Thursday, 24 August 2017

One year later: Sketches of Europe's Northwest

Precisely one year ago I embarked upon one of the most exciting trips in my life. I called it "Sketches of Europe's Northwest" and published something between a photostory and a diary on Facebook, in the context of Brexit. At long last I found the time to compile all Facebook posts and Instagram pictures from the trip in one place and I'm offering them here. It was an unforgettable experience. Maybe it is even better that I am putting this together now, one year later, because it gave me the chance to go over these moments again. Captions are above each image. Click on image for larger version. Enjoy!

Travelling to Paris, France from Sofia International Airport.
19 August 2016 · Sofia

I am off to Paris, Belfast, Bristol and Cornwall on a ten-day trip which I am dubbing #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest. I am going to cross from the hot, dry, yellow, azure, summery Southeast of the continent to the lush, green, grey, humid and refreshing Northwest. Two diametrically opposed but complementary faces of our cherished common European space - now rattled by a perfect storm of internal and external challenges.

The issue of Brexit cannot but be my silent companion along the way. After all, it is one of the secret reasons for which I chose to head northwest in the midst of an exuberant Balkan summer. Does Paris actually care about Brexit; is it simply gloating or it can’t wait to assume financial powers from London? What about the future of the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland? Do unionists in the country regret voting to remain in the EU, now that there is renewed talk of a united island by nationalists? The Southwest of England: Bristol, home of some of my favourite musicians, massively elected to Remain (62%); nearby Cornwall saw a 56% Leave vote. Why so?

Apart from just exploring novel and long-yearned corners of Auld Europe, the restless type that I am, it is the simple, human answers to the above questions that I will be looking for, in word and in image. Stay tuned!


Checked in to Paris, France.
19 August 2016
Добро утро, Благоевград! [Good morning, Blagoevgrad! - an allusion to an old joke among Blagoevgrad people that their city is nothing less than Paris]

Le Marais, Paris
20 August 2016
Roofs of #LeMarais I. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Paris #France


Le Marais, Paris.
20 August 2016
Roofs of #LeMarais II. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Paris #France


20 August 2016 · Paris, France
The living room of a Le Marais student flat on Saturday morning :D


Centre Pompidou.
20 August 2016
Roofs of #LeMarais III. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Paris #France


Centre Pompidou.
20 August 2016
Roofs of #LeMarais IV. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Pompidou #Paris #France


Centre Pompidou.
20 August 2016
Neighbours. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Pompidou #Serbia #Italy #Paris #France


Le Tir Bouchon.
20 August 2016
The corkscrew. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #LeMarais #Paris #France


Chez Georges.
20 August 2016
The invitation. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #ChezGeorges #wine #StGermain #Paris #France


Le Consulat.
20 August 2016
No #France without the frog legs. Snails went yesterday. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Paris #Monmartre


Sacre Coeur.
21 August 2016
View from #SacreCoeur. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Prisma #redhead #Monmartre #Paris #France



Monmartre.
21 August 2016
The invitation II. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Monmartre #Paris #France



Trocadero - Eiffel Tower - Paris.
21 August 2016
The symbol. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Prisma #Mondrian #Paris #France



Seine River.
21 August 2016
Exchange. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Seine #Paris #France


Seine River, Paris Fance.
21 August 2016
Toward the north bank. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Seine #Paris #France


Pont Neuf, Paris.
21 August 2016
Islanders. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Seine #Isledecité #Paris #France


Arc De Triomphe, Champs Elysees.
21 August 2016
The #Defense. Awaiting new powers from London. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Paris #France


Place Concorde.
21 August 2016
The ship's wheel. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Concorde #Paris #France


Rue Montorgueil.
22 August 2016 · Paris, France
This is what wine can look like in a #Thai street food joint in #Paris. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #LeMarais #France


22 August 2016 · Paris, France · 
Charming Saint Denis street in #LeMarais


Marche D'Aligre.
22 August 2016
Never enough. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #cheese #Paris #France


Le Baron Rouge.
22 August 2016
Wall of splendour. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #wine #LeBaronRouge #Paris #France


Jardins Du Château De Versailles.
22 August 2016
Circles. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Vesailles #France


Jardins Du Château De Versailles.
22 August 2016
Triangles. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Vesailles #France


Versailles, France.
22 August 2016
The #Sunday street. #Versailles #France #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest


Rue Des Lombards 75004 Paris.
23 August 2016
Павето. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Paris #France


N2 Extreme Gelato Paris.
23 August 2016
THE #icecream in #Paris. #N2 #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #LeMarais #France #Australia


Ô Chateau.
23 August 2016
Still life. #Paris #wine #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #France


Esplanade de La Défense.
23 August 2016
Bike & Arc. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #LaDefense #Paris #France


Paris La Défense.
23 August 2016
Coffee break. #LaDefense #Paris #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #France


Travelling to Belfast, United Kingdom from Paris Aéroport - Charles de Gaulle (CDG).
23 August 2016 · Roissy-En-France, France

Off to the capital of Northern Ireland, the next stop in my trip across Northwestern Europe.

On Paris: The city is in a bland, even lethargic August holiday mood. The first time I was here was in an October, and it was much livelier. The weekend and especially Sunday saw empty streets and closed shops. A wine shop dealer told me it was not unusual for August (of course the tourists around the hotspots were abundant). Yet the city was powerful and rewarding as always. We found exactly the spots we needed, from cosy hidden streets to wine bars to open markets.

As for Brexit, my secret obsession, the little impression I have is Parisians don't really care; this was my first hypothesis at the outset. They are so absent-minded and neglige at this time of the year that I suspect it's not only Brexit they don't care about. Our student hosts at the airbnb flat watched the Olympics and drank till late taking about much more exciting things. The bars, unlike those in Britain and the U.S., are not a place for random discussions with strangers. Parisians adore eating and having fun out, but keep strictly to themselves. I wouldn't dream of spoiling this sacred mood. Can't wait now for my first pint on the Green Island.


Donegall Place.
24 August 2016 at 18:12 ·
Loverly Belfast.


Belfast, United Kingdom.
25 August 2016
Red & Brown. #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland


Belfast, United Kingdom
25 August 2016
Europe in our minds: #Europa hotel & Cafe Continental. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Belfast #NorthernIreland


Titanic Memorial, Belfast City Hall.
25 August 2016
#Titanic. #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland


Harlem Belfast.
25 August 2016
The Irish #breakfast I. #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland


Harlem Belfast.
25 August 2016
The Irish #breakfast II. #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #craftbeer #Hilden #NorthernIreland


Cathedral Quarter, Belfast.
25 August 2016
Streetpub. #DukeOfYork #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland


Peace Wall, Belfast.
25 August 2016
The "Peace" wall dividing West #Belfast into southern Nationalist/Catholic & northern Loyalist/Protestant areas. The former is around #FallsRoad, the latter around #ShankillRoad #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland


Falls Road, Belfast.
25 August 2016
The Nationalists I. #murals #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland #Ireland #FallsRoad


Falls Road, Belfast.
25 August 2016
The Nationalists II. #murals #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland #Ireland #FallsRoad


Falls Road, Belfast.
25 August 2016
The Nationalists III. A touch of #socialism and #Basque solidarity. #murals #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland #Ireland #FallsRoad


Shankill, Belfast, United Kingdom.
25 August 2016
The Unionists I. #murals #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland #ShankillRoad


Shankill, Belfast, United Kingdom.
25 August 2016
The Unionists II. #murals #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland #ShankillRoad


Shankill, Belfast, United Kingdom.
25 August 2016
The Unionists III. #murals #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland #ShankillRoad


Belfast, United Kingdom.
25 August 2016
Eternal #Balkans. #Belfast #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #NorthernIreland


Travelling to Bristol, United Kingdom from Belfast International Airport.
25 August 2016 · Belfast, United Kingdom

"All of the North voted to stay," said the lady at the Sinn Fein office (and memorabilia shop) in Falls Rd, where the Republican, Catholic residents of West Belfast live. She meant "all of Northern Ireland," and was not quite right because seven out of 18 constituencies here voted to Leave the EU. But 11 voted to Remain, or 55.8% of total ballots cast, with places like West and South Belfast electing by around 70% to stay. And it was not only the nationalists who voted that way - a large part of the unionists of Belfast did the same.

A bloke at a pub in the Cathedral Quarter told me the 1.5 million people of Northern Ireland, or Ulster (as unionists call it) feel like hostages to 54-million England about almost every decision. So it was with the EU referendum too, when the English Midlands had their suffocating say. He also said the Irish here were not into politics very much but could feel the positives of EU membership: much of the development and refurbishment taking place across Belfast was powered by European money, he said, and I could see construction sites everywhere. I also read in the local press that Northern Irish farmers feel particularly vulnerable after the Brexit vote (in the same paper there was a piece quoting amazing figures, which we Eastern European societies must only admire and try to emulate: 400 Irish emigrants are returning to their home island every week!).

Belfast is a lovely, honest and intriguing city, especially for those from the Balkans like myself who know the political and social divisions of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. The streets and quarters have a special feel to them, the pubs are fascinating and welcoming and the people are amiable and open. (Please don't go to the Titanic museum, though!)

I'm off now to England's Southwest for another intake of this gorgeous United Kingdom.


Bristol, United Kingdom.
26 August 2016
Terraces. I was told Europe's steepest street is here in #Bristol not in Sarajevo. #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #england



Devon.
26 August 2016
On the train to #Cornwall. #Devon #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Sharps #ale #beer




Cornwall.
26 August 2016
Welcome to the Shire. #Cornwall #England #UK #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest




Gyllyngvase Beach.
27 August 2016
"It's a lovely day, isn't it?" #Gyllyngvase #beach #Falmouth #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




Falmouth, Cornwall.
27 August 2016
Festive. #Falmouth #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




Falmouth Harbour.
27 August 2016
Harbour I. #Falmouth #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




Falmouth Harbour.
27 August 2016
Harbour II. #Falmouth #Cornwall #England #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #UK




Falmouth Harbour.
27 August 2016
Harbour III. #Falmouth #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




The Wheelhouse Crab and Oyster bar!.
27 August 2016
Cornish lures. #Falmouth #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




The 'Front.
27 August 2016
Cornish power. #TheFront #Cornwall #ale #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




Falmouth, Cornwall.
27 August 2016
The gatherers. #Falmouth #Cornwall #England #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #UK




Gyllyngvase Beach.
27 August 2016
The conversation. #Falmouth #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




The 'Front.
28 August 2016
Real #ale. #CAMRA #Cornwall #England #UK #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest




River Fal.
28 August 2016
Toward the castle. #RiverFal #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Falmouth #England #UK




St Mawes Harbour.
28 August 2016
Destination. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




Saint Mawes.
28 August 2016
Hobbiton-on-Sea. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




The Idle Rocks.
28 August 2016
Cornish nibbles. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK #crab #IdleRocks




St Mawes Harbour.
28 August 2016
Retro. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #Shell #England #UK




Saint Mawes.
28 August 2016
The beach. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




St Mawes Castle.
28 August 2016
Watchtower. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




St Mawes Harbour.
28 August 2016
The fishing team. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK




Saint Mawes.
28 August 2016
A break. #StMawes #Cornwall #SketchesOfEuropesNorthwest #England #UK



Travelling to Sofia, Bulgaria from Bristol Airport.
28 August 2016 · Bristol, United Kingdom

On my way back home after a thrilling Cornwall and a short Bristol experience. I will never forget the honest, overwhelming joy that exuded from every single person on the crowded Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth, Cornwall, on that warm and sunny Friday in late August. I finally realised, after years of exchange with the English and months of living in London or just roaming the English cities, what really makes them happy: a beautiful summer day on the beach, the English beach. I cannot but admire these honest human feelings.

I had yearned to visit the English countryside for years, and Cornwall was my prize. Amazing beaches and hilly land with ups and downs, charming thatched houses as if taken from a Tolkien story, really friendly people, the best cider I have tried (sorry, Ireland!), strong ales and delicious food - especially the Cornish crab and pasties. Most of the tourists, say 99%, were English. It was a German and a French group that we encountered and us that made the difference. I really hoped to hear the Cornish language at play but our airbnb hosts said it was not generally used and could be heard only in club gatherings.

Bristol is a place to which I must devote a separate trip. I fell for it but we only spent one night and then two hours on our way back. Not enough, not even close.

We talked politics of course. It struck me how pro-European Falmouth, the town which was our base, was. Our hosts were art people with leftist inclinations: we certainly didn't agree on Corbyn's idea of Labour but we did agree on Europe. They said Falmouth voted to Remain. I saw an EU flag waving in front of an old semi-detached in the town centre.

My conclusion after this entire trip is that more and more people in our western societies are falling hostages to the primitive, irrational thinking of those that are angry. I don't think Britain is happy about the outcome of the referendum vote. Even small communities like Falmouth, Cornwall, have been explicit about their political preferences in a sea of declared pessimists. It is ironic that we in Bulgaria have been hostages of a similar, angry mass for a decade and a half now. Why is this repeating in established democracies? Do the majorities of the 20th and early 21st centuries, most of them middle class and working people, now perceive themselves as disenfranchised minorities? I am inclined to think so vis-a-vis the Brexit vote and the Trump phenomenon. I think political parties in the West must reform and redraw their priorities urgently. Otherwise they will just remain idle respondents to a major societal change. I don't think Corbyn, Podemos or AfD are the answer.

Dear Sofia, I'm coming home.