Exactly six months ago, on the 25th of June I departed from Portugal with no intentions of going back in the near future. With my bags packed and ready to go, my girlfriend and my mom drove me to Lisbon Airport where I would get in a plane with final destination Sofia, Bulgaria, and for the first time, on a one-way trip.
A lot has happened since I moved abroad, and I can consider these six months to be the best period of my life. I’ve never lived so much in my entire life like I did since the beginning of this summer when I arrived to Eastern Europe. For the first few months, it looks like you’re on vacation, hanging out, spending all the money you can earn, discovering yourself and the people surrounding you. Getting to know the city and the country you’ve just arrived to, and wondering how everything will turn out for you in the future. Many times with the idea of going back to your home country, or then, just like me, with no intentions of ever going back. I’ve accepted Bulgaria with my open arms, the same way it has accepted me, or at least, the same way it is trying to accept me.
For a foreigner, living here can be somewhat of a struggle once in a while, people are a lot different from what I’m used to, but that’s because I come from a Latin country, where people tend to be a lot more open, outgoing and gentle, where you’ll always be received with a smile whether you go to your bank to make a deposit or whether you go out for food. I’ve gotten used to the way things tend to roll in here, and to the way people react towards you or between each other. Mentalities are a lot more conservative, an effect caused by many decades of Communism. Most of the times, the effort they’ll make to understand you is none at all. People tend not to speak English as well as they do back in the western countries, but I cannot judge them, as not so many years ago, even in Portugal, the number of people having knowledge of such language was scarce. And for them, this is a whole new alphabet.
Even though you’ve got the ones who’ll just turn their backs on you whenever you try to ask for something, you’ve got the other people, which are probably one in each three, who’ll try to help you, even if they do not understand what you’re trying to say. That makes me a lot more happy than the previous situations.
Even though Bulgaria is not on the list of safest countries in Europe, I believe that for a common citizen or foreigner it must be one of the safest countries not only in Europe but in the world. I have never been in an European capital where walking alone during the day and the night was as safe as this. Men will not mess with women, like they do back in Portugal. Nobody will be asking you for money. You’ll feel safe walking downtown during the night, even at the darkest alleys. People try to avoid the most dangerous places, but still they’re not half as dangerous as the worst neighborhoods from Paris or Lisbon. By dangerous places we mean the Central Bus Station, where there are usually many gypsies.
About gypsies… if you’re from Portugal, believe me, they’re a lot different from the ones we’re used to. Here, most of them will not mess with you, it is safe to walk across gypsy groups with your smartphone in your hand. They will also work, and by working, I mean collecting things to resell at the junkyard. This is a short story that happened in my building. I live close to Sofia’s downtown, and one day during the day, I had someone ringing at my door, and I wondered who could it be, as my ring only works when someone is really at my apartment’s door, not at the building’s main entrance. As soon as I open the door, I see these two men, they were gypsies of course. As my bathroom was being repaired, outside my place there were several bags of rubble and cement, and they were asking me for it. I tried to explain them, in English, that they didn’t belong to me, as they were my landlord’s, and that I couldn’t give it to them, by politely saying just once “No” in Bulgarian and a few more words which I can’t remember anymore. They quickly said okey, they got in the elevator and they left the building. It got me thinking at first, maybe they’ll come back later to steal this stuff, but yet, they never came back, and everything was outside for more than a week.
The two biggest challenges for me were definitely the food and the weather:
- As for the food, all they eat is mostly based on pork and chicken meat, and usually with cheese. There is cheese in practically everything you can imagine. Fish here is almost non-existent, you either end up eating trout, paying expensive as it’s mostly imported, or, eating meat instead. Now imagine, coming from one of the TOP 5 countries with the highest consumption of fish per capita, and suddenly stop eating fish on a daily basis. For me it was indeed a challenge as I do not eat neither pork meat nor cheese.
- The weather…well, I actually thought it was going to be worse, but still, it’s a huge difference from what we’re used to. During the summer it was good, but in October the temperatures started dropping really fast, and by the end of November it started snowing, for two days, non-stop. I had never seen snowing so much in my whole life. I had to get myself a whole new winter wardrobe, as I had been wearing converse all-star and t-shirts or hoodies with no jacket.
Regarding more differences I’ve noticed, Sofia is filled with Shopping Centers, in a ten kilometer range you’ll discover several giant shopping centers, being Paradise Center in the TOP 100 World’s Largest Shopping Centers. Best part, there’s 4DX cinema in there. I never thought I’d have to move to the EU’s poorest country in order to visit the most advanced cinema rooms I’ve been to in my whole life.
Bulgaria is also a rich country when it comes to History. I believe it would take years to actually read all that you can find in its History. A country where the first civilizations lived in thousands of years ago. An example of this, is the city of Plovdiv, believed to be the world’s sixth oldest city, even older than Rome or Athens.
One of my favorite things about living here, is also it’s geographical location. It shares borders with Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Greece and the Black Sea, and two of Europe’s best and cheapest low-cost airlines fly from and to Bulgaria. For the equivalent of ten euros you may buy round trip tickets to other countries in Europe. With that being said, I’ve been flying a lot lately!
Most multinationals are located now either here or in Romania, the two cheapest countries in European Union. This is also one of the reasons for the rising of the cost of living here in Sofia, which can not be compared to Lisbon at any point.
To be fair with you, specially if you’re from Bulgaria, I didn’t know much about this country before moving here, and most of the people in Western Europe don’t know either. All I knew was that Sofia was its capital and that there was this huge orthodox cathedral named Aleksandar Nevsky, nothing else. I had no idea films such as 300: Rise of an Empire, the trilogy of the Expendables or even Conan the Barbarian had been filmed in here. I had no idea there were so many mountain ranges. I had no idea the best yogurt is the Bulgarian one. Just like I had no idea that the Cyrillic alphabet was actually of Bulgarian creation instead of Russian. And the craziest surprise for me, was finding out Bulgarians nod their heads to say “Yes”, the same way we nod our heads to say “No”.
Overall, this has been the greatest experience of my whole life. After six months of being here, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot and I’m very happy for having this chance of living abroad. Never in the world I thought I would end up in here, but I’m glad I did.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Do not forget to follow me in 2017!
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