Issue 125

EMMA HOPKINS

Emma Hopkins, OBE, has been HM ambassador to Bulgaria for two years, following a successful career in areas as varied as migration and asylum, human rights and preventing sexual violence in war zones. She has two small daughters who go to school outside of Sofia, but who have to breathe the Central Sofia air when they come home. Two years is probably not a very long time to make an in-depth assessment of any country, but Emma Hopkins has some very clear ideas of what's going on in ever-changing Bulgaria.

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THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THE FAST

Advertising is one of those businesses, which has changed so rapidly and dramatically in the past few years that if you have lived long enough to remember the olden days, you might think of the early 2000s as if they belonged to the pre-Diluvian age. Contemporary advertising is fast, digital, ever changing and constantly fine-tuning to reach its target groups more efficiently, helping old and young, big and small companies to prosper and succeed. Or to fail, if they underestimate how modern advertising works.

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WHEN WILL WE CATCH UP WITH THE AMERICANS...?

Loosely picking on the tune of The Beatles's Let It Be, Kolev set it to Bulgarian verse. Its refrain ran like this: "When will we catch up with the Americans?"

Concert venues and town squares cheered on when Todor Kolev made his appearance. Audiences jumped up and intoned: "When shall we catch up with the Americans?" "When? When? When?..."

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MYSTIC BULGARIA

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.

Here we offer you some of the most interesting of these places. Take note: the clairvoyant Vanga, and the Strandzha feature heavily on our list.

 

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WEAR BADGE, WILL SIT

Take Yordanka Fandakova, the mayor of Sofia, a former teacher who was handpicked for the job by Boyko Borisov. Some time ago the Sofia City Council installed pedestrian buttons at traffic lights, supposedly to alleviate congestion. People, especially elderly folk and visitors from out-of-town, failed to understand how those worked because no one had explained to them. Significantly, the new buttons were installed at major crossings in Central Sofia where there is always a steady flow of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

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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.

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FLIGHT OVER BULGARIA

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.

Since 1988 Alexander Ivanov has been a freelance photographer based in Kazanlak.

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ALL ALONG THE ISKAR, Part 2

The first place of interest after Lakatnik might look strange to a foreigner: a five-metre statue of an old man apparently staring into the gorge, at Ochindol village. The 2005 monument represents one of the best known literary characters in Bulgaria, the Dyado, or Grandpa, Yotso from the short story Dyado Yotso is Looking On by Ivan Vazov. The story is about a blind octogenarian from an isolated hamlet in the Iskar Gorge who is fascinated by every single sign of Bulgaria's independence from the Ottomans; from the uniforms of an official and a soldier to the newly-built railway.

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THE WORLD IN YOUR PLATE

I have a first-hand experience in this: I have consciously sat in a Chinese restaurant while in Bangalore, I have ordered sushi in Bangkok, tom yum goong in Scotland and pizza in the Loire Valley.

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