I'll admit it: I basically knew nothing about Bulgaria before my first trip to Eastern Europe.
All I knew was that it had a few pretty monasteries that I wanted to visit.
And that's it.
I purposely didn't do too much research into my summer destinations. I did enough to know where I was going, and where those places were located in each country. But I didn't want build up expectations that might leave me disappointed.
So I stayed blissfully ignorant about Bulgaria right up until we crossed the border from Romania.
Well, was I ever in for a surprise!!
Beautiful things I loved in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is an extremely beautiful Balkan country, and I'd like to share some of it with you! Here are all the beautiful things I loved in Bulgaria:
1. The countryside
Bulgaria has extremely gorgeous countryside, with everything from snow-capped mountains to beaches along the Black Sea coast. I knew Bulgaria was going to be agricultural and all, but I was absolutely not prepared for its stunning landscapes!
2. Really cool cities
While Sofia may not be much of a looker, other Bulgarian cities really wowed me.
Like Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria's medieval capital) with its narrow cobbled streets and old fortress on the hill. Even though it was almost unbearably hot when I visited, I couldn't get enough of the views here.
And Bansko, a ski city during the winter months, was also fun. It's quiet and charming during the summer months.
And Plovdiv was memorable, too, with its history and colorful buildings.
And the villages we visited – like Gorno Draglishte – were also extremely beautiful and bucolic.
3. The history
Bulgaria has ties to many different empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans. Plovdiv, for example, has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins I've ever seen!
4. Rila Monastery
The place I was most looking forward to visiting in Bulgaria was Rila Monastery, the largest and most well-known Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. I first heard about this monastery in a book, and had dreamed for years of visiting myself.
It was even more amazing in person than I could have hoped, with its painted frescoes and mountain surroundings.
5. Friendly locals
Even though I could only communicate with most Bulgarians I met through pantomime, I found the locals in Bulgaria to be incredibly kind and welcoming.
6. Bulgarian pride
And lastly, I loved how much Bulgarians love their country. There's an attitude there that exudes pride for a country that many people have barely even heard of. From guesthouse owners to minibus drivers, I had a sense that everyone we met was really happy to have us there, and to have the chance to show off their country to us.
It was this pride and attitude that helped me forgive Bulgaria it's little failings and fall a little bit in love with it, too.
Bulgaria definitely isn't on the usual tourist track in Europe. And that's exactly how it should be, really. It's not a place made for mass tourism; it's nowhere near as developed as Romania, even.
But for those curious enough and willing to step off the beaten path, it's a country that's incredibly rewarding to travel through.
READ NEXT: 8 Things You Might Not Know About Bulgaria
Would YOU like to travel to Bulgaria?