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Further Plovdiv explorations

Plovdiv and Shipka


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Well, we certainly fitted a lot into this morning and the first half of the afternoon!

The very first thing I did after breakfast was walk to an internet café to print off Mum's boarding pass for her. Reception at our hostel didn't have a printer, but they told me how to get to a place where there was one. Something I've noticed in Bulgaria is that internet cafés are much rarer than they are in Ecuador - this was the first time I'd been to one in Bulgaria. It was mega-simple though - walked in, didn't even need to log on to one of the for-public-use computers as the girl in charge set up hers quickly for me instead; three minutes, cost about 20 stotinki (8p)! On my way back I stopped at a fruit & vegetable market and bought Mum a bag of cherries.

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First stop together was the Ethnographic Museum; I'd been there before, in March, but Mum hadn't. Our favourite exhibits were; the traditional musical instruments and mummers' costumes, the large wooden attar of roses container which had been steeped in the stuff for so long in the past that it still smelled wonderfully of roses, and the huge, fluffy (sheepskin?), colourful rugs on one wall. Mum also particularly liked the embroidery as well.

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From there we headed down the road to Hadji Aleko's House, via a souvenir shop where the owner's wife weaved mats and wall hangings on looms at the back of the shop (she wasn't actually in action when we went, but there were half-made things on them and the owner told us his wife made them).

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Hadji Aleko's House is a National Revival building now used as an art gallery. Downstairs was filled with contemporary paintings for sale, whilst upstairs had a permanent exhibition. My favourite contemporary painting was of a colourful Firebird. Lots of original antique furniture as well, especially upstairs.

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Once we had looked round the gallery we were feeling quite hungry, so I took Mum to a restaurant I knew of at the foot of Danov Hill. Back in March I tried to have lunch there but was thwarted by the public holiday crowds, so I was keen to return! My tarator and potato balls were delicious; the dish of cooked red pepper slices surprised me by being cold, but were nice all the same.

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Our last proper stop before returning to the hostel was done on an impulse at a small mosaic museum which I think was connected to a Roman forum excavation nearby. The mosaics were impressive and we also liked the well-lit and colourful collection of amulets and scent bottles made of Roman glass. It was just the thing to round off our Plovdiv visit!

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After picking up my stuff from our hostel and saying goodbye, I took a taxi to the north bus station. The bus journey back to Veliko Tarnovo was uneventful, though we did stop for ten minutes at Shipka. The golden domes of the Russian Church gleamed over the rooftops. Right in the middle of the parking area was a cherry tree absolutely dripping with ripe fruit; I enjoyed several ultra-fresh, sweet and juicy cherries before it was time to get back on the bus.

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Mum had a couple of hours to go in Plovdiv before her lift to the airport; apparently she went for another walk and saw a Bulgarian bagpiper performing outside a shop. This is something I really want to see before I leave Bulgaria.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art market museum buses traditions bulgaria mum plovdiv roman_remains house_museum bulgarian_cuisine traditional_customs shipka_pass Comments (0)

The Valley of the Roses

Kazanluk, the Valley of the Roses and Plovdiv


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From Shipka we descended into the Valley of the Roses. Right now we are in the middle of the rose season, which is a big deal here; Bulgaria makes about 60% of the world's rose oil, plus smaller amounts of other rose products like rosewater, soap, hand cream, liqueur and things like that.

Now when you hear or see the name 'The Valley of the Roses' you may get an image in your head of a valley completely filled from one side to the other with field after field stuffed with red, pink or white roses. Wonderful scents hanging languorously in the air. Roses as far as the eye can see (until the mountains appear in the horizon)! The reality is not quite like that, however. Now Mum and I were under no false illusions - we knew it wasn't going to be like the idealised image it's easy to come up with - and so we still really liked what we saw. There was a lot of farmland, both arable and for livestock, but we did pass the occasional field of pink roses; a novelty to people from the UK, where there are some rose gardens, but not open fields like the ones we saw here.

We stopped in the outskirts of Kazanluk at the impressively named Research Institute of Roses, Aromatic & Medicinal Plants, which contains the small but interesting Museum of the Rose.

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Before we went inside, we looked round part of the grounds and admired some almost perfect-looking deep red roses clearly at the peak of health.

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Inside the museum, bowls of rose petals were placed around the museum - a great touch, I thought. The scent was amazing. We saw lots of old equipment for the distillation and storage of rose oil (attar of roses), fascimiles of black and white photos of rose pickers in action, and some documents relating to the attar of roses trade. No wonder real rose oil is expensive; apparently, to get 1 kg of rose oil you need 3000 - 3500 kg of petals from the pink Kazanluk rose, or 5000 kg from the white rose! The petals are picked in the morning, from 4 am until about 10 am; apparently petals picked in the afternoon lose up to 50% of their oil content.

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Mum and I both bought ourselves a bottle of rose liqueur from the tiny shop attached to the museum. Then we crossed the road and walked into a rose field. The roses were not very close together (the majority must have been picked already) but there were still a decent amount there and we both enjoyed looking round.

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From the rose field we headed into the town centre to visit the famous Thracian tomb. This we were unable to do; it was locked up and apparently only archaeologists and other official people are allowed in. We did however visit the full-scale replica round the corner. This is absolutely tiny, but the frescoes are fantastically well done. You would never guess that they are replicas if you didn't know otherwise.

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It was another hour and a half before we arrived in Plovdiv; both Mum and I dozed off on the way. The hostel we stayed at (Hiker's Hostel) wasn't as good as Guesthouse Old Plovdiv, but the owner was friendly and the place served our needs. After a rest, we went for a walk. Neither of us was particularly hungry for some reason, so instead of dinner we visited a Turkish coffeeshop attached to Dzhumaya Mosque. Mum had a decaf coffee and I had a normal Turkish coffee; to go with our drinks, Mum had baklava while I had sutlac (Turkish rice pudding).

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Posted by 3Traveller 14:16 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art mosque museum hostel roses mum plovdiv explorations kazanluk valley_of_the_roses turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Into the mountains: Shipka Pass

Shipka and Shipka Pass


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Today we went back to Plovdiv to spend the night there before Mum's flight back to London tomorrow evening. Thursday is my normal weekday day off and I've booked tomorrow off as a day of holiday. To get to Plovdiv today, instead of going by bus I had arranged something special; a taxi to take us all the way there and drop us directly at our hostel. I arranged for the taxi man to take us through the mountains and stop at the Shipka Pass and the village of Shipka nearby before descending into the Valley of the Roses and the town of Kazanlak, where we hoped to get a sight of some rose fields and visit a UNESCO-listed Thracian tomb. This blog entry will detail our first two stops, at Shipka Pass and Shipka itself.

Set within the Central Balkan mountains, the Shipka Pass is very historically significant in Bulgaria as a battlefield during the War of Independence between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire in 1877 - 78. We stopped at a car park/ layby at the pass and I climbed up the peak next to it, which has a memorial at the top. This involved firstly 200 or 300 steps up a forested slope, then about 50 metres' walk to another set of 200 steps, which lead up to the memorial itself. Mum went up some of the first set and I continued up them all.

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It was exhausting, but definitely worth it; the views were stunning. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. When I reached the memorial there was a large group of schoolchildren on a school trip; their teacher got me to take a group photo of them all.

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Once I had returned, we continued 13 km down the road to the village of Shipka. Our destination was the Shipka Memorial Church, or to give it its full official name, the Memorial Temple of the Birth of Christ. It's also known informally as the Shipka Russian Church, as it was built in the 17th-century Muscovite style and is dedicated not only to the Bulgarians who died in the fight for independence but also to the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who died alongside them against the Ottomans.

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The white and red outer decoration and the gleaming golden domes are a sight to behold; the interior decoration is also very impressive. Every inch of the pillars and arches, plus most of the walls as well, is part of a fresco. They looked different to normal frescoes in Bulgarian orthodox churches, too; in fact they looked like they had been inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement. The church was finished in 1902, which is within the correct time period...

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Before we left the church we descended into the crypt, where we saw the gravestones of some of those who had perished in battle.

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When we went back outside the church we noticed hundreds of red beetles congregated in certain areas.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:17 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art bulgaria mum explorations orthodox_church shipka_pass Comments (0)

Lunch with a view

Veliko Tarnovo


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I was teaching in the morning and I thought Mum was going back to the fruit & vegetable market while I was gone, but when I arrived back I found her just finishing off deep cleaning my bathroom! She hadn't gone to the market after all.

After a while we headed out to lunch at a place I had not taken any visitors to before. It's a little restaurant/ café down a set of steps off the main road; we ate on the wooden balcony with a fantastic view of the sword monument hill and around. This time Mum had pepper burek and salad, while I had mishmash and chips. Mishmash is a mixture of scrambled egg, crumbled up white cheese and chopped up and cooked peppers and tomatoes. It was fantastic; I could tell the ingredients were ultra fresh.

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It was still sunny at this point, but after walking across the bridge to the sword monument, it started raining. Typical! Neither of us had brought our umbrellas. Oh well, it was still nice to look round and get the views of the houses on the hillside opposite. We spotted the balcony where we'd just had lunch. No snakes to be seen this time, though some small lizards skittered about.

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From there we moved on to the supermarket. When we came out of there the rain was hammering down, so we went back inside for a bit until it had subsided a little. We started walking back, but then decided to get a taxi to save us getting completely soaked.

After an hour or two of rest, we went out again, this time to the craftsmen's street but via historic Gurko Street. The sun had come out again by now. I left Mum in the craftsmen's street as I had to go back to work.

When I got back from work at about 9.50pm, Mum had dinner ready! Flattened meatballs with a vegetable sauce and some of the seafood-shaped pasta Kate had given me for my birthday. For pudding we had an 'Eton mess' but made with tinned mandarins instead of strawberries.

Posted by 3Traveller 23:55 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged lizards bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street assen_monument extreme_weather Comments (0)

Frescoes, baklava and more strawberries

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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Going to Arbanasi today was a priority for Mum, as she was really keen to see it and we hadn't managed to go there when she visited me last October. We arrived at about 9 o'clock because the weather forecast had predicted sunshine in the morning but then a thunderstorm later on.

First of all, seeing as the sun was out but might not be later, we went to the magnificent viewing point where I had taken previous visitors.

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Then we went into the Church of the Nativity (stopping at an outdoors gym on the way - we tried out one or two of the machines!). Mum absolutely loved it, just like I thought she would. It's just so colourful and atmospheric inside! It started off with just us there, but then a party of young American men came in with a guide. This turned out to be quite beneficial to us, because we could overhear all the interesting information the guide had to offer the group. She showed them (and us) the painting of the Wheel of Life with its days, seasons, signs of the Zodiac, man at different life stages and the angels pulling on ropes to turn the wheel; the bad tradesmen in hell, suffering punishments related to their crimes; the shepherds in appropriate period dress (including one sitting in the Turkish manner, playing a pipe); the unicorn amongst the animals being named by Adam; the remaining original frescoes from the 15th century and the second layer of ones from 1681; the dragons on top of the iconostasis; and more. We also overheard her say that figures of the Ancient Greek philosophers were painted on the wall or ceiling of one of the rooms, but we couldn't spot them when we went to look.

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From there we went on to Konstantsalievata's House, the house museum I'd taken previous visitors to. I described this is a previous blog entry so I won't write more about it here, except for that Mum particularly admired all the heavy carved wooden chests and the wonderful carved wooden ceilings.

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After that we were both quite hungry but it wasn't lunchtime yet, so we had a coffee/ hot chocolate and some baklava at a café instead. We both loved the baklava; it was different to any we'd had before, being in a large slice like a slice of tart or pie. It was very syrupy and delicious; quite often (especially in the UK) baklava is very stiff and solid and stodgy, but this wasn't.

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Our next destination was the Church of St Atanas; I hadn't been before and didn't know anything about it, but I thought it would be interesting to check it out. Well, unfortunately it was closed when we arrived! We did however see a huge quantity of red and black beetles on the steps.

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By the time we'd wandered over there and back again it had started drizzling. We decided to have lunch slightly early; however Arbanashki Han, the place where I took people for lunch before, had a big party arriving soon, so we decided just to go back to the same place we'd had baklava. I had pepper burek (stuffed peppers with batter or breadcrumbs on the outside) and tarator and Mum had breadcrumbed chicken bites with a salad garnish.

The rain was tailing off by the time we left the café and headed to another place I'd been to with previous visitors; the monastery of Sveta Bogoroditsa. We both bought and lit candles there and wandered around both rooms, admiring the icons, frescoes and flowers. This time, instead of tulips, daffodils or carnations, they had roses and sweet williams in vases along one side. Two or three lambs munched on leaves outside.

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Our walk back to VT went well - we took the same route as I had taken with Kate and Andrew. The vegetation had overgrown even more than when they were here two weeks ago, but it was only a problem in that since it had only just stopped raining and Mum was wearing flipflops, she kept sliding on the grass in them! The sun came out relatively soon into the walk, however, plus the path became less overgrown, so the problem didn't last. It was a lovely walk and Mum enjoyed it too.

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Once back at the flat it was between 4 and 5pm - we'd left at about 8.50 in the morning! We put our feet up for a couple of hours before going out for dinner at Hadji Nikoli. I took her here when she was here last October and she had requested a return visit. Since the temperature was so mild, this time we sat in the courtyard. No pianist this time unfortunately, but the food was just as good. Mum had grilled tiger prawns and vegetables and I had tarator (of course!) and cannelloni.

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We both had coffees (I had Turkish) but didn't have any pudding there because we knew we had strawberries waiting for us back at the flat. More strawberries with rosehip syrup - a perfect way to round off the day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged museum monastery roses bulgaria mum icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church house_museum bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra arbanasi Comments (0)

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