Report on Bulgaria 2004
Tips & Traps - things you need to know
Money: never, ever change your money in one of the many, many "exchange" offices spread around the Black Sea coast. They are total rip-offs, as your tour guide will no doubt warn you. They are totally legal and licensed but whilst they might advertise a price of 2.9 levs to the British Pound, after their "deductions" you'll get little more than a straight one-to-one. I call it legal stealing. Avoid them at all costs.
Instead, change you money in your hotel, who give a good rate (mine gave me 2.84 which was about as high as I could find, with no commission.) You might have to take your passport when changing money, but you won't in your own hotel.
Finally, even worse than the "exchange bureau" are street touts. They are not licensed, are totally illegal and will steal your money as soon as look at you. They give you forged notes, old out-of-date notes, or bits of coloured paper. Don't do it.
I changed some pounds before I left for Bulgaria. These I bought on-line via Tesco's web site but no doubt there are others too (M&S sell levs, but you have to pay for them using an M&S charge card). My Tesco levs were bought at 1.75 levs to the pound with no commission or delivery charge which at least ensured I had some money straight away.
Tipping: It's more or less expected here too, but don't go mad. The "average" Bulgarian might make a couple of hundred pounds a month, so a tip of even 1 Lev is not to be sneezed at. The coach driver normally got 2 levs as we got off the excursion coach which probably mounted up to a tidy sum. But of course the tourist season is short in Bulgaria (mid May - mid September) so I guess they try and squirrel it away.
In bars, if you're just buying a couple of drinks you can leave a 50 stotinki coin. If you can't pronounce "stotinki" then call them "stinkies" which all British tourist seem to do. Incidentally, those 1,2 and 5 stotinki coins are worthless even for tips. Best advice I can give is to chuck 'em away!
Toilets: In modern hotels, bars and restaurants they will look similar to British toilets, although you will have to pay 50 stinkies to use them (about 15 pence). Keep a good supply of 50 stinkie coins on you!
Out and about expect to find the hole-in-the-ground variety for which the French are famous. Worse for women of course. We used a modern toilet wherever we could find one and "hung on" if all we could find was the hole in the ground.
Taxis: there are two sorts of taxi. Cheap ones and Rip Off ones. The cheap ones charge about 0.45lv per kilometre. The Rip Offs charge treble that.
Always ask what the price will be before getting into a taxi. It's better to pay a couple of levs more for a trip to Varna (eg 15 levs instead of 13 levs) than find out that a short trip within Golden Sands can cost (wait for it) 36 levs from one of the Rip Off boys.
How do I know this? Have a guess. I wish I'd followed my own advice above and asked before taking that taxi ride.
At the time of travel (August 2004) the exchange rate was 2.84 levs to the pound for the entire trip.
10 levs = £3.50
20 lv = £7.00
25 lv = £8.50
40 lv = £14.00
50 lv = £17.60
100 lv = £35.00
A beer costs about 1.5 lev.
A meal can be had for 6 lv. An expensive meal can be had for 12 lv.
Bus ride from Golden Sands to Varna costs 1.5 lv.
The singular is LEV. The plural is LEVA (although I use the English convention of using "levs" on this web site).