Bucket List Report: Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games Bulgaria

Photograph by Petar Petrov/AP Images
Photograph by Petar Petrov/AP Images

When it comes to kitsch phrases like bucket list that get throw around more than cigarette butts at Goth night I want to cringe a little. But when you hit the point where your places to see list outweighs your time and budget list you’ve got to file those bad boys somewhere else. Hence, Shameless Traveler’s first ever Bucket List Report.

My Bucket List Report is a bi-weekly list of things I’d like to see when I get done seeing all the other things I’ve already planned to see for the next five to fifty years. This Earth is full of too much awesome and we’ve got too little time, fact.

For my first installment I’ve chosen an event, because in my experience if you really want to indulge in the richness of a culture then you should show up when they are having a big ass party to celebrate something. It’s never let me down. Whether it’s Songkran in Chiang Mai Thailand, a Victory Day Military Parade in St. Petersburg Russia, or Vappu in Finland there is really nothing like being in a different country for a unique festival or holiday.  Of course to hit these events timing is everything.

The event in particular I’m chalking up this week is the Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games in Bulgaria. It’s got all the things I’m looking for in a place to visit, a country I really don’t know much about, thousands of locals running around in crazy masks in the vein of ancient ritualism and tradition, and a chance to dress up myself in a crazy Bulgarian mask and dance around bonfires with food and drink. Sounds pretty sweet right?

Photo courtesy of Surva.org
Photo courtesy of Surva.org

Founded in 1966 this festival has grown into an international phenomenon with over 6,000 people representing every folklore region of Bulgaria. Not only that, but the festival also doubles as a contest where masquerade aficionados are coming not just from the four corners of Bulgaria, but also from other parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia descending to compete for top masquerade status. Aside from nightly bonfires and excessive amounts of traditional Bulgarian food and drink overflowing the streets the highlight of the Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games is the two-day long parade featuring all of the competing masquerade companies from around the world.  Locals believe that seeing all the masks in person and touching them for good luck and good health can leave a person feeling re-energized and virile after the festival. That sounds way better than a hangover.

I want to hug one! Photo by Charles Fréger
I want to hug one! Photo by Charles Fréger

Where and When

Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games always takes place during the last weekend of January (hence the bonfires and drink). It doesn’t get that nippy though and a jacket will be enough as the temperatures usually stay between 5-10 C/ 40-50 F. The festival takes place in the historic city of Pernik that rests on the banks of the Struma River with scenic mountain ranges shooting up on every side.

How to Get There

Bulgaria is finally breaking out of its hidden destination shell and is becoming an Eastern European spot to check out.  But it’s not too late to beat the hordes of tourists that are overflowing other hot Euro destinations like France and Spain. With a new prominence in the global eye it’s not as tough as it once was to get a direct flight into Bulgaria. The easiest and most affordable way to get there is to catch a flight into Sofia and then take the bus down to Pernik.

The Quick and Dirty

If you are looking to see thousands of locals parading around in giant masks representing traditions that go back hundreds of years then look no further. Think Mardi Gras Eastern European style with less beads and more fires. If you find yourself in Europe come the end of January this year or next then you have no excuse to miss this awesomeness and who knows you just might see me there.

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