It has been quite a day today. We left Sofia and headed for Plovdiv. This City is situated in southern Bulgaria and is surrounded by hills. Its biggest claim to fame is the ancient Roman theatre which is among the best preserved ancient theatres in the world. It once could accommodate 5,000 spectators and was only discovered by the archaeologists during a survey carried out in 1968-1979. Another claim to fame is that in 2019, Plovdiv will become the European City of Culture.
The traffic was pretty busy on the way out of Sofia and we had to do a stop to get some fuel. My wallet was extra pleased because the diesel worked out to the equivalent of £1.02 per litre. After a couple of hours driving we parked up in a Billa supermarket car park and walked into the centre. As soon as we arrived we came across a group of dancers in national costume performing in front of a large crowd.
As they danced children brought around delicious bread along with a bowl of honey as a dip. What a great start to our visit. Just across the road was the visitor centre so we got a map of the city.
Just behind the mosque we saw another Roman part excavation of what would have been a huge stadium.
The rest of it is still buried under the city. Up one of the hills we came to the Roman Theatre and you can see where the new parts have been added to make it a usable open-air theatre.
We came across some typical Bulgarian style houses and then we came across a monument to remember the atrocities that the people from the city had had to endure from the Russians.
The whole city demonstrates a prosperity that we do not see in many of the villages that we see and pass through. Just as we saw in Sofia, the capital; it appears that money is spent in the urban areas whilst the rural villages go begging.
We left Plovdiv and we still had quite a journey to get to our stopping place for the night. We are not sure why but the weather here seems to do exactly the opposite to the weather that is forecast. Today was hot and sunny and the stormy day only materialised on our way to Klisura.
Behind the motorhome you can see a row of field guns, so we felt we could have defended ourselves against marauding Bulgarians if my ex-army mate, Tom, was back travelling with us again. We enjoyed a quiet night playing RummiKub and skyping with friends.
15,16,17,18/05/2018 Vileko Turnovo
The reason we had stopped at Klisura is because we then only had 18 km to get to Koprivshtitsa. If you ever consider coming to Bulgaria, then this town is a “must see” place to visit. It lies 62 miles east of Sofia and is 3000 feet above sea level and is considered to be one of Bulgaria’s most attractive towns due to its many National Revival Houses. Bandits plundered the town in the early 19th century and set many of the houses alight. It was at the time of the re-building that the colourful wood and stone houses were built.
So, we left our stopping place for the night and first drove down to look at the statue we had spotted from our van.
We then started our drive to Koprivshtitsa. It soon took us along a beautiful, narrow forest lined road with a bubbling brook running the whole length to the village. In places the sun overhead managed to get through the canopy of trees and this is driving at its best. As we drove along we saw large, attractive signs with the date of 1876 on them? This was the year of the April Rising. Bulgaria had been ruled by the Turks for 500 years. The revolution was planned in Koprivshtitsa and many of the revolutionaries lived there. The ensuing massacre after the failed attempt encouraged the West and Russia to come in and throw the Turks out.
We spent a couple of hours visiting this beautiful town and as you can see from the sample of the many photographs I took, the description that this is an attractive town is quite apt.
We left and of course that meant driving back down the narrow, meandering road. We set a course for Veliko Tarnovo which is the on the north side of the range of Balkan mountain range that run from the east to the west of the country. We chose to cross the Beklemoto (Troyan) mountain pass. As we climbed, the road zig-zagged back and forth up the side of the mountain. The first picture shows the view down at 4,700 ft up
and the second fairly hazy shot down shows the same view from just under 5,700 ft.
As we approached the peak of the pass, we could see at the top a large Archway.
Whilst we were getting closer to it, Elaine went on her phone and found that it was the Arch of Liberty. It was built to commemorate the time in 1944 when Bulgaria quit the German Axis and pronounced neutrality to stop the threat of the Russian Red army and is dedicated to the liberation struggle of the Bulgarians.
Overall, our journey was 156 miles for the day. We finally pulled into the very pretty campsite Camping Veliko Tarnovo, built and owned by an English couple Nick and Nicky. What a luxury campsite and once we had set up, we sat chatting with them and learnt all sorts about Bulgaria, and about their life here. The campsite has an off season offer; stay four nights and only pay for three of them. We have been tearing about since we have been in Bulgaria, so we decided to take up the offer. On the second day, again the threatened thunderstorm didn’t happen until during the night and the sun shone all day. We just walked into local village and chilled for the rest of the day. We arranged for a taxi to pick us up in the morning for the ten-minute journey into Veliko Tarnovo. To take us to what the guide book tells us is one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful cities.
In the morning we shared the taxi ride in with a German couple. We were all going to join the free walking tour of the city which would start at 11am. We were joined by a few others, and the guide, Ptsami (I think that is how it is spelt), took us over the road for the start of the tour. Her English was perfect, and she had a nice way with her, and she was very keen for us all to understand the politics and the history of the country. To try to cram in everything she wanted to say in the 2 ½ hours meant she spoke, remarkably, quickly for someone speaking a foreign language. She took us to places where we could see all the places that were mentioned in our guide book.The view over the huge castle was fantastic and explained that that was, when Bulgaria was a monarchy, the king’s palace.
Veliko Turnova has a particularly strong history because until recently was the capital city of the country. The communists, when they took over power, after the Balkan War, thought they would get Macedonia back as part of their territory. So, they made Sofia the capital because it would then be in the middle of the enlarged country. The only thing is, their land grab didn’t happen. Ptsami obviously had no love for the communists but said that in the country this love or hate split families. She spoke proudly about the country’s history and about other things that made her proud. We learnt that Bulgaria, when it was part of the German Axis, during the Second World War, was one of the few countries that didn’t hand over its Jews to be sent into concentration camps.
Another thing we learnt is that Bulgarians nod their heads when they say no and shake their heads to say yes. Throughout the tour she kept asking questions and the confusion that caused in the little group was very funny. Maybe it shows what a contrary nation they are.
I will let the photographs show some of the things we saw. However, an explanation of the geography of the city will explain some of the pictures. The whole city is built between large hills and each one of those are named. For instance, the hill with the castle is called Royal Hill because of the palace. The mighty River Yancey meanders between the different hills. As the city expanded over the years, then then many of the houses have been built, almost clinging to the sides of the hills. You will see from the pictures, this backdrop to the city is a wonderful panorama.After the tour had ended, we stopped in a small inn and had a wonderful meal, with Bulgarian wine. My mixed grill was one of the best I have ever had, and the bill came to the equivalent of £15. Yet another reason why we are loving Bulgaria so much.
Friday, before moving on, we had a right clear out of the van. The staff at the campsite are all delighted. From the start of our tour, we always promised each other that if we buy something new, then we would give away what we now find surplus to our needs. The last time we saw a charity shop was in Spain. Our storage was full to the brim. We asked Nick and Nicky if it was appropriate if we donated to the staff our hand downs. The lady cleaner was close to tears with her thanks and we were shown photos of her wearing Elaine’s puffer jacket and then her red cardigan. She wanted to go home that night and bake us a big friendship cake, but we were going to leave early in the morning.
Whilst a lot of you were preparing for a day in front of the television watching first the Royal Wedding and then the cup final, we moved on just a bit further, before driving to the sea side resorts on the Black sea. We crossed down over the mountains again to come to Nova Zagora and are now parked in front of a huge lake.
The whole area, with its many lakes, looks just like the Lake District at home, but without the rain. On the way through we saw field after field of rosebushes with Romany people in the fields picking the petals. We are now in the Valley of the Roses. It may surprise you to know that this region produces 17,000 tons of rose petals a year and most are exported all around the world, mainly to the cosmetic industries. We passed large lorries being loaded with bag after bag of petals.
The reason this region is perfect for rose growing is because of the very sandy soil. I found out that to my cost. When we arrived at the campsite I wanted to turn around, so we had the door facing the beautiful lake. My front wheel just went off the stony roadway and sank. It took half an hour, and the help from the German, parked in his van close by, to get us on hard ground again. I always say that if I had been born a cormorant, I would have starved to death long ago. I got my fishing rods from the top of the van, but I have to report another blank score sheet. However, I was highly entertained by the small birds washing themselves in the shallows, close by.
I know I am going to get in trouble for this but I do know I have to add just a couple of the recent photos to show the true nature of Elaine, my wife.
So far it is only wooden and bronze guys that get her attention, Anybody out there think I should keep an eye on her?
We have already moved to Sozopol, on the black sea and it is from here that I am sending this blog. Don’t miss the next thrilling adventure as we move up the coast to get into Romania. I think I will stop here as it is becoming like an intro to an American comic adventure.