Sofia Open

Venue: Arena “Armeec” sports hall, Sofia

Lens: Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 – mostly using the 300mm end

Music: Chicago – Hard to say I’m sorry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqq3tW3iACw – see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7d4rutU_Lo)

Last week in Sofia took place the “Garanti Koza” Sofia Open tennis tournament, part of the ATP World Tour in the professional men’s tennis. It was a major sport event in Sofia and Bulgaria as a whole, largely due to a single person: Grigor Dimitrov. In recent years he is one of the top tennis players, and in the last few months he’s been in the form of his life. So the atmosphere in the Arena “Armeec” sports hall was really fantastic, everyone cheering Dimitrov loudly in anticipation of his victory. And they were very much not disappointed. I am a great fan of tennis myself so I had bought tickets for the semifinals and the final game many months in advance. And of course I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to take some amateur shots from the stands, which you can see below together with my commentary about the unfolding action.

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We start with the first semifinal of the singles tournament: Roberto Bautista-Agut (Spain) vs. David Goffin (Belgium).
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Bautista-Agut is world’s number 16 and was the 4th seeded in the Sofia Open tournament, having won the same tournament here last year. His playing style is aggressive baseliner as he’s very strong in his baseline game without taking many risks. He was the first to break his opponents’ serve and win the first set 7:5.
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Goffin is ranked 11 in the world and was the 2nd top seeded player in the torunament, his playing style being almost identical to the one of Bautista-Agut. He is however slightly more aggressive at times and goes out close to the net as you can see here. He was fast to strike back and take the second set with 6:4.
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The third decisive set was an even bigger battle between equals, both players breaking the opponent serve and then re-breaking, eventually getting the set to a tie-break that would decide the first finalist.
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And the winner was David Goffin, who was more aggressive in the tiebreak. The game took more than two hours and was probably the best and most dramatic battle in the tournament, but there’s always a loser in tennis and this time it was the Spaniard.
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Before the second much-awaited semifinal in singles took place, it was time for one of the semi’s in the double tournament (the other semifinal in doubles had already been played the previous day) – the Serbian couple Troicki (serving here)/Zimonjic vs. the Slovak-Polish duet Klizan/Fyrstenberg.
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It was the best game in doubles I have personally seen with lots of dramatic comebacks and great shots close to the net, and in the end the Serbian duo won 3:6 7:6 10:8. They were about to play in the final against the Russians Elgin/Kuznetsov.
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The time for the next semifinal was coming, but there was still a short break between the matches to take out Guinny for a stroll around Arena “Armeec”.
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And out came Grigor Dimitrov, world’s number 12 and 3rd top seeded in Sofia. He played an amazing tennis in this year’s Australian Open and only lost in the semifinal there to Rafael Nadal in a 5 set drama.
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Dimitrov’s opponent was world’s 67 Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia, who had surprisingly beaten the top seeded Dominic Thiem the day before.
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Both Dimitrov and Basilashvili are all-court players that rely on strong serving as well as solid game from the baseline without being scared of going closer to the net and taking more risks.
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But there was no surprise here – Dimitrov took the match quite easily, winning 6:1 6:3 in less than an hour. So the home crowd was ecstatic about the next day and the final game between Goffin and Dimitrov.
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Sunday is the day of the week dedicated to tennis finals, and the first one in the program was in the doubles tournament – the Serbian vs. the Russian duo. Troicki and Zimonjic (serving here) played a very solid game and had less problems in the final than in the previous day, winning 6:4 6:4 and lifting the cup.
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But in reality everyone in the sport hall was waiting for the next game.
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Goffin and Dimitrov have played quite a few games against each other, and in every one of them the winner was Dimitrov. So understandably he was the favorite not only of the crowds but also of the bookmakers.
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Maybe it was Dimitrov’s one handed backhand slice that proved impossible to return for Goffin, but again it was a relatively easy match for the Bulgarian with only a few scares.
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7:5 6:4 for Dimitrov and standing ovation as he emotionally kneeled down and kissed the home ground.
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Then came the time for lifting the trophy and giving speeches, and the next day he was off to Rotterdam for the next event in the ATP World Tour. Only a few days later he is now facing Goffin once more in the 1/4 final of the Dutch tournament and is making Bulgaria proud with his amazing run of 16 wins and one loss in 2017. So that’s life as a tennis player, you need to keep going strong every week starting from the beginning. Of course probably the tournament prizes of several hundred thousand dollars help somewhat, but one surely needs some internal strength and motivation to stay on track. Go Grigor!
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Another wedding in Sofia – R&S

Venue: Sofia city centre

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Mikis Theodorakis – Zorbas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UV6HVMRmdk)

I was recently at another wedding, this time the groom was a good friend of mine that I know since kindergarten. So I again took the opportunity to make some photos while enjoying the celebration. You already saw the typical customs for the Bulgarian weddings in my previous post (https://kirilson.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/a-wedding-in-sofia/), but probably I can still surprise you with some novel things like the tradition of “stealing the bride” that was missing from the previous set of photos. So here are the photos with short explanations as usual.

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As I was on the side of the groom I was supposed to help in one of the weird traditions in Bulgaria of taking the bride from her house. The groom with his friends is supposed to get to the bride’s house and take her either forcefully by stealing her, or by paying money to her defenders to open the door and let the bride out. Of course this is completely fake, especially since in this case the bride and groom live together for several years already, but one can make a fun story out of this tradition.
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And here are the groom and his father, a bit stressed before all the action of the day starts. Shortly afterwards we entered the house and got to the apartment of the bride..
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..that was guarded by her maids of honor. The groom ended up paying quite some amount of cash, but was finally let in without the need of us interfering forcefully. I know of some other cases of “stealing the bride” where people got carried away in the show and some doors got broken, but in this case everything went smoothly.
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Here the bride is already “sold” and the couple is entering the first part of the official ceremony – the signing at the municipality.
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The first wedding toast after they have signed the legal documents.
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And then the procession is moving out of the municipality for some photos and candy before the next step – the religious marriage in the church.
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People gathering in the church..
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..and the priest preparing the relevant objects such as the bible and the bread and wine that will be used later on in the ceremony.
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The church for this wedding was “St. George” who is depicted on this icon.
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The main dome of the church colored in blue, which is not a very typical religious color.
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And the ceremony is under way, with the best man exchanging the wedding crowns of the bride and groom.
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A solemn moment when the priest is reading the bible and waving ritually the cross.
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And the official part is over, everyone gets out in front of the church waiting for the freshly legalized family to let the white pigeons fly away.
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The bride is faster!
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And the celebrations can begin, with the kids already playing around the church.
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But the real party starts a bit later in the restaurant where everyone gathers to celebrate. The best man has the important task of leading the “horo” – the traditional rounds dance. He is well-prepared for the task helped by the nowadays very rare object “buklitsa” – an old-style wooden flask for alcohol (usually rakia)
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The traditions go on even at the party, here the groom and bride compete about who will break and end up with the bigger portion of the round bread. The bride wins, and will be the “boss” in the family.
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And then it’s time for some real professional dances! There was a small crew of two boys and girls hired to show to everyone different dances – they started with Sirtaki dressed in the appropriate Greek traditional clothes..
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..and moved on to some typical Bulgarian songs and costumes. There was even a guy playing the backpipe, one of the traditional Bulgarian instruments from the mountain regions.
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The next music theme and costumes were from Ukraine I think..
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..and eventually they ended up with a gypsy theme and the appropriate bright costumes and cheerful music.
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Back to the Bulgarian traditional theme with some dance games, where the best man and maid of honor had to dance and steal the pies from the professional dancers.
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After the dancing lessons it was the time for the wedding cake, and some of the kids were so eager to try it that they stole some bits of the (edible) decoration.
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Here the cake is already cut and given around to people, but the small bride and groom on top are still surviving.
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One of the last wedding rituals that lead to quite some excitement – the single men line up trying to catch the bridal stocking that the groom is about to throw. The winner will be the next one to get married!
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After all the tiring rituals and traditions have been successfully completed, the bride and groom finally have some relaxed time for a dance together. And the night goes on..

A wedding in Sofia – V&V

Venue: Sofia centre and Vitosha

Lens: Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8

Music: Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUSzL2leaFM)

This photo-post is not exactly matching any of my previous categories, but no photographer portfolio is complete without some wedding photos, right? I was a guest at a wedding of family friends, so my role was mainly to have fun and celebrate their love, but I also took some time taking some amateur photos in the few moments when the crowd of officially appointed photographers was not completely covering the view to the bride and groom. So here are some chronologically ordered photos, telling also the story of the modern Bulgarian wedding traditions.

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The guests waiting for the bride and the groom in front of the municipal building where the official marriage took place.
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Here they are, ready for the ceremony to take place – it literally took 5 minutes, they signed a paper and it was over.
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After the signing we could congratulate the happy couple and the families and take some candy from the bridesmaids.
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Some of the congratulating cards were super fancy, coming with a smartphone app and a small funny cartoon with a bride and groom.
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Not unexpectedly there were dozens of people taking photos with all kinds of cameras from professional to good amateur to smartphone ones.
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The next part was the marriage “before God” in one of the central churches in Sofia – St. Sofia, one of the oldest and most beautiful churches that actually gave the name to the city that grew around it.
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The orthodox marriage ceremony takes quite a while with plenty of things from the bible that they cite in a hardly understandable medieval Bulgarian and Slavic.
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Part of the ceremony requires the bride and the groom to wear crowns that they interchange at some point.
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And there were plenty of priests around with different looking clothes, so it was hard to understand who is the main boss around.
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At the end of the ceremony they had to go around the table several times, and then were officially proclaimed husband and wife before God.
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After the marriage it was time for the next event – baptism, in the shiny vessel in front of the old lady.
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Love is all around, even in the puddles of water outside the church.
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Time for the actual wedding – the party! It took place in a restaurant up in Vitosha mountain and as usual started with some traditional Bulgarian music and dances – the “horo” is the typical round dance where people dance around hand in hand.
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The bridal bouquet, which she will throw to someone later on..
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But first some more Bulgarian traditions – the best man is supposed to get to the centre of the room in a dancing style and there are the defenders that are on the brides’ side that try to push him away, and eventually accept some bribes to let him pass.
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The next tradition is breaking the “banitsa” – a salty pastry with cheese and eggs, that the bride and groom have to try breaking, fighting for the bigger part.
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And the bride gets the bigger part, meaning that she’ll be in charge of bringing money in the house. Not sure if that’s a good thing, but she does look happy about it.
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The typical wedding photos with friends and family and the bride and the groom in the centre, the official wedding photographer had to make hundreds (if not thousands) of these.
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The younger generation also dancing horo in style.
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But the older generation was leading the way, while listening to the live band that was one of the surprise presents at the wedding. They were really really good.
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Time for less typical, but still old-school music, dancing on some classic rock songs of Whitesnake, Foreigner and AC/DC.
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Moving on to the next big event – throwing the bridal bouquet, a way to figure out who will be the next girl to get married. So you can clearly see some excitement radiating away from the single lining up.
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And the winner is…
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And the party goes on! Sometimes the photographer is the most interesting one to capture on the photo.
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Yeah, I bet you can’t guess what is going on here! The groom is trying to take the stocking of the bride, to use it as the male analog of the bridal bouquet in choosing the next groom. But they did put on quite a show first.
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As the night went on the view from the terrace to the city below got more and more beautiful and people apparently started forgetting their drinks outside.
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Unfortunately I had only taken my 85mm zoom lens that is not good for panoramic photos, but it was still worth taking a photo of Sofia, even if I only managed to squeeze in the central bits of the city here – my home is somewhere on the left side. Incidentally there was a football game that evening so you can even see the stadium on the far right well lit. The home team of Levski Sofia won.
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In the meantime the party inside was still going on – and there’s no better end of the wedding night than seeing the younger people taking over.