Dextrophobia Rooms: Escape Is Sweet!

04.11.2014 § 1 Comment

Success stories seem so few and far between in Bulgaria these days, so it is extremely heartening to be able to report some good news. This past month, alongside the colossal scandal of Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank imploding to the tune of a 2 billion Euro deficit, some great things have happened in spite of the usual grey mass of doom and gloom. Sofia’s iconic Lion’s Bridge just reopened after extensive renovations, the latest in a string of long-overdue infrastructure improvements presided over by Sofia’s most successful mayor in decades, Ms. Yordanka Fandukova. Four Bulgarian entrepreneurs just sold their hugely successful homegrown software company Telerik to Progress Software for $262.5 million. Finally, Dextrophobia Rooms, a real-life escape game business created by seven dreamer friends in their spare time, is neck-to-neck with St. Alexander Nevski cathedral as the best reviewed attraction on TripAdvisor in Sofia, barely six months after opening.

What is Dextrophobia and is it worth seeing? Read on!

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Plovdiv selected for European Capital of Culture 2019

05.09.2014 § 1 Comment

After a five-year, good-natured rivalry with three other cities, my birthplace of Plovdiv has been selected as Bulgaria’s official entrant into the European Capital of Culture program. The other European Capital of Culture for 2019 will be in Italy, where Caglieri, Lecce, Matera, Perugia, Ravenna and Siena are competing in the final round.

Out of 8 original candidates in Bulgaria (Burgas, Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Ruse, Shumen, Sofia, Varna and Veliko Tarnovo), four finalists were selected to submit detailed proposals and to begin implementing strategies and programs towards becoming Capital of Culture. Any one of these cities is well worth a visit.

Plovdiv

Continuously inhabited for close to 6000 years, Plovdiv is the third-oldest city in Europe (following Athens and Argos). Throughout its long history it has had multiple stints as an important crossroads city. Notably, as Trimontium to the Romans, Plovdiv was the most important Roman city in the province of Thrace, as it lay on the Via Diagonalis arterial road for the empire. Cobbled Roman streets, theatres, villas, and an entire stadium can be seen there, layered with Ottoman-era and Revival-era homes. The oldest mosque in Europe outside of Moorish Spain, Djumaya mosque, lies at the centre of the city.

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A Tribute to Valeri Petrov

28.08.2014 § 1 Comment

On August 27, 2014 we lost the poet Valeri Petrov. The writer, the translator, the humanist, the thinker, the example Valeri Petrov.

And oh! So gorgeous-starry was the night,
That our everyday plights,
Vain, summery,
Fleeting,
With their “Wonderful”s, “Hurrah”s and “Bravo”s,
Head over heels took off, retreating.

For I felt large under the starry dome
– and are we naught but atoms with no goal? –
And all around was peace and calm,
And beauty filled my soul.

             Valeri Petrov

With his poetry, he could make us laugh and cry within a single stanza, experience the chill of autumn or the breath of spring. In translating Shakespeare, he laid out the staggering beauty of Bulgarian verse before us and created something more: the stories and images of the Bard in our own melodious tongue. With the script for “Knight Without Armour” (YouTube link), he put his finger on our worst societal sores through the eyes of a carefree, as-yet-unburdened child. With “Five Tales”, he gave our children mountains, deer friends and the ocean floor to imagine and explore. He never grew up, and yet his genius never faltered, never waned, until the end.

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Graffiti Art Graces Sofia’s Classic Trams

06.06.2014 § 2 Comments

 

As a resident of Toronto, I have been closely following the ordering, testing and politics surrounding the fleet of new low-floor, double-capacity TTC streetcars. Across the Atlantic, where full-fledged streetcar networks are far more common, the Bulgarian capital Sofia is in the process of replacing some of its classic (i.e., aging) streetcars (also known as trams or трамваи/tramvai in Bulgarian) with Polish-built articulated units. Back in January, the first one was symbolically put into exploitation to mark the 114-year anniversary of the opening of the first Sofia tram line.

A new tram next to a classic Sofia tram. Photo Credit: Yuliana Nikolova / Sofia Photo Agency

However, as exciting as the new trams are, I was delighted to discover another interesting development. In tune with its bid for European Capital of Culture (for which it competes with three other Bulgarian cities: Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv and Varna), Sofia has initiated a brilliant public art project. On June 1, 2014, as part of the city’s youth art festival ZONA CULTURA, a dozen of the current system’s yellow-and-white trams were painted by various graffiti artists before returning to circulation. This is a welcome change of pace, as it gives graffiti artists a very daring showcase, instead of whitewashing their works on sight. It also reserves for art visual space that is all too often (khm-khm, Toronto) used for advertising decals.

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The Face of the Protest

13.11.2013 § 5 Comments

This photo was taken by Facebook user Stefan Stefanov. It shows Bulgarian protester Desi Nikolova interacting with a police officer on the barricades outside what appears to be the Bulgarian National Bank building (someone please correct me on the exact location). It depicts the frustration and high tensions of the protests in Bulgaria, which have continued (mostly) peacefully for over 150 days, but the story behind it adds a few telling and heartening details. To quote Desi, the protester:

Some of the police officers were well-intentioned. The one whose shoulders I’m holding had a little blood on his nose, I think he’d scraped it somehow. I saw how he was protecting the people and trying to prevent other police officers from beating us. I began to cry and I told him to be safe. He replied “Hold on. Everything will be okay.” There were tears in his eyes…

Please share this photo by linking to its original link or through my translation here and spread the word. There are sensible police officers, many of whom are walking the fine line of maintaining peace without harming anyone, and there is no stopping human decency, civic action and the demands for change.

Protest Poetry #6: “The fight is hard and pitiless”

04.08.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)

The fight is hard and pitiless

The fight is hard and pitiless.
The fight is epic, as they say.
I fell. Another takes my place –
Why single out a name?

After the firing squad – the worms.
Thus does the simple logic go.
But in the storm we’ll be with you,
My people, for we loved you so.

2 p.m. – 23.VII.1942

Nikola Vaptsarov

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Protest Poetry #5: “Elegy”

03.08.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English translation is mine.

Elegy

Tell me, tell me, o unhappy people,
Who lulls you in the cradle of slavery?
Is it the one who our Saviour speared
On the cross in the ribs without pity,
Or the one who for years sang to thee:
“Endure, for it is your duty.”

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Protest Poetry #4: “Come see our plight”

02.08.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)

Come see our plight

I hear one cry of deep despair
In cottage, tavern – everywhere.
Each peasant home a pitiful sight
That mind and soul can hardly bear!
“Come see our plight!” « Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Poetry #3: “Where do you lie, faithful love for our people?”

31.07.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English translation is mine.

Where do you lie, faithful love for our people?

Where do you lie, faithful love for our people
Where do you gleam, spark of patriotism?
O grow to feed a mighty flame
And stoke a blazing fire today
In our young people’s beating hearts
to roam the woods and take up arms.

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Protest Poetry #2: “You cannot quench what’s not for quenching”

30.07.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)

You cannot quench what’s not for quenching

We’re glad when on a sunny day
The golden glowing sun has risen,
But more so when a single ray
Of sunlight penetrates a prison.
« Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Poetry #1: “Patriot”

29.07.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)

Patriot

No sacrifice he deems too small
For freedom or education
Self-sacrificing? Not at all.
He sacrifices the nation. « Read the rest of this entry »

“We have all the patience in the world and twice as much brains”

21.07.2013 § 2 Comments

Almost 40 days into the protests in Bulgaria, here’s an update on the situation. This is a brilliant piece by Samuil Petkov (a.k.a. zhelyo), a member of the NE!Novinite collective, originally published at OFFNews.bg.

Many have expressed criticism of the spirit of the protest. For 35 peaceful nights, tens of thousands of people have walked serenely with a smile on their lips and a loved one on their arm, denouncing the political class and demanding the resignation of the government. Nothing more, nothing less.

Skeptics believe that “carnivals” and “parades” will yield no results. They do not overtly demand more radical actions, but their patience is exhausted. Or their confidence in the protesters’ cause. Or they inherently rely on [the Bulgarian Socialist Party], blindly believing that they are a real alternative to GERB.

The blame for the impasse in the country is thrown at the crowd, which has, for over a month, peacefully resisted the provocations that ruined the February protests and distorted them. No blood, no aggression. Even verbal abuse and swearing are minimized – unprecedented for any group of people unknown to each other. The ones not being blamed are the ones committing blunder after blunder at the head of our state. Figures like [Volen] Siderov, [Anton] Koutev and [Tatyana] Burudjieva hurl ridiculous qualifications at the protesters, and the prime minister is searching for his balls, pitifully silent.

Yes, the Parliament and the Cabinet are playing deaf. Or they’re distorting the truth. We’re paid, we’re bloated, we’re few, we’re terrorists. They have claimed we are anything except what we are: all kinds.

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Reblog: “Protesting With The Police On Your Side”

19.06.2013 § Leave a comment

It seems the world is out on the street, protesting for change. From Taksim Square in Istanbul, through the streets of Athens and Rio to the catastrophe in Syria one theme stands out: protesters clashing with aggressive and often brutal police and government forces.

The exception to the rule turns out to be a little corner of Europe, a tiny and often forgotten part of the world facing its own large scale social unrest. Since the 14 June Bulgaria has been out on the streets. Every day since, tens of thousands of protesters have been filling the streets of the capital Sofia along with numerous other cities.

By HuffPo contributor Boyan Benev. Read the full post at Huffington Post

Civic Power: Bulgarian Democracy in Action

19.06.2013 § Leave a comment

Bulgaria is in the throes of a political crisis (some background). The interim cabinet’s appointment of a college dropout with known Mafia ties as head of DANS (the Bulgarian NSA) sent thousands of Bulgarians onto the streets in protest. Not being directly involved, I have a few quick comments before I quote a few friends who are there right now.

Peaceful Protest

Despite the heightened atmosphere, so far the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Bulgarians are exercising their right to dissent, and the fundamental democratic tenet of allowing them to do so without interference is being upheld by the government. This is a seemingly rare occurrence in a world where the US, Brazil, Turkey and, I’m sorry to say, Canada, have recently shown aggressive responses to peaceful protests. Not only that, but the police is largely sympathetic and refuses to be drawn into confrontations or ordered around by the government. Just today the police union released a declaration of support with the protests:

The union of Ministry of the Interior staff wishes to remind the politicians and assure Bulgarian society that MoI officers are not private employees serving the interests of one or another political party or coalition. MoI officers are part of Bulgarian society and are fully and solely in the service of public interest. We fully support the equitable social and economic demands of the citizens. Our friends, relatives, and members of our families are among the protesters.

It is with the least motivation that employees in the Ministry of Interior stand with face and chest in front of one or another party headquarters and defend the political elite from the “love” of the people.

(Translated from this Union declaration)

The protesters have returned the respect granted to them by police and security forces in spades. Boyan Benev, writing for HuffPo, had this anecdote:

…gathered on the Eagles’ Bridge yesterday evening I saw a friend wandering through the crowd carrying two cases of 500ml mineral water. I made a quip about him stocking up for the protest when he replied:

“This water isn’t for us, it’s for the police. These men and women have been standing here in the 30 degree sun all afternoon and have shown us only respect. I think it’s time we showed some back.”

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“Good Morning” – The Protester’s Manifesto

18.06.2013 § Leave a comment

This post is a reprint and translation of an article by Georgi Deyanov that first appeared on Bulgarian journalist Ivo Indjev’s blog last year, in connection with the ecology protests of 2012. It is a precursor to my extensive analysis of the situation in Bulgaria and the current protests.

Good morning!

One generation woke up starved for civil life. These past few days it screams with lungs burning from painfully invading freedom.

We are unhappy because we’re under-slept. No, we cannot be drugged with inane Turkish soap operas. It’s inconvenient, but we do not think through the TV. The Internet provides infinitely more fitting content on request, our reporters are thousands and constantly transmitting on location. Your desire to meet and “reason” with our “organizers” makes us laugh.

Your worst nightmare has come true – the dragon of the majority is able to self-organize. Spontaneously, sporadically, rapidly, efficiently. Without the possibility of countermeasures.

Your mistake was to go for the forest.

The Bulgarian’s relationship with the forest and the mountain is close and magical. Forests and mountains have always been the last refuge of freedom. Our villages, plains and rivers have been conquered, but our forests – never. What do you expect from the beast of the disgruntled majority, placed in a deadlock? Survival instinct drove us out into the square. And this time it’s serious.

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Bulgarian Gymnast Rocks YouTube

30.04.2013 § Leave a comment

Boyanka Angelova’s 2008 performance at the European Junior Championship in Turin was promoted to the front page of YouTube, garnering over 7 million views in a couple of days.

Gagarin in Plovdiv

08.09.2012 § Leave a comment

On May 23, 1961, 41 days after completing his pioneering spaceflight, first man in space Yuri Gagarin visited Plovdiv on his celebratory tour. He had coffee on the terrace of Hotel Trimontium with various dignitaries and he was made an honorary citizen of Plovdiv. This makes Plovdiv one of only 22 cities to do so, which is claim to fame enough.

However, what was known to very few people until days ago was that he had signed the hotel’s guestbook. « Read the rest of this entry »

Sofia’s Second Metrodiameter: On Time and Under Budget

04.09.2012 § 1 Comment

UPDATE: Sofia’s second metrodiameter was unveiled on August 31 in the presence of José Barroso, the current president of the European Commission. This is a monumental achievement for the Bulgarian capital, as it was not only completed on time, but the money saved means that the line could be extended to the airport far earlier than anticipated, possibly even before the 2014 programme cycle of the European Union.
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The Burgas Bus Bombing

20.07.2012 § Leave a comment

It was my last night in Rome that I heard the news: a bus had exploded on July 18, 2012 at the airport outside the Bulgarian seaside town of Burgas in a suspected suicide attack, killing 5 Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and injuring 32 others, some critically. It appeared to have been a targeted attack against Israeli citizens who were boarding a shuttle bus to take them to a hotel. Israeli officials have accused Iran of masterminding the attacks, although Iran has vehemently denied involvement.

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Off to Bulgaria!

09.07.2012 § 3 Comments

Hello, my throngs of loyal followers!

The time has come: I leave Toronto tomorrow, via Munich, Venice, Verona, Florence and Rome, for Bulgaria.

I will spend close to four weeks there, writing helpful guides and impressions on location from Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse. I will also be undertaking a 7-day hike through the Eastern Rhodopes, which will be detailed like my routes through the Balkans and Rila.

If you have requests, about anything at all (language, customs, shopping etiquette, travel guides), now is the time to send them to me as I will be able to research them at the source.

So, please comment on this post with your requests, and I will do my utmost to fulfill them.

My next post will be from sunny Sofia!

Ribbon-Cutting Works!

08.07.2012 § 1 Comment

After decades of being tossed around on the high waves of economic uncertainty and construction stagnation, the Bulgarian government is finally backing some serious infrastructural improvements to transportation. Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s current premier and leader of the GERB party, is the subject of thousands of political jokes and jabs, and opinions about him range from “exactly what Bulgaria needs” to “a thug with links to the Mob”. However, he has been instrumental in absorbing EU infrastructure funds and putting them to good use. Regardless of whether it’s for the good of the nation or for photo-ops at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, under his leadership Bulgaria has committed to several infrastructure projects of major importance.

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Ivet Lalova: European 100-metre Dash Champion

29.06.2012 § Leave a comment

Ivet Lálova, a 28-year old Bulgarian, became the European champion in the 100 m dash on June 28, 2012 in Helsinki, Finland.

The daughter of a competitive sprinter, she placed fourth overall in 100 m at the 2004 Olympics and won the 200 m gold medal at the European Indoor Championship in Madrid the following year. With a record of 10.77s set in 2004, she is the tenth-fastest woman of all time and the fastest white woman in the world at the moment.

Her career was interrupted by an idiotic accident when a careless athlete collided with her during a warmup on June 14, 2005, breaking her femur. Since then, she has been steadily regaining her speed after seven surgical interventions and a long and difficult recovery. It’s great to see her at the top of her game and I look forward to cheering her on in London.

Bulgaria on National Geographic’s “Best Tours of Europe” List for 2012

25.06.2012 § Leave a comment

A 12-day comprehensive tour of Bulgaria is one of the ten prime European tours for 2012 according to National Geographic‘s “50 Tours of a Lifetime” list.

The tour features a spectacular itinerary and is a good bargain at ~5000$ (minus airfare). Food, wine tastings, 4- and 5-star hotels, and visits to Bulgaria’s foremost sights are included.

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Vampire Update

16.06.2012 § Leave a comment

The Guardian is also talking about Bulgarian vampire skeletons.

Vampires: The Bulgarian Connection

08.06.2012 § 7 Comments

According to the BBC, Sofia News Agency, and a few dozen other outlets, the “remains of two vampires” were discovered in a tomb near the Bulgarian seaside town of Sozopol. In other words, two skeletons were unearthed posthumously pinned to their graves with iron spikes through the chest.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, a Sozopol native and Bulgaria’s chief historian, explains that there have been over 100 such burials found on Bulgarian territory, mostly dating back to the Middle Ages. He goes on to explain some of the historical background and symbolism behind the ritual.

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