There are places in Bulgaria that ancient tradition or modern lore have turned into sites that attract not only people interested in beautiful landscapes and history, but also those who believe that they will discover something otherworldly there. Supposedly haunted villages and sites frequented by UFOs rub shoulders with "miraculous" springs and rocks, memories of dead clairvoyants and rumours of extraordinary events. To these, add in places venerated for centuries by unorthodox religious denominations or modern spiritual movements, plus locations that have inspired urban myths, and you will end up with a fascinating itinerary of mystic Bulgaria.
Ever since he touched a roll of black-and-white film, many years ago, Alexander Ivanov knew that his relationship with photography would be for life. Through the 1970s and 1980s Alexander Ivanov was one of this country's most innovative photographers. He was the mastermind of the association of photographers in his native Kazanlak, and his experiments in colour photography at the time brought him prestigious national and international photography awards.
In Bulgarian, the word Lakatnik means "elbow" and this place is named for a reason: at this point in its course through the Stara Planina mountains, the Iskar makes a sharp turn to the east and northeast, eventually reaching the Danube.
How many caves there are in Bulgaria is a question with no definitive answer. So far, more than 4,500 have been discovered and mapped. The number is so high because 22 percent of the country is covered with karst, a topography created when water soaks, dissolves and carves sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone, dolomite, and marble. Over millennia, the water shapes the karst into a variety of forms both on the ground and deep below. Caves are some of the most spectacular results of this activity.
We all love snow in the city on the first day after it falls, while the air is still crisp and pristine white covers the dusty streets, the cars, the leafless trees. However, after its first day in Sofia, snow becomes just another urban annoyance. The compacted ice on the pavements. The impassable streets. The grey, yellow and black hues the snow assumes from the dirty city air. Not. Enjoyable. At. All.
Straight streets intersecting at right angles: Stara Zagora, a southern Bulgarian city of 150,000, is the only one of its type in Bulgaria. It is the result of a tragedy and a necessity. In the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War, Stara Zagora was razed to the ground after a vicious battle. Rebuilding began in 1878 according to a plan by an Austro-Hungarian architect.
"Today I went to see that sort of an island with the ruins, but it was closed. I read that it used to be a school for fishermen," a British friend says, incredulously. She sips her white wine, which we are enjoying in the best of Sozopol's restaurants, on the rocky shore of the old town, and adds: "Being a fisherman is not something you are taught in school, it is a trade that generally runs in the family."