Yambol, Bulgaria in photographs – part three: Colours of Thrace

There can’t be many places in Europe more colourful than Bulgaria’s Thracian Valley – the basin of the Black Sea in the country’s south-east, just above the borders with Turkey and Greece. 

Yambol – one of the region’s main towns, with about 70,000 people – is full of colour, from its 19th century houses painted in bold reds and apricot orange, to its yellow Orthodox church, to the park in the centre of town covered by a canopy of dark green leaves. Colours mix on shop signs and graffiti, and in the brickwork of the 14th century Eski mosque – the second biggest in Bulgaria.  … More Yambol, Bulgaria in photographs – part three: Colours of Thrace

Yambol, Bulgaria in photographs – part two: Living in the past

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

Yambol, Bulgaria in photographs – part one: Summer shade

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 think we should just live’ – a translation of some poems by Ekaterina Khlebnikova

“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 ‘I think we should just live’ – a translation of some poems by Ekaterina Khlebnikova

Travelling in Kazakhstan: Talking on the ‘Samarkand to Issyk-Kul’ podcast with Maria Koltsova

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

Swing Lelo: Georgia and Britain’s shared rugby history

For Georgia to have a sporting team ranked 12th in the world is an achievement to be proud of. For that sport to be rugby union, a game born in England’s elite schools, and kept within the British Commonwealth for over a century, makes it an even more outlandish feat. The rise of Georgian rugby is one of the great stories in European sport over the last 20 years, with the national team going from unknowns to World Cup mainstays. Along the way, Georgia may not have battled the British nations on the pitch as often as it hoped to, but the countries’ rugby histories have been closely linked in other ways. … More Swing Lelo: Georgia and Britain’s shared rugby history