Food in Bulgaria

I am a big foodie, there is no doubt about it. So when I learned that I was moving to Bulgaria, almost instantaneously, whilst my parents worried about things like my accommodation, I worried about the food. What would I cook? What ingredients would be available? Would I have to export in mass all the Cadbury’s that I usually eat?

I was looking forward to my first trip to the supermarket in Bulgaria, not only because shopping for food is my favourite pastime , but to see what there would be on offer. My first step was to choose a supermarket.

Bulgaria like any other country has several supermarkets, surprisingly one of these is Lidl which we also have in the UK. However, after a couple of weeks I realised that this is considered to be the supermarket for the more well-off people. Although, food prices in comparison to the UK still tend to be cheaper as the government subsides the cost of food in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, some slightly cheaper supermarkets are Kaufland and Billa. Billa, however, has less variety than Kaufland, which tends to be the cheapest supermarket with greater variety. Metro is another well-known ‘supermarket’
although it leans towards being more of  a cash and carry, selling a significant number of English foods. However, don’t get your hopes up, there’s still no Cadbury’s!

 

 

Overall, you can still cook exactly what you would back in the UK, but your taste buds might have to adjust slightly. Firstly Bulgarian cheese tastes completely different to the cheese we’re used to in the UK. It’s a lot more salty and for some unknown reason, also significantly more expensive! Bread in Bulgaria is no where in the league of Warburtons or Hovis, its much firmer, grainier and goes out of date much more quickly! Not my first choice. You learn to change your preferences when it comes to snacks as well, Bulgarians are huge fans of  croissants and Milka chocolate. Although the croissants were one change I was more than happy to make.

Something which also took some getting used to is the water situation. No one drinks tap water. First of all its hard water, which for me being from the north with our good old soft water was a shock in itself. So bottled water it was, its much cleaner and safer to drink, the norm is to buy it in big drums which contain about 11L of water. Water is cheap so this isn’t much of an issue to be honest, but it can get quite annoying when you run out of water and opening the tap isn’t an option.

For those people who only eat halal or kosher meat, there are several Turkish butchers that supply this. Although, it’s usually provided on a first come first serve basis, as deliveries are made on certain days coming in from Turkey, after which you have to wait until the following week to buy some more meat.

As with any country, eating out is a popular option. Bulgaria being in such close proximity to Turkey and Greece, means that traditional dishes such as kebabs and shwarma have found their way into Bulgarian take aways and restaurants. Much to my disappointment, the classic British dish of  Fish and Chips has been unable to find its way to Bulgaria. The most annoying thing about eating out in Bulgaria, and I’m sure others will agree, is the waiting time, it can honestly take a eons before your food arrives!

 

 

Travelling to Brussels

On my way back from Romania, I had a thirteen hour stop over at Brussels Charleroi Airport. Instead of wiling away the hours doing nothing productive, I decided to be a little adventurous and venture out of the airport to the centre of Brussels.

I pre-booked a shuttle which would take me from the airport to Brussels centre and then back. This was no doubt the most cost-effective and convenient way of getting to the centre. The shuttles were extremely punctual, and provided a rather comfortable fifty-five minute journey to the centre. My aim was to get an action packed four or five hours in the centre really getting to know the city, before heading back to the airport. It was by chance that I came across a free ‘Walking Tour of Brussels City‘, it was to start at the Grand Place and work its way around the city, lasting two and a half hours.

The shuttle dropped me off at the Bruxelles-Midi/ Brussel-Zuid Railway Station and from there I navigated myself to the Grand Place, the starting point of the tour. After walking back and forth on myself for some while, and shouting the odd profanity at my Google Maps navigation, I managed to find my way. On my walk, I was keen to take in my surroundings and experience as much as possible in the few hours which I had.

Brussels is beautiful. Gothic style architecture is to be seen everywhere, complemented by French inspired work such as the Cathedral of Brussels where the monarchy host the majority of their ceremonies. You can easily spend hours on end getting lost in the enchanting side streets, which have depths of character, reinforced by the traditional buildings and cobbled streets.

As my whirlwind tour of the city came to an end, it was time to complete the rite of passage, the key to any worthwhile trip to Belgium, consuming a calorific Belgian Waffle. In Brussels you can never be too far from a shop selling this national delicacy, they are sold on every street corner, freshly made, and surprisingly reasonably priced (the average price is 2.5 euros).

Brussels is only a small city with a population of 12 million, so whilst it was definitely a city worth seeing, a few hours was definitely more than enough!

 

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I realised I wasn’t actually lost when I caught this glimpse of the Grand Place from a side street.
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Brussels Cathedral
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The first Stock Exchange of Brussels.
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Galerie du Roi – there are some incredible chocolatiers to be found here!
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Cobbled streets of Brussels

 

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The Adventures of TinTin shown in this street art, are actually the creation of a Belgian Artist.

 

Travelling to Romania

Bulgaria is in the south-east of Europe, it is bordered by Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south, and Macedonia and Serbia to the west. During my first year of studying in Bulgaria, I decided  I wanted to travel as much as possible. I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s true studying abroad you get the travel bug, it inspires you to see more of the world. However, being a student means you have to do it on a budget and that cuts down your options massively. So I decided to be more realistic, and instead try to visit all of the countries which border Bulgaria, starting with Romania.

I did my research, booked my flight and I was on my way. The city which I decided to visit was Oradea, a small city about twenty minutes from the Hungarian border, in the hope that I’d also get to see a bit of Hungary too. I went with an open mind, aware of the fact that a lot of the negatives I had heard about Romania would be rumours as they had been with Bulgaria.

Oradea was beautiful, that is despite the -14 degree temperature, and persistent snow. Being so close to the border of Hungary, there is a clear influence of Hungary under whose rule it has previously been. There are still some signs in Hungarian and the architecture is very much reminiscent of its neighbouring country. Romanians themselves are approachable and friendly individuals, it makes you think twice as to why there is a social stigma surrounding them, advocated by the media. I myself had the most positive experience and enjoyed the city and its people immensely!

Here are a few pictures of the wonderful Oradea, definitely worth a visit.

 

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Living in Bulgaria: How cheap is it really?

When I decided to study abroad cost was a huge consideration. I would be paying my own tuition fees unlike in England, therefore I knew that a country with low living costs would be ideal for me. Luckily for me Bulgaria fully ticked this box. Prior to living in Bulgaria I had heard that Bulgaria was ‘dirt cheap’, so when I arrived I was curious to see whether this was yet another rumour or if there was any truth to this statement.

The price of food is what shocked me the most. Food is super cheap in Bulgaria, whether that’s eating out or buying food from the supermarket it’s roughly half the price or less of that which it would be in England. For example, in England a loaf of bread is somewhere around the £1.50 mark whereas in Bulgaria it’s around £0.40, thats big difference! There are some things that cost almost the same as they would in England but to be honest these are the foods that aren’t typically Bulgarian like, Kelloggs Cereal or Uncle Ben’s Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Transport is also at a bargain. The main mode of transport which I use is taxi, purely because it’s surprisingly well-priced and convenient, taxi fares start from £0.30 and the maximum a taxi should cost you is just under £2.50. Bus fares are at a static price of 1 leva which is the equivalent to roughly £0.45 this price is the same regardless of where you want to go in the city, whether its one stop or ten stops.

In terms of leisure again everything is reasonably priced. A cinema ticket averages around £3 and there is also student discount available, bowling costs £3 each and Go Karting is around £8 for one game which lasts around 45 minutes. In comparison to what you’d pay in England I’d consider this is daylight robbery! Also, the fact that Bulgaria is so rich in history means that there are plenty of hidden gems which you can enjoy for no cost at all. This includes, hiking in the mountains whilst enjoying breath-taking views or visiting local museums and galleries.

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Rita Mountain Hike 

 

In terms of accommodation, again there is no doubt that Bulgaria is significantly cheaper. On average, a well located and modern apartment costs around the £200 per month, in other words, a fraction of the budget you’d set aside for accommodation in England. Most apartments are in a block of flats, in some instances, your rent also covers your internet bill, your building maintenance and security guard.

As an international student, I soon came to realise that the extent to which I found Bulgaria depended entirely on the exchange rate. For example, when I first arrived in Bulgaria the exchange rate was roughly 2.71 leva to every £1, this year however, the exchange rate is slightly  lower at approximately 2.30 leva for every £1. Although this might seem like a minor change it makes all the difference, in simple terms it means you need to spend more money to pay for the exact same things. The fact that I was using a British credit card also didn’t help, with all the exchange rate fees that I was paying every time I withdrew cash.

Earlier this year however, I  came cross a solution, and if you’re from the UK you’re likely to be familiar with it: Metro Bank. The Metro Bank credit card allows you to withdraw cash without having to suffer from the horrific exchange rates which most banks provide. Metro Bank, more often than not, has an exchange rate higher than that on the high street and there’s no transaction fee. As a student living abroad, living in Bulgaria just got a whole lot cheaper!

 

How to: Exams

Before I knew it I was faced with my very first set of exams, and suddenly having to change my own bed sheets didn’t seem like the biggest problem in my life. Exams came out of nowhere, I was so busy settling in and meeting new people, that by the time December exams came by they were the last thing on my mind. Upon reflection I could have done much better in these exams, but you have to learn one way or another and my performance in these exams was exactly that: a learning curve.

When you move on from your GCSE exams to A-Levels, and you feel the jump in how much more work and time you have to put in you feel as though you’ve seen and done it all, surely it can’t get harder than this you think. Well that’s until you face your first set of university exams, that’s how it was for me anyway. Don’t get me wrong I still worked incredibly hard for these exams, but it was completely different, there were no longer any AQA or Edexcel mark schemes to learn from or teachers to pester. I was on my own this time and I was lost.

In Bulgarian universities there is no clear syllabus, no set of recommended academic material and the teachers aren’t all that helpful, in fact they’re not helpful at all. Students help students, and that means there’s a lot of he said she said: “He said you have to learn that, no she said that’s not important at all!’. It was a classic case of the blind leading the blind, and it wasn’t until  I got through this exam session that I realised what the key to doing well in university exams in Bulgaria  was.

So in the hope that I’ll save a few people, here are my top tips to a successful and  somewhat stress free exam session:

  1. Don’t just revise a week before the exam: studying throughout the year means that you have plenty of time to actually understand what you’re studying and you’re already familiar with it, so when it comes to exams you’re actually revising not re-learning. There’s a big difference between the two.

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    Avoid being this person by following Tip No.1 😉
  2. Find out what you need to know: make sure that you’re absolutely certain of what you have to know for the exam, you don’t want any nasty surprises the night before the exam when it could be too late.
  3. Set realistic deadlines: in order to prevent last-minute stress, manage your time from the start, this will mean you have the chance to take regular breaks and relax even the night before the exam.
  4. Don’t attempt all of it once: for example lets take anatomy, you can split it up into theory and practical and focus on each individual part one by one, making it more manageable.
  5. Talk to the people in the year above you: I might even go as far as to say that this is my top tip. This can help dispel any misconceptions and rumours as to what the exam might be like, especially in Bulgaria when you’re told very little of what to expect. It can also be very comforting to speak to someone who’s been in your situation.
  6. Never use anyone else’s notes to revise: everyone revises differently, they write down different points to remember because they remember facts that you might not. As result you won’t get the full picture, and often you’re just left more confused and frustrated than you were.
  7. Use your resources: okay there might not be any official resources but use the internet, library, people in the years above you and teachers if you can. I was surprised at how many reliable and useful websites (KenHubTeachMeAnatomyInnerBody), YouTube channels (KenHubAnatomyZone) and books (GoogleBooks) I found online.
  8. Don’t forget to take a break: this is a mistake I made, you cannot work all day every day, your brain and body just don’t work like that. Regular breaks are crucial to you being able to get through exam sessions, constantly sitting at a desk can drive you insane, and sometimes even mean that you’re less productive than you usually would be.
  9. Something is better than nothing: some days aren’t as productive as others and you have to be prepared for that. Don’t stress yourself out over this, and prevent this stress by accommodating for these type of days by setting a realistic deadline as mentioned. As long as you get some work done its fine, take the rest of the day off and use it productively by giving yourself a break, some days it just isn’t meant to be!
  10. Get your sleep: ‘all nighters’ aren’t always the best decision, believe me I’ve done my fair share! It’s always ideal to get a good 6-8 hours of sleep the night before the exam, to allow yourself to de-stress and enter the exam with a clear mind.

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    Just remember adoption isn’t the only option, just follow the tips above 😉

Grasping the language

My first day at university was rather abrupt. I was told that on the 27th of September I was to enrol at the university and thats exactly what I set out to do. I arrived at the Medical University and joined an endless queue of students, waiting to meet the first year secretary who would be dealing with us. After a long wait I reached the front of the queue where I expected my application would be processed, instead I was told that I was to start my intensive Bulgarian class that was to start in a few hours! It was also at this point that I was told my first month of university would consist of ‘intensive Bulgarian’ lessons, and that lectures and practical lessons would resume after this.

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Let me get straight to the point, intensive Bulgarian lessons were nothing short of intense. Eight hours a day of constant Bulgarian, strictly a half an hour break; no more, a teacher who spoke very very little english and a classroom of eighteen students bored out of their minds. It was hands down the worst introduction to life at university.

This made us all curious as to whether the rest of our subjects would be taught in such a way, and if our decision to study abroad had been a good one after all (I can assure you our other subjects were nothing like this!). During this month of intensive Bulgarian I began to look into the idea of joining societies, in order to meet other students and keep myself sane in the few hours I was not being held captive in Bulgarian lessons.

I have to admit though, that it was during this time that I learnt the most Bulgarian that I have in the two years that I have lived in Bulgaria. This might be down to the fact that this is when I first learnt the cyrillic alphabet, which was no feat! For example, when I first arrived in Bulgaria I ever so confidently read out the word университет – meaning university, pronouncing it as : yuh-huh-nuh-bep-cuh-tet. Only to find out from my teacher that it was actually pronounced: ooh-ni-ver-si-tet.

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The Cyrillic Alphabet 

The Bulgarian language isn’t an easy one, and I had studied nothing like it before. I would often find myself calling home and complaining about Bulgarian, and have family and friends trying to convince me that it would come to me, just give it time. I gave it time. It took a week of constantly learning and relearning letters of the alphabet that I had forgotten, and putting them into practise. I think the only word to describe what it felt like to finally be able to read and write the language is, euphoria. It was liberating to see words that I previously couldn’t read and to be able to read them, just like that.

My First Thoughts

After a 3hr and 15 minute flight, accompanied by my dad for moral support, I arrived in Sofia. I had convinced my self during the duration of the flight to be open minded, to put aside my apprehensions and give Bulgaria a fair chance.

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As we got off the flight and made our way into Sofia Airport, I was slightly taken aback by how small the airport was considering it was the biggest in Bulgaria. We passed through immigration where I had my very first encounter with a Bulgarian person.

We collected our luggage and made our way to the arrivals area where we were greeted by our taxi driver and began our journey to a city about 1 and a half hours away, where I had gained admission at the Medical University. As we sat in the back of the taxi, I tried to take in everything that surrounded me. I immediately noticed how mountainous Bulgaria was in comparison to England, providing some spectacular views (and of course some excellent snapchat material). The language which surrounded me on the billboards, on the radio, advertisements on the sides of cars baffled me. I hadn’t even for a single second given any thought prior to this that the language would be so different to english (yes this might have been a bit of naive considering they use the cyrillic alphabet, but my decision to study in Bulgaria was very last minute!), I already felt out of my depth.

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After a few weeks in Bulgaria, I had somewhat gotten used to the place. I had no choice really, my dad had gone back home and I was thrown into university life. However, having immersed myself in trying to experience as much of this country  and its people as possible meant that I had made plenty of observations.

First of all, the Bulgarians love to smoke. Indoors, outdoors, during the day, during the night, after their meals, during their meals, on the bus, in taxis, and not just the adults. At first this surprised me, it took me a short while to realise that they don’t have the same laws as we do in England, and to add to it all tobacco is shockingly cheap in Bulgaria.

Secondly, and for me this was and still is the hardest thing to get over..Bulgarian fashion. If there was fashion police in Bulgaria, not many people would be roaming the streets. Bulgarians have a real passion for faux fur, they love to wear it in any form that they can mostly on their boots, bags and coats. I also noticed the trainer boots which the majority of girls sport, these shoes come in all sorts of colours and variations but are absolutely hideous.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but notice how historically rich this country was. In every aspect of day to day life there would be something,  or some place that would remind me of the ex-communist country Bulgaria had been, or the influence having been ruled by the Ottoman Empire had left behind.

Yet another observation I had made, was how relaxed and slow paced life was. It was soothing to see people enjoying themselves in ways we don’t see much of in England, using parks, playing chess at communal outdoor tables, stopping for long chats in the street. The slow pace did however from time to time prove to be inconvenient, offices and such take much longer to process paperwork.

Packing for Bulgaria: It’s finally happening.

Before I knew it my application process was complete and my flight to Bulgaria had been booked. I was officially going to be studying medicine in Bulgaria and the manic packing commenced. Not only was I going to university away from home for the first time, but I would also be in another country. The first thought that crossed my mind was that I needed to somehow fit my entire bedrooms contents into my suitcase..I soon came to the realisation that this wasn’t going to be possible.

So like any rational person I prioritised. The list went a little like this:

  1. Clothes & Shoes Food
  2. Clothes & Shoes
  3. Food
  4. Other stuff
  5. Food

I think its all but clear that I was wary of Bulgarian food, not really knowing what to expect, and in hindsight I think I must have had a sixth sense because I really saved myself there. Lets just say Bulgarian food is an acquired taste. I remember also wishing that I’d completely emptied out my wardrobe at home, apart from H&M and Bershka the city in which I study is full of local Bulgarian boutiques; Bulgarian fashion and trends are somewhat different to that which we understand and follow in the UK.

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Within a week of living in Bulgaria I also realised how lucky I’d been to remember to bring an adaptor with me (in Bulgaria in comparison to the UK appliances have two pins and not three). With the straighteners, hair dryers and all the charger cables you’ll bring with you to your new home: Bulgaria, make sure you bring a dozen adaptors. Having one in each socket is a real life-saver, believe me!

Also, making your flat feel like home is vital so bring lots of ‘other stuff’ that will make you feel at hoUni Room .pngme, like pictures of family (I know how cheesy that sounds but honestly sometimes it helps).Away from home, its inevitable to feel home sick so creating a space where you
feel at home away from hom
e can really help.

 

Applying: The Do’s and Don’ts

The application process is undeniably overwhelming, especially if it’s anything like mine! This is usually a last-minute affair as choosing to study abroad isn’t always our first choice and in hindsight I wish that I had been given a few simple do’s and don’ts to save me from the moments of panic, helplessness and time-wasting that I experienced. So here are a few to help you out.

Don’ts

  • Don’t be afraid of studying abroad in Eastern Europe (honestly it’s not as bad as its made out to be!)
  • Don’t believe all the rumours and myths you hear about studying abroad, not all of them are true.
  • Don’t give your money to any middlemen claiming to be able to help you gain admission at a university: if you feel you do not want to apply independently, approach a reliable agency.
  • Don’t apply to a medical university without checking the GMC status (General Medical Counsel) as this may lead to difficulties in the future with being able to use your degree to practise in the UK.

 

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Do’s 

  • Do your research: although this may be stating the obvious this is the most crucial advise. Proper research can dispel misconceptions and allow for a smoother application process.
  • Do go to agency events: these are organised by professionals who know what they’re talking about, so whether you want to apply through an agency or independently you’ll learn a lot. It will also allow you to meet others in a similar situation to you which can be comforting.
  • Do try to apply independently as often it’s not as hard as it seems and can save you a significant amount of money.
  • Do make sure you apply through a reliable agency if this is the option you choose: a few which I would personally recommend for applying to study in Bulgaria are Outreach, Inter HECS and Tutelage.
  • Do visit the university and city in which you’re going to be studying as you might  feel at ease once you’ve seen where you may be studying.