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Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Bulgarian Day Trip

Cherven Medieval Citadel and Village
Despite it still being only February we had made plans last week to have a bit of an awayday this week, weather permitting. Yesterday was our target day as Wednesday always seems to break up a week quite nicely. The weather on Monday and Tuesday had been quite pleasant, and the forecast was indicating that we were in for more of the same on Wednesday. It might sound rather odd, but the temperatures have already been in the high teens and low twenties. It might not be shorts and t-shirt weather just yet, but for February this weather is much preferred to knee deep in snow.

So on bounding out of bed to let the animals out for their early morning constitutional we were confronted not by a glorious sunrise, but by thick swirling fog. Definitely not what the Docker ordered. We were not disappointed, or even cursing the weather forecasters and calling for a plague of boils on their collective backsides. This might have been due to the fact that beyond the murk there were signs of a glowing ball, and looking at the sky to the North there were definite hints of blue. The dogs and cats were appeased by their breakfasts, and once they were nose down in their bowls I don't think they gave the fog a second thought. By the time we had finished that all important first coffee the fog was thinning and the sky was steadily growing more blue.

The Car Park Is Down Here We Need To Go Up There
We had planned a full day, which included revisiting a couple of places that we had visited before, and also a couple of new ones. Our first destination was the medieval village and citadel at Cherven. Situated on a rocky hill this citadel was once upon a time of strategic importance. So rather than go up the main VT-Ruse road we decided to use the back roads. At least we wouldn't have to put up with the mad driving habits of the Turkish HGV drivers, who often seem to think that that road is their own personal race track. Another good reason for travelling the back way is that it is a lot more scenic. We did have a SatNav with us but most of the route was from my memory. I think that I was probably the most surprised as we were able to go there without any wrong turns, deviations or side trips to see any 'areas of outstanding natural beauty'. We rolled into the car park, which was like one of those abandoned Wild West towns, minus the Tumbleweed rolling across the road ( a plastic bag which had escaped the bin served the same purpose though).

Enjoy The Scenery
Even though the last of our snow disappeared from the garden on Monday, there were still a few patches at the roadside here. Just enough to remind us that it was still winter. Due to the lack of life in the car park and the cafe we assumed that there were no car parking fees, and so armed with cameras we headed for the steps. That is a problem with a citadel up on top of a hill, to get to it you have to go up. I think at the final count it was 245 steps up. At the top of the steps you follow the path up and then you can gain entry through what would have been the North gate, but first it was well worth taking a moment to enjoy the scenery laid out behind us heading up towards Ruse, the River Danube and Romania. With us being the only ones there, there was nothing to disturb the peace and quiet, even the modern day village beneath us was mainly silent.

A Basic DIY Citadel In Kit Form
Looking out to the West at the rocky hills could these have been the source of much of the stone for the walls, the churches, and other buildings within the fortress area. Some of them seem to be tiered, maybe the druids had also been visitingand created a spiral pathway similar to the one at Glastonbury Tor. Perhaps the 'Pyramid' next to it could provide the answers. The mind wanders in mysterious ways when there are no sounds around to provide a distraction. We could always blame the aliens, or perhaps it was something to do with the medieval loos at the citadel wall. I wonder if the fired red bricks were original, I'm almost certain that the 'aroma' was. After about three quarters of an hour, we were no longer alone as some Bulgarians had also had the same idea that we had. They seemed to have disappeared long before we returned to the carpark, although it is possible that they were alien abductees.

Go Away Before I Taunt You Once Again!!!
It is wonderful being able to get so close to history, and actually nice to see that it is being preserved for future generations. Within the citadel walls it is possible to see some round stone balls which must have been launched from soething like a Trebuchet from one of the surrounding hills. I daresay that if one of those landed on top of the building you were in, it wouldn't exactly make your day. The sites of the churches are numerous within the actual walls, and there are also excavations to unearth the Bishop's residence. To me these points alone indicate the level of significance that this place held back in history. Now all of this wandering round up on top of a hill in the sunshine soon builds up an appetite. We had expected that the cafe wouldn't be open so a picnic was the order of the day. So we slowly made our way back down the steps (still 245 of them) and to the car park. This time there was a man, and he had a badge. We thought that we were to pay a car parking fee, but when we offered he told us that it wasn't necessary. He did look somewhat bored and quite happily accepted the offer of a coffee and a slice of cake.

A Bridge Over Muddy Water
He spoke English and told us that there was a barbecue/picnic area behind the cafe which we were welcome to use. It is now the site of an adventure playground, which has sprung up since we were last there. Hopefully the trees were already damaged before this bridge was strung over the river. There were certainly trees in the river, but they might have been caused by the winter storms that we had at the end of last year. There was even one bit of tree constantly nodding in the currentfurther downstream. The man with the badge turned out to be the official guide amongst other things. He seemed quite happy to chat as he drank his coffee and ate his cake. He mentioned to us about two secret passageways that they had discovered. One is known locally as the King's stairs, maybe next time we go there we will ask him to possibly show us where these secret stairs are. We were told that much of the information which is known about the citadel has come from the actual excavations. The rest have been gleaned from the records which were made during the Ottoman Occupation. For further information about the site, we were advised to check out cherven.eu , although at the moment it is only available in Bulgarian.

An Odd Place For A Shed
Ivanovo Rock Church
This area is also known for the rock churches and monasteries, the guide told us about one which was all of the way round the back of the rock on which the citadel sits. It is very difficult to reach but you can still see some of the original frescos. We mentioned that once we had finished our picnic we were heading for Ivanovo, and the rock church there. He informed us that at the moment it is not open to the public as it is outside of the tourist season, but we would be able to see some of the exterior. He did recommend that we go and see the rock monastery at Basarbovo, hopefully we didn't look too smug as that was also on our itinery for the day. By all accounts the Basarbovo monastery is one of the last surviving rock monasteries which is still active.

Basarbovo Monastery
As we headed off towards Basarbovo we could feel the temperature dropping, and see the fog looming. Once again we were the only ones who had decided to visit, as there were no other cars in the car park. We were greeted by a monk, or a priest, when we walked through the gates of the monastery. I hope that we hadn't disturbed him from whatever it was that he would normally be doing. We checked that it was ok to take photos, I think he said it was ok but it sounded like he was speaking Italian. He had worked out that we were foreign, so maybe he thought we might understand Italian, unfortunately none of it was a menu item. He was quite happy to sell us candles for us to light, even though the box of matches was a little damp from the fog. Again this was quite a fascinating place to see, and I would imagine that there is more to see later in the year when there are more visitors likely. There were still frescos and icons to see, some which were obviously more modern than others.

Modern Items
Smoke Damage From Candles
So three great places seen all in the space of a day. Maybe with the summer crowds it would not be possible to do all three, or you wouldn't be able to do so at your own pace. Rather fortuately my battery warning light on the camera was showing, as the temperature was still dropping and the fog was thickening. What was needed was a hot drink, we still had hot water in the thermos flasks but Ruse was just up the road and we needed a couple of bits from Mr Bricolage. So it was decided that first we get the DIY odds and sods, and then into Ruse for coffee and something to eat. Apart from the weather being a pain I even remembered how to get into Mr Bricolage, so the SatNav wasn't required. We got our bits and pieces and headed off to park up in the centre. These are tow away areas so we were rather concerned when we couldn't find anyone to pay for parking. In the end we asked another motorist who was picking his wife up, and he told us that it was free parking today. What a bargain, all of the different places we had stopped and not one car parking fee between them. It was while we were eating that we noticed a flaming torch light procession. It was like the villagers in a Hammer House of Horrors film off in search of the local Vampire. A kind man explained that it was in commemoration of Vasil Levski being hung. I did see some photos of the service but fog and flash photography don't really mix as there were more light orbs than anything else.

Looks Good Even In B&W
The Bell Tower
The journey home wasn't that pleasant due to the conditions. It didn't seem to stop the lunatics, or even slow them down at all. Before we finally managed to leave the fog behind we had seen the aftermath of two accidents. The truckers didn't seem to slow down at all, maybe that is why so many of them have LED crucifixes shining on the front of their cabs. Fortunately we didn't have any problems, although we were quite happy not to try and break the land speed record, but would rather get home in one piece. Although just over halfway home we did emerge from the fog, and the route we used took us away from the nutters on the main road. So we had a full day, but what a great day it was.    


7 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Nina, I hope that you enjoyed the read :)

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  2. A very warm welcome to Irina, who is the latest person to follow the blog. Thank you for taking the time to read them :o)

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  3. Very interesting! It sounds like an Ernest Hemingway work.

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    1. If the bells in the tower at Basarbovo had been striking Peter, we might have had "For Whom The Bell Tolls". Sadly they weren't so it was down to me to put my thoughts into words

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  4. A very warm welcome to Kalina, who is the latest person to follow the blog. Please feel free to share these blogs with friends and family :o)

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  5. I am very pleased to be able to welcome Di Bach as the latest blog follower. A very big thank you goes to you for taking the time to read these blog articles :o)

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