TRAVEL

QUIRKY ROCKS OF BULGARIA

The ability to spot visual patterns in seemingly chaotic landscapes, preferring false positives to false negatives, has been cruciвal for the survival of the human race. For thousands of years, those who lived long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation were the ones able to spot a lion hidden in a bush. Even when there was no lion at all.

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BULGARIA'S FIRST CAPITALS

If power and the economy were gravity, the gravitational centre of modern Bulgaria would be Sofia, where the population and the important agencies of the state, economy and culture are located. If we go back to the Middle Ages, when Bulgaria was still young, the country's centre of gravity would be elsewhere – in the northeast, close to the city of Shumen. There, the remains of Bulgaria's first capitals, Pliska and Preslav, still survive – next to an astonishing piece of medieval art, the Madara Horseman.

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VAGABOND'S INTERNATIONAL WALK OF FAME

You went to LA, okay. You think you've seen it all – and walked over it: the pinkish stars on the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard with names of actors, musicians and celebrities, many of whom long forgotten, but immortalised in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You vied with the Chinese and the Koreans for a better selfie spot, and yes – you've stumped on Donald Trump's star from the days he was only a reality show performer.

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BULGARIA'S TOP 10 FORTS

Castle-wise, Bulgaria is nothing to compare with Scotland – and many other European countries. There is little reminiscent of Transylvania's menacing fortifications, Bavaria's fairy tale confections, or the Loire Valley's romantic châteaux. Fortresses were built in Bulgaria from Antiquity to the 19th century and, although many were lost in war-time destruction and postwar turbulence, the country still has several sites that combine stunning scenery with relatively well-preserved fortifications.

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WHO WAS FATHER PAISIY?

The Revival Period. Any visitor who has been to Bulgaria for more than a couple of days for business and/or pleasure has heard this combination of words, but what does it mean? It is the name of a singular, and highly idealised, period in Bulgarian history.

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PINNACLES OF LEGEND

We often take landscapes for granted: the mountains and the river valleys we love to look at and explore seem immune to the passage of time, eternal and unchanging, even though we know this is not true. The landscapes that we inhabit are in a constant state of reshaping, albeit happening so slowly that our human eyes cannot mark the changes – incomparably long compared to not only our short lives, but also to human civilisation.

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FINDING GOD'S BRIDGЕ

It is easy to say that the Bulgarian Northwest has been forgotten by God. Economically depressed and depopulated, it has for years consistently topped the EU's least developed regions list. Yet, when you visit the Vratsa region you will find yourself surrounded by stunning, and even sublime, landscapes and natural wonders. Here, the mighty peaks of the Stara Planina mountains hang over the town, enfolding delights for visitors of any shade and persuasion. The undulations of the plain that start from there also hide another treasure: two rock bridges carved by nature.

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BULGARIA'S SPECTACULAR MANMADE LAKES

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial development has taken its toll on communities and landscapes. Polluted air, water and soil, the destruction of nature and a decimated biodiversity are all its consequences. However, in some cases industrial development has created beautiful and even stunning landscapes. Most often this is the case with artificial bodies of water, resulting from the construction of dams.

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WOODROW WILSON COMES TO SOFIA

Seen from a US standpoint, the 28th American President is usually being put in the "upper tier" of US leaders despite criticism of his propagation of racial segregation. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who served two terms in 1913-1921, successfully led the United States through the Great War. His foreign policy came to be known as Wilsonianism. He was the leading architect of the League of Nations project.

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COLD WAR REMAINS AT PADARSKO, BULGARIA

If you ever find yourself in the Thracian Plain northeast of Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city that holds many enticements to both expats and casual visitors alike, you will probably be bored. You will be doing the 20-mile drive over farming flatlands with little to distract the traveller's attention than the occasional roadside vendor selling tomatoes and peppers, or sometimes a mini traffic jam caused by a tractor going too slow. Then, quite surprisingly for a Bulgarian flatland where you are usually able to see for miles around, you will enter a thick grove.

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