Friday, December 27, 2019

Bulgaria Travel Reading List

"Bulgaria is one of the largest countries in the EU, and yet like so many places that fell on the other side of the Iron Curtain, it remains terra incognita. Yet, it’s a place with an ancient history, delicious food, beautiful music, picturesque churches, and of course, roses. Bulgaria supplies 50% of the world’s rose essence."

Victoria Frolova,  a writer, journalist and professionally trained perfumer, put together "a list of non-fiction and fiction books that would be interesting even if you have no plans to visit Bulgaria and simply want to learn something new. These novels and travel accounts present a fascinating and rich land, a place where many different cultures, influences and traditions meet."

She mentions Valley of Thracians as "A fun, easy read, with vivid descriptions. A thriller set in Bulgaria that involves recovering a missing Thracian artifact."

Read the full article on Bois de Jasmin - A Primer on Sensory Pursuits.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Neighborhood Watch

There has been a spate of break-ins in Neve Ilan - six houses in the last 3 months. Two weeks ago, a family woke up in the middle of the night to find burglars in their children's bedroom.

The intruders are primarily looking for car keys. Or for cash and jewelry. Why would anyone steal a large screen TV or a laptop these days?

Six houses burglarized and two of them just a few doors away from my home. The situation is frightening and worrisome, to say the least. And it calls for action, but what can be done?

My house can’t be seen from the road and it’s very dark, which could hide it from visiting thieves. Or make it an easy target. We’ve started leaving lights on at night. And the television, suggesting that someone is awake at all hours. We do have a security light which goes on automatically when someone approaches the back porch, but is any of this enough?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Five Great Books Set in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a Balkan country, encircled by Romania, Serbia, Greece, Turkey and the Black Sea. So it’s no surprise that the territory has been fought over and occupied by many different invaders through the centuries, from Thracians, Persians, Celts and Macedonians in ancient times; as part of the Roman Empire in the first few hundreds of years AD; the Bulgars; the Byzantine Empire; the Ottomans; and as part of the Soviet Communist bloc after World War II.

Read the rest of this article on

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

"Children of the Silent Revolution" – documentary review

The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 - a pivotal event which led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War. Just one day later, the Bulgarian Communist Party ousted the country’s dictatorial leader Todor Zhivkov. The date is considered the beginning of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy. A change in power without bloodshed. “No violence, no victims.” A silent revolution.

For Bulgarians, doors to the West opened overnight. Travel was no longer restricted; the future was possible elsewhere in Europe and in America. How would Bulgarians handle their newfound freedom?

The documentary film “Children of the Silent Revolution” centers on a tightknit group of eight classmates from the central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak as they finish high school in 1995 and take their first steps into a rapidly changing world. They were “18-year-old kids, drunk with youth, in love with life, and eager to grasp their future.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Cow’s Tale - short story excerpt

Many of his fellow kibbutzniks thought it a bit odd that Shimmy, the veteran and gray-haired raftan, had a favorite cow. Shimmy had worked in the refet for as long as anyone could remember and had extensive knowledge of the cows in his care, their eating habits, and their milk production capabilities. But to think that of all the animals in the herd, one cow stood out as his favorite, and possibly received his special attention, was strange to say the least.

Mazal was a special cow, or at least that was what Shimmy argued in his defense. Just look at her, he would say, and one could not help but notice Mazal’s unique coloring. She was almost an albino with her alabaster flesh and the pink coloring around her mouth and eyes. She stood out in sharp contrast from the rest of the black and white spotted Holstein herd. Only a splash of darkened flesh thrown on one of her hind legs almost as an afterthought spoiled Mazal’s stark white appearance.

There was more than just her coloring that made Mazal special, Shimmy pointed out. Her name meant ‘luck’ and she had lived up to her namesake by becoming a very productive member of the herd. The udders of the white matron provided countless liters of pure white milk in each of the three daily milkings.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Review of 'An Elegant Theory' by Noah Milligan

You don't have to be a student of Quantum Physics to understand the underlying science of the novel An Elegant Theory by Noah Milligan (Central Avenue Publishing, November 2016).

Even if you failed Physics in high school, you’re likely to grasp the Many-Worlds theory suggesting that there is a parallel universe, or possibly many parallel universes, in which an infinite number of alternate realities exist. Each of these realities is like the one we are experiencing now, but the outcome of events is completely different.

Coulter Zahn, a PHD candidate struggling to prepare his dissertation, envisions his life unfolding in multiple directions simultaneously. In one, he makes a Nobel Prize-worthy scientific discovery that changes our concept of the universe. In another, his wife informs him that she is leaving him, a declaration that leads to tragic results.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

And Then My Sukkah Collapsed

I was full of enthusiasm and good intentions as I unpacked the pieces of the pre-fab sukkah I had purchased especially for the holiday. It should be a simple matter of fitting together the metallic poles and the do-it-yourself sukkah would be standing.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which Jews "dwell" - or at least eat their meals - during the week-long festival of Sukkot. The temporary status is reminiscent of the years of wandering that the Children of Israel endured on their way to the Promised Land.

Two hours after beginning to build our sukkah, the sukkah collapsed. Poles, and connecting pieces, plastic and metal, all lying on my patio at my feet.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

14 Reasons Why Poker Is Better Than Sex

Back in the day, my job was to promote the game of poker. I wrote content for poker websites, banners, press releases, blogs, newsletters, and emails, all of them encouraging players - veterans and newcomers - to play poker online. In hindsight this is kind of strange, as I don't play poker myself. In any case, I spent nearly 13 years writing about the game as part of my job in the marketing division of an Israel-based, international online gaming company ( a company that is no longer in business).

In order to spice things up a bit, I occasionally resorted to humor, to show the fun side of the game (as compared to the strategic side of trying to win, no matter what cards you are dealt). Shown here is the result of one of my favorite humorous projects - an infographic listing the "Top 14 Reasons Why Poker Is Better Than Sex". I came up with the concept and wrote the content. I apologize that I don't remember the name of the freelance graphic designer who brought my vision to a comical reality.

Even if you don't know the game of poker, I hope you will enjoy my humor!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Seven Rila Lakes from Above

I hiked to Bulgaria's Seven Rila Lakes this summer, and they were amazing! Even more stunning is seeing them from above. This footage of drone clips was taken by Sam Ozanne during his recent trek in the Rila Mountains, posted on YouTube by Aerial Adventures.

Originally posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

We Go to the Polls, Again

I usually refrain from writing about Israeli politics. I avoid discussing the subject but as Israelis go to the polls again*, for the second time this year, I can’t put my head in the sand to escape what’s going on. Every Israeli has a vote; every Israeli is responsible for the situation we’re in. Here is my viewpoint.

If you don’t know which party I’m voting for, you can see the ballot in the image (the photo was taken by a friend). Meretz is Israel’s left-wing, social-democratic and green political party. I’ve cast my vote for Meretz in every Israeli election that I’ve participated in.

I am comforted by the fact that as messed up as Israeli politics are, things are much worse in the US and the UK.

We will probably end up getting the extremist right-wing government we feared getting in April.

Bibi is not only fighting for his political survival. He is fighting to stay out of jail.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Stupidest Carwash I Ever Did

Cape Kamenjak – a coastline of coves and beaches at the southernmost tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula. I park our rental car and we stroll down to the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea. After an afternoon on the beach, we return to the car. It is blanketed in dust and sand.

I am embarrassed at how dirty the car is. How can I drive it like this? I don't want to be seen as a snobbish tourist with no regard for a vehicle’s appearance. I can’t return it to the agency in this condition!

We drive north, bound for the hilltop village of Motuvan. A small sign at the side of the road catches my eye. It’s a carwash! I slow down and pull in. The cost is only a few Croatian kuna so, why not? A few minutes later, we are back on the road in a sparkling clean car. Little did I know what awaited us.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Seven Rila Lakes and Many More

I first visited Bulgaria’s Seven Rila Lakes in June 2010, hiking through meadows lush with purple crocuses and across plains blanketed in six inches of snow. One moment the summer sun was on my back and the next I felt like an Arctic explorer. It was a surreal experience, certainly one of my best hikes ever.

My dream of going back to the lakes came true this year. I returned to Bulgaria eager to see more spectacular vistas, to climb more mountains, and to experience new adventures. I would not be disappointed.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Climbing Mt. Vihren

I had never heard the word ‘scrambling’ before. In the dictionary, ‘scrambling’ is defined as “to move or climb quickly but with difficulty, often using your hands to help you.” This was certainly the case when I struggled up the rough, steep slopes of Mt. Vihren, in Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains.

It was the second day of an eight-day "Hiking trek in the Pirin and Rila mountains”. The trip was organized by Traventuria, a Bulgarian company with a well-earned excellent reputation for its hikes and tours. The planned route for the first day had been changed due to heavy cloud cover on the higher peaks. Instead, we took an easier hike through pristine pine forests, at one point reaching Hut Yavorov at an elevation of 1,740 meters above sea level.

That first day’s hike was for me, anything but easy. Making my way up the forest paths, my leg muscles ached, the pain increasing the higher we climbed. “I think I bit off more than I can chew,” I said to myself. Was I really fit enough to do this? Was I capable of climbing Bulgaria’s highest mountains?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review of "The Burgas Affair" on Turning Another Page

Shuman brings two characters with differing backgrounds into a crime investigation for a common goal, to solve the case and keep the civility among their people. His characters are exceptional, with many faults and likable qualities as well.

The pace is steady and the story is action-packed, making it easy to get wrapped up in. While there are a few grammatical errors here and there, this should not hinder enjoyment of the novel at all. The author does inform the reader that the characters are purely fiction; however, the story is based on a true event.

Terrorism is an ever evolving threat to many countries and the information conveyed in this story is quite credible. Readers will achieve a clear understanding of the strength that many have in the face of fear and we will say that it is a story worth reading. For any who tend to lean toward thrillers and crime, this one may be of interest to you.

Read the full review on Turning Another Page.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Hiking in Bulgaria - Trek of a Lifetime

I first visited the Seven Rila Lakes in June 2010. To my amazement, I found myself walking in a few inches of snow alongside mountain meadows full of brilliant purple crocuses. At times I wore a T-shirt and at times I put on a long-sleeved shirt as I hiked through terrain that appeared to be lifted straight out of Antarctica. The views were stunning, the air was fresh, and despite some of the steep uphill slopes, I enjoyed every moment of it.

My friends and I only made it to the fourth of the seven lakes; it was frozen solid, even in the middle of June! The rest of the way was impassable because of the snow. I promised myself I would come back one day. I dreamed of taking another incredible Bulgarian hiking trek. And then, nine years later, my dream came true.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Going Back to Sofia

I make my way through Passport Control, fetch my suitcase, and catch a taxi. Minutes later I am speeding down the traffic-filled streets, behind the trams and the trolleybuses. The taxi crosses Eagles’ Bridge and we are on the cobblestoned streets of the center of the city. Moments later I am dropped off at my hotel.

I am back in Sofia and in many ways, I have come back home. I lived in this city for two years. I walked its streets, ate in its restaurants, admired its older buildings, and worked in its high-tech offices. I strolled through the city’s parks and visited its museums. This is a city I know well and I don’t need to consult a map to make my way around.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review of “Is There Anybody to Love You” by Kalin Terziyski

There’s nothing beautiful about the city of Sofia in Is There Anybody to Love You? by Kalin Terziyski (Dalkey Archive Press, December 2018; translated by David Mossop), a collection of short stories set in the Bulgarian capital. “The houses in Sofia are ugly because they’re old,” thinks the protagonist of the story ‘The Beggar’. “Their age doesn’t do anything to enhance their beauty, just destroys their rendering.”

In the title story it is constantly raining, while in ‘Problems with the Cleaner’, “the stifling heat of August lies as heavy as an old carpet.” The rain is so strong in the story ‘A Stroll through Space with Slight Deviations in Time’ that it seems “as if a cursed and evil decision had been made to engulf us in water.” Still, the heavy rainfall can also serve to refresh the air. After a downpour nearly inundates the city, “the sun even comes out—a strange, droll sort of evening sun—just before it hides behind the mountain peak of Vitosha to go on to someplace else.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

10 Reasons to Visit Bulgaria This Year

Bulgaria is not on the bucket list of most travelers and many would find it difficult to place the country on a map. This is a shame because Bulgaria is an amazing, underrated travel destination, one that is blessed with stunning natural beauty and an abundance of fascinating places to visit. Listed below are ten of the most compelling reasons to travel to Bulgaria this year.

Sofia. Many visitors start their exploration of Bulgaria in the country’s capital. Sofia has a very Eastern European ambience but everywhere there are signs of that it is quickly adapting to the modern era. Most of the main attractions are in the center, where the Roman ruins of Serdika can be seen in the metro stations. It is hard to miss the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built to honor Russia’s assistance to Bulgaria in its war of independence from the Ottomans in the 1870s. The stunning Jewish synagogue, the Banya Bashi mosque and the stunning Central Mineral Baths building are all within walking distance of each other.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review of ‘The Book of Jeremiah’ by Julie Zuckerman

When we first meet Jeremiah Gerstler, he is a mischievous eleven-year-old who sees no harm in releasing spotted frogs on his family’s seder table during the recitation of the Ten Plagues. But Jeremiah is certainly not the delinquent his school’s headmaster claims he is. He’s a boy after all. Although his parents would love to make him a mensch, Jeremiah will find his own way in life.

When we next meet Jeremiah, nearly seventy years have passed. An essay collection on the subject of the international political economy is being published in honor of his 80th birthday. The dedications in the book praise him, not for the academic achievements of his long career, but for the fact that he “does not tolerate academic laziness.”

“‘These you call dedications?’” Jeremiah fumes. The underlying message, he realizes, is that he is being called out for his “mercurial, volatile, and impulsive” nature. When we hear Jeremiah’s remarks at a celebratory gathering, we tend to believe that this description may be totally on the mark.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"The novel moves at a rollicking pace"

Based on the aftermath of the 2012 coach bombing at Burgas in Bulgaria, Ellis Shuman’s fictional thriller, The Burgas Affair (Createspace, 2018), takes us on a roller coaster ride through Bulgaria and the Black Sea coast, following the exploits of a joint Bulgarian/Israeli detective team in tracking down the perpetrators. As such, this is perfect beach reading if you are staying on the Black Sea coast this summer.

Read the full review on

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It’s Not Easy Writing a Bad Review of a Good Book

I was already reading The Overstory by Richard Powers (W. W. Norton & Company, April 2018) when it was announced that the novel had won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I was reading the book but I wasn’t enjoying it. But, seeing that it had just won a literary award, I was determined to read until the end and see if I could understand why it had won the prize.

After finishing the book, I wasn’t sure whether I would write a review of The Overstory. I hesitated, not wanting to write a bad review because as an author, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of criticism, if it’s not constructive. But the whole point of book reviews is to help a reader decide whether to read a book or not. To let a reader know what they are getting into. So as a service to readers, I will list a few of my impressions of this Pulitzer-winning novel.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The “Pogacha”

We are celebrating the birth of Nikola, the son of one of my wife’s colleagues. We are in the Sofia apartment where the newborn has been kept at home with his mother for 40 days, a period in which only the immediate family has been allowed to visit. But now the baby is no longer at risk from evil spirits. And a special round loaf bread has been baked for the occasion. The pogacha.

During our two-year stay in Bulgaria, we witnessed many of the local customs but this was the first time we had been invited into a Bulgarian home to be part of such an intimate ceremony. Usually, only women - family members and friends - are invited to this special ceremony. Traditionally men are supposed to leave the home, but on this occasion, I am invited to stay and along with a few other men, wait in a separate room.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Recent Reads - April 2019 edition

This year, winter in Israel was a long, drawn-out affair. After five years of drought, abundant rains fell, turning the hillsides and fields brilliant shades of green. Luckily, there are always good books to keep you company during the winter months. Listed below are some of the books I’ve read recently. I hope you will enjoy them as well!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 2018). How would you live your life if you knew the date of your death? This is the secret revealed in 1969 to the four young siblings of the Gold family. Simon is the youngest and he is the first to leave the family’s New York City home for the gay life of San Francisco. His departure is followed by Klara, who elects to become a Las Vegas magician. Daniel starts a career as a doctor in the American army and eldest sister Varya throws herself into the study of primates and research into longevity among human. Each of these stories is told in turn and we follow the siblings and their unfulfilled lives as they approach the date of their predetermined deaths. Well-developed characters and highly recommended!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Why I am voting Meretz, again

The main reason my vote went to Meretz in the past was its stance on the conflict with the Palestinians. Amazingly, that issue is barely mentioned in the run-up to the elections this year.

Looking through an archive on my blog I found an old article I wrote explaining why I was voting for the left-wing social-democratic and green political party. Although I agree with everything I wrote back then, the arguments I made seem so out of touch with today’s reality. And the reality right now is pretty bleak.

The outcome of the vote, I’m afraid, is already known. Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud party will again form a coalition with the rightwing parties. The next government will be extremist, a threat to our democratic state. Expect additional actions against Israel’s Arab minority; further concessions to the ultra-Orthodox; attacks on the justice system; and the annexation of Palestinian territories.

Meretz’s platform starts with the words, “The State of Israel is a democratic country, the country of the Jewish people and all its citizens.” Meretz works tirelessly to protect civil rights and promote social justice, including the rights of women, LGBTQ, retirees, national minorities, and people with limitations. These are worthy causes and I fully support them.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Late Night Encounter with My New Neighbors

I stared into the thick bushes and I could hear them. Shifting their weight, pawing the earth. Grunting. I couldn’t see them in the dark, or smell them, but I could sense their presence. There were two of them and they were large, and hairy, and very wild. And they knew I was nearby.

I had heard that a family of wild boars had made its home in the wilderness near my home on Moshav Neve Ilan. A shadow-filled photo depicted a late-night gathering of adults and piglets stomping around a traffic circle, sniffing at the earth. There were traces of them in my own garden – clumps of upturned dirt and hoofprints. But, for some strange reason, I never believed that they were real.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Jerusalem Is Much Harder to Run than Tel Aviv

My thigh muscles ache as I run up the cobblestoned ramp-like street leading to Jaffa Gate. I pass through the historic walls, breached for the visit of German Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898. I speed past the Citadel and down the narrow alleyways of the Armenian Quarter on my way to Zion Gate. I am running in the Old City of Jerusalem! I am running the Jerusalem Marathon’s 10-kilometer race and it isn’t easy!

I had challenged myself just three weeks before to run ten kilometers in the Tel Aviv Marathon. That was the first time I had ever run the distance in a real race. I have run 10 kilometers on a treadmill and on occasion I have made early morning 10-kilometer runs from my home in Moshav Neve Ilan to the entrance of the Arab village of Abu Gosh and back, but Tel Aviv was the first time I had ever competed with others.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review of 'The Art of Leaving' by Ayelet Tsabari

In the opening pages of her memoir, Ayelet Tsabari’s father promises that he will one day publish her book. Ayelet, ten-years-old at the time, “had been writing ever since [she] learned the alphabet.” Even at that young age, the author’s love for writing was developing into a passion that would nourish and sustain her on peripatetic travels around the world. It is during these travels that the author seeks to answer the question that never fails to accompany her - where is home?

In The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari (Random House, February 2019) we witness the transformation of the author’s childhood growing up in a large Yemeni family in a Tel Aviv suburb into a collection of prize-winning short stories. Also serving as background are her unruly service in the Israeli Defense Forces; her extended sojourns on the beaches of India and Thailand; her first marriage; and the awakening, later, of maternal instincts in Canada.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tel Aviv Marathon Man: I Run the 10 Kilometer Race

When I started exercising in earnest four years ago, I never imagined that one day I would be running the 10 Kilometer race in the Tel Aviv Marathon. In fact, back then I could barely walk 5 kilometers on a treadmill. A ten-kilometer race? It was unimaginable at the time and I can’t believe it now.

Last week I shocked my family and friends, and more importantly myself, when I finished the race’s course in a very respectable 62 minutes. I placed 99th in my age category (out of 252 runners) and in 6,346th place out of 14,227 runners of all ages in total. I have run faster 10-kilometers on a treadmill but this was the first time I had ever participated in a race of any kind.

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Modern World: Podcasts

Reflections on the 21st century, and how it took me so long to get here.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Podcasts have been around since 2003 but I only discovered them last year. Podcasts, if you’re not familiar with them, are primarily an episodic series of audio shows that can be downloaded for listening. Until last year I didn’t realize that I had a lot of spare time for listening. Now I listen to podcasts every morning as I drive to the train station and every evening as I drive home.

Yesterday, for example, I listened to podcasts about coral reefs, noise pollution, and how diseases could be detected at a very early stage with breath analysis. In recent weeks I have listened to podcasts explaining gravity, suggesting theories where the moon came from, and exposing the dangers of artificial intelligence. In other words, I have expanded my scientific knowledge.

But I also listen to podcasts purely for amusement. Like this morning’s podcast questioning whether the Loch Ness Monster is real. Or a podcast on the history of Ping Pong. And one asking the very important question - who invented lemonade?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ten Years After Bulgaria Began

It was on a surprisingly warm January day in 2009 when my flight landed at Sofia International Airport. It was on a freezing, snowy day just three weeks later that Jodie joined me in the Bulgarian capital. We were at the start of my job’s two-year relocation from Tel Aviv to Sofia. Our Bulgarian adventure had begun.

During those two years we traveled extensively around the country. We learned about Bulgaria's history and culture, we visited its villages, enjoyed its cuisine, and climbed its mountains. We studied the Bulgarian language (although we never learned to speak it), and made many friends.

Living in Bulgaria was for us a life-changing experience. As a couple, we had never previously lived outside Israel. We had never lived, for that matter, in a city. It wasn’t all that easy, living away from our family. But, those two years did open our eyes to so many things. We look back fondly at that period knowing that we took full advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we had to live in such a fascinating place.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

My Modern World: The Coffee Machine

Reflections on the 21st century, and how it took me so long to get here.

The last thing I wanted for my birthday was a coffee machine. Sure, the ads with George Clooney promoting Nespresso on television, on the Internet, in print newspapers, and even on billboards were enticing. But coffee machines are expensive and the fancy little coffee pods make drinking coffee almost an unaffordable extravagance. I could do without.

Or could I?

I am a three-cups-of-coffee-a-day person. I enjoy drinking coffee, but there is never enough time to fully appreciate the drink.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"The Burgas Affair" is absolutely gripping

"The Burgas Affair is absolutely gripping. There is tension from the very first page and it sucked me right in. However, there are many other elements beyond the terrorist attack story that I enjoyed. One was the parallel story of a crime boss’s vendetta against Boyko. I liked how one story affected the other, however, sometimes the stories were mixed up a bit too much. Nevertheless, it is through the vendetta story that the reader learns more about Boyko. At first, he comes across as the typical cop we often see in these types of books. He is also pretty pig-headed and sex driven. As the pages turn he softens and his hidden personality comes to light and he becomes much more likable."

Read the rest of the review on Joyful Antidotes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Devil's Throat Cave

I first learned about Devil's Throat Cave from the novels of Bulgarian bestselling author Ludmila Filipova. This is the cave through which Orpheus reportedly made his way to rescue Euridice from Hades, the ancient Greek god of the underworld. Far underground, the Trigrad River disappears in the deep caverns of the cave, never to emerge again into daylight. The cave gets its name from a profile of the devil, which is hard to notice even when pointed out.

The cave is open every day from 10am to 4pm and entrance is only with a guide, and most of the guides speak English. The entranceway is well lit, cool and dry, but then one reaches the main hall, a cavern so huge that Sofia's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral could easily fit inside with room to spare. With the thunder of the underground river pounding in one's ears, you reach a steep set of wet, concrete stairs leading to daylight high above. This is the halfway point – the weak at heart can go back to the cave's main entrance. I venture upwards, holding onto the handrail for dear life, as the steps are very slippery.