America for Bulgaria Foundation

TOMBS, TREASURES AND ROSES

Everyone has heard about the Valley of the Egyptian Kings, but Bulgaria has its equivalent. The Valley of the Thracian Kings is a region where you can explore the tombs, mounds and treasures of what many historians consider to be the forefathers of modern Bulgarians.

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SHABLA: HIDDEN GEM TUCKED BETWEEN SEA AND LAND

Some cannot get enough of its beaches, beauty spots and tourist amenities, while others lament that much of its calm and pristine nature has been lost to overdevelopment. History lovers point out that the ancient Thracians, listed among the forefathers of modern Bulgarians, were masters of the choppy waters of the Black Sea long before the Greeks arrived and settled along its coastline, in the 7th-5th centuries BC. Foodies can talk at length about the superior taste of its bonito, turbot and sprat.

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BULGARIA'S REDWOODS

Bulgaria may be famous for many things but sequoias is apparently not one of them. Think again. If you know where to look you will discover a number of wonderful redwoods that will make your head swirl: Am I in the Sierra Nevadas, the natural habitat of the world's largest and tallest trees, or am I in the eastern Balkans?

The curious case of Bulgaria's sequoias started in the late 19th century when a few enthusiasts imported redwood seeds and planted them in various locations, mainly for aesthetic purposes.

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BULGARIA'S CLOCKTOWERS

Today, knowing what time it is becomes a problem only if the battery of your smart phone is dead and there is no one around to ask. For previous generations, it was different. For millennia, people measured their days and nights by the movement of the sun and stars, or waited for a rooster to crow.

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WINTER IN RILA MONASTERY

As the largest and most famous monastery in Bulgaria, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rila Monastery can appear a little overwhelming if you visit in high season or during major Christian festivals. The crowds that gather in the picturesque yard, with its toy-like painted church and the striped arches of the galleries, can obliterate any feeling of holiness, or the tranquility that is usually associated with a monastic institution of such fame.

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SEARCHING FOR ORPHEUS

Huddled deep among the hills of the Eastern Rhodope, Tatul could be any one of the many hamlets that you pass through while travelling in this area. Yet, it is not an ordinary Rhodope village. A high rocky hill rises about 300m south of it, crowned by one of the most peculiar megalithic structures the Thracians ever made.

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DARK TALES IN BELENE

Belene is a backwater of a town on the Bulgarian bank of the River Danube. It is inhabited by less than 8,000 people. Yet, for more than one reason, its name is known to all Bulgarians.

To some, it is the location of a planned nuclear power plant whose failure to materialise illustrates how corruption and incompetence in post-Communist Bulgaria can ruin what was to become a major power engineering project. To others, it is synonymous with the most atrocious crimes of the former Communist regime.

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QUIRKY ROCKS OF BULGARIA

The ability to spot visual patterns in seemingly chaotic landscapes, preferring false positives to false negatives, has been cruciвal for the survival of the human race. For thousands of years, those who lived long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation were the ones able to spot a lion hidden in a bush. Even when there was no lion at all.

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BULGARIA'S FIRST CAPITALS

If power and the economy were gravity, the gravitational centre of modern Bulgaria would be Sofia, where the population and the important agencies of the state, economy and culture are located. If we go back to the Middle Ages, when Bulgaria was still young, the country's centre of gravity would be elsewhere – in the northeast, close to the city of Shumen. There, the remains of Bulgaria's first capitals, Pliska and Preslav, still survive – next to an astonishing piece of medieval art, the Madara Horseman.

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BULGARIA'S TOP 10 FORTS

Castle-wise, Bulgaria is nothing to compare with Scotland – and many other European countries. There is little reminiscent of Transylvania's menacing fortifications, Bavaria's fairy tale confections, or the Loire Valley's romantic châteaux. Fortresses were built in Bulgaria from Antiquity to the 19th century and, although many were lost in war-time destruction and postwar turbulence, the country still has several sites that combine stunning scenery with relatively well-preserved fortifications.

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WHO WAS FATHER PAISIY?

The Revival Period. Any visitor who has been to Bulgaria for more than a couple of days for business and/or pleasure has heard this combination of words, but what does it mean? It is the name of a singular, and highly idealised, period in Bulgarian history.

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PINNACLES OF LEGEND

We often take landscapes for granted: the mountains and the river valleys we love to look at and explore seem immune to the passage of time, eternal and unchanging, even though we know this is not true. The landscapes that we inhabit are in a constant state of reshaping, albeit happening so slowly that our human eyes cannot mark the changes – incomparably long compared to not only our short lives, but also to human civilisation.

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FINDING GOD'S BRIDGЕ

It is easy to say that the Bulgarian Northwest has been forgotten by God. Economically depressed and depopulated, it has for years consistently topped the EU's least developed regions list. Yet, when you visit the Vratsa region you will find yourself surrounded by stunning, and even sublime, landscapes and natural wonders. Here, the mighty peaks of the Stara Planina mountains hang over the town, enfolding delights for visitors of any shade and persuasion. The undulations of the plain that start from there also hide another treasure: two rock bridges carved by nature.

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BULGARIA'S SPECTACULAR MANMADE LAKES

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial development has taken its toll on communities and landscapes. Polluted air, water and soil, the destruction of nature and a decimated biodiversity are all its consequences. However, in some cases industrial development has created beautiful and even stunning landscapes. Most often this is the case with artificial bodies of water, resulting from the construction of dams.

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WOODROW WILSON COMES TO SOFIA

Seen from a US standpoint, the 28th American President is usually being put in the "upper tier" of US leaders despite criticism of his propagation of racial segregation. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who served two terms in 1913-1921, successfully led the United States through the Great War. His foreign policy came to be known as Wilsonianism. He was the leading architect of the League of Nations project.

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COLD WAR REMAINS AT PADARSKO, BULGARIA

If you ever find yourself in the Thracian Plain northeast of Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city that holds many enticements to both expats and casual visitors alike, you will probably be bored. You will be doing the 20-mile drive over farming flatlands with little to distract the traveller's attention than the occasional roadside vendor selling tomatoes and peppers, or sometimes a mini traffic jam caused by a tractor going too slow. Then, quite surprisingly for a Bulgarian flatland where you are usually able to see for miles around, you will enter a thick grove.

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BULGARIA'S WILDEST BEACHES

Anyone who's visited Sunny Beach or the stretch of coast south of Sozopol will be amazed: Bulgaria's Black Sea shore, actually, is not just a concrete jungle dotted with multi-storey hotels, casinos and bars. The fact is that though overwhelming, what many locals refer to as the "unbridled" construction effort of the 2000s and 2010s has left a few usually difficult-to-reach areas untouched by the bulldozers. They still exist to this day.

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INSIDE GOD'S EYES

The Eyes of God: whoever came up with this name for the most impressive feature of Prohodna Cave, near Karlukovo, did a good job. The two openings in the ceiling of the cave really look like the gaze of a supranatural being. Some locals might protest that the actual, traditional name of the openings is the more prosaic Oknata, or The Chimneys, but bringing more visitors to this part of the economically depressed Bulgarian northwest is always a good thing for the local community.

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