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Arbanasi


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This morning I took Kate and Andrew to Arbanasi, a place Kate had been wanting to go ever since I first mentioned it last autumn!

Our first port of call was the wonderful Church of the Nativity; just as I thought, they were absolutely blown away by the fabulous, colourful frescoes covering almost every inch of the walls, ceilings and wooden beams.

After this we moved on to Sveta Bogoroditsa Monastery, another place I'd been to with Emma and Mark two weeks before. As it was then, it was picturesque, quiet and peaceful, with no sign of movement from anywhere and the sound of birdsong in the warm, summery air. We wandered through the grounds first of all, with the monastery church on our left, then the living quarters on our right and a small cemetery opposite it and next to the church, mainly full of nuns' graves. On wandering back towards the church Kate got really excited because she heard and saw a cuckoo! She had never actually seen or heard a cuckoo before, despite having read about for many years and even studied them at one point at university.

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Unlike in my last visit, inside the church both rooms were able to be looked round. All three of us bought candles from a lady at a desk in the larger room and lit them in the smaller.

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On our way out from the monastery grounds we admired the Greek inscription above the entrance gate, paying testament to the fact that Greek was the official language in Arbanasi for several centuries.

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A house museum was next: Konstantsalievata's House, which was the residence of one of Arbanasi's many rich merchant families during the Ottoman era. You could tell that this was a period of marauders' attacks on Arbanasi as the house has really thick walls and metal bars over the lower floor windows. It was really interesting inside, with much care and attention paid to interior decoration and furnishing, and the layout of the rooms. It even had a room specifically set aside for the mother and newborn baby (and if the re-enactment was accurate, they had the baby sleep in a little hammock strung over the raised, furnished platform that the mother slept on!) The expression in the doll's eyes was really quite disconcerting, even spooky.

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Before we set off back to Veliko Tarnovo, we had lunch at Arbanashki Han, a restaurant I insisted we visit because I know how good it is. We feasted on tasty tarator, sautéed thinly-sliced potatoes, stuffed peppers and Bulgarian flattened meatballs.

Our walk back to VT was pleasant, surrounded by lush grass, bushes and trees and accompanied by the sound of a stream flowing next to us. At one point I pointed out the willow tree from which I'd seen old ladies cutting branches for use in celebrations on Palm Sunday the next day. As we drew nearer to VT we could see Tsarevets fortress in the distance, then the town itself.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art birds monastery sisters bulgaria explorations church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church house_museum bulgarian_cuisine arbanasi Comments (0)

Bulgarian Easter Eve traditions

Veliko Tarnovo


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At about 23:45, after we'd returned from Ruse and rested a while, Emma and I walked round the corner to the cathedral. I'd heard about an Easter tradition Bulgarians have, so we wanted to have a look for ourselves!

Inside the cathedral there was no service going on, but it was filling up with people. A guy was selling candles inside the church. I looked in my wallet and saw I only had about 30 stotinki, enough for one of the smaller candles. I bought one but Emma couldn't because she didn't have any cash on her at all.

Soon the church was so crowded with people we could barely move. The church lacked pews, so we stood along with the others; as the clock ticked towards midnight I noticed an atmosphere of heightened excitement and expectation in the air. I wished I could take a photo, but didn't dare. Then, two minutes before midnight, the lights in the giant hanging candelabra turned off. The murmur quietened. At midnight two priests emerged from a door in the iconostasis with lighted candles and the people near to them crowded forward. Once people had lit their candles, they squeezed their way outside, where there were many other people waiting. I waited for the church to empty a bit and then as the priest moved toward the exit behind me, I lit my candle from his as he went past me. It almost immediately went out, however, so I had to re-light it from the candle of a lady ahead of me in the queue for the exit.

Meanwhile, Emma had left the church through another exit and gone round to the front, in order to see me coming out with my candle. She took a picture of me as I emerged. There was a tiny wooden stage outside the exit; the priests stood there, reaching down for people to light their candles, whilst those of us who'd been inside the church emerged and went straight down the steps on each side. Although I'd cupped my candle flame with my hands to prevent the wind blowing it out, after about a minute the wind succeeded. I re-lit it from the priest's candle, but then it went out again soon after.

Emma and I then went to the back of the crowd and just watched for a while. The priests chanted and swung incense whilst bells clanged.

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Eventually we wandered over to the side of the church which looks out over the same side of the hill as my flat does. Just as we got to the railing, fireworks started exploding over Tsarevets Fortress!

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Once the fireworks had finished, we turned round so we were facing the church again and watched people processing round it, anticlockwise, with their lit candles. We walked back round to where the crowd was and watched the crowd and the priests again for a bit. The bells started clanging a very particular tune over and over again. I hear the same bells clang this tune quite often - several times a week - but this time it lasted longer.

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Then we walked down the road to the plaza in front of Tsarevets, just to see what was going on there. There had been a service going on at the church tower there, and now hundreds of people were processing across the bridge with their candles. It was a grand and beautiful sight. There was a table set up and a woman standing next to it, handing out small plastic bags to the people as they emerged onto the plaza. She gave me and Emma ones too - they had a dyed boiled egg and a large slice of Easter bun inside. As she gave me the bag, she said 'Hristos vozkrese!' (Christ is risen!'). I couldn't remember what the official response was to that (apparently it's 'Vo eesteena vozkrese' - 'Truly he has risen'), so I just said 'blagodariya' (thank you) instead. Boiled and dyed/ painted eggs are cracked together after midnight, a bit like conkers; whoever's egg doesn't crack, gets good luck.

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We walked back to the flat after that, really happy about our experience. When we looked out of my windows, in the distance we could still see lights moving down the hill of Tsarevets and across the bridge.

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Posted by 3Traveller 15:08 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged cathedral sisters bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress traditional_customs easter_celebrations Comments (0)

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)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo

Rusenski Lom National Park


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From Cherven we moved on to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo! They are within a gorge inside the Rusenski Lom National Park, only a few miles from Cherven. Only the main church was open. It was set very high within a cliff - from the ground, we could see only a balcony. The path/ steps up to it was round the back of the outcrop.

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The interior of the church was very small, but the walls were covered in medieval frescoes. One outer wall of the church had been replaced with wood - apparently the rock on that side has collapsed in either the 6th or the 16th century. It felt so strange being inside a place that had been literally carved out of solid rock!

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Once we emerged from there, we walked on to another lookout point. On the way there we stopped to investigate some other caves you had to climb up into.

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Once we arrived at the lookout point - on the other end of the outcrop - we stopped to take in the fabulous view of hills, forest, valley and river.

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The sun still beat down. We heard a lot of goose- or duck-like sounds coming from the valley floor far below us - 'F' said that it was actually frogs making these noises! Apparently they are deceptively small considering the amount of noise they make.

There are other churches within the cliffs further along the valley, but the man in the main church had told us that they weren't open. We considered walking along the valley to the first one just to check, but then 'F' said that there was a rock monastery in Basarbovo, a village to the north, which would almost certainly be open. Instead of walking to the original one and risking that being closed and then it being past closing time for the other, we descended into the valley and back round to the car park to continue on to Basarbovo.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:14 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art sisters bulgaria explorations orthodox_church unesco_world_heritage_site cave_system 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)

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