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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)

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)

Visitors!

Veliko Tarnovo


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This afternoon I received some visitors - my sister Emma and brother-in-law Mark! They'll be staying with me until Monday morning. They actually arrived in Bulgaria at the beginning of the week, but were in Sofia until today. I met them at the bus station at 16.30 and before we walked to my flat, I helped them buy their bus tickets to Varna for Monday morning, just in case the bus got booked up early.

The sun was out in force and they had had a long journey, so once we arrived, they admired the fantastic views from my flat and the terrace for a while before flopping for a while. Then we went out for dinner to Shtastlivetsa restaurant ('The Lucky Man'). The food was delicious and it was a novelty to sit on a comfy sofa instead of chairs!

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Mark and I had 'mish mash', a baked mixture of tomato, cheese, onion and scrambled egg, with sliced sausage on top of Mark's, whereas Emma had two large kyufte (slightly flattened meatballs) with grilled vegetables and sautéed potatoes.

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We shared a bowl of garlicky sautéed potatoes as well. Mish mash is a common Bulgarian dish - I'd seen it on menus before but had never actually had it for some reason! On realising how lovely it was, I wished I'd tried it sooner.

For pudding, on my recommendation Emma had orange flavour Turkish ice cream with bits of orange peel inside (delicious, apparently), I had something that turned out to be reminiscent of a baked custard, and Mark had a chocolate fondant pudding with orange icecream and homemade marmalade. Apparently the chocolate fondant was exactly how a fondant should be!

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Later on we popped round to see 'F' with my colleague 'R' and had a very convivial time there over hot drinks.

Posted by 3Traveller 08:05 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged sisters bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Bulgarian Orthodox Palm Sunday

Veliko Tarnovo and Mindya


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Yesterday I mentioned seeing old ladies cutting willow branches on my walk from Arbanasi to Veliko Tarnovo; this morning I saw lots of people on the streets holding branches and twigs of willow. Today is the Bulgarian Orthodox Palm Sunday; a day when people take willow (in place of palm leaves) to church to be blessed. 'R' and I were walking to the fruit and vegetable market to buy some flowers for later when we saw all the people; once we got there we saw several temporary stalls selling willow branches, blossoming twigs I did not recognise and flowers, mostly daffodils. We bought some willow and daffodils and had a look round the rest of the market. Lots of salad vegetables are in season now, so most of the vegetable stalls were selling cucumbers, spring onions, radishes, tomatoes and lettuce.

Although today is Palm Sunday in Bulgaria, for the UK it's Easter Sunday. To celebrate this, 'R' and I went to Mindya to have lunch with one of our colleagues & her partner. We gave them the willow and daffodils we'd got from the market earlier. Lunch was amazing - all homemade, there were flatbreads eaten hot straight from the pan, hummous, tzaziki, grilled vegetables, fried halloumi and one or two other things I've forgotten. Delicious. After that, 'R' & I were surprised with an Easter egg hunt that had been set up in their garden! :-)

Posted by 3Traveller 07:08 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo mindya traditional_customs palm_sunday easter_celebrations Comments (0)

Beautiful Arbanasi

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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I went on a lovely trip to Arbanasi today, taking a taxi there and then walking back downhill through a partly wooded gorge to the River Yantra and Veliko Tarnovo. Arbanasi is 3km away from the centre of VT, on a hilltop visible from my bedroom and kitchen windows.

I revisited the Church of the Nativity first. It looked just as wonderful as the first time I saw it!

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After that I thought about going to the most famous house museum in Arbanasi, but then I remembered that I'll be coming back here at least three times before I leave Bulgaria, so I might as well save the house museum to experience for the first time with a visitor!

Instead of that I decided to get some lunch on a terrace which had the most amazing views over Veliko Tarnovo, Tsarevets Hill and the other hills and enscarpments stretching into the distance. Right on the horizon I could see the snowcapped peaks of the Central Balkans.

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Tarator and margherita pizza were followed by a visit to the monastery of St Nicholas.

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This was small; there was a church in the middle, with what seemed to be accommodation for nuns and priests in the rest of the grounds. When I walked into the courtyard next to the church, I saw two black-garbed nuns standing next to a table piled with flowering willow branches. It's the day before Bulgarian Orthodox Palm Sunday, so I assumed that they were doing something to them in preparation for the next day. On Palm Sunday people here take willow twigs or branches to church to be blessed; they then tie the willow to the main entrance to their houses.

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The interior of the church wasn't quite as beautiful as some (it didn't have any frescoes, for example), but it did have lots of framed icons leaned up against the walls. I bought and lit a candle for Dad from the stall inside.

There are lots of other things to see in Arbanasi, but I decided to leave those for today because I knew I'd be coming back. No point looking at everything in one visit! I walked back through a gorge. I had a stream on my left hand side and on my right was the main road, but above me so I couldn't actually see it for most of the time. Not all that many cars went along the road anyway, so there wasn't much traffic noise. I could mainly just hear birdsong and the sound of the stream. At one point I saw two old ladies next to a willow tree by the stream, cutting off twigs - for use the next day, I assumed.

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Not long after that I got a good view of the Patriarchate Tower of Tsarevets Fortress in the distance (my photo didn't turn out that well though).

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Eventually I saw tiled rooftops through the trees and realised I was about to come out into the Asenov quarter of Veliko Tarnovo, down by the River Yantra and round the back and to one side of Tsarevets Hill. I hadn't been this far round before. I walked out of the wood onto a cobbled street flanked by white- and pink-blossomed trees...

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...then along the riverside until I reached the wooden bridge. I could see little fish in the river.

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All in all, it was a lovely outing. I couldn't believe I'd left it so long since my last visit! I should have made a trip out there while it was snowing in the winter.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:37 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains bridges art monastery dad bulgaria icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra arbanasi traditional_customs palm_sunday Comments (0)

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