Nazdrave Sippin Gypsy team Rakia! This post comes to you while enjoying this home made brandy like drink made in Bulgaria!
As I've started into this life of travel and capturing my experiences in writing and photography, I've been exposed to the stunning photos and posts of fellow travelers and other enthusiasts and their experiences. Although proud of my beautiful and diverse American heritage, I've always been drawn to cultures and experiences abroad.
During an delightful evening with friends hosted by my friend from Bulgaria, Dani, it occurred to me I could live vicariously through friends like Dani and travel through them (at least until I could get there myself!) Thus initiated my first ever travel interview with Dani, a dear friend who was born and raised 24 years in Bulgaria. I wasn't sure what to do or what to ask, I just knew i wanted o get as close to Dani's Bulgaria as possible.
First and most importantly, you must know my friend Dani is a dear to our family and is a gracious hostess. She is an amazing woman. Her passion for her country, Bulgaria was beautifully laced with pride and her hopefulness of her future here in America.
Dani ventures back to Bulgaria yearly to spend time with her family and friends. In preparing for this interview, instead of meeting out at a bar for drinks, she graciously insisted on meeting in her own home while she prepared some of her favorite dishes to eat.
When I first arrived to her home, Dani was in the middle of making a dish with rolled pork and a seasoning that included an salt/herb blend made in Bulgaria. She had also already diced fresh vegetables for our cold soup or "Tarator" before she added the yogurt and water. "This is great to cool off with in the summer" she stated proudly as she mixed it together. She also had diced tomatoes and cucumber for her Shopska salad which she later topped with the most amazing feta cheese I had ever tasted. "Everything is fresh" Dani told me, " When I was little I would go and pick the vegetables from the garden, now I still prefer to cook with fresh ingredients, it reminds me of home!" Fresh ingredients, and brands direct from Bulgaria that were only available from a small private grocery store, elevated my experience from "something good" to something unique and special!
We sat around the table and conversed. She had her computer ready with photos from the cities and villages she had recently been to on her last visit to Bulgaria. She showed me pictures of her family and spoke with such admiration of her beautiful grandmother and although aging, how her grandmother was still an example of a gracious hostess and a woman who took exceptional care of her family, friends and home. We drank wine from Bulgaria and even tried her fathers own Rakia, which is like a fruit brandy. She spoke with such pride about the beautiful cities like her hometown Sliven, and Sophia the capital with its modern businesses and exceptional University. She took me through the history of her country, explaining how Bulgaria has had three different capitals, and that I have to get to Veliko Tarnovo the second capital. She told me about the amazing fortress in Velika Tarnovo that transports you back into time. I was enchanted with the city of Nessebar (which is also a UNESCO Site) and all of the medieval churches set against the Black Sea. I also took dubious notes to remember to spend at least one day in Koprivshtitsa...She told me how this town fought proudly against the Ottonman rulers back in 1876 and how the town has preserved its architecture and other relics from the past in various museum houses and memorials. Dani told me about one of her favorite places to visit, the Rila Monastery, an Eastern Orthodox Monastery set deep in the mountains. She shared with me the most beautiful smelling lotion of roses. She proudly informed me that her great grandfather worked on a rose farm, and that some of the world most desired roses and rose oils and lotions came from Bulgaria. She giggled as she came across photos from a national festival that takes place yearly where Bulgarians will dress in traditional clothing and forfeit all modern conveniences to enjoy time together and great food.
I was awestruck. Growing up I didn't know much about Bulgaria except to pass a geography test in 7th grade. She introduced me to the bold favors of Bulgarian cuisine and walked me across the landscape, diverse with its majestic forests all the way to the relaxing beaches on the Black Sea. She proudly informed me that the Cryillic alphabet was formed in Bulgaria, and that a powerful Bulgarian folk song "Izlel e Delio Haidutin" by Valya Balkansa was selected to represent music in capsule that was sent into space aboard the Voyager. Although our evening was spent in her charming home here in Florida, between the amazing food and her showing me photos from around Bulgaria, I felt transported to this stunning country. I asked why she was here in America... She admitted that she missed her beautiful country and her family and friends, but that she loved it here in the United States of America. She first came with a program to intern with a business here. She was studying finance in Bulgaria and visited Wall Street while here in America and was so inspired. She had also visited some of our popular landmarks...the Grand Canyon is one of her favorites. It was obvious she was proud to be in America too, but her whole spirit was bright when talking about her home. We're looking forward to going to Bulgaria together to see her family and the beautiful towns and cities. Thank you Dani for sharing about Bulgaria with me... I'm excited to explore your country! Nazdrave!!!!