The capital and largest city in Bulgaria, Sofia, has a population over 1 million, but feels much smaller. The history is fascinating and diverse and within a small walk around the city centre, there is a mosque, a synagogue and an orthodox Catholic Church. The way modern day Sofia was built around its many historical sites feels fluid but still respectful. There are preserved Roman ruins dotted around the metro stations and my favourite was the oldest building of the city, the Church of St George, hidden away within the courtyard of the Bulgarian Presidency. The first day we arrived we did the walking tour of the city, visiting these sites and then realised there weren’t any tourist spots left, leaving an entire month to just… be. Bulgaria as an ex-communist country does have that grungy feel about it. Walking around the outer suburbs you do notice the ripped up tiles and run down buildings. Despite the look though, when I walked through the streets at night I felt safer than anywhere else. Every weekend we would get out of the city and go up into the mountains. The group all enjoyed rafting, horseback riding, hiking, trips to the hot springs and even a yoga retreat. The highlight of the month was hiking the spectacular Seven Rila Lakes in the highest mountain on the Balkans. It was a breath-taking experience climbing the steep cliff side passing by each of the beautiful lakes, still semi-frozen in the middle of summer. Coming from the Sunshine Coast, it was a nice change to visit a smaller city, and getting outdoors and away from the city to do some exploring sat really well with me. Sofia was the perfect place to slow the pace down and recharge, after a busy four months spent in bigger and busier cities. Bulgaria was the first place I have visited where I really noticed the language barrier. I found out later on that when it was a communist country the people were taught either Russian or French as secondary languages. This meant that instead of everyone I met being able to speak English it was only two out of three. What I found most inspiring about the country was its young and ambitious startup culture. Bulgaria is leading the way for IT in eastern Europe and Forbes classed Sofia one of the top 10 cities in the world to launch a startup. The infectious determination I saw in those who I networked with makes me confident this is a region of the world not to underestimate. There are a few traditional foods you don’t want to miss when you visit Bulgaria and ‘banitsa’ is one of them. It’s a cheesy (and greasy) pastry that is very addictive. Bulgarian food in general, however, offered plenty of healthy options that were refreshing and light, such as one of their main salads ‘Shopska’ made of cucumber, tomatoes, capsicum and sheep’s cheese. They are also famous for their yoghurt – there is a village where the people live to 100 years of age, and they swear it’s because they eat a lot of this yoghurt! I can honestly say, Bulgaria has a special place in my heart and is somewhere I will most certainly return to.

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to visit 12 countries in 12 months, while getting paid! Thanks to modern technology and What the Fox Creative’s forward thinking, graphic designer, Naomi Fenn is doing just that.