Week 36: Unexpected Adventures

   Posted by: Rhona   in Bulgaria

From Smolyan we headed north, passing back through Plovdiv and on to Ivan Vazovo village. There Brett had his first Couchsurfing experience as we stayed with a couple and their two children. Atanas is a retired jet pilot who tries to balance holistic living and new age philosophies with an obvious fascination with all things gadget-like and the management of his company, Extreme Bulgaria. We spent an interesting few days being shown around the area, walking, cycling and exploring some of the historical sites. Nearby Hisar has been famous since Roman times for its 22 mineral springs; a 5m high, 3m thick wall was built around the town to protect it from invaders. We also went to Starossel, an ancient Thracian shrine from the late 5th to early 4th century BC. You know something happened a long time ago when they count dates backwards. A keyhole entry led to a rectangular corridor then another doorway to a perfectly circular 5.3m diameter domed chamber (the largest ever discovered). The carving on the doorways was as crisp as if it was carved yesterday and traces of the 7,000 year old paint were still visible.

On our second day with Atanas he took us water tasting. We tried water from a few different springs and compared the taste. They were quite different. People in Bulgaria take bottles to the many springs in each town and fill up their supply of drinking water for the house. We filled six 10L bottles and took them back to the house. In a field nearby was a hot spring where we went to wash one night. It was a small concrete room with what looked like a fire hydrant in the middle. Apparently there used to be some kind of piping but Atanas said it’d been stolen by the gypsies. He didn’t have many good things to say about the gypsies, one of the reasons they’d moved to that particular village was that there weren’t any gypsies (well there was one old lady but she was OK). We squatted next to the gushing pipe and washed then headed outside to get dressed by the light of the moon.

The family have their own vegetable garden and almost all the food we ate at their house came from it. There seems to be much more of a tradition of being self sufficient here than in Australia/the west. The lady we stayed with in Smolyan picked the mushrooms, made the jam, baked the bread and made the elderflower juice we had with breakfast. She seemed to take as much pride in telling us this as a posh Sydneysider would take when saying “I bought it at (insert name of expensive department store), it’s imported from (insert name of an exotic place)”. It seems to be much nicer for them to know where something came from and have that place be somewhere local, which is a nice way to live really. Better for the environment and probably healthier too.

From Ivan Vazovo it was meant to be a simple hop to our next destination, Veliko Tarnovo, but we were stranded by bad connections and ended up spending a night in Kazanlak. Actually it ended up being two because we couldn’t fit in the things we’d decided we wanted to see before the last bus of the day, seeing as we were in town. We visited the museum and a Thracian tomb from the 4th century BC. It was discovered in 1944 by soldiers digging a bomb shelter and is remarkable for its perfectly preserved murals. We paid the high entrance fee to spend a few minutes in the original (breathing shallowly) then spent more time in the nearby tomb copy. The beehive shaped roof of the circular chamber is covered in a beautiful painting that shows the ruler and his wife with their servants, musicians, stable man and horses. Above them in a belt of paintings are three chariots representing the races and competitions that were part of the funeral rites for Thracian rulers. Outside Kazanlak, in Shipka, was another Thracian tomb and a beautiful Russian style church built in 1902 to commemorate soldiers who died defending the Shipka Pass in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78).

We’re now in Veliko Tarnovo, a city name we only mastered shortly before we got here. We’ve spent some time wandering the town’s remaining traditional areas, checked out the ancient fortress and drooled over the property prices in Bulgaria. We also walked to Arbanasi, a village on the hill overlooking Veliko where there seems to be a lot of massive houses behind tall walls. Apparently the area was ruled by a son-in-law of the Ottoman sultan in the 16th century and therefore was tax free. A historical Monaco. Our main reason for visiting was the Nativity Church, a modest un-churchlike building that was designed to conceal its purpose from the Muslim Ottoman rulers. Inside the walls are completely covered in murals, painted between 1632 and 1649. What they lack in artistic finesse they make up for in sheer numbers with over 3,500 figures shown in 2,000 scenes.

Today we head to Nessebar, a town on the Black Sea Coast which is meant to be pretty. We’ll also head to Sozopol then up to Varna which is apparently packed with tourists in the right (wrong?) season. I would like to come back for a bit of a beach break some time but we’ll see what happens. From Varna we’ll head up to Odessa then into Moldova before coming back for more time in the Ukraine. Christmas is still planned for Transylvania in Romania, hopefully there’s some snow! The weather has definitely changed a little in the last week – cooler and more like we expected it to be.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 at 4:30 am and is filed under Bulgaria. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far


Hi Rhona,
As always lovely photos, I really enjoy following your blog. You are getting closer to London and you are always very welcome to stay with us here it would be lovely for us all to meet and have adventures. Travel safe and keep in touch.

December 5th, 2009 at 2:59 pm
Brigitte und Hans Hetzel

Hello Rhona,
I was just looking at your pictures. They are amazing. I wanted to contact you, but I don’t have your current email-address. I need some Information about your upcoming visit in Germany. I hope to read from you soon.
Grüße aus Grunbach Brigitte und Hans

December 6th, 2009 at 11:21 am

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