Burgas and the Black Sea

Venue: Burgas, Sozopol, mostly Pomorie

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 VR – mostly using the 24mm end

Music: Stefka Berova and Yordan Marchinkov – 20 km away from Burgas / Стефка Берова и Йордан Марчинков – На 20 км от Бургас (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prZusXxGBmc)

As every single year in my life, I spent some time on the Bulgarian seaside this summer. I usually go to the southern part, around the Gulf of Burgas, and this time was no exception. I took it as a proper vacation going to the beach and having fun with friends, so I only took my camera on several occasions and my photos won’t be really representative of the Black Sea cost or even of my own vacation. I particularly regret not taking my camera on our boat trip from the port of Burgas to the tiny island of St. Anastasia, which has a really cool story during the communist years and has recently been turned into a beautiful place to watch the sunset over the city with the help of some EU grants.

What I will show you instead are a few photos of Burgas and Sozopol, our main spot for the vacation, together with quite some photos with boats and setting sun from Pomorie, thus covering the whole Gulf of Burgas from its northern to southern end.

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The central parts of Burgas as seen from one of the landmark buildings – hotel “Bulgaria”, a socialist style hotel in the very centre. You can even see the boat competition that was taking place that afternoon. Just before the sea you can also spot the trees of the “Sea garden” park, which is a very nice place to bike around.
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The view from the last floor of our “hotel”, or rather family house, in Sozopol. The old town of Sozopol is on the opposite side of the bay on the picture, and is a good place for a nice dinner and a walk around the freshly (re)built old fortress along the sea.
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The opposite side of the roof, with a good example of the “growth mistakes” along the Black Sea when tourism suddenly exploded and lots of buildings were started and never properly finished. Not that the sunset over the sea can ever really be spoilt, fortunately.
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A third angle from the top floor, this time showing distantly some buildings (e.g. the one with a non-religiously looking cross on top) which are off-limits as they are part of a still existing military area on one side of Sozopol (even if we don’t really have an army anymore).
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The next day’s sunset from the top floor, revealing the actual purpose of the last floor – providing the laundry with a good panoramic view during sunset.
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The central beach of Sozopol and another view to the old town in the evening.
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On one the beaches near Sozopol, Gradina. This is in the Kite bar – a very popular beach bar with a cool DJ party on some of the afternoons.
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Back to Burgas – the famous “bridge” of Burgas, linking the central part of the park with…the sea. In most other parts of Bulgaria people call this construction a pier, but the locals insist very strongly on calling it the Bridge.
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In Pomorie, passing by a not very fancy restaurant with a good sunset view.
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Time for some more iconic photos – a boat on the sea during sunset with the Bulgarian flag.
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Some boats off the port of Pomorie, with the other side of the gulf streching to Sozopol on the background.
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A postcard style attempt from me – I really like the little seagull passing by the sun in the moment I took the picture. No Black Sea postcard is complete without an old fisherman on a boat and a seagull, after all.
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Here is a closer look of the old fisherman from the previous photo, and very appropriately the name of the boat in Bulgarian means “seagull”.
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Time for some boat pictures – all boats in Bulgaria need to be registered in some port, and “Пм”, or “Pm”, clearly stands for Pomorie.
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More boats and more sunset.
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A particularly nice boat I think, and funnily the boat on the right side has the name that translates as “The White Stripe”. I doubt they actually thought of the famous band with the almost exact same name.
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Another postcard style photo with the boat and the seagull and the sunset. In the back you can also see one the huge modern hotels built in the beginning of Pomorie, for the richer Russian tourists.
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A street cart selling various fruits and vegetables, in particular peaches from Pomorie as the sign suggests.
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The last pink clouds from the sunset over Pomorie and some fancy lamps used by a fish restaurant next to the walking alley. With all its paradoxes and problems, the Bulgarian Black Sea cost is not that bad I’d say, and is never easy to leave for me.

Welcome home

Venue: Thracian temple, Starosel

Camera & Lens specs: Sony alpha 37, 35 mm  f/5.0 / 1/60s / ISO 1600

Music: Eddie Vedder – Guaranteed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtZ1TK1Sfpg)

This is a photo with an open story, which I myself can only guess. I took it shortly after sunset in mid-December 2015, on a hill off the village of Starosel in central Bulgaria which hosts the well-preserved ruins of an old Thracian temple from the 4th century BC. We were the last visitors of the temple and on the way back stumbled across this (probably not anymore) mobile house on the side of the hill, which might serve to the people making excavations in summer or is just someone’s temporary escape from the city life. No matter what the real story behind is, I was just struck by the harmony of this image – the complete serenity of this ancient place in late autumn in such a rural and very unnoticeable part of Bulgaria, together with the unexpected comfort and cosyness of this old truck that somebody turned into their home. If the hobbits would move to Bulgaria, that’s the first place I’d suggest for a new home!

Veliko Tarnovo and around

Venue: Veliko Tarnovo, Lovech, Devetaki, Krushuna, Hotnitsa, Bojentsi, Tryavna, Arbanasi

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 VR – mostly using the 24mm end

Music: Wickeda – I love / Уикеда – Обичам (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzDLCLfe4Go)

In the middle of summer I made a short four-day trip to Veliko Tarnovo and some of the places nearby, which I will describe with some photos as usual. In this time of the year the temperatures in northern Bulgaria don’t fall much below 35 degrees, so it was not exactly the perfect condition for taking photos. To be fair it is probably hard to do justice to the place anyway, so I’d recommend anyone to visit it even if it doesn’t look as amazing from this post.

Veliko Tarnovo is one of these places where you can actually feel the history around you and imagine what it must have been back in the medieval times during its glory. Even if most of the main historic sites are just ruins now, the position and fortified walls of what used to be the capital of the second Bulgarian empire on Tsarevets hill are very suggestive of its former power. Together with the typical Bulgarian Renaissance architecture from the end of 19th century and the Yantra river turning around the hills, Veliko Tarnovo is easily one of the most impressive and beautiful places in Bulgaria. So here come the photos and their explanations, ordered chronologically from my trip on my way from Sofia and back.

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Lovech, with its covered bridge in the city centre somewhat similar to the famous one in Florence. It is a historic small town whose economy really went down after the fall of socialism in Bulgaria. They still have some nice restaurants in the centre where I had a great tarator, the typical cold Bulgarian soup for the hot summer days.
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The Devetaki cave, on the road between Lovech and Veliko Tarnovo, a strangely shaped formation in the rocks, home of thousands of bats flying around and making funny noices.
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The Krushuna waterfalls, a little further down the road – they are probably much more impressive in spring, but still make a nice stop on the road to cool off in the shades of the trees around.
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Already in Veliko Tarnovo – the panoramic view from one of the popular restaurants in the centre, with Yantra river and the art gallery in the middle of the picture, and one of the older parts of town on the left overlooking the sunset.
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An evening walk after dinner with a view to the main (modern) church and some old houses that used to be small shops in the past judging by the sign.
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Starting the city tour the next morning with a coffee on the “Samovodska charshia” – the old main market street, now a cute pedestrian area with cafes and little art and souvenir shops.
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Closer to the historical sights here, but it was too hot to climb up on Tsarevets hill inside the main medieval fortress. Instead we decided to go along the Yantra river between Tsarevets and Trapezitsa, the other fortress hill on the right. The area between the two main hills of the old capital seems to have served mainly for religious purposes in the past, as there are at least around 10 churches remaining in an area of a square kilometer or so.
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This is the sight of one of the main cathedrals of the past, “The Forthy Martyrs”, now completely rebuilt. The remains of one of our famous kings, tsar Kaloyan, are still standing here after 800 years in a freshly built grave.
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The inside of one of the other churches nearby, “Saint George”, which is partially preserved from the medieval times.
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A rebuilt copy of the “St. Demetrius” church founded 8 centuries ago by another famous Bulgarian ruler, tsar Asen. I stop with the churches now as there really are too many and you lose count quite fast.
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Back to the relatively modern age – inside the “Sarafkina” house from the 19th century now turned into a museum. It obviously belonged to a very rich family that could afford a whole storey of the house just for hanging out and drinking tea. The house actually has two storeys on one side and five storeys on the other, as it is positioned on a very steep slope of one of the hills.
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The view from the same house, with the Yantra river and rhe main road to Sofia passing in a tunnel underneath.
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The back entrance of the archaeology museum – it made me feel like Indiana Jones stepping in some temple in the jungle.
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Inside the museum – a medieval stamp that was actually worn by the Bulgarian kings as a ring, used as an old-school version of fingerprint sensors.
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The museum building with a little courtyard, another example of old architecture.
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Inside the former building of the national assembly nearby. This is where the Bulgarian constitution was adopted right after the independence from the Ottoman empire in 1879. I guess one can compare this place with the Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
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The small bar on the side of the art gallery, a cool place with a great sunset view over the town.
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This evening the bar had a special event with some literature citations hanging around and had organized a stand-up comedy spot for anyone brave enough.
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The next day we traveled outside town, first to the Hotnitsa waterfalls hike with cool wooden bridges and ladders over the cliffs.
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Next stop was Bojentsi – a sort of open air museum. It is a mountain village preserved in time, all houses here were built in 18th and 19th century and one can take a nice tour around most the place with guides explaining you how the people lived back in the day.
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The typical wooden round table and three-legged chairs that served for lunch and dinner to many generations of Bulgarians.
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The stone church in Bojentsi, somewhat reminding me of the churches in the Provence in France.
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On the side of the church there was a school that consisted of a single room, teaching kids from all ages together. The sign reads “Diligence brings success” in an old version of Bulgarian.
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Drinking old-style Turkish coffee on the round wooden tables in Tryavna, a bigger town nearby that is very similar in spirit to Bojentsi.
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More typical old houses in Tryavna, where one can also stay for the night.
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Another day, starting with a coffee with view in the centre of Veliko Tarnovo.
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Another typical old Bulgarian house, this time in Arbanasi village just a few kilometers away from Tsarevets hill. This was the room for drinking coffee and tea and chatting with the others.
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The backyard of the same old house in Arbanasi, where one could try to escape from the summer heat in the shade of the vineyards.
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An evening in town, with the view towards the lit-up Tsarevets. This photo is from the same place as the top image, so you can choose whether you prefer the sight Tsarevets at day or at night.
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Another evening sight of Tsarevets, closer to the main gate of the fortress. The church on top used to also be a ruin but was rebuilt recently, with a strange green light coming out of its dome.

My guitar

Venue: My place, Sofia

Camera & Lens: Nikon D750, Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 – here at aperture f/3.5 and shutter speed 1.200s

Music: Pink Floyd – Wish you were here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXdNnw99-Ic) – the first song I learned to play

After a few weeks of silence due to my vacation in the countryside and the sea (plenty of photos coming soon), it’s time for a slow restart. This weekend the post is probably a less original photo, but still artistic in the sense that the main object is supposedly used for art – my guitar. Unfortunately I stopped practicing playing the guitar in the last year, probably because of my photography obsession, but at least it is pretty on a picture. In fact I made this photo for a science magazine here in Bulgaria – I was actually giving an interview about my physics career but they wanted to include some photos with my hobbies. Obviously I couldn’t take a proper picture of my camera, so that was the next best object! As an added bonus, the strings on the guitar helped to make a nice analogy with my physics subject, string theory.

The train

Venue: Milano, Forlanini

Camera & Lens: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100

Music: Articolo 31 – Milano Milano (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uTb7aJKRWU)

From this weekend I decided to add a new category in my blog – single photos. This way I can share some photos that do not really belong to a longer post, while in the same time I find worthy of a bit longer description.

The photo I chose to start this category with, “The train”, is one of my best photos from my pre-DSLR era. My passion for photography started with my compact Panasonic Lumix camera when I was still living in Milano, Italy. It was actually taken in the beginning of summer 2015, on a hot Saturday afternoon in the outskirts of the city. I used to bike in the weekends to a park near my house, passing by a bridge over the railways close to Forlanini train station (and a bit further from the Linate airport). I bet you don’t immediately recognize that the photo was taken in bright sunlight, but the settings are clear (if you know how to read them) – the f stop was 5.6, with shutter speed 1/640 seconds and ISO100, strongly implying that the light was intense. However, I found the colors of the freight train very peculiar and thought I’d accentuate them on Photoshop by increasing the contrast and decreasing the exposure, making the background dark artificially. I usually don’t like messing with the photos so much and using Photoshop to bend reality, but in this particular case I quite like the final image, and thought it’s worth sharing its story. It also has a sentimental side for me as a memory from one of my last weekends in Milano, which is never easy to leave as explained in the song (for those of you who know Italian).

Stay tuned for my future single-photo weekends!

Adi

Venue: “Borisova garden” park, Sofia

Lens: Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8

Music: Faithless – Reverence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyQ0s0J1fhY) – one of her favorite songs

After the end of the football games I finally had more time for photography, and even got a new portrait lens in anticipation of the sea holidays and coming beach photos. I was still in Sofia though, so we arranged a photoshoot with Adi in the park. She felt like her style would be some “dark” photos in black outfit and I had the idea of getting a candle and trying to combine the evening light in the park with the candlelight. So we aimed for a bit creepy feel in the narrow pathways in the forest on one end of the park, and i think the result is quite cool.

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Looking scary
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The black and white version probably decreases the scary feel
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Back to colored “dark” style

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For the coming photos I need to tell you a bit more about Adi and her multitasking personality. Apart from being a full time financial analyst and a mother of two children, she is doing a PhD in philosophy with Italian language. If that’s not enough, she is also a journalist and an author that writes short stories in her free time, and has a blog of her own (https://adispasova.wordpress.com) in Bulgarian. And last but not least, she’s also a yoga instructor. Which is why we decided to make some photos of her practicing yoga and trying various positions on one of the old communist monuments in the park.

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Getting mentally ready
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A sort of lotus position on hands, I suppose
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A “perfectly imperfect” place for yoga, as the shirt announces
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A short break
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Moving on the side of the monument to catch the last sun-rays for the day
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The swan
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Another hard stand that I don’t know the name of
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The bridge position
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Getting some rest

After the yoga we planned to do some more dark style photos in the gazebos nearby, but unfortunately they were all taken by people, and we wondered around the alleys making a few more photos. It was one of the hottest evenings of summer and so we were essentially forced to stop for a beer at some point, which was the end of the photoshoot as it got too dark afterwards.

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It was already dark and we could only rely on the candle and the street lights scattered around the park
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Under a lamp post

Summer evenings in Sofia

Venue: Sofia city centre

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 VR – mostly using the 24mm end

Music: Poduene blues band – There’s no beer / Подуене блус бенд – Няма бира (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyHzGhCYbTg)

The summer started very busy for me with travels and plenty of football games to watch, but finally at the end of Euro’2016 I had several free nights where I could enjoy the beautiful evening weather of Sofia. Due to the proximity of Vitosha mountain the evenings and nights are always relatively cool here, at most 20-25 degrees Celsius. So on several occasions I went out for a walk around the city centre with friends and family, who were patient enough to endure me taking some long-exposure evening shots. Here I present you in a random order some of the main evening sight of Sofia with short comments, squeezing also some older pictures to show how seasons change the city.

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Starting off at the heart of Sofia – the walking part of Vitosha boulevard, with its newly acquired statue of Aleko Konstantinov at one end.
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The evenings get quite busy here, with people walking around and sitting in the countless cafes, bars and restaurants. Strangely enough on this photo it looks like every single person is walking towards me and the old guy at the front, which is statistically extremely unlikely to happen at this place. Maybe they were after me!
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Close to the Aleko Konstantinov statue on Vitosha boulevard is the small park around the National Palace of Culture (NDK) that you see at the back here. The palace of culture and the fountains in front were built back in 1981, in a very recognizably communist style. Still it ended up being a very nice place to hang out in the evening with the recent renovations after which the fountains actually work. Further down I will show you how the NDK looks in different seasons as I often pass by and make pictures here.
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The same fountains in front of NDK, but with a view to the opposite direction. In case people around manage to forget the fact we turned into capitalism several decades ago already, you always have the large neon signs of McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Tuborg and the rest to remind us.
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A flashback of several months ago just to show you how the NDK looks like without the running water in the fountains. This is on a foggy night in January, with no people around.
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A more spooky version with my 70-200mm lens, still in winter. In case you didn’t appreciate the dark communist side of this place on the previous photos..
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Already in spring with my 50mm lens: still with no water in the fountains but with many people enjoying the nice weather, and clear view to the closest peak of Vitosha mountain, Kamen del (1862m above sea level).
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Moving to the smaller streets of Sofia – this is Slaveikov square, which is also very close to Vitosha boulevard and might be considered the exact centre of Sofia. Here one can see the strange pattern made by the lights of a bike passing by on the tram tracks.
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Still at Slaveikov square, which during the day hosts many  is a first and second-hand book market. The book-stalls and chairs of the salesmen are folded and stored at night.
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A hundred meters down the tram tracks from Slaveikov square is the Sv. Sedmochislenitsi church, which also hosts a small park with benches and places to hang out in the evening. The patron saints of the church are the people who were involved in making up the cyrilic alphabet, which includes the brothers Cyril and Methodius and their students.
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On the side of the church there is a small fruit and vegetable market, with trams passing by frequently until late evening.
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This is the National theater Ivan Vazov, with another small park and fountains in front. In my opinion this is the pretties place in Sofia with a very original atmosphere as there are always tons of people chatting and drinking outside on the benches. On one side of the park one can always find many people playing chess and betting on the winners of the games.
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A cocktail bar in yet another tiny garden in the streets between Vitosha boulevard and Slaveikov square. It is clear that the people of Sofia like having a drink outside in the small green corners still left intact in the city. Fortunately there’s also plenty of beer around, even if the guy in the song I linked on top doesn’t seem to agree.
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Less greenery to be seen here: this is “Independence square” which hosts all the main governing institutions of Bulgaria. The building on the right hosts the president, the one on the left the prime minister and the one in the centre is the national assembly. The centre building is more popular as the “party house” as it used to be the home of the communist party back in the day. The square and surrounding buildings were built back in 1955 and define the true old school communist architecture in Bulgaria. The glass dome on the left side of the photo is instead newly acquired and uncovers beneath it the ancient ruins of Serdica – the Roman town that lies in the foundations of present day Sofia. As you see on the photo at the very top at this place my friends decided to contribute to some more original photos and move a cellphone in different shapes that would remain on the long-exposure shots. They of course came up with many other less romantic shapes and signs but I chose to only show you the version with the heart!
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One one edge of Independence square you can see better the presidency and the small fountain in front, which changes shapes and colors.
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A more classic color that maybe fits better in the surroundings.
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Of course no photo-tour of Sofia would be complete without the biggest orthodox church/cathedral in Bulgaria – Alexander Nevsky. This summer it will also be the setting of an open-air opera scene that is being built on one side, while on the left one can also see the historic building of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. At night the space around the cathedral is actually quite deserted, with only the occasional car or this case tourist bus driving around.
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Another version of the Nevsky cathedral, shot this winter with my 70-200mm lens. Depending on the angle, the season and the available light, the cathedral can look very different, but it always remains the most recognizable and famous building in Sofia.