For four years, between 2006 and 2010, I lived in China. I enjoyed my stay in the Middle Kingdom immensely. There were innumerable reasons as to why I loved it so much. There was the fantastic history and culture that seemed to be on show at almost every turn. There was the unbelievable growth that you could, quite literally, see taking place around. There was also, of course, the food. I ate so many wonderful and unusual things there. These were some of the major reasons I loved China. However, there was also. One other that played a major role in my love of the country: the cost of living. It was possible to live like a king on a relatively modest outlay.
There are countless examples that I could throw out to illustrate the above point. However, to save time, I will keep it to a mere handful. First of all, I rented an apartment of over 120 square meters for the princely sum of 200USD per month. I would pay 10USD for dinner and consider it expensive. I could take a taxi for over 100 kilometers and pay 20Euro. Naturally, when I moved first to Istanbul and later to Nice, I was close to having a heart-attack at some of the prices. I now pay three times the price for an apartment 25% of the size. A 5km taxi ride from the airport to my apartment costs me 30 Euro. And, if I pay 50Euro for dinner for two, I consider it expensive. When I took my trip to Bulgaria, I could not help but feel like I was back in China. The lingering effects of the Socialist system may have accounted for part of this, but the cost of living also went a long way.
Let me start with a little anecdote that will illustrate this. For the first three days of our trip, my girlfriend and I stayed with her parents in their village in the countryside. After that, we decided to take a trip to the coast and to enjoy the Black Sea city of Varna. Unfortunately, as we left, I forgot to pick up a bag containing all our shoes. So, we arrived in Varna with just the flip-flops we were wearing. These were great for the beach, but not so good for dinner or for bars. So, we headed into the city to do a little shopping. It proved to be an absolute marvel. Suddenly, I was paying Chinese prices again. We visited four or five shoe shops. I bought a pair of leather loafers for around 10 Euros in the second. In the final shop - Paulo Boticelli, which is one of my girlfriend's favourite brands - we got bogged down as my girlfriend and her cousin tried on around 9,000 pairs of shoes (This may be a slight exaggeration, but it felt this way). Finally, she had it down to two pairs. There was much debating. Each pair was tried several times and showcased in front of a mirror. Eventually, as my patience dissipated, I shouted, "How much are they?" To my surprise, the two pairs combined cost less than 25 Euros. I bought both so as to get us out of the shop as quickly as possible.
This little anecdote probably says just as much about me and my girlfriend as it does about Bulgaria. But, I found it a fantastically cheap place to visit. It was cheap to go shopping, it was cheap to eat and cheap to find accommodation. The one caveat I would add here is that this is true for mainly Bulgarain things. If you go shopping, Bulgarian brands are far cheaper than their foreign counterparts, for which you can expect to pay foreign prices. The same is true for food and drink. If you eat in a restaurant that serves Bulgarian food, you can pay less than 20 Euros for a splendid dinner for two. Similarly, a bottle of Bulgarian beer or a shot of local rakia (a strong spirit) will cost around 1 Euro. If you head to a foreign style restaurant or plump for Heineken, Budweiser or imported wine, the prices rise dramatically.
Having visited Bulgaria with my girlfriend, I was lucky enough to be directed to the best Bulgarian places and to enjoy an extremely economical visit.