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    The village of Kastraki in Thessaly, Greece

    Beauty may be a subjective thing. Or it may be a silly thing. John Ruskin wrote that beauty exists in the most “useless things, peacocks and lilies, for instance.” I have read that beauty aligns with organic symmetry; there is geometry to flowers in bloom. I have also been told the opposite …that beauty is human vanity — our fear of natural disorder — a cowardly attempt to organize and, thereby, dominate nature. And some people measure beauty: symmetrical features, well-proportioned women, or a mathematical balance of shape and color. But I could never define it, and I doubt I ever will.

    The Holy Monastery of Varlaam, built in 1541

    Beauty, when I truly encounter it, is overwhelming. Like Meteora.

    But what is “true” beauty? I doubt there is such a thing. When I walk in certain American neighborhood, I know that they are not “beautiful” — they are ugly, charmless and common. But they strike me as beautiful, perhaps due to my memories. Or, sometimes, a man tells me that he finds a woman beautiful — and she leaves me cold (I don’t understand the appeal) — and, other times, I’m drawn to a painting or a song deemed uninspiring by another. So, maybe I should clarify the beauty of Meteora.

    Climbers almost at the top...

    The place felt unreal — like out of a landscape painting by Cézanne. We looked down upon lush meadows, absolute verdure. The land was mostly quiet, except for a quiet Greek village, Kastraki, where women cooked moussaka and pinned old skirts on clotheslines and sheeps and dogs frolicked in the open air. And, within that world, massive rock formations jutted out of the ground — these surreal, science-fiction like mountains, which once rested underwater until tectonic shifts brought them above ground. Now, they stand in the central Greek region of Thessaly, like some haunted grey palace on Mars.

    And, in this world — isolated & sublime — there was a spiritual human story. Beginning in the 9th century, ascetic monks began moving to this area. They lived in the hollows of the rock towers.

    Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron -- built in the 14th century, restored & embellished in the 15th and 16th centuries

    By the 11th century, an ascetic community had developed in Meteora. The first monastery was established, which still stands today. In the mid-14th century, a monk from Mount Athos (known as the “center of Eastern Monasticism”), Athanasios Koinovitis, brought a community of followers to Meteora. As a result, a new monastery was established.

    Close-up of section of Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron (the largest Meteora monastery today).

    The Meteora mountains are located in the Thessaly region of Greece. This area was constantly invaded by great powers, including the Romans, Byzantines and Bulgarians ( …during the medieval period, the Bulgarians did all right for themselves, okay?).

    And, centuries later, it was the Ottomans. By the 13th century, the Ottomans had advanced into the Balkans, conquering Serbia and Kosovo. They pillaged Thessaly in 1309. Then, following the victory over Constantinople (1453), the Ottomans captured Athens (1458) and, by 1500, successfully seized most of the Greek mainland. Though the battle over some islands (particularly, Crete) was a longer struggle, Greece was essentially taken by the Ottomans, and a new period in Greek history thus began.

    It was at this time — during and after Ottoman invasions — that monks ran up to their rock fortifications of Meteora.

    So, how did these monks get up to those monasteries? The answer is less obvious than expected. After climbing into the mountain region of Meteora, the monks would be hoisted up to the monasteries by roped nets, as seen in the image above.

    The crank

    Once a visitor asked the monks how often they replaced the nets. They simply replied that God tells them — in other words, when the net breaks (!). The nets were supported by a large crank, which slowly pulled up the precariously supported monks.

    Stairs were not constructed until the 1920s.

    An old style (i.e. medieval) kitchen in the Holy Monastery of Grand Meteoron.

    To return back to my meandering thoughts on beauty ….Meteora was so radiant — such a bewitching, distinct moment in my trip, which I still remember so clearly — that I’ll post photos in the next few days, including those showing the interiors of the monasteries, scenes of holy virtue and utter damnation, and a Greek monk picking persimmons from a tree… But, for now, I need to go to bed.

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    A mountaintop view from Plovdiv. Originally used as an ancient fortress by many great empires, this area is now a popular drinking spot for teenagers, sort of like an all-inclusive partying and "make-out point" spot, from my observations.

    I’ve been informed that this blog was mentioned in Sofia Weekly, which is great news (thanks!). And some Bulgarian readers have happened upon this blog, leaving emails and comments. I really appreciate the interest. In fact, I truly enjoyed my trip to Bulgaria, so I’m including one last photo-based entry before returning to my Istanbul blogging. You’ll find photos — both historical and mundane — from Sofia and Plovdiv. Enjoy!

    And here are the teenagers, sitting amidst their graffiti. I was interested in the lone boy by the tree. What was he thinking about? Girls? Life? Did he find humanity disgusting? Maybe.

    A run-down home by the old mountaintop fortress. There was a car parked infront -- which makes me wonder, who is inside?

    The Plovdiv Ethnographic Museum in the 1847 Kuyumdzhioglu House.

    Kebabs in a Sofia restaurant. The food was very good and very cheap. The waitresses all wore traditional Bulgarian clothing -- but, beneath the wonderful outfits, they looked tired, bored and jaded. I guess you see that in restaurants everywhere...

    Fish on ice at the same restaurant. When I was a vegetarian traveler (years ago!), this is what I was missing. But, even if I was a vegetarian today, I think I would loosen up when traveling.

    Oversized cowbells at the same restaurant. The cowbells are hand-made. So, no one bell is exactly alike. And, because each is shaped differently, each bell has its own distinct noise.

    My adorable teenage tour guides in Plovdiv. I was lost, trying to find the Roman Odeon, and they gladly helped me. They filled me in on Bulgarian girls, too! According to these fine male specimens, Bulgarian women are very beautiful but very difficult. Well, now I know! Thanks, dudes!

    Night life in Plovdiv on the main commercial boulevard. The photo came out strangely, but I like it this way -- lends the whole experience a ghostly air.

    A less than inviting entrance in Sofia.

    A sex shop advertised on a Sofia street sign pole -- in other words, on city property! How did this get approved? How the hell is this normal? Okay, I'm from San Francisco, home to the largest leather festival in the world and all forms of debauchery. But do I think there should be an advertisement for "Rock Hard" or "Good Vibrations," both local sex shops, on my street sign? Hell no! Very, very strange.

    Old Town Plovdiv: Completely charming -- and relatively free of tourists! I walked on most streets completely alone, only accompanied by the occasional street cat. Perfect.

    Daily life in "Old Town." I always wonder how people, who live in the "historic area" of a city, feel about the whole thing. Do they appreciate it? I grew up in the historic area of San Francisco -- and I didn't appreciate it until I grew older and left home.

    Some more daily life -- fascinating and mundane simultaneously.

    I met these really cool guys in Plovdiv (from London) who, coincidentally, had the exact same heritage: Fathers from Ghana, mothers from Bulgaria, and a childhood in London with a lot of fantastic Cockney humor. They met as children, when spending summers in Plovdiv with their families. Anyway, they asked me to go get these special Bulgarian pancakes with them, which I expected to be an exotic discovery. When the food came, I exclaimed, "Oh, they're blintzes!" They asked, "What's blintzes." I said, "Basically, they're this."

    Okay, I know this *just* looks like a peach and espresso. But let me just say that this was maybe the best peach I ever ate in my life. It was purchased at a small farmer's market in Plovdiv ....so good. The espresso was from a bohemian-type cafe with a buxom, curly-haired lady behind the bar (yay!).

    I just loved this -- whatever it was ...an entrance to a cafe, restaurant or hotel ...I don't know. The photo was taken in Old Town Plovdiv.

    A more full shot of Plovdiv's impressive Roman Theater. I wonder what bawdy humor, fantastic tales and epic tragedies graced this stage. Really, I never get sick of Roman or Greek theaters.

    A shot through the columns.

    There was so much beauty in this shot -- the columns, the house and all the green. In fact, a Bulgarian TV show took place in this very spot (in that very house), and the opening credits featured an image similar to this one.

    A Sofia doorway.

    I took this picture in Sofia with no knowledge of its content. I was simply drawn to the image. But, on the bus from Plovdiv, I asked about the posting. Well, it's a death notice. Rest in Peace, whoever this woman was or may have been...

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    Socialist architecture in Plovdiv. Even years after the fall of the Soviet Union, many are still struck by such buildings' uniformity, ugliness ...and how political architecture can be.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been quite busy since returning to Istanbul. So, regular blogging has proven difficult. But Plovdiv genuinely struck me as a beautiful and interesting place. So, I’ll conclude my Bulgarian blogging saga with some impressions on the city.

    Bulgarian gypsies waiting for Muslim worshipers to leave the mosque after prayer time (side note: This was the first mosque to be established by the Ottomans in Bulgaria). Indeed, after people began walking down the stairs, they were hounded like Hollywood celebrities, bombarded with calls for money, pity and charity. The older lady also violently pushed around her daughter (or, who I assume to be her daughter) for inexplicable reasons. All in all, a very sad and pathetic situation.

    When I began researching Bulgaria, I came across pictures from a town called Plovdiv. To be honest, I only really know of Sofia. But Plovdiv looked serene & special — particularly due to its Roman ruins. And, after realizing that Plovdiv was on the way back to Istanbul from Sofia, it was a “must.”

    My Plovdiv adventure began with a situation commonly known by veteran travelers: The bus let me off on the side of the road — a nondescript, empty highway, that could have been in Hungary or Germany or anywhere. I wasn’t even quite sure that I was in Plovdiv! But, yet again, my shaky Spanish saved the day and a Spanish-Bulgarian tourist pointed in the direction of “Old Town,” where my hostel was located.

    So, that’s how it began.

    The magnificent Roman theater with PRESERVED STATUES -- a more rare sight! I love how classical civilization -- both Roman and Greek -- emphasized height, so as to be closer to the gods. There's such lasting beauty in mountaintop spaces...

    Now, onto some history:

    THE GREEKS

    Like Istanbul, Plovdiv is located in historical Thrace. So, as I took the bus across the Bulgarian-Turkish border, I thought about the massive cultural differences encountered today between the two nations. Perhaps, in ancient times, there were greater cultural meetings points in the region inhabited by Spartacus and mythical Orpheus.

    Interestingly, the city was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. He renamed the city Philippopolis or “the city of Philip.”

    A contemporary (not ancient) statue commemorating Philip of Macedon in the central plaza of Plovdiv. However, below the statue, there rests the ancient seats of an old theater.

    The city was later reconquered by the Thracians.

    THE ROMANS

    But their independence was not eternal. Rather, Plovdiv was incorporated into the Roman Empire, becoming an official Roman city in the first century. From then on, it was known as Trimontium (“three hills”) — yes, it has three hills.

    The Balkan Roman road, the Via Militaris, passed through Plovdiv.

    The Assyrian satirist and mathematical, Lucian, called Plovdiv “the largest and most beautiful of all cities.”

    By all accounts, it was a vibrant, dynamic city, boasting the cultural bounty of Roman life. Unfortunately, only a small portion of classical Plovdiv has been excavated. It will be interesting to see what archaeologists uncover in the Balkan region in years to come…

    Yup, that's me.

    After the Western Roman Empire fell, Plovdiv became a part of the Byzantine (or “Eastern Roman Empire”). At one point, the city was even ruled by a eunuch emperor Peter I of Bulgaria.

    THE OTTOMANS

    Medieval Plovdiv, now known as "Old Town," housed many of Bulgaria's intellectuals, poets and bohemians in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Okay, fast forward: After a lot of power struggles between the Byzantine Empire and the Latin Empire, Bulgaria was lost to a different power — a new threat from the east: the Ottoman Empire.

    Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule for 500 years. Plovdiv was pronounced capital of Eastern Rumelia (until the Ottomans captured Sofia) — and, in this time, the Ottomans constructed a beautiful, spacious mosque in the city center.

    However, Plovdiv also became a focal point for resistance against the Ottoman Empire, including a revival of Christian and Bulgarian traditions.

    In 1878, the city was liberated from the Ottomans during the Battle of Philippopolis.

    Today, the city is named Plovdiv, which comes fro Pulpudeva — as Wikipedia explains, “assumed to be a translation of Philippopolis, from Pulpu = Philippou and deva = city), which was rendered by the Slavs first as Pəldin (Пълдин) or Pləvdin.”

    Today, many ethnic Turks live in Bulgaria, especially in Plovdiv. There are also many refugees from the 1990s Balkans wars who live in smaller towns.

    THE SOVIETS

    I asked my Bulgarian friend, “Are there remaining communists or socialists in Bulgaria?” She said, “Oh, yes — the little old grannies who talk about how everything used to be better. They say that people have nothing now, that in socialist times, at least they had something. They go to meetings sometimes and talk about these things. But it is just the grannies.”

    While I was staying in the hostel, one of my roommates told me, “You need to check out this restaurant — Diana. The place is crazy! The food is good. And the best part is that, when I asked to go the bathroom, I began walking down this long hallway. It just kept on going and was very strange. It led me to the back area, and there was the bathroom. But something seemed off, like it used to be a bunker or something. So I checked around and talked to a woman. She said, ‘Oh yes, I worked in that bunker during the war. But we don’t talk about it now.’ Isn’t that incredible?”

    So, of course, I went! As expected, the food was good. And here are pictures of the food and the bunker bathroom!

    Appetizer: Potatoes with bacon bits

    Chicken and pork and lots of vegetables! So good! By the way, this was the SMALL PORTION.

    The entrance from the bunker back into the restaurant...

    More bunker action

    Those doors look pretty impenetrable, huh?

    We've reached the end: The Ladies Room!

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    September 20th, 2010adminBulgaria

    EVENING: A glance at a church, located near the Ladies' Market. There are so many quiet, isolated moments in Bulgaria that, if you're patient and imaginative, you can capture.

    If you don’t walk through a city at night, you don’t really see it.

    NIGHT: Walking by the former Communist Party headquarters, I came upon this unimpressive (but, somehow, affecting) place. It reminded me of Edward Hopper, Bulgarian style.

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    September 17th, 2010adminBazaars & Markets, Bulgaria, Food, Touristy Stuff


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    September 15th, 2010adminBulgaria, Religion, Touristy Stuff

    The staggeringly picturesque Rila Monastery, nestled in the Rila Mountains of Bulgaria.

    Bulgaria is a land of secluded monasteries, amidst trees and atop mountains. There was a freshness to the country — a desire for pure, untainted air and water, where monastic monks worship in peace. Perhaps the best example of this is Rila Monastery, the country’s most famous monastery, in the gorgeous Rila Mountains  (2-3 hours from Sofia). Only one bus goes from Sofia metro terminal to the Rila Monastery daily, despite its popularity, which is probably a reflection on Bulgarian tourist infrastructure more than anything else.

    Passing through a mountain village on the way to the monastery.

    I went with two hostel friends. We missed the bus, which immediately pissed me off and made me think I had to spend an extra day in Sofia. However, the Brit knew some Czech — and, in a garbled Czech-Bulgarian conversation, convinced another bus driver to take us to Rila. In fact, he caught up with our missed bus and, as a result, we made it to Rila in one piece.

    Imagine living in this monastery. Imagine worshiping here. It seems that it would be easier to believe in God here than in Sofia.

    When I entered the monastery, I was immediately struck by its beauty — architectural and natural. There was a lot of brown. And white. And then, on the walls, ceilings and monastery interior, every inch of space was covered in biblical  imagery — heaven, hell, saints, Jesus, Mary, even God, with a paternal beard and knowing eyes.

    Well, I think it was God, anyway.

    And, then, you look up. It’s just mountains. And sky. One would think that this is where God lives, or Adam and Eve lives, or some holy entity, assuming one believed in any the Judeo-Christian figures at all.

    A group of nuns entered the monastery courtyard. Their somber, religious faces changed instantaneously. Their eyes grew big. They exclaimed things, quietly but with visible excitement, in their native language (I couldn’t decipher what it was).

    Orthodoxy kitsch abounded, as well. Booths sold fake iconography, all of which looked very Byzantine or Bulgarian Orthodox or gilded or special …but in an obviously fake and touristy way. The booths were popular, probably because they were cheap, too. And middle-aged European tourists, many of them Bulgarians from other towns, peered at the wares and made purchase decisions.

    The great thing about beautiful holy sites is that you don't have to follow the religion to recognize the beauty. You can just understand the appeal, from a purely human perspective. Maybe that helps us gain insight into others' faiths.

    We weren’t allowed to photograph inside the monastery. But I’ll just say that the place was covered with frescoes from the famed 19th century Bulgarian artist, Zahari Zograf. It smelled of the burning candles. I was totally overwhelmed by the barrage of images, of smells and colors and saints, all intermingling in that dense space.

    The monastery was originally founded by the hermit, St. Ivan of Rila, originally a herder who became a priest at 25 years old. Interestingly, St. Ivan was a contemporary of Boris I, the tsar who officially made Bulgaria a Christian land. So, St. Ivan was on the “first wave,” one could say, of both Christianity and hermeticism in Bulgaria. Even revered as a saint in his own time (9th century), St. Ivan was known to have a special connection with animals — wild animals approached him and birds flew into his hand. Wishing to fully immerse himself in religious devotion, he left his monastic life for the mountains. There, in the Rila Mountains, he lived in total isolation (I think, in a cave, for 15 years or something). After his death, he became the patron saint of Bulgaria. The monastery was built in the location of his hermetic dwelling in the 10th century.

    The only surviving original tower (left) of the monastery.

    As I mentioned, I went to the the monastery with two hostel buddies — Lena, from Hamburg, and some British guy, who now lives in Australia (but lived in Prague beforehand). We shared a beautiful picnic, surrounded by greenery and mountains and water. We talked about the American book, “Three Cups of Tea,” which I have never read. But it really fascinated the British guy — a story of a man who, stranded in the Pakistani mountains after a botched rock-climbing adventure, finds life-saving hospitality and graciousness from village locals. As a result, he goes back to the USA, raises money, and then builds a school in that very same Pakistani town. He continues to follow suit in other towns across Pakistan. “I can’t find that book in Britain or Australia,” he complained. “But it’s very popular in the US, right?”

    Is this St. Ivan? God? I don't know...

    Mary, baby Jesus and a million other things...

    Before you enter the monastery, you pass through a doorway that is absolutely surrounded by grotesque images of hell. Yes, out of everything: HELL. They really drive home the idea of damnation with that design decision.

    The bus back was also amusing. I sat next to a jovial, fat French woman who kept on laughing and talking about how much she loved Turkey (she came via Turkey to Bulgaria), and how the Turks were so gracious, and she grew very excited when she found out I was from San Francisco. She called to a woman, sitting in the front, “The girl is from San Francisco!” in French and they all smiled at me with some excited sense of approval. The two were dropped off at a mountain-top hotel.

    Private residential quarters.

    I saw a few more secluded monasteries and churches in my time in Bulgaria. In Plovdiv, on a hilltop by the daily produce market, I found an old monastery of some sort: medieval-looking stone floor and a stern, black-bearded (priest? what do they call them in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, anyway?), watering his plants and tending to his candles and other items. I don’t know why I tried. But, out of curiosity, I smiled at him. And he just looked at me, dead seriously for a second, and then turned away. Oh well. I just wanted to see how (and if!) he would interact with me. So, I passed by his plants, walked out the door, and genuinely felt admiration for his church’s architectural past, even if the greater interiors of its believers remain as mysterious as ever.

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    September 14th, 2010adminBulgaria, History, Religion, Touristy Stuff

    Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Sofia, Bulgaria), named after the medieval prince who defended Rus from nasty German and Swedish invaders. He was also a clever politician who allied with a Mongol khan.

    My short visit to Bulgaria was very nice. I arrived knowing practically nothing about the country, save for a basic historical overview. And I’ve returned feeling like there’s a lot more than people give it credit for. “I really didn’t expect much from Bulgaria,” explained a touring Brit from my hostel. “Really, I thought it would be depressing post-Soviet grayness. But it’s quite lovely and, as a city, Sofia has nice, big, open spaces.”

    Though it may appear very old, even Byzantine, the Cathedral is rather new. Construction began in late 19th century. Regardless, it's still impressive.

    Of course, life wasn’t all roses, either. I saw that many people lived with very little. Jaded, chain-smoking transexual prostitutes loitered and lingered infront of my hostel. I was definitely cheated (at least by a small amount) at one restaurant. Some streets were dead empty, which was a creepy prospect at 3 am. And there was a huge population of utterly desperate gypsies, begging for change at any opportunity.

    But there were many points of interest, history and beauty. For five centuries, Bulgaria was under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire (in fact, one of the most famous Bulgarian books, titled “Under the Yoke,” depicts exactly this). As a result, the country is over 10% Muslim today — a population that includes ethnic Turks and converted Slavs. In Plovdiv (which I will describe in subsequent entries), there stands the oldest mosque in Bulgaria — the first built by the Ottomans. It’s grand, big and white inside. There is an official placard from the city of Istanbul, as well.

    But the majority of the country is Bulgarian Orthodox, their own distinct brand of Orthodoxy. I asked some teenagers, “Is Bulgaria religious?” They said, “No.” I then asked, “Are your families religious?” They smiled and said, “Oh, we go to church maybe twice a year.” Nevertheless, Bulgarians today seem to take great pride in their independence — both from Ottoman and Soviet control. Their official coinage, the lev, has a guy (I don’t know who!), holding a cross.

    The country has its own Bulgarian Orthodox Church, officially established when Tsar Boris adopted Christianity in the 9th century. The Tsar took special measures to make the religion Bulgarian, rather than Greek, in orientation. In  fact, he “expelled the Greek clergy from the country and ordered the replacing of the Greek language with the Slav-Bulgarian vernacular,” according to handy Wikipedia.

    "Oh, a grandfather," said my Bulgarian friend, who I met on the bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul. She smiled. "This," she said, is what many grandfathers in Bulgaria look like. Just like him."

    When I walked down the streets, I definitely felt the Eastern European culture. In the United States, I grew up in a neighborhood bordering a Chinese/Russian community. I grew familiar with the elderly Russian ladies on the bus, coated in heavy make-up and stiff hair, talking about life in Moscow, or their groceries, or their grandchildren. No doubt, Bulgaria is very different than Russia. But I felt the general Eastern European cultural element.

    Near the train station. Just a street. Nothing special, which, of course, makes it more interesting.

    There’s a lot more to say about Bulgaria — the people, the food, and the other city I visited, Plovdiv. But I’ll save those insights and photos for another day — tomorrow, maybe. For now, here’ s a few more photos of everyday streets…

    Street art in Sofia. I found these pieces in a neighborhood full of street art, artist's boutiques and little restaurants -- "artsy," I guess (well, kind-of). There were some aimless-looking dreadlocked dudes...

    CENTER -- Former Communist Party headquarters. Notice the Bulgarian flag on top? I have a sneaking suspicion that a massive Soviet symbol once stood on top. To the left, you can see the current parliamentary building. Behind it, there's an old Roman fortress.

    Just a pretty building.

    I was really drawn to this advertisement. It looked so outdated -- like something I would see in 1992. I wondered if it has actually BEEN there since, like, 1992. Or is the lady's power blazer and poofy hair undeniably hip in Bulgaria?

    But some parts were very nice...

    A disgusting-looking meat advertisement that, for some reason, brought a smile to my face. It's interesting when advertisements from another country do NOTHING for you. So, I think: Is the ad really bad? Or am I just from a really different culture?

    A final cathedral shot.

    I don’t think I have met anybody in the States who has gone to Bulgaria. Many expatriates in Turkey have made the trip. But it’s not so common for the average American college backpacker. Why is that? Why does everybody just go to France, Italy, Spain and Holland?

    Of course, many people go to Hungary and Croatia. Those are popular tourist destinations. But maybe there is an added level of interest and excitement in visiting a country “off the beaten path.”

    While Bulgaria was, in many ways, quiet and not very exciting, it was also a beautiful, green country with a unique history and culture. Not to mention, the food was damn good.

    So, expect more entries related to Bulgaria — including a visit to a beautiful monastery in the mountains — in the days to come!

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    September 6th, 2010adminBulgaria, Byzantines, Ottomans

    Bulgarian Karakachani's wearing the traditional dress are seen during the annual Karakachani's festival near the town of Sliven, east of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. (AP Photo/Petar Petrov)

    This evening, I’ll be taking a bus from Istanbul to Sofia, Bulgaria (or, as the Turks call it, “Bulgaristan”). I’m not bringing my computer, so I won’t be able to update as frequently for the next few days. But I may be able to upload photos while in Bulgaria. And I’ll definitely share photos upon my return.

    Here’s how Lonely Planet introduces Bulgarian history:

    The land that gave birth to the legendary Orpheus and Spartacus, Bulgaria is a country with a long, tumultuous and fascinating history. It  has been invaded, conquered and settled by the Greeks, Scythians, Romans, Byzantines and Turks, all of whom left their indelible marks on the landscape. Bulgaria’s medieval “Golden Age,” when the Bulgar Khans rules over one of the largest empires in Europe, was bright but brief…

    And so begins a story of so many rulers and so many empires, concluding with years as a Soviet satellite, the fall of the Eastern bloc, and, now, contemporary Bulgaria…

    …Should be interesting…