TRAVEL

OTTOMAN BULGARIA

East of Malko Tarnovo, in the outermost reaches of Bulgaria, a bridge spans the Rezovska River. Once it had three high, beautifully crafted stone arches, but now only one remains – that on the Turkish bank. The thick Strandzha forest surrounding it is quiet, inhabited only by deer, wild boar and hornets. You can only find the dirt road leading to the bridge with a local guide, preferably driving a 4WD.

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BULGARIA'S NEW RUINS

Extensive and menacing, perched high above a particularly steep meander of the River Yantra, Tsarevets Fortress is one of the most recognisable sights in Bulgaria, a must for every tourist to Veliko Tarnovo. That town used to be the capital of Bulgaria from the 12th to the14th centuries, and today has one of the few medieval fortresses in the country. Tsarevets's precipitous walls are the stage for lavish open-air opera performances as well as a 1980s Sound & Light show.

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PLOVDIV PLEASURES

The gentle sun caresses the skin, its beams turning the foliage on the trees into explosions of red, yellow and orange, and the multicoloured Revival Period houses in the city's old quarter look so cheerful that you forget about the cobblestones that are so difficult to walk on. Plovdiv is beautiful 365 days a year, but in autumn it becomes a true pleasure that you would be silly to deny yourself. The mellow autumn weather and the relatively few tourist are only a fraction of the reasons for thinking about an autumn trip to Bulgaria's second-largest city.

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ALL QUIET ON THE TIMOK

Knee-deep in the water, the fisherman casts his line. He pays no attention either to the small sheep outlined on the opposite bank or to their shepherd's distant shouts. The two men can see each other quite clearly but do nothing to acknowledge it. They act as if they were on different planets.

And in a way they are. The fisherman is wading in Serbian waters, the shepherd and his flock are in Romania, and we are observing the scene from Bulgaria. We are all divided by the Danube and its tributary, the Timok.

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ORPHEUS TOMB?

Orpheus's harp was so captivating and his songs were so beautiful that there wasn't a single creature on earth that was not enchanted by his gift. Wild beasts, rocks and stones, and even the gods stood becharmed.

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BULGARIA'S LIGHTHOUSES

In ancient times, making for a light on the west coast of the Black Sea during a storm was not always a good idea. The tribes living on the shore often made a huge pyre to con distressed seamen into what they would think was a friendly harbour. Turning their ship towards it, they would discover that they had been lured onto a dangerous reef, or would run aground. The plan of the so-called land pirates was simple ‒ mislead the sailors, "help" the ship to sink, and then collect the goods that the waves would wash ashore.

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SOFIA'S THEATRE DISTRICT

In the early evening the streets of central Sofia are alive with crowds. People wait for their dates, groups of friends meet and part, and the buzz of conversations from restaurants and bars fills the air. When it is warm enough you can see beerdrinking teenagers in the parks and on the benches of the pedestrian zone of Vitosha Boulevard.

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GUČA!

"Tra-ta-ta-ta! Tra-ta-tata!" The trumpet solo sweeps over the river valley shrouded in morning mist, bounces off the nearby mountain slopes, and rebounds over the sleeping town. The sound wakes up some of the people in the houses and tents. They start to stir. "What's the time, mate?" "It's seven o'clock; too early." People pull the blankets over their heads, returning to sleep. For some minutes, the early-rising trumpeter proceeds with his morning concert, then tucks away his instrument and goes God knows where.

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STALINIST SOFIA

More than 20 years after the fall of Communism, Sofia still bears the signs of the regime in its architecture and monuments. The very centre of the city is constructed in the ostentatious style and design popular in the time of Joseph Stalin. The larger parks have monuments of Soviet soldiers, commemorating their feats in the Second World War and the supposed "eternal friendship" between the Bulgarian people and the Russians. Although the old buildings and monuments are despised by many, they bear witness to the country's past, which cannot easily be erased.

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TOWN OF GOLD

The waitress in the café approaches the table, carrying a tray with two small cups of steaming Turkish coffee. Then she stops nearby and starts spinning the tray round and round in the air, the cups rapidly turning upside down. You might think that she has gone mad and you are going to end up with coffee all over your clothes, but this doesn't happen and in a few seconds you are enjoying the so-called coffee on sand. This is a specialty one must definitely try when in Zlatograd.

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