The way Bulgaria feels and looks is anything but socialist. And in this changing part of southern Europe there are few places that have been renewed and invested in as much as Yambol – a small town in the Thracian Valley, an hour inland from Burgas on the Black Sea.
But still, in a few corners of Yambol survive some symbols of the Communist era – a left-behind but quite recent past. A brutalist building, just off the central Targovska street, still houses an art gallery. The square outside the gallery is only two minutes from the town’s old central post office, at one end of Rakovska street. And then there are all sorts of decades-old murals, mosaics and shop signs, which look more and more jarring with every sparkling new cafe that opens up next to them.
Communism is an aesthetic now. These days Bulgarians walk past the past without noticing… … More Yambol, Bulgaria in photographs – part two: Living in the past
In the scorching heat of summer in the Black Sea basin, the centre of Yambol – a town of 70,000 people in Bulgaria’s south-east – is a soothing blend of elegantly painted buildings, serene blue skies and pretty tree-lined avenues. From morning until night her two main streets – Rakovska is new and trendy; Targovska is old and tranquil – are full of people, young and old, basking in the shade of outdoor cafes. … More Yambol, Bulgaria in photographs – part one: Summer shade
“I bought everything on your list
Plus I got you your favourite fruits”.
I screw my face up, and then hiss
In a cold voice: “Did I ask you to?”
“So I take it that this picture of beauty
Got out of bed on the wrong side today?”
He asks, as he takes from behind his back a bouquet
Of flowers, presented with irony. … More A translation: ‘I think we should just live’ – poems by Ekaterina Khlebnikova
Coming to Russia, you soon realise that it is a little more extreme than you expected. This is especially true for its geography: just when you think the country has reached its limits, it always goes a little further. Here are eight places in Russia where you really can take life to extremes. Do you have a journey to one, or even all of them on your wish list? … More Russia’s most (geographically) extreme places – Russia Beyond
“The Rinpoche Bagsha temple crackled with the deep murmur of Buddhist prayer. Under the warm gaze of a golden cross-legged Buddha, eight monks in crimson robes sat at a low table in the centre of the room, ethereal chants bursting from their throats. A bell tinkled. During the final prayer the congregation, squeezed together on benches close to the monks, picked up parcels of food and waved them in front of themselves in clockwise circles. The bell tinkled one last time”. … More Letter from Ulan-Ude (Buryatia, Siberia) – Russia Beyond
I was recently a guest of journalist Maria Koltsova on her podcast about Central Asia, ‘From Samarkand to Issyk-Kul’. I talked about my experiences of travelling in Kazakhstan – some favourite places in Almaty and the south-east of the country, some unforgettable foods and drinks, how Kazakh people surprised me, and how Kazakhstan compares to the other post-Soviet republics. We also talked about the practicalities of visiting Kazakhstan – how safe it is, how expensive things are, and what languages people speak. Listen to the podcast (in Russian; 29 minutes) on Maria’s page: ‘From Samarkand to Issyk-Kul’. … More Travelling in Kazakhstan: Talking on the ‘Samarkand to Issyk-Kul’ podcast with Maria Koltsova