Not all ruins are created equal. Regarded as pinnacles of human imagination and dexterity, ancient sites such as the Parthenon, the Great Wall and Stonehenge get scores of tourists and are a source of pride for their home countries. Abandoned modern housing projects, hospitals and factories, however, are perceived as eyesores and as signs of bad planning, bad economic or political luck, a tragedy even. They are not the things a tourist authority includes in its promotional materials.
Against current backdrop of fresh concrete, decaying pre-fab housing estates it's hard to imagine Burgas used to be quiet, yet urbane
Being a flight attendant was a glamorous job during Communism. Uniformed beauties on calendars for Balkan Airlines, the state air carrier, reinforced that the job as an aspirational one, while for the more practically minded, the profession had another advantage. When local shops lacked essentials like toilet paper, working on an international fight meant having the opportunity to buy foreign luxuries (whisky, perfume, fur coats and Levi's jeans) and sell them for a good profit on the eager Bulgarian black market.
We, Bulgarians, usually identify ourselves as such with the "I am a Bulgarian Youth" poem by Ivan Vazov. Later on, unless you go on to become a member of a nationalist party, you don't feel any particular need to remind yourself of "I am a Bulgarian." Such a statement, despite its straightforwardness, could invoke a measure of uncertainty, like the invisible steps on the front cover of this book. It is not because you could be something else than a Bulgarian, but because the affirmation presupposes a previous agreement between yourself and your compatriots about what it is that makes you Bulgarian and what makes Bulgarians a community.
This is a difficult task that quickly entangles you in bookish definitions that will likely obfuscate rather than illuminate the issue of who you are.
The people of Sofia love to point to a peculiarity of their city. Many of the most prominent sites and monuments in the Bulgarian capital are dedicated to or bear the names of Russians. The most obvious examples are the nation's principal cathedral, St Alexandr Nevskiy, and the horseback statue of Emperor Alexandr II in front of the parliament. The yellow-brick paved boulevard, which is one of the most prominent features of Sofia, is named after the same man, Tsar Osvoboditel, or King Liberator and, on its way to the Largo, it passes by the picturesque Russian Church.
Here is a secret: while Vagabond was in its development stage, it was going to be a magazine solely about Sofia. We changed our minds, eventually, but Bulgaria's capital has remained a permanent fixture on the pages of the magazine. We have covered extensively its restaurant and night scene, but the articles we cherish the most are the ones devoted to its many hidden gems.