Notes from Bulgaria

With their title borrowed from the Bulgarian phrase for kneel (klek), these squat outlets have an fascinating historical past

In early June this 12 months, as demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd gained momentum within the U.S. capital of Washington DC, it was reported that secret service brokers spirited President Donald Trump away to a White House bunker. Though denials of this have been issued forthwith, it’s stated that Trump spent almost an hour ensconced within the closely fortified subterranean construction. All this, as protesters rallied exterior the manager mansion, resorting to all the things from lobbing stones on the world’s most well-known residence to destroying police barricades.

But Trump just isn’t alone. Tech billionaires, celebrities, world leaders and company czars have one factor in frequent — plush underground bunkers geared up with all of the mod cons. Safe havens to hunt refuge in, in case of nuclear warfare, civil unrest and… sure, raging pandemics too!

If there may be one place on the earth that provides an entire different that means to the time period ‘bunker lifestyle’, with its abundance of repurposed bunkers, then that must be the Balkan nation of Bulgaria.

Basement ‘bar’good points

Both the nation’s capital of Sofia and Plovdiv have loads of subterranean marvels to sink your cultural tooth into. From the previous’s lately unearthed Roman metropolis of Serdika to the latter’s resurrected grand Roman stadium, a relic from the time when Plovdiv was generally known as Philippopolis. However, it was the nation’s communist period bunkers and erstwhile bomb shelters that fascinated me probably the most on my journey to Bulgaria final summer time.

In Sofia, I discovered myself getting down on my knees to purchase all the things from chewing gum to native candy treats just like the fig jam-smeared mekitsi fried dough from the somewhat unusual wanting pavement-level klek outlets. With their title borrowed from the Bulgarian phrase for kneel (klek), these squat outlets have an fascinating historical past. During the chilly battle, the Soviets repurposed basements of flats all through Sofia to function bomb shelters, with designated separate areas for every household to hunt refuge in.

After the autumn of communism in Bulgaria in 1989, residents of the flats transformed these basement shelters into an assortment of economic areas like shoe restore outlets and haberdasheries to bakeries and mini comfort shops. Shops that might serve only one kneeling buyer at a time by means of small sliding home windows, with the shopkeeper’s head on the stage of the client’s toes.

However, there are solely a handful of those klek outlets left in Sofia right now. New life is being infused into the outlets with a number of being remodeled into diminutive artwork galleries, basement cafés and even just a few two-person solely speakeasy-style cocktail bars.

Going with the circulate!

I quickly be taught that Bulgaria’s subterranean wonders aren’t simply restricted to remnants of the nation’s Roman and communist eras. And as soon as once more, Sofia is a notable instance of this. With over 30 mineral sizzling springs that may be discovered inside the metropolis and its environment, hydrogeology is one thing that’s taken very severely right here. In reality, town’s historic coat of arms even has a determine depicting the Greek god Apollo bathing at one such mineral spring.

Speaking of bathing, the Regional History Museum behind the grand Banya Bashi Mosque within the coronary heart of downtown Sofia was as soon as the outdated Turkish public mineral tub home, useful until 1986.

Adjacent to the museum, at a purple and white-bricked water fountain, is the place one can discover a number of individuals partaking within the metropolis’s mineral-rich water bounty by filling up enormous bottles and jerrycans with the free, barely salty-tasting heat water that flows from rows of ornate brass faucets that don’t even freeze in Sofia’s sub-zero winters.

‘What lies beneath’ really takes on an entire different that means in Bulgaria, it appears.

The Mumbai-based author and restaurant reviewer is keen about meals, journey and luxurious, not essentially in that order.

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