A Wedding in Bulgaria

Early this year, one of my cousins told me she had to go to Sofia, Bulgaria for a friend’s wedding and that she was hoping her Dad or another cousin would go with her.  My ears perked up and I offered that, if neither could go, I may be able to go with her.  Bulgaria, that’s a place I remember from my childhood, pre-Berlin Wall fall, as a very Stalinist-type of state (some say even more than the USSR itself), tight with the USSR right along with East Germany; a big mystery to me as a curious child.  Wow, how would the place feel close to 20 yrs post Wall fall…

Bulgaria, Sofia, national theatre, alexander nevsky cathedral, orthodox church, view from above, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Bulgarian National Theatre and a smallish Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the background

As Usual, Planning Is Half the Fun

About a month and a half ago, my cousin confirmed that indeed she didn’t have any takers yet on the trip so I signed up for it.  Cool.  Bulgaria.  Knowing not much really about Bulgaria, my mind filled up with the possibilities.  And there were intereting places nearby that I wouldn’t mind exploring… Macedonia, Serbia, Romania.  Could I fit something else in the trip…  (Oh, and how would it be not only with a place whose language I didn’t speak but also with an alphabet I didn’t understand.)

However, travel logistics ended up settling the matter for me.  I planned to use a free ticket with my frequent flyer miles but the options were limited.  First, the miles couldn’t get me all the way to Sofia and back given limited seat availability for free tickets.  Second, it sure was going to be nicer if at least my cousin and I coincided on the flight into and out of Bulgaria to ease the planning and to not travel alone.  Third, the return flight to Atlanta offered the option of going elsewhere as a complement to the visit to Bulgaria.  While I had time to research things, I also didn’t have all the time I would have needed to explore 100 different ways to do the trip.  So, of the possible ports of departure from Europe, Copenhagen offered both a convenient itinerary plus getting to see a place I had not been to, perfectly meeting requirements!

I had much less time to research what I should do while in Bulgaria outside of the wedding-related events but I managed to get a travel guide and do some brief reading…  Fortunately, the wedding folks had connected all travelers with an apartment renting company in Sofia that they knew so that solved our accommodations logistics – always cheaper to stay in an apartment plus it offers the benefits of full kitchen, washer/dryer, TV with cable, and wi-fi.  Not bad for 26 euro/night per person!

The Wedding Events

The main purpose of the trip to Bulgaria was the wedding so I will describe a little bit what that was like.  The bride, who lives in the US, is Bulgarian-born while the groom is American.  The wedding, therefore, was planned quite similar to what I am used to.  My cousin was the maid of honor so that immediately placed us in the pre-wedding events (parties, rehearsal).  The bride picked us up at the airport and took us to our apartment which was located in ulitsa Gurko.  A smaller but busy side street in Sofia quite close to key government buildings and the key tourist attractions of Alexander Nevsky Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the National Theatre and other key sites.

Friday night the bachelor and bachelorette parties took place.  Sorry, I can’t tell you what happened.  You know the rule… what happens in Sofia, stays in Sofia…  Actually, since there was only a small group of visitors attending the wedding (and a couple of those never made it due to the ash-related airspace closures), the bachelor party was a dinner with the father, father-in-law, uncle-in-law and brother-in-law.  Since my cousin was going to be busy the entire day, the bride offered me participating in the bachelor party though I had not yet met the groom (and had just met the bride at the airport).  Knowing I had nothing better to do and wondering how it would be, I decided to go.  We drove to the outskirts of town to the Eleganza Hotel (a nice hotel in case you are looking outside of the city) to eat at its restaurant since the in-laws knew the owner.  The food and restaurant were very nice and we enjoyed good conversation (at least, those of us who shared a common language since some of the inlaws didn’t speak English; I assume they had a good conversation among themselves!).  I avoided drinking rakia as I knew it could get out of hand given how one of the inlaws was downing it…   It was good to meet the groom and his dad since I was going to be seeing them the next couple of days and I was very glad I went.  From what I hear, the bachelorette party consisted of spending a whole day in a salon, having some drinks and other entertainment.

Saturday was time for the rehearsal.  The wedding church was Saint Sofia, a beautiful church close to the larger Alexander Nevsky Church.  After the church, we went for coffee at the Cafe Vienna next door to finish discussion of logistics, etc.  That evening, we all met up at a nice pizza restaurant outside the city center.  I had grown to love the shopska salad so I had that and a pizza that I shared with my cousin.  The shopska salad is cucumbers, tomatoes, dill and a large serving of sirene cheese, a white cheese made from cow and sheep milk (or so we were told).  I think it was my favorite culinary discovery for the trip!

The Wedding

I got to the church 5-10 mins before it was supposed to start but, not seeing anyone and after confirming in my mind that I was indeed at the right place, I moseyed over to see the magnificent Alexander Nevski Church.  I was not going to have time to explore it in detail but at least I wanted a mental picture.  It is such an amazing church on its exterior yet quite austere inside for such an imposing structure.  The juxtaposition may not have been accidental, I suppose.

Anyhow, back to the wedding since that is what this blog entry is about…  Not being orthodox and not speaking Bulgarian kept me from understanding all that was going on but the ceremony seemed rich in tradition and a high reliance on everything 3.  The rings were crossed by a wedding party member in front of the groom and bride 3 times before they were placed on their final spot on the respective hands of the couple.  The couple walked around the altar 3 times.  The crowns they were to wear were crossed 3 times too.  The priests’ garments were bright orange and gold, pretty spectacular.  The bride looked gorgeous.  The wedding party stood behind the couple in line the entire ceremony.  And the guests stood the entire ceremony.

Petals were thrown at them as they walked outside of the church and a wedding party member passed around sweets on a tray in front of the church.  All part of the traditions and I liked them.  The greeting line for the couple and key wedding party members was held right outside the church before the couple did the pictures.  People brought flowers that they handed the bride.  An old lady was walking around the crowd asking for money until she figured out that her best strategy was to stand at the end of the greeting line right after the bride and groom.  It was hilarious and a good fast assessment of her market’s conditions!

The Reception

Before the reception, we headed to the Arena di Serdica Hotel not far from the church.  It is a magnificent hotel built on top of old Roman ruins (the town was called Serdica back then; I didn’t know but Sofia is one of the oldest capitals in Europe).  The lower levels of the hotel below the lobby open up to the lobby so everyone can see the Roman ruins below the hotel.  The cocktail was held at the lowest level among the ruins and with a band of musicians playing classical music.  It was a perfect setting for the post-wedding cocktail.

Sofia, Bulgaria, Serdica, hotel, Roman ruins, history, architecture, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The basement of the hotel kept the Roman ruins uncovered – great ambiance!

From there, once the bridal party arrived and partook, we left for another hotel to the reception.  The hotel was in the city but a little beyond Alexander Nevsky.  The meal was phenomenal (I had a rabbit-based appetizer and fish for the main course).  Traditional music alternated with music I knew from the States and Latin America making the party quite fun.  The traditional flower bouquet toss took place as well as the local “bread contest” between the couple.  In this contest a massive piece of bread is placed above the couple’s heads and they must wrestle it from each other.  Whoever takes the largest piece will “rule” the household.  The groom won and I heard the bride say “I am not happy”.  🙂

I greatly enjoyed getting to go to a wedding in Bulgaria even if the wedding was a blend of cultures.  In this global world, this will become more and more the norm but I was pleased to see local traditions will not die off any time soon!  Cheers to the happy couple!


  1. Bulgaria is amazing !!! I like it !

  2. If you are in Atlanta, I believe there is a Bulgarian market in the area called Malincho. They sell some of the best sirens (white cheese) you can get outside of Bulgaria.

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