A Bulgarian adventure
Bulgaria is a country of stunning natural beauty, friendly people, and fascinating history. It is also full of amazing archaeological treasures from ancient civilisations, some yet to be discovered.
At the beginning of our trip I had no idea about the Thracians. The Thracians were a war like race contemporary with the Greeks. They were expert at fighting, drinking and riding horses. By the end of the week I was hooked.
We stayed in a small hotel in Russe with rather eclectic decor and were served small pastries with Nutella and Fanta for breakfast. The previous evening we had tried to get a drink at the hotel bar. The barman hadn’t really cottoned on to how to please the customer. He systematically picked up everyone of the bottles on his display and turned them upside down to illustrate they were all empty. He gave us a bit of Bulgarian shrug. We gave up and went to bed. The local village seemed unremarkable in the hot August sunshine apart from the Russian MIG 21on the village green.
There were some stunning buildings in Ruse and a small Roman fort and museum. (one thing I learnt from this trip is that the Romans got everywhere) I also had my first encounter with the story of the Thracians.
A war like, hedonistic tribe, the Thracians were great horsemen with a fondness for large quantities of wine, women and song. They were allies with the Trojans against the Greeks in the Trojan war. Weeping at the birth of their children for all the suffering they would have to endure, they celebrated death as the gateway to the afterlife. They worshipped the Sun and were accomplished hunters. They also fell out among themselves quite a lot which definitely contributed to their demise.
Despite being impressed by the amount of wine they seem able to drink, the Romans and Greeks considered the Thracians to be complete Barbarians and set about wiping them out. They were however, master craftsmen in Gold in Silver. Some of the most impressive things I saw were Thracian treasures from the burial mounds in the Valley of the Thracian Kings, many of which have still yet to be excavated.
Bulgarian cave paintings
In an action packed day we took in the amazing Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo. The monks carved these caves out of solid rock on the high rocky banks 32 m above the river. They are famous for their stunning medieval Frescos, which are so well preserved. The natural colours are still incredibly bright, despite being thousands of years old. Many are on the ceiling and best photographed while having a lie down.
Climbing up the hill to the nearby Cherven medieval fortress we witnessed stunning views across the valley. This is where groups of UK archaeology students come every year. The fortress was the stronghold of the Second Bulgarian Empire’s military, administrative and economic centre.
The Devataki caves
The Devataki limestone caves on the Devataki plateau are a natural wonder. They consist of a huge series of vaults complete with a large resident bat population. The caves have been inhabited during almost every era dating back to the early stone age.
It also happens to have been used a film location for that classic movie The Expendables 2. We reached the cave across an ugly concrete bridge which Velis, our fantastic tour guide, called ‘Arnies bridge.’ I think they blew a lot of things up there in the film.
A Roman Bulgarian invasion.
An impressive Roman excavation Nicopolis ad Istrum is also en route. Archaeologists are digging up a whole Roman city which has been found. Every day exciting new discoveries about this outpost from the Empire are revealed. The Romans had bath houses and market places and Theatres, and they always had a road which led back to Rome. Naturally.
We reach Veliko Tarnovo, a gorgeous medieval city and one of the old capitals of Bulgaria. Sometimes known as the city of the Tsars it is located on the beautiful winding Yantra River. This is a cultural and tourist hub with a cosmopolitan feel. It is also very good for those who like bargain shopping.
They have lots and lots of attractive pottery at incredibly cheap prices. I heard that you could buy a bottle of vodka there for £1.50. A special trip to the supermarket ensued to see if this was true. We were able to verify this. You can get a small bottle of ‘Doctor’s’ Vodka for £1.50 and a bottle of delicious ‘Flirt’ vodka – for not much more. Obviously we had to buy a few bottles for market research purposes.
Property here is really cheap here too. You can by a beautiful three story town house out in the countryside for just 50,000 Euros! I confess we did skip the waxwork museum which only featured past prime ministers of Bulgaria. Instead we checked out the antique shops for Bulgarian silver and Communist memorabilia.
After a Bulgarian Margarita enjoyed for £1.50 we visited the unique street art, the very nice restaurants and the first class Bulgarian wine. There is evidence that Bulgaria was one of the earliest wine making countries in the world. Bulgarian wine is jolly nice and it’s a crying shame you can’t buy it in Tescos.