what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Vagabond in Bulgaria

The snow had melted sufficiently by the weekend to allow me to drive down to the flat in Sofia – the snow was still lying in the Romanian fields but no longer in the Bulgarian ones. Midweek, however, the snow struck again! Earlier in the month, when snow melted in the south, the walls of a dam in the south of the country had crumbled and an entire village was inundated – with 10 deaths. The history and management of the dam give a good insight into governance issues in this part of the world. Noone apparently understands what its purpose was and its ownership was split between three bodies – with obvious (and tragic) results. The story appears in the current issue of Bulgaria’s monthly English magazine Vagabond which is always a good read.
The current issue gave me useful data on the property market -
Property prices in Bulgaria will continue to fall, experts say, but it is difficult to predict whether the downward trend will be gradual or whether the property market will crash like it did in 2009. In Sofia, the average price of residential property is 40 percent lower than in 2008, as buyers now typically pay 700-750 euros per square metre. The majority of properties are bought by first-time buyers, usually young families, who take out mortgages to buy small flats. Russians continue to be the chief purchasers of holiday properties.
Another article also threw some light on another issue which has been vexing me very recently – relating to interactions between foreigners like me and Bulgarians. An Italian friend of mine spent almost a decade here, building up a great network of contacts – which, ultimately, did nothing to further his prospects. He left the country with some bitter comments about outsiders never being accepted here. At the time I simply could not agree since I have quite a few people here I count as real friends. However, I have noticed recently the different assumptions about hospitality. I am very open – but find it difficult to get many friends to visit me in my flat. And it is rare to receive an invitation. An article by a Professor of multi-cultural communication confirms the point that inviting foreigners to one’s home is a very big deal here – and makes the point in relation to facial expressions that “if you smile at people they will think you are either laughing at them or that there is something wrong with you”!! Little wonder that I was viewed as a madman initially by some of my local staff when I headed a project here in 2007/08!

The current issue also contains an article about the great network of small rural guesthouses here in Bulgaria where you can eat local produce; get friendly family hospitality and access to great leisure pursuits (including horse-riding). A great Guide from the Bulgarian Alternative Tourism Association can be downloaded here
And, if you are into serious mountain climbing, then this looks a great oroganisation to contact for advisers and guides
While I’m on the subject, here’s also an outsider’s view of the top 15 places to visit in Bulgaria. And also a nice piece (in English if you scroll down) about Balcic in the far North-East corner which used to belong to Romania.
I’ve been renewing my contact with some of the small galleries here in Sofia and saw a nice-looking and well-sized Zhekov for 1,500 euros – the same price a picture of his went for in the December Victoria Auction. The painting at the top of this post is a Zhekov - which hopefully explains why he is one of the top Bulgarian painters for me. 
In a small antique shop very nearby which seems now to be stocking painters from the genre and period I like, a superb (anonymous) painting of Rila Monastery from the mid 20th century was to be had for 150 euros.
And the painting above is Vladimir Kavaldjiev from the 1960s was on sale at a 2010 auction for 750 euros but can now be had for 600.

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