I like the name of the post. Heehee.
So once upon a time, a long long time ago (even till like 6 months ago, oops), I, like many people I know, had no idea about Romania and Bulgaria, except that they were the lands of Count Dracula (the original vampire) and the glorious Viktor Krum. I’m a little bit ashamed to be so cliche.
When I went there, though, I realised just how incredibly different both the countries are. A lot of people asked me Why Bulgaria? I said I want to visit countries I know I never will with family. And the inevitible response would be… Yeah, but why Bulgaria at all?? (People were somehow more accepting of the idea of going to Romania, the fact that someone might want to visit Bulgaria just seemed to blow people’s minds)
Anyway, so I decided to do a little post talking about these two countries, highlighting their differences and giving some basic information, so people realise that, yes, these are wonderful places to visit!! First lets start with the basics, and get the geography etc clear in our minds, and then move on to observations etc etc.
Romania and Bulgaria share a long border with one another, with Serbia on the west, and the black sea on the east. Ukraine, Moldova and Hungary to the north of Romania, and Greece, Macedonia and Turkey to the south of Bulgaria.
Romania is almost double the size of Bulgaria.
Romania uses Leu, and Bulgaria uses Lev. Very similar, I know. Right now, 1 Leu is approximately 0.44 Lev.
The first Romanian I ever met was one of my CS hosts- Mihai. The next two people I met were a couple, Andreea and Vlad, who I hitchhiked with on my Budapest-Ljubljana journey in August 2013. I found them all overwhelmingly friendly. Mihai was my second ever host, and the first time I was staying alone with 2 male strangers with nothing to go by except (about a million extremely positive) reviews on the couchsurfing website. And he pretty much set the bar really high for all future hosts. Andreea and Vlad were just as friendly, and when I was walking on the side of the highway, they just stopped, got off and made space for me, grinning all the time, without asking me a thing (or even speaking a word to figure out what kind of person I am… I could be a murderer, no?). One lady took me home with her after meeting me on the train to Bucharest because it was late and she found out I didn’t have a hostel yet. Another man gave me a lift from the Thessaloniki bus station to the city centre because he saw me walking (there was a public transportation strike) and gave me the info I needed to be able to go to the airport later in the evening.
The first Bulgarian I ever met was the girl I sat next to on the bus from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo. She was friendly and very nice, and of course, you’re bound to chit chat if you’re sitting next to one another for a 4 hour journey. In Bulgaria, the only locals I managed to talk to were the hostel staff and the tour guides. Maybe because their English isn’t so good, they’re not confident?
But, overall, based on these minimal interactions, I think I found the Romanians warmer and nicer.
In Romania, older people could barely manage, but all the younger people were extremely fluent.
In Bulgaria, hardly anyone spoke English. Other than the hostel staff and tour guides, I don’t think I came across anyone who could speak even passable English. There was a LOT of sign language involved.
Romanian food is similar to the food I ate at Poland, Slovakia, Croatia etc. Very hearty, very meaty. Very filling. It’s tough to move afterwards.
Bulgarian food surprised me. It was how I always imagined Mediterranean food to be like, or Turkish or Lebanese food. Large salads with feta cheese, wraps. I loved, LOVED it!! Check out my giant Katuk salad.
I took a Free Food Tour in Sofia, and we sampled 3 items in 3 restaurants. Very good tour, and very good food… And free (Seriously, we didn’t even have to pay for what we ate)!! We tried a yogurt drink in the first restaurant, a lot like chhaanchh, or buttermilk; a salad in the second, and some bakery stuff in the third.
Romanian people are mostly of Latin ethnicity, that’s the same group as the Italians, French, Spanish and Portuguese people.
Bulgarians are mostly of Slavic origin, or Slavs, like Russia, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia etc.
Romanian- a Romance language, derived from Latin.
Bulgarian- from the Indo-European family of languages, a Slavic language.
It’s the same as the English script, thank God!
Cyrillic. Hello, my name is суриа 😀 At least, that’s how I think it should be written. I picked up quite a bit, and could read almost comfortably in the 5-6 days I was in the region. I was forced to. Almost no signs were in English, and I really needed to make sure I was getting on the right bus and walking in the right direction. Also, though derived from the Greek script, the Cyrillic script itself was actually developed in Bulgaria by Saint brothers Cyril and Methodius.
Hostels, and other Infrastructure
More or less at par, though I think Romania was very slightly better off. (Some streets in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria made me think I was in India)
On this one count, mostly comparable. I did think Romania was a bit more expensive, but the difference was marginal. Very marginal. And both are wonderfully inexpensive places
Ease of Travel
Neither is part of the Schengen agreement, but Bulgaria has pretty much abandoned their own rules and just go by those of the Schengen. So if you have a Schengen visa, no issues, you can come and go as you please.
Romania on the other hand (I can only speak for Indian passport holders here), is mean 😦 You can only enter for 5 days on a Schengen visa (longer if you have a Romanian visa). And even if you do have proof that you’re leaving on time, they will yell at you and make you cry at immigration 😦
Transport and Hitchhiking
Quite easy and cheap in both countries. And quite well connected, though the bus and railway stations are shady like hell. Hitchhiking is apparently common, particularly for the locals, because it is a hand-me-down tradition from the Soviet era when owning a car was hard. I, however, was discouraged from trying it by myself since I’m brown and female and alone. And also because I resemble the Roma (gypsies) (obviously I do, since Roma people are supposed to have originated, and migrated, from India between the 6th and 11th centuries).
Oh, oh… Bonus point!!
Bulgaria shakes its head for ‘yes’, and nods for ‘no’.
And the best coffee I’ve ever had… Cafeteca in Brasov, Romania. And believe me, I’ve had a LOT of coffee.
Some more info here.
What I thought would be two extremely similar countries, are actually very, very distinct. Both countries fascinated me, but if I have to choose, I’d pick Bulgaria over Romania. Maybe it was because I got wonderfully sunny days in Bulgaria, and a lot of snow in Romania. Or maybe it was because my head was bitten off by the Romanian immigration authorities. I don’t know.
Have you been to either of these countries? Which did you like better? Why?