VIBRANT COMMUNITIES

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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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Donkey Bulgaria

BULGARIA'S DONKEYS

When was the last time you saw a donkey when travelling in rural Bulgaria? For many, Bulgarians included, this is a pointless question. The sight of a grey or brown donkey quietly grazing or pulling a cart is taken for granted in this nation's countryside, both as a charming relic of the past and as a sign that many people in EU-member Bulgaria are still too poor and/or too old to afford farm machinery or cars.

Sun, 08/02/2020 - 11:18
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LIONS BRIDGE

Unlike most great cities, Sofia is located neither at a sea, nor near an important river. The Perlovska and the Vladayska, the two rivulets that skirt the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of the city centre, are too small to count. In spite of this, the two bridges that span them, Eagles Bridge and Lions Bridge respectively, are deeply embedded in the life and fabric of Sofia. Besides presenting photo ops, they each have their own history and are conduits for much of the traffic into the city.

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 11:24
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The remains of the 1981 secret digs at Golyamo Gradishte peak

LAND OF FAKE MYSTERIES

"I dislike bringing people here." The voice of the guide from the tourist office in Malko Tarnovo drops, as we approach the summit of Golyamo Gradishte, the highest peak in the Bulgarian part of the Strandzha mountains. It is summer. The sun shines through the thick foliage of the oak forest. The only thing negative about this pristine location, in the Strandzha Nature Park, are the midges that swarm around our eyes.

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 11:10
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Rock niches near Zhenda village

WONDERS OF STONE IN RHODOPE

When travelling around the Eastern Rhodope, you are bound to encounter this strange sight: on certain precipitous rocks, here and there, are scattered small, dark niches. Some are on their own, others form groups of dozens.

What are these strange niches, you might wonder. Nobody knows for sure, is the honest answer. The mystery of the rock niches that indent major cliffs in the Eastern Rhodope remains unexplained.

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 10:57
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BULGARIA'S FIREWALKERS

Police checkpoints, scores of cars parked along the roadside and throngs of people crowding between stalls selling candyfloss, kepabcheta and cheap Made-in-China toys: on 3 June, the village of Balgari looks much like any Bulgarian village during a country fair.

Balgari's fair, however, is unlike any other. When darkness falls over the village square, barefoot men and women will dance on live coals.

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 17:02
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