Friday, 27 September 2013

Kapinovo Part 2

River Veselina
There is another attraction to greet those hardy souls who make it through to the monastry, and these are the waterfalls. However, those of you who live in this region will know about the lack of rain, which has meant that the rivers are quite low. As a consequence rather than seeing waterfalls we were confronted by water dribbles. With the slow pace of the River Veselina there were several areas where the water didn't seem to move at all. These stretches seemed to be quite popular breeding grounds for mosquitoes, midges and gnats. We did see several shoals of some small fish there, and some frogs too. Maybe they were making the most of the available buffet that the insect life had chosen to provide. I also saw a small snake, which I decided was best kept secret from Net until we had left there. I am not sure what sort it was but it had a checkered pattern over its back and black and white flashes at the corners of the mouth.

In Need Of Rain
The area itself is very picturesque, and we decided to make the most of it by having a walk along the river. Now if ever you get slighty curious and decide to enter Kapinovo waterfalls into a search engine, you will get to see various pictures of people jumping off of a rock into a pool. We actually managed to find the bit that appears in most of the pictures. At the moment they are actually building a restaurant which will overlook the area. Hopefully this will add another attraction to that area, or at least somewhere to get a decent coffee. The way that everything is happening you will soon be able to enjoy a complete day there.

Even if a day of swimming, eating, visiting monastries and jumping off of rocks doesn't appeal, there is still the walk along the river. Some areas you will find that the banks are a bit steep, or inaccessible, but it does make for a wonderful walk. The best thing that I noticed, or should I say didn't notice, was the lack of litter which normally spoils these beauty spots.

Water Dribble
These are the rocks which those brave souls, idiots and daredevils launch themselves from. Someone has even kindly fitted a rope ladder so that people can keep jumping for as long as they wish. I wonder if people eating on the new restaurant's terrace will be issued with score cards. It is quite easy to see what the river will be like when there is more water running through it. We did notice some trees further down the river which had possibly been moved there by the river when it was in full spate after the winter's snow had melted. I did notice that throughout the area there has been plenty of siesmic activity as the strata on some of the rocks is vertical. So I guess that it is all of this activity which has helped to shape such a wonderful spot.

Root System
Even the trees add to the stunning scenery with their intricate root systems as they sit there on the rocks. There are even hidden pools, various steps, a weir, and even a man made water course. I doubt that this was a salmon or trout ladder so maybe it was something to do with the monastry at one point, or possibly a mill of some form once sat in this position. As we walked along under the trees, I couldn't help but think of that old children's TV series, The Secret Garden. There really are some stunning old trees in and about the area, and the monks certainly won't go short of wood during the winter.

Secret Pool
Old Trees
Despite it being so picturesque there after a couple of hours of traipsing around the urge for coffee was getting stronger and stronger. So we headed off towards the Camp site at Dragizhevo and a much needed coffee break. Even though there was a distinct lack of coffee we have agreed that this is definitely somewhere that we will visit again.
Indiana Jones Is Missing

Not For Those Of A Nervous Disposition

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Kapinovo Part 1

The Monastry's Bell Tower
It was a lovely day the other day, just right for going for a day out. It wasn't too hot and it wasn't too cold. We felt that we had done enough in the garden to start preparing for winter and deserved a day off. Apart from which we haven't been walking since much earlier in the year. The only problem which not doing something for a while you then hae to decide where you want to go. Do you opt for somewhere that you have been before, and see if it has changed, or do you try for somewhere completely new. If it is new does anyone know how to get there.

We decided that we would head for Kapinovo monastry and have a nose round there. Looking on the map it didn't look much further on from the camp site at Dragizhevo, so how hard could it be to find. The first order of the day was to stock up on essential supplies. So it was into Gorna for a cappuchino and a kebab, which might not be to everyone's taste. The kebab is stuffed full of all that you need, and we do know of a nice coffee shop not far from the kebabery.  So fed and watered it was time to set off.

The first part of the journey was quite easy, as we had all done that part of the trip many times before. It was when we got to Tserova Koria that we started getting problems. I have to admit that much of it was my own doing. I foolishly tried to use logic, in that Kapinovo monastry is bound to be in or near Kapinovo. Well it made sense to me. I had even looked on Google maps and there was a road from Kapinovo to the monastry, all you had to do was keep the river Veselina on your  right hand side. So we entered the village and took the right hand turn and followed the road down past some houses and the cemetary. Then we started heading into farmland and a farm track. At that point I wasn't too concerned as there was another car parked beside the track, and the occupants were out picking up the heads of sunflowers that the harvesters had missed. Then the track seemed to have a bit of a water hazard that stretched for a good forty feet. At that point I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and that we would head back to where a signpost had been spotted in Tserova Koria. Just as we got back into the centre of kapinovo there was a signpost pointing to the monastry. Brilliant, I thought so we started following that. We were still in the village and the road was getting bad, it slightly improved before getting worse again as we reached the outskirts. Fortunately for us just at that moment who should appear but Dimitar the taxi driver. For anyone who doesn't know him this is one of the best people to know and is always willing to help people. We asked if we were on the right road for the monastry, to which he said yes but he would travel that route in anything less than a 4x4. He suggested that we turn round and follow him and he would put us on the right path.

Oooooo Look A Monastry
Where would we be without the likes of Dimitar? He set off with us in pursuit, back into Tserova Koria and follow the sign that was there in the first place. We followed him through a village with an odd name Pchelishte, definitely a case of say it don't spray it with that one. We went out the other side and Dimitar pulled over at a junction, and gave us directions on how to continue our journey. So Dimitar if you are reading this, thank you we would never have found it the easy way without your help. So following the instructions we even passed another monastry, which we will safe for another day out. Through yet another village, Velchevo, which really did look very well kept, and off into even more countryside. Eventually we passed under an iron arch and we were almost there.

Looking at the pool area and hills
We parked up outside a cafe and ordered coffees, as we were in need of them by then. No coffees were available, so we had to make do with cold drinks. Being hardened 'explorers' we were glad of that coffee in Gorna earlier. So there we were drinking our cold drinks in the shade looking out over a rather nice pool complex. Maybe next summer this will come in handy when thinking of somewhere different to take the family when they come over. It does seem nicely set out there, and it looks like it is an ongoing  project with plenty of money being ploughed into the site. Now I wonder which organisation might be behind something like this, I doubt that it is the church.

The Entryway Mural
A Close-up
Still we had braved the wilds to come and see the monastry, and so we headed off down the hill towards it. It is quite an impressive building when you look at it from the outside, and it is in wonderful surroundings. You can't really miss the mural surrounding the entryway, and the colours are so fresh that it must have recently been redone. I am guessing that there are specialists who do this, as I can't really imagine a monk up a ladder with a paint kettle and brush. Still stranger things have happened at sea as my old Chief used to say. We did make it through the entryway and into the courtyard, we could hear voices but they didn't hear us. Maybe if they did they chose to ignore us, but we decided not to disturb them. From what we saw it looked as though everything was very well kept. People keep on saying about the Rila monastry, but these smaller ones certainly have a charm all of their own. By all accounts you can even stay at this monastry, maybe they have cheaper rates than the holiday camp at the top of the road. We continued our journey down the hill, following the road, the silence only disturbed by the droning of bees and the wheezing of a Trabant as it attempted to climb the hill. Lower down we could hear the sounds of the river, and we were pleasantly surprised to find Blackberries, even if they weren't ripe.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Sofia, You Have Got A Problem

I don't know if anyone else saw the article by Novinite over the weekend. The one stating that Bulgaria is on the brink of a demographic collapse. Which got me thinking how it could possibly affect us foreigners living here. If you look into things it doesn't make wonderful reading. Hopefully the government are fully aware of this, but what plans they can implement to redress the balance is difficult to say.

At the moment it is declared that the country's population is decreasing by 164 people each and every day. Now this might not sound that many, but it still equates to more than 60000 a year. There are a few reasons behind these figures, there is a declining birth rate but an increasing mortality rate and then there is also the rate of immigration. These figures make even worse reading when the north of the country is compared to the south. The northern population is shrinking seven times as much as that in the south.

At the time when the borders were opened back in 1989 there was a national population of over 9 million. In the survey conducted in 2011 the population had decreased to 7350000. If that trend continues the Office of National Statistics estimate that by 2060 the population will stand somewhere in the region of 5million, or almost half of what it was 70 years previously. As early as 2020 the poulation will dip to below 7 million.

Male/Female Demographics
Not only that but the population is aging, the average age taken from the latest census figures is one of the
highest in Europe at just over 42 and a half years. At the moment 19% of the population is over the age of 65, or put another way they are of pensionable age. Just over a decade ago for every 100 people starting to draw a pension there were 124 youngsters starting out in the job market, last year this number went down to 64. This aging of the population is causing the economic recovery to slow down now.

There is also an increasing urbanisation, people are now leaving the villages to seek better prospects in the towns and  cities. Between them the four largest cities in the country now house a third of the population. With the influx of foreigners into these villages, some have been prevented from falling into decay, but the Bulgarian nationals are leaving. There are now less than 2 million people living in rural communities, and gradually the number of these rural communities is also decreasing. It is claimed that last year alone 24 villages ceased to exist, and over 170 are also at risk. With the declining birth rate many village schools have had to close. To keep these villages alive there needs to be a change to the infrastructure, to keep younger people in the villages they need to be upgraded. While people might still work in the towns they need decent roads to commute back and forth on. With an increased reliance on technology many young people see these villages as backwaters, where the 21st century has yet to arrive. So regional governments needto seriously look at what they intend doing in these areas. If more villages fail who will then farm the land which feeds the nation?

What Will Happen With Healthcare?
Looking at the year 2060 again the Office of National Statistics that 60% of the population will be over the age of 65. Who will then pay for the pensions and the health care needs of the elderly? At the moment the probable route will be an increase in taxation. Yet surely this will cause more of the work force to seek employment in a different country, in turn this could bring about the demographic collapse even earlier. At the moment 2014 is looming when Bulgaria achieves full employment privileges throughout the Eurozone. It remains to be seen what the government plans to do.

At the moment there are a couple of areas where the country is growing and these are manufacturing and exports. Yet if they can't keep hold of the work force who will do the manufacturing? If taxes rise too far who will be able to afford these products? Also with a declining population who will be left to buy these goods? One way that these potential problems can be overcome is to attract more foreigners from within the EU countries, this would also help the overcrowded countries. Hopefully it would not be seen as a chance for other EU member countries to use Bulgaria as a dumping ground for the dregs of their own societies. One thing that really ought to be done is to attract the Bulgarians who have left the country back. If it is done properly the differences between the Western and Eastern economies will eventually even out. If left unchecked the domino effect could occur and the EU as a whole can suffer, so it is not solely a Bulgarian problem.

Population Total

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Vampires Of Bulgaria

The Nessebar Vampire
I was going through the news today when I came across the story of another Vampire burial find. This one was at an archaeological dig which is happening in Nessebar. The body is thought to date from the 17th century, and is that of an old man with a knife in his chest. The archaeologist, Todor Mavrakov, is convinced that this provides proof that this man was thought to be a Vampire. This will hopefully generate as much interest as last year's Vampire discovery in Sozopol.

The Sozopol Vampire
In June of last year, two bodies were discovered during another archaeological dig. The surprise came when they also discovered iron rods buried with them. There were also indications that the bodies had been stabbed numerous times by these iron rods. It seems that people thought that this would prevent the body rising as a Vampire. The skeletons in this find are believed to be over 700 years old. The better of the two skeletons was taken to Sofia for further examination, although it has since returned to Sozopol where it will be displayed in the newly renovated museum. The Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum, Bozhidar Dimitrov, claims that over the years more than 100 such burials, where the bodies have been stabbed numerous times, have been found.

While in Sofia, the noted Bulgarian anthropologist, Professor Yordan Yordanov, used the skull to recreate the face of the deceased. During this reconstruction it was noted that the facial features were very asymetrical. It is from the timeline and this reconstruction that Bozhidar Dimitrov is claiming that this skeleton could be a character known as Krivich (The Crooked). He was a known pirate of the day, and also the manager of the Sozopol fortress. If it is that person then that might explain why he was buried in such a fashion.

Is This Krivich?
Despite being a cripple, this Krivich, was a very intelligent man. He knew a great deal about the ways of the sea, and the positions of the stars. He also knew plenty of things about herbal lore. If it is Krivich there are Byzantine chronicles which tell how he captured and looted a Venetian ship. There is a possibility that through this knowledge he might of been considered skilled in witchccraft, as a consequence that might explain the iron rod. Another possibility is that he was a physician, or an intellectual. It is thought that from the burial position that he was  person of importance, possibly even a member of the aristocracy.

Even back in 2004 the archaeologist Peter Balabanov, discovered six nailed down skeletons near to the town of Debelets. Yet another skeleton was found near to Veliko Tarnovo, this had been tied to the ground by four iron clamps, and burning embers had also been placed ontop of the grave. So it seems as though the Vampire superstitions have been around for a long time, and are quite widespread throughout the Balkan countries.

All of this got me thinking about how vampires fit into the folklore of Bulgaria. I was quite surprised at what I managed to find out. In Europe the majority of the Vampire legends originated in the Balkan countries. Most people when Vampires are mentioned immediately think of Dracula and Transylvania across the border. The Vampire legends have been told and retold in this part of the world for much longer than Bram Stoker making the story of Dracula so popular. Some people even claim that Vlad Dracul was of Bulgarian descent. The Bulgarian folklore has been so well established that there are plenty of different names by which vampires are known by. Such as Armenki, Drakus, Grobnik, Krvopijac, Nejit, Obour, Opachina, Opirb, Opyrb, Oustrel, Plotenik, Tenets, Topyak, Ubour, Upyr, Ustrel, Vampir, and Vipir. Some of these are just regional variations.

There are many superstitions that are still observed at funerals in villages to prevent the deceased becoming a vampire. Key to this belief is the thought that the spirit goes on a journey immediately after death. They are guided by their Guardian Angel, and will travel to all of the places that they visited during their lifetime. This journey would be completed on the 40th day, at which time the spirit continues onto the next life. It might be coincidence but on some of the death notices which are posted, you will often see ones posted for the 40th day.

If the burial ritual was done improperly, it is said that the dead will find their passage into the afterlife blocked. Over here it is the normal practice for the family to prepare the body, but there are many ways in which they might deviate from this routine. The night before burial the body has to guarded to prevent a cat or dog jumping over it, or even a shadow falling across it. The body has to be properly washed, the water, with a bunch of basil, is brought in silently. Sometimes oil and wine is also used to annoint the body. Failure to observe these rituals could lead to the deceased remaining on Earth as a Vampire.

It is not uncommon to see the spouse, or relative, of the deceased prodding the freshly dug grave with a spindle or hawthorn branch. They will also chant something to help prevent the deceased returning as a Vampire. Another practice to prevent the dead rising as Vampires is tying the shoelaces together before the body is placed in the coffin. The walk home from the graveside is conducted in silence, this will prevent the spirit following.

I Said I Wasn't Feeling Well
Should there be a Vampire on the loose there is a way of dealing with it, and that means trapping it in a bottle of blood. A specialist, known as a djadadjii, has to be called on to do this. Quite often this djadadjii was only armed with an icon, often just a picture of one of the saints. He would wait at a point near to where the vampire was likely to appear. When it appeared the Vampire hunter would chase it towards the bottle of blood. When the Vampire enters the bottle the djadadjii would seal it inside. Once it was trapped the bottle would be thrown into a fire, and so the Vampire would be disposed of.