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Bulgaria

Bulgarian Easter Eve traditions

Veliko Tarnovo


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At about 23:45, after we'd returned from Ruse and rested a while, Emma and I walked round the corner to the cathedral. I'd heard about an Easter tradition Bulgarians have, so we wanted to have a look for ourselves!

Inside the cathedral there was no service going on, but it was filling up with people. A guy was selling candles inside the church. I looked in my wallet and saw I only had about 30 stotinki, enough for one of the smaller candles. I bought one but Emma couldn't because she didn't have any cash on her at all.

Soon the church was so crowded with people we could barely move. The church lacked pews, so we stood along with the others; as the clock ticked towards midnight I noticed an atmosphere of heightened excitement and expectation in the air. I wished I could take a photo, but didn't dare. Then, two minutes before midnight, the lights in the giant hanging candelabra turned off. The murmur quietened. At midnight two priests emerged from a door in the iconostasis with lighted candles and the people near to them crowded forward. Once people had lit their candles, they squeezed their way outside, where there were many other people waiting. I waited for the church to empty a bit and then as the priest moved toward the exit behind me, I lit my candle from his as he went past me. It almost immediately went out, however, so I had to re-light it from the candle of a lady ahead of me in the queue for the exit.

Meanwhile, Emma had left the church through another exit and gone round to the front, in order to see me coming out with my candle. She took a picture of me as I emerged. There was a tiny wooden stage outside the exit; the priests stood there, reaching down for people to light their candles, whilst those of us who'd been inside the church emerged and went straight down the steps on each side. Although I'd cupped my candle flame with my hands to prevent the wind blowing it out, after about a minute the wind succeeded. I re-lit it from the priest's candle, but then it went out again soon after.

Emma and I then went to the back of the crowd and just watched for a while. The priests chanted and swung incense whilst bells clanged.

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Eventually we wandered over to the side of the church which looks out over the same side of the hill as my flat does. Just as we got to the railing, fireworks started exploding over Tsarevets Fortress!

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Once the fireworks had finished, we turned round so we were facing the church again and watched people processing round it, anticlockwise, with their lit candles. We walked back round to where the crowd was and watched the crowd and the priests again for a bit. The bells started clanging a very particular tune over and over again. I hear the same bells clang this tune quite often - several times a week - but this time it lasted longer.

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Then we walked down the road to the plaza in front of Tsarevets, just to see what was going on there. There had been a service going on at the church tower there, and now hundreds of people were processing across the bridge with their candles. It was a grand and beautiful sight. There was a table set up and a woman standing next to it, handing out small plastic bags to the people as they emerged onto the plaza. She gave me and Emma ones too - they had a dyed boiled egg and a large slice of Easter bun inside. As she gave me the bag, she said 'Hristos vozkrese!' (Christ is risen!'). I couldn't remember what the official response was to that (apparently it's 'Vo eesteena vozkrese' - 'Truly he has risen'), so I just said 'blagodariya' (thank you) instead. Boiled and dyed/ painted eggs are cracked together after midnight, a bit like conkers; whoever's egg doesn't crack, gets good luck.

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We walked back to the flat after that, really happy about our experience. When we looked out of my windows, in the distance we could still see lights moving down the hill of Tsarevets and across the bridge.

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Posted by 3Traveller 15:08 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged cathedral sisters bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress traditional_customs easter_celebrations Comments (0)

The Blue Danube

Ruse


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Ruse lies on the River Danube, which is the border between Bulgaria and Romania. We parked in a side street and walked to Liberation Square; it was late afternoon by now but the sun was still out and the temperature was very pleasant. The café culture was clearly very strong here and we saw lots of Vienna-esque architecture. My guidebook evocatively describes Ruse as different to other Bulgarian towns, 'as if a little chunk of Vienna had broken off and floated down the Danube'.

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We walked through the square, passing by a lovely fountain (I wished I could get in and paddle) and flowerbeds just starting to come into bloom. Some of us got ice creams from a stand and then we sat down at an outside table at a café for coffee and Coke Zero.

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From the café we walked to the Danube and gazed across the river at Romania! The other side of the river was lined with green trees; it reminded me a bit of looking out over the River Guayas in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to the greenery on the banks of Isla Santay opposite. We hung around for ten to fifteen minutes before we had to return to the car. Just as we were about to head off, Emma spotted a snake in the water travelling along right by the edge. We thought it was trying to get onto land, but couldn't.

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It was still light at this point, but by the time we'd got back to the car and had navigated our way back to the main road through the one-way system, sunset was upon us.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:48 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged romania sisters snakes bulgaria explorations ruse river_danube Comments (0)

Basarbovo Rock Monastery

Basarbovo Rock Monastery


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After Ivanovo, Basarbovo Monastery also proved to be a very interesting and picturesque destination. This monastery grounds were quite small, with a white cliff on the left hand side and a narrow road next to a river on the right. Hewn into the white cliff were four or five little chapels; one of them had colourful frescoes painted onto the outside wall.

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We climbed the stone steps up the cliff into the main one. It was quite richly decorated, with some icons (including a marvellous one of St George & the Dragon) and a carved wooden iconostasis. We met two women from Kazakhstan - the first people from that country I've knowingly met.

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Outside the entrance to this chapel was a space, also hewn out of the cliff face, containing benches around the sides and some candle stands. On the other side of this space there was a tiny office selling little religious icons, fridge magnets, candles, etc.

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The other chapels, which we accessed by going outside the 'hallway' space, descending some of the cliff face steps and then going up again but to the right hand side, were more plain and were even smaller, but were still atmospheric. Each one of them had little icon cards leaning against a window, with small coins scattered in front of them on the stone windowsill. Two of the little chapels also had angels carved deeply into a wall.

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Once we'd returned to ground level, we wandered round the grounds. These were small, but very green and lovely. The outside of the church looked like it had been restored very recently and there was building work going on inside, so we couldn't enter. Behind the church there were steps up onto the outer wall, so we climbed up and walked along it and round to some more hollows in the cliff. These hollows had some wooden planks laid down on the ground; some had lots of chalk dust on them.

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As we explored, we heard the sound of bells once more - we looked down to see three black and white cows with cowbells, walking along the road with a cowherd.

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Before we returned to Veliko Tarnovo, we had one more destination to come... the town of Ruse, which lies on the River Danube.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:03 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art monastery sisters bulgaria icons explorations orthodox_church Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo

Rusenski Lom National Park


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From Cherven we moved on to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo! They are within a gorge inside the Rusenski Lom National Park, only a few miles from Cherven. Only the main church was open. It was set very high within a cliff - from the ground, we could see only a balcony. The path/ steps up to it was round the back of the outcrop.

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The interior of the church was very small, but the walls were covered in medieval frescoes. One outer wall of the church had been replaced with wood - apparently the rock on that side has collapsed in either the 6th or the 16th century. It felt so strange being inside a place that had been literally carved out of solid rock!

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Once we emerged from there, we walked on to another lookout point. On the way there we stopped to investigate some other caves you had to climb up into.

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Once we arrived at the lookout point - on the other end of the outcrop - we stopped to take in the fabulous view of hills, forest, valley and river.

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The sun still beat down. We heard a lot of goose- or duck-like sounds coming from the valley floor far below us - 'F' said that it was actually frogs making these noises! Apparently they are deceptively small considering the amount of noise they make.

There are other churches within the cliffs further along the valley, but the man in the main church had told us that they weren't open. We considered walking along the valley to the first one just to check, but then 'F' said that there was a rock monastery in Basarbovo, a village to the north, which would almost certainly be open. Instead of walking to the original one and risking that being closed and then it being past closing time for the other, we descended into the valley and back round to the car park to continue on to Basarbovo.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:14 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art sisters bulgaria explorations orthodox_church unesco_world_heritage_site cave_system Comments (0)

Medieval Town of Cherven

Cherven


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Today was a day of adventure which took us across the northern area of Bulgaria, between Veliko Tarnovo and the Romanian border. 'F' was kind enough to take us in her car - thanks so much!

The first place we went to was Cherven, the ruins of a medieval town on a hill dramatically set within a gorge on the edge of the Rusenski Lom National Park. Although the journey there took over an hour, time flew past, partly due to the entertaining conversation and partly due to the scenery and other things we saw out of the windows. We saw white storks, villages of terracotta tiled roofs, a tractor with such incredibly large wheels a Mini could have driven beneath the chassis, a shepherd with goats and sheep by the roadside and lots of nests, mistletoe or both in the trees. At one point we also saw some animals that looked a lot like gophers on the grass at the roadside. We stopped briefly so I could try to get some pictures, but they ran off or disappeared into holes too quickly for me to get any good shots.

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Cherven was amazing. As well as a fortified palace, the town contained a tower, many streets of houses, administrative buildings, churches, metalworking workshops and underground water passages.The weather was perfect and we all got a little bit sunburnt. Lizards skittered from hole to hole in the wall foundations.

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Needless to say, the views were absolutely stunning. We looked out over the modern village of Cherven, the river and all the enscarpments beyond. There was a very steep drop from some of the rocks round the edges - not for people with a fear of heights!

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There was a café, souvenir stand and some toilets at the foot of the cliff, so once we'd wandered around the ruins for a long time, we descended and had some lunch at the café. We shared some kyufte (flattened meatballs), kebapche (similar to kyufte, but shaped like a long sausages), shopska salad (the classic Bulgarian salad, made from cucumber, tomato, raw onion and grated cirene cheese), chips and some parlenka (a type of flatbread with herbs and salt sprinkled on top). I also walked up and down the river at the foot of the outcrop.

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While we were eating, we suddenly heard the sound of clanging bells... we looked up to see a goatherd walk past with a herd of five or six goats. Each one wore a cowbell (or should it be a goatbell?). After another twenty or thirty minutes, we saw the same man and goats come down the steps in the cliff. 'F' said they had probably gone up there to graze.

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Next stop - the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo!

Posted by 3Traveller 11:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged birds lizards sisters bulgaria storks explorations fortifications bulgarian_cuisine cherven traditional_customs Comments (0)

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