Practical info

Getting to Bulgaria

Many airlines operate direct daily flights from Heathrow to Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, which is around 150 miles west-south of Veliko Turnovo. Regional airports offer routes involving a transfer at a European hub such as Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Paris or Prague. Direct flight times are around three hours, and, with a little shopping around, currently (winter 2003/4) expect to pay from ?168.50 (British Airways from Heathrow daily) to ?250 for an economy return with a scheduled airline. Use a good travel agent or an internet service such as Deckchair or Airline Network (see Links) to find the best prices. We hope that soon some of the low cost airlines will add Sofia to their destinations, but as yet not. Cheap charter flights may also be found to Varna, Bulgaria's largest resort on the Black Sea, which is about 150 miles East of Veliko Turnovo.

Sofia has a newly refurbished airport, and security, customs and immigration formalities are pretty much the same as any other European destination. European Union passport holders do not require a visa to visit Bulgaria.

Cars can be rented from Sofia, although we could help you do it in Veliko Turnovo at very reasonable prices. Bulgarian-based rental companies offer more or less the same standard of vehicles and service as international agencies, but generally at a lower cost.

Taxi services in most towns, and in Veliko Turnovo, are exemplary. The distinctive bright yellow cars seem to be everywhere, and fares are modest, typically around 3 Leva (just over ?1) for a five mile journey. To give you an idea of the level of service, we found a taxi after ten minutes in a northern industrial town at 3am on January 1st 2000. As long as you don't expect new BMW Mercedes, you will be impressed.

Currency

The Bulgarian currency is the Lev (plural Leva), with bank-notes (bills) of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 leva and it is divided into 100 stotinki. The currency is reasonably stable at just under 2 Leva to the Euro, or just less than 3 Leva to the Pound. If and when Bulgaria accedes to the EU, it will adopt the Euro. Many local banks and bureaux de change offices are to be found in the capital and throughout the country. Big international banks also have offices there. The working hours of banks are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. Bureaux de change are usually open until 6 p.m., some work for 24 hours a day. A currency exchange is situated in arrivals at the airport, but generally offers a less competitive rate. Large hotels, also usually offer exchange facilities. There are numerous automated cash dispensers to be found in banks. VISA/Plus, Visa Electron, MasterCard/Cirrus, Maestro, American Express and Diners Club cards are generally accepted. We could advise.

Withdrawals from a cash dispenser are probably the easiest way to bring money to Bulgaria. All withdrawals are received in Bulgarian leva at the inter-bank exchange rate, which is generally better than you will get at the bureaux de change.

Foreign currency may be imported, exported or exchanged freely and in unlimited quantities. Banks, travel agencies and bureaux de change provide exchange receipts for each transaction.

N.B. It is not advisable to exchange money in the streets or outside banks and currency exchange offices despite the advantageous rate which may be offered. The danger of deception is considerable.

Language

The official language is (unsurprisingly!) Bulgarian and uses only the Cyrillic alphabet. To facilitate tourists, road and direction signs in populated areas, resorts, railway stations, airports and along the main motorways are also spelled in Roman letters. Mainly English, German, French, Russian and some other languages are spoken in the country.

A basic understanding of the Bulgarian language is not difficult to master, providing that you learn the Cyrillic alphabet, and very useful to the tourist when it is realised that most names are straightforward phonetic translations. To learn more about Cyrillic, and for some useful Bulgarian phrases, take a look at our language page.

The Bulgarian People

Did you know that in Bulgaria shaking the head from side to side means "yes" and nodding up and down means "no"? This is complicated when you realise that savvy locals might know this to be confusing and "translate" the gesture for you. Listen out for Da (yes) and Ne (no) instead.

Crime against individuals is extremely rare in Bulgaria. It is possible to walk around late at night and never feel threatened. Nevertheless, observe the usual precautions - don't ostentatiously wave money or other valuables around, and you should have no problems. Property crime is more common, and theft of or from cars is not unusual. So if you have a car, lock it up, keep valuables out of view, don't park in secluded places, and make sure your grandmother has a good supply of eggs to suck. We have a space for your car in both of our properties.

In towns, people are generally very used to visiting foreigners. Many are quite friendly; very few are rude or hostile. As with most countries, the typical reaction is indifference. But some small, rural locations are still far enough out of the way, for you to be something of a celebrity, and people who are still fascinated that they should have a foreign visitor.

Before 1989, while enjoying the generous and fraternal protection afforded by the Soviet military, Bulgarians were required to learn Russian. Today, many young Bulgarians study English as a second language, and, although it is a long way from being generally understood, you will find many people, particularly working in tourism, with whom you will be able to make yourself understood.

Climate Bulgaria enjoys a moderate continental climate with Mediterranean influence in the south, with warm summers (2,000 to 2,400 hours of sunshine per year) and cold winters with a good deal of snow. Distinctive climatic seasons are still to found. Expect plenty of sun, and temperatures in the 30's from May to September. Winter brings snow, and (well, quite often) crisp sunny days.

Food and Drink

Bulgaria has a strong tradition of fresh, wholesome food, with fresh vegetables, yoghurt and cheese being used in many delicious creations. Lots of garlic, onions, spices and herbs. A salad and rakia (Bulgarian spirit) are the traditional start of a meal. Something you should certainly try! Highly recommended are the Shopska salad, Banitza, Chushka biurek, all mouth-watering vegetarian dishes. There are also lots of meat dishes, with stewed vegetables in terra-cotta pots. All the ingredients are FRESH and that is why the food is good and tasty. All the usual international fare - pizzas, pasta, burgers, Chinese, Indian, Arab, etc. is also available, and pretty good too. For a list of places to eat in Veliko Turnovo and to see more about Bulgarian food, click on Food and drink.

Health and Medical Service

Bulgaria has a well organised public health service (with twice the number of medical doctors per head of population as the UK!) Free first aid and consultation in case of an emergency.

Telecommunications

International dialling code for Bulgaria - 359, for Sofia - 359 2, for Veliko Turnovo - 359 62. Direct telephone communication from Bulgaria to countries in Europe, Asia and Africa is possible from Betcom or Bulgarian Telecommunication Company phone booths, with phone cards. The code for UK is 0044. Phone call, telegram and fax services are offered by the Central Post Office in the capital and in any major town. Mobile coverage is good, but check that your network has an agreement to operate in Bulgaria.

Local time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 in Winter). Daylight saving is the same as the UK, so Bulgaria is always 2 hours ahead.

Important telephone numbers for all built-in areas of the country:

166 - Police / Road patrols 160 - Fire Brigade
146 - Emergency Road Service
150 - Emergency Medical Aid
120 - wake up call

Electricity supply: 220 V, 50 Hz, compatible with all European appliances.
Bulgaria uses the vaguely universal-with-a-mallet continental European-style two pin sockets. UK adapters are available in our properties.

Roads: Driving is on the right. Speed limits:
- residential areas - 50 km/h
- main roads - 90 km/h
- motorways - 120 km/h

Public Holidays

1 January - New Year
3 March - Liberation Day
1 May - Labour Day
Late April/May - Easter Sunday & Monday
6 May - St. George's Day
24 May - National Culture Day
6 September - Union Day
22 September - Independence Day
1 November - Day of National Revival
25 December - Christmas Day

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