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Sofia: Thracian treasure troves & delectable cakes

Sofia


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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.

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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.

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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


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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)

Mum's here in VT

Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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I woke up from one of the best night's sleep I've ever had. The stairways at this place were pretty dingy, but the bedroom (and especially the mattress) was nice. I had a pretty basic breakfast in the basement, took a shower, checked out at what I thought was 11.30 (leaving my rucksack to pick up later) and went out for my first walk around Sofia.

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My aim was to find the hotel where Mum and I would be staying the following Thursday night. I passed by a copper-domed cathedral, intending to have a look inside if I had enough time after finding the hotel. Then I walked down Boulevard Vitosha, one of the main streets. There were remnants of snow around, but it didn't look as if it had snowed nearly as much as it had in VT. I could see snowcapped mountains in the distance. After walking down Bld. Vitosha for quite a while and then along a side street I found the hotel, Hotel Niky.

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By the time I had walked back again, there was no time to go inside the cathedral, because it was time to pick up my rucksack and get a taxi to the airport! As soon as I got there I realised that I had arrived an hour too early... I hadn't realised that the clocks went back in Bulgaria! Oh well.... time passed quite quickly just waiting for Mum's arrival.

Once she had arrived we did what I'd done when I arrived in September; took a taxi to the main bus station and then the bus to VT. This time the journey was the standard time, though the woman I got the tickets from didn't understand me when I tried asking if the bus was direct, so throughout most of the journey I wasn't 100% certain if our route was the direct one or not. We talked loads on the journey, plus did a crossword together. She also told me some very sad, medical family news :-(

It was dark once we arrived in VT, but it wasn't that late, only about 18.30. There was still loads of snow around. I showed her the flat and she rested for a bit while I nipped to the shop to get one or two things. Once I got back we went out to a restaurant down the road for some dinner. This place, Malkia Inter, is rather eccentrically decorated with a fish tank, icons, several types of musical instrument, souvenirs from different countries and lots more. I had one of my favourites, chicken kavarma (chicken and vegetable stew in a clay pot), and Mum had the pork version.

When we got back the flat was freezing but I couldn't get the air conditioning to turn into the heater mode. Eventually it did start working, however. It turned out that because it was the first time I'd tried using it as a heater, it just took a while for the air blowing out to become warm.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:35 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow airport cathedral hostel buses sofia bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha Comments (0)

SNOW!!! - Long journey to Sofia though!

Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia


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Next week is half term for many schools in the UK; with that in mind, Mum is coming to visit for a few days and arrives at Sofia Airport tomorrow. I went to Sofia today so I could stay the night and not have to travel on the day itself.

I had my usual one-to-one FCE class from 9.30 to 11.30 am, arriving at 9 to do a bit of marking first. It was raining slightly as I walked to work, but half an hour into the lesson I noticed that it had started snowing! I thought to myself that it wouldn't settle, because of the rain earlier, but after another half hour I noticed that a lot of snow had already settled! It was the first time I'd seen snow first hand since February or March 2013, so I was excited.

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I went back to the flat straight after work, sorted a few things out and set off for the little ETAP bus station. The snow had got even deeper by then. The first step I took onto the road, I slipped and fell onto my back - I had my rucksack on though, so I was OK. I arrived at the bus station to the news that the Sofia bus was delayed due to the unexpected snow and they weren't selling tickets yet because they didn't know how long it would take to get there. It arrived an hour and a quarter later and the journey itself took six hours instead of the three hours and twenty minutes it should have taken. This was because it went via Pleven, a city to the north-west of Veliko Tarnovo, instead of the normal route.

The six hours didn't feel that long, however, because I spent a lot of time looking out of the window at the scenery. It was still snowing. I realised on this journey that it was probably the first time I had seen whole forests of snow-laden coniferous trees stretching into the distance and definitely the first time I'd seen snow-laden deciduous trees with their leaves still on. When we passed by fields, quite often I couldn't tell where the fields ended and the sky began.

I arrived in Sofia at about 10 pm and got ripped off a treat by the taxi driver, who took me on a much more roundabout route than needed. I made a mental note just to walk in the future. I arrived at Hostel Lavele, letting myself in with the key that had been left for me. I had been upgraded from a 4 bed dorm to a twin room for some reason! I'd bought a hot dog and some chocolate at one of our stops on the journey, so I had that for dinner.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:51 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow hostel buses sofia bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo english_teaching extreme_weather Comments (0)

Goodbye St Albans - Bulgaria tomorrow!

St Albans, Hatfield and Hemel Hempstead


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I've been saying my goodbyes gradually over the last few days in preparation for my departure to Bulgaria tomorrow for my new teaching contract for the coming academic year.

I went to Asda in Hatfield on Wednesday morning to buy some trainers and casual trousers, neither of which they had (apart from jeans). I did get to speak to some friends who work there, though, which was nice. Then that evening I went down to the rugby club and caught up with some people there.

Yesterday Dave and I went into St Albans city centre, had lunch at the Meating Room (a gem of a burger place which had been highly recommended to me) and stopped at the cemetery on our way home in order say hello and goodbye to Dad. We went out again in the evening to have a drink and game or two of pool at The Crown.

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Earlier today we went to Hemel Hempstead for a birthday barbecue at Kate & Andrew's.

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Dave has now left for Manchester as he has work tomorrow. My flight leaves Gatwick at 6.35 am so I'm not going to go to bed tonight - I can't risk sleeping through my alarm! I'm getting a train in the middle of the night. My first time flying with Ryanair - hopefully it will go OK!

I've been given instructions for what to do on arrival in Sofia. I'll need to go to a specific taxi company desk at the airport, get a taxi to the main bus station and then a bus from there to Veliko Tarnovo. I know how much the ticket should cost and how long the journey should be.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom sisters dad dave mum hatfield st_albans hemel_hempstead Comments (0)

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