I am Eva, an EVS volunteer from Slovenia and I will try to present my first impressions about living in Bulgaria, more precisely in Shipka. I heard about EVS volunteering quite some time ago and decided to try to find a suitable project for me. As I no longer had desire to continue my studies in my home country, I started to look for a project and after one year of rejections I saw a short term project about permaculture and community building and I decided to apply. Unfortunately they have told me that volunteers already have been chosen, but they offered me a long term project instead. That’s why I like to say that Bulgaria chose me. I didn’t know what to expect from the country or the project, I came without any expectations.
The day of departure finally came and I took a bus, full of different feelings, a mixture of fear and excitement. Fear because I didn’t know much about Bulgaria and excitement because of a new adventure. After a 14 hours long bus trip I finally arrived to Sofia where my doubts and concerns started when I realised it was quite different (more chaotic) than my country. I am not saying it is a bad thing, I just expected it more similar. I have never been in Bulgaria before and shocks just didn’t seem to have an end. First thing that shook me up was all the rubbish lying around the city and nobody seemed to care about it. The second thing were the stray dogs around the Central train station, resting in the shadows, hoping for some food and cuddling which you can’t really see in Slovenia. When I tried to buy a ticket for my almost final destination, Kazanlak, I realised nobody could speak English, so I had to use my non-existing Serbo-croatian to get a ticket. After successful purchase, I made sure that I took the right train and I tried to made myself comfortable in a compartment to get some sleep which I really needed. After around four hours of driving we arrived in Kazanlak, where my mentor picked me up and took us (me and my french flatmate) to our new home for nine months, Shipka.
I know I said I didn’t have any expectations, but definitely I didn’t imagine Shipka like this. I thought it would be bigger and healthier for our sociable life, but you can’t have everything you want in your life, they say. I soon realized it was a small village (don’t say it to the locals haha) with around one thousand of inhabitants, where the air is fresh and silence is more silent if there is no bombing disturbing it. It is not a Civil war or anything similar going on, they are just trying new arms from the factory in Kazanlak. If you are new and you don’t know the reason of the sounds it can be quite scary (my flatmate thought it was a war going on) and unpleasant. But after a time living here you barely perceive the noise and if there is none, you start to be concerned if something is wrong. Besides the typical “shocks” as a Bulgarian shower or yes/no thing (when they say no they nod, and with yes they shake the head) there were probably many things that we found strange at first, but got used to them. Not just to speak about “negative” sides of Shipka, I have to mention that people here (also in other parts of the country) are very nice and helpful if you need anything. Even if they don’t speak English, they would call their friends/family or whoever to help you. We have really nice neighbours but it’s just frustrating we can’t speak to them properly. I think in general the most challenging thing for us was discovery that here are not much young people living in Shipka and the disappointment about non-existing nice bar where we could have a beer. For now this place remains our lovely house with the big terrace and garden where we grow our own vegetables.
Despite the lack of places for socialising, Shipka is a great place with peaceful atmosphere and a lot of nature and possibilities for hiking or other sports activities. If you love historical little towns it is great place to visit/live as it has many important monuments because of its reach history as a place where the battle of the independence from Ottoman Empire happened. Shipka monument which is situated on a peak nearby is a nice daily trip either walking or for adventurers by car. Also Bouzloudja the communist monument which is shaped like an UFO is very popular with tourists, but sadly it is becoming a ruin as the government doesn’t invest any money or interest in its renovation.
In general I am quite impressed about Bulgaria and its reach culture, except maybe chalga (the typical turbo folk Balkan music which is very popular here and also in Slovenia) hehe. Something which really surprised me is the interest of young people in their own culture and history and a desire to preserve it with creating folkloric groups and so on. I got an impression that people in general are very proud of their country as it is the oldest European country with its original name and they love to mention it. Also if you didn’t know a Bulgarian language arose first and Russian was developed from it 😉 Bulgaria is a beautiful country with many natural and historical sights and I can’t wait to discover it all!