Utrecht and Amsterdam

Venue: Central Amsterdam and central Utrecht

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Guus Meeuwis – Het is een nacht (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOy76zw0TrQ)

A few weeks ago I promised you an extended post from the Netherlands with plenty of bikes and canals, and here it comes! I had the opportunity to visit shortly Amsterdam and Utrecht and take some of the usual touristy photos, but the number of different bikes, boats, and canals I shot is so big that I am only going to show you a small fraction of my photos while still risking getting you bored.  So you’re warned of the coming typical Dutch scenery, which I myself find quite charming and slightly nostalgic (I used to live in Utrecht in my youth).

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We start our tour in Amsterdam, which doesn’t need much introduction or advertisement. The larger boats on the photo are actually houses one can rent in exchange for a substantial amount of money each month. Not that the actual Dutch houses on the other side of the street are any cheaper.
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Guinny was there with me as we walked around the canals. Here he’s resting on one of the bikes alongside a canal in the Jordan district of Amsterdam.
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Another bike along the canal, with a tourist boat passing right underneath me in this moment.
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More bikes, bridges over canals and typical Dutch houses, arranged in such a way that you just have to take a photo.
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Another international tourist sign – the love locks on the bridges.
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But it doesn’t get more touristy than here – the tulips in the small lake next to the “I amsterdam” sign in front of the Rijksmuseum.
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Nearby Rijksmuseum is Koekjesbrug, the “cookie bridge”.
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And another bridge that probably doesn’t have so tasty name.
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And just in case you didn’t believe me, the boat sign clearly agrees with me this is Amsterdam!
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Moving 20 km to the south-east and several hours later in the day, this is Utrecht around sun-set with its most notable landmark – the Dom tower.
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And in case you were worried – there are plenty of bikes and canals in Utrecht too! This is Oudegracht, the “Old canal” of Utrecht, which is more than 400 years older than all of the canals you saw in Amsterdam.
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A lone biker on a side street in Utrecht, just before the city lights get switched on.
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Back to the Oudegracht with more bikers.
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I am probably biased, but I always found Utrecht more beautiful than Amsterdam and a more fun place to live in.
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Café “De Poort” on one side of the canal, as seen from the side.
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This photo could have easily been taken half a century ago with the VW Beetle on the side of the canal.
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Unlike the canals in Amsterdam, the ones in Utrecht have a “cellar” level below the street which is perfect for various bars, restaurants and events.
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One of the most iconic bars in Utrecht, the Belgian café with hundreds of beers and at least that many memorable nights spent there by me and my friends. It’s the perfect place to end the night in and accidentally also this post!
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Thessaloniki roadtrip

Venue: Blagoevgrad, Thessaloniki and around

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Christos Kyriazis – Epimeno (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzVGYjVMhkU)

Thessaloniki, or as Bulgarians call it Solun, is the main city in North Greece and is only a 4-5 hour drive away from Sofia. This makes it a perfect long weekend destination for Bulgarians that want to enjoy some great sea views and food. Strangely enough I myself had never spent much time in Thessaloniki and I’m glad I had the chance to go there in the first days of spring. The population of Thessaloniki is a bit less than a million people making it very lively and culturally eventful place that in the same time is not too big to be hard to navigate around. It is a typical Mediterranean city that reminded me a bit of Naples and Barcelona, but with the slight twist added by its position on the Balkan peninsula. Probably most importantly of all (for our purposes here) Thessaloniki is just amazingly photogenic, as I hope to convince you with the photos below.

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We start our photo trip from Blagoevgrad, a small student town that is the centre of the Bulgarian region of Macedonia. We decided to spend the night there on the way to Greece and found it eerily empty on a Friday night, probably due to a university spring vacation.
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The old town in Blagoevgrad was also very quiet and dark in the clear starry night, transporting you back at least 150 years or so.
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The next day we arrived instead at the Greek part of the Macedonia region and its respective main city, Thessaloniki. The first few hours were spent around some old Byzantine fortresses and religious buildings overlooking the Aegean Sea.
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The side window of one of the many beautiful churches. This one is Hagia Sofia, bearing the same name as the famous one in Istanbul and the slightly less famous one in Sofia.
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Not sure what the signs here mean literally, but its the place in the church where you can take and light up a candle in exchange for leaving some money. Greek people are quite religious so most churches were full of people on this Saturday afternoon.
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Moving on to the more modern sights in town: this is the entrance to the old dock area that is now converted into a place with a few bards and restaurants as well as some museums. I don’t know who made the small heart but it looks somewhat similar to the works of the urban artist Invader.
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Inside the photo museum, whose exposition was dedicated to the recent migrant crisis and the hard life of the thousands of refugees from Syria and the Middle East traveling to Europe.
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On the side of the photo museum people seemingly had much less problems and enjoyed the sunset sea views.
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The empty streets later that night when climbing the slope of one of the older neighborhoods of Thessaloniki. These small hilly streets were quite a struggle for the car, but truly beautiful and atmospheric for an evening walk.
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The big prize of climbing the hills was the view from the terrace of the place we rented. Not that they need any extra advertisement, but sometimes using airbnb can be really spot on.
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The next evening during the walk downhill with beautiful old houses and blue Sunday sky.
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Among all the other things, Thessaloniki is also a great place for street art with some truly amazing works.
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Back to the city centre where street art gets mixed with old Byzantine ruins and more modern city architecture.
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A fast stop for a bougatsa, or as we call it banitsa, a cheese-filled pastry. This small but famous shop offered also some sweet varieties that were really tasty.
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The umbrella installation on the sea promenade in Thessaloniki, probably the most popular place for selfie lovers and Instagram addicts.
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And of course also Guinny came with us! He quite enjoyed the view to this little yacht port and the amazing octopus dish at the sea-food restaurant right at the port entrance.
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We just couldn’t get enough sea food so we also stopped at a less fancy psarotaverna (fish tavern) for stuffed calamari. Many of the people around decided to make photos with the sunset which in turned helped me make some contre-jour photos of them.
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Somebody had just left their socks and sneakers on the side of the restaurant. A good opportunity to test if it’s true that everything looks great with the sea and the sunset on the background.
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This fishing boat, together with the two floating ones on the top photo, did indeed look great with the sea and the sunset.
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“The Old Man and the Sea.” At least its Greek version on the seaside street to central Thessaloniki.
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The seafront promenade seen from a slightly elevated public place where locals like to hang out.
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More people enjoying the warm spring Sunday on the seafront street stretching for 5-6 kilometers from the centre of the city to the suburbs.
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The umbrella installation was looking a bit more creepy and jellyfish-like in the evening.
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The big monument of Alexander the Great, the famous king of Macedonia.
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Another landmark of Thessaloniki: the White Tower, notorious for being a prison during the Turkish rule of the Balkans.
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The alluring front of a very cool store selling all kinds of nuts and candy.
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The numerous bars right at the seafront street were all completely packed with people. Given the very high prices and the great number of people going out (both relative to the Bulgarian standards) I can only conclude that the economic crisis in Greece is long gone.
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The next day we had to already go back to Sofia, but had a short time in the morning to visit the beach at one of Thessaloniki’s suburbs, Agia Triada (not Rio!).

Independence weekend

Venue: Zemen, Sofia, Vitosha mountain

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: My beautiful forest / Хубава си моя горо (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbo0RNIc7NU)

3rd of March is Bulgaria’s Independence Day and as it happened to be Friday this year everyone had an extended 3-day weekend out of work. Together with my girlfriend we decided to take it easy and decide what to do day by day without any big plans. And the outcome was that we went for a road trip to a nearby monastery on the first day, a gallery visit in Sofia on the second day, and a walk in the nearby mountain, Vitosha, on the third day. And as always I brought my camera with me and made plenty of pictures, here they come!

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On the way to the Zemen monastery we first considered having a picnic at lake Pchelina, but it turned out that the accessible places around the lake were occupied by local fisherman and we didn’t want to disrupt them.
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So we went on our way to the Zemen monastery, situated about 70 km away from Sofia. The church is the oldest conserved part of the monastery dating from 11th century AD.
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This is the painting at the entrance of the church. It is quite richly painted also inside including some unusual masonic symbols among the usual Biblical scenes, but I was not allowed to take photos unfortunately.
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The view from the monastery to the nearby small town of Zemen. At this place we finally managed to have our picnic on the loan next to the church.
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The Bulgarian tradition of martenitsa at the beginning of March – it is an old pagan ritual of wearing red and white wool dolls or pieces of string. Sometimes we also leave them at the blossoming trees to welcome the coming spring.
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On the way back we passed by the town of Zemen with its abandoned bus station (АВТОГАРА in Bulgarian) right next to the railroad.
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We stopped on the side of our road to Sofia for a few last photos of the quiet nature before heading to the city.
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Sofia greeted us with a gorgeous pink sky at sunset and eerily empty streets due to the national holiday so I had to stop for some more photos.
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The next day we decided to go around Sofia meeting some friends and visiting the gallery for modern art. One of the exhibits was on the theme of the naked male body.
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In the next room there were far less people, but at least they were all dressed.
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Some cool sculptures I thought would make a nice photo, but by now I already forgot who was their author and what was the emphasis.
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The last day of the long weekend we decided to be more active and hike up in the Vitosha mountain, starting from one of the neighborhoods of Sofia – Knyazhevo. This is at the last stop of the tram that took us there, with a nice graffiti wall depicting the old times when Knyazhevo was still a village outside the city and the tram was obviously more retro style.
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On the way up there was a nice playground in the forest with some kids running around.
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The yellow trail mark on some of the trees leading us up to some of the mountain cabins. Unfortunately the weekend was over so we had to leave the mountain woods and come back to daily life.

Stockholm and Örebro

Venue: Stockholm and Örebro, Sweden

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Abba – Happy New Year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uo0JAUWijM)

Happy New Year everyone and my best wishes for 2017! Here is my post with more photos of Sweden as already promised last year (https://kirilson.com/2016/12/22/konst-in-and-under-stockholm/). Apart from the amazing metro stations in Stockholm I managed to explore a bit more on the surface of the Swedish capital, as well as visit one of the other big cities around – Örebro (pronounced more like Orebroo). So here are the photos with my usual (hopefully entertaining) comments below, and once again have a great 2017 everyone.

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We start from Stockholm and its Old town (Gamla stan) located on a small island in the centre of the archipelago that makes up the whole city. This old part of Stockholm is now mostly a touristy area with lots of little cobblestone streets and small cute houses serving as cafes and souvenir shops. This particular restaurant should be “under the chestnuts” as suggested by the name.
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The main square in Gamla stan, called Stortorget, was hosting a small Christmas market in the last weeks of 2016. The “Sockervadd!” sign with Santa below actually advertises cotton candy.
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Along the coast of the many islands in Stockholm you can find various boats with restaurants or houses for the people to live.
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A larger panorama of the coastline of central Stockholm as seen from the island of Djurgarden that hosts most of the museums.
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A part of an exposition in the Skansen museum that represents the way Swedish people used to live in the past. The woman dressed in traditional clothes from the past explained that in the cold Scandinavian winters with barely any food back in the day it was a standard practice to eat the bark of some trees.
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Another part of Skansen showing the traditional Swedish houses and means of living.
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Going further in the past – a Viking tombstone inscribed with runes (unsurprisingly also called a runestone). Pretty cool, right?
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And these are the raised wooden houses of the other local people living further up in the Scandinavian north – the Sami people.
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Last bit of Skansen – an exposition of a glass maker’s shop from the more recent past.
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And this is the view towards one of the other major museums – Nordiska. At 2:30 pm the sun was already under the horizon and the grey sky was turning darker.
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Evening in central Stockholm from one of the fancy rooftop restaurants in Sodermalm (the south hill).
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One last shot of the famous houses in Stortorget square in Gamla stan on the next day shortly before taking the train to Orebro.
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Two hours and 150 kilometers later it was already dark and time for an evening walk in the centre of Orebro.
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And here is my lovely host, who was very happy to pose for some portrait photos.
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This is the main tourist sight in this part of Sweden – the Orebro castle, intentionally made by me on the photo to look a more creepy than usual.
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The next day we found an extremely cosy little place for traditional breakfast – coffee with pastries next to a beautiful old sunlit piano.
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Some old kitchen tools used just for show – the actual kitchen of the cafe was much more modern-looking.
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Another look in the past – the Wadkoping area on one side of the centre in Orebro is built to resemble a typical small Swedish village from the past with the dark-red pointy-roof houses. Some of these houses serve as museums and souvenir shops, but many are home to the more nostalgic families in the region.
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One of the houses in Wadkoping with live grass growing on the roof – the typical Swedish red color of the houses derives from the iron ore that is abundant in these areas.
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Another cute piece of Wadkoping – the open air theater scene with wooden benches for the spectators. Unfortunately as you can imagine it’s not really used throughout the year in Sweden.
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On its west side Orebro is situated along one of the big Swedish lakes and one can experience some pristine nature and really feel the roughness and loneliness of the countryside. The little red “bookstore” remains always open on the path to the lake for anyone that enjoys reading a nice book with a view.
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In the fall and winter seasons however, one can enjoy more a little jog for warming up.
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This is what I referred to above as roughness of the Swedish nature. But even in the end of November there were a few eager bird-watchers hoping to spot some remaining life. In spring and summer the lake is actually home to thousands of birds (and a few mosquitoes).
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This empty bench put on a small elevation overlooking the lake is probably a great place to ponder over the great questions of life. But it was little bit too cold for that..
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..so we went to warm up in the cosy Erik Rosenbergs stuga – a small cabin on the side of the lake. It’s kept well-heated by the municipality and is freely open during the day so that passers-by can take some rest and have a snack or a drink (as long as they bring it themselves). With this the short Swedish trip  was over and it was time to fly back home.

Dublin and Guinness

Venue: Dublin, Ireland

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: U2 – Where the streets have no name (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FsrPEUt2Dg)

My next travel destination after Hamburg was Dublin in Ireland, where I spent several days on a work visit. Fortunately I had one free day as I arrived in the weekend, so I had a chance to discover the city and of course have some Guinness along the way. Probably more than anything else Dublin is famous as the home of “the black stuff” and of U2 (and maybe also James Joyce for the literature lovers), but there’s much more to it as I had a chance to remind myself of its somewhat complicated historical and cultural background. As always I took plenty of photos along my way…

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We start with the Molly Malone statue in the center of Dublin, a city landmark made after the popular Irish song.
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An old beautiful building in the little streets close to the Molly Malone statue.
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The cobblestone court of Dublin castle.
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The sign explaining the history of Dublin castle – in English and Irish (or Gaelic) language. The appearance of Gaelic on all official signs and labels in Ireland is a constant reminder of their old language that I never witnessed to be spoken in Dublin.
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The Christ Church cathedral -the elder of the city’s two large medieval cathedrals. The fact that all catholic churches were full of people on a Sunday morning was another strong reminder of being in Ireland and not in their neighbors on the other side of Irish sea.
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And the witty signs in front of pubs are as good in Dublin as anywhere else. The left column certainly summarizes well my stay in Ireland.
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A little piece of Dublin history – Kilmainham Gaol was one of the main prisons in Ireland from the 17th to the beginning of 20th century. It was used until after the Irish War of Independence from Great Britain 1919-1921..
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The prison keeps all documentation from the years of the Great Famine in Ireland when one million people starved to death and another million emigrated overseas. Many people were forced to commit petty crime and were punished severely.
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A jump from the old jail to the modern beer house, home of the Guinness brewery.
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Walking down the corridor leading thousands of people every day to the Guinness tasting rooms.
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Obviously little Guinny was feeling extremely comfortable in the Guinness Storehouse. (If you didn’t meet Guinny yet you can get introduced to him in here: https://kirilson.com/2016/11/25/hamburg-and-kunst/)
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Shortly after the time for tasting was over and the time for drinking started.
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And the best places for a pint in Dublin is the top floor of the Guinness Storehouse that is actually the tallest building in town. The view is even more amazing if you’re lucky enough to catch the sunset.
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The magic moment right when the sun touches the horizon, and everyone forgets about their beer to catch the last rays for the day.
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But life in Dublin only starts with the sunset, and people crowd at the pubs around the Temple Bar street to dance on traditional Irish music.
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Another Dublin landmark is the Ha’penny brigde across the river Liffey.
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It’s a pedestrian bridge with a nice view to central Dublin, where apparently some people forget their gloves…
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..while some other people spend the night.
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The evening view to the second main cathedral – St. Patrick’s.
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And a more mundane evening photo of a random street in Dublin with the local double-decker public buses.
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Back to landmark buildings: the main court of Trinity College Dublin, the most prestigeous Irish university located in the very centre of the city.
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I spent quite some time and SD card memory trying to capture the beauty of the place without any blur as again I had not brought my tripod.
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The Irish Houses of Parliament right opposite of Trinity College.
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Again around the little streets of central Dublin, some of which serve as a back entrance for many bars and restaurants. This is Bedford Lane, which does have a name even if U2 were claiming otherwise from the bar around the corner.
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No better way to finish the tour of Dublin than a large pint of Guinny together with little Guinny.

Hamburg and kunst

Venue: Hamburg, Germany

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: The Beatles – I want to hold your hand / Komm gib mir deine Hand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jenWdylTtzs)

I was recently on a long-weekend trip to Hamburg visiting some friends of mine, and as always brought my camera with me to capture and remember better my impressions. Hamburg is such an artsy city (not even including here the art museums I visited and which I’ll show in my next post) that I realized most of my photos are somehow art-related. Hence the title of the post is including the German word for art – kunst! The kunst in Hamburg is in so many forms – from amazing modern architecture (which turned the former docks into some of the most expensive real estate in the world) to small hipstery shops and cafes in anarchist neighborhoods. But in the end nature itself trumps all artificial art with some amazing river views during sunset, so here it comes.

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The “Eiffel tower of Hamburg” – the concert hall “Elbphilharmonie” that opened just a few weeks ago after a decade-long construction works. It’s by far the biggest and most impressive building in Hamburg that can be seen from anywhere along the river Elbe. It is so massive that the frame of the camera could not capture it from so close, but I put the photo as it also includes a small piece of the Berlin wall, brought to this place as a symbol of the German unification I suppose.
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A postcard of the Elbphilharmonie during its construction – it is designed to look as a ship from far away.
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The view to the building from a boat on the other side of the river. The boat tour was part of the usual public transport in Hamburg and offered some amazing views as the sun was about to set.
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Further down the river with the concert hall still visible on the background. This cute seagull was intently observing the crowds of people moving from boat to boat.
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Some more seagulls along the piers, with the view towards the industrial parts of the river where cargo ships are being serviced.
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The port of Hamburg located along the Elbe river is the biggest sea terminal of Germany and the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam.
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One of my friends looking thoughtfully at the sunset as the boat moved us westward along the river.
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Close to the Altona cruise terminal where we stepped off the boat – the sun was really low above the horizon and the clouds were slowly turning pink and violet.
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Our boat going along the purple Elbe.
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Instead we went up the stairs of the cruise terminal to enjoy the next 10 minutes of sunset from above.
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Unfortunately I was not carrying my tripod, but there were plenty of other photographers that were better prepared and surely made some spectacular photos that evening.
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Next morning at the Rathaus – the Hamburg city hall seating the local parliament (the city of Hamburg is a separate federal state of its own according to German laws).
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Yet another view towards the concert hall, here from the Speicherstadt – the former dock lands that used to be a free zone for transporting goods.
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One of the bridges in the Speicherstadt and the church of St. Kathrine on the other side.
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In the heart of the Speicherstadt with its industrial beauty and the usual grey clouds over the city.
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This is the building of the fish market, one of the iconic places in Hamburg which offers fish and sandwiches from 5 am on Sundays to the people that partied all night at the nearby Reeperbahn – Sankt Pauli district.
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That day however the fish market was full of art and people enjoying it.
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Some of the paintings offered on sale seen from above.
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And back on the streets – the Schanze district, which is the hipstery part of the city, full of small artsy shops, pubs and cafes.
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One of the backyards in Schanze where kids could play around, undisturbed by all the graffiti and street art around them.
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At the Beatles-platz in the Reeperbahn party district where you can see the silhouettes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Hamburg was the place where the Beatles started their career playing live in many of the bars in the party district for two years.
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The outside of one of the bars around with some more street art.
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And now jumping to a more refined environment – the inside of one of the big shopping malls in the centre of the city. I brought my new friend, Guinny the penguin, and took some photos of him while waiting for my friends.
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I even managed to teach Guinny a few basic words in German, such as “Seifen” meaning soaps.
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At the end Guinny met a new German/Swedish friend and I let them play together for a while.
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This is the “inside” of the St. Nicolai church which was partially saved during the bombings in the second World War while most of the other city was completely destroyed. Now you see some modern statues on what used to be the inside of the church.
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Another monument in St. Nicolai – a memorial made with original bricks from one of the Nazi concentration camps in Sandbostel.
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One of the “love locks” that are locked to so many of the bridges in the city.
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A bike ramp in one of the small parks with a view towards the biggest working church – St. Michaelis.
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I also let Guinny take a look at the church for a short while before it was time to leave the park and fly out of Hamburg. You’ll get to see more of Guinny on some of my next trips, I promise!

Burgas and the Black Sea

Venue: Burgas, Sozopol, mostly Pomorie

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 VR – mostly using the 24mm end

Music: Stefka Berova and Yordan Marchinkov – 20 km away from Burgas / Стефка Берова и Йордан Марчинков – На 20 км от Бургас (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prZusXxGBmc)

As every single year in my life, I spent some time on the Bulgarian seaside this summer. I usually go to the southern part, around the Gulf of Burgas, and this time was no exception. I took it as a proper vacation going to the beach and having fun with friends, so I only took my camera on several occasions and my photos won’t be really representative of the Black Sea cost or even of my own vacation. I particularly regret not taking my camera on our boat trip from the port of Burgas to the tiny island of St. Anastasia, which has a really cool story during the communist years and has recently been turned into a beautiful place to watch the sunset over the city with the help of some EU grants.

What I will show you instead are a few photos of Burgas and Sozopol, our main spot for the vacation, together with quite some photos with boats and setting sun from Pomorie, thus covering the whole Gulf of Burgas from its northern to southern end.

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The central parts of Burgas as seen from one of the landmark buildings – hotel “Bulgaria”, a socialist style hotel in the very centre. You can even see the boat competition that was taking place that afternoon. Just before the sea you can also spot the trees of the “Sea garden” park, which is a very nice place to bike around.
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The view from the last floor of our “hotel”, or rather family house, in Sozopol. The old town of Sozopol is on the opposite side of the bay on the picture, and is a good place for a nice dinner and a walk around the freshly (re)built old fortress along the sea.
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The opposite side of the roof, with a good example of the “growth mistakes” along the Black Sea when tourism suddenly exploded and lots of buildings were started and never properly finished. Not that the sunset over the sea can ever really be spoilt, fortunately.
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A third angle from the top floor, this time showing distantly some buildings (e.g. the one with a non-religiously looking cross on top) which are off-limits as they are part of a still existing military area on one side of Sozopol (even if we don’t really have an army anymore).
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The next day’s sunset from the top floor, revealing the actual purpose of the last floor – providing the laundry with a good panoramic view during sunset.
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The central beach of Sozopol and another view to the old town in the evening.
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On one the beaches near Sozopol, Gradina. This is in the Kite bar – a very popular beach bar with a cool DJ party on some of the afternoons.
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Back to Burgas – the famous “bridge” of Burgas, linking the central part of the park with…the sea. In most other parts of Bulgaria people call this construction a pier, but the locals insist very strongly on calling it the Bridge.
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In Pomorie, passing by a not very fancy restaurant with a good sunset view.
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Time for some more iconic photos – a boat on the sea during sunset with the Bulgarian flag.
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Some boats off the port of Pomorie, with the other side of the gulf streching to Sozopol on the background.
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A postcard style attempt from me – I really like the little seagull passing by the sun in the moment I took the picture. No Black Sea postcard is complete without an old fisherman on a boat and a seagull, after all.
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Here is a closer look of the old fisherman from the previous photo, and very appropriately the name of the boat in Bulgarian means “seagull”.
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Time for some boat pictures – all boats in Bulgaria need to be registered in some port, and “Пм”, or “Pm”, clearly stands for Pomorie.
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More boats and more sunset.
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A particularly nice boat I think, and funnily the boat on the right side has the name that translates as “The White Stripe”. I doubt they actually thought of the famous band with the almost exact same name.
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Another postcard style photo with the boat and the seagull and the sunset. In the back you can also see one the huge modern hotels built in the beginning of Pomorie, for the richer Russian tourists.
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A street cart selling various fruits and vegetables, in particular peaches from Pomorie as the sign suggests.
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The last pink clouds from the sunset over Pomorie and some fancy lamps used by a fish restaurant next to the walking alley. With all its paradoxes and problems, the Bulgarian Black Sea cost is not that bad I’d say, and is never easy to leave for me.

Veliko Tarnovo and around

Venue: Veliko Tarnovo, Lovech, Devetaki, Krushuna, Hotnitsa, Bojentsi, Tryavna, Arbanasi

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 VR – mostly using the 24mm end

Music: Wickeda – I love / Уикеда – Обичам (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzDLCLfe4Go)

In the middle of summer I made a short four-day trip to Veliko Tarnovo and some of the places nearby, which I will describe with some photos as usual. In this time of the year the temperatures in northern Bulgaria don’t fall much below 35 degrees, so it was not exactly the perfect condition for taking photos. To be fair it is probably hard to do justice to the place anyway, so I’d recommend anyone to visit it even if it doesn’t look as amazing from this post.

Veliko Tarnovo is one of these places where you can actually feel the history around you and imagine what it must have been back in the medieval times during its glory. Even if most of the main historic sites are just ruins now, the position and fortified walls of what used to be the capital of the second Bulgarian empire on Tsarevets hill are very suggestive of its former power. Together with the typical Bulgarian Renaissance architecture from the end of 19th century and the Yantra river turning around the hills, Veliko Tarnovo is easily one of the most impressive and beautiful places in Bulgaria. So here come the photos and their explanations, ordered chronologically from my trip on my way from Sofia and back.

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Lovech, with its covered bridge in the city centre somewhat similar to the famous one in Florence. It is a historic small town whose economy really went down after the fall of socialism in Bulgaria. They still have some nice restaurants in the centre where I had a great tarator, the typical cold Bulgarian soup for the hot summer days.
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The Devetaki cave, on the road between Lovech and Veliko Tarnovo, a strangely shaped formation in the rocks, home of thousands of bats flying around and making funny noices.
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The Krushuna waterfalls, a little further down the road – they are probably much more impressive in spring, but still make a nice stop on the road to cool off in the shades of the trees around.
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Already in Veliko Tarnovo – the panoramic view from one of the popular restaurants in the centre, with Yantra river and the art gallery in the middle of the picture, and one of the older parts of town on the left overlooking the sunset.
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An evening walk after dinner with a view to the main (modern) church and some old houses that used to be small shops in the past judging by the sign.
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Starting the city tour the next morning with a coffee on the “Samovodska charshia” – the old main market street, now a cute pedestrian area with cafes and little art and souvenir shops.
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Closer to the historical sights here, but it was too hot to climb up on Tsarevets hill inside the main medieval fortress. Instead we decided to go along the Yantra river between Tsarevets and Trapezitsa, the other fortress hill on the right. The area between the two main hills of the old capital seems to have served mainly for religious purposes in the past, as there are at least around 10 churches remaining in an area of a square kilometer or so.
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This is the sight of one of the main cathedrals of the past, “The Forthy Martyrs”, now completely rebuilt. The remains of one of our famous kings, tsar Kaloyan, are still standing here after 800 years in a freshly built grave.
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The inside of one of the other churches nearby, “Saint George”, which is partially preserved from the medieval times.
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A rebuilt copy of the “St. Demetrius” church founded 8 centuries ago by another famous Bulgarian ruler, tsar Asen. I stop with the churches now as there really are too many and you lose count quite fast.
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Back to the relatively modern age – inside the “Sarafkina” house from the 19th century now turned into a museum. It obviously belonged to a very rich family that could afford a whole storey of the house just for hanging out and drinking tea. The house actually has two storeys on one side and five storeys on the other, as it is positioned on a very steep slope of one of the hills.
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The view from the same house, with the Yantra river and rhe main road to Sofia passing in a tunnel underneath.
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The back entrance of the archaeology museum – it made me feel like Indiana Jones stepping in some temple in the jungle.
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Inside the museum – a medieval stamp that was actually worn by the Bulgarian kings as a ring, used as an old-school version of fingerprint sensors.
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The museum building with a little courtyard, another example of old architecture.
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Inside the former building of the national assembly nearby. This is where the Bulgarian constitution was adopted right after the independence from the Ottoman empire in 1879. I guess one can compare this place with the Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
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The small bar on the side of the art gallery, a cool place with a great sunset view over the town.
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This evening the bar had a special event with some literature citations hanging around and had organized a stand-up comedy spot for anyone brave enough.
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The next day we traveled outside town, first to the Hotnitsa waterfalls hike with cool wooden bridges and ladders over the cliffs.
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Next stop was Bojentsi – a sort of open air museum. It is a mountain village preserved in time, all houses here were built in 18th and 19th century and one can take a nice tour around most the place with guides explaining you how the people lived back in the day.
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The typical wooden round table and three-legged chairs that served for lunch and dinner to many generations of Bulgarians.
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The stone church in Bojentsi, somewhat reminding me of the churches in the Provence in France.
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On the side of the church there was a school that consisted of a single room, teaching kids from all ages together. The sign reads “Diligence brings success” in an old version of Bulgarian.
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Drinking old-style Turkish coffee on the round wooden tables in Tryavna, a bigger town nearby that is very similar in spirit to Bojentsi.
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More typical old houses in Tryavna, where one can also stay for the night.
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Another day, starting with a coffee with view in the centre of Veliko Tarnovo.
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Another typical old Bulgarian house, this time in Arbanasi village just a few kilometers away from Tsarevets hill. This was the room for drinking coffee and tea and chatting with the others.
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The backyard of the same old house in Arbanasi, where one could try to escape from the summer heat in the shade of the vineyards.
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An evening in town, with the view towards the lit-up Tsarevets. This photo is from the same place as the top image, so you can choose whether you prefer the sight Tsarevets at day or at night.
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Another evening sight of Tsarevets, closer to the main gate of the fortress. The church on top used to also be a ruin but was rebuilt recently, with a strange green light coming out of its dome.

Summer evenings in Sofia

Venue: Sofia city centre

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 VR – mostly using the 24mm end

Music: Poduene blues band – There’s no beer / Подуене блус бенд – Няма бира (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyHzGhCYbTg)

The summer started very busy for me with travels and plenty of football games to watch, but finally at the end of Euro’2016 I had several free nights where I could enjoy the beautiful evening weather of Sofia. Due to the proximity of Vitosha mountain the evenings and nights are always relatively cool here, at most 20-25 degrees Celsius. So on several occasions I went out for a walk around the city centre with friends and family, who were patient enough to endure me taking some long-exposure evening shots. Here I present you in a random order some of the main evening sight of Sofia with short comments, squeezing also some older pictures to show how seasons change the city.

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Starting off at the heart of Sofia – the walking part of Vitosha boulevard, with its newly acquired statue of Aleko Konstantinov at one end.
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The evenings get quite busy here, with people walking around and sitting in the countless cafes, bars and restaurants. Strangely enough on this photo it looks like every single person is walking towards me and the old guy at the front, which is statistically extremely unlikely to happen at this place. Maybe they were after me!
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Close to the Aleko Konstantinov statue on Vitosha boulevard is the small park around the National Palace of Culture (NDK) that you see at the back here. The palace of culture and the fountains in front were built back in 1981, in a very recognizably communist style. Still it ended up being a very nice place to hang out in the evening with the recent renovations after which the fountains actually work. Further down I will show you how the NDK looks in different seasons as I often pass by and make pictures here.
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The same fountains in front of NDK, but with a view to the opposite direction. In case people around manage to forget the fact we turned into capitalism several decades ago already, you always have the large neon signs of McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Tuborg and the rest to remind us.
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A flashback of several months ago just to show you how the NDK looks like without the running water in the fountains. This is on a foggy night in January, with no people around.
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A more spooky version with my 70-200mm lens, still in winter. In case you didn’t appreciate the dark communist side of this place on the previous photos..
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Already in spring with my 50mm lens: still with no water in the fountains but with many people enjoying the nice weather, and clear view to the closest peak of Vitosha mountain, Kamen del (1862m above sea level).
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Moving to the smaller streets of Sofia – this is Slaveikov square, which is also very close to Vitosha boulevard and might be considered the exact centre of Sofia. Here one can see the strange pattern made by the lights of a bike passing by on the tram tracks.
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Still at Slaveikov square, which during the day hosts many  is a first and second-hand book market. The book-stalls and chairs of the salesmen are folded and stored at night.
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A hundred meters down the tram tracks from Slaveikov square is the Sv. Sedmochislenitsi church, which also hosts a small park with benches and places to hang out in the evening. The patron saints of the church are the people who were involved in making up the cyrilic alphabet, which includes the brothers Cyril and Methodius and their students.
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On the side of the church there is a small fruit and vegetable market, with trams passing by frequently until late evening.
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This is the National theater Ivan Vazov, with another small park and fountains in front. In my opinion this is the pretties place in Sofia with a very original atmosphere as there are always tons of people chatting and drinking outside on the benches. On one side of the park one can always find many people playing chess and betting on the winners of the games.
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A cocktail bar in yet another tiny garden in the streets between Vitosha boulevard and Slaveikov square. It is clear that the people of Sofia like having a drink outside in the small green corners still left intact in the city. Fortunately there’s also plenty of beer around, even if the guy in the song I linked on top doesn’t seem to agree.
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Less greenery to be seen here: this is “Independence square” which hosts all the main governing institutions of Bulgaria. The building on the right hosts the president, the one on the left the prime minister and the one in the centre is the national assembly. The centre building is more popular as the “party house” as it used to be the home of the communist party back in the day. The square and surrounding buildings were built back in 1955 and define the true old school communist architecture in Bulgaria. The glass dome on the left side of the photo is instead newly acquired and uncovers beneath it the ancient ruins of Serdica – the Roman town that lies in the foundations of present day Sofia. As you see on the photo at the very top at this place my friends decided to contribute to some more original photos and move a cellphone in different shapes that would remain on the long-exposure shots. They of course came up with many other less romantic shapes and signs but I chose to only show you the version with the heart!
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One one edge of Independence square you can see better the presidency and the small fountain in front, which changes shapes and colors.
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A more classic color that maybe fits better in the surroundings.
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Of course no photo-tour of Sofia would be complete without the biggest orthodox church/cathedral in Bulgaria – Alexander Nevsky. This summer it will also be the setting of an open-air opera scene that is being built on one side, while on the left one can also see the historic building of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. At night the space around the cathedral is actually quite deserted, with only the occasional car or this case tourist bus driving around.
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Another version of the Nevsky cathedral, shot this winter with my 70-200mm lens. Depending on the angle, the season and the available light, the cathedral can look very different, but it always remains the most recognizable and famous building in Sofia.

A day in Philly, PA

Venue: Philadelphia, PA
Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4
Music: Bruce Springsteen – Streets of Philadelphia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z2DtNW79sQ)
On my way back from DC to New York I decided to stop midway and spend half a day exploring Philly. Philly is in between not only geographically, as it has a bit of the Manhattan feel together with the historical atmosphere of Washington. Philly was one of the major cities playing role in the years of American independence, which can be easily recognized in the architecture of the older neighborhoods. I found it the perfect mix between a busy big modern city with many things going on and a more peaceful place for living with many parks, museums and universities. I would highly recommend it even for a longer stay and visit.
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Logan square on a Friday morning, with the dome of the St. Peter and Paul cathedral on the left, and the City Hall tower to the right.
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Inside the cathedral.
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The Franklin Institute science museum, on the other side of Logan square. Ben Franlin is probably the most famous Philadelphian. Apart from being a “founding father”, president of Pennsylvania, important physicist and inventor, he was also an author, newspaper editor and printer, civil activist, diplomat and pretty much anything you can imagine people did those days. Maybe he really needed a complete CV to make sure his scientific grant applications will go through!
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True words (literally) on a shirt sold in the Franklin Institute shop.
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The entrance of the Rodin museum.
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Inside the museum, which is quite a nice and compact collection of Rodin sculptures that can seen even if you are short in time.
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A side street in downtown Philly, reminding a bit of some New York neighborhoods.
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You can find beautiful street art all over Philly.
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Rittenhouse square, with a really nice and relaxed atmosphere with some homeless people chilling on the benches and a flea market encircling it.
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The flea market tens making an interesting contrast with the old houses around the square.
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Pottery shop at the flea market, with lots of other very arts tents and goods for sale.
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The church of the Holy Trinity, on the side of Rittenhouse square.
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The benches in the church look more comfy than those in almost all other churches I’ve seen.
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View to the One and Two Liberty Place, the Chrysler-building-reminding skyscrapers that symbolize modern Philadelphia and make resemble Manhattan to some extent.
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Village Whiskey, my lunch stop for a beer, burger, and duck-fat-fries, simply delicious.
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It unfortunately started raining heavily during lunch and continued raining all afternoon, which suddenly decreased the quality and quantity of my photos.
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The Independece Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were discussed and signed. The Liberty Bell is in the building on the side, but the rain made it impossible to make nice photos of the otherwise very picturesque place.
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Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the US that was continuously inhabited since 1702.
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Christ church, another very old historical building, example of Georgian architecture. With its 60m bell tower, it used to be the tallest US building until 1810.
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Back to downtown Philly and the view from the City Hall, with the pedestrians hiding from the continuing rain.
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On the other side of the City Hall one can see some modern art and yet another historic landmark – the Masonic Temple.
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Another rainy street view from the city centre, somewhat reminding of Manhattan.
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A funny sign in the UPenn campus, full of more beautiful historic buildings and nice green alleys creating a relaxing atmosphere. But rules are rules, so please don’t bring your skateboard if you’re planning to study here!
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Last view to the Philly skyline from 30th street train station.