It is not the first time we have been amazed at how an arbitrary border between nations changes daily habits of life. Bulgaria was for 500 years part of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turkish influence is of course still strong. Many villages in the south-east corner are still Muslim and strongly Turkish in culture – our bit of Turkish language has been useful in this region. But others seem to resent Turkish customs intruding on the ancient and rich Bulgarian culture.
Even so there were so many small things that we found different within a few ks of the border crossings (plural as we went through a tiny corner of Greece between Turkey and Bulgaria).
Turkish people are super friendly and sociable. Bulgarians are much more cautious, perhaps because of their political history. Many rarely smile or laugh and often come across as a bit grim. This isn’t helped by the fact that they shake their head when agreeing – which is very confusing for us. But when you get to know them they are warm, helpful and interested in visitors to their country.
We do miss the wonderful Turkish tradition of sharing endless cups of çay (Tea)
Bulgarian roads tend to be in much worse condition. The lack of a road verge on main roads worried us, especially as truck drivers are just as impatient. Turkish main roads are wide and smooth, with often little traffic. Perhaps too much is invested in roads there rather than, say, in education.
The first restaurant we went to in Bulgaria amazed us as it was full of women and families. We had become used to other customers always being 95 or 100 percent male. And no headscarves in sight. A few days later, in some rural villages in the southeast the headscarves and long gowns were again evident.
Coffee and tea
It is really weird that within a few kilometres everyone stops drinking tea. Instead coffee, including Lavazza coffee, appears on the shelves of even the smallest village shop and the menus of every tiny eating place. At the first town we stopped at in Bulgaria we had the best latte we have had for months. It is now hard to find black tea, although herbal tea is everywhere.
Eating and drinking
Meals are similar so far, but there are a lot more choices of salads in Bulgaria, and good fruit is easy to buy, cheap and delicious. This would be partly due to it being later in Spring with more foods in season.
Immediately we missed the huge baskets of free, tasty (white) bread supplied with all meals in Turkey. In Bulgaria you pay for your bread by the slice, and very often it has been quite stale – something no self-respecting Turk would countenance. On the other hand it is easier to get good heavy wholemeal bread here.
Immediately across the border alcohol is available everywhere, and people (men) seem to drink beer like the Turkish drink tea. A bit like Australia??
Churches and Mosques
Bulgarians are 80% Orthodox Christians. Simple but beautiful small churches are dotted around the countryside instead of the mosques we have become accustomed to.
Nevertheless some villages in the southeast only have mosques, whilst others proudly show their mosque and church side by side.
The painting of icons is a highly valued Bulgarian art genre and many churches, whilst austere on the outside, are richly decorated with paintings inside.
The light in Bulgaria is softer and more diffuse. It is like being in a Turner or French Impressionist painting.
Turkish sunlight was much clearer and more direct, like Australia.
Horses and donkeys
Immediately we crossed the border we came across donkey carts rather than the small Turkish ponies.
However further into the countryside horses reappeared, but were now strongly built, handsome animals that wouldn’t be out of place in a show ring.
We really miss the bum wash we have become used to since leaving Australia. Varying from the super automated button control to hoses or buckets, they certainly save on paper usage. All gone at the Bulgarian border, and we are back to toilets just like at home.
Bulgaria is so cheap and food and accommodation excellent quality. About 30 percent cheaper than Turkey.
And the winner is…
We love them both! And appreciate how resilient regional cultures are, and how strongly people defend and create their own heritage and customs.