TRAVEL

WHAT IS KARLOVO?

Great changes often spread from inconspicuous places, and Karlovo is a case in point. This town at the southern foot of the Stara Planina mountain range looks quiet and quaint now: some old, Revival Period houses huddled between newer construction lining a long street that funnels much of the traffic on the Sofia-Burgas road. You might think that nothing of importance has ever happened in Karlovo, but the first impression, as most first impressions, is wrong.

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FEW SNAKES AND NO RUSSIANS

"Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!" When the Ukrainian defenders of Black Sea's Snake Island shouted out to the outnumbering Russian forces at the beginning of Putin's "special military operation," they hardly anticipated that they would coin a catchphrase that would define the conflict and become a global meme. Today everyone with access to unfiltered Internet is aware that somewhere in the Black Sea there is a piece of rock called Snake Island.

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THRACIAN BULGARIA

There are places in the world where you can get to know long-vanished nations and their former glory: Egypt, China, Greece... Bulgaria also makes it on this list. Long before this country appeared on Europe's map, an ancient nation inhabited its lands, and left behind rich remains – tombs and burial mounds, rock shrines and forts, fortifications and mysterious rock niches.

These people were the ancient Thracians.

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THE MYSTIC POWER OF ZLATOLIST

Born in 1883 near Serres, which was then in the Ottoman Empire and today is in Greece, Stoyna Dimitrova was seven years old when she experienced something extraordinary. While she was ill with smallpox, a strange storm engulfed her home and tried to push the door open. Her parents attempted to keep out the elements, but Stoyna told them not to – the storm was actually St George, who wanted to enter the house. Her parents complied and a strange light filled the room. When it all ended, Stoyna had become blind.

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LOOKING AT BURGAS, DARKLY

Despite some researchers' claims that Bulgaria's largest city on the southern Black Sea coast is ancient (related in some way to... Troy), most would agree that Burgas is quite new.

The first poverty-driven settlers came here at the end of the 19th century, only to find themselves in a swampy, malaria-infested area fit for little save fishing. Burgas began as a maze of squalid streets, randomly built harbour warehouses and tumbledown buildings. It took 13 years to approve the first town plan with its 289 small neighbourhoods and seven parks.

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BULGARIA'S TOP MOSQUES

Sunni Islam is Bulgaria's second largest religion after Eastern Orthodoxy. In the centuries that have passed since its arrival with the Ottoman Turks in the second half of the 14th century its adherents have created some stunning and impressive mosques – though many have been lost to time, dereliction or active destruction, particularly after Bulgaria was liberated from the Ottomans in 1878.

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SOZOPOL WITHOUT TEARS

Should I visit Sozopol? There is hardly a place that divides opinion more than this town on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Yes, by all means do go to Sozopol, will urge some of your Bulgarian friends. They will then lose themselves in nostalgic memories of strolling the quiet lanes of the town, the charm of the traditional houses under the balmy summer or early autumn sun, the buzz and energy of the Apollonia Arts Festival, the pleasure of sunbathing on golden beaches and jumping into the sea from the picturesque rocks around.

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EXPLORING ROMAN PLOVDIV

Plovdiv claims 7,000 years of uninterrupted history, starting from prehistoric times, but the earliest visible traces of this long past are much younger. They date back to the times when the city was called Philippopolis and was a major centre of government and commerce in the Roman province of Thrace.

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THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

Guidebooks boast about the beauty and artistic importance of the murals in Bulgaria's churches that date from the later centuries of Ottoman domination. Created by a society that was still deeply rooted in medieval tradition, but which was beginning to look towards and absorb Western European influences, this style of decoration sometimes charms but is sometimes hard to stomach. To the enthusiastic art lover, it embodies the search for new artistic means that defined the work of Bulgarian painters in the late 18th and 19th century.

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TOMBS, TREASURES AND ROSES

Everyone has heard about the Valley of the Egyptian Kings, but Bulgaria has its equivalent. The Valley of the Thracian Kings is a region where you can explore the tombs, mounds and treasures of what many historians consider to be the forefathers of modern Bulgarians.

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