Bulgaria

domestic phones

Domestic telephone service is available in most villages, via the PSTN or VoIP.

Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however use common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show off that you have money, don't dress too touristy, watch out for your belongings. If in Sofia, try to avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a pothole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.

terrain

Mostly mountains with lowlands in north and southeast; highest point : Musala 2,925 m

more travel information

TheTravelBug (http://www.thetravelbug.org) concentrate on the Stara Zagora and central region of Bulgaria but also provides video and photographs of many tourist spots around Bulgaria and advice on what to visit.

holidays

Baba Marta Martenitsa/Баба Марта Grandma Marta, March 1. A very old Bulgarian holiday. People give each martenitsa мартеница, a type of white-red yarn, as a symbol of health. this is not a public holiday

March 3 Трети март. The day Bulgaria celebrates its liberation from 500 years of Ottoman domination 1393-1878.

20th of April - 20 April 1876 is the official start day the greatest uprising of the Bulgarian people against the Ottoman rule.

Gergiovden Гергьовден, May 6. St. George and official holiday of the Bulgarian Аrmy.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius Day Ден на Кирил и Методий, May 24. The day of St. Cyril 827-869, and St. Methodius 826-884, who created the Cyrillic alphabet. A beautiful holiday - with lots of flowers, music, and joy.

Assumption Day - Golyama Bogoroditsa, August 15. There are big celebrations, especially in the main monasteries, with icons being paraded by the monks. this is not a public holiday

Reunification Day Ден на съединението, September 6. The day the two parts of Bulgaria, Principality of Bulgaria and East Rumelia autonomous in the Ottoman Empire were reunited.

Independence Day Ден на Независимостта на България , September 22. Bulgaria's de jure declaration of independence was declared in 1908 in Veliko Tarnovo

language

The Bulgarian language is related to Serbian, Russian and other Eastern European languages, but contains many international words. Bulgarians use the Cyrillic alphabet which can make the task of getting around the country somewhat difficult if you aren't familiar with this alphabet as most signs are written in it. However, getting acquainted with the alphabet isn't very difficult and may save you a lot of trouble, especially as many common words are homophones of English or French words.

Also, as Bulgarian education emphasizes foreign language studies, especially English language, it wouldn't be a problem to talk and find information in English in bigger cities. It's best to turn to the young population for a direction or an advice.

See the Bulgarian phrasebook for a pronunciation guide, while this external page (http://www.abvg.net/Cyril...) has a different take and examples of the confusing but rarely used cursive forms.

mobile phones

Mobile phones are widely spread in Bulgaria - many people have two or three phones. There are three networks, all using the GSM/3G standards Mtel, Globul and Vivacom. MTel has almost full national coverage 97% of the surface of the country, followed by Globul and Vivatel each one with smaller coverage. Fares are average for the European Union 5-40 Eurocent per minute, 7 Eurocent/SMS. Both pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans. Roaming is available but it`s rather expensive. You can buy prepaid cards cards in almost every shop.

talk

Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, mutually intelligible with Macedonian and closely related to Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Russian. If you know any of these or another Slavic language you shouldn't have much problem getting by. Ancient Bulgarian also known as Church Slavonic is considered the "Latin" or mother language of the Slavs. Some words and/or phrases might even be understood by Westerners since Bulgarian has a number of loans from other languages most notably French, German, Turkish, Italian and increasingly English.

Modern Bulgarian is difficult to Westerners, especially English-speakers, as it has three genders, the infintive has fallen virtually out of use, and articles are appended to the end of either the noun if no attribute is present or the first attribute example: kuche = dog, kucheto = the dog, dobro kuche = good dog, dobroto kuche = the good dog. However, it is actually easier than the other Slavic tongues as the other Slavs almost never use articles nor prepositions, but have noun cases instead, which makes them more difficult. It takes a short while getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet, a writing system of which Bulgarians are proud. Be sure to be in Bulgaria for the celebrations of the "Den na Pismenostta" "Day of the Literacy". The Russian/East Slavic version of the alphabet is almost identical to the Bulgarian one.

Turkish is the second most widely understood language in Bulgaria, and it is generally spoken by the Bulgarians of Turkish descent.

It is also important to remember the fact that many Bulgarians - contrary to most nationalities - shake their head for Yes and nod for No! It is better to rely on the words da for yes and ne for no than on head movements. Bulgarians often use ciao for good-bye instead of "Dovijdane" and merci for thank you instead of "Blagodarya".

Most young Bulgarians have at least a basic knowledge of English or/and a second foreign language , usually Russian, but German, French or Spanish can also be spoken and will often even take up a third one. Those born before the mid-1970s are most likely to speak Russian, German because of ties with East Germany or/and Serbo-Croatian and usually have limited or zero knowledge of English at all.

respect

Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller towns, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch or even to sleep over. Often it is a pleasant gesture to give someone a "Dobar Den" when walking past a quiet stall or past a person. Kak ste hows it going will usually suffice for the younger generation.

As a rule of thumb for most countries worldwide, you should avoid topics involving politics and foreign relations, and on some occasions football soccer as well. If you are pulled in to such a conversation, try to stay neutral. Remember that your own knowledge of local situations is unlikely to be as good as a Bulgarian's!

For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offence i.e. nationalists and skinheads. Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option.

Most of the Bulgarian people do not feel anger or resentment towards Russians unlike a number of people from other former Eastern Bloc countries, and Bulgarians tend to have a much better perception of Russians, however caution may sometimes be needed in discussing issues regarding Turkey. Likewise, discrimination against Turks are widespread.

Bulgarians don't really do chit chat, so trying to make conversation with someone at a till in a shop will probably result in odd looks either from not understanding or not wanting to engage or they will just ignore you. Likewise Bulgarians are quite impatient and will often honk their car horn at you if you walk in front of a car, especially in winter in the mountains as they try to keep a grip on the road.

internet access

Internet access is widely available in Bulgaria, although about 60% of the population has regular access. Broadband internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics, WiMax and LAN connections. You can also access internet with your mobile phone, via GPRS or 3G. Speeds are pretty fast in the capital - with prices being around 10 € for 20 Mbps, with local access about 40-100 Mbps. The speeds are increasing, home access for 10 Mbps being available at around €7.5 per month. Outside the major cities, speeds are significantly lower, fastest being around 7.5 € for 10 Mbps.

Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations.

Wireless access is often available in gas stations such as Lukoil and there is also an unsecured WiFi connection in Sofia Airport. Many pubs and hotels will also have WiFi that is free of charge to use. Speeds in Bulgaria are surprisingly good! In fact Bulgaria is in top 10 of the countries with fastest Internet speeds worldwide.

Wireless access is growing, especially in biggest cities, but is still limited, and mainly available in public areas, parks, cafes, hotels and restaurants. Paid wireless access is also available. You can use Wi-Fi virtually anywhere in the bigger cities especially the touristic ones.

As a generally rich country in Europe, it's best to say that health standards are developed. However, there are potential health risks, even though the government has fought the high chances of such things with a huge success. It best to stay that the greatest risk that a traveller can encounter is air pollution. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthma are at a greater risk.

corruption

Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some policemen or officials may request to receive a bribe for certain action. If this happens, decline the proposal and ask for the name & ID of the individual. Corruption in customs was also once a problem, but has dropped drastically since the country is a member of the European Union.

If you are ever asked for a bribe, or you feel that you are being exploited, you can either fill out an online query with the police here (http://nocorr.mvr.bg/), or call 02 982 22 22 to report corruption.

driving

Previously, driving in Bulgaria was considered extremely nerve-wrecking, though still Bulgarian roads claim almost 1300 lives each year. There are currently a number of highways under construction, including Struma Sofia-Kulata and Sofia-Varna through Veliko Turnovo. Nevertheless, many roads are in poor condition and full of potholes. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. Take caution while crossing the streets. Driving with your headlights ON is mandatory even during daytime. If you are caught driving without having your headlights on during daytime, you could get a ticket. The fine is €25 or 50BGN, so be sure to turn your headlights on. In case you get caught, explain to the police officer that you are a foreigner and you weren't aware of this law and let them know it won't happen again. It is very likely that they will let you go with just a warning.

crime

In general, organized crime is a serious issue throughout Bulgaria, however it usually does not affect tourists. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crimes, and the presence of such groups is slowly declining. Pickpocketing and scams such as taxi scams are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places such as train stations, urban public transport, near major tourist areas. If you find yourself suddenly surrounded by a loud group of people that create havoc, immediately move away from them, as someone may be trying to divert your attention, while they pickpocket you.

Car theft is probably the most serious problem that travelers can encounter. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets at night - these locations are likely to attract criminals. If, by any chance you do leave your car in such a location, you need to be sure that the vehicle has a security system that will prevent the vehicle from getting stolen.

Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card purchases over the Internet on unfamiliar websites. Websites that offer merchandise and services may be created by scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example involved Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgarian-based websites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.

Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud, credit cards should be used sparingly and with caution - for example, in large supermarket chains or reputable hotels. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture credit card information and PIN numbers to make unauthorized charges or withdrawals; these practices are somewhat common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which bank's ATM to use, a good rule of thumb is to use one located inside of a reputable bank branch. In general, it is best to use cash instead of a credit card.

On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge travelers, particularly at the Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. It is recommended that travelers use taxis with meters that have posted clearly marked rates on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield; these taxis charge generally less than the taxis with no meters. Make sure your cab has a meter! One useful tip is to check the price for your trip from a trusted source beforehand, online, through a friend, or an official at the station or at a tourist bureau. If by any chance you are trying to be lured into a rogue taxi, it is best to reject the offer, or just simply walk off. Likewise, if you are offered a taxi by a stranger which you did not request or hail yourself, it is best to not take it.

Bulgaria has very harsh drug laws, and the penalties are perhaps far more severe than in any other country in Europe.

Do not exchange currency on the street! It is a common scam to offer you fake money as exchange in tourist areas such as train or bus stations. If you need foreign exchange services, bank branches offer good rates and no risk of fraud.

health risks

Pollution is no better or worse than in any other European city. Health risks are the same as those in other parts of Europe, so be careful of what you eat, meaning that if you purchase fruits and vegetables , wash them prior to eating. If you are inclined to purchase food from a stand that sells fast food containing meat, know that you are taking on a health risk to yourself, because there are no health codes in those establishments.

If you are at the Black Sea, mind the strong sun at the beach, especially in July and August. Wear sunscreen and do not leave the umbrella in the first one or two days. Do not drink hard alcohol at the beach, it could give you a heart attack.

begging

Unfortunately begging and random people trying to sell you stuff is quite common in Bulgaria. In the holiday resorts both in the mountains and on the Black Sea coast you may see people trying to sell you various things like roses and pirate DVD's. Often they can wander into the hotel restaurants in the evening. You should make it absolutely clear you are not interested in what they offering, so they leave you alone. In the ski resorts there are many people who sell "Traditional" Bulgarian bells. They know when tourists arrive and how long they are staying for and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you make it clear at the start of the week that you do not want a bell they will usually leave you alone for a few days at least but if you do not say no, or even say maybe they will tag you with a cheap plastic bell to force you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will suddenly become your friend for the week as they try to get you to buy a bell, but of course if you want to buy a bell make sure you haggle! And if you really don't want to buy a bell, by the end of the week your bell man will demand his cheap plastic bell back and won't be very happy! Don't feel bad about not buying a bell as they often charge extortionate prices unless you really haggle. If you do buy a bell however, you will find that the bell men will be genuinely friendly and chatty people and really aren't all as bad as they seem!

smoking

Bulgarians, much like Greeks, have a reputation for their smoking habits. Smoking is the national pastime, and evading the fumes of cigarettes is even more difficult than evading exhaust fumes in the streets. Effective June 1, 2012 smoking in all indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants is banned.

emergency phone numbers

The pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls is working everywhere in Bulgaria since September 2008. If, for some reason, you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.

animals

Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. While most are friendly and are usually scared of people, there have been a number of accidents with stray dogs, so beware. In particular, watch out for symptoms of rabies.

Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in woods, so be careful.

eating and drinking

Most food is quite safe to eat. Of course, try to avoid eating at places that are obviously not too clean.

Tap water in Bulgaria is very safe to drink and natural mineral water is also cheap and widely available. Since Bulgaria is a mountainous country, natural springs are quite abundant and many villages have one or more mineral springs.

hospitals

Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Medical personnel is very good at their job.

Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgaria's National Healthcare System as long as they carry a Eurocard or European Health Insurance Card, obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.

Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of excellent quality. Many people from Western European come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home countries.