TRAVEL

MEGALITH OR NOT?

The longest day of the year is nearing its close. The sun is descending towards the horizon and, in accordance with the Law of Romantic Sunsets, the sky and the panorama of mountain peaks and plains are flushed with a couple of hundred shades of red and blue.

The expectant crowd gathered on the mountain peak in Sredna Gora circle around, talking among themselves.

The sun continues its descent and is suddenly hidden behind a large cliff. The people sense the change and grow quiet, their eyes riveted on the cliff.

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HÜZÜN ISTANBUL

It is "a state of mind that is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating." For the Sufis, hüzün is the spiritual anguish of not being close enough to God. For St John of the Cross, this anguish causes the sufferer to plummet so far down that his soul will, as a result, soar to its divine desire. Hüzün is not a singular preoccupation but a communal emotion, not the sadness of an individual but the dark mood shared by millions.

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KOTOR BY NIGHT

You may simply be a carefree tourist heading for Kotor with the sole purpose of immersing yourself in the Medieval atmosphere of Montenegro's most beautiful town. You might equally well be looking forward to the spectacular drive along the perilous winding road from Cetinje and the stunning views that open up to Kotor Bay, a miracle of nature, with its crystalline water surrounded by steep mountains.

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THRACIAN TREASURES

The stories all begin differently. A villager goes out to plough the fields that his father and grandfather had ploughed before him for years, never getting anything besides grain in return. With a backhoe, a construction worker digs a trench for a canal. An archaeologist sinks a shovel into a burial mound. Or an imanyar, or illegal treasure hunter, scouts around with his metal detector and digs where the device squeals the loudest.

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IN THE DEVIL'S FOOTSTEPS

Travel agencies often use the word "paradise" to describe Bulgaria’s natural landscape and holiday hideaways. If you consult any Bulgarian about somewhere in the countryside you are thinking of visiting, you will probably hear the phrase "a piece of heaven" at least once. Even in the national anthem Bulgarian land is referred to as "Heaven on Earth". However, as you become more familiar with the country's geography and history, you'll come across fewer signs of heaven and many more of hell. The Devil and his kingdom appear in the names of rivers, caves and natural phenomena.

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ANTISEMITISM IN BULGARIA

Unfortunately, Bulgaria has never eschewed the sort of antisemitism prevalent in the rest of Europe in general and Eastern Europe in particular. That said, over the centuries antisemitic sentiments have rarely turned violent. Bulgaria has never witnessed Russian or German-style anti-Jewish pogroms, and even in the darkest years of the Defence of the Nation Act, the state’s enforcement of anti-Jewish regulations was at worst tepid.

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SO MANY, SO FEW

Bulgaria, they will assert, stands unique in Europe and the world in that it did not allow its Jewish citizens to be transported to extermination in the Nazi death camps. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Gypsies lived in peace and harmony, they will add, reinstating the Bulgarians' "proverbial" hospitality and tolerance. Your Bulgarian in the street will probably omit to mention the Bulgarian State Railways cattle cars that brought over 11,000 Jews to Treblinka and Auschwitz from the then Bulgaria-administered territories of Aegean Thrace and Vardar Macedonia.

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CHIPROVTSI

If the name Chiprovtsi sounds familiar to you, it is probably owing to the carpets being made there. Handwoven and adorned with intricate geometrical motifs in bright colours, they are one of the most popular remnants of the old handicrafts in Bulgaria, like the coloured ceramics from the region of Troyan. Many Bulgarians consider their design to be unique, although you can easily distinguish patterns already seen on carpets from Asia Minor and the Middle East.

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WALKING ON DARVIN, KARNEGI AND VASHINGTON

When walking around Sofia you might have noticed that some of the streets, boulevards and neighbourhoods are named after foreigners. Every so often, you come across American and British names. In fact, there are 21 individuals of American, British and Irish origin commemorated in this way in Sofia. Almost all of these played a part in Bulgarian history in one way or another during the period between the April Uprising of 1876 and the end of the Second World War, supporting the country and its people.

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THE RED STAR REVISITED

At the end of the summer of 1990, less than a year after the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria, parliament passed an act providing for all Communist symbols in the country to be removed. The Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party agreed to take down the big red star from the roof of the Party House.

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