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 § 1 Comment

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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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