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Entries about art

Mum returns to the UK, I stay on in Sofia

Sofia


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We went down to breakfast at Hotel Niky at 8 and after that finished we walked to Sveti Sofia church, the oldest church in Sofia. It's been restored many times but you can still see foundations of its earlier incarnations in the crypt (some through glass panels in the floor).

On the way there, however, we came across a tiny, circular church with Roman remains outside it. It was in a courtyard that had the President's Building on one side. We went inside the outer, front part of the church, but didn't go into the inner bit because we were in rather a hurry. I made a mental note to come back again later or tomorrow for a proper look. After looking at the Roman remains for a little bit we walked on under the arch at the side of the President's Building, past the Archaeology Museum and onwards. We passed by St Nicholas Russian church, distinctive with its onion-shaped golden domes.

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Once we got to Sveti Sofia church we bought some thin beeswax candles from a stall in the front section and then went into the main part of the church. We were transported with delight... the walls and ceiling were made of brick, but the bricks were very thin ones and you could tell that some of them were very old. In the inside of the big dome in the middle of the ceiling, we could see the bricks going round in circles. Icons and murals or saints adorned the walls.

At 10 o'clock the stairs down to the crypt opened and we went down to explore. We looked round lots and lots of very old brick and stone tombs and sarcophagi from the Roman city of Serdica, which stood where Sofia stands today. One or two of them had wall paintings inside and in one room there was part of a mosaic. We also saw the remains of the earlier Christian churches that stood on the site of the present-day (but still very old) church. We both thought it was really interesting and were glad we'd come.

We left the church quickly, however, because as soon as we'd come back up from the crypt we saw that while we'd been downstairs, a coffin had been placed in the nave, in front of the iconostasis. A group of schoolchildren were entering through the main door. We lit and placed our candles before leaving through one of the side doors.

We walked to the President's Building as quickly as we could, in order to catch the changing of the guard, but we just missed it. Once we got back to Boulevard Vitosha, we bought some more little cakes from the same shop we'd been to the day before; 250g of florentines, 2 of the long syrupy batter things and 2 candied orange slices dipped in chocolate. We didn't eat any of them yet, though, because we stopped at a café for a coffee and a big chunk of Black Forest Gateaux. Somehow Mum ended up with a cup full of hot milk instead of a coffee with milk, but she said she didn't mind! I had an espresso.

Back at Hotel Niky we ordered a taxi, packed up our stuff, ate the orange slices dipped in chocolate, checked out and took the taxi to the airport. After Mum had dropped off her hold bag she had a decaf cappuccino at a cafe and we looked without success for some batteries for me (I'd forgotten to bring my battery charger with me). Then she went past a checkpoint and up an escalator to the bag checks and duty free. I watched her go out of sight and then took a taxi back into town.

After leaving Mum at the airport, I took a taxi back into town and walked to Nightingale Hostel, where I was to spend the following two nights. Whilst checking in and paying, I met a chap from Ipswich who had just come from Budapest. He told me that people arrive in Budapest intending to spend only a couple of days there, but end up staying for weeks or even months! Budapest was already on my priority-to-visit list. I'm definitely going to visit after I finish in Bulgaria next summer.

A couple of jobs needed doing after that; topping up my Bulgarian phone at a Vivacom shop and getting hold of some AA batteries that worked. Once I'd done those, I walked to Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.

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The interior was very impressive, with massive candelabras hanging from wonderfully painted ceilings.

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Only one of the candelbras was lit, so most of the ceiling was left in gloom; the effect of the lighting was very atmospheric. In front of an icon near to the front, I saw a relic. I think it was a small piece of bone. Then I paid six leva to go down into the crypt next door and look round the wonderful collection of historic, colourful icons.

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It was late afternoon by now, so once I had finished gazing at icons, I walked back to the hostel. I missed the hourly changing of the guard outside the President's Building again, but never mind; I knew I'd get more chances the next day. On my return, I sat up in bed with a tub of vegetable and mayo mixture and a cheesy bread I'd bought at the airport earlier, which turned out to have vegetables and chopped-up pieces of frankfurter inside. I read the rest of 'Travels in England in 1782', by Karl Philipp Moritz, on my Kindle. He went to London, Windsor, Oxford and Derbyshire - fascinating.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:10 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art airport cathedral hostel sofia bulgaria mum icons orthodox_church roman_remains boulevard_vitosha Comments (0)

Arbanasi: Absolutely fantastic experience!

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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After work today I went on a trip to a little village called Arbanasi, near to Veliko Tarnovo. I'd been invited there for lunch by one of my colleagues and her partner. Arbanasi is famous for having lots of very old churches with beautiful frescoes. One of my students raved about it to me only a couple of days ago.

We had lunch at a really cosy restaurant; they plied me with food and who was I to refuse? First of all we had garlic flatbreads with balls of a more solid version of tzatziki; then everything else all arrived at once. In Bulgaria, like in Ecuador, they bring food out as soon as it's ready, not in any particular order. I had tarator (I have that as a starter at every restaurant I go to, if I see they have it); roasted red peppers coated in a very light batter and stuffed with vegetables and white cheese; chicken kavarma, which is chicken and vegetable stew cooked and served in a small-ish clay pot; and some sautéed potato chunks.

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After a bit of a break we moved outside to have a drink and some dessert, before walking round part of the village. We went into one of the most amazing and unusual churches I've ever seen; the Church of the Nativity of Christ. It is a very old church, at least five centuries old, a museum now rather than one used for worship. From the outside it almost doesn't look like a church at all, a deliberate ploy apparently because it was built when the Ottoman Turks ruled Bulgaria and only allowed the locals to practise their own religion if they were very discreet about it. From the outside it looks a lot like an old stone barn, with some modern concrete supports, but step inside and you are transported. The interior is one of the most fabulous things I've ever seen... and I say this knowing I have been lucky enough to have seen many amazing buildings around the world.

The building is split into five rooms (two of which we couldn't enter but could look into) with ceilings that are very low for a church. All of the walls, ceilings and wooden roof beams are completely covered in very colourful frescoes of religious imagery - religious scenes and Orthodox saints with gold leaf haloes. In some places there was painted some Middle Bulgarian text. Round the walls of two of the rooms there are what I think are choir stalls and in the main room a wooden bench runs round each side. In one of the rooms there is a magnificent handcarved iconostasis (a wall of icons and paintings). I took some photos of the church interior but they don't do it justice at all. The batteries died before I could try taking better ones and I didn't have any spare batteries on me.

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I loved the beauty of it all and the historic atmosphere, both of which I think were enhanced even further by obviously ancient, uneven, thick wooden doors and door frames. Outside the churchyard there were one or two streetsellers with stalls selling handpainted icons, some antiques and large pieces of handmade lace. Apparently Bulgaria is known for its lace.

There are many other historic churches with frescoes in Arbanasi, plus a beautiful house museum and at least three working historic monasteries. The village is at the top of one of the enscarpments you can see from VT, so there are some lovely views. It's so handily placed in regards to VT, I can tell I will go back many times before I leave Bulgaria next summer!

In the evening, back in VT, I went out for a snack and a drink or two with most of the other teachers. This has become a regular Saturday evening thing.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:53 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art museum bulgaria icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church bulgarian_cuisine arbanasi Comments (2)

Veliko Tarnovo: Tsarevets Fortress, Bulgarian cuisine & more

Veliko Tarnovo


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I've had a lovely few days here since my arrival on Monday. The sun has shone, I've had a lovely wander round the town and I still cannot get over how amazing the view is from my bedroom and kitchen windows, the terrace outside and the road in front!

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On Thursday afternoon I visited Tsarevets Fortress, a restored medieval stronghold that was the seat of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1393. The bridge to the fortress hill is only five minutes' walk from my flat! It was perfect weather - barely a cloud in the sky - and as I walked across the bridge and then around the fortress I felt so happy and relaxed. It felt quite surreal to know that although I probably looked like a tourist, I actually live here. I could see where I live, a building just beyond the light turquoise domes of an Orthodox church, with a cobbled road below it and then the river Yantra flowing even further below that, at the bottom of the valley.

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There are three big hills in Veliko Tarnovo; one has the fortress on it, one (where I live) contains most of the town, and the third has part of the town running round some of the base, some medieval foundations/ ruins further up (apparently they are part of the fortress too, despite being on a different hill) and then forest at the top. Beyond these hills there are forested mountains/ even higher hills/ enscarpments - some of them have a layer of bare rock below their summits.

Anyway, back to the fortress... the information on the signs came in Bulgarian, Russian and German, but no English beyond the names of the different sections of the fortress. The area of the fortress is pretty wide, because in its pomp it contained many separate buildings; 18 churches, monasteries, the royal palace, the Patriarchate tower right at the top of the hill, craftsmen's workshops and so on. Of most of these, only the foundations and parts of the walls remain, but the Patriarchate was completely reconstructed in 1981. The inner walls are covered in modernist frescoes of religious and historical subjects. For an extra 2 leva I was taken upstairs to the top of the tower for even more spectacular views over Veliko Tarnovo and the surrounding countryside. I could still see my bedroom windows, on the hill opposite.

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Once I left the Patriarchate, came down the hill and turned right to wander round the rest of the fortress, the number of other people gradually tailed away until finally I was the only person around. I looked round the ruins of the palace and passed through/ around many foundations of very small churches.

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Eventually I reached an overhanging rock nicknamed the 'Execution Rock' because traitors used to be pushed off it to their deaths in the river far below. All this while I kept my eyes out for sightings of lizards lying on top of the sun baked foundation walls, because a sign had told me to look out for reptiles, but I only saw one very small brown one. There were more wonderful views here and as I walked round the outer wall to exit where I'd come in.

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On Thursday evening I was taken out for dinner with the other teachers at Han Hadji Nikoli Restaurant. This turned out to be in a historic building that used to be an inn and now contains a small museum and an art gallery as well as the restaurant. It lies on a cobbled street within the historic craftsman's quarter where some craftsmen still work. It's within five minutes' walk from my flat. I had baked trout with almonds for my main (it came with sautéed potatoes and onions) and créme brulée for dessert. I was also offered some plum rakia, a very strong traditional fruit brandy, but I'm afraid I didn't like it at all. I was hoping it would taste quite sweet and very fruity, like cherry brandy or like the Portuguese ginjinha and fruity Cape Verdian firewater that Dave and I tried in Lisbon, but it didn't. Oh well, at least I tried it! I also tried some 'liqueur wine', made from a type of grape that the Romans grew, and loved it. Now that was sweet and fruity. I'll definitely bear that in mind for future visits! After dinner most of us went to 'Tequila Bar' for a couple of drinks.

Speaking of food, I've tried 'Tarator' for the first of what I know will be many times; this is a cold, yoghurt-based soup made from unsweetened yoghurt, cucumber chunks, garlic, dill and very finely chopped nuts. In the same meal I also had a chicken dish I can't remember the name of but was cooked and served in a clay pot. It was basically chicken stew with sliced tomato and mushrooms, with cottage cheese-like white cheese and a fried egg on top. With a dessert, the whole lot came to nearly 15 leva - just over £6! Everything is so cheap here.

I bought some vegetables at a fruit and veg market on Wednesday; although I hadn't intended to get quite so many, I ended up with a sackful of red peppers! Peppers and aubergines seem to be the main vegetables in season here right now. I don't think I've ever seen such large aubergines before. Walnuts also seem to be very popular here. The almonds are just about to start dropping - there are two trees within a few metres from my front door!

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Earlier today I walked down to the river, visited the little Church of the Forty Martyrs and watched two fishermen at work in the river. One of them was using a three-cornered net which looked only about a square metre wide.

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The church is made from a peculiar type of stone with holes in, a bit like Swiss cheese! I saw some ancient murals inside, and lit a beeswax candle for Dad in a tiny chapel in the garden.

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I've met my new employers and colleagues, had a couple of training sessions (one of which was about TOEFL, something I never taught in Ecuador) and have been taken to the immigration centre to sort out my residency/ work permit and ID card. I've also been told about the Bulgarian way of indicating 'yes' and 'no'. They nod very decisively to mean 'no' and kind of wobble their heads from side to side to mean 'yes', though apparently the younger generations more often do it the way most other countries do.

I've been given my provisional timetable for next week; so far I have an FCE class, two Elementary classes and a Pre-Intermediate class. Thursday is my weekday day off (everyone gets Sundays off because the school closes then). The week after that I'll definitely be given more classes to add to these.

Last winter was very mild here, apparently, but when it's not mild there is usually loads of snow, with easily four feet falling in one night. Apparently the town and hills look magical in the snow; I can well believe it, considering how beautiful they look already.

I'm going out for some drinks tonight so I'd better go now and get ready!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art lizards market dad bulgaria veliko_tarnovo explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress han_hadji_nikoli bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra Comments (0)

The New Forest: Day Two

Fordingbridge and New Forest National Park


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After a lie-in our first stop of the day was in the little town of Fordingbridge, north of our campsite and on the boundary of the New Forest. We bought sandwiches, snacks and drinks at a Tesco Metro and wandered over to a riverside park to eat our lunch on the banks of the River Avon. To get there we crossed the medieval Great Bridge with its seven elegant arches; as we ate our lunch we had a great view of the same. Then we walked down the road a bit to explore further. As we re-crossed the Great Bridge I noticed a statue of the artist Augustus John, who lived in Fordingbridge from 1927 until his death in 1961. Most of the shops were closed, because it was a Sunday, but we did go into a little temporary local art exhibition, where Dave bought some cards.

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After Fordingbridge we drove further into the New Forest, stopped and went for a walk on the heath. It was very calm and peaceful. We saw several new Forest ponies, not on the heath itself but in a bracken patch and a copse. I really liked that. Some of the ponies were bay coloured and some were black and white.

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The next stop was something I was particularly keen to see while we were in the New Forest. This was the Rufus Stone, a stone that marks the spot where William II, nicknamed 'William Rufus', met his death in 1100 (though the accuracy of the marker placement is disputed). He was shot in the chest in the middle of a hunting excursion; some think it was an accident, some think it was deliberate. Supposedly, a nobleman called Sir Walter Tyrrel was aiming for a stag, but his arrow glanced off an oak tree instead and hit the king. The original marker was placed in the glade in the 18th century and after repeated vandalism, was given a cast iron cover in 1841. This is what we can see today.

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We read the marker's inscriptions (which also date from 1841) and took some photos before walking down the road to the Sir Walter Tyrrel pub, which stands in the open with a green on the other side of the road. New Forest ponies roamed. We enjoyed a drink in the beer garden before heading back to the car.

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We had dinner and a drink or two in the bar/restaurant/clubhouse again in the evening.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:56 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bridges art united_kingdom camping dave british_countryside new_forest_national_park rufus_stone Comments (0)

Flamstead Scarecrow Festival

Flamstead


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Today Dave and I went to the annual Flamstead Scarecrow Festival with Emma and Mark.

I've only been there once or twice before, when they first started holding this festival just over a decade ago. They had clearly expanded the whole thing since then; there was a similar amount of scarecrows, but now there was also a group of stalls, live music outside one or two of the pubs, cream teas in the church hall and Morris dancers outside it.

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The best scarecrow, in my opinion, was the Elmer the Elephant with a round furry blue monster on his back. Apparently Elmer is 25 this year! I also really liked the row of Pac-Man scarecrows, the Brownies scarecrows and the Toad of Toad Hall scarecrow in his (real) motor car. Dave also liked the Darth Vader scarecrow.

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As well as walking the streets looking at creative scarecrows, we looked round the stalls, had a slice of cake at the church hall and watched the Morris dancers perform.

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Emma and I went into the church of St Leonard and were given a short tour by a friend of Emma's. He showed us the medieval wall paintings (the finest or oldest in Hertfordshire after those in St Albans cathedral, apparently) and the 16th century graffiti carved into two of the pillars.

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Posted by 3Traveller 11:38 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art united_kingdom sisters scarecrows flamstead traditional_customs Comments (0)

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