VAGABOND FEATURES

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CASABLANCA'S BULGARIAN CONNECTION

No doubt your wanderlust will not be satisfied until you visit Casablanca, the bustling city of 3.8-plus million on the Atlantic coast that dominates the Kingdom of Morocco.

Today Casablanca is nothing like it was 75 years ago when it was a way station for refugees seeking to escape the Nazis who controlled all Europe except for Portugal and Nazi-leaning Vichy France, the colonial masters of Casablanca. Then the city had a few hundred thousand inhabitants, filled with all kinds of characters.

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:24
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DO YOU SPEAK ESPERANTO?

Daenerys Targaryen de Ludo de Tronoj parolas la lingvon de la Dothraki, kiu estas artefarita lingvo, kiel Esperanto. Recognising the names, viewers of Game of Thrones can easily conclude that the previous sentence is in some of the languages spoken in the fictional universe of the TV series (authored in real life by language creator David J. Peterson).

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:54
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FALL OF 1,300 YEARS OF BULGARIA

In the summer of 2017, after years of debates, projects and protests, Sofia looked as though it would finally part with one of the most controversial monuments of the period referred to as Mature Socialism (roughly, the 1970s and 1980s in Communist Bulgaria). Everyone knows the monument in question: it is the 35-metre-high angular construction of granite plates and metal, crowned with ghostly statues and disintegrated slogans, in front of the NDK in central Sofia.

Ironically, the name of the monument slated for demolition is 1,300 Years of Bulgaria.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:24
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THE IRISHMAN WHO DANCED THE HORO

It is an image that stays in the mind. In a brightly-lit, austere tavern, a pair of men in traditional Bulgarian costume dance, surrounded by onlookers. Rachenitsa is a horo popular all over Bulgaria and is usually danced by one or two men, not holding hands, but on their own. Famous for its difficulty and the stamina required, in the olden times it was used as a competition between rival parties.

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 15:32
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HELL IS NO JOKE

The architecture? The silver-haloed icons of the Virgin Mary? The elaborate carvings of the icon doors? These may all be astonishing, but have you noticed the river of fire, on the outside western wall of most of the churches, flowing towards the gaping mouth of a dragon-like monster? Have you bent to see in detail the devils in the flames? Have you wondered what were the crimes of the sinners they torture?

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 13:32
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BRINGING ANTIQUITY BACK TO LIFE

In October 2016, a thick layer of soil and debris covering an ancient mosaic for centuries was removed to reveal a stunning mosaic of a peacock with a tail fanned to show all of its majestic colours. But the marvellous bird is only a speck of the archaeology, history and art treasures of the Bishop's Basilica in Plovdiv. For a second year now, they are being surveyed by archaeologists from Plovdiv Archaeological Museum led by Zheni Tankova, with funding by the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 16:09
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IN THE COUNTRY OF SAD SOUVENIRS

The trouble is that most of it is obviously ugly, kitschy, smelly, or all of the above. There are the crude fridge magnets and the decorative plates and coffee mugs with amazingly incompetent representations of local and national tourist sites. There are the decorative glass bottles filled with a concoction you are told is Rakiya (well, it might be, but just don't drink it).

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 13:19
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CONFUSINGLY BIG HAPPY FAMILY

Sounds like a nightmare? The truth is even scarier: all those monstrously unpronounceable words refer to your friend's relatives. The above is, in fact, only a small sample of all the baffling kinship terms that exist in Bulgarian. You can probably describe your relationship to extended family members with a modest vocabulary consisting of grandfather, grandmother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece and cousin.

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 12:45
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TWISTED WISDOMS

Bulgarians are no exception. Throughout the centuries, they have produced their share of common sense maxims covering all aspects of life, including many virtues. Hard work is endorsed ("The vineyard doesn't need a prayer but a hoe" and "He who doesn't work shouldn't eat") as are hospitality and generosity ("Treat your guest, and forgive your enemy"), and humbleness ("Take a big bite of food, but don't say a big word").

Thu, 09/08/2016 - 12:41
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C IS FOR SOFIA, A STANDS FOR BURGAS

Number plates usually reflect the year of the first registration, or the province where the car's owner resides, or sometimes they give out nothing at all except a unique combination of letters and numbers detectable by the traffic authorities and the police.

Theoretically, they should give out meaningful information in Bulgaria as well. But try to find out what an Y stand for on a local number plate and then think of the TX on another, and you are bound to see that not even number plates in this country are produced the way things are done elsewhere.

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 12:42
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BIRTHPLACE OF BULGARIA'S LAST DICTATOR

You are in an unsightly socialist town where rustic houses are scattered amongst prefabricated housing blocks. Men are repairing Ladas and Moskviches and women are dusting carpets in the patches of green. You head for the town square and discover that it is appropriately covered with the large white slabs to be seen in so many other Bulgarian towns, the result of a 1980s plan by Communist rulers to implement pedestrian zones. But there is something a little out of kilter here. The town is oddly clean and the pavement is not falling apart. There are few stray dogs in the streets.

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 14:36
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VANGA GOES GLOBAL

As 2015 was drawing to a close and the unravelling conflict in the Middle East (the ISIS, the refugees, the airstrikes, Russia, Turkey, the EU, etc, etc) spiralled deeper into a state that can best be described with expletives, the name of a Bulgarian suddenly hit the international news.

It was Vanga, the blind clairvoyant who died on 11 August 1996.

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 15:00
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MUZEIKO - BUILDING OF THE YEAR

A few months after its opening, Sofia's Muzeiko, the first museum for children in Eastern Europe, is not only full with visitors eager to learn more about nature, history and space. In December, Muzeiko won the Building of the Year 2015 award in the Educational Infrastructure category. The museum was also a nominee in two more categories, Building Incorporating Green Elements and Concrete in Architecture.

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 14:41
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