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Frescoes, baklava and more strawberries

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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Going to Arbanasi today was a priority for Mum, as she was really keen to see it and we hadn't managed to go there when she visited me last October. We arrived at about 9 o'clock because the weather forecast had predicted sunshine in the morning but then a thunderstorm later on.

First of all, seeing as the sun was out but might not be later, we went to the magnificent viewing point where I had taken previous visitors.

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Then we went into the Church of the Nativity (stopping at an outdoors gym on the way - we tried out one or two of the machines!). Mum absolutely loved it, just like I thought she would. It's just so colourful and atmospheric inside! It started off with just us there, but then a party of young American men came in with a guide. This turned out to be quite beneficial to us, because we could overhear all the interesting information the guide had to offer the group. She showed them (and us) the painting of the Wheel of Life with its days, seasons, signs of the Zodiac, man at different life stages and the angels pulling on ropes to turn the wheel; the bad tradesmen in hell, suffering punishments related to their crimes; the shepherds in appropriate period dress (including one sitting in the Turkish manner, playing a pipe); the unicorn amongst the animals being named by Adam; the remaining original frescoes from the 15th century and the second layer of ones from 1681; the dragons on top of the iconostasis; and more. We also overheard her say that figures of the Ancient Greek philosophers were painted on the wall or ceiling of one of the rooms, but we couldn't spot them when we went to look.

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From there we went on to Konstantsalievata's House, the house museum I'd taken previous visitors to. I described this is a previous blog entry so I won't write more about it here, except for that Mum particularly admired all the heavy carved wooden chests and the wonderful carved wooden ceilings.

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After that we were both quite hungry but it wasn't lunchtime yet, so we had a coffee/ hot chocolate and some baklava at a café instead. We both loved the baklava; it was different to any we'd had before, being in a large slice like a slice of tart or pie. It was very syrupy and delicious; quite often (especially in the UK) baklava is very stiff and solid and stodgy, but this wasn't.

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Our next destination was the Church of St Atanas; I hadn't been before and didn't know anything about it, but I thought it would be interesting to check it out. Well, unfortunately it was closed when we arrived! We did however see a huge quantity of red and black beetles on the steps.

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By the time we'd wandered over there and back again it had started drizzling. We decided to have lunch slightly early; however Arbanashki Han, the place where I took people for lunch before, had a big party arriving soon, so we decided just to go back to the same place we'd had baklava. I had pepper burek (stuffed peppers with batter or breadcrumbs on the outside) and tarator and Mum had breadcrumbed chicken bites with a salad garnish.

The rain was tailing off by the time we left the café and headed to another place I'd been to with previous visitors; the monastery of Sveta Bogoroditsa. We both bought and lit candles there and wandered around both rooms, admiring the icons, frescoes and flowers. This time, instead of tulips, daffodils or carnations, they had roses and sweet williams in vases along one side. Two or three lambs munched on leaves outside.

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Our walk back to VT went well - we took the same route as I had taken with Kate and Andrew. The vegetation had overgrown even more than when they were here two weeks ago, but it was only a problem in that since it had only just stopped raining and Mum was wearing flipflops, she kept sliding on the grass in them! The sun came out relatively soon into the walk, however, plus the path became less overgrown, so the problem didn't last. It was a lovely walk and Mum enjoyed it too.

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Once back at the flat it was between 4 and 5pm - we'd left at about 8.50 in the morning! We put our feet up for a couple of hours before going out for dinner at Hadji Nikoli. I took her here when she was here last October and she had requested a return visit. Since the temperature was so mild, this time we sat in the courtyard. No pianist this time unfortunately, but the food was just as good. Mum had grilled tiger prawns and vegetables and I had tarator (of course!) and cannelloni.

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We both had coffees (I had Turkish) but didn't have any pudding there because we knew we had strawberries waiting for us back at the flat. More strawberries with rosehip syrup - a perfect way to round off the day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged museum monastery roses bulgaria mum icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church house_museum bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra arbanasi Comments (0)

Back to Arbanasi

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)

Bulgarian Orthodox Good Friday

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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Today was a gorgeous spring day with hardly a cloud in the sky, so a perfect day to go to Arbanasi. Our plan was to get a taxi there to arrive shortly after 10 am, look round various interesting places there, have lunch at a restaurant I recommended, then walk back leisurely through a gorge - a different one to the one I walked last week.

The first place we visited was the wonderful viewpoint of Veliko Tarnovo in the hills in the distance;

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Then on to the Church of the Nativity. I was here only last week, so I didn't go in with Emma and Mark. When she came out, Emma went into raptures about it - apparently the impression the low-hanging ceilings and tiny openings into different rooms gave to her was that of entering an exotic, mysterious and very beautiful cave. I quite agree with her on that one! Credit to Emma for the following two photos;

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We wandered for a bit after that, until we found the Sveta Bogoroditsa Monastery. This was a group of lovely whitewashed stone buildings with a little cemetery to one side; this was partly filled with graves of nuns, each one adorned with a little photo of their inhabitant.

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We looked inside the church - again, very plain on the outside - we didn't go inside the main part because there was a service going on (for Good Friday, I assumed), but there was a smaller room by the entrance which had some atmospheric paintings and icons on the walls and some stands for lit candles. On some shelves and a small table there were tulips and daffodils laid out, along with some colourful painted eggs.

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It was still a bit early for lunch at that point, so on our way back up towards the restaurant we stopped off at a house museum, the Konstantsalieva House. On the way there we walked through a small park with three goats tethered!

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The house was built in the 17th century for a rich merchant family, one of many in late medieval/ early modern Arbanasi apparently. The ground floor was built in stone and the first floor was built in wood.

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Each room apart from the kitchen and privy had a large raised platform on one side covered in carpet, furs and cushions, which presumably is where the family would lounge to take tea, eat and rest. I don't remember seeing any tables! All of the rooms had a wooden ceiling; one was particularly well carved. The whole place was very interesting - it was similar in design, decoration and furnishings to the lovely house museum I saw in Tryavna in January.

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Lunch was at Arbanashki Han, a hotel restaurant in very picturesque settings. The interior was quite picturesque as well! We all loved the colourful woven tablecloths and table runners. Emma and I both had tarator, then we all shared plates of grilled vegetables, grilled cheese, thinly sliced fried potatoes and peppers stuffed with cheese. All of which was extremely well cooked and delicious.

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Our walk back to VT was a long and idyllic one, down into a gorge and along the river. The scenery as expected was simply stunning, and it was interesting to walk past places we'd only seen from afar before.

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About halfway down there was a little lake, with a children's playground, a café and some public toilets. We rested there for a bit before carrying on.

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Further on, at the point where the stream flows into the River Yantra, we looked up and saw Tsarevets Fortress and the Execution Rock - we were behind Tsarevets hill.

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We walked round the riverbank, into the Asenov quarter of Veliko Tarnovo, until we reached the wooden bridge; we crossed there and walked up past the side of Tsarevets to the plaza and then beyond.

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When we got back from Arbanasi we were absolutely shattered, so we had a lie down before going out to dinner at Tempo Pizza. I've been here several times before, because the tarator, pizza, salads and smaller things such as grilled mushrooms with cheese, potato balls and fried cheese are very good. Unfortunately, however, this time the place let us down. Apart from the tarator and the cheesy mushrooms, we strayed from what I knew they were good at, and paid the price for it. Emma's focaccia was a bit too salty and Mark's clam risotto had grit in it.

One novel thing we did see at the restaurant was on the TV; it showed the Timbersports world championship! There were teams from several countries (including the UK), chopping and sawing up logs in various different ways. Certainly not something we had ever considered would exist, let alone be on international TV! It was interesting to watch, though.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:31 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged monastery sisters bulgaria veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity fortifications orthodox_church house_museum tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra arbanasi easter_celebrations Comments (0)

Beautiful Arbanasi

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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I went on a lovely trip to Arbanasi today, taking a taxi there and then walking back downhill through a partly wooded gorge to the River Yantra and Veliko Tarnovo. Arbanasi is 3km away from the centre of VT, on a hilltop visible from my bedroom and kitchen windows.

I revisited the Church of the Nativity first. It looked just as wonderful as the first time I saw it!

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After that I thought about going to the most famous house museum in Arbanasi, but then I remembered that I'll be coming back here at least three times before I leave Bulgaria, so I might as well save the house museum to experience for the first time with a visitor!

Instead of that I decided to get some lunch on a terrace which had the most amazing views over Veliko Tarnovo, Tsarevets Hill and the other hills and enscarpments stretching into the distance. Right on the horizon I could see the snowcapped peaks of the Central Balkans.

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Tarator and margherita pizza were followed by a visit to the monastery of St Nicholas.

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This was small; there was a church in the middle, with what seemed to be accommodation for nuns and priests in the rest of the grounds. When I walked into the courtyard next to the church, I saw two black-garbed nuns standing next to a table piled with flowering willow branches. It's the day before Bulgarian Orthodox Palm Sunday, so I assumed that they were doing something to them in preparation for the next day. On Palm Sunday people here take willow twigs or branches to church to be blessed; they then tie the willow to the main entrance to their houses.

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The interior of the church wasn't quite as beautiful as some (it didn't have any frescoes, for example), but it did have lots of framed icons leaned up against the walls. I bought and lit a candle for Dad from the stall inside.

There are lots of other things to see in Arbanasi, but I decided to leave those for today because I knew I'd be coming back. No point looking at everything in one visit! I walked back through a gorge. I had a stream on my left hand side and on my right was the main road, but above me so I couldn't actually see it for most of the time. Not all that many cars went along the road anyway, so there wasn't much traffic noise. I could mainly just hear birdsong and the sound of the stream. At one point I saw two old ladies next to a willow tree by the stream, cutting off twigs - for use the next day, I assumed.

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Not long after that I got a good view of the Patriarchate Tower of Tsarevets Fortress in the distance (my photo didn't turn out that well though).

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Eventually I saw tiled rooftops through the trees and realised I was about to come out into the Asenov quarter of Veliko Tarnovo, down by the River Yantra and round the back and to one side of Tsarevets Hill. I hadn't been this far round before. I walked out of the wood onto a cobbled street flanked by white- and pink-blossomed trees...

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...then along the riverside until I reached the wooden bridge. I could see little fish in the river.

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All in all, it was a lovely outing. I couldn't believe I'd left it so long since my last visit! I should have made a trip out there while it was snowing in the winter.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:37 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains bridges art monastery dad bulgaria icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra arbanasi traditional_customs palm_sunday 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)

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