FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO BULGARIA FLORENCE ROBINE

text and photography by Anthony Georgieff

On Bulgarian music, literature and taking rakiya as an aperitif

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. Still, none of those managed to dampen the inquisitiveness of someone with a background in education. Mme Robine has used all opportunities she has had to explore all aspects of Bulgaria: from classical music to travelling in the mountains, to reading Bulgarian literature in translation to visiting the galleries in Sofia.

Before she became ambassador to Bulgaria, Florence Robine was first a teacher of chemistry and physics, and then held various positions in the French educational system. Bulgaria is her first appointment as an ambassador, and she has found this country quite surprising.

I must admit I had no idea about Bulgaria before I came here. Everything was surprising. Thankfully, it was a good surprise. Of course there are remnants from the old times, but Sofia is an attractive city and Bulgarian nature outside the capital is amazing... the Black Sea, the mountains.

Also, I have discovered the rich history of Bulgaria. There is the amazing cultural heritage of these buildings, churches and monasteries that wait to be discovered. I must also mention the ancient Thracian heritage. It was a wonderful surprise for me.

Surely there must have been negative surprises as well.

In fact, yes: the sidewalks in Sofia. At the beginning I was afraid to step on them. Now I think I have learned how to navigate.

Tell me about your travels in Bulgaria.

I use every opportunity I get to explore. I have been to the main cities – Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna, Stara Zagora. I have visited smaller towns like Haskovo and Harmanli. I have been to Melnik. I visit both in my capacity as ambassador and as a questioning tourist. Obviously, I rarely miss the chance to visit a school or university.

Historically, the Bulgarian educational system was modelled on the French. Do you have any observations of how education in this country is developing at the moment?

I am impressed by the quality of educators, but I realise there are some difficulties in recruiting new teachers. This is not only in Bulgaria, in Western Europe there are similar issues as well. Youth is the future and everyone has to build the new society on young people. This means everyone should be involved with improving the educational system. An important step is to boost the training opportunities for teachers. Now with Covid-19 the first and most important goal is how to maintain the standard of education and enable young people to go to school. Everyone must be committed to this objective.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?

I am great fan of opera. For me it was a great pleasure to discover the Sofia Opera, which is excellent. I go there every chance I get.

Walking in nature is another favourite pastime.

I also read a lot. It was interesting to read some Bulgarian literature. Before I came here I had no idea about this country's literary wealth, which of course I partake of in translation. I would like to mention Georgi Gospodinov, whose writing I like. Not quite well-known in France, unfortunately.

In Sofia, we have organised a book club for female ambassadors. We read and discuss what we can get in translation. It is so important for understanding Bulgarian mentality and culture.

Can you name three locations in Sofia and in Bulgaria that you like particularly?

I love the parks: the Doctors' Garden and the Borisova Garden. Once a week I like to walk on Vitosha Boulevard. I would like to mention the Synthesis gallery of photography. I hold it very dear to my heart. It is an amazing place offering artists to get together and for the public to see wonderful exhibitions.

Some places outside Sofia are very well known to Bulgarians but not so much to foreigners. One of them is Balchik on the Black Sea coast. It is a fascinating town. The Rhodope Mountains will never cease to amaze. I recently spent some time there: Perperikon, the Dospat Reservoir. I have a particular liking for the village of Gela. Unfortunately, I could not experience the bagpipes, but that's on my bucket list. Arbanasi near Veliko Tarnovo stuns with is churches.

I do not think the future of tourism in Bulgaria is mass tourism. Because of Covid-19 and so on, the future should be more incentive-oriented, more ecological. It should be targeted to nature and heritage. Bulgaria has so much to offer.

Suppose you have friends from France visiting you in Sofia. What three things would you advise them to do?

First of all they should visit all the churches – first and foremost, the Boyana Church. It is very impressive and speaks a lot about the history of Bulgaria.

Second, I love street art, and in Sofia you can see a lot of amazing graffiti.

I like the markets in Sofia. Of course the Women's' Market, but also the other ones like the Central Food Stalls, Tsentralni Hali. In front of the Ministry of Agriculture there is sometimes a farmers market where you can find great stuff directly from the producers.

And what would you warn them against doing?

Don't be surprised when you are offered rakiya as a starter for lunch. And please don't refuse it. Always say yes. French people love a good drink, but is is so surprising to have rakiya as an aperitif. Everyone who's visited has been amazed.

Also, when you talk with Bulgarians, please – never say the Bulgarian language uses the Russian alphabet. This is a no-no. Bulgarians are very proud that the original Cyrillic alphabet was developed here. 

  • COMMENTING RULES

    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.

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

ANELIYA PARICHKOVA'S FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
The clients of Parichkova Design Lab are different and so are the interiors that they have commissioned to the studio.

GERGANA ATANASOVA: BEING A PART OF THE CHANGE
Renewable energy has immense potential for helping humanity to put climate change under control. But it is more than that.

FRENCH AMBASSADOR JOËL MEYER
The stylish French residence in Central Sofia is indeed a very special place. For about 100 years, in addition to being the home of French ambassadors, it has been the meeting spot of senior dignitaries.

NATALIA PETROVA: LET'S TALK ABOUT MODERN INVESTMENT
Natalia Petrova has over 20 years of experience in asset management, capital markets, equity and fixed income trading, UCITS products and services, and is a licensed investment consultant, broker and trader with government securities.

KATYA MACHUGANOVA: THE GAMES AI PLAYS
Women are increasingly making their own way into iGaming: as players, creators and developers. Katya Machuganova is one of them.

KENNETH MERTEN
Three times an ambassador (in Haiti, Croatia and now in Bulgaria) Kenneth Merten has a wide-ranging career in various positions within the US State Department, including in the office of the director general of the foreign service.

DR VALENTINA IVANOVA: INSPIRING CHILDREN FOR A BETTER FUTURE
In times of rapidly changing social, technological and political climates, all parents worry about what is the most responsible way to prepare their children for the challenges of tomorrow.

KRASIMIRA HRISTOVA: FEMALE ENERGY IN THE CAR INDUSTRY
Antifreeze, AdBlue® diesel exhaust fluid, windshield wiping fluid, grease... When drivers and car mechanics in Bulgaria and the Balkans buy such crucial products, they often choose one brand in particular.

NANCY SCHILLER, AMERICA FOR BULGARIA FOUNDATION
It has funded over 1,000 projects in all corners of Bulgaria and has reached thousands of people. It provides support to local partners in many areas: from encouraging private enterprise to building democratic institutions and fostering tourism.

GENERATION DATA
Data science has the power to provide invaluable insight for the competitive advantage of businesses.

MARGARITA STANCHEVA: RECRUITING PASSION
Margarita Stancheva is one of those people who challenge stereotypes as they breathe: she is young, she runs one of the hottest recruitment agencies on the IT market, she is a young mother and is refreshingly candid when talking about business and her life.

TEODOR DOBREV: SEEKING NEW CHALLENGES EVERY DAY
Perseverance, ambition, enthusiasm to learn and to adapt to the everchanging game are qualities crucial for the success of any company in the competitive IT field. Telelink Business Services is a case in point.