Maria is one of the most inspiring Bulgarian women I have the privilege of knowing – she travels the world with whatever means necessary, always has a big happy smile on, jumps at every opportunity for adventure and writes about her experiences both whimsically and thoughtfully. Her award-winning book, “203 Travel Challenges” is a great example. Recently, Maria embarked on a brand new adventure – motherhood, and that inspired her to be even more curious about the world
Thanks to Maria I built my very first portfolio, 5 years ago, and now it is still a solid base for my work. I learned a lot about writing from her and was inspired to be more interested in Bulgarian culture and nature. Which is why I am delighted that Maria agreed to answer a few questions for #POEE and thus became the first of a series of conversations, which I’ll publish here.
– Who are you?
– I’m Maria, a 30-something traveling disaster from Bulgaria who enjoys everything seemingly bland and banal when it comes to traveling only to prove that the magic is hidden right before our eyes if we dare to scratch a bit under the surface. I also enjoy fortune telling in all its forms and I can tell you your next destination by the figures of the sediment of a cup of Turkish coffee. I do it for fun but once I got a free beer for it!
– What do you think of, when you think of Eastern Europe?
Eastern Europeans are a bit like cockroaches – we are indestructible and can thrive no matter the circumstances. And when I say “circumstances”, I mean Eastern European circumstances. Local conflicts, corrupted politicians and low standard of living, may look like a tragedy to foreigners but we seem to have become blind for it, and this is one of our greatest problems. We can also wash down huge amounts of alcohol (you can check statistics about the most drinking nations, top 10 is mostly Eastern Europe) which may have partly caused our political blindness. On the other hand, it’s almost impossible for a foreigner to leave without having tried their host’s homemade brandy. Yes, we are heavy drinkers, and no, you can’t leave before you finish your third glass of brandy.
– You have the traveler spirit, so you’ve interacted with many people from different cultures, around the world. Are there any typical traits just for People of Eastern Europe?
– As much as I hate generalizing about people, I have to admit that we have unique features, both positive and negative. Pick any Eastern European, give them 300 euro and tell them to survive as long as they could with it without sacrificing the joie de vivre – entertainment, going out with friends, going on vacation… Then get yourself some popcorn and enjoy the show (meanwhile taking notes, since you will have a lot to learn). It’s not about pinching pennies what we do; it’s a talent worth being taught at foreign universities!
– And what are the similarities between us and “the rest of the world?”
– People are people no matter where they live. We love and hate like every other human being on this planet.
– When I travel outside of Europe, I’m often the first Bulgarian people have met. Why do you think that is?
– Bulgarians have only recently opened up to the world. Low-cost airlines and backpacking arrived in Bulgaria around ten years ago, we’ve been a member of the EU for 12 years (meaning traveling in Europe without visas and complications), and a middle class has started to emerge in the past few years. Many Bulgarians, especially the elderly, still see traveling abroad as something unthinkable like it was in the Communist era.
– You and I have discussed how for “Westerners” certain areas of South America and Southeast Asia seem extremely cheap. However, for us – Bulgarians and Eastern European people, that’s not necessarily the case. Could you tell us about your reaction when you hear someone saying how “cheap” a certain destination is?
– The parts of the world generally considered low-cost backpacking destinations have more or less the same living standard as ours. If an American or a German can thrive on 50$ a day in Southeast Asia and still have enough money to travel for months, for People of Eastern Europe, this is a considerable amount. If you are of the former, don’t forget to thank the gods of travel for your luck and good fortune.
– What do you think each of us can do, to make Eastern Europe more popular internationally?
– When abroad, you are Eastern Europe. Many people haven’t heard of Bulgaria or Latvia, or Serbia, but they know where Eastern Europe is. Be nice, promote your country’s hidden gems (there’s a chance your whole country is a hidden gem for your new friends) and tell stories about your country. Nothing leaves a more lasting trace in one’s mind than a good story. And one last thing: there’s no need to get angry if people don’t know where your country is. How many Eastern Europeans can guess on what continent Surinam is situated?
– Are we proud of our Eastern European culture?
We are both super proud of it and neglecting it in favor of Western pop culture, just ike it happens in many emerging countries. I believe a little more national/regional pride would go a long way.
– Your book, “203 Travel Challenges” made Top 10 independent authors of the publisher BGkniga. And what is your top challenge for People of Eastern Europe?
Traveling is better when you have given yourself a set of fun challenges. Such as going as far as you can make it with 100 euro, or skinny-dipping in as many lakes as possible before you turn 30. But if I have to make it Eastern European-specific, let it be “Inspire as many foreigners who haven’t heard of your country to visit it.”
– What do you think will be Eastern Europe’s image, by the time your son starts traveling the world on his own?
Hopefully, 20 years from now, the world will be a better place with less prejudice and more people roaming freely, instead of paying university tuition fees. I do believe traveling is the best education and I hope people will get more educated about Eastern Europe.
– Let’s finish the interview with something from the heart 🙂
Life is short. Don’t leave for tomorrow the happiness you can feel today.
Would you like to share something about Eastern Europe or answer a few questions for a #POEE interview? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly here, on Facebook or Instagram.
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