Bulgarian Beginnings: A Stroll in the Park

05/26/2016 02:17 pm ET Updated May 27, 2017

Hello Bulgaria. I have an affinity for Bulgaria -- so overlooked and underappreciated...and so charming in a Slavic way. In my student days I spent lots of time exploring Bulgaria and its capital city Sofia: playing chess in the park, watching paranoid people huddled on street corners talking sports and wishing they could talk politics, seeing locals dutifully lining up to visit waxy figures in public mausoleums. Today, I'm back in Sofia in those same parks where people still gather and the old guys still play chess. But, while it's still one of Europe's poorest countries, Bulgaria is free and, step-by-step, building a new prosperity.

I finished this video with a bandstand in the distance where little schoolgirls were dancing to the latest pop tune. Only later was I reminded that this is the exact spot where the mausoleum of Bulgaria's first communist dictator, Georgi Dimitrov, once stood. This is where the grandparents of those little dancers spent a good part of their rare vacations lining up to view Dimitrov's embalmed body -- the Bulgarian version of Lenin's Tomb.

(Hold on -- this clip is as smooth as a piggyback ride. We're just kicking off a wild ride through Bulgaria and Romania.)


This is Day 44 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.