04.11.2014 § 1 Comment
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!
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.
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.
28.08.2014 § Leave a comment
[Read the English version here.]
На 27 август 2014 г. загубихме поета Валери Петров. Загубихме писателя, драматурга, преводача, хуманиста, мислителя, примера Валери Петров.
И тъй разкошно-звездна бе нощта,
че всекидневните неща,
със своите “Чудесно!”, “Цар си!”, “Браво!”
във бягство се отдръпваха стремглаво.
чувствах се голям под свода гъст
– а бяхме уж нищожества, уж атоми –
и всичко беше мир околовръст,
и красота изпълваше душата ми.
Из “Августовска нощ”
С поезията си той умееше да предизвиква в един куплет искрен смях и нежна тъга, да ни опише и есенния хлад, и топлия пролетен ветрец. С преводите си на Шекспир той положи в краката ни невероятната красота и благозвучие на българския стих и създаде нещо повече от превод: сюжетите и картините на Барда на нашия собствен мелодичен език. Със сценария на “Рицар без броня” той ни разкри най-наболелите язви в нашето общество през погледа на едно невинно, все още безгрижно дете. С “Пет приказки” той подари на децата ни въображението да покоряват планини, да играят с еленчета и да изследват дъното на безбрежния океан. Той никога не надрасна детската си фантазия, но и геният му никога не залиня, не отслабна, чак до края.
23.08.2014 § Leave a comment
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?!
06.06.2014 § 2 Comments
As a resident of Toronto, I have been closely following the ordering, testing and politics surrounding the fleet of new low-floor, double-capacity TTC streetcars. Across the Atlantic, where full-fledged streetcar networks are far more common, the Bulgarian capital Sofia is in the process of replacing some of its classic (i.e., aging) streetcars (also known as trams or трамваи/tramvai in Bulgarian) with Polish-built articulated units. Back in January, the first one was symbolically put into exploitation to mark the 114-year anniversary of the opening of the first Sofia tram line.
However, as exciting as the new trams are, I was delighted to discover another interesting development. In tune with its bid for European Capital of Culture (for which it competes with three other Bulgarian cities: Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv and Varna), Sofia has initiated a brilliant public art project. On June 1, 2014, as part of the city’s youth art festival ZONA CULTURA, a dozen of the current system’s yellow-and-white trams were painted by various graffiti artists before returning to circulation. This is a welcome change of pace, as it gives graffiti artists a very daring showcase, instead of whitewashing their works on sight. It also reserves for art visual space that is all too often (khm-khm, Toronto) used for advertising decals.
24.05.2014 § 5 Comments
May 24th is celebrated in Bulgaria as the day of two saints: St. Cyril and St. Methodius, of Bulgarian education and culture and Slavonic literature. It is a widely observed holiday in the country, on par with Liberation Day (March 3) and Christmas. It is a day largely devoted to celebrating the creation and the existence of the Cyrillic alphabet, which Bulgarian is written in.
Bulgaria may not be the largest user of Cyrillic today, but it is the first. The Cyrillic alphabet was the official script of Bulgaria before it was spread to Russia, Croatia, Serbia, etc. and it was Bulgaria’s Boris I who commissioned the two literary schools where thousands of monks would be educated and the first thousands of books in the new alphabet would be hand-copied and spread across the land.
It may be strange to see such importance placed on a set of symbols that we take for granted, but there is a great reason for our fascination with our letters, and a great accompanying story: the story with the greatest cultural significance in Bulgaria’s history.
30.11.2013 § Leave a comment
So 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.
13.11.2013 § 5 Comments
This photo was taken by Facebook user Stefan Stefanov. It shows Bulgarian protester Desi Nikolova interacting with a police officer on the barricades outside what appears to be the Bulgarian National Bank building (someone please correct me on the exact location). It depicts the frustration and high tensions of the protests in Bulgaria, which have continued (mostly) peacefully for over 150 days, but the story behind it adds a few telling and heartening details. To quote Desi, the protester:
Some of the police officers were well-intentioned. The one whose shoulders I’m holding had a little blood on his nose, I think he’d scraped it somehow. I saw how he was protecting the people and trying to prevent other police officers from beating us. I began to cry and I told him to be safe. He replied “Hold on. Everything will be okay.” There were tears in his eyes…
Please share this photo by linking to its original link or through my translation here and spread the word. There are sensible police officers, many of whom are walking the fine line of maintaining peace without harming anyone, and there is no stopping human decency, civic action and the demands for change.
16.10.2013 § Leave a comment
I have written a bit about the Socialist period in Bulgaria, and there is no doubt that it is the defining political stage in the history of modern Bulgaria. Twenty-five years after its 45-year span ended, we are still divided into “reds” and others, and we are still struggling to “transition” to a free-market economy. While my opinions on the subject will be nothing new to either side, I would like to take a look at the immediate implications of the onset of Communism in Bulgaria through an unlikely source of data.
Emil Dimitrov, whom I have mentioned in the Music section of this blog, wrote a beautiful song called “A Letter to Mom” (“Писмо до мама”) in 1974. In listening to it a few days ago, I realized that it encapsulated so much of the sweeping changes brought forth by Bulgaria’s Communist decades. This song, while being entirely non-political and written as a sentimental ballad honouring one’s mother, offers glimpses at the themes that were current in Bulgarian society in the 1970’s. Here are the lyrics, each stanza followed by my commentary.
A Letter to Mom
O what a bride you must have been, dear mommy
So clean, so sparkling was your father’s yard
When they led you out onto the threshing floor
To link hands with your groom in bridal dance
04.08.2013 § Leave a comment
Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)
The fight is hard and pitiless
The fight is hard and pitiless.
The fight is epic, as they say.
I fell. Another takes my place –
Why single out a name?
After the firing squad – the worms.
Thus does the simple logic go.
But in the storm we’ll be with you,
My people, for we loved you so.
2 p.m. – 23.VII.1942
03.08.2013 § Leave a comment
Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English translation is mine.
Tell me, tell me, o unhappy people,
Who lulls you in the cradle of slavery?
Is it the one who our Saviour speared
On the cross in the ribs without pity,
Or the one who for years sang to thee:
“Endure, for it is your duty.”
02.08.2013 § Leave a comment
Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)
Come see our plight
I hear one cry of deep despair
In cottage, tavern – everywhere.
Each peasant home a pitiful sight
That mind and soul can hardly bear!
“Come see our plight!” « Read the rest of this entry »
31.07.2013 § Leave a comment
Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English translation is mine.
Where do you lie, faithful love for our people?
Where do you lie, faithful love for our people
Where do you gleam, spark of patriotism?
O grow to feed a mighty flame
And stoke a blazing fire today
In our young people’s beating hearts
to roam the woods and take up arms.
30.07.2013 § Leave a comment
Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)
You cannot quench what’s not for quenching
We’re glad when on a sunny day
The golden glowing sun has risen,
But more so when a single ray
Of sunlight penetrates a prison.
« Read the rest of this entry »
29.07.2013 § Leave a comment
19.06.2013 § Leave a comment
It seems the world is out on the street, protesting for change. From Taksim Square in Istanbul, through the streets of Athens and Rio to the catastrophe in Syria one theme stands out: protesters clashing with aggressive and often brutal police and government forces.
The exception to the rule turns out to be a little corner of Europe, a tiny and often forgotten part of the world facing its own large scale social unrest. Since the 14 June Bulgaria has been out on the streets. Every day since, tens of thousands of protesters have been filling the streets of the capital Sofia along with numerous other cities.
By HuffPo contributor Boyan Benev. Read the full post at Huffington Post
19.06.2013 § Leave a comment
Bulgaria is in the throes of a political crisis (some background). The interim cabinet’s appointment of a college dropout with known Mafia ties as head of DANS (the Bulgarian NSA) sent thousands of Bulgarians onto the streets in protest. Not being directly involved, I have a few quick comments before I quote a few friends who are there right now.
Despite the heightened atmosphere, so far the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Bulgarians are exercising their right to dissent, and the fundamental democratic tenet of allowing them to do so without interference is being upheld by the government. This is a seemingly rare occurrence in a world where the US, Brazil, Turkey and, I’m sorry to say, Canada, have recently shown aggressive responses to peaceful protests. Not only that, but the police is largely sympathetic and refuses to be drawn into confrontations or ordered around by the government. Just today the police union released a declaration of support with the protests:
The union of Ministry of the Interior staff wishes to remind the politicians and assure Bulgarian society that MoI officers are not private employees serving the interests of one or another political party or coalition. MoI officers are part of Bulgarian society and are fully and solely in the service of public interest. We fully support the equitable social and economic demands of the citizens. Our friends, relatives, and members of our families are among the protesters.
It is with the least motivation that employees in the Ministry of Interior stand with face and chest in front of one or another party headquarters and defend the political elite from the “love” of the people.
(Translated from this Union declaration)
The protesters have returned the respect granted to them by police and security forces in spades. Boyan Benev, writing for HuffPo, had this anecdote:
…gathered on the Eagles’ Bridge yesterday evening I saw a friend wandering through the crowd carrying two cases of 500ml mineral water. I made a quip about him stocking up for the protest when he replied:
“This water isn’t for us, it’s for the police. These men and women have been standing here in the 30 degree sun all afternoon and have shown us only respect. I think it’s time we showed some back.”
18.06.2013 § Leave a comment
This post is a reprint and translation of an article by Georgi Deyanov that first appeared on Bulgarian journalist Ivo Indjev’s blog last year, in connection with the ecology protests of 2012. It is a precursor to my extensive analysis of the situation in Bulgaria and the current protests.
One generation woke up starved for civil life. These past few days it screams with lungs burning from painfully invading freedom.
We are unhappy because we’re under-slept. No, we cannot be drugged with inane Turkish soap operas. It’s inconvenient, but we do not think through the TV. The Internet provides infinitely more fitting content on request, our reporters are thousands and constantly transmitting on location. Your desire to meet and “reason” with our “organizers” makes us laugh.
Your worst nightmare has come true – the dragon of the majority is able to self-organize. Spontaneously, sporadically, rapidly, efficiently. Without the possibility of countermeasures.
Your mistake was to go for the forest.
The Bulgarian’s relationship with the forest and the mountain is close and magical. Forests and mountains have always been the last refuge of freedom. Our villages, plains and rivers have been conquered, but our forests – never. What do you expect from the beast of the disgruntled majority, placed in a deadlock? Survival instinct drove us out into the square. And this time it’s serious.
30.04.2013 § Leave a comment
Boyanka Angelova’s 2008 performance at the European Junior Championship in Turin was promoted to the front page of YouTube, garnering over 7 million views in a couple of days.
29.04.2013 § Leave a comment
A short story by Bulgarian author Aleko Konstantinov, translated by V. Pandeliev.
That I am a lucky man*(1), that all of Bulgaria knows. But one thing no one knows is that today I didn’t have 45 stotinki*(2) to buy myself tobacco. This circumstance did not deter me however from preserving my regal demeanour. I continued to look upon the world and the people in it as if I could fit a million Rothschilds and Vanderbilts*(3) into my vest pocket, while our own wealthy men were worth no more to me than the ashes of last night’s final cigarette. That is all well and good, but there’s still no tobacco, the devil take it all! Silly craving!
29.04.2013 § Leave a comment
This map of Europe shows the tumultuous rise and fall of empires and states in the last 1000 years. Note Bulgaria’s fluctuations towards the middle bottom of the frame.
27.01.2013 § 1 Comment
Here’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 😉
02.10.2012 § 2 Comments
Little Cloud of White
Tell me, tell me, little cloud of white
Where you’ve come from, where you’ll fly tonight?
Past my father’s house did you not hurry
Did you hear a mother’s whispered worry
“Oh I wonder how my boy is faring
Foreign bread with strangers he is sharing”
Fly and tell her, little cloud of white
That you saw me fit and well tonight.
Hurry, bring her from me fondest greetings
It’s been so long, but the end is nearing
Soon my village rooftops I’ll behold
And my mother in my arms enfold.
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!
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.
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 »
04.09.2012 § 1 Comment
UPDATE: Sofia’s second metrodiameter was unveiled on August 31 in the presence of José Barroso, the current president of the European Commission. This is a monumental achievement for the Bulgarian capital, as it was not only completed on time, but the money saved means that the line could be extended to the airport far earlier than anticipated, possibly even before the 2014 programme cycle of the European Union.
« Read the rest of this entry »
24.08.2012 § 1 Comment
Sofia’s Slaveykov Square, named after father-son poet duo Petko and Pencho Slaveykov, is a bustling marketplace for one of the most coveted and important commodities in the nation: books. As a small country with a significant contribution to world literacy, reading and books have always been prized very highly in Bulgaria. The years of the Socialist boom were also the heyday of publishing, with hundreds of Bulgarian authors being printed alongside translations of world classics. Many of these books, often produced in hardcover and printed to last, have been resurfacing in used book stalls alongside new books and editions. « Read the rest of this entry »
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.
02.08.2012 § Leave a comment
The days from August 1 to 12th are celebrated in the Bulgarian Orthodox calendar as the days of the Holy Maccabean martyrs – a woman, her seven sons and their teacher, who were all martyred in the 2nd century BC.
According to tradition, each of the Maccabean days corresponds to a month of the year, with August 1 being September, August 2 – October and so on. Legend has it that the weather on that day will predict whether its corresponding month will be mild or harsh for the crops.
29.07.2012 § Leave a comment
While I was writing about the village of Bozhentsi, I came face to face with a very common issue that occurs when converting between alphabets: transliteration. Not only do some Cyrillic letters lack direct equivalents, they are also differently transliterated in different Western languages. I’ll use the name of the village of Bozhentsi as an example.
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
8. Museum for National Revival (I)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
26.07.2012 § Leave a comment
Crossing the Balkan mountains, known as Стара планина (“The Old Mountain”) to the locals, usually involves winding your way up, then down, one of the range’s rugged mountain passes. The range that currently bisects Bulgaria used to be a southern bulwark against the Byzantines, and has served time and time again to slow down invaders and protect the core of the Bulgarian territory.
Much like the Italian peninsula and the Alps protected Rome for centuries, much like Constantinople held on on the Golden Horn for close to 1000 years, so have the passes of the Balkan range provided a much-needed advantage in four crucial battles that shaped the course of history for the Bulgarian people.
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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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”.
24.07.2012 § 2 Comments
When travelling in Bulgaria, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a city or town without a church as a significant landmark. The Orthodox church was a haven for Bulgarian language and culture during the almost 500 years of Ottoman dominion and its buildings tend to be the source of much local pride. Many churches feature prominently on walking tours and tourist information sites and you’ll likely find yourself entering church after church during your stay. « Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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.
21.07.2012 § 3 Comments
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.
20.07.2012 § Leave a comment
It was my last night in Rome that I heard the news: a bus had exploded on July 18, 2012 at the airport outside the Bulgarian seaside town of Burgas in a suspected suicide attack, killing 5 Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and injuring 32 others, some critically. It appeared to have been a targeted attack against Israeli citizens who were boarding a shuttle bus to take them to a hotel. Israeli officials have accused Iran of masterminding the attacks, although Iran has vehemently denied involvement.
16.07.2012 § Leave a comment
A mini-post about an interesting quirk of the Bulgarian language. In Bulgarian, сигурен (siguren) is an adjective that means “certain, doubtless”. However, when answering a yes/no question, “sigurno” does not mean “doubtless”, it means “perhaps”, which is far less definite. Add this to our shaking heads for “yes” and nodding for “no” and it’s no wonder Bulgaria is poorly understood 😉
11.07.2012 § 3 Comments
In the category “strangest pairings of national heroes”, it turns out that Harald Sigurdsson, king of Norway, later given the nickname Hardrada (“the hard ruler”) and one of the greatest heroes of Norse lore, was intimately involved in a bloody chapter of Bulgaria’s medieval history – the uprising of Peter Delyan.
09.07.2012 § 3 Comments
Hello, my throngs of loyal followers!
The time has come: I leave Toronto tomorrow, via Munich, Venice, Verona, Florence and Rome, for Bulgaria.
I will spend close to four weeks there, writing helpful guides and impressions on location from Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse. I will also be undertaking a 7-day hike through the Eastern Rhodopes, which will be detailed like my routes through the Balkans and Rila.
If you have requests, about anything at all (language, customs, shopping etiquette, travel guides), now is the time to send them to me as I will be able to research them at the source.
So, please comment on this post with your requests, and I will do my utmost to fulfill them.
My next post will be from sunny Sofia!
08.07.2012 § 1 Comment
After decades of being tossed around on the high waves of economic uncertainty and construction stagnation, the Bulgarian government is finally backing some serious infrastructural improvements to transportation. Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s current premier and leader of the GERB party, is the subject of thousands of political jokes and jabs, and opinions about him range from “exactly what Bulgaria needs” to “a thug with links to the Mob”. However, he has been instrumental in absorbing EU infrastructure funds and putting them to good use. Regardless of whether it’s for the good of the nation or for photo-ops at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, under his leadership Bulgaria has committed to several infrastructure projects of major importance.
05.07.2012 § 1 Comment
Petya Dubarova was born on April 25, 1962. She studied in the English-language high school in the seaside city of Burgas. She committed suicide, not yet 17, on December 4, 1979. She wrote poetry from a very early age. Her first published works appeared in the periodicals “Септемврийче” (“Child of September”) and “Народна младеж” (“People’s Youth”), in the magazines “Родна реч” (“Native tongue”) and “Младеж” (“Youth”). Her moral and spiritual guide was the poet and translator Grigor Lenkov.
During her short life Petya Dubarova penned original poetical works, impressions, fables and short stories which stand out in the literary life of 70’s Bulgaria with their flowing, daring ease and freshness.
The poetess writes about intransient human values: sea, summer, rain, youth, love and poetry, returning them to their archetypal meanings and beauty. Her poetry bares the emotional face of a generation unwilling to accept conformism, hypocrisy and lies. Her disapproval of vice and crassness Dubarova expresses not only with her verse, but also with her refusal to participate in the illusions and falseness of a degrading society. « Read the rest of this entry »
29.06.2012 § Leave a comment
Ivet Lálova, a 28-year old Bulgarian, became the European champion in the 100 m dash on June 28, 2012 in Helsinki, Finland.
The daughter of a competitive sprinter, she placed fourth overall in 100 m at the 2004 Olympics and won the 200 m gold medal at the European Indoor Championship in Madrid the following year. With a record of 10.77s set in 2004, she is the tenth-fastest woman of all time and the fastest white woman in the world at the moment.
Her career was interrupted by an idiotic accident when a careless athlete collided with her during a warmup on June 14, 2005, breaking her femur. Since then, she has been steadily regaining her speed after seven surgical interventions and a long and difficult recovery. It’s great to see her at the top of her game and I look forward to cheering her on in London.
26.06.2012 § 12 Comments
What follows is a tale of two, well, tales. More specifically, two tales of the origin of the Bulgarian state.
One tale says that Bulgaria is 1331 years old (having been founded in 681), speaks of an age-old alliance between the prosperous Slavic tribes on the Balkans and a refugee band of Bulgars pushed out of Crimea by overwhelmingly strong adversaries, and is prominent in every history book, in every cocktail party summary of Bulgarian history, in every Bulgaria-themed blog.
The other, well, makes a little bit more sense. Stick with me through 3400 words and I will show you some fascinating examples of manipulation of historical facts, as well as a different logical account of the foundation of the Bulgarian state.
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.
18.06.2012 § Leave a comment
Nevéna Kókanova (Невена Коканова) was a woman of extraordinary beauty, talent and grace, who bore the laurels of stardom with humility while her face spoke volumes of love, loss and passion. But, as is often the case, the story of Bulgaria’s brightest star is really one of tumult, forbidden love and politics, a fascinating journey from beginning to end.
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.
15.06.2012 § 2 Comments
- Second: секунда (sekúnda)
- Minute: минута (minúta)
- Hour: час (chas) – possibly a shortened version of част (chast), meaning “part” (of a day)
- Day: ден (den)
- Night: нощ (nosht)
- Week: седмица (sédmica) – shares a root with седем (sédem), meaning “seven”
- Month: месец (mésetz)
- Year: година (godína) – the archaic лето or лет, similar to Russian, is also sometimes used
- Decade: десетилетие (desetilétie) – the root for 10 (десет), followed by the archaic root for year (лет)
- Century: век (vek)
- Millenium: хилядолетие (hilyadolétie) – the root for 1000 (хиляда), followed by the archaic root for year (лет)
- « Read the rest of this entry »
14.06.2012 § 1 Comment
Since the late 1950’s, the USSR and the United States have been grappling for space supremacy. Many know and speak of the heroic chapters in this struggle, the milestones each nation achieved, and the disasters it had to endure when testing the boundaries of space. To this day, 2% of the vehicles launched in space have killed their crew, and many disasters have been narrowly averted. The US has had the benefit of an ocean to splash down into and the use of multi-launch vehicles, while the Soviet and Russian space program has been landing on hard ground in the Siberian steppes.
America has lost 14 astronauts: seven in the Challenger disaster during liftoff in 1986 and seven in the Columbia shuttle reentry in 2003. The Russian space program, in contrast, has so far lost only four: Vladimir Komarov, commander of Soyuz 1, whose main parachute failed to open on reentry in 1967, and the three-man crew of Soyuz 11, killed by depressurization during re-entry in 1971. Add to the list of fatalities the death of three astronauts in the launchpad fire on Apollo 1 (also in the ill-fated 1967), several test flight deaths (including that of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin), and a couple of very, very close calls.
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.
08.06.2012 § 7 Comments
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.
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.
06.06.2012 § 9 Comments
05.06.2012 § 10 Comments
Bulgaria is a place where you cannot be farther than 500 km away from your family, no matter how hard you try. Families often live in the same area or, if they don’t, one can always take a quick holiday to visit the folks на село (na selo, meaning “back in the village”). In fact, children often spend the summer months with one or the other set of grandparents somewhere in the country: in a village, a town or a small city.
The centuries-old familial traditions and bonds are reflected in the Bulgarian language. Much like the proverbial Inuit and their many words for snow, there are five different words for “uncle” in Bulgarian, four for “aunt”, three for “brother-in-law” and four for “sister-in-law”.
04.06.2012 § 1 Comment
In Bulgaria, the concept of a виц (vitz, a joke/funny story/anecdote) is very highly developed. Vitzove may be directed at politicians, nationalities, occupations, family members, or famous characters. Typically longer than English jokes, vitzove begin with a set-up, and may involve telling a long and elaborate story. As with all culture-specific issues, I hope you don’t find the translations too cumbersome or dense. This is just a random smattering so you know a Bulgarian joke when it’s your turn to tell one.
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.
02.06.2012 § 3 Comments
Every year on June 2 at noon, for three minutes the air raid sirens across Bulgaria sound in alarm. Cars stop, pedestrians bow their heads and students rise at their desks. Everyone observes a moment of dignified silence.
The sirens have long since stopped warning of imminent danger – there are no enemy airplanes over Sofia, no foreign armies marching across the Thracian plains. The sirens sound to remind us of those Bulgarians who died for Bulgaria’s freedom and present-day peace. On June 2 Bulgaria remembers the armies of khan Tervel, who defended Europe against the Arabs, the defenders of Medieval Tarnovo, the heroes of the April uprising, the martyrs of Shipka, the young Bulgarian flying aces who defended Sofia from English and American bombers, as well as countless other known and unknown Bulgarians who laid their lives in the name of our sovereignty.
28.05.2012 § 1 Comment
In 1914 Bulgaria was a young state, recently gained its independence and continuing to look for the means to realize the vision of unifying all Bulgarian lands within its borders. After the humiliating Treaty of Bucharest at the end of the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria was exhausted from two wars and in an economic crisis due to the loss of wheat-producing Dobrudza.
26.05.2012 § 2 Comments
Bulgarian given names are taken from a variety of sources. Biblical, Greek and Latin (like much of Europe), but also Slavic and Protobulgarian names abound among the population, with various regional varieties and pronunciations.
Geórgi (George), Iván (John, pronounced “ee-VAN”, not “I-vuhn”) and Dimítar are the three most popular boys’ names in Bulgarian. The first two are Biblical, after St. George and St. John the Baptist, respectively, while the last is the name of an important Orthodox military saint, St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki, and is distantly related to the Ancient Greek goddess Demeter.
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.
23.05.2012 § 2 Comments
In the dimly lit colonnade of a villa’s courtyard, a blindfolded young lady is laughingly following the call of a tiny bell in the hand of a masked gentleman. Her laughter echoes from the empty stage. Three masked figures peel away from the shadows and join their game with predatory grace. Two grab the gentleman, gag him and drag him off the stage. The third takes out a bell and lures the lady towards him. Completely oblivious, she trustingly approaches the predator calling to her with the bell of her beloved. He lunges at her and she screams in fear. Her screams attract the men from the house. Cornered and surrounded, the predator shoots the girl’s father and disappears in the ensuing chaos.
20.05.2012 § 4 Comments
Poet, playwright, screenwriter and translator, Valeri Petrov (pseudonym of Valeri Nisim Mevorah) is one of the most multifaceted talents in Bulgarian literature. In prose, verse and translation, his style is crisp, light and accessible and every rhyme underscores the beauty and melodiousness of the Bulgarian language.
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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.