Issue 107-108

WHO ARE THE MOLOKANS?

The village of Lermontovo comes as a surprise. After the drab, grey, decaying city of Vanadzor (and most of the cities in Armenia, for that matter), the village is a splash of colour. Flowers spill out from lush gardens and among the greenery are wooden houses painted in pastels, with steep roofs and birdhouses. You are perfectly aware that you are still in Armenia, but everything around looks as if you have been magically transported deep into the Russian countryside – about 200 years ago.

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PERNIK: CITY OFT-COMPARED TO MORDOR IS HIDDEN GEM

In Pernik, they continue, the guys love to drive their emblematic Golfs way beyond the speed limit, and the usual way to end a night in the bar is with a fist fight. The landscape is just as awful, as Pernik is the real-life version of Tolkien's Mordor with its mines, wastelands, and dark smoke pouring from tall factory chimneys. Don't go to Pernik, goes the popular adage, there's nothing but trouble there.

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ASENOVA FORTRESS: MEDIEVAL REMAINS ON EDGE OF RHODOPE

The Asenova Fortress is about 3 km south of Asenovgrad, on the road to Smolyan, and impresses from afar. A tiny church is perched on a steep rock overlooking the narrow gorge of the Chepelarska River. A winding road leads up to the height, where the remains of the castle are. The church, Holy Mother of Christ, is the best preserved building in the complex: a brick-and-mortar confection in the Byzantine style popular across the Balkans in the 12th-14th centuries.

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THE BEST BULGARIAN BRIDGES

A legend is told all over the Balkans about a bridge and a stonemason. Once upon a time, a group of builders was commissioned to construct a bridge over a river, but whatever the men had built during the day was mysteriously destroyed during the night. Each morning the builders had to start from scratch.

Finally, the men saw the writing on the bridge, and realised that it wanted a human sacrifice. They reluctantly made a deal among themselves: on the following day, they would inter in the bridge the first person who came near.

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TAKING THE SLOW TRAIN FROM SEPTEMVRI TO DOBRINISHTE

Some people see it as an anachronistic oddity in the age of affordable cars, but others depend on it for their daily commute. The government shut it down a couple of years ago, but reopened it in 2014. One thing no one can deny: Bulgaria's only narrow gauge railway is a tourist attraction drawing in not only Bulgarians but also, increasingly, an international trickle.

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THE UNBULGARIANS: ANDREA GENCHEVA


Have you experienced special treatment because you are a foreigner?

People tend to smile more when you are a foreigner who tries to speak Bulgarian. They would go the extra mile to help you, because you were really trying a little.

What about sexism?

Bulgarian men, like the Serbian men, tend to be kind of Balkan macho. But I can't say that I've been discriminated against.

Is there a typical Bulgarian character trait?

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THE UNBULGARIANS: KIDS AT SCHOOL ARE GOOD

They arrived in Bulgaria with their two daughters Khadije, 16, and Narges, 15, in 2012, forced by the unstable situation in their home country. They have applied for refugee status, and have been living in the State Agency for Refugees camp In Ovcha Kupel, Sofia, and the girls go to school. They say that the national costumes in their area of Afghanistan are similar to the ones we photograph them wearing.

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THE INFECTION OF BEING, an excerpt from a novel

Five years of getting up at seven. Suits, dress shirts, blazers and high heels. Hair up in a bun, nails painted nude. Less than ten years ago, I used to dream of it, hoped to build a career some day, saw myself precisely like this – in a large company, with a flashy office, in a prestigious and important position… And the weird thing is, I still like my job. Well, kind of. But more often than not I hate it.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

The churches can baptise the refugees.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, manager of the National History Museum

NATO conducted a chemical attack against Lozenets.

Extremist MP Volen Siderov on the fecal spillover at a top Black Sea resort

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PRO-RUSSIAN BULGARIA

Many people in Bulgaria sincerely think that the West in general and the United States in particular are responsible for Ukraine's wish for more democracy which led to Russia's annexation of Crimea, for the emergence of the IS, for the increasing instability in the Middle East and, most recently, for the fecal spillout in one of Bulgaria's top resorts at the southern Black Sea coast. They tend to think that it is the West and the United States that "stirred up" trouble in Ukraine, "created" the IS and so on and so forth.

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