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Happy Holidays, Dear Friends!

I’m back at home in Sofia for the winter vacation and just celebrated a lovely Christmas Eve with my family!

I wish you to always reunite with your loved ones on such special occasions! I wish you and your families love, good health, joy, and success!

Today I have selected my favorite Bulgarian winter and Christmas children’s songs. Enjoy!

Click here to read my description of the Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner. I’d love to hear about your celebrations!

 

“Santa Claus is Clattering in His Red Boots”

 

“The Puppy Sharo and the First Snow” – it’s about the puppy Sharo who is looking out the window and sees, in utter dismay, snow for the first time!

 

“Over the Quiet Hills” – a village is nestled in the snowy hills of a mountain and quietly watches the flight of a Santa’s sleigh.

 


On Sunday, I went to a fabulous Bulgarian-English wedding at the St. Nedelya church in Sofia. I want to tell you more about the mother of the bride because she is an exceptional woman!

She is married to an Englishman, and they have lived in London forever, yet their two children (the bride and her brother) were baptized as Orthodox Christians instead of Anglicans like the father.

This Bulgarian woman has taught her children such love and respect for their roots that the bride decided to marry in Sofia, in an Orthodox church, despite the fact that her groom and his family (and her own family on the English side) are Anglican! Thus, the groom, his parents, and all of their British guests, including some guests from Brunei, had come to our St. Nedelya church for the ceremony! To make everything perfect, they baptized their little baby boy as an Orthodox Christian too!

The wedding ceremony in the beautifully painted church was lead by two priests: one to perform the ritual, and one to sing accompanied by the choir. Then, all the guests, mostly British and a few Bulgarians, went out of the church and reentered a few minutes later for the second ceremony, the baby’s baptism. The baby started to laugh as its feet touched the water basin!

Next, we all headed for the Sheraton, Sofia’s oldest and most renowned hotel. The menu was only typical Bulgarian cuisine presented in a gourmet way. The entertainment was splendid too: four dancers in national garments and a folklore singer and bagpiper kept both the foreign and local guests in good spirits all night long. The Brits picked up our rhythms surprisingly fast!

Wearing the crowns during the wedding ceremony in St. Nedelya church in Sofia

This was a wonderful transnational interreligious wedding, and it was all made possible thanks to the vigor of that incredible Bulgarian mother of the bride who not only preserved her national sprit in the foreign land, but also continued it through her children and grandchildren.

***

Read more about traditional Bulgarian wedding rituals 

or about a rather upsetting baptism ceremony in an Orthodox monastery.

***

Gourmet Bulgarian appetizers: lukanka, shopska salad, snezhanka salad, kashkaval, kyopulu, grape leaf sarmi

Traditional breaking of the bread: whoever breaks the bigger part off the bread will be the leader in the home. These are two couples: the newlyweds and the bride's recently married brother and sister-in-law.

I uploaded these videos from the party at the Sheraton Hotel. I think it’s obvious who are the Brits and who the Bulgarians! Enjoy!


Sofia's Monument of the Soviet Army transformed with Western symbolism, anonymous graffiti artist.

This is probably the most clever (and certainly the boldest) street artwork that Bulgaria has seen for years! On Saturday, June 18th, an anonymous graffiti artist transformed Sofia’s Monument of the Soviet Army by painting the Red Army soldiers over as Western pop culture symbols.

Sofia woke up to the sight of That Yellow Bastard, the Joker, Wolverine, Santa Claus, Superman, Ronald McDonald, Captain America, Robin, and Wonder Woman. The former-Soviet-soldiers-gone-superhero had replaced the USSR flag with the American. The message under the statues reads “keep abreast of the time”. The “Bulgarian Banksy”, as the Herald Sun nicknamed the artist, remains a mystery.

And the Monument of the Soviet Army before the graffiti, surrounded by a skate park.

The Monument of the Soviet Army is one of the landmarks of Sofia, but it is also very controversial.  It was erected in 1953-6 in order to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who rescued Europe from the Nazi. Still, many young Bulgarians perceive it as a celebration of those who forced communism onto Bulgaria in 1944 and consider it out of place. Ever since the fall of communism in 1989, the monument has been a bone of contention among “anti-communists” and “anti-capitalists”.

Today, the park around the monument is a skaters and bikers park. At night, it is full of young alternative people having fun. To me, this speaks that as long as the park is beautiful and well-kept it doesn’t really matter if the monument is outdated or not. However, I also think that it would be good to replace this monument with something that better relates to the young people of the EU.

But then again, the graffiti artist brings up a good point by replacing the symbol of the “communist occupants” with the symbol of the “capitalist occupants”.  Fifty years ago, we glorified the world power of that time, the Soviet Union. Today, as indicated by the movies we watch, the fashion we wear, and the food we eat, we are simply glorifying the current world power, the USA. Probably it is time to create something of our own and be proud of it: be it high art or graffiti.

***Several Facebook groups were created for and against the work of art/vandalism.  It was announced that city officials will clean up the monument on Tuesday at 8am, so several Facebook activists urged people to go see the graffiti in the morning and thus show their support for the anonymous artist. However, the superhero and pop culture characters artwork was cleaned between midnight and 6am last night! The citizens who visited the monument around 8am went home highly disappointed. 


Interesting facts you will learn from this video:

  • Sofia (at that time called Serdika) is 1700 years older than Brussels.
  • Emperor Constantine the Great was considering Sofia for the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but eventually chose Constantinople. He said “Serdika is my Rome”.
  • The oldest functioning church in Europe is St. George’s Rotunda (326 AD). It is right next to the Bulgarian presidency.
  • In the 4th century, Serdika was the spiritual capital of the Christian world.
  • The Boyana Church frescoes are considered to be the portents of the European Renaissance.
  • At the age of 28, the Bulgarian architect Petko Momchilov won a competition against Gustave Eiffel.
  • The Square of Tolerance is a unique place in Sofia: within less than 300 meters, you can see temples from the world’s four major religions: a mosque, a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral, and an orthodox church.
  • More steel was used for the construction of the National Palace of Culture than for the Eiffel Tower. The building was erected for the commemoration of 1300 anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state.
  • Sofia’s motto is “Grows But Does Not Age.”

These are not homeless people or rascals. They are part of the Orchestra of the Blind, and they play beautiful music around the streets of Sofia.

The orchestra was founded in 1922 by the Bulgarian Union of the Blind. At that time, it consisted of four violins, a cello, a flute, a clarinet, and a piano. They participated in numerous charitable concerts all over the country in order to raise funds for their organization.

Today, an additional function they have is to entertain the passers-by and, probably, to remind us that they are still there.

 


The Coca-Cola Company has always made the best Christmas commercials!  Their new marketing campaign is, once again, memorable, and this time, it even has a connection with Bulgaria!

The “Snow Globes” TV commercial was created in collaboration with Coca-Cola Germany and McCann, Madrid, and was produced by Bulgaria’s Boyana Film Studio in Sofia. Along with the emblematic Christmas Trucks and the reference to the polar bears, the commercial features only Bulgarian actors: Ivan Petrushinov as Santa, Dido Manchev as the store owner, Nikola Kiuchukov and Desislava Kasabova as the young couple, etc. The Californian Grammy Award winning band Train performs the song “Shake Up Christmas”.

I hope the commercial’s message  inspires you for a wonderful holiday with your friends, family and loved ones!


Enrique Iglesias has always had a special corner in my heart, and I can’t believe I missed  his FREE concert AT HOME, in Sofia, on September 29th!

I am sincerely jealous of Ralitza, the Bulgarian fan whom Enrique Iglesias KISSED while singing the song that melts every girl’s heart, Hero!

Enrique didn’t win over his fans’ hearts because he kissed a Bulgarian girl. He won them over because he told her:

“Ralitza, you are Sofia, you are Bulgaria… This is for your country!” Now that’s called great art and great marketing!

Some of the other world-famous musicians who have given concerts in Sofia include: Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna, Sting, Bryan Adams, Sir Elton John, Seal, George Michael, Lenny Kravitz, Eros Ramazzotti,  Zucchero, Andrea Bocelli, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Metallica, Depeche Mode, and many more.

Read Ellis Shuman’s review of the concert. Her and her husband’s blog is full of interesting stories about their Adventures in Bulgaria.


I’m really happy that I finally have an apartment with a kitchen! Down with dining hall food! I feel cleaner, lighter, and more satisfied and independent than ever! So much for kitchen poetry…

At 15 in Bulgaria, I usually chose between 3-4 types of cereal. My peers in the States chose between 30-40 brands.

I was walking in Shaw’s Supermarket the other day, and remembered the first time I came to the States. It was around 2003, and I was about 14-15. My whole family came to the East Coast for a vacation. We started with Disney World in Orlando, then Washington DC, NYC, State College in Pennsylvania, Pittsburg, Boston, and Niagara falls. We visited friends, went to museums, saw shows, sights, etc. We wanted to go shopping just for the fun of it. Honestly, we didn’t think we’d find something completely different from what was available back home or from what we had already seen in Western Europe. But I remember that one thing really struck us.

The supermarkets. We went to a supermarket in State College, PA that was as big as the biggest mall in Sofia at that time (TZUM).   It had an incredible assortment of food that we had never seen before. It had piles of shiny big fruit that were so beautiful they almost looked artificial (today, I know that they indeed taste artificial). It had Italian bread, Turkish delight, Arabic dates, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borsch, Greek olives. Finally, one thing completely blew our minds.

The good old muesli with yogurt will always be my top choice. With fruit and honey, its better than the whole cereal aisle!

The aisle with cereal. I bet this was the longest aisle in the store, and it was packed with boxes of cereal: crisp choco crunch frost flake bran berry buzz blast apple maple raisin banana cinnamon pecan almond wheat rice oat corn honey mini multi squares puffs pebbles clusters bunches Kellog Quaker Newman Mills Kashi Ralston Nestle… Who ate all these things?! How was it possible to have so many combinations? How was it possible to choose from such a variety? At that time in Bulgaria, we had a total of maybe three companies producing breakfast cereal: Nestle’s regular cornflakes, Bulgarian cornflakes, and muesli. We ate cereal with milk and sugar or muesli with yoghurt and honey. I think we were perfectly content with the choices we had.

Now, of course, we have giant malls and giant supermarkets like Americans do. This must be a sign that our standard of living is rising. We have a much larger assortment of Bulgarian and foreign breakfast cereal.

Yet even today, after I’ve been to Shaw’s and Whole Foods in Boston so many times, I still fail to understand why Americans need so many different types of cereal?!

***

You might also find interesting the rest of my Observations on the American Culture and Behavior, compared to those in my native Bulgaria:

Bureaucracy in America: Iron Policy of No Compromise

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

It Doesn’t Get More Organic Than This


Today, September 17, Eastern Orthodox Christians commemorate the day of the martyr Sophia and her three daughters Faith, Hope, and Love (in Greek, Pistis, Elpis, and Agape; in Bulgarian, Vyara, Nadezhda, and Lyubov).

Sophia was a pious woman who lived in Rome under Emperor Adrian (Hadrian), in the first century AD. She had named her daughters after the main Christian virtues, faith, hope, and love.

When Emperor Adrian found out that the family openly observed Christianity, he ordered them to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. When they refused, the emperor ordered that the young girls, age 12, 10, and 9, be tortured until they rejected Christ.  The girls were killed in the name of their religion and became martyrs. After Sophia buried them, she prayed for three days by their graves and finally died herself, believing she would join them in Heaven.

In our culture, this day is the “name day” of those who bear the names Sofia, Vyara, Nadezhda, or Lyubov, and they receive guests at home.  All Bulgarians celebrate, so that their families are healthy, happy, and filled with love.

Today, we also celebrate the holiday of our capital, Sofia. We have chosen this day to honor our city, although Sofia was not named after the martyr Sophia. In fact, the name of our capital signifies Wisdom. In Greek, Aghia Sophia means the Divine Wisdom of God.

So today, I want to tell my mother, Lyubka, that to me, she signifies All the Love in the World.

Честит празник, мамо!


I would like to join the ongoing in Bulgaria public debate.

In mid-August, the Ministry of Economy presented the video clips for the new advertising campaign for Bulgarian tourism under the slogan “Magic Lives Here”. The campaign aims to change the perception of Bulgaria from a destination for low-cost European youth travel destination, to a more luxurious tourist destination.  The four video clips focus on our Black Sea summer resorts, mountain ski resorts, SPA and wellness centers, eco-tourism and cultural heritage. They are about be broadcasted on four European TV channels: Euronews, Eurosport, Discovery, and National Geographic, in September (read more in Radio Bulgaria’s website).

The project theoretically has a good perspective, but the video clips became notorious because the majority of Bulgarians don’t like them. Newspapers, TV shows, online media, politicians, intellectuals, and celebrities all took a stand in the public debate. The common opinion seems to be that the videos are full of clichés, that they copy other countries’ promo videos from several years ago, are outdated, are executed poorly, have bad quality, and don’t portray Bulgaria accurately.

The most widely discussed aspect, though, is the campaign’s cost. The making and broadcasting of the videos totals at 7.5 million leva (3.7 million euro), which is a significant sum for a country of this size. The campaign is partially funded by the EU. Experts in the field of advertising agree that the production price, almost half a million leva is way too high. Many common people believe that this money would have served better if it were invested in infrastructure.

One is for sure, an ad campaign can always be improved.

Instead of taking part in the blaming and whining, I’d like to take a more productive stand in this debate. Here is my list of the things the next campaign should not omit (in no particular order and without claiming to be exhaustive):

Tourism and Nature:

  • Hikers going to the Seven Rila Lakes
  • White mountain peaks of Rila and Pirin with skiers and snowboarders
  • The wide golden beaches and deep blue of the Black Sea coastline
  • Crowds of people at sea resorts like Sunny Beach and Lozenetz with their luxurious restaurants, clubs and hotels
  • Rafting  in Struma river in September  surrounded by the autumn colors of the forest
  • Small quiet beach camping sites like Smokinia with surfing, windsurfing, and diving
  • Balneotherapy at the mineral hot springs in Velingrad
  • Horseback riding in the Balkan mountain range near the village Skravena
  • Families visiting the Thracian sanctuary at Perperikon
  • Beach festivals (The Spirit of Burgas), concerts in the open, and clubs in Sofia
  • Rock-climbing near the Belogradchik rocks
  • Students exploring the prehistoric paintings at the Magura cave and the Ledenika cave
  • Views from Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Rouse

Cultural  and historical heritage:

  • Thracian golden masks and jewelry
  • Ancient Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv
  • Typical architecture of 17th-century houses in Veliko Turnovo
  • Houses-museums of Bulgarian revolutionaries in Koprivshtitza
  • Old crafts from the time Bulgaria was in the Ottoman empire in Etura
  • Vast vineyards and wineries in Melnik, the wine capital of the Balkans
  • Scary masks at the Kukeri carnival in Pernik
  • Nestinarki dancing on fire in the village of Bulgari
  • Esoteric Paneurhythmy dance ritual near the Seven Rila Lakes
  • Children hanging martenitsi on blossoming trees
  • Rose-picking and rose-oil production near Kazanluk
  • Singers and bagpipe-players in traditional garments during the folklore festival in Zheravna
  • People dancing the horo during a wedding
  • Merry crowds enjoying the Bulgarian cuisine, lukanka, liutenitza, banitza, in a kruchma (pub) in Bansko
  • Orthodox Christian baptism in the Rozhen monastery and the icons in the Rila monastery

Map of the current (green), under construction (yellow), and future (blue) malls in Bulgaria

In the past six months, three new malls have opened up in Sofia (The Mall, Serdika Center, and Sofia Outlet Center).

This makes it a total of eight, where the old ones are City Center Sofia, Mall of Sofia, Mega Mall Lyulin, Sky City, and Central Department Store (TZUM).  Seven other are under construction or in a planning phase.

I wonder who shops so much in this economic crisis?!

Fortunately, the new malls brought some long-expected brands to the Bulgarian market: MAC, Sephora, Zara, Bershka, the department store Peek&Cloppenburg  (the German equivalent of Harrods or Lafayette), etc.

Now if only some entrepreneurs took up the ambitious job to develop online shopping in Bulgaria, they could crush all of these malls.


In June 2008, the first Bulgarian gay pride parade took place in Sofia.  I expect that this blog’s foreign readers cry out “Why so late,” to which I can only respond “Well, we had to start somewhere!” The 2008 parade was a small-scale event, which created a massive uproar in our society.  Days before the venue, the citizens of the capital had seen enough of anti-homosexuality posters and heard too many interviews with adversaries of the Bulgarian LGBT movement. The parade itself met with opposition from a small group of extreme nationalists and skinheads who threw a Molotov cocktail at the 150 participants. There were eighty-eight arrests that day, and as a whole, the event demonstrated the Bulgarians’ intolerance more than anything else.

In 2009, things started to change. The second gay pride fest was a colorful, peaceful, and merry event for participants and observers.

Sofia  Pride 2010 (official website) was the most successful event so far, with 800 participants, which makes it the second biggest LGBT procession on the Balkans, the one in Athens being the biggest. The walk for equality and acceptance started at Lovers’ Bridge and culminated in a concert in front of the Monument of the Soviet Army.

As in every western capital, Sofia’s highlife has always accepted homosexuality as something refined and even trendy.  Some of the biggest names in our pop culture are gay. In the same time, as in every western capital, we have extremists and homophobes who commit hate crimes against any and every group that is different, be it homosexuals, gypsies, or chalga fans.

Still, on a day-to-day basis, the majority of common Bulgarians, undoubtedly, have a hard time accepting homosexuals. When a girl comes out of the closet, people’s response often is: “But you are so beautiful, you could have any man.” When a boy comes out, his parents go through phases of shock, anger, and despair, and often blame themselves for “failing as parents” and “raising a child that is not normal.” The most frequent statement Bulgarians make is: “I accept them as long as I don’t have to see them.”

I consider myself more open-minded than the average Bulgarian. What is more, having lived in the States for two years now has helped me identify some of the reasons behind the Bulgarians’ intolerance for gays. I will throw them out as ideas, though one could write volumes and volumes on each topic.

Firstly, our society still lives in its old traditions and is very patriarchal. Although our women might seem emancipated businesswomen or highlife divas, the Bulgarian man is pretty much a macho type. He feels responsible for the family income and puts a lot of pride to everything he does and owns.Therefore, a lesbian who rejects his advances is a hit to his macho ego. A man who likes men downgrades the image that a patriarch is supposed to have. In one way or another, Bulgarians take homosexuality very personally, as if it directly affects and threatens them. Bulgarians have no problem being publicly drunk or vulgar with their wives or girlfriends, but when it comes to display of affection between members of the same sex, Bulgarian men find it outrageous (unless it is pure entertainment by two hot girls in bikini at a chalga club, in which way it is acceptable). As a result, Bulgarians try to distance themselves from anything homosexual. Most of them don’t mind reading about it in tabloids, as long as the thorn is not in their eyes.

Secondly, we believe in many stereotypes without realizing it.  We have stereotypes about other nations, other ethnicities, even other cities. We put labels on everything. We like to think of everything as simple and straightforward. We have standards for women’s beauty, for men’s achievements, for what is socially acceptable or not. To a certain degree, the States too has such standards, but they are a lot more open to free interpretation. For example, our music scene has 50% blond singers and 50% brunettes, and both have strong makeup, fake lips, and fake boobs. Similarly, “all gypsies are pickpockets” and “all gays have HIV.” Concerning the latter, poorly educated people trust everything they hear from not-so-trustworthy sources. And even when they hear something positive and something negative about a certain social group, they usually trust the negative one and adopt a stereotype, just to be on the safe side.

Thirdly, we generally have a negative worldview. For example, our sense of humor is often sarcastic and self-ironic. Being distrustful and suspicious is a feature of our national character. We like to have underdogs for everything.  That is why we blame others for our misfortunes, and often accumulated anger towards everybody who is different. We behave negatively towards things that we don’t understand and that we perceive as threatening. In a recent TV debate, a guest spoke about his anti-gay views, and his opponent lesbian’s response was “and you are fat with an ugly snout.”  Evidently, Bulgarians of all sexual orientations have a natural tendency to be cynical and spiteful.

Yet, there has been a huge progress since 2008. This year’s gay pride showed that Bulgarians are becoming more open and accepting of different people. As the Sofia pride slogan goes, “Be careful whom you hate, it might be someone you love.”

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