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Danish ambassador on promoting bicycles, healthy lifestyle in Bulgaria

Before he arrived in Sofia last September, Danish Ambassador Søren Jacobsen had taken diplomatic positions in Turkey and China. Jacobsen has been here for less than a year but has already done something many would consider telltale Bulgarian: he planted tomatoes and herbs in the yard of his residence. Gardening, however, has been a passion that predates Søren Jacobsen's Bulgarian posting.

Bulgaria is a great country, a nice place to be both as an individual and as a family. It was truly fun being here during the country's EU presidency in the past six months. Bulgaria faired well and demonstrated its potential. I want to promote further the bilateral relations using the presidency as a turning point. We have a number of Danish companies in Bulgaria, both IT ventures created by young Danes and the bigger Danish firms managed by Bulgarian CEOs.

Are you aware of any difficulties Danish companies experience in Bulgaria?

Not specifically. Of course, Bulgaria is different from Denmark and you have to be careful and to know the system. The level of corruption here is different than in Denmark.

Name a few differences between Bulgarian and Danish business culture?

Every country is different and has its particularities. However, Bulgaria is an European country and the mindset is much closer to that in Denmark than for example China or Afghanistan.

What should a Danish citizen visiting Bulgaria be careful about?

In regard of crime and terrorism Bulgaria is a very safe country, there is nothing specifically dangerous here. Of course, some young people going mainly to places like Sunny Beach should try to be reasonable. But I wouldn't be too concerned if I visited the country for the first time. However, when travelling here, as anywhere else, one has to apply common sense. The Danish Foreign Ministry has recently updated its security advisory, so a traveller can check in advance before visiting a country.

Did you have the time to travel in Bulgaria?

I have travelled quite a lot, combining work with pleasure. Mostly I went skiing in Bansko, and visited the Black Sea: Varna, the Sunny Beach and the places around. Also Plovdiv. I plan to travel more. Bulgaria is a beautiful country with many things to see and do. In my first year I am here alone; my wife and my younger daughter will arrive this summer. So in summer, our family of five is going to the Black Sea coast, enjoying the holiday.

What is your favourite place in Bulgaria?

There are a lot of places I haven't seen, but I really like the Rila Mountains. The Rila Monastery is beautiful, and I like the mountains.

What about Sofia?

Sofia is a nice town, especially when the flowers are in full bloom and the trees are green. In winter it is a bit darker. Sofia is packed with entertainment, it is an open city with many squares and places to walk. Last year the famous Danish architect, Jan Gehl, consulted the city council on how to make the city more liveable. This is something I would like to promote. You see now more and more bicycle lanes in Sofia. We have a number of embassy bikes and we try to bike around in the city. Still, most drivers need to get used to it.

What places in Sofia would you recommend to a foreign visitor?

During the Bulgarian EU presidency we had a lot of delegations visiting. As they had only two-three hours free, we took them on a walk around Sofia. We took them to Aleksandr Nevskiy, but also to the area where the churches, the synagogue and the mosque are, to get a feel of the city. Sofia is a convenient place to walk and its main sites of interest can be explored in about two hours. If there is more time, I like to take people to the Vitosha.

You mention the area in Sofia where temples of three different religions co-exist. Is Bulgaria a tolerant country?

Bulgaria is moving in the right direction, and tolerance is an important part of that. The fact that the Pride Parade exists is a good signal by itself. However, Bulgaria is still on a journey and there is still room for improvement, although there are many other countries that are in the same position.

What Danish achievement in this respect can Bulgaria learn from?

One thing is same-sex marriage. Denmark was the first country to legalise it, back in 1989. People should be free to marry whoever they want. However, it is up to the Bulgarian government to decide what is right in Bulgaria, it is not my job to judge.

How do you find Bulgarian food?

I like to cook. I like all the vegetables, the Shopska, the starters. Also the lamb.

Which Bulgarian dish would you like to learn to cook?

I am not sure, but probably something with lamb.

Rakiya or wine?

Wine. That's probably not the right answer, but I really like Bulgarian wine.

Sofia lacks a Scandinavian restaurant. Do you miss Scandinavian food here?

The New Nordic kitchen is fashionable nowadays and it would be nice to have a restaurant here specialising in it. However, a lot of the New Nordic food trend is about ingredients that are green, healthy, biodynamic. I do not know how these could be produced in Bulgaria in a commercial way. But I can always indulge in Scandinavian food and cook it myself when I am home in Denmark.

What cultural activities do you have or plan to have in Bulgaria?

We had quite a lot in the past year. We had a number of concerts, one of the recent was a ballet show in Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture. A Danish poem is also a part of the Poetry in the Underground project in Sofia, which introduces people in the metro system on different European literatures.

As I am from Aarhus, which was the European Capital of Culture in 2017, I would like to bring some cooperation with Plovdiv, which will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

Besides culture, we also aim to promote ideas, like bicycling in the city. We had such an event last fall and we plan to do it again. Danish culture includes also healthy living, that is why in May we organised a 5km Crown Run in Sofia's South Park.

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