On our first full day in the Bulgarian countryside with our friend Tedi, our agenda was not very ambitious. Tedi had to take her car to get looked at by a mechanic for a minor problem in the morning, and at some point in the afternoon she would return, and we’d go for a drive to Arbanassi, a village near Veliko Turnovo with some traditional folk culture to explore. Then, if we were up for it, she would take us on a drive around Veliko Turnovo’s hills so that we could get the bird’s-eye view of what the city looks like.
Poor Tedi, she was really given the run-around by the auto mechanic, and didn’t get back until well into the afternoon (a woman getting the run-around from an auto mechanic? I guess in some ways Bulgaria is not that different from the U.S.!). But she needn’t have worried about letting us down – with nowhere to go anytime soon, Therese and I slept very late, and then lounged around, looking at pictures from the last few days, reading and eating a light leisurely lunch (I think there was peasant bread and vegan cheese from Rawlly involved!).
Eventually we did get ourselves moving, and headed to Arbanassi. Our first stop was the Church of the Nativity, whose exterior is seen above. Does that look like a church to you? The humble, generic old stone look from the outside belies the glorious decorated interior. Unfortunately, like the Boyana Church (whose frescoes, while centuries older than the ones on this church’s walls, are stylistically very similar), no photography is allowed inside the church. Every room within was covered from floor to ceiling (and the ceiling was covered as well) with brightly colored frescoes. To me, they looked very fine, but not quite on the level of quality and realism of the Boyana frescoes.
Our next stop, the Konstantsalieva House, at the time I knew only to be the building where the town’s souvenir shop was located. We went inside the shop to look for a book about the church we had just seen (Therese was especially keen to find one with lots of colorful photos). The store clerk was pleasant, though an undercurrent of impatience pervaded her interactions with us. Then we realized that it was probably the end of the day for her, since it was already nearly 5pm – it felt early to us, since we had gotten such a late start.
With the little bit of walking we had done, we already felt rather overcome by the oppressive heat (yep, it was another unbelievably hot day in Bulgaria). So we turned in to the garden area of a traditional tavern, Mehana Izvora, for some refreshment.
I ordered baklava, which came drenched in honey, very very sweet, accompanied by a Coke. We sat at a table in the shade in the middle of the garden, with just enough respite from the heat to be bearable. Every now and then a light breeze would come along and for a few moments we would be in heaven. Then the peacock would squawk and I would think, well, I may be hot, but at least I’m not kept in a cage AND hot!
Having seen a bit of Arbanassi, Tedi again offered that she could drive us around Veliko Turnovo and give us a taste of the city, and we accepted. First, she drove us to a spot from which we could see the ancient Tsarevets Hill, with the Castle and the Patriarchal Cathedral on top of it. These buildings date back to the time before Ottoman rule, when Veliko Turnovo was Bulgaria’s capital.
Then we drove around to another hill and parked near the Boris Denev Art Gallery. From there, we had a great view of Asen’s Monument, which commemorates the earlier Bulgarian kingdom, with the old town behind it.
Thus, our short but fun sightseeing day in Bulgaria drew to a close. We ended the day eating an excellent Bulgaria meal prepared by our host, watching CNN International on television (one of the few English-language stations), and pretending that it was not still ninety degrees when we went to bed.