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Basarbovo Rock Monastery

Basarbovo Rock Monastery


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After Ivanovo, Basarbovo Monastery also proved to be a very interesting and picturesque destination. This monastery grounds were quite small, with a white cliff on the left hand side and a narrow road next to a river on the right. Hewn into the white cliff were four or five little chapels; one of them had colourful frescoes painted onto the outside wall.

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We climbed the stone steps up the cliff into the main one. It was quite richly decorated, with some icons (including a marvellous one of St George & the Dragon) and a carved wooden iconostasis. We met two women from Kazakhstan - the first people from that country I've knowingly met.

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Outside the entrance to this chapel was a space, also hewn out of the cliff face, containing benches around the sides and some candle stands. On the other side of this space there was a tiny office selling little religious icons, fridge magnets, candles, etc.

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The other chapels, which we accessed by going outside the 'hallway' space, descending some of the cliff face steps and then going up again but to the right hand side, were more plain and were even smaller, but were still atmospheric. Each one of them had little icon cards leaning against a window, with small coins scattered in front of them on the stone windowsill. Two of the little chapels also had angels carved deeply into a wall.

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Once we'd returned to ground level, we wandered round the grounds. These were small, but very green and lovely. The outside of the church looked like it had been restored very recently and there was building work going on inside, so we couldn't enter. Behind the church there were steps up onto the outer wall, so we climbed up and walked along it and round to some more hollows in the cliff. These hollows had some wooden planks laid down on the ground; some had lots of chalk dust on them.

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As we explored, we heard the sound of bells once more - we looked down to see three black and white cows with cowbells, walking along the road with a cowherd.

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Before we returned to Veliko Tarnovo, we had one more destination to come... the town of Ruse, which lies on the River Danube.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:03 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art monastery sisters bulgaria icons explorations orthodox_church 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)

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)

Dryanovo Gorge & Monastery

Dryanovo Gorge and Monastery


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It was around two o'clock by now so after lunch in Tryavna we headed straight off to the monastery. It is dramatically set in Dryanovo Gorge - apparently most of the monasteries in Bulgaria were deliberately built in geographically dramatic places. The monastery was quite small but extremely beautiful inside. Every church and cathedral I've been to in Bulgaria has had a stall selling beeswax candles and little religious trinkets and this one was no exception; I bought and lit a candle for Dad.

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In a separate building there was a museum that apparently contained stone age pottery and arrowheads and other things found in the Bacho Kiro cave nearby, but just as we walked up to it, a woman locked the door. It closes early during the winter. To the right of that, however, we saw a door and some steps leading down into a room selling sweets, preserved vegetables and a few handicrafts, so we went in. I saw a wooden bowl filled with colourfully painted, light, wooden eggs, so on an impulse I bought a couple. I imagine that at Easter time, painted eggs will be everywhere!

Then we walked across the river behind the monastery and up part of the mountain for five minutes until we got to Bacho Kiro cave.

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To get there we had to re-cross the river using a different bridge; it consisted of lots of little waterfalls almost joined together. As we crossed it, I noticed that part of it was frozen!

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The time was 15.45 by now and in the winter the cave closes at 16.00. We could see the entrance to the cave from the ticket booth, so 'F' asked the man if we could possibly just step inside the cave and look round the main bit for ten minutes. This was not possible, however! Oh well.

To make up for that, we continued climbing up the mountain for a bit until we reached the top of the gorge. The view, needless to say, was stunning.

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There was a beech wood at the top. We carried on walking for five minutes until we reached the river again, which, because we were further back in the gorge, was at a much higher up stage than where we'd crossed it before. It was filled with giant boulders.

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There was no bridge this high up but there were stepping stones, so we jumped across them and walked for a bit through the beech trees that continued on the other side. After a couple of minutes the trail petered out, so after making a pact to come back again in the spring or summer, this time for a whole day, we retraced our steps and drove back to VT.

Posted by 3Traveller 17:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged waterfalls mountains monastery dad bulgaria orthodox_church cave_system Comments (0)

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