Issue 8

MY OWN CHOICE: STANDING THE TEST OF TIME

"Under new management". The inference intended in this sign is that the food, service and whole ambience will be better than whatever existed before, and the sign itself illustrates the impermanence of reputations in the restaurant business. However, the places mentioned below have stood my personal test of four or five years, and hopefully will continue za godini.

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IS BULGARIA A RUSSIAN TROJAN HORSE IN THE EU

Twenty years ago, news of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis gas pipeline agreement would have prompted the following headline in the Bulgarian newspapers: "On the occasion of 3 of March, Bulgaria's national holiday, our fatherland gave Russia a humble gift as a mark of profound respect and gratitude." Of course, now there are differences. Twenty years ago the national holiday was 9 September, the day, in 1944, of the Red Army-backed coup which brought 45 years of Communism to Bulgaria. And gas was not an issue at the time - cheap crude still flowed into Bulgaria from its Big Brother in the East.

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ANYONE FOR CAMPING

News that homeless Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants had been camping out in London's Hyde Park triggered predictable outrage in sections of the British media.

The Daily Mail informed us that the immigrants "pitch their tents in one spot for a few nights, then pack up and move to another. They say they are able to get away with camping in the park, which is technically illegal, because there are no wardens and they rarely see any police".

The article was accompanied by a flood of comments from readers urging the authorities to "kick out" the "campers".

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A SINCERE FRIEND

Across the road from the National Gallery in Sofia, there is a plaque on the wall of what is now the BNP bank but was once part of the Grand Hotel Bulgaria. It records that James David Bourchier, the Balkans Correspondent of the London Times, lived there from 1892 to 1920.

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TEA WITH THE JOHNSONS

Going back a few months now, I was in TsUM. You know the place. Bulgarian Harrods.

I don't hang out there or anything. No, honestly. I was looking for a reassuringly expensive trinket for a lady friend's birthday, or something. Anyway there I was, rotating a plastic Swatch display cabinet and looking dubiously at the cheaper models, when I witnessed an unusual exchange in a nearby cafe.

There was a family there. Mum and Dad, and two kids. Pale and podgy they were, with father and son sporting matching ginger nut spiky hairstyles and Manchester United T-shirts.

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HOW THE BULGARIANS BECAME EUROPEANS

During the years when Bulgaria's membership of the EU seemed but a beautiful daydream people would often take comfort in the thought "So what! We've been Europeans for 1,300 years." In 681AD the Byzantine Empire had to make a treaty with a young, steadfast confederacy formed alongside the Danube and thus admit the political existence of Bulgaria. But the Bulgarians of the 7th Century were not exactly the Bulgarians you see today walking the streets of Sofia or Sozopol.

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THE TALENTED MR MOUDOV

Ivan Moudov, a young contemporary artist, looks like a man capable of smoking his wife's cigarettes after painstakingly cutting the filter tip off each of them - in secret. Not because she would mind, but because he made a bet that he wouldn't smoke for six years, and still has five to go.

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TRADITZIA IN BULGARIA

Do you like traditional Bulgarian products? Are you drawn to the vibrant embroidery, intricate woodwork, beautiful ceramics, creative jewellery and skillful artwork? If so, you will agree that these are worth protecting in a world of global pressures, homogenous products and 21st Century cravings.

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CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE BULGARIA?

Nobody likes discussing life insurance, be it in Bulgaria or abroad. Young people are either oblivious to it or simply don't think it is relevant to them. But at a certain point you become aware that one day something could happen to prevent you from being able to support your family. Well, you can't always be on the safe side. Part of planning your successful life in Bulgaria is getting insured against all kinds of eventualities. The most popular type of insurance is life insurance and this may turn out to be a good choice for you if are moving your life and career to Bulgaria.

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NOT EXACTLY A BUYERS’ MARKET

Shopping habits are changing in the country as the competitive and fast-growing environment encourages companies to offer different retail options. Growing incomes and high demand have hastened the development of malls, retail centres and out-of-town hypermarkets.

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CURRENCY MATTERS

With so many things to think about when buying property in Bulgaria, one area that is often overlooked is how to cut down on the cost of purchasing. After all, you can be quite overwhelmed initially at the prospect of paying all of these related expenses:

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GUARD YOUR CARD

Debit and credit card use is on the up in Bulgaria and ATMs, the cash-point machines first introduced some 20 years ago, are everywhere these days. This is exactly what some criminals are banking on. To avoid getting ripped off, you should not only take the conventional precautions associated with withdrawing money from a machine, but also be aware of the popular and often rather sophisticated scams that are operating.

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DOWN THE WATERFALL

“How can I describe it?... I can call it 'Airy',” Stefan says of the feeling he experiences when plunging down waterfalls, a diversion known among extreme sports fans as “canyoning”. The last time I heard him use the word “airy” was when he was describing rock climbing in Lakatnik. Then, when I found myself hanging on a piece of rope some 400 yards from the ground, I began to realise what he meant. It was rather scary, I must admit. So this time I am a bit more sceptical.

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THE TASTE OF ISTANBUL

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Two hundred years later Alphonse de Lamartine's words still ring true – especially when talking about food. Istanbul is the nearest place you can take refuge from the kebabcheta experiments in Bulgar restaurants, the heartburn caused by underbaked bread and doughy pastry, the Shopskas with tomatoes that taste like apples, the yoghurt with preservatives and the depressing yet inevitable absence of sea food.

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SWISS PORTRAITS OF BULGARIAN COUPLES

It all began with an email I received in the summer of 2005. I was impressed by something Sava Hlavacek wrote when asking for assistance in taking photos in Bulgaria. “Bulgaria is one of the least known countries in Europe. No events from Bulgarian history have become part of European consciousness.”

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MAKING THE RIGHT MOVES

Georgi Etimov was born in 1963 in Sofia and graduated in civil engineering, a vocation that runs in the family: both his father and grandfather were engineers. He worked as one for a good part of his life, and is married to an architect. Given this background, you would be correct in thinking he would have a strong opinion on the recent construction boom. “Things are not just black and white. There are contractors who go for quality in everything they do, and there are of course the others who make all kinds of compromises.

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