Thursday, 24 April 2014

Doing The Tourist Bit (part2)

Directions From The Caves
Directions To And From Polski Trambesh
So having finished our teas and coffees, and also having made use of the facilities we left the Devetashka caves (Деветашката пещера) and headed for our next destination 17 kms away. We were off to see the waterfalls at Krushuna, again something which a lot of guide books seem to overlook. Given the amount of rain that we have had recently we were expecting a bit more than the dribble we saw at Kapinovo last summer. Finding the village itself is easy enough, but the signs directing you to the waterfalls are a bit on the small side, so keep a sharp lookout as you enter the village. In Cyrillic the signs will look something like this (Крушунски водопади). So for those who are using a SatNav, these co-ordinates might be of some use to you 43°14'33"N 25°02'01"E

You Are Here
Once you have found the signs it is plain sailing and if you follow them it will take you to the car park. Once again the entry fee is just 2 Leva per person, and this seems to include car parking fees, what an absolute bargain compared to some of the rip off attractions in the UK. From the car park head up the lane which is blocked off to unauthorised vehicles. There is a new open air swimming pool and bar on your right hand side. This was all being made ready for the up coming summer season, the weather was quite hot for us and it was looking inviting. After a couple of hundred metres you will see a new hotel/restaurant being built, and on the corner you will see this information board. I did notice something on there which said Krepost (Крепост), which to my understanding means castle. The closest that I can find to anything like that is the ruins of a 12th century Hesychast monastery. As we didn't actually notice this until we were leaving it will be something for us to investigate another time. We were heading for the main waterfall, known as Maarata, and this is the highest cascade fall in Bulgaria.

More Umbrellas Than People
Bearing in mind that there wasn't much in the way of food and drink at the caves, the waterfall is totally different. Although when we were there it was a case of there being more umbrellas than visitors. In one way that was good for us, as this meant that we were not holding anyone up when I stopped to take photos, and I did take more than a few. Anyway we were carting our picnic lunch with us, and we had been told that in amongst the trees we would find a picnic spot beside the river. The picnic area that we used even had a roof on, which acted as more of a sunshade due to the great weather. There is something nice and relaxing about having a picnic accompanied by the sound of the river on one side and birds singing up in the trees. We might have stayed there a bit longer than we did, were it not for a young couple getting a little frisky so we left them to each other.

The Picnic Spot Through The Trees
This picnic area is quite a way down the falls, but we could still here the water rushing past, as it tumbled over the terraces. By all accounts these terraces are made from something called Travertine, which is a form of Limestone. It is often found in either mineral spring or hot spring areas. It is a sedimentary rock and will either be white, cream or tan in colour. As you can see we had the tan version. Later in the year when there is not the volume of water coming down this pools are meant to be very tranquil spots in amongst the mossy rocks and trees. I would imagine that once the trees are in full leaf that it might get a little be humid. So to my mind we went at an ideal time, plenty to see a both venues, which were both open, no crowds so plenty of opportunities for photographs. As I mentioned earlier we have been to the waterfall at Kapinovo which was a little disappointing, and we have also been to the waterfalls at Hotnitsa and Emen. At each of, Emen, Hotnitsa and Krushuna you can follow a trail up and across the river and falls as it drops down. The main difference being that at Krushuna it doesn't look as though it is falling to pieces. If you have been to the caves you already have a good strong pair of shoes on, as there is a fair bit of climbing to do.

A Bridge
Glimpsed Through Trees
The higher you get the more impressive the falls get, and also the noisier it gets. There is something quite satisfying about climbing up beside a waterfall on a hot day. I realise that we are not talking Niagara Falls, but there is still plenty of water spray in the air to cool down. Remember to protect your camera lens by keeping the lens cap on until you are ready to take a shot. The bridges and walkways criss-cross the river, and as you follow the path climbing higher and higher you are treated to glimpses of the various cascades. The roaring of the water soon starts to drown out the sound of the birds singing, and although I didn't hear any I would imagine that it is quite a haven for frogs and toads.

There's Always One
The Top Of The Falls
The top most stage of the waterfall drops 20 metres, and if you are careful you can get to the open end of one walkway and almost touch the water. So if anyone is going to be taking small children please keep a close eye on them. The cool water splashing at the back of your heels is quite refreshing, even if you do end up looking like a prize pillock having your photo taken. Once you have made it to the top, all that is left to do is slowly make your way back down again. The good news is that it is all downhill. After scaling the various ladders, crossing numerous bridges and following the path as it winds its way either up or down the following day your legs will know all about it.

There Are Wet Caves
And There Are Dry Caves
In the karst limestone you will often notice caves of varying sizes, and this area is full of them. So if anyone is looking for further information about the area I would suggest having a look at the following

A Fungi In The Woods
It Looks Calmer Than It Is
As with a lot of mineral springs once upon a time they were viewed as being highly medicinal, and as such were venerated. perhaps that is one reason why the monastery was founded in this area, and who knows how far back this area was regarded as a special place. As you go back down the gradient slowly begins to level out, the noise of the water drops from a roar to a rumble and once again you can hear the birds up in the trees. Once you are on level ground you could almost think that the river is only moving slowly, but you can see just how much sediment is held in the water.

Rustic Facilities
Modern Facilities
Once you have made it to the paved areas you will find the 'facilities'. Here you get the choice, from quite rustic to a modern version. Fortunately no one in our party wanted to make use of either version, which prevented any repeat performances of the BBC sound effects department. So the final bit might have been a little more tiring, but what an absolutely wonderful day. I personally think that with both places being so close together it is definitely a day well spent, and neither cost a fortune.

That'll Be A Thumbs Up From Me 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Doing The Tourist Bit (part1)

Once the Easter break was over we had decided that it was about time we saw some more of what this country has to offer. It is a bit of a bugbear with me, but there is so much to see and do and it just doesn't get promoted. Yesterday was proof of the pudding. Now on checking the weather forecast the weather for the planned excursion looked like it was going to be wonderful. Ideal for nosing around leisurely, and also for having a picnic. Now with it being the Easter weekend we weren't too sure of which shops would be open on the bank holiday Monday as we wante everything to be as fresh as posssible. Fortunately, it seemed as though everything was open as normal except banks and municipal offices, but we didn't want either of them. One thing that we did notice was that the fields of Rapeseed, that stuff with the acid yellow flowers, were in full pollen production. It was even making me sneeze. So it was into town, get the various bits and bobs and then back home again. Most of the stuff was prepped the evening before, so it was just a matter of putting everything into insulated bags.

Getting Closer
So Tuesday morning and we had arranged to meet our guides at the square in Polski Trambesh. For some strange reason Polski seemed to be chock-a-block, and it wasn't even market day. As usual we had got there early, which gave us a chance for a coffee and a loo break. Our guides also had problems trying to park, but eventually we managed to find each other. A quick head count over coffee, and another nervous loo break, proved that we were all there. Now the outing was planned in two parts, and we had a choice about which we would like to tackle first. The caves won.

River Osam
Now these caves are said to be the biggest in Bulgaria, I could find dribs and drabs of information about them online, but nothing in any guide book which I checked. It is almost as though it's a secret. Sign posts for getting you there are virtually non existant, but it is 18 km NE of Lovech and 2 km from the village of Devetaki. Fortunately we had Madame Garmin doing the navigating for us, but we also had to rely on a bit of guesswork, when she suggested going down a road which was blocked off. So if you are going to be using a SatNav then these co-ordinates might be of some use to you 43°13'58"N 24°53'12"E

To The Bat Cave
There are over 9000 known caves and abysses in Bulgaria (not counting potholes), and as I previously mentioned this is the largest in Bulgaria. Even though many might not have heard of it, you might well have seen it as part of the Movie Expendables 2 was filmed here in 2011. This cave system is home to several bat colonies, an estimated number being 30,000 bats, and the filming was deemed to have disturbed the bats. There are also Rock Swallows which nest here too, and the whole site was declared a natural landmark in 1996. So the film people were not overly popular, but the bat population seemed to have recovered by the following year. I have read that the caves are closed in June and July as that is the bat breeding season. Even at the moment certain areas are blocked off for this reason. There is still plenty to see and high overhead we could see some of the swallows swooping in and out of nests. We might have seen some bats but it is difficult to say for certain.

The Rebuilt Bridge
At one time it is said that a railway line, used by the miltary actually went into the caves, but over the years that became redundant. The filming of the movie led to a new bridge being built, which now connects the small car park with the caves. Previously access was via a footpath alongside the River Osam. It was a wonderful day weather wise for us, with the sun warming the air. It was actually quite nice to get inside the caves where it was nice and cool. There were constant drips of cold water coming from the ceiling high up above us, well I hope that it was water. Even the entrance into the cave is impressive, it is 30 metres high and 35 metres wide. As you head further into the cave it all just opens out in front of you. One piece of advice for anyone intending on visiting here, wear shoes with a decent grip. The floor is a bit 'muddy' with the constant dripping of water from the ceiling, and flip-flops would not do you any favours.  

A Sense Of Scale
This will start to give you an idea of the scale of the caves, in some areas of the main chamber the average ceiling height is 60 metres, but in some areas this increases to about 100 metres. They even do bungee jumping, but fortunately that attraction wasn't there yesterday. The first archealogical digs were carried out in 1927, which lead to the first Neolithic tomb being found here. Serious exploration of the caves didn't occur until the 1950s. During that time Pavel Petrov explored the river which runs through the cave system, using small wooden boats. As you gaze up at the ceiling you will notice that there are holes which allow sunlight to illuminate the cavern, also acting as entrance and egress points for bats and birds. There are seven of them, and they are called Okna. The largest of these holes is known as Kilika, and measures 73x48 metres. So there is plenty of sunlight reaching into the main chambers. As you go further into the cavern you notice evidence of modern man.

Modern Man Was Here Too
Over on the right you will notice a man made wall, with a couple of archways in. When you go through the arched tunnel you notice that there are large stone rings on the floor. Reading various things gives me the impression that storage tanks for either fuel or oil once stood there, possibly during the times when it was being used by the military. Unfortunately we couldn't go much further as the bats had put out do not disturb signs. I can safely say that I was impressed by these caverns, and the entry fee was all of 2 Leva a head. I did read somewhere that there are reductions for large groups and that pensioners get in free, but in the UK you couldn't even park your car for that.  

The Ticket Office
The Facilities
The facilities are almost non-existant, if you had anyquestions there didn't seem to be anyone around who you could ask. The chap in the green caravan only seemed to be responsible for taking the entrance fee. There is no cafe there, so take your own bits and pieces. We take plastic cups, thermos jugs full of boiling water those fruit teabag things and several 3in1 coffee things. You might think it strange that I have included a photo of Doctor Who's Porta Loo, but this is also the extent of the 'facilities'. However fear not as they were functionally tested. They were clean, didn't smell and had loo rolls in them. The only downside being that they are a bit echoie so everyone knows what you are doing. Possibly not helped by strange Brits blowing raspberries on their arms and laughing like a bunch of kids. Before I forget ladies, just on the left as you go in this is not a hand basin, and possibly not an ideal place to rest your handbag. I will let you work it out from there.

Looking Towards The Entrance
Anyone For Bungee Jumping?
The Cave Comes With Running Water



Outstanding Views

Sunday, 13 April 2014

My Thoughts On Easter

One of the biggest celebrations is approaching out here in Bulgaria, and that is Easter. Many say that Easter is an even bigger celebration than Christmas. It is certainly a time for large family gatherings, which inevitably lead to parties. This year the Bulgarian Easter coincides with the UK one, which makes a change. This is because Western religions base their calculations on the Gregorian calendar, whereas the Eastern Orthodoxy utilises the Julian calendar. Easter is a moving celebration in that the date changes from year to year, unlike Christmas which is always focused on December 25th, the day when we are told that Jesus Christ was born.

Like many people of a similar age, when I was at school Religious Education was a compulsory subject, along with English and Maths. Most things that we were taught seemed either common sensically, or at least logically reasonable, and seemed to teach an ethical way to live. Now I might be in the minority here, but I have always had a problem with Easter. At school they tried to explain that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and three days later he was resurrected. This is where I begin to have problems, if the date of birth is always on such a day then surely the date of death would also be on a fixed date, and consequently the resurrection three days later.

So the church elders decided to tie everything in with the Jewish Passover celebrations, as the crucifiction, burial and resurrection all took place after Passover. Prior to 325AD it was always celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal equinox, as Jewish festivals and observances are based on solar and lunar cycles. Now in Western churches it is celebrated on the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon.

So perhaps these Easter celebrations have many of their roots in Pagan celebrations which often tended to focus on the land and growing cycles. No-one can be sure but it seems as though the word Easter was first mentioned in the King James Bible translation, when it was substituted for the Hebrew word Pessach, which probably should have more accurately been Passover. Some historians surmise that this celebration always happened at the same time of year, and in the West Saxon dialect the month was known as Eastre. Which in turn was named after a Goddess associated with Spring and the dawn.

This Goddess was known as Eostre, and was often symbolised by a hare. The Venerable Bede wrote of his observances that in the month of, what is now April, feasts were held in Eostre's honour, by the pagan Anglo Saxons. Below is taken from Bede's book "De temporum ratione"

Original Latin:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.

Modern English translation:

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance."

When the scribes were translating the Bible into English, perhaps this is how the word Easter replaced Pessach. At the time of the Vernal Equinox the length of day is equivalent to that of the night, so people would start to focus on the world about them coming back to life. All signs of fertility. With Eostre often being represented by a Hare it is an easy step to see where the idea for the Easter Bunnie came from, especially when you consider what rabbits are best known for. Eggs are another old symbol for fertility, as so many things spring to life from a simple egg. Outside municipal buildings and on roundabouts across Bulgaria you will often see large baskets with brightly coloured eggs in. Homes throughout Bulgaria will be busy dying eggs, and they have egg fights to help promote good health. There will always be a red egg, and the thoughts behind that vary.  

Some say that it symbolises the red cloak that Jesus Christ was forced to wear as "The King of the Jews". Others claim that it symbolises the blood which was spilt when he was crucified. There is also another tale,
2 years after the resurrection of Christ, outside Jerusalem,Mary Magdalene was carrying a basket full of white eggs. She had heard the new governor would be passing there. In the middle of the road she put the basket full of the white eggs and stopped the new Governor saying:

"Welcome to Jerusalem oh Respectful Governor! I wish you will be righteous to the citizens of Jerusalem and will not be unrighteous like your predecessor Pontious Pilate. He, in vain, crucified the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He was threatened and He put Him on the Cross and He resurrected on the third day"

She explained all the miracles that He performed and His life. The governor on the horse was listening to her. At the end of the conversation he said to Mary Magdalene:
"If all the accounts you told me are true, let these white eggs that you put in the middle of the road become red. Then I will believe all you said about Jesus Christ of Nazareth."
Immediately all the eggs turned red and Mary Magdalene gave one red egg to the governor Tiberius and one she kept and said:
"Christ is Risen" and he replied: " Truly He is Risen"
From this event we have the greeting Christ is Risen and Truly is risen and also the red eggs.

Then there are also the Hot Cross buns which we all seem quite partial too. Where do they fit into things? The hot spiced buns are quite simple. In the Old Testament the Israelites are mentioned baking them for an idol, which the church leaders tried to prevent. The early church elders were forever trying to prevent various sacred cakes from being baked, with no luck. So a way was found to fit them in with the new Christian religion, and make the new converts more amenable with somethings which were familiar. Some say that the cross signifies the cross of the crucifixion, others that it is to do with the star constellation the Soutern Cross or  even the four quarters of the moon, it all seems to be a matter of what the individual is comfortable with. 

Lamb is the main meat eaten by Bulgarians at this time of year. Again could that have something to do with fertility as young lambs are now being born. Perhaps it is to do with Passover when every first born was meant to die. The Jews were spared because they sacrificed a lamb, and the blood of the lamb was marked on their doors to signal to the angel of death. Was Jesus Christ not also known as the lamb of God, and wasn't he also sacrificed?

It just all seems so jumbled, with bits taken from here, borrowed from there and wedged in from somewhere else. Even the idea of resurrection occurs in many other religions and mythologies. The sunrise services, welcoming the dawn do seem very pagan, and much being based around the Jewish observances, which were mainly either lunar or solar based, also seems at odds with things. Who am I to say? Whatever your beliefs or thoughts may you enjoy yourselves with loved ones, as to my mind that is what is important. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Donating Blood

Just A Drop
Those of you who know me through various groups on Facebook will hopefully be aware about this English gentleman up in Ruse who is undergoing a series of operations. It seems as though a comprehensive blood bank is not operated over here in Bulgaria, in the same way that many of us are used to in the UK. Here it seems as though if you have anything other than an emergency operation with will require blood it is up to the patient to supply it.

Now a couple of months ago many of us first got wind of this young man's predicament, well ok he's 69 but that's still young. The call for help first went out on the various forums asking if anyone was blood group type O+ve, and below the age of 60 who would be prepared to donate to this worthy cause. It might surprise people that I am actually under 60, and I also met the other two criteria as well. Even in our own Facebook group we do hold a list of who is what blood group and would be willing to donate, we even have it split into the various areas. So our group list was consulted and in this area I was the only one who met all three requirements. Initially we were thinking that it would entail a trip up to Ruse, but we were still prepared to do that.

Very Nearly An Armful
Fortunately this young man's first operation was more successful than people had hoped. So this reduced the urgency for the other operations, and gave his body more time to recover on it's own. The other day I had another phone call, letting me know that the young man was booked in for his next hospital trip on Monday, and was I still OK for donating blood. Only this time it seems as though I wouldn't have to go to Ruse as I could donate in Veliko Tarnovo and it would be credited up where it was needed. The same thing is also happening down on the Greek and Turkish borders. Initially I was told that this man's friends in his village were prepared to help out at 250 Leva a pint. To me this seems quite mercenary, but I guess for some people that would put food on the table for their family. I don't think that my red stuff is of the same vintage, but it has had one careful (ish) owner, so I was more than happy to let mine go for free. My thinking being that if push comes to shove and I was in the same situation that people would rally round and do the same for me.

Veliko Tarnovo Hospital
Anyway I was told  that I could donate blood at the hospital in VT. Which was a bonus, as it meant that I didn't have to travel for an hour and a half either way, but what my contact couldn't tell me was which hospital I would have to attend. Now I have to say a very big thank you to certain of my Bulgarian friends, and also a complete stranger, who all managed to steer me in the right direction, so I could at least turn up at the correct hospital. It turned out that it was the same hospital which received the BinkyAid funds so at least I knew where to park.

Blood Group Chart
So this morning I set out ready to donate blood. I know that parking can be difficult outside of the hospital, so I opted to use Praktiker's car park. Besides, I also needed a nervous wee, so I thought killing two birds with one stone made plenty of sense. Also the hospital is only a couple of minute's walk away from the car park. So once I had sorted myself out I went over to the hospital. Inside the main doors and near to the stairs is a big notice board which indicates which department is on which floor. I thought take it in small steps and you will get there. Thanks to my Bulgarian friends I knew what to look for, as I had been told that Blood Centre in cyrillic is Кръв Център. Did that show up on the big board? Did it heck. So onto the fallback plan of join the queue at the enquiries desk and ask in my best Bulglish. It worked. I was told along that corridor, go down some steps on the left and then straight in front on me. Which seemed straightforward enough, until I found two sets of steps going down, one inside and one outside.

I chose the inside option first as it was starting to spit with rain again, and fortunately it took me down into a foyer area where various bits of refurbishment were being carried out. The only signs on the doors were A4 bits of paper with stuff printed on them. None of them had Кръв Център on them, but one did have something which looked like hematalogia, and using my school boy knowledge I hoped that it was something to do with haematology, or that they could at least point me in the right direction. More by luck than judgement I had actually stumbled on the correct place, so I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

There is a saying that "Pride goes before a fall", and I shouldn't really feel so pleased with myself for navigating round a building. This came in the shape of none of the staff there speaking English, so I had to resort to my Bulglish again and I explained the situation as best I could. An Englishman was having an operation in Ruse on Monday, he needs O+ve blood, and I have been told that I can donate it there. That bit was sorted out and then I was given 2 declaration forms to fill out, which was me buggered. A menu is one thing, a medical declaration form is something else, especially when there are two different ones. I did point out that I had a contact number at the Embassy in case of problems, bbut they gave up trying to get through in the end. Then it dawned on the head of the department that her Mother used to teach English, so that might be a way to resolve things. So my declaration forms were dealt with over the phone and me answering "Da" or "Ne", trying to explain gall bladder, gall stones and jaundice was a bit tricky but we got there in the end.

With completed forms in hand I was once again tested for blood type, fortunately it hadn't changed since I was in the Royal Navy, and I was still O+ve. Now that my forms were all filled out everyone was clucking round me like mother hens, and comparing veins on either arm, checking blood pressure and filling out more forms. I don't know if it's good but my blood pressure was 120/80, they say it's perfect and it seems to work OK for me. I had to sign various forms before they started draining me of blood, or at least a pint. I am quite happy to report that my blood is a nice red colour and not blue. So with my pint of blood in Dracula's snack bag I was allowed to sit up, 'Did I feel OK'? Then I was allowed to stand, and asked the same question, on saying yes I was allowed to sit in an uncomfortable settee thing in the corridor. I am glad that I took my kindle with me as the walls didn't have much of interest on.

I was asked if I wanted them to sort out the paperwork between themselves and Ruse, oh yes please. The declarations were bad enough so who knows how I would have fared with more forms. Because I had donated blood I was given a box, inside which were two bars of chocolate, and one was huge, a bottle of water, a carton of fruit juice and a pack of filter coffee. A bit different to weak tea and a soggy digestive.

The Village Pensioner's Club
Even though I might have mentioned that I am below the age of 60 which means that I can donate blood here, I have become a fully paid up member of the village pensioner's club, and so has Net even though she is far too young. Everything that seems to happen in the village, seems to happen there somewhere along the lines. We have been to a couple of things there, but by and large things tend to happen without us even being aware. I have seen various photographs of village events, and there has not been a single foreigner there. So now that we are members at least we will get to hear about things. Also during the summer when it gets too hot to work in the garden of an afternoon there is somewhere to go for a cold drink. Hopefully in the future it will lead to blog articles, even if it doesn't it will help with integrating further into village life.

Don't Ask
A Bit Of A Do
 Emi, Our Kmet, Emi's Daughter on Trifon's Den

Hopefully things will go well for the young man's operation on Monday, and if I hear anything I will let people know

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Meeting Friends In Popovo

In The Square Of Popovo
Today we had planned on meeting up with friends in Popovo, having a wander round the shops and maybe a coffee or two. We had been looking forward to this ever since we recovered from whatever lurgie it was that we had. The weather had been nice and sunny for the previous few days and the temperatures have been above average. So what did we see when we woke up this morning? Grey skies, and neither one of us can remember ordering inclement weather for today. A quick check on the internet at a couple of weather forecasting sites, and although the grey skies were not due to change, at least there was no rain being forecast.

Now to get to Popovo from our village we have to go a different direction from the one that we would normally take to go into Gorna. The route that we were on involved a stretch of road that I have come to refer to as bomb alley. It looks like Beirut on a quiet day, and they are not really pot holes any more, they have now become shell craters. They were like it over 6 years ago when we first came out to Bulgaria and they have got progressively worse. Soon these craters will merge together and it might even feel a bit smoother. We know what we are going to be facing on that stretch of road, and there is now no way that you can miss any of the craters, so now it is a case of picking a line which you think is going to be the best of a bad lot. Once we had exited bomb alley our troubles were not over, as the road leading down into Lozen is getting almost as bad. We didn't actually hit decent road until we got onto the Byala-Popovo main road.

Spring Is Here Too
One thing that we did notice en route to Popovo was that the castle ruins just outside of Kovachets is now open for visitors. So that is going to be on our things to do list for the summer. As we drove past we did slow down a little and it seems like they have made a good job of it all. Today, however, our destination was Popovo. Now on the main road into the town there is now an overhead gantry, and situated on this gantry are two cameras facing either direction. It is the second such gantry that I have spotted in as many days, now I don't know the purpose of these cameras, they could be purely for monitoring traffic, or the weather conditions. Or they could have another purpose entirely, but at the moment there is no paint on the ne road surface. Anyway we made it into Popovo, possibly slightly shaken due to the varying road conditions, and headed for our friend's apartment. Being a smart arse I took an alternate route, which fortunately worked out otherwise I might never have lived it down, but sure enough our friend was waiting outside to make sure we got the correct apartment block. All through the drive there it was nice to see that all of the trees are suddenly bursting into leaf and blossom, and the Storks are huddled on their nests of sticks.

Popovo's Very Own Ninja
After greeting everyone we went up to the apartment, where not only did we have coffee, but we also had lunch. I had never tried dock leaf soup before, but it is surprisingly tasty, especially when you add a little splash of lemon juice. They had also gone to the trouble of making a typical Bulgarian Mousaka, and I can safely say that it is the best one that I have eaten since we have been here. There was also fried yellow and white cheeses, stuffed peppers, salads and small mushrooms. If I had known that we would be eating like that I would have worn my expando trousers. It all looked so good but try as we might we couldn't do it justice. Despite the apartment being comfortable it was actually quite a relief when it was suggested going for a walk round town. The grey skies hadn't really improved, but at least it looked as though the forecasters had got the no rain bit correct, although every so often a breeze was blowing. It is often nice to have guides in the know who can show you some of the best places to go. They even know where to run the shop assistants down to ground should you find a particular shop closed up while coffee is being drunk.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You The Bride And Groom
There were others out and about, although I don't really think that they were that interested in shopping. Quite possibly they had something else on their mind. Still if ever they get to see this blog here is another snap which won't appear in the official wedding album. I am pleased to report that as far as I am aware neither the bride, nor groom, shinned up the lamp post for that special photo. At least it didn't rain for them.

When we first ever went to Popovo there were no pedestrian only areas like there are now. Even though it seemed to take forever to complete, they have made a good job of it all. Once the weather really starts to warm up the cafes will have more tables and chairs outside, than they do inside. Today there were a few hardy souls sat outside, but it was mainly various Finches who were enjoying the outdoors life.

New Pedestrian Areas
Old Buildings
There are some impressive facades on some of the older buildings, sadly they don't seemed to have fared very well ove time. Some of them really do look quite forlorn and uncared for. Sadly unless anything is done a lot of these buildings will be lost forever, and who knows what tales they could tell, or secrets that they have witnessed? Sometimes I do wonder if people really do care about their heritage, and all too often it seems to be a case of too little too late. Hopefully that is only my impression and much gets done behind the scenes.

The Vegetable Market
The Moo Soup Machine
Another change that we noticed is the local produce market, at one time they used to be ricketty stalls in a vague attempt at a straight line, piled with fruit and vegetables. Now there is a covered market area for some of these same ricketty stalls to huddle beneath. It might be different when the sun is shining but to me it did seem a bit dull and dingy underneath there. On a bright piece of news for the first time I have actually spotted one of these automatic milk machines. I have heard of them previously, but up until now I had yet to see one. Even though it can now be crossed off of my I-Spy odd things list, it wasn't working so maybe I can only claim half a point.

There Are Some Odd People About
Unfortunately time was getting on and we still had to visit our friend's Grandmother's house, and then drive home. As luck would have it there was still time for that all important coffee. We can safely say that over the last couple of days we have had some wonderful times, in the company of some very nice people. I'll not embarass people by mentioning names, but you know who you are, so once again we thank you all.