TRAVEL

KOVATCHEVTSI

Timeout is declared in the heated football match that is being played on the village square in Kovachevtsi. The children of the two teams sit on the steps of a monument of a man with unruly hair and a stilted pose, and start deliberating when the ice-cream is to be eaten – now or after the final whistle. Do they know who the man on the monument is? "Georgi Dimitrov," the smallest of the boys answers. His team mates nod their heads in confirmation.

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SOFIA'S TEMPLES PART 4

Religion is part of everyday life in the capital city of Bulgaria – and part of the city landscape. Sometimes it stands apart in the impressive bodies of cathedrals or tall minarets. Other times it blends in with the surroundings in an inconspicuous gray building, with small notices inviting passers-by to come in and listen to an Evangelist sermon or get some White Brotherhood literature. Diversity is just below the surface in a complex mix of cultural and ethnic influences. To get to know Sofia's temples is to dip into the millennia-old history of Bulgarian lands.

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SPLIT IN SPLIT

Nero's Domus Aurea, Louis XIV's Versailles, Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle, the Balchik Palace of the Romanian Queen Marie ‒ the world is full of palaces built on the whims of eccentric rulers. None of them, however, comes close to that of Roman Emperor Diocletian (285–305 AD), in Split, Croatia.

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FOR CAVERS AND MAD PEOPLE ONLY

When you see Karlukovo, near Lukovit, for the first time, you'd be hard put to believe that you are in the part of Bulgaria richest in karst rocks. The settlement lies among low, monotonous hills and there's nothing – not even a signpost pointing to a tourist sight to indicate that underneath this modest landscape lies a labyrinth of caves. It is the result of thousands of years of action by wind and water, which carved the pliable karst rock and formed caves, magical shapes and whirlpools.

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SOFIA'S TEMPLES, PART 3

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

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10 THINGS TO DO IN ZAGREB

The people of Zagreb are fond of saying that their city is too quiet. For the visitor, however – especially if you began your journey by crossing the western suburbs of Sofia – the quiet of Zagreb is a blessing. It has everything Bulgaria's capital city doesn't – wide streets, well preserved old architecture and a preternatural cleanliness.

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LOST REPUBLIC

"Tomrush is a picturesque village, with grey-roofed houses clustering on the side of a steep ravine; but its beauty has been marred by the wholesale destruction of the surrounding forest," James Bourchier, a reporter for The Times, wrote in the early 20th Century. The village is just a few kilometres from Plovdiv, in the northern Rhodope, but to get there Bourchier had to cross the border into the Ottoman Empire, escorted by Bulgarian soldiers.

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BATAK

One of the golden rules of good writing says you must never start a story with description of a landscape.

In the case of Batak, however, the desire to do so is overwhelming. You are tempted to begin with the narrow road that meanders into the Rhodope all the way from Pazardzhik and Peshtera, and the fresh highland air. You search for the best adjectives to describe the water of the nearby Batak Reservoir (crystal? tranquil?). You remember that the Tsigov Chark resort has long been regarded as a pleasant and inexpensive place for a mountain holiday.

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THE LAST OF THE BOGOMILS

No matter where you are, be it in a city, a village or the middle of the countryside, the landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be described in just four words: mountains, rivers, bridges, cemeteries.

The mountains and rivers have a wild splendour, the bridges an Ottoman grace and the newer cemeteries stand out for their sheer number and the recurring dates of death – between 1992 and 1995.

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THE TRUTH ABOUT ROSES

The Austro-Hungarian archaeologist, geographer and ethnographer Felix Kanitz, who visited Bulgarian lands 18 times between 1860 and 1883, could not complain of a lack of gratitude. His detailed map of Bulgaria was used by the Russian army in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and won him a medal from the emperor. It was also used at the Congress of Berlin in June 1878. Present-day Bulgarian history books and academic works still quote Kanitz's accounts of the Bulgarian way of life and traditions at that time. There is a street in Sofia named after him.

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