My first impressions of Pernik, a post-industrial mining town situated just thirty kilometres out of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, are not very inspiring; large, abandoned warehouses and old Eastern Block apartment towers are pretty much all we see as the traffic crawls towards the town. Crowds of people have already discarded their cars and are marching along through the cold weather. We follow suit, ignoring the traffic police and finding an empty space to park on a bit of wasteland, not yet feeling the carnival atmosphere we’d been expecting.
But as we walk closer, passing lines of parked-up coaches and stragglers making last-minute amendments to their costumes, we suddenly hear traditional Bulgarian music being played out with the intermingling of what we later find out are the clattering of cow bells. When we turn the corner, the imposing Communist-style buildings that surround the centre’s square fade into the background, and we cram into place alongside thousands of people assembling for the procession.
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