192-Part Guide To The World: Bulgaria

OFFICIAL NAME

OFFICIAL NAME

Republic of Bulgaria.

POPULATION

8.3 million.

SIZE

110,912 square kilometres, or almost four times bigger than Belgium.

BEST MONUMENT

Bulgaria has not only been consistently bullied and occupied by Russia over the last century and a half, but also, on one occasion, "liberated" byit. The capital Sofia's largest church, the neo-Byzantine Aleksander Nevski Church (built in 1912), was erected as a memorial to the 200,000Russian soldiers who died fighting for the independence of Bulgaria from Turkey.

NATIONAL DISH

Lots of variations of grilled meat. To try several kinds of meats at one go, order a mixed grill or meshana skara. Vegetarians might opt for asirene po shopski - cheese, eggs and tomatoes baked in an earthenware pot. Bulgarian yoghurt is also pretty famous and tarator is a refreshingcold soup of yoghurt, diced cucumber and onions.

CLIMATE

Cold, damp winters and hot dry summers. The Rodopy Mountains form a barrier to the moderating influence of the Mediterranean.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

Geo Milev (1895-1925) was a poet with a social conscience, greatly loved by the communists. His best-known poem was "Septemvri", focusingon the Agrarian Revolution of September 1923. The authorities confiscated the volume in which the poem appeared and Milev was arrested andfined; after the trial he was kidnapped by the police and murdered, thereby ensuring his place in the pantheon of socialist martyrs.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

The 1989 revolution has not brought the obvious benefits that the end of communism meant for some other countries in the region. A better timefor the Bulgarian people may have been the early 19th century, when a revival of popular and folkloric customs took place. For the first time,schools were opened and books were printed in the Bulgarian language.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

1396, when Ottoman rule began, is no longer regarded as a terribly auspicious moment by many Bulgarians, despite the importance of thecultural heritage (baths, coffee, religion, and art) that the Turks left behind when they finally departed five centuries later.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORY

A pair of skis. The cheap and cheerful skiing season runs from December to April and is surprisingly well developed. On the southern outskirtsof Sofia, for example, there is Mt Vitosha, at 2,290m the most accessible of Bulgaria's ski areas. Hot dogs and coffees in resorts like this can costa fifth of what they would cost in the Alps.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Do not go to Stara Zagora, which has been described as one of the most unattractive, polluted towns in eastern Europe (which is really sayingsomething). Do not forget to take ear-muffs to defend yourself against the horrible classic-hits soundtracks that will accompany you every timeyou board a bus or enter a cafe.

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