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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)

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)

Balabanov House, the Roman stadium and more

Plovdiv


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At lunchtime we were due to catch the bus to Veliko Tarnovo, but we managed to fit quite a lot into the morning.

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The first place we went was another gorgeous National Revival house (the Old Town is full of them).

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In the courtyard we admired the roses - right now we are in the middle of the rose season in Bulgaria.

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From there we walked down the road to the Roman stadium remains, popping into one or two antique shops on the way (one of these shops had lots of amazing old painted wooden chests - we both coveted them, but potential transportation difficulties put us off buying any).

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The stadium lies in front of Dzhumaya Mosque, in the middle of the main shopping street. The seating in the stadium is made of the same gleaming white marble as those in the Roman amphitheatre.

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Our next destination was the intriguingly-named 'Singing Fountains' within Tsar Simeon's Gardens. I visited this park back in March, but it was still a bit wintry-looking then, plus I didn't go as far as the fountains. This time all the trees were fully in leaf and the flowers had bloomed. The fountains turned out to look quite impressive, set within a massive pool which I was desperate to swim in. The sun was very hot and the water looked so inviting! No evidence of singing though...

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After staying there a while we suddenly realised what the time was. Quick march back to Guesthouse Old Plovdiv! On the way back we saw part of a procession celebrating the Day of Culture & Literacy. This public holiday celebrates the Cyrillic alphabet in particular.

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We took a taxi to the North bus station, where I bought our tickets to Veliko Tarnovo. We had a bit of time to kill then, so we took turns to go next door to Lidl while the other person stayed to look after the bags.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:47 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art mosque museum hostel roses bulgaria mum procession plovdiv roman_remains house_museum Comments (0)

Tryavna revisit

Tryavna


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Tryavna is famous for its woodcarving and icon-painting traditions and also for its National Revival buildings. There is a difference between the buildings in Tryavna and the ones in Plovdiv, Arbanasi, parts of Veliko Tarnovo and elsewhere, however; the roofs are tiled with slate rather than terra cotta. Not slate tiles as we know it, either, but big, hefty, uneven slabs of it.

The first place we went to was the Church of Archangel Michael, deliciously cool inside and a feast for our eyes as well. As you might expect in a centre for woodcarving, the iconostasis and pulpit were wonderfully carved. The dark wood contrasted well with the colourful icons.

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The church is on the corner of the main square; a very distinctive clock tower stands on another side of it. I remembered this from last time. We asked if people can climb up it, but unfortunately it's closed off to visitors at the moment.

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Instead of that, we popped into a sweetshop next door - Tryavna has many of these, selling things such as Bulgarian delight, sheets of sesame snap and colourful curly lollies which look like rock.

After making some purchases (I got some sesame snap) we moved next door to the Old School Museum. We went under a stone archway and emerged into a small but wonderfully atmospheric courtyard. The school was built in 1839 and is similar to a house, with only one room actually a classroom. On the ground floor were craftsmen's workshops and on the first floor were the classroom, canteen and rooms for teachers, guardians and pupils from mountain villages. The school was the first secular one in Tryavna.

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The ground floor rooms weren't part of the museum and were closed, but upstairs I looked at an exhibition of colourful paintings and wooden sculptures of people done in the primitive style by the contemporary Bulgarian artists Nikola and Dimitar Kazakov, the old classroom, an exhibition of timepieces imported by 19th century Tryavna families (it included an 'reverse handed' clock - one where the numbers went anti-clockwise) and an exhibition of 19th century school textbooks and student reports.

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The latter exhibition didn't have any English text accompanying them, unfortunately, but it was still interesting to look at. One of these reports was actually from a school in Bucharest and was written in both Romanian and Latin - I liked comparing the two and seeing how similar the languages are.

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The classroom was interesting too because it was set up how it was in the 19th century. The front row was for infants and had little sand boxes for them to outline words and letters in; the second row had slates and was where the infants moved to after a year of sitting at the front. The third and fourth rows had inkpots; students only moved there once they were trusted to be able to write with pen and paper. An old-fashioned version of the Cyrillic alphabet was on the wall.

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After the school museum we walked on to the same café I'd had hot sand coffee at with F in January. It was too hot for coffee this time, so a cold drink was in order.

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From there we walked on to the 'Fountain of Love', something I'd seen back in January but hadn't known the background. It's very small, but has a beautiful carving of a woman; apparently whoever drinks from it will have a happy and long-lasting marriage. Both 'S' and I drank from it!

The fountain was opposite Daskalov House, the beautiful house museum with the carved suns in the roof that I had been to back in January. I had a sit down and admired the sculpture outside while the others went in.

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Another drink at a another café followed, before we left Tryavna and went on to Bozhentsi, a small village about five km away as the crow flies but actually about 20 km to drive due to the roundabout route you have to take through the hills.

Some general photos of Tryavna:

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Posted by 3Traveller 05:11 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges art museum traditions bulgaria icons clock_tower orthodox_church house_museum tryavna traditional_customs Comments (0)

Burgas: Ethnographical museum and Happy Bar & Grill

Burgas


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On our return to Burgas we made a beeline for the wonderful-looking ice cream shop I mentioned in a previous blog entry, but unfortunately it was closed. It was only about 3pm, but it had started raining, so maybe that was why it wasn't open.

The archaeological museum was also closed, due to painting work, so we set off to the ethnographical museum instead. This was set inside a small historic house; on the ground floor the living room was decorated and furnished like it would have been when it was built in the 19th century.

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There were also some examples of very intricately worked and engraved metal jewellery - my favourite was the large pendant with a face in it - coloured cloth from a village near Burgas and a facsimile of an old photo of female traditional folk-singers from the local region.

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Upstairs there was traditional female and male dress from various local villages; this included working clothes from Bulgarian immigrants to Asia Minor, wedding clothes and special clothes for Easter, St Lazar's Day (the day before Palm Sunday, this has various traditions attached to it), Midsummer's Day and other specific days. I liked the costume for male Christmas carol singers as well.

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We left when the museum closed at five o'clock. We relaxed at the hostel until it was time for dinner, which we had at a Bulgarian chain restaurant called 'Happy Bar & Grill'. This chain hasn't appeared in Veliko Tarnovo yet. It had a very modern interior, with one large TV screen showing a match from the Madrid Masters tennis tournament and two smaller ones showing 'TV's Funniest Videos'.

They had several menus, including the main menu, a sushi menu and a strawberry menu! From the latter we ordered a strawberry & banana smoothie to share. Dave was ecstatic when he saw edamame beans with salt in the main menu, so we had some of that to share as an appetiser, along with a piece of salmon sashimi each from the sushi menu. For our mains, we shared a stuffed grilled courgette and green salad, and had something separate each as well. I had steak and potato wedges and Dave had salmon and trout with grilled vegetables. We had just enough room for dessert, so I had some créme brulée and Dave had a blueberry waffle. A veritable feast, and the whole lot for the equivalent of £25!

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When we stepped outside we saw that it had stopped raining, so we walked to the seafront again. There's a park by the seafront and we were very taken with the giant model of a tropical fish which stood by the entrance. On our bus journeys out of town today and yesterday we had noticed more of these fish - I think they were connected to a National Geographic convention going on somewhere in Burgas around this time.

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Posted by 3Traveller 10:38 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged coast museum dave bulgaria burgas black_sea traditional_customs Comments (0)

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