Day 2 of Bulgaria; 14th century original frescos & Folklore Dancing


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April 22nd 2015
Published: April 28th 2015
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Today was our second day in Bulgaria and we were much further east then yesterday so I was interested to see the landscape differences. Our day trip started at 9am, so we had a bit more of a relaxing morning vs. the usual 8:30 (which isn’t bad either!) As I mentioned last night was the ‘farewell dinner’ despite that we are on the ship for one more evening, it ended up being a 3 hour dinner; truthfully those meals are getting a bit too long for me, but I know most people really enjoy that part of the cruise. I just get restless is all, after all I am a social recluse (as I call myself) and let's face it, half the time I would rather be blogging *wink*.

We took a short trip from the port of Svistov to the ancient Bulgarian capital of Veliko Târnovo. Situated on three hills surrounding the Yantra River, the city was a natural fortress with ancient stone houses clinging to the steep slopes. One of the oldest towns in Bulgaria (dating back to 4300 BC), it was to be our first stop of the day. Learned a bit from the local guide about
Veliko TarnovoVeliko TarnovoVeliko Tarnovo

Only bad weather day we had and it lasted for 1 hour
Bulgaria also that I actually remembered to write down!

During communism many many high rises were built and they all look the same, he joked that they could easily go to the wrong building, enter the wrong apartment and sleep with the wrong wife as everything looked the same (ha ha ha ha ha!). All these buildings/high rises will be torn down in 2030 as they were only meant to last 80 years, so honestly they were looking a little rough at this stage. Bulgaria is bordered by Romania, the Black Sea, Turkey, Greece, Serbia AND Macedonia. For such a small country it sure does have a lot of 'neighbors' but the joys of seeing a destination that has been divided up into multiple countries (former Yugoslavia) is the end result.

Bulgaria is famous for rose oil production, wine, honey yoghurt and cheese and is the biggest exporters of organic food and products to the EU and Western Countries. Temperatures vary considerably like Canada, in northern Bulgarian up to 45C in the summer and down to minus 30C in the winters; quite the range! Southern Bulgaria is much more Mediterranean style with less extremes but still quite toasty in the summer. While they are members of the EU they don’t use the currency yet. Apparently Bulgaria is the least developed country in the EU and also know for their corrupt judicial system (according to our guide).

We arrived in Veliko Turnovo and had the guests that were the sheep and cow farmers from the UK (forget their names) traveling in the back of the coach with us, quite the entertaining group - sarcasm is always so sublet from that part of the world! The husband went in front of his wife from the back row, tripped on the step down, and his wife said ‘mind the step’ to which he replied ‘I was just testing it for you.’ That became our catch phrase for the day - mind the step :-) Mind the Step! And it worked perfectly as we walked on so many old cobblestone roads and uneven church grounds and steps that it was easy to use that, repeatedly!

Got out for a coffee stop at a hotel, and it had some lovely views of the city. It was starting to drizzle ever so slightly; but we still went out quickly to grab a photo on the bridge over the Yantra River. There were outlines of dead bodies on the ground of the bridge; which I thought was interesting, but I don’t know why they were there. We quickly boarded the coach for fear of melting as we were all so sweet (bwwhahahahaha) and then went to Arbanassi, to see the Church of the Nativity that was built in the 15th Century.

OMG that church was beyond amazing. My photos do not do it justice, and I only wish I could take all of you there. I took several photos with as low a shutter speed as possible trying to at least capture an idea of what it looked like. The first main section of the church was painted in 1597 and all the original frescos are still there. Unbelievable. And different paintings as well, not the usual scenes from the bible. They do pride themselves that you can ‘read’ the entire bible by looking at all the frescos as each one depicts a different story, but they’ve taken it to such an interesting level and creativity. They had a fresco with Christ with wings on his back on the cross, another classical Adam and Eve painting with the serpent, but this time the serpent has a head and was talking them into eating the poisoned fruit. A fresco of Jesus as a teenager, just things you’ve not seen before, nor the normal ‘ones’ either and all beautifully done. I am rarely wowed by a church but this one impressed the hell out of me, as you could see the love and attention to detail that was put in to painting the church. There were 4 rooms in total plus a full hallway each were painted by hand, and even had zodiac signs on the walls (not seen normally) and this circle meant to represent the universe in a way but more sun/fire/earth/water and the way to heaven and the way to hell. Hard to explain but so fascinating. Probably one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. In this small town in Bulgaria of all places!

Then we went to see the Ethnographical Museum, a 400 year old house preserved as a museum, which was pretty cool as well. Interesting seeing the rooms, the layout, how they slept, ate etc and lived in small spaces very successfully. it can be done. We in North America never have enough room; but when you see how efficient small can be; it makes me wish we had more of that mentality, which would cut back on heat/power/water etc in general. But that’s the tree hugger in me talking now too.

After that we drove back into the main part of the town of Veliko Tamovo and went to see the Patriarch’s Church - which is more like a fortress as there are many walls still standing and it is the highest point. The church itself has mostly been destroyed but restored; the interior blew both our minds. Modern day artists redesigned it and painted it in a style I can’t even begin to explain (see photos below). And of course we had our ‘usual’ local guides of the 4 legged variety; they are so cute, they wander along with us, get lots of scratches and love and when we get on the bus they wander off to do something else. Don’t beg for food either; as I’ve mentioned they are not starving, actually healthy just very friendly!

We rejoined the ship after a long but very interesting day in Rousse, and then settled in for the evening, to have the champagne toast with the Captain. Then it was dinner and then we were off to Romania, our last country in this excursion (Country #54 for me!). By the time dinner was over we found out we had our local Bulgarian Folklore Dance troupe about to perform for us, and they were wonderful! 2 guys and 2 girls dancing in traditional clothing, and a band of 4; a bagpipe of sorts (looked like a true sheep’s stomach), a violin typed instrument and a recorder type instrument and a drummer. Appreciate these were traditional Bulgarian instruments so I am not giving them full description/credit by any means.

Very lively music, lively dancing, with lots of stories being told in them (love, flirtation, sadness etc) and I had the opportunity to get dressed up in their traditional dress. It was super fun, as they asked for a volunteer and while other people were considering it I jumped up on stage and said “here I am!” You know me - not one for shyness. They had one of the gentlemen as well, and once we were all done up, we started to do a bit of a dance, then he got all crazy and disco and took over the floor (was funny as hell - he was in his limelight!) so I sat back and then it was time to leave. Super cool, and of course there are photos (see below!), and I had a great time.

Watched the rest of their performance, with monster masks and all other sorts of things, then wandered off to bed, it was time to go to sleep. Or in theory pack (which I thought I had done successfully - not.....) Lots of photos below, I've not had a chance to clean them up but I figured if I wait to do that you guys will never read this!


Additional photos below
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Pretend DennisPretend Dennis
Pretend Dennis

Zora set up our beds - with attention to detail bar none. Even our headsets were attached :-)
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Pretend Ned

This was so cute to come back to!


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