Hard to believe there are people out there who don’t appreciate a beautiful grey sky.
I grew up in Belfast in the 1970’s and 1980’s — not the best of times. The city was divided with neighbourhoods demarcated by natural barriers like the River Lagan or artificial ones like the many peace walls over 100 of which still stand.
Neighbourhoods were also marked out by flags, painted kerbstones and murals painted on gable end walls. Most of these murals ‘celebrated’ the alphabet soup of competing paramilitary organisations of the time. Later with the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland these murals designed in to intimidate and threaten became an unlikely tourist attraction for curious visitors.
While many of the paramilitary murals remain there have been attempts to persuade our resident artists to move away from depictions of masked men with guns and create a less divisive and less militant style of mural. On a recent trip back to the city I took a walk along the Newtownards Road which runs from the city centre to the eastern suburbs.
The lower part of the Newtownards Road in particular is a strongly Loyalist neighbourhood and has an abundance of murals both old and new. Here are a few of them photographed on a typically grey and wet Belfast day.
The Seven Rila Lakes are a two hour drive from Sofia in the Rila Mountains and one of the most popular tourist spots in the country. I’m told that in the summer months there are hour long waits for a seat on the chair lift that takes you up to the starting point for the trails that lead to the lakes. So we decided to do it in February instead.
At first it seemed like a bad idea. The sky was grey, the air was damp and it was cold. Sitting in the open chair lift gently shivering we did wonder if we had made a mistake. But after fifteen cold minutes or so we broke through the clouds to find a perfect blue sky and bright sunshine with snow on the ground and a nip in the air.
The lakes lie between 7,000 and just over 8,000 feet and a couple of hours of good hiking takes you past them and up to the higher elevations where there are good views over the lakes and beyond.
From the highest viewpoint it’s possible to see all the lakes but you can’t get them all in one photograph. This early in the year most of them were still frozen with only Babreka – the Kidney, for obvious reasons – having melted. Amazingly we had the whole place almost to ourselves. I think we saw no more than half a dozen other people while we were up there. Later in the day back at our cars under a grey sky it seemed like we had been in another world.
I’ve taken very few photographs of the Sofia Metro which is surprising given that metro systems are one of my favourite subjects. Of those few these are the only two I thought worth keeping. The first is the Serdika station in central Sofia, the second is one of the underground walkways at the NDK station.
The Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century by disciples of the hermit monk St Ivan of Rila who reputedly lived in a cave nearby. Some parts of the complex date from the 14th century but most of it, including the main church and the monks’ dormitories seen here, was constructed in the 19th century after a devastating fire destroyed much of the older complex. As well as its religious significance the monastery was a centre of Bulgarian identity, language and culture during the centuries of Ottoman occupation.
The Soviet War Memorial, or The Monument to the Soviet Army as it is properly known was built in 1954 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the ‘liberation’ of Bulgaria by the Red Army. There have been campaigns to have it demolished or at least removed but so far they have not succeeded. The inscription reads ‘For the Soviet Army of liberation from the grateful Bulgarian people.’