Dextrophobia Rooms: Escape Is Sweet!

04.11.2014 § 1 Comment

dextrophobia

Success stories seem so few and far between in Bulgaria these days, so it is extremely heartening to be able to report some good news. This past month, alongside the colossal scandal of Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank imploding to the tune of a 2 billion Euro deficit, some great things have happened in spite of the usual grey mass of doom and gloom. Sofia’s iconic Lion’s Bridge just reopened after extensive renovations, the latest in a string of long-overdue infrastructure improvements presided over by Sofia’s most successful mayor in decades, Ms. Yordanka Fandukova. Four Bulgarian entrepreneurs just sold their hugely successful homegrown software company Telerik to Progress Software for $262.5 million. Finally, Dextrophobia Rooms, a real-life escape game business created by seven dreamer friends in their spare time, is neck-to-neck with St. Alexander Nevski cathedral as the best reviewed attraction on TripAdvisor in Sofia, barely six months after opening.

What is Dextrophobia and is it worth seeing? Read on!

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Plovdiv selected for European Capital of Culture 2019

05.09.2014 § 1 Comment

After a five-year, good-natured rivalry with three other cities, my birthplace of Plovdiv has been selected as Bulgaria’s official entrant into the European Capital of Culture program. The other European Capital of Culture for 2019 will be in Italy, where Caglieri, Lecce, Matera, Perugia, Ravenna and Siena are competing in the final round.

Out of 8 original candidates in Bulgaria (Burgas, Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Ruse, Shumen, Sofia, Varna and Veliko Tarnovo), four finalists were selected to submit detailed proposals and to begin implementing strategies and programs towards becoming Capital of Culture. Any one of these cities is well worth a visit.

pdnight-007Plovdiv

Continuously inhabited for close to 6000 years, Plovdiv is the third-oldest city in Europe (following Athens and Argos). Throughout its long history it has had multiple stints as an important crossroads city. Notably, as Trimontium to the Romans, Plovdiv was the most important Roman city in the province of Thrace, as it lay on the Via Diagonalis arterial road for the empire. Cobbled Roman streets, theatres, villas, and an entire stadium can be seen there, layered with Ottoman-era and Revival-era homes. The oldest mosque in Europe outside of Moorish Spain, Djumaya mosque, lies at the centre of the city.

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Plovdiv at Night

23.08.2014 § Leave a comment

pdnight-001

Plovdiv is a great city to visit, famed for its Revival-era old town and Roman past but, especially in the summer, midday lighting makes for some very harsh looking photos. This is doubly true for inexperienced amateur photographers without the proper filters like myself. In a quest to soften the glare, I set out on a picture-taking excursion at dusk in late August. Not only did I capture some lovely evening/night colours, but I saw the city in an entirely new light…darn, wait, that’s a bad pun. I saw it through a new lens. No, that won’t do either. It was lovely, okay?!

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Krumovo Aviation Museum, Plovdiv

22.08.2014 § 2 Comments

krumovo-001

I have been to Plovdiv many times over the years, and I’ve slowly noticed a creeping and disquieting phenomenon that many travellers may have experienced. I call it “The Old Town Gravwell” – it seems that, in an unfamiliar or semi-unfamiliar city, we tend not only to stay close to the city centre, which is usually historic and on a hill, etc. but we will perceive leaving the city centre as at least quadratic in difficulty as compared to the distance we have to travel. The farther someone proposes we go, the less likely we are to try it, especially if it involves some form of dubious local transit.

This is the main fallacy that has kept me from visiting the Krumovo aviation museum for some 20 years. And it is so, so wrong, because:

  • Yes, the Aviation Museum is in a village some 7 km outside the city (gasp!).
  • However, it is extremely easy to get to (15 minutes by commuter rail) and you can go and come back in a single morning.
  • It houses a concise, bilingual and very interesting exhibit, especially if you are a space travel buff or a fan of military aircraft.
  • It is so. Damn. Cheap. 5 leva gets you round trip train fare and an admission ticket (if you’re a student). It is only slightly more for adults with real jobs (4 Leva as opposed to 2).

For current details of the museum’s operations, go to their official website.

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Plovdiv: A Promotional Video

11.02.2014 § 2 Comments

Created by the Operational Program “Regional Development”, this video is a perfect companion to my posts about Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest (and oldest) city. As a bonus, you get to hear some narration in Bulgarian, with English subtitles.

Bulgaria on the map?

30.11.2013 § Leave a comment

thumbSo this is a thing that happened. Americans were asked to label the countries on a map of Europe. As could be expected, most were able to identify large tourist destinations like the UK, France and Spain, but very few knew anything about Central or Eastern Europe.

Now, this is not necessarily surprising. Central and Eastern Europe have long been plagued by stereotypes and few Americans have ever gone there. They see no reason to, since they can get all their vacationing done in places familiar from popular culture and ones they perceive as safer, not to mention closer to the States.

What I found unusual and quite disturbing is the amount of knowledge people had about Bulgaria specifically.

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“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”

18.06.2013 § 2 Comments

This is a guest post by my friend Kate Latimer, who accepted the invitation of a fellow Bulgarian expat to visit Bulgaria. These are her impressions. 

I was sitting over a toilet at 2:30 in the morning, vomiting up the last of my shopska salad I had eaten for dinner, in the early stages of what turned out to be a 48 hour flu that was travelling, if not around the city, then around the apartment I was living in. Three weeks earlier, my Bulgarian best friend had convinced me to get on a plane and travel from Toronto to Sofia so I could see her homeland. It didn’t take much convincing because she had, for the entire time I had known her, lived a double life. She would disappear for months at a time, travelling back to this tiny Eastern European country, and each time she would come home different, somehow transformed by this seemingly sacred experience she would have each Christmas and summer vacation. So when invited, I leapt at this opportunity to go see the place she escaped to, this double life that was moulding my best friend into the person that she is now. Having sat through many history classes in high school, I was confident that not once had Bulgaria been brought up, not once had a history textbook mentioned Bulgaria. My only knowledge of Bulgaria came from sitting around the dinner table with my friend and her parents, as they explained to me the dark and violent history of Bulgaria.

It was this well informed state that led me to ask questions such as, “You guys have electricity, right?” or “There’s gonna be indoor plumbing in the apartment, correct?” My friend rolled her eyes. And so I got on the plane, having no idea what to expect.

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The New York Times on Sofia

27.01.2013 § 1 Comment

nevskiHere’s an interesting piece in the NYT on spending 36 hours in Sofia, which I strongly recommend you do if you can’t spend more 😉

“Passport and a Toothbrush” on Sofia

01.10.2012 § Leave a comment

Travel blog Passport and a Toothbrush had some lovely things to say about Sofia when they visited it on their trip through the Balkans.

Read the full post here: Sofia, Bulgaria: Our favourite city in Eastern Europe

My favourite quote from the article:

It oozes effortless cool.

Sofia is like that cool girl in university who doesn’t wear lots of makeup but still manages to look stunning while listening to Them Crooked Vultures on her oversized headphones. Catch my drift? This city may seem like a classic town full of churches and museums but dig around and you’ll find a cool attitude in the streets. Take a stroll on Tsar Ivan Shishman street to get a good feel of funky cafés and even funkier shops.

I’m happy to send these guys some redirects and love, not just because they’re praising the Bulgarian capital, but also because their blog is full of great travel tips and stories from all over the world. In fact, they’ve made my shortlist for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I wish Matt and Caro lots of new adventures!

If you’re curious about Sofia, read about my ritual returns, the Essential Walk, Sofia’s street names, its use as a film shooting location, and its book markets.

Sep. 17 – Day of Sofia

17.09.2012 § Leave a comment

September 17 is recognized as the official holiday of the city of Sofia. I have written lots about Sofia, but I’d like to share a birthday gift of sorts with the city: the finalists in 8 Magazine’s “Warmth of Bulgarians” photo contest.

While you enjoy those, I should debunk a common misconception. September 17 is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox church as the day of 2-th century martyr St. Sophia, who was martyred along with her daughters Faith, Hope and Love. It is natural to assume that the city of Sofia was named after this saint. However, the city takes its name from St. Sophia Cathedral Church, which was consecrated not to Martyr Sophia, but to Hagia Sophia, the Holy Wisdom (much like Hagia Sophia in Istanbul). The fact that Sofia celebrates on Martyr Sophia’s feast day is a combination of coincidence, confabulation and confusion.

Gagarin in Plovdiv

08.09.2012 § Leave a comment

On May 23, 1961, 41 days after completing his pioneering spaceflight, first man in space Yuri Gagarin visited Plovdiv on his celebratory tour. He had coffee on the terrace of Hotel Trimontium with various dignitaries and he was made an honorary citizen of Plovdiv. This makes Plovdiv one of only 22 cities to do so, which is claim to fame enough.

However, what was known to very few people until days ago was that he had signed the hotel’s guestbook. « Read the rest of this entry »

Hvoina – Krustova Gora (Hiking Route) – Teaser

03.08.2012 § 2 Comments

I’m posting this as a teaser of the epic travel post about a 7-day hike in the Rhodopes I will write after visiting various places considered holy by the Thracians and the Christians in Bulgaria’s most expansive mountain.

The Rhodopes are unique and incredible. Unlike Stara Planina, which is thought of as a line to cross, or Rila, which is a towering giant to conquer, the Rhodopes are long and wide, creating gorge after gorge and ridge after ridge. With tiny villages, green pastures, cool spring water bubbling through caves and sanctuaries, the birthplace of Spartacus and land of Orpheus offers an immersive, serene, surreal experience.

The route is drawn in alternating yellow and white markers. (Click for larger map.)

Veliko Tarnovo Overview and Travel Guide

31.07.2012 § 2 Comments

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Overview

This is the catch-all post for anyone interested in visiting Veliko Tarnovo. Here I will link to all the individual articles of interest, as well as provide basic practical information about your visit.

In the foothills of the Balkan mountains, around the twists and turns of the Yantra river rise three hills: Tzarevetz, Sveta Gora and Trapezitza. Perched atop these hills and reflected in the river are the houses and castle walls of Veliko Tarnovo – the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and once the beating cultural heart of South-Eastern Europe.

Read more…

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Bozhentsi: The End of The Road

29.07.2012 § 1 Comment

The tiny, barely marked turnoff takes us off the main road to Shipka pass and the drive winds past a few tiny villages, narrowing as it goes, twisting and turning to take us to the village of Bozhentsi. It’s where the road ends. To us, it marks the final point of our short pleasure drive and a chance to stretch our legs in search for dinner on a scorching Saturday afternoon. To the few survivors who fled Veliko Tarnovo after the Ottoman conquest, it meant the beginning of a new life in the safety of the nearby hills. « Read the rest of this entry »

Samovodska Sweetness

28.07.2012 § 2 Comments

Veliko Tarnovo’s pedestrian shopping street, where authentic Revival-era artisans jostle with tourist trap souvenir shops, is called Самоводската чаршия (“Samovodskata charshia”). The word чаршия, borrowed from Turkish, means “shopping square/street” (if you’ve ever been to Istanbul, you may have heard of its enormous indoor market Kapalı çarşı), and Samovodska comes from the fact that this road used to lead, and be largely populated by produce sellers from, the nearby village of Samovodene.

As you walk up and down this lovely, narrow, timeless avenue, try to spot the authentic Revival-era masters who have made it their home. Nowhere is this quest more pleasant or delicious than inside the shop of Neli Boncheva. « Read the rest of this entry »

Like an Eastern Block Leader

28.07.2012 § 1 Comment

The five-star Arbanassi Palace hotel is perched on the crags above Veliko Tarnovo with phenomenal views of the city and the surrounding hills. What makes it unique among luxury hotels in the country is that it was designed and built as a residence for the People’s Republic of Bulgaria long-ruling head of state, Todor Zhivkov. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Golden Treasure of Panagyurishte

27.07.2012 § 1 Comment

The Panagyurishte treasure, named after a tongue-twisting town in Bulgaria, is a masterpiece of Thracian worksmanship. It consists of a phiale, an amphora and seven rhytons, all made of solid 24-carat gold. The treasure weighs a total of 6.164 kg (13.5 pounds) and is arguably the single most valuable set of artifacts ever found on the territory of Bulgaria.

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Care and Neglect

27.07.2012 § 2 Comments

On Veliko Tarnovo‘s main pedestrian shopping street, among the artisans and souvenir shops, stand two buildings which are not too different, really. They’re both heritage buildings, over 100 years old, both owned by private entities, and they exhibit the perfect duality of the conditions of private enterprise in Bulgaria. Yin and yang, order and chaos, careful preservation and haphazard decay. « Read the rest of this entry »

Horseback Riding in Veliko Tarnovo

27.07.2012 § 4 Comments

There are many places in Bulgaria where you might be offered to ride a horse, often for lots of money, near the seaside, by somewhat unsavoury-looking characters. Those horses are also likely not very well treated, and spend most of their days being dragged around in the heat along the beaches of the Black Sea.

However, there is at least one stable in the country that offers horseback riding as an experience, at reasonable rates, and couples it with a thorough introduction to the stable’s 50-some horses and a tour of their living environment.

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Walking Tour of Revival-Era Plovdiv

26.07.2012 § 2 Comments

Plovdiv, along with being the site of numerous monuments from its Roman-era past as provincial capital, was also a thriving medieval fortress and an important regional city during the Ottoman rule in Bulgaria and the period of National Revival.

Three of Plovdiv’s six hills are home to an extremely well-preserved Revival-era old town. Housing the city’s art gallery, numerous museums and Revival-era homes preserved and opened to visitors, the Old Town is a must-see during a visit to Plovdiv. Many of the houses on the tour have courtyards walled in by high brick fences, and all feature smaller-area foundations and second and third floors that jut out into the street.

This walking tour will be described as a loop, with one easy entry point from Djumaya mosque square. Keep in mind that, although it’s not clear on the map, this walk involves a few hours of walking up and down hills on cobbled streets. Wear comfortable shoes! Also, unless otherwise stated, museum exhibits are bilingual and available in English. The tour starts in the middle of the main pedestrian street, at Djumaya square.

1. Djumaya Mosque (A)

Djumaya Mosque

The mosque predates the final conquest of Bulgaria, having been built by the Ottomans in the late 1300’s after the fall of Plovdiv. It is built in the older Islamic style, with nine domes resting on four huge internal pillars, which makes it very similar to the mosque in Cordoba. It is an imposing cultural monument and a universal landmark of the city. Any cabbie in Plovdiv can take you to “Djumayata”.

You’ll find the front entrance of the mosque on Saborna street, behind the rolling moat of the Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis.

2. Ascension of the Virgin Mary (“Sveta Bogorodica”) Church (B)

Sveta Bogorodica Church

Instead of taking Saborna, look for the passage behind the mosque, on Krivolak St. Walk past the mosque’s rear along Krivolak for a few blocks and you’ll see a V-shaped intersection. The left side is closed off with a car barrier, and the right is a steep set of stairs leading up to a tall pink tower – the bell tower of the city’s cathedral church – “Ascension of the Virgin Mary”. Built in 1844, it’s a prime example of the Revival period, signalling the start of Bulgaria’s struggle for church independence. It was here that the Plovdiv bishop Paisii read a holy liturgy in Bulgarian, declaring his separation from the Istanbul patriarchate and petitioning the sultan for an independent church. After a few years of struggle, the autocephalous Bulgarian church was re-established in 1870.  You’re welcome to enter the church, as it is beautiful inside.

3. The Ancient Theatre (C)

The Roman-era Ancient theatre is on the Old Town hill, and it’s described in detail in my post on Roman architecture in Plovdiv. If you haven’t ventured out to see it on your Roman walk, you should head up the stairs past the church, then down Todor Samodumov street, then turn right on Tzar Ivailo.

4. The Lamartine House (D)

The Lamartine House

Take Tzar Ivailo back and continue right along Todor Samodumov for one more block. You’ll see this yellow house on the corner.

This is the Mavridi house, known as the Lamartine house because French national poet Alphonse de Lamartine stayed there briefly in the summer of 1883. It houses an exhibit devoted to the poet, and is a prime example of symmetric Revival architecture.

5. The City Art Gallery (E)

The City Art Gallery

Go back the way you came along Todor Samodumov and turn right at the first opportunity. The street name should be Stoyan Chalakov. Walking down, on your right you’ll see a set of stairs and a socialist realism mural leading up to a pale brown house.

This is the main building of the City Art Gallery. On two compact floors, it has a great collection of Bulgarian art from the late 1800’s to present day, including paintings of Vasil Levski, self-portraits of many renowned painters who worked in Bulgaria, and a scale model of the monument to Tzar Liberator in Sofia. Entrance to the gallery costs 2 Leva (1 for students), and a guided visit is 10 Leva in English.

5.5. The Gallery’s Icon Collection (F)

An icon from the Icon Collection

Half a block down the street, on Saborna St. 22, you can find a branch of the City Gallery devoted to iconography: the Eastern Orthodox art of painting images of saints and religious scenes. Entrance to the gallery costs 2 Leva (1 for students), and a guided visit is 10 Leva in English.

6. Sv. Konstantin & Elena Church (G)

The bell tower of St. Konstantin & Elena church

Just behind the Icon Collection, you will see a church’s bell tower jutting out above a walled-in garden. Go inside and you’ll see the facade of the beautiful Sv. Konstantin & Elena church. Entrance is free, as it is in all churches in the country, but picture-taking is not allowed inside.

7. Hisar Kapia and the Round Tower (H)

The Hisar Kapia gate

After the church, take a right and you’ll see the arch of one of the gates of the ancient fortress of Hisar Kapia, built in the 5th century AD. If you turn right again along the ancient wall that the gate hints at, you’ll reach the foundations of a round Byzantine-style tower. These are small remnants of Plovdiv’s Byzantine-era past.

The round tower

8. Museum for National Revival (I)

Museum for National Revival

Coming back from the Round Tower, with the Hisar Kapia gate on your left, you’ll see a big orange house ahead of you. This is the National Revival museum that houses exhibits on city life in the final years of Ottoman dominion, as well as weapons and stories from the April uprising of 1876, the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, and Plovdiv’s liberation. Be warned, not all the museum’s exhibits are bilingual, although there are explanatory sheets in English posted at the entrance to each exhibit room. Entrance is 2 Leva (1 Lev for students) and a guided tour of the museum costs 6 Leva. Picture-taking will set you back another 1 Lev.

9. Ethnographic Museum (J)

The Ethnographic Museum

Walk back through the Hisar Kapia gate and turn right down Dr.Chomakov street, keeping your eyes open to the right.

Walled behind a high brick fence, the most beautiful house in the Old Town also houses the city’s Ethnographic museum, i.e. the place to see what life looked like in Revival-era Plovdiv, both in the nearby villages and in the city itself. The exhibits, co-sponsored by National Geographic Bulgaria, are well arranged and decidedly worth seeing. Entrance to the museum is 5 Leva (1 Lev for students) and a guided tour in English will cost you 10 Leva.

NOTE: The Ethnographic museum is CLOSED Mondays.

10. Nebet Tepe (K)

View of Plovdiv from Nebet Tepe’s fortress

Nebet Tepe (the “Nebet Hill”), one of the Old Town’s three hills, at the end of Dr. Chomakov Street, is peppered with the ruins of an ancient Thracian fortress. While not a savoury place to visit after dark, it offers incredible views of Plovdiv. Additionally, just before the path up to the fortress, on the left you will find the Bakalov house, where traditional artisans offer demonstrations of their crafts and sell their wares.

11. Balabanov and Hindliyan Houses (L)

The Hindliyan House

Go back down Dr. Chomakov street until the square before St. Konstantin & Elena. The street leading right will be called Antranik, and on the corner you’ll see the pink Balabanov House. Walk around it until you see the small gate in the wall. You can enter through there. The Balabanov house, as well as the adjacent Hindliyan house in blue (that you can reach from the Balabanov courtyard), are both perfectly restored Revival homes, housing an art gallery and a recreation of the Baroque-era sitting rooms of wealthy Bulgarian merchants in one, and a basement Turkish bath in the other. Entrance to each of the houses is 5 Leva (1 for students), and a guided tour costs 15 Leva.

12. Art Gallery Philippopolis (M)

Art Gallery Philippopolis

When you’ve finished with the two houses, head back to the square and turn right, taking Saborna back towards the entrance to the Old Town. At the intersection with Vasil Kanchev and Stoyan Chalakov, Saborna veers slightly to the right. You should follow it, and at number 29, you’ll find the house of Hadji Aleko, currently private art gallery Philippopolis. It’s another beautiful Revival-era house (built around 1865).

Your tour ends at the end of Saborna, at the barrier near the stairs. Walking onwards will return you to Djumaya square, past the area known as Kapana, full of artisan shops.

Plovdiv’s Roman Treasures: A Walking Tour

25.07.2012 § 8 Comments

In 1968, the sports field of the Pedagogy Institute in Bulgaria’s second-largest city, sun-drenched Plovdiv, was scheduled for refurbishment. A company of the Army’s construction corps was assigned to expand the field, which involved digging deeper into one of the city’s three hills. However, the Institute never got its field, because what the diggers found underneath were the curved marble seating rows of an immaculately preserved outdoor Roman theatre.

Plovdiv, inhabited continuously since 4000 BC and Europe’s third-oldest city (after Athens and Argos), is known by many names. Settled by the Thracians as Eumolpias, it was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, and given the name Philippopolis. After the decline of the Macedonian kingdom, it reverted to the Thracians, who called it Pulpudeva. When the Romans swept onto the Balkans, they called it Trimontium (“City of Three Hills”) and made it a cultural and economic hub of the Roman province of Thrace. The via militaris, one of the Roman empire’s arterial roads, passed through the city, and it thrived on the banks of the Hebros (Maritsa) river, at one time containing numerous public buildings, baths, shrines, villas, with high walls and a Roman grid system in its streets. This walking tour will take you on a trip through its main Roman-era sights.
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The Comfort of Familiarity…and Big Macs (Updated)

24.07.2012 § 5 Comments

In August of 2010, I had just arrived in Sofia for a month-long stay in Bulgaria. I’d rushed out to buy кисело мляко, сирене and лютеница, to have a taste of authentic Bulgarian things, and I was excited to participate in a ritual I like to call The Walk.

The Walk essentially consists of my taking the trolley down to Sofia University and strolling through all the places in the centre of the city that I want to refresh in my memory. It is a slow, leisurely affair, notably because usually it’s undertaken in the scorching summer heat, and it serves to suffuse me with the understanding that I am, indeed, home. You will see many of these landmarks in future posts if you haven’t already, but they include the yellow cobbles, the National Theatre (where I spend a good half an hour admiring it and wondering what might have been if I’d been a superfamous actor slash director slash sex symbol person…but I digress) and a dozen other known and unknown places that really ground me, telling me “Yes, you are in Sofia”.

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Public Transit in Sofia

22.07.2012 § Leave a comment


Coming to you from a secret, undisclosed location in Bulgaria’s capital, I will brief you on the essentials of the modes of public transit available to you in Sofia and their respective costs and quirks.

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Tourist Information Centre Sofia

21.07.2012 § Leave a comment

Recently opened in the Sofia University underpass (a.k.a. “Rektorata”, “SU Kliment Ohridski”, etc.), near a big transit ticket office and literally across metro station “SU Kliment Ohridski”, stands the office of the Municipality of Sofia’s Tourist Information Centre. Inside, you can find detailed maps of the city, information about tours and events and helpful, English-speaking staff.

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Sofia Taxis Demystified

21.07.2012 § 3 Comments

image from sofia-guide.com

You’re in luck. Only a couple of years ago, Sofia was crawling with gouging, faker taxis that charged 3.50 Leva per km and relied on tourists’ naiveté and inattention to fleece them. Thankfully, a couple of reliable companies have emerged, as well as legislation that caps the maximum one can charge for a certain distance.

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Bulgarians Around the World

28.06.2012 § 1 Comment

I stumbled across Fusion Tables – a cool new Google feature that lets users create, merge and visualize tables, and immediately used it for something Bulgaria-related. The map below represents the number of Bulgarians per country, as estimated by the embassy or consulate of each country, for 2011.

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Bulgaria on National Geographic’s “Best Tours of Europe” List for 2012

25.06.2012 § Leave a comment

A 12-day comprehensive tour of Bulgaria is one of the ten prime European tours for 2012 according to National Geographic‘s “50 Tours of a Lifetime” list.

The tour features a spectacular itinerary and is a good bargain at ~5000$ (minus airfare). Food, wine tastings, 4- and 5-star hotels, and visits to Bulgaria’s foremost sights are included.

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Walking Tours of Sofia 1: The Essentials

21.06.2012 § 9 Comments

The Legacy of Nikola Fichev

20.06.2012 § 3 Comments

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Nikola Fichev (also known as Kolyu Ficheto) is Bulgaria’s best-known Revival-era master-builder and architect. An orphan, he became a builder’s apprentice at age 10, and eventually taught himself the fundamentals of construction, architecture, drafting and arithmetic required to become one of the most prolific masters of the 19th century. He was also fluent in Turkish, Greek, Serbian and Romanian.

In his lifetime (1800-1881), he built four bridges, over a dozen churches, a town hall, monasteries, houses and inns, all between Veliko Tarnovo and the Danube port of Svishtov. He used innovative building methods and embedded revolving pillars into several of his churches. The pillars would be able to freely rotate around their centres as long as the integrity of the building’s foundations was not compromised. Despite being built almost 150 years ago, many still revolve to this day. Here are just a few of his masterpieces that can still be seen in Bulgaria.

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Sofia’s Street Names and Major Landmarks

16.06.2012 § 2 Comments

What’s in a name? This post will give you a general idea of the layers of history and city planning in Bulgaria’s capital, based on the names of its major streets and arteries. Furthermore, it will acquaint you with several landmarks and important city squares.

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Melnik: The City of the Sand Guards

13.06.2012 § 1 Comment

Translated with permission from otbivki.com, a Bulgarian-language travel and adventure blog. Melnik is a city approximately 200 km to the south of Sofia, near Sandanski, on the southwestern tip of Bulgaria.

The road is winding before us like a snake in the sun. The white strip of asphalt zooms past expansive vineyards and quiet houses, racing against time towards its final goal. It leads us ever South, leaving the villages of Lozenitza and Harsovo somewhere behind us. We’re approaching Melnik…

The pyramids are the first to greet us. We call them the “sand guards” because they resemble a line of soldiers guarding the city. In their embrace lie nestled the white houses of Melnik – the smallest Bulgarian settlement with city status. It turns out to be warm, unpretentious and somehow full of humble, harmonious beauty.

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Vampires: The Bulgarian Connection

08.06.2012 § 7 Comments

Source: NHM Bulgaria

According to the BBC, Sofia News Agency, and a few dozen other outlets, the “remains of two vampires” were discovered in a tomb near the Bulgarian seaside town of Sozopol. In other words, two skeletons were unearthed posthumously pinned to their graves with iron spikes through the chest.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, a Sozopol native and Bulgaria’s chief historian, explains that there have been over 100 such burials found on Bulgarian territory, mostly dating back to the Middle Ages. He goes on to explain some of the historical background and symbolism behind the ritual.

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Perperikon: The City of Stone

07.06.2012 § Leave a comment

Translated with permission from otbivki.com, a Bulgarian-language travel and adventure blog.

In the hot summer day, dust is our most faithful companion. It sticks to our shoes, our face and our clothes as we walk along the narrow path in a single file. I hear our footsteps leave quiet prints and race with the stones – how many generations have taken this path, how many tribes and civilizations have ascended the steep slope, to experience victories, losses, opulence, poverty or death? For centuries, the cliffs have kept their history, ready to share it with every visitor of the City of Stone.

It appears before us, clad in the golden garb of sunshine, regal, serene and unwavering. Its name is Perperikon.

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A Tour of Sofia in “Hitman” Movie Frames

03.06.2012 § 1 Comment

The not-terribly-brilliant 2007 movie treatment of the video game series Hitman starring Timothy Olyphant and directed by Xavier Gens is notable for being shot primarily in Sofia. The Bulgarian capital is standing in for Moscow, but, as a pedantic and shrewd movie-goer, I have extracted a few screenshots that are definitive Sofia landmarks.

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Seven Rila Lakes (Hiking Route)

25.05.2012 § 2 Comments

The seven Rila lakes are a group of glacial lakes in northwestern Rila. At an altitude ranging from 2100 to 2500 m above sea level, they are the most visited mountain lakes in Bulgaria, and with good reason. Layered one above the other, they are wild, picturesque and clear, and the paths between them are rocky and steep. Buses from Sofia stop at the nearby town of Sapareva Banya, which is a day’s walk from the lakes. Two mountain lodges operate nearby: the old one (“Rila lakes” mountain lodge) and the new one (“Seven lakes” lodge). All lakes are located above the tree line, meaning that the vegetation around them consists mostly of grass and shrubs.

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Botev Peak (Hiking Routes)

17.05.2012 § 2 Comments

Standing at 2376 m above sea level, Botev is the tallest peak in Stara Planina. It lies within the boundaries of national park “Central Balkan” – a beautiful natural reserve protecting 72 000 hectares of natural beauty. Botev peak is a popular hiking destination and can be reached via one of several routes, most of which are suitable for beginners. This part of Stara Planina is very picturesque: rocks and imposing cliff faces give way to cool forests, grassy pastures transition into shrubs and every peak offers a unique and marvellous vantage point.

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Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria’s Medieval Capital

16.05.2012 § 11 Comments

In the foothills of the Balkan mountains, around the twists and turns of the Yantra river rise three hills: Tzarevetz, Sveta Gora and Trapezitza. Perched atop these hills and reflected in the river are the houses and castle walls of Veliko Tarnovo – the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and once the beating cultural heart of South-Eastern Europe.

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The “Bulgarian Alps”

15.05.2012 § 4 Comments

I am a “summer Bulgarian”. I ordinarily reside in Canada and I’m only in Bulgaria for short bursts of time, usually in the summer. After the obligatory two weeks spent with various grandparents, I used to go to the seaside. However, four years ago my cousin convinced me to visit the Seven Rila Lakes with him. After a three-day hike through one of the most beautiful mountains in Bulgaria, I was converted: I was an avid hiker.

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