Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wandering Mystic Meditation From Sophia Bulgaria

Over the past 15 years or so, I have now and then ventured to live abroad. At first, it was all about studying and learning a different way of life in another culture. Later on, it had more to do with work, learning a new language, and meeting new people. Yet, why I did strive for this? What was my purpose? Did I have a real vision? I'm not sure I even asked myself these questions.

What about today? I still want to see and explore the world more than ever, but it's very different. Why? Because I've found my vision and a plan to fulfill it. Strange as it sounds, the more I experience the world, the more I understand how important my starting point was. It's simple as that. We should get to know ourselves first, then go interact more effectively with others. The same applies to places.

The city I belong to is one of extreme grace and controversy. A place that is overcrowded, yet harmonious and peaceful: Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. When you come to Sofia for the first time, you may be disappointed by the high concrete buildings that greet you with a sad stillness after your taxi leaves the airport. However, if you're lucky, the driver will tell you some local jokes or personal stories and won't smoke. Never again in cabs, as smoking was officially banned in public places back in June. Certainly, this is a benefit for residents.

To describe it briefly, Sofia is the intersection of two worlds: Eastern and Western. The oriental heritage of Ottoman times is obvious, not only in monuments and churches, but also in everyday life, language and cuisine. Bulgarians use many Turkish words in their daily speech. It's not at all strange to hear terms such as "sakatlak" (error), "gerultija" (quarrel), or "chalum" (dexterity). These make conversation funny, lively and expressive.

Even restaurants serving traditional Bulgarian cuisine offer Turkish dishes as well. The two cultures have blended and complemented each other over the centuries. If you'd like to try some of these delicious blended recipes, don't miss "имам-баялдъ" (eggplant - a dish made with highly seasoned aubergines) and "баклава" (baklava - a dessert made of pastry sheets and syrup with nuts and lemon). What about the "rakia"? It's not a blend, but if you survive it, Bulgarians will consider you a kindred soul (пич).

Various churches around the city tend to impress the visitor. They vary in style from Byzantine to Russian to Ottoman. Each represents a unique slice of history and boasts an astounding interior. The Church of St. George, the Russian Church and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are remarkable in size and construction as well as the interior beauty. You can easily spot the Cathedral and the House of Parliament on the skyline.

What impresses me most about Sofia? Diversity and opposition are what really strike me. You can see a gypsy with a horse-drawn cart followed immediately by a luxurious limousine. While the city is not big in size, it feels spacious and expansive. Half an hour drive and you'll approach the beautiful mountain Vitosha, where you can climb, walk or just sit down and relax. This contrast has greatly impacted my inner life over the years. How is it possible for a place to be large and small scale at the same time? It depends on the way you look at it.

Another cool thing about Sophia (and Bulgaria in general) is that anyone with a good idea and initiative can pursue their passion. Opportunities are limitless, because there are so many successful options found commonly elsewhere that haven't been done here yet. The small scale is provocative and encourages you to act. As a result, one can see many great initiatives taking place, such as Sofia Design Week, Sophia Film Fest, Sofia Dance Week, Sofia Contemporary, Sofia Architecture Week, Sassy, Kabinka, Open and the Red House. These are clear signs of the presence of local visionaries. I'm thrilled to live here and integrate things I've experienced abroad at home.

Go explore the world, so you can get back home and inhabit it more deeply.

Zhana Borisova is a writer, editor and translator from Bulgaria. She is passionate about traveling then writing on all that impresses, provokes or inspires her. She also seeks to transform text into online action and images. Her pursuits include yoga, ayurveda, organic farming and parenting two-year-old vortex-of-chakra-energy Yan.


  1. That part of Europe fascinates me. I'd love to go see the area myself at some point down the line. Thanks for sharing, Zhana!

  2. You are most welcome, William! If you ever need any piece of advice about Eastern or any other part of Europe, I'd love to help.