Issue 1

MY OWN CHOICE: FOOD FOR THOUGHT AND STOMACH

Like life, food should be varied. I love the Seasons brunch at the Sofia Hilton, phone: 933 5062, especially if it is wet outside. But if it isn't, I like to travel restaurant to restaurant. And I keep repeating to myself what Samuel Johnson once said: "A cucumber should be well-sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out."

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CITIZEN V.

A ceiling-high portrait of Vasko by photographer Mario Testino hangs in the reception of Covent Garden's Royal Opera House. And this young, unconventional musician cuts an impressive figure on the world music scene in real life too.

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APPROACH WITH CAUTION

"Knowledge is power", Sir Francis Bacon once stated, admittedly without Bulgaria in mind at the time, although anyone buying a property will no doubt agree with him.

Like any country, Bulgaria has its share of dodgy characters looking to profit from naivety. Whether this is simply by charging outrageous prices for property or services, or via shadier methods, your personal and financial savvy will be invaluable.

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LETTER FROM MARIYKA

Pricy Johnny,

The summer already ended and I have gone to school. This year will study a lot more English than before, and I hope to catch a lot better the tongue of Mark Twain when you again come next summer. The first school day was in the middle of the road in September. The mistress of English is Bulgarian who doesn't even speak with an American accent. A big disappointment, because how willpeople grasp me when I come to visit you in Iowa?

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BUBBLE TROUBLE

An intriguing fact appeared in The Guinness Book of Records 2004. Bulgaria featured as the country with the fastest rising real estate prices in the world, with an annual rate of increase of 47 percent. Some believed that it was just a one-day wonder, a bubble which would burst very soon. Others, who knew better, rushed to buy real estate properties in Bulgaria. In 2006 "the bubble" is growing bigger and bigger. Some Western European experts have even compared the developments in the Bulgarian market to the early days of the Spanish property boom in the 1980s.

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SETTING UP A COMPANY

But while this may sound horribly complicated at first, armed with the relevant information and documents, you should find the whole process relatively quick and painless.

Taxation and company matters can be confusing enough in your own country, but when you're abroad and trying to adhere to, and understand, a completely different set of rules, it can be a huge headache. Bulgaria's penchant for applying rules differently in various regions of the countrycan also complicate matters. Engaging a local lawyer should be the quickest way to get your business up and running.

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RAMADAN 2006

The Muslim month of fasting called Ramadan, or Ramazan in Turkish, began on 24 September. Muslims believe that on one of the days toward the end of the month - the 25, 27 or 29, it is not known exactly which - the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations of the Qur'an from Allah.

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STASI LEGACY TOPPLES MINISTERS IN GERMANY

When Marianne Birthler, a well-known former member of East Germany's dissident movement, appears in public she is inevitably the focus of attention and captivates the audience. The present-day head of the STASI Records Office has what is called "strong stage presence". However, the recent increase of interest in her institution's work is not due to this quality alone. Seventeen years after the STASI headquarters in Berlin were stormed, the archives of Erich Mielke, then the German Democratic Republic's Minister of State Security, still trouble the mind of unified Germany.

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HORO-ING FOR THE PRESIDENCY

To make the ideal Bulgarian president, take one liberal helping of wild masculine beauty, preferably Marlon Brando style, and stir in generous amounts of energy and wealth until smooth. Add an Oxford diploma, a sprinkling of easily-invoked nostalgia and a large pinch of dedication to family and children. Mix thoroughly. Subtract 20 years from the usual age of a president, and add the mien of a Man Booker Prize winner - that of having important things to convey, but saying little.

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THE GREAT BORDER DEBATE

British journalist and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee recently cautioned the public against confusing the British government's overall policy on immigration with the issue of work permits.

Diagnosed politically as "enlargement fatigue", Britain's decidedly negative attitude towards the next two EU-bound countries, Bulgaria and Romania, appears to be the result of the British public's discontent with government policy on a range of border-based issues, rather than an actual aversion to Polish plumbers.

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ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE

Sitting here with my purple foot resting gingerly on the terrace chair, I look back on my first month or so in Sofia. While reflecting on my experiences here in my attempt to get my head round the place, I find that the more I try to come up with a word to sum up the city, the more I can only come up with "almost, but not quite". OK, that's a phrase, but it kind of works. Sofia is a well-cut Kenzo suit... with white socks. It's a land of contrasts.

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TSAR HRISTO VERSUS SAN MARCO

As a preliminary test of my Orange nationalism I went to watch Lokomotiv Sofia play against Feyenoord Rotterdam. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt very good about the goals scored by the Bulgarians, although my local teams in Holland and Bulgaria are Ajax and Levski.

But what about THE BIG GAME? The question remained: should I back the Dutch favourites or dress in red, white and green and cheer for my new brethren?

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LORD OF THE RUBBISH

Recently, some Internet jokers posted a list of little known facts about the mayor of Sofia, Boyko Borisov. Among these were that he never wears a watch because he decides what time it is, that he is the only man to have won a tennis match against a brick wall, and that he never sleeps, but waits.

It is fair to say that our mayor has something of a reputation as a hardman. A brief look at his résumé shows why.

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS DON'T LAST!

My first brush with Bulgarian bureaucracy was at the Bulgarian consulate in Greece. My partner and I happened to see different consuls and were each told we needed a different set of paperwork for our Bulgarian visas. What! Surely there must be one set of criteria that everyone must follow?

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ANDREY DANIEL

Born on 28 March 1952 in the northern town of Ruse on the Danube, Andrey Daniel had no childhood dreams of being a doctor or a lorry driver - he always wanted to be an artist. Andrey graduated in painting from the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia and is now a professor of painting there.

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BY THE WAY

In 1784, Kurdish warlord Ishak Pasha chose a high plateau on the side of the mythical Mount Ararat in present-day eastern Turkey as the location for his palace. The site had a great strategic significance; the Silk Road passed through the valley below, and Ishak Pasha collected the tolls.

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HERE COME THE WOMEN

Okay, so maybe the homemade jam isn't so far from the truth - "Of course we do tapestry, of course we do cookery classes, we do all the other things that women's organisations do," says IWC president Marianna Hill, but the difference is that, with members from about 50 different nationalities and a constant influx of newcomers, the IWC is always on the move and has a decidedly cosmopolitan feel.

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DEAR VAGABOND

However, these mostly concern quirky millionaires trying to buy up a Bulgarian village, a few paragraphs about the impenetrable politics leading up to EU accession in 2007 or, my favourite, tantalising photos of golden Thracian objects. Tantalising, because I passed through the countryside where they were found. Who knows what lay just beneath my feet?

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