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Christmas Eve

Veliko Tarnovo


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On Christmas Eve morning Dave and I walked to the fruit & vegetable market and the supermarket below it. The stalls had a heavy emphasis on what is in season - they were filled with squashes, swedes, beets, onions, potatoes, cabbages, nuts and apples - but they also had some presumably imported oranges, mandarins and other fruits. I looked for brussel sprouts without any luck. There were also some stalls filled with loose dried fruits, such as apricots and figs, as well as more nuts, jars of preserved peppers and tomatoes, bagged dried herbs, dried peppers, jars of honey and last of all, slabs of raw, white animal fat. Near the entrance to the market some women were selling bare branches of a certain type of tree, that I think I mentioned I saw sold in Sofia, along with branches of fir.

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After stocking up on Christmas food, we dumped the stuff at the flat and had a rest before going out again for lunch and some shopping in the old town. I had my old favourite, tarator (a cold soup made from yoghurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, vegetable oil and chopped nuts) as a starter. I've forgotten what else we had apart from the pudding, which I will always remember due to its unusualness. The dish I had was 'Frumenty'! I'd only ever heard about that as a dish people used to have at Christmas in the UK in Medieval times, so I was intrigued to see it here. I'd always assumed it was served hot, but here it was cold; it was a lot like rice pudding but with giant grains of (presumably boiled) wheat or some other kind of corn, instead of rice. It also had a fruit which looked and tasted a lot like tiny, sweet green gooseberries.

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Strictly speaking, on the menu it was called 'Diet Frumenty'. It was listed on the same dessert page as 'Diet Cake', which I thought was quite funny. Maybe Diet Cake is made with sweetener instead of sugar, or something like that...

We had a look in a couple of craftsman's and tourist souvenir shops after that, but didn't buy anything. We knew we'd be back either the next day or on Boxing Day. It was a lovely sunny day, like yesterday, so it was very pleasant just walking around. As the sun got lower and lower, the light looked more and more golden.

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We didn't do much in the evening apart from have pizza for dinner (with added mozzarella), play cards and have some clementines before getting an early night.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:35 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market christmas dave bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Back to Sofia - Dave arrives for Christmas

Sofia


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Dave arrived today at Sofia Airport, but not until 23.50 so I had quite a few hours to myself in Sofia before then. My bus journey from Veliko Tarnovo was uneventful and I arrived at Hostel Mostel mid-afternoon.

On my walk from the bus station to the hostel I suddenly heard lots of very loud twittering and chirping on my right hand side; I turned round and saw a bushy tree the same height as me, filled with sparrows! I stepped up right next to them and none of them flinched or flew away. It reminded me of when Mum visited in October and said that the sparrows reminded her of how common they used to be in London forty or fifty years ago.

It looked like a really good place - before I was taken to my room I had time to send a quick email on one of the free computers and take note of the free pool table! The private rooms were in a separate building three minutes away from the main hostel; the room was excellent and I
liked the common room and kitchen.

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Shortly afterwards I went out to do some shopping. I admired the clearest view of the mountains yet, walked to the fruit & vegetable market to look for brussel sprouts (unsuccessfully - I've heard they they only appear on sale in Bulgaria for a couple of days per year), visited one or two shops and when my legs got tired I sat down in Sveta Nedelya Cathedral for a bit. There was a service going on; a group of people were standing in the middle, flanked by six poinsettia arrangements. Choral music filled the cathedral, but I couldn't see any choir anywhere so I assumed that was through a sound system. I bought and lit a beeswax candle for Dad.

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On my walk around Sofia I noticed several streetsellers selling branches of fir tree, branches from another type of tree (which I think it traditionally brought inside the house at Christmas in Bulgaria) and other branches which had ribbons, stringed popcorn, (I think) sheep's wool, and other decorations attached. I think this last type of branch are traditionally carried by children as they go carol singing from house to house from midnight on Christmas morning onwards.

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I got a free dinner at eight o'clock - pasta with tomato sauce and salad. As I was eating, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation two guys sitting near me were having. I listened, puzzled, because it sounded similar to Spanish but also different. I was just pondering whether to ask them where they were from, when another girl walked up to them and asked 'de dondé eres?' (Where are you from? in Spanish). They replied 'Chile!'. I nearly laughed - when I was in Ecuador, every time I asked the students which Spanish accents they liked the most and least, they always said that they found Chileans very difficult to understand. Now I can see why! It sounded very different to Ecuadorian Spanish.

I took the bus to the airport terminal late at night, at quarter past eleven. Somehow I ended up getting a free journey, because although I checked with the driver if it was going to the airport or not he never asked me for the fare (like the girl at the hostel reception said he would) and there were no conductors or machines to give money to. On the way there I saw other people get on and then get off again later without having paid anyone anything, but the driver never said anything, so I just got off at the terminal and hoped for the best.

It was amazing to see Dave again, as you can imagine. Thankfully the OK-Supertrans taxi service desk was still open, so we took one of their taxis to the hostel.

Posted by 3Traveller 05:15 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains market airport spanish cathedral christmas hostel buses dad sofia bulgaria mum orthodox_church traditional_customs Comments (0)

Monument to the Assen Dynasty

Veliko Tarnovo


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Today I went on a walk to a place I see every day on my way to and from work; the Monument to the Assen Dynasty, which is on a hill surrounded on three sides by the River Yantra.

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On the walk over the bridge to get there I noticed something one of my students had told me about the week before; padlocks locked to the bridge railings. On each padlock was engraved or scratched two people's initials. Apparently, couples come here with an engraved/ scratched padlock, lock it to the railings and then throw the key into the river below. This symbolises the strength and longevity of their relationship. I got the impression from my student that this is quite a new tradition, and I don't know how seriously it's done, but I still think it's interesting.

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Once I reached the monument I admired it for a bit, took in the amazing views of Veliko Tarnovo on this side of the hill and took some photos. I couldn't see my flat because that looks over another part of the river from the other side of the hill. The Assen Monument consists of an upright sword, flanked by four Bulgarian Tsars on horseback. From 1185 to 1241, these Tsars helped the Bulgarian State reach its political, cultural and economic height, with Tarnevgrad (as VT was formerly known) as its capital.

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Behind the monument there was an art gallery, but to my surprise (considering it was a Saturday and a nice sunny day to boot, so quite a few people were around), it was dark inside and locked up. A notice said to ring the bell for entry, and that it was open today, but I chickened out of doing so. I thought it would feel really awkward having someone open up the whole thing just for me, even if maybe other visitors would come in after me. I will definitely go inside the place before I leave Bulgaria, however.

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So instead of going inside the gallery, I continued walking, taking more photos as I went.

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Soon I came across a fork in the road, with an extremely long set of steps up a hill in the middle. I climbed all the steps to the top of the hill, which is part of Sveta Gora Park. I climbed higher and higher until I could see all of VT and the hills surrounding it; I couldn't get many photos, however, because from the viewing point there were lots of trees and shrubbery in the way on each side (which were too steep and slippery to attempt scrambling down). It was great to get that sense of height though!

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After I had climbed back down all the steps and walked back past the art gallery and monument and across the bridge, I went on to the little Christmas market round the corner from Mother Bulgaria Square. To be honest, it didn't seem to sell anything that you wouldn't see in a Christmas market in the UK, and I didn't buy anything. Then I went back to the flat to rest and have some late lunch. I wanted to preserve my energy for the school Christmas party that evening!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:17 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges art market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo river_yantra mother_bulgaria_square assen_monument sveta_gora_park Comments (0)

National Revival Day

Sofia


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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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....

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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 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)

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