Perushtitsa | The Red Church in Black & White

Did you know that one of the earliest surviving Christian churches in Europe is located near the small Bulgarian town of Perushtitsa?

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Kakrina | Photo Essay on a tragic episode in Bulgarian History

It is a cold December evening in 1872.

A young blue-eyed man walks inside the small inn in Kakrina. He greets politely and looks around, his eyes almost hidden underneath the thick winter yağmurluk cape.

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A stranger cannot go unnoticed in such a tiny place and the inn keeper Hristo “The Latin” Tsonev  (who is one of the most active supporters of the Lovech Revolutionary Committee) quickly lets him inside the back room.

 

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He is not just a stranger wandering into the night. His name is Vasil Ivanov Kunchev, better known as “Levski” (“the one who made the Lion’s jump”): one of the most well respected and cherished Bulgarian revolutionaries of all time. He has already encountered an ottoman military patrol on his way to the inn and has failed to convince them he is just a local minding his own business in the area.

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A patrol with reinforcements soon enters the inn and Levski recognizes the voice of the solder who had questioned him on the road. He sees he is outnumbered and tries to escape by making his way into the back rooms and the stables. The soldiers eventually capture him by the wooden fence at the back…

Historians argue whether the capture is due to a traitor inside the revolutionary organization or a series of events leaving clues to the authorities about his whereabouts. Regardless of the true reasons, his capture and subsequent death in the outskirts of the future capital Sofia leave a tragic mark in Bulgarian history.

Nowadays, in the village of Kakrina (Lovech Province) you can visit a renovated replica of the historical inn, turned into a museum. The real building was burnt down in a fire during the 19th century. The renovated inn is quite small but it is still bigger than the miniscule set of rooms which welcomed guests at the time.

Inside you can see a replica of the typical inn layout: a small one-room porterhouse, storeroom with provisions (potatoes, beans, bread), hearth for preparing meals, typical small tables with tiny chairs raising just 15-20cm from the ground, beds for sleeping and a stable (all inside the inn).

It is interesting to note that Levski and his companion Nikola Tsvyatkov kept a stack of important lists and revolutionary committee papers, which were hidden inside a secret compartment in a horse saddle. Later on Tsvyatkov managed to buy out the horse from the authorities and preserve the committee secrets and this secret is currently represented by a saddle hanging on the wall of the museum.

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A storm almost destroyed the centenarian elm in 1997 and a metal framework has been put to keep it standing

The century old elm in the yard is the last living witness of the tragic events at the inn.

How to get there

This article is part of a Series on Mobile Travel Photography which aims to test how well do mobile shots can capture the visual essence of a place

Bella Italia | Things to do in Bologna

 

Returning to Italy after several years away was a truly thrilling experience. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss a country until you go back there and all memories start rushing in. I had passed through Bologna dozens of times, but never roamed across the city so the trip felt both familiar and completely new.

So what should you know about .Bologna? It is the home of the oldest university in the world (founded in 1088) and apart from its long-term inhabitants, it also attracts a lot of students from all over Italy and Europe in a mixture of old and new, of tradition and novelty.

As any city in Italy: it offers a lot of beauty and charm to the casual visitor and if you are into history and culture: the Etruscan and Roman roots of Bologna, its medieval importance and the Dolce Vita charm definitely make it a place worth visiting. Although it is the 7th most populous city in Italy, its historical centre is compact and cosy and everything is within a walking distance. Here are some tips how to enjoy your stay there:

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Bella Italia | Black & White

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P1110001Coming back from Italy is always accompanied by a wave of nostalgia. It is hard to depart from its beauty and the unbearable lightness of being, which engulfs you: piazza after piazza, masterpiece after masterpiece.

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Thailand | Patterns of hope

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Who are the Karen?

The Karen people originate from Burma and currently make up the largest hill tribe community in Thailand as well. The name “Karen” is based on the Burmese Kayin: a derogatory term for non-buddhist ethnic groups in Burma and it refers to a number of different small communities of mountain dwellers. The Karen are struggling to get recognized as an indigenous community: tightly linked to traditional forms of shifting cultivation, honey and medicinal herb gathering, etc.

Although there are many “subtribes” under the two major groups of pwo and sgaw  Karen, foreign tourists are usually better acquainted with the so called “Long-neck Karen” who are especially popular due to the idiosyncratic necklaces of metal rings which extend their necks beyond their conventional length .

embed*all other photos in this post are taken by me but since I don’t have footage of the long neck Karen: here is a nice shot by Instagram user Jennifer Toby who stumbled upon the making of a Nat Geo documentary about the tribe

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Curiosity vs Respect

Since I met the Karen as part of a coordinated international attempt to understand more about the deeper needs and concerns of the community, I am wary of the way some foreign visitors just storm their way in the traditional lives of locals driven by the desire to capture something visually attractive and unusual.

In fact, there is a lot to be said about (ab)using traditions for profit and there are some older thought provoking articles like Hostages to tourism, which reveal how visually attractive traditional attributes can be easily turned into a commodity in the worst sense of the word.

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Weaving, Arts & Crafts

Most Karen tribes are not part of the highly publicized long neck Karen, but they truly need acknowledgement. They are outcasts, whose indigenous status is not constitutionally recognized and a series of forced displacements have pushed them outside of their traditional mountain regions. By losing the land and the agricultural means to sustain themselves, the Karen truly struggle to make a living.

Weaving, Embroidery, Arts and crafts are among the several occupations which provide relatively employment opportunities, safe working environment and a sustained connection to some aspects of their traditions. As part of a coordinated state effort to provide employment to ethnic minorities many small workshops sell what they have produced and get paid either by a meter of handwoven fabric or a daily wage for embroidering a variety of items. More complex commissions might take several months to complete.

Daiva: a fellow blogger and journalist, writes more about the socio-economic issues faced by Karen workers 

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As you can see from the photos: many of the handwoven fabrics, shirts, bags, etc. are made in small workshops in villages. Weavers use wooden/bamboo free standing looms which combine manual and mechanical work. Many of the smaller fine details are embroidered by hand later on.

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Quite often the work is turned into a social activity: women gather in the shade, surrounded by toddlers who play around or observe the workday.

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Many Karen sell their handmade attire and crafts to support their families and communities, so if you are passing through South-Western Thailand (especially Kaeng Krachan national park): ask around for Karen crafts you can buy to support the locals.

You can also take a look at Thai Tribal Crafts Fair Trade: a page which promotes handcrafted works by Karen, Akhra, Hmong and other smaller communities.

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When I look at the pretty colorful embroidery on the rims of shirt, I can’t help but thinking about Bulgarian (and in general- Balkan) patterns, called Shevitza so my guess is if you like one: you will definitely enjoy the other.

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Where is Kaeng Krachan?

Historical Landmarks | Shipka

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It’s the national Liberation day.

Bulgarians all over the country celebrate the unshackled chains of Ottoman rule and one of the country’s key landmarks from the final year before the Liberation the Shipka Pass.

Nowadays part of the Bulgarka Nature Park, Shipka was the central battlefield of one of the fiercest and most dramatic battles in the Russo-Turkish war. In fact: it was in many ways the Bulgarian Thermopilis. Although Bulgarian and Russian soldiers were much more than 300 (around 7 500 in joint forces), the number of Turks attacking the pass was excruciatingly bigger: reportedly 40 000 men. Nevertheless, the joint Russo-Bulgarian forces managed to defeat the Ottomans in a feat of military valor which lasted for several blood-filled, dramatically brave days.

Shipka remains a symbol of fortitude both historically and in the realms of national poetry and literature. The photos in this post were taken several years ago in an especially picturesque frosted foggy afternoon.

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Indigenous cultures | The Karen in Thailand

 

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I met Paetai Paeira in the distant mountain village of Pukaram, Thailand. As part of the indigenous Karen community he is a bearer of century old traditions. Although the destiny of his people has not been the brightest, he hopes for a better future – for the other Karen and for his family.

The beautiful song he performs on a traditional string instrument goes along the line of “The wind can bend a single bamboo stick, but it cannot them if they are many and they stick together”.