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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)

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)

Veliko Tarnovo Day celebrations

Veliko Tarnovo


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Veliko Tarnovo Day - the birthday of the city, when religious figures, a military band and schoolchildren parade through the town with pennants, icons, flags, black-and-white photos of the city's benefactors, a long green garland, music and colourful balloons.

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The mayor gives a speech and presents newly appointed honorary citizens. There's a carnival atmosphere in the air, with free concerts in front of the Municipal Hall and street stalls nearby.

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After dark a party truck sweeps down the main street and along to the plaza in front of Tsarevets Fortress with a crowd in tow, partying to the music blasting from the loudspeakers.

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Later that night, fireworks light up the sky...

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...and an amazing laser and 3D-imaging show is displayed on the hill of the Assen Monument.

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I enjoyed all of the above very much. The weather was perfect and everything was impressive. For the laser and 3D-imaging show, Gurko Street was so packed with people I didn't even attempt to get near the front; I went back up to the main street instead, where I viewed the show from one of the plazas that looks out over the river and the Assen Monument.

The almond trees are blossoming - very picturesque.

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On the main street at the moment there are some wonderful photos of Veliko Tarnovo displayed. I took these photos of them as I returned home after the parade.

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Last night I went to a short, free concert by the Veliko Tarnovo Brass Band, part of the Veliko Tarnovo Day weekend celebrations. It was OK, but there was no heating on in the building for some reason, so we all got distracted by the cold! The band had a guest jazz soloist called Theodosii Spassov, who is apparently very well known in Bulgaria. I simply could not work out what instrument he was playing - it looked very like a clarinet from the distance, but it sounded like a cross between a clarinet, flute and recorder. It sounded quite breathy. I only found out later that what he was playing was actually a kaval - a type of end-blown flute traditional to the Balkans and Anatolia. Sometimes he combined playing that with a type of singing, humming and other strange vocal noises. The pieces they played were a little bit samey to be honest, but I'm still glad I went, because it was an interesting experience.

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Posted by 3Traveller 04:47 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art parties bulgaria procession veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress gurko_street assen_monument 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)

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