CATHERINE BARBER

CATHERINE BARBER

Fri, 08/30/2013 - 12:11

Local and multi-kulti intertwine in Sofia

catherine barber.jpg

Catherine Barber is deputy head of the British Embassy in Sofia. An economist by training, she has taught at Oxford and Harvard Universities, and as a researcher for Oxfam, the UK’s largest international development charity. As a civil servant she has worked for the Department of Business and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where she focused on the economic issues of globalisation, trade and climate change.

How long have you lived in Sofia? Why did you come here in the first place?

I came to Sofia for the first time in 2002, when I spent a summer working as an economist in Bulgaria’s Agency for Economic Analysis and Forecasting. In those days the Currency Board was relatively new and we were looking at whether the exchange rate was sustainable (I’m happy to see it has been!). I enjoyed my stay in Sofia a lot and spent my weekends travelling around the country. A few years later I joined the UK Foreign Office, and when the possibility of a posting in Bulgaria came up, I jumped at the chance. Sofia has been my home since 2010.

Your favourite cultural venues in Sofia - and why are they favourites?

My favourite pastime is music, so my favourite cultural venues are mostly related to music. I am a big fan of Sofia Live Club, where I’ve attended several fantastic events – Argentinian tango played by virtuoso harmonica; the Asian Dub Foundation; and City-to-City Cabaret sponsored by the British Council. As I live on Vasil Levski Boulevard it also has the advantage of being my nearest venue! I love the acoustics in Bulgaria Hall and regularly attend concerts there, most recently a performance of Fiddler on the Roof in the chamber hall. And Sofia Opera impressed me hugely this summer with its production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. My partner and I went to all the performances.

Is Sofia a cosmopolitan city?

Not in the sense of being a world city like London or New York. One doesn’t hear the same variety of languages spoken on the streets, or see people from so many different races. Having said that, my friend Zvezda Vankova who runs the Multi-Kulti Kitchen project, tells me that migrants from dozens of different countries live in Sofia. Every month Multi-Kulti celebrates the culture and cuisine of a different country, hosted by migrants who are living here. So there is clearly a mix. I would say that Sofia feels, culturally and architecturally, like a European city with some influences from further away.

Your favourite hangouts in Sofia?

My favourite place at the weekend is the Sun and Moon cafe at the Small Five Corners crossroads. It’s just round the corner from my house. If I have time, I settle down there with a good book, enjoy the wonderful vegetarian food and soak up the atmosphere. Alternatively, when I’m with my partner (who is decidedly not vegetarian) we tend to hang out in the beer gardens that can be found all around the centre of town. Finally I like the cafes on Vitosha Boulevard. I find it very relaxing to sit there, drinking coffee and watching the world go by. I usually pop in to Greenwich book store as well.

Three amazing things about Sofia?

Living in Sofia, we are lucky to have so many parks. It’s a really green city, and lovely to walk around. My favourite occupation at the weekend is to take a map of the city, draw myself a route including a park, and walk for several hours. The best way to become properly acquainted with a city, in my experience, is on foot. Sofia’s parks contain many fascinating little monuments and statues, which if you stop to read them, offer a window into the place and history. Apart from these green spaces in the city, I’d have to count Mount Vitosha as one of Sofia’s amazing things. We are unbelievably lucky to have such a beautiful place to hike and relax, so close. I always take visitors to one of the churches on the foothills of the mountain. And lastly, though not so dramatic, one of Sofia’s attractive attributes is the proliferation of small cafés, bars and restaurants. I think it would be possible to go to a different “zavedenie” (establishment) every evening and never repeat a visit, as new places open so often.

Three things you dislike about Sofia?

Hmm, it’s wouldn’t be very diplomatic to criticise my host city! The one improvement I’d make would be the pavements. Several of my visitors have gone home with stubbed toes or twisted ankles. This would be a cultural investment because pedestrians could keep their heads up and admire the city, instead of keeping their eyes on the hazardous paving!

Apart from local culture, are there any other events that visitors and residents should take a note of?

The international festivals. The Sofia International Film Festival has an excellent reputation, for example. I regret to say I missed it this year because I was away on holiday, but I won’t make the same mistake in 2014! Many embassies and cultural institutes put on festivals too. I particularly enjoyed the events organised by the Japanese and Belgian embassies in the last year. And we had an excellent response to our British Weeks festival this season. The highlight for me was our Open Day at the British Ambassador’s Residence – hundreds of people came to visit us, many of whom were neighbours who’d never been inside the Residence before. Next year we will celebrate the 100th anniversary since it was built, and I’m sure we’ll organise several events for Sofia’s visitors and residents.

Does Sofia deserve to be named European Capital of Culture in 2019?

Yes. The city has plenty to offer. Bulgaria receives many European visitors but they don’t always come to Sofia – it would be a great opportunity to show guests how attractive the capital can be. I’m confident that Sofia would put on a great programme.

Logo Sofia MunicipalityLogo Sofia 2019 This project is sponsored by Sofia Culture Programme of Sofia Municipality for 2013, and is in support to the Sofia and the South-west region nomination for European Capital of Culture for 2019

Issue 83-84 Sofia's Foreigners

Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

0 comments

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Petar Torneff, Director of Accenture Technology Center in Bulgaria
PETAR TORNEFF: EXPLORING THE METAVERSE
How will technology develop and how will it affect the way we live and do business? This is a tough question that has engaged the brightest minds of our time.

Vladimir Dokov EGT
VLADIMIR DOKOV: CHANGING THE GAME
Euro Games Technology (EGT) is an example of the concept that everything is possible when the right goals are set, and innovation goes together with strategic management and a winner’s mindset.

higia hospitals tsvetelina spiridonova
TSVETELINA SPIRIDONOVA, MD, PHD: IN THE NAME OF THE PATIENT
When Tsvetelina Spiridonova, MD, PhD, took over Higia Hospital in early 2019, she had big shoes to fill.

Silvia-Veselinova-Idea-Building
SILVIA VESELINOVA: ENERGY TO MOVE AHEAD
Silvia Veselinova welcomes us to the new offices of Idea Buildings where she is surrounded by smiling colleagues and a multitude of tulips.

Giuseppina Zarra
ITALIAN AMBASSADOR GIUSEPPINA ZARRA
Giuseppina Zarra is no novice to the Balkans. She is one of the rare breed of diplomats who have made a comeback to Sofia after her initial spell here in the 1990s.

dr nely djurkova art dent clinic
DR NELI DJURKOVA: THE SECRET OF A BEAUTIFUL SMILE
When beautiful and healthy smile is concerned, Dr Neli Djurkova is one of the best specialists around to ask for advice and help.

KPMG-ITS-1.jpg
SVETOSLAV SPASOV: SUCCESSFUL TEAMS STAND BEHIND SUCCESSFUL COMPANIES
Bulgarian IT industry is the most rapidly developing sector of the local economy. What are the challenges that it faces? What is the climate in which it operates? What changes did it experience in the past 10 years?

Florence Robine
FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO BULGARIA FLORENCE ROBINE
Florence Robine, the French ambassador to Bulgaria, has spent about two years in the country as most of the time her schedule and activities have been impeded by the varying and changing Covid-19 restrictions.

Iliyana Tarnina DTC Commerzbank Sofia
ILIYANA TARNINA: BULGARIAN TEAMS DEVELOP THE BANKING OF TOMORROW
Increased digitalisation, customised approach, improved data security: banking, which has been a part of civilisation for centuries, is transforming before our own eyes. And a team in Bulgaria has a significant role to play in this change.

Miglena Temelkova
PROF MIGLENA TEMELKOVA, PHD: FUTURE IS INTERDISCIPLINARY
When we arrived at the University of Telecommunications and Posts (UTP) in Sofia, we were aware that we were up for an interesting meeting. For two years now Bulgaria's oldest professional university has been managed by a young and energetic professional.

ssarm_2.jpg
SSARM: LATEST GENERATION SYSTEM INTEGRATION
The role that high technologies, AI and their capabilities to make living, travel and business easier, more effective and safer, in our lives is expanding.

Reneta Tsonkova
RENETA TSONKOVA AND THE HEART OF DIAMONDS
You need an appointment to enter the elegantly splendid Renée De Clair, a boutique for diamond jewellery and a gemological laboratory on Sofia's Rakovski Boulevard – and this is just the first sign that you are up for an experience without parallel in Bulga