"Bulgaria isn't Sofia and Sofia isn't Bulgaria" - this popular local saying emerged, in part, as a result of the growing gap between Bulgaria's capital and other cities over the past decade. Regarding culture, economy, social indicators, Sofia is in a category of its own.
There is another part to that saying. Most of the attention of politicians and the media has been turned to Sofia, but Bulgaria has many good (and, sometimes, bad) examples of projects, businesses, social initiatives, and cultural endeavors happening outside of the capital that rarely get the attention they deserve. Here, we will turn our eyes to five recent stories Capital Regions came across in their annual wanderings across the country.
Kavatsi, where the office meets the beach
How many times have you dreamed of being at the beach while tapping away at your keyboard at work? Yasen Rusev and Svilen Elenkov have found a summertime solution by establishing Bulgaria's first-ever co-working space at the beach at Kavatsi, a popular camping spot for locals near Burgas. "The idea came to us two years ago but when the pandemic and subsequent crisis hit, we knew the perfect moment to do something about it had come," Yasen Rusev told Capital Weekly.
The advantages of Kavatsi are several. First, it offers a degree of privacy because of the campsite nearby. At the same time, it's close to bigger urban and tourist centers like Burgas and Sozopol. The hub with a 180-degree view of the sea opens in early July and is fully operational until the end of September. "People started promoting it on their own by uploading photos from here. So the place gained popularity very quickly," Rusev said.
The customers are mainly young IT professionals and self-employed in various fields. People can pay for a spot for a day, a week, or a month. Besides a place in the seating area, the price includes water, coffee, refreshments, and fruit during the day. A lunch or a drink can be found in the nearby restaurant and bar. According to the owners, the establishment of the co-working space has led to the birth of a little ecosystem surrounding the area which is now useful for everyone.
Aquae Calidae, Suleiman the Magnificent's SPA center
The bath of Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent lies just ten minutes from the last stretch of Trakia highway near Burgas. The bath has been fully restored and decorated with marble tiles and emerald blue stones, lighting, and 3D mapping. From a historical perspective, Aquae Calidae houses one of the oldest hot springs in the country, in use since the time of ancient Thracians and Greeks, during the reign of Emperor Nero. The baths were destroyed by Henry I of Flanders during the Fourth Crusade and were rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent during the Ottoman rule as a thank you that his gout was cured there.
Surrounding the baths are restaurants and cafes, a museum exhibition, a small amphitheater for outdoor movies, concerts, plays. The site will be further developed. Currently, a museum is in the works, part of which will be a SPA center with warm and cold pools, massages with herbal and natural products.
At the start of the pandemic, many restaurants turned to firms like Foodpanda offering food delivery services. But the significant jump in demand opened the doors to new players as well, including niche businesses. Varna-based firm Foodbot is one such example. The company managed by Denislav Vasilev, Dimo Andonov, Dimitar Vasilev, and Anton Simeonov, has given restaurants more channels for communicating with customers by developing a chatbot for food delivery.
"The idea came to us because a restaurant owner we were working with wanted to manage his own channel for delivery services, sales, and discounts," says Denislav Vasilev. Foodbot is not a delivery service per se. The platform allows quick ordering via a chatbot in several different channels (currently Messenger and Viber, but in the future WhatsApp and via voice command are also expected), marketing of restaurants in them, and only then delivery. "We are much closer to a tech company rather than to a food delivery firm," Vassilev said.
Behind the scenes, Foodbot works in a pretty straightforward way - the order goes to the restaurant which estimates a time of arrival. When the food is ready, Foodbot's algorithm picks the closest delivery person available. Currently, the firm employs 20 people and works with about 130 food establishments.
Eastern Europe's Las Vegas
The entrance to Svilengrad - a town in Haskovo Region, south-central Bulgaria, is unique. Visitors are welcomed by billboard after billboard advertising casinos and gaming halls. Some call it "The Bulgarian Las Vegas". Perhaps the best example of to what extent gambling has become a part of everyday life in the town is the fact that one of the large local supermarkets, Janet, has a gambling hall with the same name in its parking lot.
Nowadays, Svilengrad has almost no manufacturing industry and no plans to have it. The local economy relies mainly on gambling tourism. Only a few kilometers away, a mega-complex is being built worth 300 million levs (150 million euro). More and more gambling establishments and hotel investments are springing up across the city.
In 2017, the city had 6 casinos and 14 gambling halls. The mayor himself says he's stopped counting them since then. A big unknown is who is going to make it out of the pandemic too, considering the blows tourism and gambling industry continue to suffer even now. So far, however, even if a casino closes down, another one is close by to take its place.
Where: Stara Zagora
The establishment of the Wildlife Rescue Center begins at the apartment of one of its founders - Simo Marin from the wildlife protection organization Green Balkans and his unusual flatmates - the one-legged bald eagle John Silver, badgers, buzzards, and others. The year is 1992.
"The director of the Veterinary College at the time gave us the premises which are currently used as breeding grounds, rehabilitation space, and a visitor center," says Dr. Hristina Klisurova from the rescue center.
Every year, between 1600 and 1700 patients pass through the clinic, all wildlife. Some of them are undergoing medical procedures, others are bred, some are released in the wild. Under normal conditions, about 3000 children come to visit each year to learn about the patients' stories. There are representatives of various species of wild birds, mainly predators.
The rescue center also works in partnership with local Trakia University. The center uses the university's premises and equipment, and the students have internships at the center and have some of their lessons there. "We need a network of trained volunteers to help us by providing first aid to endangered wildlife," says Dr. Klisurova. "What we offer in return - additional training to students, is a benefit to the university. There are students who are interested in wildlife, and the partnership between us will convince them to study here," she adds.