Archives for posts with tag: Bulgaria

We came down the monument of Shumen, still giddy from the impression of standing in the artistic presence of Bulgaria’s past but we had to hurry. The city choked in fog and chill, and thriller movie-esque night was descending.  We went to our next destination, Veliko Tarnovo – the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire and the “city of tsars”.

We barely arrived in our hostel, having gotten lost in the winding streets of the ancient city, when the reception guy herded us back out to a main plaza.  In the fog and moonlight we could see across the Yantra River, high up on the Tsarevets hill the old imperial fortress and castle. Other international and national tourist and locals milled about when the lights of local businesses and the surrounding hills cut out.  Embalmed in darkness, silence and anticipation spread when the show began.

The next day, I explored on my own and visited the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God.  According to wiki, it was the seat of Bulgarian Orthodox church during the 11th and 13th centuries until it was destroyed in 1393 by conquering Ottoman Turks.  Reconstructed in the 1970’s and 80’s it features one of the most amazing frescoes I have ever seen.

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Winding Down
“Now… there are two kinds of movies: those
with an ending, and those that don’t have an ending.
This movie needs an ending.”
Enzo, CQ (2001)

That afternoon we found ourselves back on the misty mountain roads heading towards Sofia, the culmination of our trip where Joe and I would bring in the new year in a freezing square with hundreds of delighted strangers, clutching hot greyano vino (mulled wine) and counting down the final seconds of 2013.

For the past few months since my trip back to the US I was feeling a little lost.  I had thought about extending my Peace Corps service for a third year, but recent events had left me exhausted and weary and I was ready for a change but every option looked the same with the same flat gray of the misty landscape we had only recently escaped.

3 min and 28 seconds away.  Joe and I, exhausted of conversation are entertained to look at those around us who gather tighter in the final minutes. I remember advice from multiple sources and conversations I’ve had about finding your personal passions and making the most of them.  2 min 50 seconds.  I think  that at the end of the day the thing that really gets me excited is film and storytelling and that I am known among my friends as a walking film database. 1 min 13 seconds. I think this is crazy to suddenly change directions in my life to pursue something so different from anything I’ve trained for. 56 seconds. I think I need to not be afraid and to embrace love and a new beginning …because death is coming. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  It’s 2014. Joe and I congratulate each other on being alive as fireworks burst and circle dancing begins.  We start heading back to the hostel hours later, turned around by yet another new city and a few glasses of mulled wine.  It matters not.  I may not know where I’m going but at least I have a direction.

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I am haunted, mesmerized and transfixed by the bizarre diaphonic sounds and dissonant harmonies of Bulgarian folk music.  A rich tradition of singing going back over a thousand years (for more click HERE) the music is as complex as the country and its history – of which I still know next to nothing.  Over the new year holiday, I took up once again with my friend, peace corps colleague, and travel companion, Joe, to explore strange old ruins and monuments, to seek out old vestiges of a communist eastern European past, to boldly go to Bulgaria.

Our journey took us to Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Burgas, Varna, Shumen, Vasiliko Tornovo, and back to Sofia.

The Monuments
“You have to talk about dead people all the time?
There’s nothin’ in this whole city but dead people.”
Robert Winters, Houseboat (1958)

At the center of Balkans, Bulgaria, like much of the area, was highly trafficked by diverse conquerors throughout time. Thracians, Greeks, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgar, Ottoman… and nowhere is this more apparent than Plovdiv, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe.  Ages have passed here and the city continues to grow around ruins as old as 4,000 BC.  New and old melt into one another as you walk down one of the 6 remaining hills of the city into a modern urban setting. Reminding me a bit of Sarajevo, this city formerly known as Philippopolis (City of Philip) among the many other names it collected, offered our first taste of the variety of cultures that have shaped the country…and it’s humor.

We took the required tour group photo with Milio “the Mad” in the background.  Milio caught meningitis as a youth and was afterwards simple, hard of hearing, and loved by citizens. Teased by men and adored by women, he was purportedly gifted with a large penis.  The statue depicts him fondling an impressive bulge in his pocket.  To reverse the adage, “the lord taketh, and the lord giveth.”

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Moving along we visited a Thracian necropolis and saw a replica of the Tomb of Kazanlak, and for a little while I could imagine having a similar something prepared for me when I die.  I dare not imagine what images would decorate the domed ceiling or the stories they would tell.

Thracian Tomb

High above Stara Zagora (most of these monuments were “high above”) was the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party.  I know very little of its actual history, but I can tell you of its present.  A massive dilapidated building, it stands majestically as a reminder of a past that many Bulgarians would sooner forget.  Like the bulking saucer section of the starship, Enterprise, the monument was a symbol leading the people to their future.

Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party

From the state inside, people didn’t like where that future was going.

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Unfortunately many communist era monuments throughout the Balkans, are abandoned to the whimsy of visitors. While there one family walked away each holding a small piece of one of the many fantastic mosaics that decorated the inner and outer rings.  It’s not exactly the happiest of histories, but as a piece of art these monuments still have their place in Bulgaria’s past and present, and deserve some level of protection and preservation.

The next pictures are not my own (I left my camera – whoops) but by far one of the most impressive stops was the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria (visit HERE for more pics from the photographer.
FOUNDERS OF THE BULGARIAN STATE MONUMENT IN SHUMEN BULGARIA

And this is why I will never be a travel writer.  Next blog – Bulgaria II (or “Lost and Found”).