Restaurant Vodenitzata
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We Didn't Start the Fire Dancing
I never thought I'd actually see someone walk across a pile of hot coals--and I'm still not sure if I did. (Doesn't it defy science?) The Bulgarian tradition of nestinarstvo harkens back to a pagan ritual with bagpipes and processions, designed to ensure a village's good fortune. The ceremony culminated in barefoot fire-walking by an entranced leader. At Vodenitzata, a folk restaurant outside the city center of Sofia, nestinars reenact the ancient ceremony. As with the ticketed performances of whirling dervishes in Turkey or Samoan drum circles in Hawaii, I'm skeptical if those enacting a "sacred rite" can really get into it with a throng of goofball tourists surrounding them. That said, it preserves culture and illuminates the past--even if more people are Instagramming than transcending in the moment. I still don't know how or if these nestinars really walked on burning embers, but I watched the coals angrily glow a neon red and then a barefoot man trod across them. The wow factor is high and at least worth the price of admission.
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