VAGABOND FEATURES

Magdalina Stancheva.jpg

WHO WAS MAGDALINA STANCHEVA?

Walking around Central Sofia is like walking nowhere else, notwithstanding the incredibly uneven pavements. A mixture of buildings in a range of time periods and styles define the Bulgarian capital: Roman fortifications and early-Christian buildings rub walls with medieval churches, former Ottoman mosques and fine fin-de-siècle residential houses. Over these loom monstrous buildings in the Stalinist Baroque style and soulless glass-and-concrete concoctions built after the 1990s.

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 08:45
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SCHOLARS AND RADICALS

When a Bulgarian TV crew came to our village in northeastern Bulgaria to shoot a beer advert they wanted British people in the film, so we appeared as ourselves. The image they portrayed in the 30-second clip is cosy and crafty, and shows the British incomers playing a natural part in village life. I am happy to say that this image is true, as all of us have been warmly welcomed here since day one.

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 09:48
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LONG ROAD HOME FOR LT CROUCHLEY

During most of the Second World War, Bulgaria and the United States were enemies. In 1943-1944 Allied aircrafts bombed major Bulgarian cities. The Bulgarian air forces shot some of these down, and their crews were sent to a designated POW camp near Shumen, in northeastern Bulgaria. In September 1944, when it was already clear that Nazi Germany and its Bulgarians allies would lose the war, then Bulgarian government ordered the closure of the POW camp.

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 09:51
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WHAT'S YOUR AUNT TO YOUR NEPHEW ANYWAY?

Happy families may be alike, unhappy families may be unhappy in their own way, but in Bulgaria all these come with a twist: a plethora of hard-to-pronounce names for every maternal and paternal aunt, uncle and in-law that can possibly exist.

Ask any Bulgarian how their recent family gathering went and the answer will probably sound something like this: "A disaster. My Badzhanak got into an argument with my Tashta, my Strinka showed up with her annoying Vuyna, then my Shurey got completely tanked and my sister was really upset."

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 09:22
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FRANCE IN BULGARIA

Sofia is awash with English signs and logos, but here and there a French name pops up: a central street is called Léandre le Gay, schools are named Alphonse de Lamartine and Victor Hugo, a metro station is known as Frédéric Joliot-Curie. On noticing this, you may be reminded of the words of the late Bulgarian president Zhelyu Zhelev who famously stated that Bulgarians were Francophones. His remarks hold some truth: before English took over as the lingua franca, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 10:26
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WHAT TO DO WITH BULGARIA'S FLYING SAUCER?

During the past 20 years Bulgaria has gained notoriety with an unusual tourist attraction. No, it is not the Kazanlak roses, not the mushrooming "medieval" fortresses being erected from scratch with EU money. It is a former Communist "house-monument," perched on a mountain within the Balkan range, that is inevitably in the top three of the various Strange Tourist Attractions sites on the Internet.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 17:42
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WHO WAS STEFAN STAMBOLOV?

Bulgaria's news cycle nowadays consists largely of real and imaginary scandals that grab the public attention for a while before being buried under a heap of new scandals. In July, however, a small event squeezed through the cracks and made some short-lived noise.

The tomb of politician Stefan Stambolov (1856-1895) in the Sofia Central Cemetery was vandalised. Its bronze bust was stolen and the pediment was damaged.

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 13:07
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BRIDGES OF FREEDOM

History sometimes moves in mysterious ways, as indicated by the story of the role two bridges played in two revolutions, a century and an ocean apart.

Most of the tourists visiting Koprivshtitsa, a town of beautiful traditional houses in the Sredna Gora mountains, pause at a certain bridge. Small and humpbacked, it does not look that important.

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 12:35
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CASABLANCA'S BULGARIAN CONNECTION

No doubt your wanderlust will not be satisfied until you visit Casablanca, the bustling city of 3.8-plus million on the Atlantic coast that dominates the Kingdom of Morocco.

Today Casablanca is nothing like it was 75 years ago when it was a way station for refugees seeking to escape the Nazis who controlled all Europe except for Portugal and Nazi-leaning Vichy France, the colonial masters of Casablanca. Then the city had a few hundred thousand inhabitants, filled with all kinds of characters.

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:24
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DO YOU SPEAK ESPERANTO?

Daenerys Targaryen de Ludo de Tronoj parolas la lingvon de la Dothraki, kiu estas artefarita lingvo, kiel Esperanto. Recognising the names, viewers of Game of Thrones can easily conclude that the previous sentence is in some of the languages spoken in the fictional universe of the TV series (authored in real life by language creator David J. Peterson).

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:54
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FALL OF 1,300 YEARS OF BULGARIA

In the summer of 2017, after years of debates, projects and protests, Sofia looked as though it would finally part with one of the most controversial monuments of the period referred to as Mature Socialism (roughly, the 1970s and 1980s in Communist Bulgaria). Everyone knows the monument in question: it is the 35-metre-high angular construction of granite plates and metal, crowned with ghostly statues and disintegrated slogans, in front of the NDK in central Sofia.

Ironically, the name of the monument slated for demolition is 1,300 Years of Bulgaria.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:24
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THE IRISHMAN WHO DANCED THE HORO

It is an image that stays in the mind. In a brightly-lit, austere tavern, a pair of men in traditional Bulgarian costume dance, surrounded by onlookers. Rachenitsa is a horo popular all over Bulgaria and is usually danced by one or two men, not holding hands, but on their own. Famous for its difficulty and the stamina required, in the olden times it was used as a competition between rival parties.

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 15:32
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HELL IS NO JOKE

The architecture? The silver-haloed icons of the Virgin Mary? The elaborate carvings of the icon doors? These may all be astonishing, but have you noticed the river of fire, on the outside western wall of most of the churches, flowing towards the gaping mouth of a dragon-like monster? Have you bent to see in detail the devils in the flames? Have you wondered what were the crimes of the sinners they torture?

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 13:32
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BRINGING ANTIQUITY BACK TO LIFE

In October 2016, a thick layer of soil and debris covering an ancient mosaic for centuries was removed to reveal a stunning mosaic of a peacock with a tail fanned to show all of its majestic colours. But the marvellous bird is only a speck of the archaeology, history and art treasures of the Bishop's Basilica in Plovdiv. For a second year now, they are being surveyed by archaeologists from Plovdiv Archaeological Museum led by Zheni Tankova, with funding by the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 16:09
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IN THE COUNTRY OF SAD SOUVENIRS

The trouble is that most of it is obviously ugly, kitschy, smelly, or all of the above. There are the crude fridge magnets and the decorative plates and coffee mugs with amazingly incompetent representations of local and national tourist sites. There are the decorative glass bottles filled with a concoction you are told is Rakiya (well, it might be, but just don't drink it).

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 13:19
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CONFUSINGLY BIG HAPPY FAMILY

Sounds like a nightmare? The truth is even scarier: all those monstrously unpronounceable words refer to your friend's relatives. The above is, in fact, only a small sample of all the baffling kinship terms that exist in Bulgarian. You can probably describe your relationship to extended family members with a modest vocabulary consisting of grandfather, grandmother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece and cousin.

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 12:45
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