulgaria, Georgi Parvanov, walk right past us at an outdoor book market.

On a rainy, misty morning, we strolled through the quiet courtyards of the Troyan Monastery and lit a candle in its early 19th-century Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa, and took a trip back to 19th-century Bulgaria on the colorful streets of the open-air ethnographic museum known as Etera. And I held my own against Momchil's father, Lubo, in some intense games of backgammon, where I learned -- and have since, sadly, forgotten -- some cool Turkish words for double ones, double twos, etc.

At every turn, we were treated like royalty, feted and fed and lubricated beyond compare. We can't thank both families enough. Their generosity and graciousness and, well, love will be impossible to repay, but we'll do our best next time they come to Prague.

Click for a full slideshow with captions.


  1. Hi Grant, I really enjoyed you account of your visit to Bulgaria. I have recommended your post to my readers on my rakia site. If you want to check it out please do.

  2. Thanks for sharing Grant. I've always fancied visiting Bulgaria but never had the opportunity. Now i'm inspired to try and go.

    P.S. I've puit on six pounds just looking at your photos of the delicious Bulgarian dishes! Yummy!

  3. Thanks, everyone, for the comments. And Wissy, I put on six pounds eating all that food. I ain't kidding. Worth it, though.