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Entries about roman remains

National Revival Day

Sofia


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The first place I went to contrasted greatly to the traditional Bulgarian Orthodox church interior and icons I'd seen the day before; the Monument to the Soviet Army, which was built in 1954. Unsurprisingly, it looked very uncared-for, with some graffiti about and some grass growing between many of the paving stones. I stood about for a while, picturing parades that may well have taken place there. Rather surreally, there was a sculpture of a giant spoon next to it.

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After that I walked back past the fruit & vegetable market, which was still setting up when I'd come past before.

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I had to get a photo of one of the stalls because for a while I couldn't work out what was on it. I'm still not entirely sure what they were but I think they could have been halves of extremely large hollowed-out squashes that had been lightly grilled on a little grillstand next to the main stall.

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Next to the market I bought a 'kashkavalka' from a typical Bulgarian bakery where the products are displayed in the glass window, you say what you want and the assistant passes it through a hatch. Kashkavalki are spiral rolls with melted kashkaval, a type of yellow cheese, on top. That kashkavalka was simply the best cheesy roll I've ever had.

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From the bakery I walked to Sveti Nedelya church to take some photos. As I stood by the side of the church, which is raised up some steps, a rather surreal incident happened where Charlie Chaplin tried to persuade me to come to his café...

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After this exchange I went inside the church for another look-around. It was quite crowded due to it being a public holiday (National Revival Day). There was a security guard inside. I sat down for a while on a seat at one side and watched a blessing of bread and wine ceremony unfold. First of all a priest and a man holding a large, lit candle walked anticlockwise around a small altar table with some bread and a bottle of wine on it. The priest was chanting and swinging incense as he went. While they were doing that, a small semicircle of people gathered in front of a central altar table, which itself was directly in front of a very dark, carved wooden table with icons on it. This table also had bread and wine on it and after the priest had finished with the first table, he processed around this one as well, chanting and swinging incense once more.

Just as that happened, a woman came up to me and the couple of other people sitting down and gave us each a chocolate biscuit. The others ate theirs straight away, so I did too - it turned out to have jam inside. As I finished eating, the priest chanted to the the semicircle from a Bible; he then placed it on the main table and chanted directly to it, with his back to the semicircle.

Throughout the whole thing, lots of people were wandering around, praying to icons and lighting candles as if there wasn't a ceremony taking place. I walked over to a carved wooden box I had seen before when I was with Mum; this time the metal statue of the saint lying inside the box had been dressed in purple shoes and a purple velvet robe with gold brocade. As I sat down again the priest was talking to the semicircle, which then broke up and departed.

After leaving the church I went on to the Royal Palace to visit the Ethnographical Museum and the National Gallery. On the way there, I finally managed to catch the Changing of the Guard outside the President's Building! It was a small ceremony, but involved colourful uniforms and lots of goose-stepping.

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Seeing as I was so close by, I diverted and went inside the Rotonda Church of St George, the little circular church with Roman remains that I mentioned in a previous email. Mum and I had visited, but didn't have time to go inside it properly.

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It had some murals on the walls and some of the brickwork showed; the bricks were very narrow and obviously very old, like the ones at the church of Sveta Sofia, where I'd been with Mum the day before.

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There were some tables set up in the middle with food and drink on them and various people standing around eating and drinking. I guessed it might be a special thing put on for National Revival Day, with any visitors allowed to partake, I decided not to join in. I bought a postcard and a fridge magnet and went outside for another quick look at the Roman remains instead. There was a little shrine to St George next to the outside wall.

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The Ethnographical Museum was interesting, just as I thought it would be. I didn't know that Bulgaria was a major silk producer in Ottoman times, after silkworms were introduced to Byzantium from China. It didn't say exactly why Bulgaria was such a centre of the silk industry, but maybe it was because to breed silkworms you need lots of mulberry trees for them to feed on, and Bulgaria had/ has exactly the right climate or soil to grow them. The industry continues in Bulgaria right up to the present day, but is much reduced these days.

There was also interesting information about and exhibits from the traditional building, tobacco, linen flax and cotton industries, embroidery, woodcarving and traditional soap made from pig fat and limestone.

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As well as Bulgarian exhibits, there was a room of Japanese prints and woodcuts and another room with traditional, colourful, spun cotton balls made for the Japanese New Year; this room had Venetian mirror on the walls and an inlaid wooden floor with five types of wood (a museum attendant told me) - it still looked like the interior of a palace. Apparently the last Queen of Bulgaria died in this room.

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Then there was a marble staircase down to a marble-floored corridor to rooms filled with photos and momentoes of Boris III, the last Tsar of Bulgaria, and his wife, who was Italian. The signs here were mostly in Bulgarian and Italian, unlike the ones in the rest of the museum, which were in Bulgarian and English.

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Next came the National Gallery, which wasn't quite as big as I was expecting. There was a photography exhibition by an American called Brian Dailey, mostly very colourful portraits but also a 'Morpheus' series of surrealist, dreamlike photos that I particularly liked.

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Upstairs was a big exhibition of works by the 20th-century Bulgarian artist Nikolay Nikov. It was filled with photos of the artist, watercolours, oil on canvas, cardboard and wood, linocuts, lithographs and ink on cardboard; quite a range of styles, but colourful and well worth seeing.

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There was also some Bulgarian, Italian and English information about Michelangelo, but no paintings, which I found slightly bizarre.

On the way back to my hostel I bought a massive slice of pizza for only 2.19 leva (89p) from one of the many pizza counters in Sofia. As I was eating it I came across a small marching protest on Boulevard Vitosha. I think it was by refugees or in solidarity with them. Lots of flag-waving and chanting, but no sense of danger at all.

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After they had passed by I took the opportunity to go inside the big H&M nearby, to look for work trousers, but didn't find any ones I liked. Then, seeing as I was on Boulevard Vitosha, I bought from my favourite cake shop 5 syrupy batter-like things that I had tried before....

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Last stop was a visit to the same bakery I'd been to in the morning, to buy 5 kashkavalki; two to have for dinner and three to save for breakfast and the journey the next morning. The woman gave me a free chocolate-filled roll and a glazed ring of bread with poppy seeds. Then straight back to the hostel, because I was knackered. I did have to go back out for a bottle of Coke Zero, but after that I just collapsed in bed, read my Kindle, had dinner in bed and then went to sleep early, because I had to get up very early the next morning.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:32 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art market museum hostel sofia bulgaria procession icons orthodox_church roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha soviet_monument traditional_customs Comments (0)

Mum returns to the UK, I stay on in Sofia

Sofia


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We went down to breakfast at Hotel Niky at 8 and after that finished we walked to Sveti Sofia church, the oldest church in Sofia. It's been restored many times but you can still see foundations of its earlier incarnations in the crypt (some through glass panels in the floor).

On the way there, however, we came across a tiny, circular church with Roman remains outside it. It was in a courtyard that had the President's Building on one side. We went inside the outer, front part of the church, but didn't go into the inner bit because we were in rather a hurry. I made a mental note to come back again later or tomorrow for a proper look. After looking at the Roman remains for a little bit we walked on under the arch at the side of the President's Building, past the Archaeology Museum and onwards. We passed by St Nicholas Russian church, distinctive with its onion-shaped golden domes.

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Once we got to Sveti Sofia church we bought some thin beeswax candles from a stall in the front section and then went into the main part of the church. We were transported with delight... the walls and ceiling were made of brick, but the bricks were very thin ones and you could tell that some of them were very old. In the inside of the big dome in the middle of the ceiling, we could see the bricks going round in circles. Icons and murals or saints adorned the walls.

At 10 o'clock the stairs down to the crypt opened and we went down to explore. We looked round lots and lots of very old brick and stone tombs and sarcophagi from the Roman city of Serdica, which stood where Sofia stands today. One or two of them had wall paintings inside and in one room there was part of a mosaic. We also saw the remains of the earlier Christian churches that stood on the site of the present-day (but still very old) church. We both thought it was really interesting and were glad we'd come.

We left the church quickly, however, because as soon as we'd come back up from the crypt we saw that while we'd been downstairs, a coffin had been placed in the nave, in front of the iconostasis. A group of schoolchildren were entering through the main door. We lit and placed our candles before leaving through one of the side doors.

We walked to the President's Building as quickly as we could, in order to catch the changing of the guard, but we just missed it. Once we got back to Boulevard Vitosha, we bought some more little cakes from the same shop we'd been to the day before; 250g of florentines, 2 of the long syrupy batter things and 2 candied orange slices dipped in chocolate. We didn't eat any of them yet, though, because we stopped at a café for a coffee and a big chunk of Black Forest Gateaux. Somehow Mum ended up with a cup full of hot milk instead of a coffee with milk, but she said she didn't mind! I had an espresso.

Back at Hotel Niky we ordered a taxi, packed up our stuff, ate the orange slices dipped in chocolate, checked out and took the taxi to the airport. After Mum had dropped off her hold bag she had a decaf cappuccino at a cafe and we looked without success for some batteries for me (I'd forgotten to bring my battery charger with me). Then she went past a checkpoint and up an escalator to the bag checks and duty free. I watched her go out of sight and then took a taxi back into town.

After leaving Mum at the airport, I took a taxi back into town and walked to Nightingale Hostel, where I was to spend the following two nights. Whilst checking in and paying, I met a chap from Ipswich who had just come from Budapest. He told me that people arrive in Budapest intending to spend only a couple of days there, but end up staying for weeks or even months! Budapest was already on my priority-to-visit list. I'm definitely going to visit after I finish in Bulgaria next summer.

A couple of jobs needed doing after that; topping up my Bulgarian phone at a Vivacom shop and getting hold of some AA batteries that worked. Once I'd done those, I walked to Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.

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The interior was very impressive, with massive candelabras hanging from wonderfully painted ceilings.

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Only one of the candelbras was lit, so most of the ceiling was left in gloom; the effect of the lighting was very atmospheric. In front of an icon near to the front, I saw a relic. I think it was a small piece of bone. Then I paid six leva to go down into the crypt next door and look round the wonderful collection of historic, colourful icons.

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It was late afternoon by now, so once I had finished gazing at icons, I walked back to the hostel. I missed the hourly changing of the guard outside the President's Building again, but never mind; I knew I'd get more chances the next day. On my return, I sat up in bed with a tub of vegetable and mayo mixture and a cheesy bread I'd bought at the airport earlier, which turned out to have vegetables and chopped-up pieces of frankfurter inside. I read the rest of 'Travels in England in 1782', by Karl Philipp Moritz, on my Kindle. He went to London, Windsor, Oxford and Derbyshire - fascinating.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:10 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art airport cathedral hostel sofia bulgaria mum icons orthodox_church roman_remains boulevard_vitosha Comments (0)

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)

First blog post!

St Albans

This is a test entry more than anything else.

I walked around St Albans on Tuesday taking some photos, firstly to have as a reminder of home once I'm in Ecuador and secondly because who knows, I may find that they come in handy at some point when teaching. I took ones of the Clock Tower, French Row, St Albans Abbey Cathedral, Fishpool Street, the war memorial garden with the tower of St Peter's church in the background, Verulamium Park and the stream/ ford at St Michaels, and the Robin Hood and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pubs.

The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Disused side entrance at the Clock Tower

Disused side entrance at the Clock Tower

Eleanor Cross sign on the Clock Tower

Eleanor Cross sign on the Clock Tower

Another sign on the Clock Tower

Another sign on the Clock Tower

View of St Peter's Church taken from the war memorial

View of St Peter's Church taken from the war memorial

Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban

Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub

Verulamium Park

Verulamium Park

Verulamium Park

Verulamium Park

Roman remains, Verulamium Park

Roman remains, Verulamium Park

Ford at St Michael's

Ford at St Michael's

Pub sign on historic Fishpool Street

Pub sign on historic Fishpool Street

Historic Fishpool Street

Historic Fishpool Street

The White Hart Inn

The White Hart Inn

The Robin Hood pub

The Robin Hood pub

The Robin Hood pub sign

The Robin Hood pub sign

I'm off to Manchester on the Megabus tomorrow, returning with Dave on Sunday. Then I'll have two full days in St Albans before I leave at 6.20am on Wednesday morning (the 15th)! I really want to visit the bluebell woods in Sandridge before I go, so long as the weather's good, so hopefully I'll be able to do that on Monday or Tuesday.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom cathedral clock_tower st_albans roman_remains french_row verulamium_park fishpool_street st_peter's_church historic_pub Comments (1)

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