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Arbanasi


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This morning I took Kate and Andrew to Arbanasi, a place Kate had been wanting to go ever since I first mentioned it last autumn!

Our first port of call was the wonderful Church of the Nativity; just as I thought, they were absolutely blown away by the fabulous, colourful frescoes covering almost every inch of the walls, ceilings and wooden beams.

After this we moved on to Sveta Bogoroditsa Monastery, another place I'd been to with Emma and Mark two weeks before. As it was then, it was picturesque, quiet and peaceful, with no sign of movement from anywhere and the sound of birdsong in the warm, summery air. We wandered through the grounds first of all, with the monastery church on our left, then the living quarters on our right and a small cemetery opposite it and next to the church, mainly full of nuns' graves. On wandering back towards the church Kate got really excited because she heard and saw a cuckoo! She had never actually seen or heard a cuckoo before, despite having read about for many years and even studied them at one point at university.

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Unlike in my last visit, inside the church both rooms were able to be looked round. All three of us bought candles from a lady at a desk in the larger room and lit them in the smaller.

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On our way out from the monastery grounds we admired the Greek inscription above the entrance gate, paying testament to the fact that Greek was the official language in Arbanasi for several centuries.

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A house museum was next: Konstantsalievata's House, which was the residence of one of Arbanasi's many rich merchant families during the Ottoman era. You could tell that this was a period of marauders' attacks on Arbanasi as the house has really thick walls and metal bars over the lower floor windows. It was really interesting inside, with much care and attention paid to interior decoration and furnishing, and the layout of the rooms. It even had a room specifically set aside for the mother and newborn baby (and if the re-enactment was accurate, they had the baby sleep in a little hammock strung over the raised, furnished platform that the mother slept on!) The expression in the doll's eyes was really quite disconcerting, even spooky.

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Before we set off back to Veliko Tarnovo, we had lunch at Arbanashki Han, a restaurant I insisted we visit because I know how good it is. We feasted on tasty tarator, sautéed thinly-sliced potatoes, stuffed peppers and Bulgarian flattened meatballs.

Our walk back to VT was pleasant, surrounded by lush grass, bushes and trees and accompanied by the sound of a stream flowing next to us. At one point I pointed out the willow tree from which I'd seen old ladies cutting branches for use in celebrations on Palm Sunday the next day. As we drew nearer to VT we could see Tsarevets fortress in the distance, then the town itself.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art birds monastery sisters bulgaria explorations church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church house_museum bulgarian_cuisine arbanasi 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)

Into the Rhodopes: Bachkovo Monastery & Asenovgrad Fortress

Bachkovo Monastery and Asenovgrad Fortress


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It turned out that I was the only guest who wanted to go to the monastery and fortress on Monday, so I had to pay a bit more than if there'd been more people, but it was worth it!

The journey took about 40 minutes. On the way to Bachkovo Monastery we passed through the town of Asenovgrad. Luben, the driver, told me that Asenovgrad is known for making wedding dresses and red wine; sure enough, we passed lots of shop windows filled with wedding dresses. Then we went further into the Rhodope mountains, with dramatic scenery at every turn.

Bachkovo Monastery was absolutely beautiful, just as I expected. Although I didn't get all that much time to look round, it was still brilliant. Apparently it's one of the largest and oldest Orthodox monasteries in Europe. The main church gleams white in the sun;

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I loved the frescoes on the ceiling and pillars of the long archway just in front of the main entrance. The interior was intensely atmospheric, too.

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It was lovely to wander round the grounds in the sun, too. There was a sheep in a pen for some reason and cockerels and hens wandered round the edge of the main courtyard.

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I seemed to be one of very few international tourists there; mostly it seemed to be Bulgarians popping into the church to pray and then leave. There was a smaller church as well, but unfortunately it wasn't open.

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The old refectory was closed too, but running round its outside wall was a famous and very well-preserved mural of the history of the monastery, painted in 1846, it shows in colourful detail a panorama of the monastery grounds.

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I would have loved more time here but I knew we had to move on to Asenovgrad Fortress.

Asenovgrad Fortress perches dramatically in the mountains about 2km from the town. The only wholly preserved building in the fortress complex is a tiny church which nevertheless has two floors.

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It has fragments of murals on the walls. It looked like a working church, not just a museum one; there were chairs in rows, a wooden stand with bibles and a colourful cloth on it, and next to a window some coins lay scattered in front of an icon.

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Rising above the church is a hill with fortress foundations clearly on show. A Bulgarian flag flew from the top. It was still very sunny and needless to say, the views I got from the top were amazing.

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Luben pointed out to me two tiny little churches on the mountainsides opposite and told me there are many more in the local area.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:36 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art birds monastery bulgaria explorations fortifications orthodox_church bachkovo_monastery asenovgrad_fortress Comments (0)

Oxfordshire walk

Nuneham Courtenay to Abingdon Lock


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Today Mum and I did one of the 9 stages of the Oxford Green Belt Way Walk. I've forgotten whether it was Stage 2 or 3 but it was from Nuneham Courtenay to Abingdon Lock.The reason for doing this walk is because Dad had been very keen to do it (a lot of family history from Dad's side is connected to Oxford and its surroundings) but didn't manage to do any of the stages before he got too ill, so now we are doing them for him. Mum is going to gradually complete all 9 stages; I was still in Ecuador when she and several others did the previous stage together, so now that I was back in the UK I really wanted to do the next one with her.

Instead of using the motorway, we decided to travel to Oxford the original way. This meant going through Berkhamstead High Street, past all the old coaching inns, before following A-roads past Tring, Aylesbury and Thame. As we went past Thame we kept our eyes out for pigs, but we didn't see any. There always used to be a pig farm there and because the pigs had little metal shelters set up for them, on both sides of the road, Mum said it used to feel like she was driving through a pig village.

We were lucky with the weather because apart from a shower shortly after we had begun the walk, the sun shone all the way through.

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Although we were very tired by the time we reached the end, we enjoyed the walk a lot. It took us about three hours because we got distracted so often! We picked and ate loads of very sweet, ripe and juicy blackberries from the hedgerows; looked at deeply engraved, old-looking graffiti on a bridge over a railway; spotted some swallows and red kites; stopped for a drink and a snack at the point where we first met the River Thames; and were asked for directions from two French girls who were dressed in exceedingly peculiar cycling clothes. As we walked along the side of the Thames I hoped to see a kingfisher, but had no luck.

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Once we reached our final destination, Abingdon Lock, we looked round it a bit - at the list of lock keepers going back to the 18th century, for example - before crossing the weir and beating a path to the nearest supermarket, our best bet for a taxi back to Nuneham Courtenay.

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We were desperate for one because by now our legs felt like they were going to drop off any minute. Waitrose came to our rescue. The traffic was terrible, so the journey ended up being extremely expensive for how relatively short it was. The driver had no card machine but when Mum and I clubbed together all the cash we had on us we were still a pound short - luckily he kindly let us off it.

After a reviving hot drink at a nearby restaurant bar we carried on to the Bear & Ragged Staff, our accommodation for the night. This is in Cumnor, another village near to Oxford. Several decades ago my great-grandfather built his own house here, as well as a house for my grandparents after they got married. The Bear & Ragged Staff is pub/ restaurant/ hotel within one very historic and atmospheric building and a newer extension wing. Our room was in the old part which we were pleased about. We had dinner downstairs, but before that happened I was delighted to hear church bell peals in the distance. I really like that sound and since the bells sound different in Ecuador I hadn't heard it in ages.

Posted by 3Traveller 08:26 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bridges birds united_kingdom hotel mum british_countryside Comments (0)

Whale-watching and Isla de la Plata

Isla de la Plata and Puerto Lopez


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Day trip to Isla de la Plata, but before we arrived there we did some humpback whale watching! It's a bit of a cliché, but they are so majestic. We loved the way they rise right out of the water before plunging down again. We saw lots of spray coming from their blowholes, too, and once when I and two others had moved to the front of the boat, two or three of them appeared right in front of us very close to the boat. It was exhilarating seeing creatures so large so near.

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Once we arrived at Isla de la Plata we split up into two groups; one went on a long walk and the other one did a slightly shorter one. It was extremely hot and sunny and I'd forgotten my hat, so I went for the slightly shorter one.

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I was really happy already, because of the amazing humpback whales, but then my day got even better because I saw lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Great Frigatebirds - not sure which of the two they were, but both types have red pouches beneath their beaks that inflate like balloons) perched in bushes. I'd always wanted to see them and they were the one type of bird I didn't manage to see on the Galápagos Islands which I had really wanted to. We were able to get so close to them, I managed to get some good photos.

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We also saw lots of blue-footed boobies and some pelicans. The boobies were just standing on the ground beneath bushes. They were extremely tame; not tame because they have got used to humans, but tame in that they haven't learned to fear us.

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With one pair that we saw, the male demonstrated part their courtship display - he lifted his feet up and down and then picked up a stick to present to the female as a nest material. Isla de la Plata isn't nicknamed a 'Poor Man's Galápagos Island' for nothing! The other group also saw some red-footed boobies.

Once we got back to the landing point, we got back on the boat for some lunch - a cheese roll, a tuna roll and some pineapple and watermelon slices - before going round the coast of the island for a bit to do some snorkelling. While having lunch we saw three green sea turtles around the boat.

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Unfortunately there weren't any in the snorkelling place, but we still got to see lots of fish. We got into the water straight off the end of the boat, not from a beach.

After changing clothes back in Puerto Lopez, we went back to the same restaurant where we'd had lunch the day before. This time, as I had promised myself, I had the fish with peanut sauce, which was just as delicious as I'd hoped. I'd raved about the lobster so much to everyone the day before that this evening one or two of the others tried some of their own. They also thought it was amazing.

We moved on to a beach bar on the sand after dinner and had a few drinks. I had a couple more of the Coco Loco cocktails.

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Eventually, pretty late, we headed to bed. On the way, I noticed something I remembered seeing in Montañita at the staff Christmas party; hundreds of little birds perched all along the telephone wires along and across the street.

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Posted by 3Traveller 02:44 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds night turtles pelicans coast beach ecuador puerto_lópez explorations blue_footed_boobies frigatebirds ecuadorian_cuisine tropical_fish whale-watching isla_de_la_plata extreme_weather Comments (0)

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