Bulgaria

Bulgaria

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  • Day45

    We've reached our last EU country and our first time zone shift - and it feels as if we're traveling into the past, with omnipresent horse buggies, old Ladas and abandoned villages and industrial facilities (including never finished or decommissioned nuclear power plants). But there are charming lively villages with open-hearted people as well. An old lady bought us two expensive Milka chocolate bars and we believe she told us (with her hands and feet) that we'll need it for the Bulgarian mountains. Yes, communication is sometimes a bit difficult but there's always a way and the OhneWörterBuch we got from Samuel in Vienna has turned out to be quite helpful.

    We're enjoying the quiet, bleak hilly landscape, a gorgeous starlit sky and perfect weather - only sun so far. There are burning bushes alongside the road and we're wondering whether those fires are made on purpose - locals only shrug their shoulders.

    There is no infrastructure for tourists at all on this section of the EuroVelo 6 so our tent became valuable like never before - and we're glad to find a beautiful guesthouse yesterday, including a hot shower.

    We're going to miss the Danube but are definitely excited about the next days and our way to the Black Sea.
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  • Day53

    With directions from our insider Jaap we felt confident to cross the upcoming range of hills and reach the Black Sea within a few days.

    Cycling along little-used roads through beautiful landscape during a seemingly never ending gypsy summer, we've developed more and more love for this country and its people.

    However, the village of Sungurlare ought to dampen our mood as we found ourselves within reams of garbage surrounding this village. We've already seen and documented a lot of trash along the roads and within the fields in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria but this beats everything so far on our journey - the picture below is just a small snippet. Of course, there are reasons and attempts to explain this mess and we understand that people are working hard and fighting for their daily bread to survive - but what gives people the right to treat our environment like this, no matter how their living conditions look like? We're wondering what we can do about it on our journey to make at least a tiny little change...

    With slightly more than 3000km on our clock we've reached the Black Sea in Burgas. After spending two relaxing days on the beach, today, we're going to jump on a freight ship which will take us to Batumi in Georgia within three nights. We've refused our plan to cycle through Turkey as the Eastern highlands have already seen frost and snow - hardly imaginable how it would look like if we would get there in more than a month :)

    However, we're super excited to get the chance to explore Georgia!
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  • Day47

    We didn't want to miss this cultural and historical jewel so we left the Danube and pedaled towards the mountainous center of Bulgaria. Veliko Tarnovo kept what it promises with its name - a truly great city!

    Located on three hills above the Yantra river, people only know three directions: Go up, go down, or take the stairs. As the former capital city of Bulgaria, moving history is within one's grasp and nowadays, the city attracts artists looking for inspiration in the picturesque city and landscape. Moreover it's famous for a sound and light show at the spectacular fortress (we couldn't see it this time as there was no public holiday and nobody ordered it, but checking out the videos on YouTube is worth it).

    We stayed in the beautiful house of Jaap from the Netherlands and had a fantastic, intense and informative time with him and he didn't even refuse us to stay one more night. We're very grateful Jaap and we admire your lifework and your strong commitment to the society by conveying Bulgarian traditions and fighting for the environment - and we believe that we've learned a lot about Bulgaria, even reading Cyrillic is getting a small and smaller issue for us.

    Simply put, Veliko Tarnovo is a must!
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  • Day89

    With the train delays I didn't end up getting into the Veliko Tărnovo train station until midnight, and with no busses or taxi's at that time, it was a long, dark and sketchy 4km walk through the dark parklands and outskirts to my hostel. The night receptionist took pity on me and rustled me up a midnight snack and free beer, which was much appreciatingly scoffed down before I collapsed into bed. I was awakened by rain on my window the next morning and discovered they, overnight the temperatures had dropped by half from mid thirties to mid teens and the rain had set in. Flirting with the possibility of using this as an opportunity for a much needed rest day, I eventually decided better of it and consigned myself to a wet miserable day exploring the town and headed out to join the free walking tour.

    Set on an impressive double bend of the Yantra Gorge high up in the mountains, Veliko Turnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The most obvious and impressive sight is the fortress - Tsarevets, which is up there with one of the largest of its kind I have ever seen, but is a fraction of what it once was, having lost its sister fortresses on surrounding bluffs high above the gorge. However, just as handsome is the old town consisting of Bulgarian revival buildings cascading down the steep slope on the opposite bank, which has led to the town being recently voted as the prettiest cliff side settlement in Europe. The town has also been the epicentre of Bulgarian nationalism for hundred of years, being the setting for most of the major revolts against Ottoman rule and the, short lived, capital of modern Bulgaria where the first parliament building still exists and the constitution was signed before it was decided to shift it to Sofia, something that still rankles the locals. Today it is a vibrant university town and has a growing tourism scene, evidenced by the tour buses lining up at the fortress on day trips from Sofia.

    One of the more interesting sights in town is the cathedral on top of the fortress, which bizarrely was rebuilt and restored by the communists in the early 1980's. Being atheists, they only agreed to this on the understanding that it would be converted into a museum, so instead of the usual frescoes and religious paraphernalia you come to expect in conspicuous and central cathedrals, this particular one has been decorated in 1980's abstract communist interpretations of the bible stories. I found it infinitely fascinating, unique and truely bizarre. Was well worth the climb to go check it out.

    Tarnovo was great and was worth getting wet and cold to see, but the real reason for coming here and one of the highlights of my trip was to come the next day as I went to explore and, illegally, gain access to the Bulgarian UFO.
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  • Day87

    Trains have not been my friend on this trip and my aylak was severely tested leaving Plovdiv. Expecting a relaxed 5 hour trip through the northern Bulgarian countryside, my train left spot on time at 2:30pm, and went all of 5 km before coming to a stop just outside Plovdiv at a random part of the track where it sat.. and sat.. and sat.. while we sweltered in the afternoon sun. Eventually one of my neighbours told me that there were problems with the locomotive, engineers came, fiddled and left without seemingly having achieved much. So we sat some more, until 3 hours after we stopped a locomotive came to tow our locomotive of to a train intensive care. So we sat some more and eventually 5 hours passed, which I figured meant we had gone an average of 1km/h for the trip. At this point I seriously considered walking back to town, but just as I was seriously giving up hope a locomotive came into view and 6 hours after starting we were finally on our way. It's going to be a long night..

    Aylak indeed.
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  • Day33

    Early in the morning we started out for Sofía, Bulgaria, along with three Serbian men in a shuttle bus. Half way through our four hour journey we reached the border of Serbia and Bulgaria. Serbian immigration officers didn’t seem bothered about what or who was leaving the country, but Bulgarian immigration officers interrogated us much more, even more than the Serbian men who were traveling with us – and they probably fit the criminal stereotype more than we did! You can’t trust those damn Aussies!

    Sofía is a relatively small city, with a population of just over one and half million people. While the city isn’t as big as Prague or Budapest, it doesn’t have the swarming tourists and congestion on the streets. The people also seemed a little more helpful and the cars didn’t want to mow you down as you crossed the streets.

    Immediately Ricky was excited by the Roman ruins scattered around the city. One of the highlights for him was a tour of the Roman necropolis underneath the Church of St Sofía, a tenth century church that was built on top of earlier Roman churches. The tombs dated from the late second to the late fourth century CE. Near our accommodation we explored the ancient city of Serdika, which had been built by the Romans during the reign of Constantine the Great and had only recently been discovered. Some of the other tourist attractions that we visited included: Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Sofía Central Mineral Baths, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Boyana Church, Church of St George and Largo (the National Assembly of Bulgaria), where we witnessed the changing of the guard.
    A constant theme through our travels is that we keep being mistaken for German tourists. Not sure what makes people think this but it’s becoming a running joke. The other theme of our travels is the constant battle to find postcards, stamps and a mail box. English is relatively limited in the former Eastern Block countries, except for the youth, who when asked if they speak English respond with “of course”, or sometimes “a little “, and often with a very thick accent. When we stumbled upon a shop that sold postcards we immediately bought them, thinking that we may never see any others. The woman in the shop could only speak Bulgarian and German and gave us instructions on how to find the Post Office in German. Ricky’s grade 8 German meant we understood some of the instructions – we knew we had to go to the end of the Street and there would be a big building but then we were at a loss as to whether it was left or right. With some assistance from Google Maps, we eventually made it to the Post Office but then the fun began. Which room do you buy stamps from? Going from room to room asking for stamps and sometimes not being steered in the right direction, we made it to the right section of the building. The Post Office experiences have provided some entertainment and adventures for us, and we have even found helpful strangers who were willing to give us suggestions on places to see and go.

    Another theme has been testing all kinds of beers, usually at ridiculously low prices (around 50-80 cents per 500ml). While Jason was a non-drinker before our gaycation, he’s become quite a drunkard on cheap Eastern European beer, yearning to taste the yellow ale at any opportunity.

    Next stop: Greece.

    See link below for video footage:
    https://youtu.be/-Vq31dW0HT0
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  • Day85

    Kosovo proved as much a pain to get out of as to get in, partly due to regional politics and partly my own incompetent planning. What should be a 4-5 hour direct trip through Serbia, became a 10 hour trip due to Serbia refusing to allow anyone without a Serbian stamp in their passport to cross the border. It also required me to backtrack through Skopje, which, as marvellously weird as the place is, I had no desire to spend more time in. Eventually, however, after a long day on buses and waiting around at bus stops I arrived in Sofia and walked through the dark deserted streets to my hostel.

    One place I'd been consistently told to go while in Sofia by other travellers was Seven Lakes, up in the mountains a couple of hours south of the city. Seven Lakes are a group of glacial lakes situated in the Rila Mountains between 2,100 and 2,500 metres cascading down the mountainside connected by small streams, which form tint waterfalls and cascades. There was a minibus going to the mountains from the hostel the next morning, so I jumped at the opportunity. After driving up into the mountains, we were dropped off at the base of the cable car, but were quickly talked into taking a troop carrier up the mountain instead of the cable car on the promise it was quicker, the same price and we could have an extra hour up the mountain. This proved to be an optimistic promise as we were bundled into a jacked up old Mercedes G-Wagon that looked like it'd seen much better days and got driven up an incredibly rough and precarious track clinging the mountain side, regularly spinning the wheels, bottoming out and getting thrown around before finally being dumped a good 700 metres from the end of the cable car, which taunted us as we clambered up an incredibly steep track to the start of the actual hike.

    Having left Sofia late and the 4wd taking far longer than expected, we were seriously running out of time to be able to reach the summit in the available time we had, so we ended up splitting up with the lead group determined to reach the top, the climb was amazing if rushed as we weaved our way past glacial lakes, clambered up scree slopes of loose shale and over alpine meadows, after a couple of hours we reached the top exhausted, but rewarded with astonishing views of all 7 lakes as they tumbled down the slope before us. After soaking in the view for 30 minutes, it was time to return in time to meet our lift out. We collected the rest of the group on the way back and by the time we got to the cable car terminus, which was till running despite the advice, half our group decided they couldn't face the return trip by 4wd so grabbed the cable car down, while the rest of us continued down the track to our waiting driver who returned us safe, if shaken and full of adrenaline to the base of the mountain.

    Back in Sofia, I was exhausted, but relaxing with a beer at the hostel I met three German's who convinced me to go out and get some dinner and drinks. I was starving after the hike and not having had time for lunch, so made them stop at one of the first places I saw, which we immediately regretted as we descended into a tiny cluttered and empty room, with the owner sitting surrounded by empty beer bottles. Feeling bad, we decided that we'd just order a beer before leaving and finding somewhere that looked less dodgy. However, while drinking our beer two other people arrived, one speaking Bulgarian, so after striking up a conversation we asked whether the food was good and were informed that they were both travel bloggers (one from Sofia and the other from America) and that they had come here because it was a 'hidden' gem. Their was no menu, the the owner owned a farm outside Sofia and would just keep bringing out food until we said to stop. The local acted as translator and we were also informed that the owner was incredibly proud of his 200+ collection of different beers, so instead of choosing what to drink, he would just bring out a selection of beers at regular intervals. The food was amazing and provided in huge quantities, along with a continuous supply of amazing beers from around the world and eventually raki, which he insisted on proving in wine glasses instead of shot glasses and by 2am we were all very drunk, stuffed and shaking our heads at another perfect, random travelling experience, which we'd almost walked out on.

    Eventually it was time to move on, so the local blogger took us all to an underground bar that required a secret knock to get into, where we had some more drinks, before it eventually closed and we moved onto another place that was playing a crazy selection of Bulgarian hip hop, rap, country and heavy metal. To round out our Sofia night life experience we eventually left, picked up some beers and went and hung out with the locals drinking in the park, until eventually we stumbled back to the hostel. I woke up with a crazy hangover and a momentary freak out when I say a tattoo on my wrist before remembering that at one of the bars there was a local insisting on doing henna tattoos on everyone before being allowed to leave.

    Despite my hangover I was determined to get around and see the city during the daylight, so dragged myself along to the free walking tour, which, once again, was excellent. Sofia is a beautiful city, nicely compact and very walkable. Surrounded by mountains and built on the site of hot mineral springs, it has a long history, which is easily charted as you walk around the city, from the unearthed Greeks nod roman city, which was discovered during the construction of the metro and has been left uncovered in a series of outdoors and covered section throughout the centre of the city. My favourite section being an underground section that has been built directly under the main square of the city, which allows you to walk the ten metre wide original roman boulevard toward the original city gates 10 metres below the current street level.
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  • Day92

    I managed to score a lift from Ternovo to Varna with a Dutch guy who had a car, which made a nice change from public transport. I had booked a hostel in Galata, a town just south of the city, intending to do not much more than relax on the beach. The hostel was really just some guys summer house that he had opened up to backpackers and I had pretty much the entire place to myself, which suited me just fine. The resident dog accompanied me on my beach trips and to the one resturant in the village to eat the days catch of Black Sea mussels, mackerel and anchovies, giving me all the company I needed. As I slow down at the end of my trip the exhaustion is setting in and I enjoyed afternoon naps, early nights and sleep-ins.

    Galata was a sleepy little town, but was a great change of pace, providing me with endless plump and ripe grapes overloading countless vines overhanging the footpath and that rarest of European commodities - an untouched, clean and pretty sand beach. I did make it into Varna for a look around on my second day there and found a pretty pedestrianised centre hosting the dwindling summer crowds. It was a nice place, but I was happy to get back to the tranquility of Galata.
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  • Day86

    Aylak is a Bulgarian word that is unique to Plovdiv and roughly means 'relax and don't worry', which is appropriate because if Plovdiv was any more aylak, it would be in a coma. Otherwise known as the city of seven hills, it's heart is split between the old town, the Kapana (meaning The Trap), the longest pedestrian street in Europe and the Tsar park, all broken up by the aforementioned hills. It is a seriously wonderful place and I had an amazing time exploring the neighbourhoods and embracing the aylak spirit by chilling in cafes and bars. However, it's not just the current culture that impresses. Plovdiv has been chosen as the European capital of Culture for 2019 and it's easy to see why as it is the oldest continually inhabited place in Europe, and the 6th oldest in the world, with a recorded human history stretching back over 8000 years much of it on open display in a series of wonderfully presented living and breathing monuments and museums.

    I stayed in a hostel in the Old town in a restored Bulgarian revival mansion and where my room on the ground floor was broken up by ancient foundations of impressively large buildings. The Old Town is a beautiful cobblestoned collection of Bulgarian revival houses, city walls that trace the old towns Thyracian, Roman and Ottoman history through consecutive layers of construction and the incredibly impressive Roman amphitheatre, which was discovered following a landslide in the 1970's, has been partially restored and is back hosting performances. From the top of the Old town at the site of the Thyracian fortress you get amazing views over the city and its collection of hills, while descending to the base of the hill the scenery changes completely as you hit the Trap district.

    The Trap is the traders district, so named due to the maze like streets and shops and the unlikelihood of leaving without having had their wallets emptied. The district was left to rot following the fall of communism due to the difficulties and infighting resulting from the impossible task of returning the buildings to their rightful owners after 50 years. It's only in the last 5 years that things have started to turn around, and today it's a compact, but growing district of hipster bars, cafes, galleries and craft shops interspersed by amazing street art and abandoned buildings. It was my favourite area in the city and I spent a lot of time sitting out the front of the Cat and Mouse bar soaking up the incredibly sleepy and relaxed atmosphere and enjoying the best selection of international craft beer I have yet found in Europe.

    A couple of streets further east you hit the pedestrian street, at 2km's it's the longest in Europe and starts as a covered bridge over the remarkably natural river running through the city and makes its way all the way to the beautiful Tsar park on the other side of the city centre. On the way it is lined by churches, mosques, shops and cafes, but, by far, the piece de resistance is the uncovered section of the roman theatre, which stretches 250 metres along the boulevard and originally had a capacity of 30,000, only a small section is uncovered, but once again it's living and breathing and while I was there I caught the Drone International Film Festival (yep, that's a thing) there.

    Wandering further afield, I climbed the largest hill in town to the towering unnamed Russian soldier monument built during socialism to commemorate the Russian's who died in Bulgaria, not only during WWII, but also during the Russian-Turkish war of 1878, which liberated Bulgaria from 500 years of Ottoman rule. I also made my way to the brand new museum built over one of the earliest Roman Christian cathedrals yet discovered, which shows off the amazing mosaic floors in a wonderfully evocative setting. However, a real highlight for me was a much smaller museum called Tarkart, which was constructed to preserve the roman residential houses uncovered during the building of the Takart subway station. This was special, not just for the amazingly well preserved mosaic floors and house footprints, but because in constructing the subway, they have actually used the original roman road as the walkway to the station, meaning that as you stand in the Roman living room you are separated from the main Roman thoroughfare by nothing more than a glass wall so you can watch and hear people in the 21st century going about their daily business much as the original habitants would have in the 1st century, a surreal and wonderful experience. There's something about history that you can touch and experience that is so much better than artefacts and monuments behind glass or walkways, and Plovdiv has this in spades.

    My fantastic run of bumping into friends made weeks and months ago also continued, with running into Jules who I hadn't seen since about a month ago in Lake Ohrid who had just arrived back in the Balkan's from 3 weeks in Turkey. As great as it is to continually meet new people everywhere, there's nothing better than running into someone you have already had the standard travel introductions and conversations. My hostel was full of families with small annoying children for some bizarre reason, so having an in with another hostel allowed me to escape the screams and tantrums, with the added bonus that the other hostel had a rooftop terrace to hang out on and watch the sunset, before we descended into the Trap where, true to it's name, we ended up being locked in a bar themed on the Central Perk cafe from Friends well after closing time drinking and laughing with both old(er) and new friends.

    Aylak indeed.
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  • Day90

    The House-Monument to the Bulgarian Communist Party (or informally the Bulgarian UFO) was the main reason I came to Veliko Ternovo, drawn here by photos posted by someone I met in Macedonia who had posted photos on Facebook.

    Built by the Communist regime in the middle of nowhere on the Buzludzha peak to commemorate a secret assembly of socialists on the spot in 1891 to form the Bulgarian Communist Party. Construction began in 1974 and it was opened in a lavish ceremony in 1981, where the communist leader, Todor Zhivkov opened it with the words - 'let the pathways leading here where the first Marxists came to continue the sacred and pure love that was started by Bulgaria's socialist writers ad philosophers never fall into disrepair'. Unfortunately for dear comrade Zhivkov communism was destined to fall within 10 years and the monument was left to decay on the top of its lonely mountain top, where today it sits beckoning adventurers and some of the worlds best graffiti artists, drawn by the striking setting and spectacular ruins begging to be explored. It is now illegal to go inside and it is now a cat and mouse game between the authorities between access points being busted open and ever more sophisticated concrete, iron and security systems being installed to block access meaning it's a day to day proposition as to whether you can get in.

    In Ternovo, the latest advice was that there was no current way in and that the police had started patrolling it and my hope of finding some people at the hostel to come with me to explore it came to nothing. The exterior was enough to draw me in so that wasn't going to stop me and so I arranged a hire car and headed off on my own the next morning. The drive there was great, climbing high into the mountains until I pulled off the main road to a seperate monument commemorating the final battle between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire in 1868, which I climbed up to and caught my first glimpse of the UFO way off in the next set of peaks. Once I reached the base of the UFO I climbed the steep path to find the monument clear of other travellers, but weirdly a full film crew out the front filming a French movie.

    A tour guide in Ternovo had told me where the most likely points of access would be and I circumnavigated the base I looking out for any access points, and eventually found exactly what I was looking for in the form of a tiny hole in the pavement near the back of the building, a rope dangling down into the dark and a pile of broken rebar and concrete next to it evidence to the previous nights efforts by my anonymous heroes. I abseiled down into the dark interior, dropping down around 4 metres into what was once a service corridor with stripped out electricity boxes and a huge amount of debris that I picked through trying to find a way through the labyrinth of corridors. It was bloody creepy with nothing more than my phone to light my way and with the number of creepy shrines left by people before me, but I eventually saw some light ahead and found myself in the monuments lobby and climbed the staircases to the main hall. Emerging into the cavernous interior was one of the most mind blowing and breathtaking views of my life.

    The interior is covered in 510 square metres of mosaics consisting of 35 tonnes of cobalt glass and commemorating the history of communism, much has been destroyed with age and vandalism, but that just adds to the atmosphere. However, the roof is the true highlight. Time has not been kind to it and it's now a patchwork of holes, precariously hanging material and the structures skeleton, which all draws your eye to the final mosaic at the centre of ceiling with a hammer and sickle encircled by a quote from the Communist Manifesto stating, 'Proletarians of all countries, unite!'.

    This trip has provided a number of incredible highlights, but gaining access and spending a couple of hours exploring the UFO on my own was probably the single best thing I have done on the trip, providing a real sense of serendipity and achievement as I later heard that the next day police were stationed there guarding the access hole until it could be repaired.

    I did a number of other things over the rest of the day, including visiting a traditional village, a waterfall and a fortified township close to Ternovo, but it all paled into insignificance.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Bulgaria, Bulgarien, Bulgaria, Bulgarye, Bɔlgeria, ቡልጌሪያ, بلغاريا, ܒܘܠܓܐܪܝܐ, Bolqariya, Балгарыя, България, Buligari, বুলগেরিয়া, བུལ་ག་རི་ཡ།, Bugarska, Bulgària, Bulharsko, Bùlgarskô, Блъгарїꙗ, Тăнайçи Пăлхарĕ, Bwlgaria, Bulgaria nutome, Βουλγαρία, Bulgarujo, Bulgaaria, بلغارستان, Bulgarii, Bulgarie, Bulgarije, An Bhulgáir, Bulgàiria, બલ્ગેરિયા, Bulgariya, בולגריה, बल्गारिया, Bołharska, Bilgari, Bulgária, Բուլղարիա, Búlgaría, ブルガリア共和国, ბულგარეთი, Болгария, ប៊ុលហ្គារី, ಬಲ್ಗೇರಿಯನ್, 불가리아, بولگاریا, Bulgari, Bulugariya, Bölgarije, Biligari, ບັງກາເລຍ, Bulgarija, Bulgārija, Biolgaria, Бугарија, ബള്‍ഗേറിയ, बल्गेरिया, ဘူဂေးရီးယား, Borgeriya, Bhulgariya, Bolgària, Bolguarii, ବୁଲଗେରିଆ, Болгари, Bułgaria, Bulgarìa, بلغاریه, Bulgarya, Buligariya, Булгария, बुल्गारिया, Bulugarïi, බල්ගේරියාව, Bolgarija, Bulgaariya, Bullgari, Бугарска, பல்கேரியா, బల్గేరియా, Булғористон, บัลแกเรีย, Pokalia, Bulgaristan, بۇلغارىيە, Болгарія, بلغاریہ, Bun-ga-ri (Bulgaria), Bulgarän, Bulgåreye, בולגאריע, Orílẹ́ède Bùùgáríà, 保加利亚, i-Bulgaria

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