It was the oddest experience coming into Bulgaria. When we enter a new country, we have the change in language and the change in currency to contend with. For the first time, we had the challenge of a new alphabet as well! We included the photo of our entering Bulgaria with Bulgaria written in the Cryillic alphabet so you can see what we had to deal with. We had an English map so the names on our map did not correspond at all to the names on the road signs. Signs for the larger centres showed the name in the Roman alphabet as well, but none of the smaller towns did. Another strange thing was that instead of the souvenir shops, exchange kiosks, gas stations and hawkers lining the streets when we came into Romania there was... nothing! We passed through the border and drove for about 20 Km through flat farmland and passed only 6 cars in that time. The small part of Bulgaria we drove through was very different from Romania. Where Romania was colourful, noisy, chaotic and crazy, Bulgaria was quieter and more reserved. The houses in the small villages in Bulgaria were generally in better repair but unpainted so remained the dull grey concrete colour rather than the splashes of pink, purple, green and orange we saw in Romania.
There is much more of a European (British?) presence along the Black Sea in Bulgaria than there was in Romania. The hotels were much more modern (we drove through Sunny Beach and it looked like a mini-Las Vegas though all the hotels, shops and restaurants were locked up tight and there was no one around) and there were dozens of real estate offices advertising holiday cottages in English.
The people we met were open and very friendly. We drove into the beautiful village of Nessebar and parked in a big, muddy parking lot beside the fishing harbour. It is certainly inexpensive to travel in E. Europe except when it comes to parking. The lovely old fellow manning the kiosk charged us €4 to park for 2 hours - then offered to let us stay there overnight for free! He also led us by the hand to a restaurant he highly recommended. We ordered fish - and that is what we got. Grilled fish and three slices of lemon that we were charged for! Nessebar is the type of village most people would want to find if they were on a holiday: an old walled city full of old Byzantine churches (some dating back to the 4th and 5th C), old wooden houses with a second story that hangs out over the first and streets so narrow the houses almost touch; fishermen standing along the harbour solving the problems of the world - yet close to the magnificent Sunny Beach about 2 Km away.
Leaving Bulgaria was even more bizarre than entering it. The main highway on the Black Sea between Bulgaria and Turkey is the worst road we have encountered anywhere (and that after having driven through Romania!). We had 60 Km of a buckled, bumpy "highway" that required us to drive at 30 Km/hr and, aside from two very primitive villages, there was nothing but trees and mountains for the whole drive. Half way to the Turkish border, there was a Bulgarian border control in the middle of the forest - we had our passports checked and told to be on our way, shaking our heads at the purpose of a border check 30 Km from the border.
Our impressions of Bulgaria after this very, very short visit were that it is far closer to being a "European nation" than Romania is. Perhaps the Bulgarians are used to following rules so the roads feel far safer for one thing. Another thing that really struck us was the number of luxury vehicles we saw: Mercedes, Audis, BMWs and even a Hummer. We read that the average monthly salary in Bulgaria is $140US so we assume there must be a huge spread between the rich and the poor in this country - no big surprise. We came away feeling very positive about what we had seen of Bulgaria and would really like to return - but perhaps not in the winter the next time!