Bob and I had watched a travel show a few years ago that included Bulgaria. We were surprised to see the rural way of life was more akin to the early 1900s where farmers still do a lot of the work by hand instead of with machinery. Horses and wagons are plentiful and it and the people enjoy a slower pace of life. Something maybe we could all use a bit more of. We have been waiting ever since for the chance to see Bulgaria. Dan, our guide from Bucharest took us across the border for the 12 hour day.
Crossing the Danube river, I find myself so excited to be in Bulgaria. It feels like going back in time and I love it. Our first stop was at the Basarbovo Monastery which is stunning. The Ottoman tax register mentions the monastery in the 1400’s but it is believed to have been established earlier in the Second Bulgarian Empire. Named after St. Dimitar Basarbovski who was a shepherd and lived in the rocks of the monastery, he died and was buried there in 1685. The story of St. Basarbovski extends to Romania where he is also revered.
During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, his relics were supposed to be transferred to Russia. However, when the saint’s relics reached Bucharest, the story says that people stopped dying from the plague. Upon the request of Bucharest residents, the remains were buried in Bucharest Romania.
The rock cave monastery was revived in 1937 and is still an active monastery today. During our visit we ran into a monk who questioned Dan as to whether or not we’d paid the small entrance fee. He assured the monk that we indeed had paid the lady who was now somewhere else on the grounds. I can only imagine what would befall us for not doing so!
PS. They have a bathroom you can pay a small amount to use. DO NOT DO THAT unless you can hold your breath for a very long time! As an open pit toilet without running water, it was overwhelming stench. Just a travel tip worth noting!
The village of Arbanasi
In the village of Arbanasi lives the Church of the Nativity, built in the 15th century. It is plain and ordinary looking on the outside and stunning on the inside. The wall paintings are beautiful and in one room resides a unique painting of ‘the wheel of life.’ The hand painted frescoes have different time frames, with the earliest ones dating back to the 17th century.
There was a Viking cruise tour at the church the same time as us and the rude guides tried to dampen our private tour by requesting we wait for them so they could enjoy the church alone. Dan professionally and deftly moved us into the church and to one of the rooms that were empty, where he shared his knowledge. His professionalism shined compared to the Viking cruise employee and was a reminder as to why I prefer to book a private tour!
Veliko Tarnovo is the former capital of the mighty Medieval Bulgarian Empire. At first glance it didn’t look like much with buildings in disuse and disrepair, but there was more to the city as we discovered. We climbed the hill to the medieval stronghold Tsarevets. During the second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1482), it was the home of the royal palace. The remaining church had different and macabre paintings on the inside. It seemed a bit odd.
And then I found out that Bulgaria must have the largest Easter bunny in the world! Just look at those eggs! Did you ever wonder why an Easter bunny had eggs?
Originating as pagan symbols of spring and rebirth, the ancient symbols merged together to also be associated with the Christian holiday. The symbolism, regardless of your religious or pagan beliefs, is worldwide today.
Needing to grab a bite to eat, Dan arranged a table with a view of the Yantra river for us at Restaurant Shtastliveca. Our view overlooked the Asen Dynasty Monument, which depicts the first four Asen rulers – Ivan, Peter, Kaloyan and Asen II as they encircle a sword.
While the restaurant serves pizza and pasta, we were seeking traditional Bulgarian food and we were not disappointed! Bob ordered a lentil and beet dish and I ordered stuffed eggplant and peppers with traditional Bulgarian cheese. I loved that cheese! I wish I could find it in California.
After lunch we walked around the town and I met a man who I liked very much because he let me talk and didn’t interrupt.
These two buildings were interesting because as Dan explained, you will notice the upper floors are larger than the bottom floor. This is due to the taxation of buildings. The lower floor footprint is what the property tax was based on. So if you built the next floors wider, the tax was not imposed. Also, in the medieval times, the animals were housed in the first floor with the family living above. Mmmm… bet that smelled great.
Travelling back to Bucharest, we ran into traffic at the border crossing and after having our car searched, along with every other car, we safely made it back to Bucharest.
We loved our short time in Bulgaria and definitely realized that we easily could’ve wandered around the country longer! But alas, it’s back to Romania and moving to Transylvania for a few days!