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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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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!


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.


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)

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.


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.


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.


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...


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


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


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

Liberation Day


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A slightly misleading title, because although it is Liberation Day in Bulgaria today, I missed the celebrations in Plovdiv and there weren't any celebrations on in Veliko Tarnovo apart from a Sound and Light Show that they have once or twice every week anyway.

Last night, in Plovdiv, I asked at the reception desk if there were going to be any processions or other celebrations going on the next morning. The answer was that although the main celebration wasn't going to be until late afternoon, there was bound to be something going on in the main pedestrian street in the morning anyway.

So this morning I walked around town looking for signs of celebrations, but I didn't see any apart from one or two Bulgarian flag stalls setting up next to the martenitsa stalls.


Although disappointed on the celebrations front, I still had a very pleasant walk. It was a lovely sunny day, I walked round two parks I hadn't been to before (Tsar Simeon's Garden and Dondukova Gradina Park) and I sat down to rest in the pedestrian square with the Roman stadium remains and Dzhumaya Mosque. 'Spring' from 'The Four Seasons' was playing out of a loudspeaker by the stadium.


Eventually I went back to the hostel to pack up and check out. I walked to the North bus station, a journey which took over half an hour. I crossed the River Maritsa and passed Plovdiv's International Fair grounds on the way.


When I arrived, the ticket lady said she didn't have tickets to Veliko Tarnovo for the time I wanted and that I'd have to wait until 16.30 for the next bus! It was only about 12.30 at this point. She wouldn't actually sell me a ticket for the 16.30 one, however - I didn't understand much of what she said in Bulgarian, but I gathered that it was somehow too early for her to do so.

I thought about going back to the city centre for a couple of hours, but I didn't want that half an hour walk to have been wasted and I was tired (my rucksack was very heavy), so I didn't. There was nothing to see or do in the area of town I was in apart from a Lidl supermarket round the corner, so I went inside, browsed and bought some lunch items to have at the station and some snacks for the journey later. After I'd eaten my lunch I read my Alexander Humboldt book until it was time to wander out to where my bus was due to leave.

The journey back took a different route to the one to Plovdiv. Instead of going through the town of Stara Zagora, the bus took a spectacular route that wound through the snowcapped Balkan Mountains.


We went through the Shipka Pass, famous in Bulgaria for being the scene of several conflicts between the Bulgarians and the Ottoman Empire during the Russo - Turkish War of 1877 - 1878.

I didn't arrive back in Veliko Tarnovo until past 20.00.

Posted by 3Traveller 01:46 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains mosque buses bulgaria plovdiv explorations roman_remains shipka_pass Comments (0)

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