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

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Archive-Name: bulgaria-faq/part3

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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."

 

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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

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