The World Nomads Podcast: Bulgaria – Ancient Yet Hip

Affordable, and with one of the quickest download speeds in Europe, Bulgaria is emerging as a perfect destination for digital nomads.

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The World Nomads Podcast: Bulgaria

Bulgaria is sometimes described as the Chang Mai of Europe because of its affordable living and one of the quickest download speeds in Europe, making it a perfect destination for digital nomads. One of the oldest countries in Europe, Bulgaria is known for its forests, mountains and Black Sea beaches, making it great for hikers, skiers and sun lovers.

What’s in the episode

01:20 Facebook’s connection to Bulgaria

03:37 Anna’s quest to travel the world

05:29 Bulgarian street art

10:28 Lucy’s guide to Bulgaria

14:57 What you want to know about Bulgaria

17:50 Safety in Bulgaria

25:53 Vegan travel

32:35 A different side to Bulgaria

37:00 Travel writing scholarship

Quotes from the episode

“I loved Bulgaria. It was one of the most off-the-beaten-path destinations I've been to in Europe. It just had this feel to it that it hadn't quite been discovered like a lot of other European cities and towns that I'd been to.” - Anna

It has so much history but if you're not into history, then there are also the whole new modern things happening in the capital now.” – Lucy

Bulgaria is part of Eastern Europe and all the Balkan countries are not super friendly against public affection.” – Svet

“I really think that you can travel anywhere as a vegan. I do believe that, and I do think that there are places in the world where it will be a little bit more challenging than others, but there's always something to eat.” – Brighde

“There's a peasant culture that when a country is possessed of its own intellectual might, it will always turn on its smallest, less culturally kind of with it neighbor and they'll become the butt of the joke and Bulgaria definitely has that. It's a way of owning its own status amongst its neighbors.” - Joe

Who is in the episode

Anna Sherchand is a Nepali-Australian who left a career in the software industry to become a solo female traveler. Anna is currently on a mission to travel to every country in the world while being environmentally conscious. “I hope to inspire others to live a life they love. So far, I've traveled to over 46 countries, lived in 5 and have ticked some big adventures off my bucket list. I enjoy travel writing, travel photography, and a minimalist lifestyle.” You can find Anna @annasherchand

Lucy Maynard runs Lucy on Locale a blog promoting solo female travel. You’ll find everything from destination recommendations to travel resources including Lucy’s ideal itinerary for Bulgaria. Look for her on Instagram, Pinterest, and [email protected]

Svetoslav Dimitrov is a copywriter, travel writer, a guidebook author, and a TEDx speaker based in Sofia, Bulgaria. He’s written for The Huff Post, Investing.com, Discover China, and The Good Men Project, among others. Svetoslav is the founder of Svet’s Travel Guides, a travel, and lifestyle blog.

Svet is also the co-founder of 33TravelTips, a travel website that focuses on providing tips, tricks, and hacks for the smart traveler.

Joseph Furey hit the road in his teens, and he’s barely stopped for gas since. Writing has been paying for his travels for almost as long. Writing credits include the Times, Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, National Geographic, and Vice.

Brighde Reed runs Vegan World Travel, organizing high-quality and high-value worldwide adventures for vegans and vegan-friendly travelers. Brighde has also launched the World Vegan Travel podcast, talking to regular travelers as well as experts in the industry.

Resources & links

Is Bulgaria Safe? 7 Tips to Know Before You Go

Read Brighde’s zero waste travel tips.

Want to make money while you travel? Check out the World Nomads Partner Program.

Learn how to capture meaningful travel stories and go on a global scholarship assignment for World Nomads.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

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Kim: Want to learn about the latest emerging travel destination guaranteed to make it onto every nomad's itinerary. Myself, Kim, alongside you, Phil.

Phil: That's me.

Kim: We're about to share the news.

Speaker 3: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast delivered by World Nomads, the travel lifestyle and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast, it's everything for the adventurous independent traveler.

Kim: As mentioned Kim and Phil with you and the destination I've heard described, Phil, like the Chiang Mai of Europe is featured in this destination episode and what is it?

Phil: Bulgaria. I didn't know but it's got beaches. I did know it was affordable and here's another fantastic fact if you're a digital nomad, it's got the fastest internet download speed in Europe.

Kim: Well one of them.

Phil: One of them.

Kim: We don't want to go out too far on a limb.

Phil: Because we've just slowed it down by mentioning it straight away.

Kim: Yes, exactly.

Phil: Okay. But that's with the similarities probably stop because Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe. And look it hasn't had a name change since it was first established in 681 so history buffs will love the place. Plus it's covered in forests and mountains so it's great for hiking and skiing. A quirky fact as if that's not enough already, Bulgarians and I love saying that, express approval by shaking their heads rather than nodding a bit the Indians too as well. And while it's not quirky, but it is interesting, Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerburg, is named after his Bulgarian grandfather Marco, who emigrated to the US from Bulgaria in 1940.

Kim: Well, we're going to learn so much about Bulgaria in this episode and we're kicking it off with Anna who runs a travel lifestyle and solo female travel blog and we'll share that in show notes as we do with all our guests. Anna left a career in the software industry to become a solo female world traveler back in 2016.

Anna: I was living in Vientiane, Laos, at the time as an ex-pat. I had already been on the road for a year and a half a solo female traveler. I'd been on the road for a while so I just wanted to have my base for a little bit. So I was living there and I was teaching English but having said that, blogging has always been in the back of my mind, always wanted to do it. And yeah, I guess it's more timing so I had a bit of time in my hands and I said, "Sure." I still remember that day, I was sitting in my lounge room in Vientiane and I decided I'm going to do it right now. So it was 11:00 PM and I was just starting a blog. It has been really lots of ups and downs and I have come to realize that it's really hard work to manage to blog and travel at the same time. So there is a really fine line between how you manage that and how you balance that work and travel thing.

Anna: But the other thing that makes me enjoy solo female travel is also definitely meeting a lot of people from different walks of life. And I've met some really truly inspiring and amazing people who have done amazing things in life and are living their dream life. It's really inspiring to meet these unique individuals. And also, of course, trying new food, going to learn new skills, getting to know new cultures. I think all of these things actually are all my favorite things in life and I definitely enjoy them and enjoy them more when I'm solo traveling because there's nobody to tell me that I can't do or I can't eat something, right.

Kim: So how many countries have you been to?

Anna: Look now I just finished my 47th country. I was in East Timor and now I've done all the Southeast Asian countries. But I know the list is quite long, there are 195 countries in the world so I've just been to 47 so far.

Kim: I wouldn't say just, that's a pretty good effort. Well, this podcast is about Bulgaria and you spent some time in Sofia the capital. Am I pronouncing that correctly? Is it like the girl's name or is it Sofia?

Anna: Yeah, I've been told that it's YA at the end so Sofia.

Kim: Oh yeah.

Anna: But you did right. You did right. Yeah.

Kim: Look, I like to have a crack and then I'm happy to be corrected.

Anna: Yeah, I'm with you, same.

Kim: So is it worth visiting?

Anna: Absolutely, because it's such an interesting place. It's actually one of the oldest cities or capital in Europe. Actually, in fact, it's the second oldest capital in Europe and it has so much history. It has so much history but again, if you're not into history, then there is also the whole new modern things happening in the capital now. It's really interesting to be there and to absorb those new things happening. For example, there are over 80 museums in Sofia alone. And then if you walk on the street, you will see amazing architecture and old buildings and historical buildings. But then you cross the next street and you're looking at this amazing street art.

Kim: That seems to be common everywhere around the world. Iceland is one of the capitals for street art. So what sort of street art does Bulgaria have?

Anna: Well Bulgaria has, well particularly Sofia, had this amazing girl on the wall, and it's not just a small wall, it was a big house. And I think it's really famous street art made by this guy who is quite famous artists. I'm not sure about the name, but yeah, I'm sure that you can find this online as well, this particular art of the girl on this big sidewall of the house. So it's more artistic, it's not just graffiti, it's more like art.

Kim: Can I just say there is a huge distinction between graffiti and tagging and just ruining stuff and then street art which is beautiful.

Anna: Exactly, exactly. And then besides that, they have amazing food, so much food and then it's not so expensive. I think it's a really great place and it offers a slightly different feel and experience than other cities in Europe. So I would say it's definitely worth checking out. Yeah.

Kim: Did you come across anything that you probably wouldn't have found in a guidebook?

Anna: Oh, so many Kim. Oh, you'd be so surprised. People haven't got there yet, so you should go now. I found so many interesting things to do that I actually didn't really hear before I got there. So, for example, there is this dark restaurant called Tenebris and I didn't know that it was there in Sofia. I always wanted to go to this dark restaurant since I watched that movie called LA LA Land. It's a really good thing they're doing because the restaurant employs people with no sight. So they are disabled because they can't see so they are employing them and the whole restaurant is completely dark. It's a very unique experience perhaps for more adventure-seeking foodies.

Anna: And when you go there to the restaurant you can chat with the waiter and she was really nice. I was by myself. So she actually spoke with me, we chatted for a little bit. She told me how her life is in Sofia, in these circumstances. So it kind of opened up a whole new world for me in a way. And I was a little bit emotional being there by myself and then also having to experience this whole thing. It was actually a little bit too much for me for that evening. But incredible, unique experience. I 100% recommend to everyone. I mean this is I think one of the unique experiences in Sofia in terms of food and you're supporting the local community as well. So I think it's a great thing.

Anna: The other one that I remember is I think it's a place called Red Flats. It's basically everyday life in communist Bulgaria back in the day in the 1980s sort of era. That experience you get when you go here. So if you feel like visiting a home of an average Bulgarian family and then discovering what everyday life was like for an ordinary Bulgarians during the Cold War. And of course the whole works during that era, you get to experience and it's just nine Euro for that entry. So I think this is also something that is highly recommended. I think one of the best places to go and if you don't want to spend a lot of money, I think it's perfect and you can do a lot of shopping and eat a lot of good food and wine. Yeah, it's perfect.

Kim: Thanks, Anna. And I believe the artwork that she mentioned in that chat is by the street artist Massimo, probably not pronounced correctly.

Phil: Something completely different.

Kim: And if you didn't associate street art with Bulgaria, you may also enjoy learning about the town there that is internationally recognized as the capital of comedy and that's later in this episode.

Phil: Okay. Lucy is our next guest. She runs a blog, Lucy, On Locale and she kick-started this amid her love for solo travel.

Lucy: I have been traveling solo for several years and I realized there was so much information that was really difficult for me to find as a solo traveler about researching locations I wanted to go, about some of the best things for solo female travelers to do. So I decided to create my own blog to focus on all of this information I wish I had known for future solo travelers.

Kim: Earlier in the podcast we spoke to Anna, who is also a solo female traveler. This seems to be a bit of a movement of women that are just happy to go it alone.

Lucy: I think so. I think it's becoming more and more societally acceptable. I think there used to be a lot of very negative stigmas around it, but I think that more and more of us who are doing it, we're writing about it, we're encouraging others to do it are hopefully maybe turning that around and making other women realize that it's something they can do too if they want to.

Kim: Okay, so Bulgaria then, how did you find that as a solo female traveler?

Lucy: I loved Bulgaria. It was one of the most off the beaten path destinations I've been to in Europe. It just had this feel to it that it hadn't quite been discovered like a lot of other European cities and towns that I'd been to.

Kim: This is kind of the feel that I'm getting that it feels off the beaten track. Is that because it's part of Eastern Europe and not normally on the typical tourist route? If that makes sense.

Lucy: I think so. So one part of it was that there just weren't that many tourists there and when you venture outside of sort of the few tourist hotspots, there are even fewer tourists there and everything feels very authentic. It doesn't feel like a lot of these towns or cities have developed specifically for tourists. When I was there I genuinely felt like everything I was seeing, all the places I was going that that's how they are all the time, how they have been and they haven't been developed specifically for foreign visitors.

Kim: So take us through some of those places that you found that were, in a country that's off the beaten track, the off the beaten track places to visit.

Lucy: My favorite place in the entire country was Melnik. It's this tiny town, it's actually the smallest town in the country. It's almost to the Greek border in the Southwestern part of the country. It is a premier wine destination in Eastern Europe. I didn't know about it. It's got an incredible variety of imported and local grape varieties that are grown there. The town was just picturesque, it was authentic, it almost seemed like a village that was sort of situated back in time some.

Kim: On your site, you have your 10-day itinerary for Bulgaria. There's a photo of a stunning cave. Tell me about that.

Lucy: That is the Prohodna Cave. It makes for a really easy day trip from Sofia, the capital of the country where a lot of people usually start or end their trip. And so the cave is also referred to as the eyes of God because of the two holes and it's a very accessible cave that makes for a really fascinating nature trip.

Kim: You've been talking about a lot of the towns that feel like they haven't been developed. Does the capital feel like that as well?

Lucy: It felt more touristy than most of the rest of the country, but compared to capital cities of almost every other European country that I visited, it still seemed less discovered and just more authentic.

Kim: Now in your ultimate guide to Bulgaria, outside of your 10-day suggested itinerary. You mentioned the typical costs when traveling, and one of the great things that I'm finding out about this country too is that it's really inexpensive.

Lucy: Yes, it's relatively cheap, especially compared to other European countries.

Kim: And what about getting around? Is that easy?

Lucy: There are great train systems between the larger cities. They have a really good bus network. The buses take quite a bit longer. I rented a car when I was there and found that that was an amazing way to see the country. I could travel on my own schedule. There were so many times that I was driving and I would just pull off because I came upon this incredible panoramic view of the mountains or I drove through this little town that I wanted to stop at a cafe in. And I know a lot of people are hesitant about driving overseas. I found driving in Bulgaria to be very straight forward. The roads were in good shape. I had a GPS and with that everything was really well marked. So I think if you're comfortable, that's probably your best option when you visit Bulgaria.

Kim: This destination, who would it appeal to?

Lucy: I think history buffs would be fascinated by this country. It's this incredible blend of Eastern European when you think about post-communist architecture, culture, food, but it has a lot of Western European influences and a lot of middle eastern and North African influences. And so you can really find all of those everywhere that you go in the country.

Kim: A great sum up there. Thanks, Lucy. This though is the part of the podcast where we give you some practical information on Bulgaria. Based-

Phil: Something useful for a change.

Kim: Yes, something that's useful for a change. Based on the most search questions and the first one, Phil, do you need a visa? This is a question everyone wants to know about countries.

Phil: Yep. Okay. Look, you can stay there for up to 90 days without a visa. While it's part of the EU, it's not actually part of the Schengen area, those 26 European states which have got open borders and no passports and what have you. So you've got to make sure you keep your passport with you but it's like a quasi Schengen, you can get a visa for 90 days.

Kim: Well just on that, the second most popular question. Travelers want to know why Bulgaria isn't part of the Schengen area.

Phil: They backed off it for a while, although they were in line to join up because they were concerned about the so-called migrant invasion and control of their borders if it became border-less.

Kim: Great. And finally, we've heard it's a good place for a digital nomad, but any downsides that you need to be aware of?

Phil: Yeah, look, the language barrier, I think. Most locals may have limited knowledge of English while the older generation of Bulgarians will probably not have any English at all. So make sure you take that dictionary with you.

Kim: Well we are going to learn about the older generation in Bulgaria with Svet who's written a travel safety article and will address some of the other questions that people are wanting to know about Bulgaria. But before he gets into that, I was pretty excited to discover that he has done a TEDx presentation. So I had to kick off the chat with him, keen to know what he actually spoke about.

Svet: Well, I spoke about travel, so my topic was what does it mean to be a citizen of the world and currently I'm actually translating, because it was in Bulgaria, it was hosted here in Sofia. Yeah, it was in Bulgarian and I'm translating it now into English and it's going to be ready probably in a couple of weeks.

Kim: That is one of the whole philosophies behind world nomads is being a world citizen, being responsible.

Svet: Exactly. Especially with all these things that are happening, environmental issues, viruses, and all that stuff. We have to be even more responsible nowadays, especially in 2020 so yeah.

Kim: The story that you wrote for us that we are sharing in show notes is about safety in Bulgaria. One thing again that stuck out for me because I'm not good with animals that I don't know is stray animals. So is Bulgaria not the place for me then?

Svet: Actually it used to be much worse five to 10 years ago. So they have made great strides to curb this problem. So I've put it there because there are, you can see an occasional cat or dog outside sometimes. And I would say because people are like, "Oh that's an adorable cat. I want to pet it. I want to cuddle it and touch it." So I would suggest that you don't do that because you never know whether they are domestic, whether they are stray, maybe they're stray, maybe they carry some viruses or parasites or something. Yeah, this would be my concern. I haven't seen anything aggressive or that, especially in the city center I haven't seen any. But I just put it there as a safety tip because it could be something that could disturb people that are not used to that.

Kim: But something to look out for someone like me.

Svet: Yeah. Yeah.

Kim: Well there are plenty of safety tips that you have in there. One of them is fake exchange rates. Now that's pretty important, isn't it?

Svet: Well the thing there is, especially because our currency is pegged to the Euro, which is a good thing, but the exchange rate is 1.95 BGN, which is the Bulgarian lev, exchanging for one Euro. And sometimes because people, especially tourists and foreigners when they're visiting, they are not very aware and exchange kiosks, especially at the seaside because there we have a lot of tourists in summer at the seaside, they add an extra digit like just one. So you can get cheated very easily. I know some friends almost fell for that. I also almost fell once for that.

Kim: And you write a lot about travel, that could be a universal tip really, isn't it?

Svet: It's true. Yeah, that's true. Here that's why I gave a specific example with the Euro because we have the most tourists that are coming from Europe, that's why the Euro is the most used currency to exchange in Bulgaria.

Kim: Well, there are a series of very good tips there. Fake taxis as well?

Svet: The good thing is that they introduced a law saying that they cannot charge more than four leva which is around two euros. I'm not sure how much is that in Australian dollars, maybe 2.5. The thing is there are some that could charge you double or more. They're similar to the fake exchange rates because they resemble the legit taxi companies Yellow, O.K., Mega Taxi and some others, but they just change one digit in their phone numbers or they paint the cars in a very similar fashion that's alike the other legit companies. So this is a thing that foreigners should watch for.

Kim: All common sense. The fake exchange rates, the inflated bills, the fake taxis. What about, you mentioned this in the article too, is it LGBTQ+ friendly? Is it a place that if you are in a same-sex relationship, you could comfortably visit and be open about your sexuality?

Svet: Well, I would say you could comfortably visit, but don't be very open about it, especially in public places like on the street because Bulgaria is part of Eastern Europe and all the Balkan countries are not super friendly against public affection. Yeah, there are a few gay bars and clubs here. The things are changing, I wouldn't say it's dangerous to be queer or LGBT in Bulgaria, but just try to be a little bit more secret about it or don't project it or show it very publicly. It's not even what I think, but what society looks at it. So I would say if there are two women that are in the same-sex relationship it would be probably better than two men. So yeah.

Kim: But just genuinely keep your public displays of affection to yourselves. Reserve it for the-

Svet: Yeah, I would recommend not to be very public about it, so avoid any unnecessary and unpleasant situations because Bulgaria's a great country and you don't want to ruin your experience but just wanting to show it publicly... Because some people are trying to even show it I don't know... People here are also not very, very friendly towards people that are either queer or LGBT. And sometimes especially for vegans, they are especially those vegans or vegetarians that want to show and to tell you that you should also be a vegan or vegetarian or queer or whatever, especially Bulgarians that haven't traveled a lot in the world because when you travel you get to accept more and more cultures and you see that there is nothing wrong with being gay, vegan, whatever or from other religions or whatever.

Kim: So are the younger Bulgarians traveling a lot?

Svet: I would say yeah, but I don't know some people just don't travel. I don't understand those people because I love traveling, but I don't judge them either because everybody can choose whatever they want to do with their lives.

Kim: Yeah, but I'm just wondering in terms of a generational shift toward the attitudes of people that have perceived differences, whether it's made a generation change when you've got younger people that are more accepting of other cultures or aware of other cultures?

Svet: Yeah, younger people would be much more receptive to other cultures, different habits from over all over the world because younger people are the ones that travel more I guess.

Kim: Very true, Svet. The world gets bigger every day. Links to Svet's article and his blogs in show notes. And back to the stray dogs that he mentioned in his travel safety article, rabies is common in Bulgaria so get some medical help straight away if you are bitten by a dog.

Phil: Some people ask about whether they should get a rabies inoculation before they go to an area that's prone to rabies. You actually need three different injections if you're suspected of having rabies to make sure you don't get it. The first one you get is the same one that they give you as a preventative. You're still going to need three. You just get the first one before you go and get the other two if you believe you've been exposed. So up to you, talk to your travel doctor about what you want to do. But if you suspect by the way, if you suspect you've got rabies, please do go get those shots because untreated it's 100% fatal.

Kim: Yep. Well Ron sent us an email when he heard we were chatting about Bulgaria, podcast at worldnomads.com by the way, he's visited before and he's visiting again shortly and he did say the stray dog and cat situation across the country was very hard for him to witness, Phil.

Phil: Okay.

Kim: And what else did he mention?

Phil: Look, he mentioned the first time he was there, they struggled with food in pretty much all of the Balkan countries because each of those countries is really meat-centric and he's a vegan and he and his partner were finding it very hard to eat out. Now though, they travel slow and cook most of their meals at home so it's not such a big issue.

Kim: Which brings us to our next chat with Brighde. She runs World Vegan Travel, offering all-inclusive adventures designed specifically for vegans and the vegan-curious and I kicked off the chat asking where she gets her protein from.

Brighde: From plants, where the gorillas and elephants get it.

Kim: I've read your website. Tell us about your business.

Brighde: Sure. So we are World Vegan Travel. I and my partner own the vegan group tour company, World Vegan Travel, and we organize unforgettable experiences for vegans and vegan-curious.

Kim: Well I actually Googled ahead of this interview to see what the sort of top trends were for people typing in to find out about vegan travel and there are two specific things. They want to know how do you do it, and as you say on your website, so you're not the only vegan in the room and where can you do it?

Brighde: I would maybe push back on that a little bit in that I really think that you can travel anywhere as a vegan. I do believe that and I do think that there are places in the world where it will be a little bit more challenging than others, but there's always something to eat. There's usually fresh fruit and fresh vegetables available, fried rice without eggs is a really good standby, fried veggies, tofu in a lot of Asia. So there's usually something to eat. But of course a lot of vegans and like everybody, they want to really enjoy food because let's face it, we love to eat.

Brighde: And there are plenty of places around the world that are real standout places like Thailand is an amazing place. Vietnam can be an amazing place, many countries in Europe, the United States, there are a lot of places. And just to sort of give a little bit of perspective, I mean I've traveled a lot since I've been vegan, which is 10 years now and I've never gone hungry the whole time. So it might not be particularly inspiring, but there's definitely something there, you're not going to go without.

Kim: What is your favorite vegan dish?

Brighde: I am not particularly fussy. I really like everything. I can be happy with a bowl of roasted brussels sprouts and I can also be happy with a really big dirty burger. I love Thai food. I love Italian food. I love vegan versions of food from the destination that I'm going to. I just really like it all. It's so hard. It's picking a favorite child or a favorite pet.

Kim: Yeah, hard to do. Well, we'll have a link to worldvegantravel.com in our show notes, but anyone that joins one of your tours, what can they expect?

Brighde: If they're vegans, they can expect to just be really, really spoiled. So our trips are fully inclusive apart from the flights. So you absolutely don't need to think about anything. So you don't have to think about tips, you don't have to think about paying for laundry, all of your meals are sorted, all of your drinks are sorted, the tips are all sorted. So the idea is to really have our guests be on holiday and really, really spoil them. We work with hotels and restaurants for about six months in the lead up to a trip. They can expect really, really great food.

Brighde: They can also expect a really good experience that is sort of designed for vegans. So that might be, for example, going and visiting animal organizations that are doing amazing work or also human-animal organizations that are doing amazing work as well. So for example, in Rwanda when we were there we, we had a special tour by the Akagera Parks, which is run by African Parks where they gave us a tour of how this park has come up from being after the Rwandan genocide, just there was basically no animals left and now being this incredible place.

Brighde: We also try as much as we can to... We obviously don't visit any places or do activities that involve animal exploitation. So we also try as best as we can to choose hotels that don't have obvious animal exploitation around the hotel. So for example, in our [inaudible 00:30:17] hotel, because we take over the hotel and our hotel is very nice, we'll ask them to take the deer head off the wall and all of those kinds of things. Because these things aren't so nice for vegans to sort of see all of the time. We'll know that it's still there but we're just sort of trying to have a holiday from that.

Brighde: But also one of the most important things is vegans traveling with other vegans and the comradery. I mean I'm sure that when you travel with people in a group tour you often make friendships really, really quickly. And of course, when you're a vegan and you're with other vegans, that's a really, really nice thing as well. And everyone's on the same page and it's a really safe space and people can express themselves without fear of upsetting people. If you know what I mean?

Kim: Yeah, absolutely.

Brighde: We have vegan-curious people join us as well. They're often a spouse of a vegan and of course, we try to make them feel as welcome as possible and we get feedback from the non-vegans as well. And no one has said yet that they feel judged for not being vegan, they feel very happy with how they were included and they really enjoyed the food and they didn't feel like they were missing out on anything.

Kim: Yeah, I'm pretty inspired by your website to be honest.

Brighde: Oh that's so sweet. Thank you so much. Well, you're very welcome at any time.

Kim: Lovely. But you're allowed to drink wine though with your vegetables?

Brighde: Of course.

Kim: Thank you.

Brighde: We do have some vegans, just like there would be non-vegans as well, that don't drink and you don't need to feel like you have to or that. But of course, there is plenty to drink always.

Kim: Awesome. Brighde had so much information to share and sent me lots of links for show notes and we'll have to catch up with her again because vegan travel is huge.

Phil: It's huge, fantastic.

Kim: Lots of info out there. So catching up with her again like Joe who is becoming a regular on the podcast and he's here to share a very different side of Bulgaria with us.

Joe: Like many allies of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria has always got short shrift from the West or the Western press. Like Romania, Hungary, pick any Eastern European country, any country, it was lampooned as a place of food cues and rabbit [inaudible 00:32:44] accommodation where privation was the only fact of life. It's just a Western myth. Once the iron curtain had been drawn back and it stopped becoming a member of the Warsaw pact in 91 it didn't take long for Bulgaria to show its true colors, which are amazingly vivid and they go back unfaded to the seventh century. And that's when the Bulgars, which are a people as much as the Magyars are Hungarian, that's when they took over. It shrunk, it's expanded, but more or less that was the core and it's still the case.

Joe: Gabrovo and it depends where you are in Bulgaria as to how it's pronounced. Gabrovo in the West, Gabrovo in the East. It takes a foreigner to learn the difference because they don't talk to each other and people in the center don't talk to the West or the East. These are differences of opinion that they prize and they value each other for not agreeing with the other if you know what I mean. It's a place that is easy with disagreement, at least as far as the whole of Bulgaria goes. How it gets on with its near neighbors is a different matter. But Bulgaria, it's preposterously raucous and at least amused with itself.

Kim: So is it them laughing at themselves?

Joe: It is primarily, but it's also the humor of the darkest hue. It's not like this stuff is unfunny, it's not like when someone tells you a joke. Here's one that I was told when I first went there. Two Gabrovo drivers, they meet on this really narrow bridge and neither wants to back up because they don't want to waste fuel. Because this title, the comedy capital of the world, it acquired in 65 and then they started holding festivals in 72, 71, 72. Bulgaria was a close ally of the Soviet Union, a member of the Warsaw pact, and it's a big, big deal. And so they knew what it was to want.

Joe: So two drivers, they met on a narrow bridge. Neither wants to back up because they don't want to waste fuel. One takes out the newspaper and begins to read, thinking the other would soon get fed up and then back up. But the other driver gets out, sits on the hood of his car and says, "After you've read the paper, can I borrow it?" And that's the kind of almost Jewish humor, to be honest. Even amongst East European countries, Bulgarians saw themselves as uniquely afflicted and disaffected and they had this brilliant kind of counter technique.

Kim: If you don't laugh, you'll cry kind of thing?

Joe: Yeah. If you don't laugh, you'll cry and you might still cry anyway. And they get the joke, they're being unfunny about funniness. You don't need to be from Bulgaria, you don't need to have a knowledge of Eastern European culture, but it does help. It's been a country full of itself, that's to say fully acknowledging its place in the world, even if it didn't know where anything else was. So yeah, it's got a real sense of its intellectual vigor and what you can do with it. I mean intellectual vigor can kill a joke as well as make it so. Again their own downtrodden kind of comedy.

Joe: The Scots are wonderfully Scottish, but they are also not English. And the Bulgarians though they are funny in their own right are also funny because they're not Hungarian and they're not Romanian. Every kind of culture, every culture that's got a humor of its own will pick on its nearest neighbor. The English have been cracking jokes about the Irish for way too long, I would say that obviously.

Kim: And Australia about New Zealand.

Joe: Exactly and the English about the Welsh as well and I think those sorts of jokes are very similar to the ones that the Aussies crack about the Kiwis. There's a peasant culture that when a country's possessed of its own intellectual might, it will always turn on its smallest, less culturally kind of with its neighbor and they'll become the butt of the joke and Bulgaria definitely has that. It's a way of owning its own status amongst its neighbors.

Phil: Thanks Joe, nice to have you back. Before we go, the World Nomads' travel writing scholarship to the Caribbean is now open at the time of recording this of course. So if you want to get your application in, follow the show notes, we got a link there.

Kim: Okay. Coming up next week is an amazing nomad. Her name is Nora, and she claims to have coined the phrase financially sustainable travel.

Phil: See ya.

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