A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about icons

National Revival Day

Sofia


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

The first place I went to contrasted greatly to the traditional Bulgarian Orthodox church interior and icons I'd seen the day before; the Monument to the Soviet Army, which was built in 1954. Unsurprisingly, it looked very uncared-for, with some graffiti about and some grass growing between many of the paving stones. I stood about for a while, picturing parades that may well have taken place there. Rather surreally, there was a sculpture of a giant spoon next to it.

IMG_4910.JPGIMG_4907.JPGIMG_4902.JPG

After that I walked back past the fruit & vegetable market, which was still setting up when I'd come past before.

IMG_4913.JPGIMG_4919.JPGIMG_4925.JPG

I had to get a photo of one of the stalls because for a while I couldn't work out what was on it. I'm still not entirely sure what they were but I think they could have been halves of extremely large hollowed-out squashes that had been lightly grilled on a little grillstand next to the main stall.

IMG_4921.JPG

Next to the market I bought a 'kashkavalka' from a typical Bulgarian bakery where the products are displayed in the glass window, you say what you want and the assistant passes it through a hatch. Kashkavalki are spiral rolls with melted kashkaval, a type of yellow cheese, on top. That kashkavalka was simply the best cheesy roll I've ever had.

IMG_4920.JPGIMG_4922.JPG

From the bakery I walked to Sveti Nedelya church to take some photos. As I stood by the side of the church, which is raised up some steps, a rather surreal incident happened where Charlie Chaplin tried to persuade me to come to his café...

IMG_4931.JPGIMG_4934.JPG

After this exchange I went inside the church for another look-around. It was quite crowded due to it being a public holiday (National Revival Day). There was a security guard inside. I sat down for a while on a seat at one side and watched a blessing of bread and wine ceremony unfold. First of all a priest and a man holding a large, lit candle walked anticlockwise around a small altar table with some bread and a bottle of wine on it. The priest was chanting and swinging incense as he went. While they were doing that, a small semicircle of people gathered in front of a central altar table, which itself was directly in front of a very dark, carved wooden table with icons on it. This table also had bread and wine on it and after the priest had finished with the first table, he processed around this one as well, chanting and swinging incense once more.

Just as that happened, a woman came up to me and the couple of other people sitting down and gave us each a chocolate biscuit. The others ate theirs straight away, so I did too - it turned out to have jam inside. As I finished eating, the priest chanted to the the semicircle from a Bible; he then placed it on the main table and chanted directly to it, with his back to the semicircle.

Throughout the whole thing, lots of people were wandering around, praying to icons and lighting candles as if there wasn't a ceremony taking place. I walked over to a carved wooden box I had seen before when I was with Mum; this time the metal statue of the saint lying inside the box had been dressed in purple shoes and a purple velvet robe with gold brocade. As I sat down again the priest was talking to the semicircle, which then broke up and departed.

After leaving the church I went on to the Royal Palace to visit the Ethnographical Museum and the National Gallery. On the way there, I finally managed to catch the Changing of the Guard outside the President's Building! It was a small ceremony, but involved colourful uniforms and lots of goose-stepping.

IMG_4941.JPGIMG_4947.JPGIMG_4953.JPG

Seeing as I was so close by, I diverted and went inside the Rotonda Church of St George, the little circular church with Roman remains that I mentioned in a previous email. Mum and I had visited, but didn't have time to go inside it properly.

dd9a22b0-1a9b-11e9-9a4f-d34b79ab1cf1.JPGIMG_4974.JPGIMG_4973.JPGIMG_4965.JPG

It had some murals on the walls and some of the brickwork showed; the bricks were very narrow and obviously very old, like the ones at the church of Sveta Sofia, where I'd been with Mum the day before.

IMG_4969.JPGIMG_4971.JPG

There were some tables set up in the middle with food and drink on them and various people standing around eating and drinking. I guessed it might be a special thing put on for National Revival Day, with any visitors allowed to partake, I decided not to join in. I bought a postcard and a fridge magnet and went outside for another quick look at the Roman remains instead. There was a little shrine to St George next to the outside wall.

IMG_4980.JPGIMG_4976.JPG

The Ethnographical Museum was interesting, just as I thought it would be. I didn't know that Bulgaria was a major silk producer in Ottoman times, after silkworms were introduced to Byzantium from China. It didn't say exactly why Bulgaria was such a centre of the silk industry, but maybe it was because to breed silkworms you need lots of mulberry trees for them to feed on, and Bulgaria had/ has exactly the right climate or soil to grow them. The industry continues in Bulgaria right up to the present day, but is much reduced these days.

There was also interesting information about and exhibits from the traditional building, tobacco, linen flax and cotton industries, embroidery, woodcarving and traditional soap made from pig fat and limestone.

IMG_4984.JPGIMG_4994.JPGIMG_4985.JPGIMG_4988.JPG

As well as Bulgarian exhibits, there was a room of Japanese prints and woodcuts and another room with traditional, colourful, spun cotton balls made for the Japanese New Year; this room had Venetian mirror on the walls and an inlaid wooden floor with five types of wood (a museum attendant told me) - it still looked like the interior of a palace. Apparently the last Queen of Bulgaria died in this room.

IMG_4999.JPGIMG_4998.JPGe24728a0-1a9e-11e9-9928-fdd4765630cb.JPG

Then there was a marble staircase down to a marble-floored corridor to rooms filled with photos and momentoes of Boris III, the last Tsar of Bulgaria, and his wife, who was Italian. The signs here were mostly in Bulgarian and Italian, unlike the ones in the rest of the museum, which were in Bulgarian and English.

IMG_5001.JPG

Next came the National Gallery, which wasn't quite as big as I was expecting. There was a photography exhibition by an American called Brian Dailey, mostly very colourful portraits but also a 'Morpheus' series of surrealist, dreamlike photos that I particularly liked.

IMG_5006.JPGIMG_5007.JPG

Upstairs was a big exhibition of works by the 20th-century Bulgarian artist Nikolay Nikov. It was filled with photos of the artist, watercolours, oil on canvas, cardboard and wood, linocuts, lithographs and ink on cardboard; quite a range of styles, but colourful and well worth seeing.

IMG_5010.JPGIMG_5011.JPGIMG_5012.JPGIMG_5017.JPGIMG_5016.JPG

There was also some Bulgarian, Italian and English information about Michelangelo, but no paintings, which I found slightly bizarre.

On the way back to my hostel I bought a massive slice of pizza for only 2.19 leva (89p) from one of the many pizza counters in Sofia. As I was eating it I came across a small marching protest on Boulevard Vitosha. I think it was by refugees or in solidarity with them. Lots of flag-waving and chanting, but no sense of danger at all.

IMG_5026.JPGIMG_5022.JPG

After they had passed by I took the opportunity to go inside the big H&M nearby, to look for work trousers, but didn't find any ones I liked. Then, seeing as I was on Boulevard Vitosha, I bought from my favourite cake shop 5 syrupy batter-like things that I had tried before....

IMG_5027.JPG

Last stop was a visit to the same bakery I'd been to in the morning, to buy 5 kashkavalki; two to have for dinner and three to save for breakfast and the journey the next morning. The woman gave me a free chocolate-filled roll and a glazed ring of bread with poppy seeds. Then straight back to the hostel, because I was knackered. I did have to go back out for a bottle of Coke Zero, but after that I just collapsed in bed, read my Kindle, had dinner in bed and then went to sleep early, because I had to get up very early the next morning.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:32 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art market museum hostel sofia bulgaria procession icons orthodox_church roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha soviet_monument traditional_customs Comments (0)

Mum returns to the UK, I stay on in Sofia

Sofia


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

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.

IMG_4878.JPG

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.

IMG_4884.JPGIMG_4887.JPGIMG_4883.JPG

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

IMG_4888.JPGIMG_4889.JPGIMG_4890.JPG

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.

IMG_4891.JPGIMG_4895.JPGIMG_4893.JPGIMG_4896.JPG

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)

Sofia: Thracian treasure troves & delectable cakes

Sofia


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

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.

IMG_4849.JPG

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.

IMG_4873.JPGIMG_4871.JPGIMG_4857.JPGIMG_4858.JPGIMG_4868.JPGIMG_4853.JPG

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


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

Monday 27th October

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

IMG_4790.JPGIMG_4786.JPG

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.
.
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.

IMG_4793.JPGIMG_4792.JPGIMG_4800.JPGIMG_4801.JPGIMG_4805.JPG

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.

IMG_4810.JPGIMG_4809.JPGIMG_4826.JPGIMG_4812.JPGIMG_4829.JPGIMG_4834.JPG

The views were fantastic and I took lots of photos.

dbb44a80-1a81-11e9-acc7-0da243d1fbc2.JPGIMG_4819.JPGIMG_4815.JPGIMG_4813.JPGIMG_4824.JPGIMG_4827.JPG

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.

IMG_4828.JPGIMG_4816.JPGIMG_4830.JPGIMG_4833.JPG

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.

IMG_4844.JPGIMG_4842.JPG

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

IMG_4837.JPG

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.

IMG_4845.JPG

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)

Arbanasi: Absolutely fantastic experience!

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

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.

IMG_4745.JPGIMG_4743.JPGIMG_4744.JPG

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.

IMG_4747.JPGIMG_4746.JPG

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)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 15) Previous « Page 1 2 [3]