Bulgarian Experience
From the Black Sea Coast to the Pirins.

The home of Charles Darwin Summer Residence for a Romanian Queen in love with a Turkish Prince, 
Balchik, (Балчик).
The Romanian Queen, Marie, happened to be a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, an adherent to the Baha'i Faith and someone committed to the reconciliation of Muslims and Christians (in 2001, the world needs you Queen Marie!). Balchik lies on the Black Sea coast, just north of Varna, one of the many interesting places to visit in Bulgaria. Take a look at the photograph album of my two Czech friends, Roman and Milena Lebedovi, as they toured the Country with their friends, Michael Smakal a Jana Pilna, picking-up yours truly and (Uncle) Stefan on the way for some wonderful hiking in the Pirins.
This domed Cathedral of the Assumption, a Varna City landmark reminiscent of St Petersburg, and like the cathedral there, holds similar internal delights of craftsmanship and mural painting. It is a good place to start a tour of the City, with practically everything of interest within walking distance.For ancient history try walking north-east along the Mariya Luiza until you reach the Archaeological Museum. Here one can discover the Chalcolithic Era which existed in Bulgaria 6000 years ago when corpses were adorned with gold ornaments made by highly skilled craftsmen. Superb decorative work is also to be found from Greek and Roman times; one should mention particularly, the intricate jewellery from Greek Odyssos which is quite outstanding.
Varna Cathedral
(Катедралата на Варна)

For more history and old photos of Varna's recent past, visit the City Historical Museum, directly south and close to the sea-front on ul.8 noemvri. Or head back five minutes walk to the north on the Han Krum to walk among the extensive ruins of old Roman Baths where restoration is slowly in progress and hopefully one day will be completed when sufficient funds are available from the 'Beautiful Bulgaria Project,' (a United Nations Development Programme initiative started in 1997 principally for reducing unemployment.)
Roman Thermae in Varna. When will restoration be complete?

Rila Monastery
Batchkova Monastery
Bulgaria is full of monasteries, but two stand out from the rest, Rila, the largest and most impressive and Batchkova, not as large as Rila, but still well worth a visit. The Rila Monastery dates from the 10th century and although plundered many times, somehow survived the Ottoman Turks through the long occupation; it was restored and expanded in the 19th century. Rila nestles in a fertile wooded valley of the Rila Mountains and can be reached quite easily by bus from Sofia.
Batchkova Monastery is to be found in the Rhodope Mountains, was founded in the 11th century and like the Rila has some wonderful frescoes. Batchkova also suffered from the occupying Turks, being destroyed and rebuilt by Bulgarians during the 16th century. Buses run from Plovdiv or Asenovgrad. The Rhodope Mountains are great for walking and south of Batchkova will be found wonderful mountain scenery and mountain trails through areas rich in wild life. Interestingly, as one moves into the Eastern Rhodopes, the least developed region of Bulgaria, the scenery acquires an almost Syrian perspective; it is the richest area of all for wildlife with an immense variety of birds, insects and other species, but access is not so easy for the ordinary traveller and  is best undertaken in the company of specialists.
Liberation starts here!
On April 20, 1876, Todor Kableshkov launched the abortive but significant rising against the Ottoman Empire. This is where it started, the Bridge of the First Shot in the small town of Koprivshitsa (Копривщица) in the upper Topolnitsa valley. Todor was betrayed and the rising collapsed, but the savagery of Turkish reprisals against civilians led to withdrawal of Western support and finally led to Russian intervention and the expulsion of the Turks who had ruled Bulgaria for nearly four hundred years. Nearby one can find Todor's statue and in the town, many beautiful houses from the mid-nineteenth century, the period of national revival.
Roman Ampitheatre, Plovdiv
Virtually the only surviving remains of a Roman acropolis destroyed in the third century by the Goths. Nowadays, kings, queens and prime ministers come here to listen to Shakespeare. These ruins were discovered when local children unearthed fragments of stone when the level of the ground was roughly the height of the house in the background. Excavations subsequently revealed all; restoration and new staging has made the theatre fit for Hamlet in modern times with wonderful original acoustics. Sitting on the upper steps  and facing south, one has views of the modern town and far beyond in a blue haze, the Rhodope Mountains.
Traditional Bulgarian meal in Bansko (Банско), to finish a wonderful hike in the Pirins (picture, courtesy of Roman Lebedev). Many of the  mountain peaks reach nearly 3000m and there are many trails from the fertile valleys below. Roman has made some great pictures. Bansko is an agricultural town lying beneath the great Mount Vihren, the citizens of Bansko are descendants of people who kept Bulgarian culture alive during Turkish oppression and many of the strongly built stone and timber houses contain secret cell-rooms for hiding revolutionaries.

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