Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Travel Update IV - Bolgrad, Ukraine (5th June, 2012)


Several days ago, whilst travelling on the overnight train from Kiev to Odessa, (or Kyiv to Odesa, I don't care...), I met a man. His name was Genaid and, strangely, he spoke fluent Bulgarian. I asked him if he was Bulgarian. He was not. I asked him if he'd lived there. He had not. 'How come you speak such bloody good Bulgarian then?' I asked, (in Bulgarian not quite as good as his). Then he told me the story.

Back in the 18th cetury, Catherine the Great had just conquered the region known then as Bessarabia and wanted people to come and settle in it. Many Bulgarians, at the time rather miserable under Ottoman rule, took up the offer and moved there en masse. The region in which they settled was centred around the city which they built, the City of the Bolgars or Bol-grad. They settled and became  part of the local landscape, passing from Tsarist rule to Romanian and then Soviet before finally emerging into independent Ukraine. However, in their homes and on the streets they still use Bulgarian.

With my inerest in all things Bulgar, I knew that this was a place that I had to visit and so here I am. Bolgar is a sleepy little place of 12,000 souls with three churches, (one used to be a synagogue), and two statues of Lenin. The people are friendly and genuinely surprised o find a tourist in their midst, particularly one who speaks to them in their own tongue, (albeit badly). I got a guided tour of the museum and then asked to sign the guidebook. I was the only visitor not from the former Warsaw Pact.

And so greetings to you all from a Ukraine that is not very Ukrainian. Tomorrow it will be even less so, I'm off to the poorest country in Europe... Moldova.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt


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