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UNESCO World Heritage Site: Boyana Church

Sofia


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We arrived in Sofia early in the morning after a seamless journey. We'd been planning to visit a village called Koprivshtitsa once we'd checked into the hostel, but had to abandon that plan after we couldn't find anywhere to buy the bus tickets. We found the smaller bus station next to the central one, but I couldn't find any booth that listed Koprivshtitsa as a destination.

Instead of that we thought it would be great to go up Mount Vitosha, a the snow-capped mountain next to Sofia, but had that plan squelched as well because the hostel staff told us the cable-cars are currently down for maintenance. Instead we swung into plan C - just to explore the city instead and see some sights before Kate and Andrew's last couple of days in Bulgaria. It was another hot, sunny day so perfect for wandering around.

Our first intended destination was the Monument to the Soviet Army, which I recommended and Andrew particularly wanted to see, but on our way there we were irresistibly drawn into a shop on Boulevard Vitosha selling an amazing array of little cakes, biscuity-like things, baklava etc. Kate bought a couple of tulumbi on my recommendation; I'd had these before but Kate and Andrew hadn't. Tulumbi are basically tubes of fried batter soaked in syrup, somewhat similar to churros but thicker and with a softer, almost juicy centre. Delicious!

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Our food adventures then continued because we carried on to the fruit and veg market and discovered an ice cream stand with piles of whipped-up, tasty-looking ice cream in flavours we'd mostly not come across before. I got chocolate, Kate melon and Andrew frozen strawberry yoghurt.

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Straight after the market we came to a square with Sveti Sedmochislenitsi church on one side. We hung around in the square to finish our ice creams (and saw a wonderful Samoyed dog and a man on a skateboard pushing himself along with a big stick...) before going inside the church.

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The building is interesting because it was originally built as a mosque by the Ottomans, back in 1528, before being abandoned in 1878 at the Liberation of Bulgaria and used as a military warehouse and prison. It wasn't converted into a Christian church until the early 20th century. Inside seemed pretty typically decorated for a Bulgarian Orthodox church, with frescoes all over the place, icons of Christ and saints, etc. Members of the public were paying their respects to the icons. On our way out we noticed that one of the cases had a relic in it, which made Kate and Andrew feel a little queasy: a preserved finger!

After going on to visit the Soviet monument we returned to the hostel for a while to rest for a bit.

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Our destination for the afternoon was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Boyana Church.

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It is mainly a World Heritage Site because it has outstanding frescoes from 1259. We were shown in and observed by a frankly rather bossy lady, and were only allowed to stay inside for 10 minutes for preservation reasons, which was fair enough because humidity from people's breath etc. can damage wall paintings. I understood why she observed us so closely, because it would be a tragedy if any visitors damaged the frescoes either thoughtlessly or deliberately, but it was still a bit offputting! It was nevertheless a great experience, with the interior being truly breathtaking both artistically and historically. We were all really glad we'd come. We enjoyed the small park surrounding the church before hunting around for a taxi to take us back to the cathedral near the hostel.

We popped into the cathedral briefly as Andrew hadn't been in it before, then walked back to the hostel, picking up pizza slices on the way for a very late lunch.

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We had a quiet evening, with dinner at the hostel that was provided as part of our room cost - spaghetti with tomato sauce - and then an early night to catch up on sleep.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:55 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art market cathedral hostel buses sisters sofia bulgaria icons explorations orthodox_church unesco_world_heritage_site bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha soviet_monument Comments (0)

Another scorching day for April

Veliko Tarnovo


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I was teaching all morning today from 9am-1pm, so while I was away Kate and Andrew took the opportunity to look round Tsarevets Fortress. It was another very hot and sunny day and from all accounts they had a really good time, looking round nearly every part of the fortress and taking plenty of photos.

I met up with them for lunch on the balcony of Stratilat Café, the place where Emma, Kate and I had lunch on our birthday back in January. It has a great view of a section of VT and swallows periodically flew around us to nests under the eaves of the building. This café lies on the craftsmen's street and before I arrived, the others had enjoyed window-shopping. Kate enjoyed watching the coppersmith at work with his tools and fire outside his workshop.

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I didn't need to be back at work until 4pm, so we got to spend some more time together after lunch. First of all we walked over to the fruit and vegetable market in order to buy some veg for dinner, buying a bun much like a kozunak (Easter Bun) on our way. It's always interesting poking around this market and today was no exception; Kate especially enjoyed looking round the stalls, which sell not only fresh fruit, veg and herbs but also produce such as honey, eggs, nuts and suchlike.

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After I had got some courgettes, spring onions, aubergines and long, thin red peppers, we popped into a supermarket where Kate bought a 2-litre carton of apricot juice for herself and a big bottle of beer mixed with grapefruit juice for Andrew. We then had a 10-minute sit down in Mother Bulgaria Square before splitting ways; I had to get back to work.

While I was at work, Kate and Andrew relaxed back at my flat until the evening, when they went for an evening stroll to an area of VT they had seen from the fortress earlier - the historic Asenov quarter next to the River Yantra. Apparently it was light when they set off but dark when they got back - in the dusk they saw bats flying around and swooping under the bridge as they crossed it.

Dinner preparations continued later on, once I arrived back. In the middle of these preparations we saw a Tsarevets Sound & Light Show from my windows; no soundtrack, but we could hear the bells. To go with the vegetable sauce we had the sautéed potatoes and scrambled egg left over from dinner the night before, cooked together, plus a couple of boiled duck eggs each. We rounded the meal and day off nicely with the kozunak-like bun.

Posted by 3Traveller 05:12 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges market sisters bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress river_yantra mother_bulgaria_square extreme_weather Comments (0)

Bulgarian Orthodox Easter Sunday

Veliko Tarnovo


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The first excursion we went on today was to the fruit and veg market; I needed to buy some vegetables for dinner and I knew Emma was curious to see it anyway. She kept an eye out for quinces to take back to Mum, but there weren't any. Lots of salad vegetables, courgettes and peppers available. Only about half the stalls or less were occupied, but it was enough to give them a good idea of what it's like normally.

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We had to stop off at a bakery on the way home for a Bulgarian Easter essential - Kozunak, which is basically a huge fat sugary bun a bit like an oversized, puffy, round and not so tightly wound Chelsea bun. We bought an absolutely huge one to share later.

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When we got home Emma and Mark hung out some laundry they'd put in earlier, while I got lunch ready. We had mozzarella, roasted red peppers from a jar, pesto, snezhanka (essentially a more solid version of tarator, make with strained yoghurt), a long string of preserved sausages, bread, and cheese triangles. We ate out on the terrace since the weather was gorgeous.

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Next, we headed out to craftmen's street. Emma had a hankering for a cowbell, so she bought a small one from the same shop I'd bought her St George and the Dragon icon from on our birthday. Mark bought a couple of colourful finely woven table runners - one for him and Emma and the other for his family - and a pair of dangly leaf-like copper earrings for Emma from the coppersmith's workshop.

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After we'd made our purchases, we stopped off at Stratilat Café for pudding. Emma and I had Bulgarian rice pudding (which, by the way, isn't served hot like it usually is in the UK, but cold - it's beautifully creamy and sweet), and Mark had a decadent looking slice of banana and chocolate pie. Emma also had a strawberry milkshake and I had a frappé.

After a brief stop-off at the flat to dump their purchases and take in some laundry, we wandered down to Tsarevets Fortress.

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I'd been there three times before, so while Emma and Mark went up to the Patriarchate Tower first, I walked round to Baldwin's Tower, the part I hadn't seen before.

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When I met back up with the others, lower down the hill from the Patriarchate Tower, they raved about the views they'd got of the whole town and beyond, not just from the top of the tower but at every turn on the way up as well. After that we continued to the overhanging Executioner's Rock, where photos had to be taken of us standing, and climbed along the outside walls before finally making our rather sun-burnt way back into town.

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Emma and I went home while Mark made a detour back to the craftmen's street to buy a couple of very colourful painted glass bottles that had taken their fancy earlier.

'F' came round for dinner in the evening. The others chatted and drank hot drinks while I made a chicken and vegetable sauce, then while that finished cooking, I went down to the plaza with Emma and Mark for the sound and light show at Tsarevets. This happens on a regular basis, but usually the soundtrack is reserved for paying guests only (excepting the bells). Today though, since it was Easter Day, the mayor had paid for it to be available for everyone. Great timing for Emma and Mark! I've seen the show plenty of times, but not with the soundtrack until today. It lasted about 20 minutes and was extremely dramatic. It tells the history of Veliko Tarnovo, which evidently involved a lot of bloodshed and gunfire, judging by the wails on the soundtrack and the large amounts of red light and sudden flashes.

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After going back for dinner, we went round to 'F's to attack the Easter Bun and some wonderful chocolate brownies that she had made. We stayed there for a long time just eating and chatting, before reluctantly going back so that Emma and Mark could pack for their trip to Varna in the morning.

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Posted by 3Traveller 23:41 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market sisters bulgaria veliko_tarnovo explorations fortifications tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine easter_celebrations Comments (0)

Bulgarian Orthodox Palm Sunday

Veliko Tarnovo and Mindya


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Yesterday I mentioned seeing old ladies cutting willow branches on my walk from Arbanasi to Veliko Tarnovo; this morning I saw lots of people on the streets holding branches and twigs of willow. Today is the Bulgarian Orthodox Palm Sunday; a day when people take willow (in place of palm leaves) to church to be blessed. 'R' and I were walking to the fruit and vegetable market to buy some flowers for later when we saw all the people; once we got there we saw several temporary stalls selling willow branches, blossoming twigs I did not recognise and flowers, mostly daffodils. We bought some willow and daffodils and had a look round the rest of the market. Lots of salad vegetables are in season now, so most of the vegetable stalls were selling cucumbers, spring onions, radishes, tomatoes and lettuce.

Although today is Palm Sunday in Bulgaria, for the UK it's Easter Sunday. To celebrate this, 'R' and I went to Mindya to have lunch with one of our colleagues & her partner. We gave them the willow and daffodils we'd got from the market earlier. Lunch was amazing - all homemade, there were flatbreads eaten hot straight from the pan, hummous, tzaziki, grilled vegetables, fried halloumi and one or two other things I've forgotten. Delicious. After that, 'R' & I were surprised with an Easter egg hunt that had been set up in their garden! :-)

Posted by 3Traveller 07:08 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo mindya traditional_customs palm_sunday easter_celebrations Comments (0)

Signs of Spring

Veliko Tarnovo


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A beautiful sunny day today, so I took advantage of the day off work and walked to the market in town.

On the main road leading into Mother Bulgaria Square I saw lots of stalls selling martenitsas; these are red and white tassels, bracelets woven from intertwined red and white threads and little wooden doll figures called Pizho and Penda. These are exchanged by Bulgarians on 1st March to mark Baba Marta Day, the day which traditionally marks the end of the cold of winter and the beginning of spring. You aren't supposed to buy martenitsas for yourself; you should only wear ones given to you, and you're supposed to wear them until you either see a stork or a blossoming tree. Once you do see a blossoming tree, you should tie the martenitsa to it or hang it from a branch.

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I noticed other signs of spring once I got to the market. Old women were sitting on stools, selling bunches of snowdrops and white plastic cups of colourful flowers (possibly primroses). There were fewer winter vegetables such as swedes, turnips, cabbages, pumpkins and nuts; salad vegetables were starting to appear - spring onions, lettuces, peppers and a huge amount of tiny onions! I had never seen such small onions before.

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Another interesting thing I saw was massive chunks of 'byala halva' (white halva) with walnuts - it looked like nougat. I found out later that this type of halva is traditionally eaten on the last Sunday before Lent; given that this was nearly two weeks ago, I guess there must still be a bit of a backlog to use up...I also saw some massive knotted sugary buns which I had not seen before, so I assume they must have some connection to spring or to Lent. I bought one and it was fantastic!

Posted by 3Traveller 16:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine mother_bulgaria_square baba_marta traditional_customs Comments (0)

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