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Sofia: Thracian treasure troves & delectable cakes

Sofia


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We left VT on the 09.20 bus to Sofia. There was still quite a lot of snow around, despite the thaw of the last few days. The journey was uneventful, though at one point we did see a shepherd driving a small flock of sheep and goats along quite close to the side of the road. No 6-hour journey this time, thank goodness!

We arrived in Sofia at midday. We walked to our hotel; on our way down Boulevard Vitosha, we were drawn into a cake shop by the fantastic display in the window. Different types of baklava, khaifa, florentines, things that looked like truffles with various toppings, little meringues, syrupy things, fingers of what I think was fudge, biscuits, cupcakes and so on. We bought a florentine, a slice of chocolatey thing and two 'tolumbi', exactly like the syrupy things we'd got at the deli in VT but longer.

Once we had checked into Hotel Niky we rested for a bit before heading out again at 4pm.

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We went to the Archaeology Museum and it was wonderful. There was a prehistoric room, complete with teeth from mammoths and cave bears and some zoomorphic and anthromorphic pottery (which reminded me a bit of Ecuador) amongst other things; a room full of amazing finds from Thracian treasure troves, including several very finely beaten gold burial masks and one more solid looking one, a silver drinking horn, gold jewellery and gold and bronze helmets and breastplates; several icons, including a really beautiful one of St George & the dragon; a room of very early Medieval arms and armour and stone slabs with some of the earliest examples of Cyrillic inscriptions carved into them; and the ground floor, full of Ancient Greek and Roman votive stolae, pillars and statues.

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After that we decided to walk straight to the restaurant I had in mind, rather than go back to the hotel first. On the way there we walked through a Metro underpass where we saw some archaeological remains and a tiny ancient church. We also went into Sveta Nedelya Cathedral for a look round. It was very atmospheric and colourful inside, with painted walls, icons and lots of light. There were several small circular stands with sand inside to put candles in. To one side of the iconostasis at the front of the church, there was a finely carved, raised wooden box; I stepped up to see inside it and saw a shiny metal statue of a saint lying inside it, with a painted wooden icon covering the head. There were lots of flowers on and around the box. Several people came up and bowed to it. As I stood there a priest came out from a door next to the box and started speaking in a very low voice to a couple in front of him - I thought that maybe he was giving them confession.

Mum and I bought a beeswax candle each, lit them and put them in one of the candle stands. Then we left for the restaurant. For dinner we shared bread with a mixture of salt and paprika and an appetiser platter for a starter. For our main courses I had a 'drunken rabbit' and Mum had lamb stew; after that I had a baked apple and Mum had a decaf coffee. This restaurant was pretty touristy but there were Bulgarian groups there too. Its menu consisted of recipes taken from every monastery in Bulgaria and consisted of a great many funny English mistakes.

Back at the hotel we watched an episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are' before going to bed.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:14 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow hotel museum cathedral buses sofia bulgaria mum icons orthodox_church roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha Comments (0)

Mum in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo


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Monday 27th October

This was our view from the kitchen window first thing this morning :-)

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I was teaching nearly all day, starting at 8 am and finishing at 9 pm, but I had a couple of hours free in the middle of the day, so Mum found her way to my workplace and met me at 12.30. I'd shown her where it was on a map I'd got from the tourist information office. I showed her round the school and then we went to a deli round the corner for some lunch. I had the Bulgarian version of moussaka and Mum had a rice dish which unfortunately turned out to have lots of little chunks of liver in it.

I bought a loaf of bread and some milk on the way out and then we walked past the school and along Gurko Street for a while before rejoining the main street. Gurko Street is filled with Ottoman buildings where the first floor is wider than the ground floor and there are lots of wooden balconies and the roofs have red tiles. Once we got to the main street we looked in some shop windows - some of the shops looked closed because they were in darkness, but when we looked more closely we saw the shopkeeper just sitting at a till or table, looking out at us! Quite peculiar and disconcerting. Then we crossed the road and joined a road nicknamed the 'craftsman's street' - quite touristy now but has been filled with craftsman's shops since the mid-19th century. I left Mum here to explore because I had to go back to work.

I finished at 9.30 pm and arrived back at the flat to some dinner - it was so lovely to have had dinner cooked for me! Mum told me about the shops she'd gone into and showed me an embroidered cloth she'd bought.
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Tuesday 28th October

Today I didn't have a class until 9.45 am, so Mum and I had breakfast together. We started the last jar of Dad's raspberry and redcurrant jam he'd made in 2012; Mum had brought it with her.

I only had that one class today so I came back as soon as it finished at 11.15. We had lunch a bit early. Then I looked in my guidebook and found out that apparently the places I wanted us to go to in Arbanasi would be closed for the winter. We decided to go there anyway, just in case they weren't, but we waited quite a long time for a taxi and eventually we decided just to carry on into Tsarevets Fortress instead.

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The fortress was extremely peaceful because apart from two workers at the main tower, we were the only people in the whole complex for most of our visit.

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The views were fantastic and I took lots of photos.

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I thought how surreal the sight of the snowy hills, trees and buildings looked to me when I could remember so clearly the weather I experienced in Guayaquil a year ago; very hot and humid, the complete opposite to the cold and snow of now.

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On the way back from the fortress we went inside an Orthodox church round the corner from my flat. There were some beautiful icons, but the interior as a whole was very gloomy. The priest followed us around too, which was a little bit offputting.

We rested for a couple of hours on our return, before going out to a restaurant called Han Hadji Nikoli. This is the same place that we teachers got taken out to in my first week in Bulgaria. On that occasion we'd eaten in the courtyard, but now due to the cold we ate inside. A pianist kept us and the other guests entertained throughout, with music in the background.

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To begin with I had tarator and Mum had an appetiser plate.

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Then Mum had trout with almonds and I had a chicken breast wrapped in thin bacon and stuffed with mozzarella. Mum's dish came with some sautéed potatoes and mine came with two small baked potatoes with garlic butter. To finish with Mum had baklava and I had an 'Iced Parfait' with caramelised crushed almonds - it turned out to be a lot like ice cream.

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I tried a bit of Mum's baklava and it was delicious; it was in fact the second-best baklava I've ever had, after the stuff I had at a Turkish café in Auckland. It was much better than any I'd had in the UK. My chicken was really tender and tasty and the tarator was as lovely and refreshing as ever. Mum said that she had really enjoyed her food, too.

Wednesday 29th October

We had breakfast together in the morning because I didn't have a class until 9.30. When that class finished it was 11 and just as I stepped out of the door I saw Mum had just arrived outside. We walked to the fruit & vegetable market down the road and looked round; we bought a big bag of walnuts and two massive quinces for Mum to take back to the UK with her, along with a pomegranite, a punnet of figs, a big bunch of grapes and some pears for more immediate eating.

On our way back we stopped at a CBA supermarket to get some eggs for an omelette that evening, but they didn't have any. Then we stopped at the deli to have some lunch - I had intended to have lunch at the flat, but then I thought I'd run out of time to get there. It was only when we were sitting upstairs eating our lunch that I realised that I actually had an hour longer than I thought! This time I had stuffed aubergine and we shared a little tub of absolutely amazing syrupy sweet things that I couldn't believe I hadn't come across before. They were balls of batter, a lot like the softer version of jalebi batter, with a bit of a bubble inside; they were soaked in syrup.

Because I had longer than I had thought, I walked back to the flat with Mum along Gurko Street. I found the little National Revival house museum that she had tried to find earlier but failed, so that she could go to that once I was back at work. Back at the flat I relaxed for thirty minutes before I had to go back to work.

I finished at 9.30 pm, like on Monday, and like Monday I arrived back to a lovely dinner that Mum had cooked for me :-D She showed me some purchases she had made that afternoon, and told me that the little house museum was amazing.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:28 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow market bulgaria mum icons veliko_tarnovo explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress han_hadji_nikoli bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street Comments (0)

Mum's here in VT

Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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I woke up from one of the best night's sleep I've ever had. The stairways at this place were pretty dingy, but the bedroom (and especially the mattress) was nice. I had a pretty basic breakfast in the basement, took a shower, checked out at what I thought was 11.30 (leaving my rucksack to pick up later) and went out for my first walk around Sofia.

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My aim was to find the hotel where Mum and I would be staying the following Thursday night. I passed by a copper-domed cathedral, intending to have a look inside if I had enough time after finding the hotel. Then I walked down Boulevard Vitosha, one of the main streets. There were remnants of snow around, but it didn't look as if it had snowed nearly as much as it had in VT. I could see snowcapped mountains in the distance. After walking down Bld. Vitosha for quite a while and then along a side street I found the hotel, Hotel Niky.

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By the time I had walked back again, there was no time to go inside the cathedral, because it was time to pick up my rucksack and get a taxi to the airport! As soon as I got there I realised that I had arrived an hour too early... I hadn't realised that the clocks went back in Bulgaria! Oh well.... time passed quite quickly just waiting for Mum's arrival.

Once she had arrived we did what I'd done when I arrived in September; took a taxi to the main bus station and then the bus to VT. This time the journey was the standard time, though the woman I got the tickets from didn't understand me when I tried asking if the bus was direct, so throughout most of the journey I wasn't 100% certain if our route was the direct one or not. We talked loads on the journey, plus did a crossword together. She also told me some very sad, medical family news :-(

It was dark once we arrived in VT, but it wasn't that late, only about 18.30. There was still loads of snow around. I showed her the flat and she rested for a bit while I nipped to the shop to get one or two things. Once I got back we went out to a restaurant down the road for some dinner. This place, Malkia Inter, is rather eccentrically decorated with a fish tank, icons, several types of musical instrument, souvenirs from different countries and lots more. I had one of my favourites, chicken kavarma (chicken and vegetable stew in a clay pot), and Mum had the pork version.

When we got back the flat was freezing but I couldn't get the air conditioning to turn into the heater mode. Eventually it did start working, however. It turned out that because it was the first time I'd tried using it as a heater, it just took a while for the air blowing out to become warm.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:35 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow airport cathedral hostel buses sofia bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine 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)

Bulgarian Independence Day, a Bulgarian lesson and more

Veliko Tarnovo


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Today was Bulgarian Independence Day; another very fine day, it was already very hot at about 9.30 am when I got up. I walked to the plaza in front of the bridge to Tsarevets Fortress, because I'd heard there was going to be stuff going on there, but although I waited for over half an hour nothing happened, so I continued to the fortress.

There were military figures standing around a monument there, plus several TV cameras were present. Not long after I arrived a short religious procession went past; this was the head of the main procession. I followed the religious banners back over the bridge; as I did so I noticed massive fireworks in the process of being set up.

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Once back in the plaza, the religious procession stopped and many other groups began joining the procession behind them. I saw a man in magnificently colourful religious robes walking to his position, with a cross in one hand, a bunch of flowers in the other, and a crown on his head. I thought he was probably an Orthodox bishop or something similar. He was flanked by another religious figure, an army officer and a man in a black suit wearing a mayor's chain.

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Once the procession started moving, I walked with it through the streets to Mother Bulgaria Square, right in the centre of Veliko Tarnovo.

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There was a short wreath-laying ceremony at the Mother Bulgaria statue (which is a war memorial) and then a military parade. This included soldiers firing blanks, something I wasn't expecting and as a result, made me jump. Some of the soldiers were in khaki and others were musicians, dressed in red-braided white jackets and plumed, white furry caps.

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After that I walked back to the flat along Gurko Street. This is one of the oldest streets in Veliko Tarnovo and is filled with beautiful wooden-beamed, red-tiled Ottoman houses. The distinctive feature of these is the fact that each floor is a little bit bigger than the one below, so they overhang the cobbled road. The views from this street are amazing - I walk to work along this street and feel lucky every single time.

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In the late afternoon I went back to the plaza by the fortress bridge to look round. This time there was a crowd there, a stage had been set up and there was traditional dancing going on. It had clouded over by now but it was still very mild.

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I stayed for a while to watch the dancing before going back to the flat. In the evening I went out for some dinner and a few drinks with the other teachers. The bar we went to for drinks is called Melody Bar, an atmospheric cocktail bar. I really liked it and will be back!

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On the walk back to the flat I heard lots of fireworks going and saw some in the distance; I ran up all the steps to my street and the terrace to get a better view, but just as I reached it, they stopped! Oh well. I did at least catch the laser show from Tsarevets.

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S, the other new teacher, and I had our first Bulgarian lesson yesterday! We learned how to introduce ourselves and others, and got to grips with the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet. The alphabet is slightly head-spinning; some letters are both look and sound like ours, others look the same but have different sounds, and others correspond to sounds we have but are written totally differently! The homework has helped fix it a bit more in my memory, but more practice will definitely be needed.

I've got a Bulgarian phone now. I had to get one because although I could send texts OK to people in the UK, texts I sent to Bulgarian phones never arrived! Originally I only bought a simcard, but although that worked OK in a Bulgarian phone it didn't in my UK one.

I've tried some more Bulgarian food; stuffed courgette in a very runny yet creamy sauce, a potato dumpling in another type of creamy, herby sauce, and rabbit and mushroom stew. I would recommend all of these to visitors! Stuffed vegetables seem to be very popular here - they stuff courgettes, aubergines, peppers and cabbage leaves.

Dave and I have applied for some tickets to the Rugby World Cup, which will be held in England in a year's time. We've applied for four matches, in the cheapest ticket category (as the other categories were too expensive), all at locations not too far away. Any matches that end up being oversubscribed will go to a ballot, so we won't know until the ballot next month which matches we've got tickets for, if any. Hopefully we'll get at least one!

I have my residency card now but am waiting for my ID card. It should be ready to collect in a month's time.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:23 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged dave bulgarian bulgaria procession veliko_tarnovo explorations fortifications tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street mother_bulgaria_square Comments (0)

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