VIBRANT COMMUNITIES

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MESSAGE FROM THE TOP

Visual propaganda was key to promoting the Communist regime in Bulgaria between 1944 and 1989, and large-scale monuments on prominent heights played a crucial role. Massive, expensive and impressive they sent a clear message to the citizens of the People's Republic of Bulgaria about the inevitability of Communism, the eternal nature of the Bulgarian nation and its gratitude to Grandfather Ivan, a misnomer used, usually affectionately, for both Russia and the USSR.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 19:06
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THE GIRLS OF RIBNOVO

They call it the Valley of Pink Pants. But this affectionate nickname of a toponym refers to just one village, set inside a pocket of the western Rhodope: Ribnovo. Ribnovo sits at 1,152 metres above sea level, but this is not the only reason for its image as a bit of a fortress and a destination for the culturally curious. As a friend put it before we visited: Ribnovo is another planet. He was from Breznitsa, a toned-down version of Ribnovo, right across the Mesta Valley, so he should know.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 18:45
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WITNESS OF TIME

The largest Sephardic temple in Europe is situated in a central Sofia street, in an area where a mosque and several churches of various denominations "rub shoulders" with each other.

The story of how Sofia Central Synagogue appeared is a fascinating one, as it encapsulates the history of Bulgaria in the past century.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 18:35
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TOP 10 SPIRITUAL VORTEXES IN BULGARIA

"This place has a special aura." Sooner rather than later you will hear this sentence applied to somewhere in Bulgaria: an old monastery, an ancient shrine – or an ugly post-Communist church. There, locals and visitors claim to have felt the presence of "cosmic energy" or a supernatural "entity." Those who have an ailment seek healing. Pure-blooded Bulgarians "connect" to their true ancestors, the ancient Thracians, the wisest people ever to walk the earth. UFO sightings may also be reported.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:52
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Do I dare to change? Bloke's best known piece of art

SEARCHING FOR BLOKE

Splendid saints, bosomy beauties in "traditional" costumes, saccharine angels: in the past decade, large scale wall paintings on concrete apartment blocks, business and public buildings in Sofia have flourished. The unveiling of the largest ones, particularly when Boyko Borisov's Sofia Municipality is involved, attracts media attention and results in an avalanche of posts, photos and shares.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:37
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FROM GHOST TO LOUVRE

Whenever the Louvre is mentioned, most people think of tourists elbowing their way for a selfie with the Mona Lisa, the once controversial glass pyramid and the protagonist of a thriller searching for (spoiler alert) Jesus Christ's bloodline. In 2017, the number of Louvres in the world doubled with the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, an UAE-French partnership with ambitious architecture and an even more ambitious, multimillion-dollar programme for purchasing and loaning items of art.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:01
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THE DANUBE

Hiding in plain sight is one of the best ways to avoid attention. There is a region in Bulgaria that has achieved that, although not quite intentionally. The Danube region is a treasure trove for visitors, yet few travellers venture along the 470-kilometre stretch from Vidin to Silistra that defines the greater part of Bulgaria's border with Romania. This is in sharp contrast to the popularity of the Danube as a tourist destination in Central Europe.

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 11:45
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CITY OF SALT

Today's doctors urge less salt, but such an advice would have sounded at least odd to the people of yore who had to do with preindustrial food. Ever since the dawn of civilisation salt was a rare and valued product. Its extraction was difficult, trading it often entailed travel of hundreds of miles, the control of salt extraction sites generated wars. Long before gold and silver became measures of wealth salt was used as a universal currency.

A prehistoric site in northeastern Bulgaria now reveals the role salt played in founding the first urban centre in Europe.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 12:17
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WHAT IS 'NPP BELENE'?

Whichever Bulgarian government translator devised the incomprehensible acronym "NPP" could have had little idea that those three letters would live on in many Bulgarians' consciousness for longer than the thing they were supposed to signify. To speakers of English, NPP stands for Nuclear Power Plant, a literal translation of the Bulgarian АЕЦ.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 12:10
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THE LAST CRUSADER

Hidden among the firs of a park by the busy Władysław Warneńczyk Boulevard in Varna is one of Bulgaria's strangest and most moving museums. There, inside one of two ancient Thracian burial mounds is the stone effigy of a sleeping medieval knight.

This is the symbolic grave of the Polish-Hungarian King Władysław III, who died in 1444 in a battle during what is considered to be the last Crusade in Europe.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 12:04
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BULGARIA'S FORGOTTEN BUNKERS

After a few weeks in Bulgaria expats and visitors alike who take more than a passing interest in the obvious attractions of the country are bound to have noticed the enormous number of ruins all over. In fact, Bulgarian Communist-era ruins can be so overwhelming that to make sense of them it helps to split them into a number of subcategories: industrial ruins (plants and factories that ceased to exist post-1989), farming ruins (remnants of collective farms and facilities), and urban ruins (abandoned or never-completed buildings in towns).

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 11:25
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Elena's traditional old town

POSTCARD FROM ELENA

"First we waited for the British tourists, then we waited for the Russians and now we are waiting for the Romanians." This was how, a decade ago, a guesthouse owner summed up the hopes and disappointments of small-time entrepreneurs in Elena, a town in the Stara Planina mountain range, about 40 kms from Veliko Tarnovo. Back in those days, EU-funded development of "green" initiatives and rural tourism was all the rage in Bulgaria, especially in economically struggling areas.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 11:10
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NESEBAR

There is a silver lining to the sharp decline in international tourism in Bulgaria in 2020. You can now see Nesebar, one of this nation's most impressive towns, without hordes of Brits and Scandinavians still hungover from the previous-evening's pub crawl at Sunny Beach resort.

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 08:17
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CINEMAS OF COMMUNISM

A few years ago, a niece of mine, a young teenager from a mid-sized Bulgarian town, got into a bitter dispute with her best friend who happened to live in the larger Ruse, over one question: what is a cinema? A cinema is a place where people go to watch movies, the girl from Ruse said. No, cinemas are shopping centres, my niece insisted.

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 07:58
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EAGLES BRIDGE

In the summer of 2020, a bridge in Sofia has persistently been in the news. Bulgarians demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev barricaded Eagles Bridge, disrupting traffic and attracting media attention.

Why this particular bridge?

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 07:45
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LESICHERI COLUMN

North-central Bulgaria is not famed for its historical landmarks. It is a region of rolling hills and soft valleys, of small forests and economically depressed villages and towns where, even on the brightest days, grey is the predominant colour. It is as if generations of people concluded that the landscape was good enough for farming, but not inspiring enough for the creation of something remarkable – a city, a temple, a legend.

As with most appearances, this one is deceptive. This region is the home of one of Bulgaria's most curious ancient monuments: an obelisk.

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 18:22
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WATERMELONS, WATERMELONS, WATERMELONS

Bulgarians use the expression "to carry two watermelons under one arm," which roughly translates us "running after two hares." But when you see the enthusiasm with which Bulgarians consume watermelons in summertime, you might easily think that carrying two watermelons under the armpit is the norm. Tarator, the ubiquitous albeit slightly unusual for Western palates cold soup, still keeps its reputation as the best way of dealing with the summer heat, but watermelons come a very close second.

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 18:13
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Madara Horseman

MADARA HORSEMAN

Bulgaria as a country, if not a state, has been around for a while. Established in 681, it was an offshoot of the few viable Barbarian lands and federations that popped up in Europe, wreaked havoc and disintegrated in the tumultuous times between the end of Antiquity and the start of the Middle Ages. In the centuries that followed, Bulgaria experienced both periods of triumph and moments of despair, and it ceased to exist as a political entity for 700 years under Byzantine and Ottoman domination.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 11:51
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RHODOPE: WONDROUS BRIDGES

Dragons are imaginary creatures and geological processes are real, but the Wondrous Bridges in the Rhodope make believing in imaginary creatures easier.

The nature phenomenon is at the end of a potholed road that twists and turns for 16 kms west of Road 86, the main route that connects Smolyan in the Rhodope with the wider world. The area's peaks are dark green with firs and the deep valleys are white with streams, a picturesque cover of karst core, the result of millions of years of volcanic and tectonic activity.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 10:53
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