A Journey

Basil & Tracy's Travels Abroad

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

БЪΛГАРИЯ: Monasteries and Walnuts

The immediate necessity upon entering Бъλгария is to buy a Cyrillic roadmap! Navigating a new country’s road system is always challenging but becomes a farce when all the road signs you see are completely unintelligible! We have no idea at all where we are most of the time. We know where we think we are and where we want to be but ne’er the twain shall meet! We finally solve the problem by cross-referencing between two maps: one in English, with which we plan our route, and one in Cyrillic, with which we decipher the signposts. All of this adds to the sense of achievement when finally arriving at the intended destination.


Our first conquest is Ивaново (Ivanovo), a gorge just south of the border famous for its carved and painted Byzantine rock monasteries. Driving through farmland, between hedgerows laden with sloes, rosehips and wild clematis, we wind down to the main attraction, which is a church perched high on the side of the gorge, resplendent with beautiful 14th century frescoes: really stunning images.


More exciting for us, however, is the discovery that on the other side of the gorge, accessible only by foot or bicycle, there are many other unvisited sites to investigate. The next day sees us wobbling intrepidly into the wilds, feeling like explorers of the dark unknown.


In the still silence of the gorge, broken only by the warbling of water fowl, we spend a happy day scrabbling around the rocky cliffside, richly rewarded by the discovery of a series of more humble, but to us infinitely more exciting, painted rock churches.



This gorge is many miles long and has been inhabited since the 5th century. There are ancient villages in its fertile folds and the inevitable fortifications that wealth and power bring.


We follow the twisting roads, descending into the valley to investigate places of interest and find a perfect riverside place to stay for a few days, visited only by sheep with their shepherds and the occasional horse-drawn farm cart.


Basil is delighted to find that the local town of Russe has wireless internet across all of its centre. A cheap scratch card gives you an access code and 500 Mb of bandwidth. We spend a cosy evening online in our van whilst parked in a side street. Useful for visitors, but not sure about the long-term effects on the inhabitants.


Moving on towards Вeлико Tьрново (Veliko Tarnavo), central Bulgaria, we notice people carrying long poles over their shoulders. The traveller’s life is full of such mysteries, you can only speculate and wait for things to become clear. All is revealed when we see somebody bashing a tree and realise that he is gathering walnuts. The roads are lined with walnut trees and they yield sacks of nuts, we are soon part of the harvest frenzy!


We make a spontaneous decision to follow a signpost to another painted monastery and are delighted to find that Autumn, on the wheel of life depicted in one of its frescoes, is symbolised by someone bashing a walnut tree!


We are awed to meet one of the monks, a tiny, wizened man with long flowing white hair and beard. The monastery is a place of incredible calm and peace and productivity – definitely a good place to be in uncertain times in the past, and maybe now – makes you wonder.



We meet up with two Americans KC and Jonathan and Toby an Irishman who are heading our way. So our van is full again as we drive southeast to investigate the Black Sea coast, which is one of the routes into Turkey.


Stopping to visit another (!) convent, we are again struck by the tranquillity and strength of their simple lifestyle, but are told by one of the nuns that all of the sisters are very old and that no young people are joining them so their world is slowly fading into the past. She wants to know if people in the west are contented…

The Road South

The Black Sea coast is a mostly a destination for eastern European and Russian holidaymakers and the season is mostly over now. The weather cool and windy so we decide to move on towards Turkey, our American friends decide to stay but for Toby it’s Istanbul or bust. The three of us set off for the border…


Post a Comment

<< Home