ISSUE 12, January 2005

Kitchener of Khartoum: Mason extraordinary
Travel: Where east meets west
Veteran Honoured: Old soldier remembered
Royal Masonic Family: The Six Masonic Sons of George III, Part 1
Supreme Grand Chapter: Speech of the Pro First Grand Principal and, Report of the Committee of General Purposes
  Quarterly Communication: Address of the Pro Grand Master and, Report of the Board of General Purposes
Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London: London's first consecration
Soccer: Man in the Middle
Wales: Joseph Parry - flawed genius?
Library & Museum: Donations gather pace
Education: Dates for your diary and, Planning a 'white table' and, Looking to the future and, Time marches on
Grand Charity: General meeting and non-Masonic grant list
Masonic Charities: Reports from the four main charities
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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The museum at Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest town, dating back more than 3,000 years
Rila Monastery, about two and a half hours drive from Sofia, is a World Heritage site

© All photographs courtesy of the Bulgarian Tourist Board, except where noted

Where east
meets west

It is well worth visiting Bulgaria before it joins the European Union, as one of the delights of the country is that the prices for many things are very cheap. In a good restaurant you can expect to pay an average of 3 for a main course, which will be of a good quality, tasty and interesting.
     There are also plenty of eating places where the dishes are even cheaper. A drinkable Bulgarian wine will set you back around 5.50. Clothes, too, unless imported, are very reasonably priced. I tried on a nice trouser suit for 60. However, the downside is that, except in hotels and some restaurants, credit cards are not accepted.
     Bulgaria shares borders with Greece, Turkey, Romania, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and therefore its buildings and history has benefited from various cultures. As Turkey is both European and Oriental, its influence can be seen in the country's architecture.
     Liberated from communism in 1989 the country was, until then, firmly integrated into the Eastern block with no private enterprise. Although this is slowly changing, my first impression was still that of an Eastern European country.
     English is taken at school as a second language so many of the younger people now speak the language. However, the street names are only in Bulgarian, which can be a problem as they use the Cyrillic rather than the Latin alphabet.
     Even with a map, unless you can read the language, you will need to keep asking where you are. The hotel system, too, is different to ours with their four-star properties on a par with our three, and the five-star our four. New properties, however, such as the centrally located Crystal Palace in Sofia, are being built with the same expectations and standards as ours.
     A girlfriend and I started our visit in Sophia, the capital, a town established in Roman times, and shielded by two mountains. We were fortunate enough to have a guide, Iliya, who had an excellent command of English. A mine of information, he was versed not only on the country's history but also its culture.
     During World War Two there was no fighting in Bulgaria, and the only part bombed was in Sofia in 1944, enabling a lot of historic buildings to remain intact.
     The Sheraton Hotel is centrally located for the shops, and both the historical and government buildings, and is therefore used as a landmark. Our visit took us to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the largest Christian Orthodox cathedral on the Balkan Peninsular, holding up to 5,000 people.
     Built in three different styles, the interior walls are adorned with frescoes.
     The majority of the population are Greek Orthodox, although all faiths are permitted to practice. Nearby was a Sephardic synagogue built in Spanish Moorish style, as well as a Sultan-style mosque.
     In front of the cathedral is the largest flea market in the country, selling everything from jewellery, icons, old instruments and cameras. What was a bit disconcerting was that there were pieces emblazoned with Nazi swastikas as well as former Soviet army hats and medals.
     At the administrative headquarters of the President, there are two guards inside and two outside. They wear the uniform of the freedom fighters who fought against Turkish rule between 1396 and 1878, with their hats embellished with a goose feather.
     The country is a parliamentary republic, so that although their President is Head of State, the executive power lies with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, who are elected by the people. Interestingly, the current President, who is also elected, is the present heir to the throne if there had been a monarchy.
     Within the area there are natural mineral springs which bubble up at 58 degrees, with numerous outlets, and Sofia's residents can be seen here filling up their bottles. Throughout our walk we were able to see various sites dating back to Roman times. In the metro, for example, are the ruins of the former Roman fortified walls built between one and four AD, which have been renovated.

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