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Bulgarian Surprise

Written by: Karyn Planett (Alumni and Lifelong Learner)

OK, so there weren’t any pyramids.  Oh, wait, that’s not right.  Bulgaria does have pyramids (kinda).  Visually they’re rather different than those in Cairo but pyramids all the same (actually, they’re burial mounds).  And those students who explored the countryside might have seen them scattered about.  But, let’s review.

SAS cancelled the summer semester’s call in Egypt due to the political unrest across the region.  The news was hard to take because Egypt, and all that is wonderful and magical about this destination, could have been the highlight of the summer session.  Instead, students experienced Bulgaria with a 4-day call in Varna, one of the country’s most popular Black Sea resorts.  Professors scrambled to adjust their important lectures.  The field office worked long and hard organizing shore side adventures.  And, the wheels were in motion to offer the finest experience possible to the 670 students aboard the MV Explorer. Here’s how the journey unfolded.

US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick

The US Ambassador to Bulgaria came aboard upon arrival and gave us a briefing about the current political, economic and social issues in this country.  He was joined by the US Consul General and the US Ambassador to Serbia.  After that, everyone vanished to explore the country.  Among the many day-trip options offered was a visit to a typical village on the Doubroudzha Plain where students saw the traditional way of life and enjoyed home-cooked food.  200 took a jeep safari to the Batovata area while others saw the somber yet hopeful reality of life in a Roma (gypsy) community.  A glimpse at life under the Communist rule was evident to those who took this FDP tour to remnants of the past.

Those who explored the city of Varna proper visited the Roman Thermae, two museums (the Ethnographic and the Archaeological) as well as the Orthodox Cathedral that dates back to 1880.  Just outside of town were other important sites including the Stone Forest and the Thracian and Christian caves in Golden Sands National Park as well as the Aladja Monastery. Burgas was the site of the mud baths offering smooth skin to all who enjoyed the experience.

Other adventures included a cooking class, a trip to view the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Madara Horseman.  But students taking overland and overnight options to Sofia; Veliko Tarnovo and Tryavna; Plovdiv and the US Embassy Home Stay in Sofia got a bigger picture and better understanding of this exciting country. The icing on the cake came from the summer music festival taking place in Varna while we were there as well as the filming of Bulgaria’s first season of the “X-Factor” TV show.  Sadly, it seemed that 4 days here were far too short and served only as a warm invitation for a return visit someday.  We’ll see Cairo another day.



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