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.
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.
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.
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 § 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.