Vernal Equinox | Sofia, Bulgaria

in_bloomHappy First Day of Spring and here’s to blooming in all kinds of ways!

Incidentally, this picture was taken at Sofia’s Dom na Kinoto (Cinema House) and In Bloom is actually the title of one of the films that are screened there as part of this year’s Sofia Film Festival, which is going on until the end of the month. You can catch In Bloom‘s second screening tomorrow, at 9:15pm.

Grey is Not the Color of the Balkans | Sofia, Bulgaria

One of my favorite places to walk through in Sofia is the staircase that links Dondukov Boulevard to Moskovska Street, which starts right after Budapest Street stops in a dead end.

The two flights of stairs are a convenient shortcut for pedestrians, but whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I always make it a point to go and climb them even if they’re a bit out of my way, just for fun. There’s something whimsical, quite unusual and surprising about this open-air staircase right in the middle of the city, surrounded by greenery (or dried foliage, depending on the season) and built into the slope that separates the two streets – to me the stairs seem kind of like Harry Potter‘s Platform 9¾ and whenever I climb them, I half expect to come up not to one of Sofia’s central streets, but into some fairytale world. Once, I even saw a baby hedgehog on the landing between the two flights, as if it had fallen out of some Brothers Grimm story and ended up on the landing.

I was in the area recently, after having spent a few months away from Sofia, and decided to go by the stairs. This time, they looked even more whimsical than usual, as I found them painted in all the colors of the rainbow. When I got up to the landing between the two flights, I noticed a stencil that read, “Grey is Not the Color of the Balkans.” The colorful intervention apparently dates back to the beginning of September and was done to show solidarity with the “quiet protest” and wave of stairways-painting in Istanbul (where, unlike Sofia, such pedestrian stairways don’t seem to be a rarity) and the rest of Turkey. Also unlike Istanbul, it seems that the Sofia Municipality didn’t bother to paint the stairway back to grey – a feat worth celebrating, especially considering its proven record of speedily wiping away all traces of such colorful (and political) transformations of public space. So, although it’s a little faded by now, the rainbow is still there today. To me, it was a good reminder of a year marked by protests, not just in Bulgaria but in many other places around the world, as well as a welcome burst of color on a drab and grey January day.

Cowboys & Indians | Marvelous Bridges, Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

indianMy last “outing” for the year was a visit to the so-called Marvelous, or Wonderful, Bridges – a short drive from the Chepelare ski resort in the Rhodope Mountains, where we spent New Year’s Eve.

These so-called Bridges are a couple of pretty impressive natural arches, at 1,450 meters (4,760 ft) above sea level, formed over hundreds of years by the erosive activity of the once larger Erkyupryia River. There are all kinds of legends about the place – one involves shepherds fighting off a dragon who devoured their flocks, but none mention the presence of any Indians. And yet today, when one climbs to the top of one of the bridges and looks down at the rocks, there’s a Native American’s face carved into them.